Monday, December 31, 2007

Christmas Week Birding Journal

Here is a summary of the places that I visited and some of the birds that I saw during Christmas Week.

Tuesday 12/25/07-Wangunk Meadows, Portland- I took a short walk in the meadows on Christmas Day. It was a cold, sunny morning and the river was smooth as glass. I wanted to see if the Bald Eagles had returned to this area. I walked slowly along the icy path but felt that sudden jolt as my feet slipped out from under me. I hate that feeling of complete loss of control. I stopped and scanned the shoreline. Two eagles were perched in a tree on the Cromwell side of The Connecticut River. One of them looked to be a male that had not yet completely developed the white head and tail . Next to him was an adult female. She was noticeably larger with a solid white head and tail. Other birds that caught my interest were a Brown Creeper, Eastern Bluebirds, Belted Kingfisher, Merlin, and 3 Ring-necked Pheasants. I also counted 6 Northern Flickers which are considered to be less common in the winter. Apparently, there is no shortage of them in Portland.

Wednesday 12/27/07-Mansfield/Storrs area-I wanted to explore this region because it is considered to be a good birding area but doesn't seem to quite draw the attention that other parts of the state do. My hope was that I might find a flock of Red Crossbills or Pine Grosbeaks. Instead, I spent most of the morning driving around and getting lost. When I arrived at Mansfield Dam, I excitedly jumped out of my truck to get a better look at some ducks that were swimming in open water below the dam. Unfortunately, I locked my keys in the truck with the engine running. This normally wouldn't be a problem because I keep a spare key in my wallet for occasions such as these, but for some unknown reason, I had left my wallet along with my cell phone in the truck, too. I had that sickly feeling come over me as I realized the predicament I had gotten myself in to. To my relief, I noticed the window was open about half an inch. It was just enough for me to pry the lock open using one of the aluminum supports from the bed truck cover. I broke the plastic rain guards above the door to accomplish the feat but was more than happy to make that sacrifice. The ducks turned out to be Mallards after all that.

After that, I took a drive along Horse Barn Hill Road. There were 48 Horned Lark picking though the dirt in one of the farm fields but I didn't see any Longspurs or Snow Buntings in the flock.

My last stop was a nice spot along the Fenton River. By that time, it was almost noon and not many birds were around.I did see a Hermit thrush and some Eastern Bluebirds there. I'm looking forward to going back in the spring. There was no sign of Crossbills or Grosbeaks. I somehow ripped the cuff of my pants when I took my hiking boots off. It was just one of those days.

Thursday-12/27/07-Norfolk, CT-Pine Grosbeaks-I already wrote about this in my previous post. It was definitely the highlight of the week birding wise. Here is one more photo of a Pine Grosbeak. I know that it is not an adult male. From what I've read, immature males and adult females can be hard to tell apart, so I can't be sure of the sex of this bird. If anyone has some insight on this, please feel free to give me an opinion.

Friday 12/28/07-Selden Creek Preserve-Lyme, CT-I got the idea for visiting this place from a newspaper article that I read from The Hartford Courant. Peter Marteka writes an excellent column on Fridays called Nature's Path. He often writes about scenic natural areas in Connecticut that aren't always well known by the general public. He recently wrote about a beautiful scenic area called Selden Creek Preserve. It sounded like the kind of place that I would like to visit even if it didn't turn out to be a good birding spot. Upon further investigation, I discovered that this site was listed in a book called Finding Birds In Connecticut as a place worth visiting in the winter. It was a little bit tricky to find but definitely worth the visit. Two Brown Creepers, 2 Common Ravens, and a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker were among the birds that I saw here. I also saw a large flocks of birds that were eating some sort of seed pods in the tops of the trees. There was probably close to 100 of these finch-like birds, but they were so high up in the trees, that it was difficult for me to identify what they were. After using the process of elimination, I decided they might be Common Redpolls. Since I'd never seen a Common Redpoll before, I wanted to be careful to make a positive identification. I noticed that they were heavily streaked, had short stubby yellowish bills, and had black near their face. Some of them had a rosy-colored breast. I was pretty sure of their identity but it was almost an hour before one of them finally gave me a clear view of it's signature red cap. I'm afraid that I'm getting a little spoiled with lifers this month. Oh well, I turned 42 today and it's been 1 year since I started my blog so why not celebrate? Common Redpoll-another lifer!
Saturday-12/29/07-I didn't do any birding today, but did clean all of my bird feeders and birdbath. Congratulations to The New England Patriots for a perfect 16-0 regular season record!

Sunday-12/30/07-I took a ride over to Hurd Park in East Hampton. There weren't a whole lot of birds to be seen today but it was nice to work off some of that holiday food with a long leisurely walk. The gate to the park was locked so it was nice to be able to use the entrance road as a walking trail. There were Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Northern Flicker, Downy Woodpeckers,White-breasted Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Tufted Titmice, American Robins, Eastern Bluebirds, American Crows and, of course, the ever sociable Black-capped Chickadees.

As I walked down one of the woodland paths that led me to the river, I was thinking about two young men from my hometown who had passed away this week. They were both in their forties. I guess there are some things in life that you just don't have any control over.

There were a few Common Mergansers in the river and some Greater-Black-backed Gulls flying overhead. As far as gulls go, they are probably one of my favorites. They are very large and look pretty impressive to me when they're in flight.

On my way out, I had a short chat with a gentleman who was taking his Boston Terrier for a walk. He told me that he often sees owls at this park and suggested that I visit here very early in the morning. Thanks-I think I might just do that.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

It's A Lifer! Pine Grosbeaks In Norfolk, CT

I took a ride out to the northwest corner of Connecticut this morning hoping to find a Pine Grosbeak. They are the largest of the winter finches, and not particularly wary around people. Although they are normally found in boreal forests, they are irruptive this year and some have recently found their way into parts of Connecticut. I arrived in Norfolk at 9am after a 1-1/2 hour drive. I parked where I had a view of several crab apple trees, where the grosbeaks had been previously reported, but after a half hour of waiting, there was no sign of them. Just after 9:30 am, I started to hear some suspicious sounding finch-like calls. I looked in the bare trees across the street and saw some plump reddish birds, along with some grayish ones, perched near the top. "That has to be them!" I thought to myself. Actually, I might have even said that out loud.

I went across the street and watched in amazement as a whole flock of
Pine Grosbeaks were in the midst of gorging themselves with crab apples. This was my first time ever seeing these beautiful birds. I counted as many as 17 at a time but I think that there were probably a few more than that. There were several adult males (like the one seen above). Apparently, immature males and females look very similar. They both have a grayish-olive tone with some yellow features. This is the second irruptive finch species that I've been able to find in Connecticut this winter (Red Crossbill being the other). What a nice way to spend a rainy morning!

A few Cedar Waxwings also joined in on the feast. I was hoping that I might find a Bohemian Waxwing mixed in with them but I didn't spot any within the few seconds that they stayed. Pine Grosbeaks don't seem particularly neat in the way they go about eating. There was fruit residue all over their bills and they also left a mess of skins and fruit pulp on the ground. Apparently, they are eating the seeds within the fruit and not the actual fruit itself. Thanks to Corey of 10,000 Birds for bringing this to my attention. Several trees in the area had already been completely stripped of fruit. I had already left to go back home when I realized that I forgot to take some video footage, so I went back to take this short video of a male Pine Grosbeak having its breakfast.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

2007 Salmon River Christmas Bird Count

I participated in the annual Salmon River Christmas Bird Count Sunday, which had been rescheduled from the previous Sunday due to inclement weather. I teamed up with Joanne, Barbara, and Mike (above photo) to cover the Portland territory. There was a very light drizzle throughout the day, but it was comfortable, with the temperature in the 40's and minimal wind.
Joanne is the team captain for the town of Portland during the annual Salmon River CBC. This is the third year that I've taken part in this annual tradition. We started our count near the Portland Reservoir, which was frozen over, along with all of the other ponds in Portland. Mike and I walked up the snowy path to investigate the edge of Meshomasic Forest while Joanne and Barbara searched near the main road.
For the first fifteen minutes, the area that Mike and I covered seemed practically devoid of birds. Our first breakthrough was a flock of 25 American Robins that passed overhead. We started pishing near a stand of tall pines. You know that it's a s-l-o-w day if I start pishing because I don't particularly enjoy doing this activity in front of others. The Black-capped Chickadees started to move in to investigate, followed by Tufted Titmice and Downy Woodpeckers. Shortly thereafter, we caught a quick glimpse of a Golden-crowned Kinglet. The final species we recorded in this area was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Joanne and Barbara said that their area was fairly slow but they did manage to add a Carolina Wren to the list before we left.
Other areas we searched included power line crossings, woodland habitat interspersed between houses, open fields , stream banks, a cranberry bog, and a small section of the Connecticut River.
Here are some of the highlights of the day:
  • While we were near the cranberry bog, I heard what sounded like a Red-shouldered Hawk in the distance (kyeer kyeer call). We had fun debating as to whether it was really a hawk or just a Blue Jay imitating it's call. The bird never came within our range so we decided not to count it. We traveled a little further down the road before hearing it call again. By this time, we decided that it must be a hawk because it was too consistent with its call. Mike played the Red-shouldered Hawk call using an Ipod recording. Sure enough, we could hear it respond and move in close to us. We all had a terrific view of a beautiful Red-shouldered Hawk, which faced us, perched on a branch . We saw it fly across the road and land on another branch. It was a great team moment! We also saw a Northern Flicker in the same area.

  • While at the Cox Road power lines, I heard the tiny ringing sound of a Golden-crowned Kinglet. It took the four of us about five minutes to track it down, but we all had a great view of the bird as it hovered at the edge of a bush. It gave us a great show of its pretty golden crown. We also spotted some sparrows at this location including American Tree Sparrow, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrows, and a Field Sparrow.

  • All of us had a great look at a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. It displayed a brilliant red color on its throat and head.

I think that we all enjoyed watching the birds more than we did counting them, but we did our part. It is one of the smaller CBC's in Connecticut but I really enjoy the fact that it takes place in my own home town. The total number of species for the entire count (includes people from other towns) was 67. In comparison, the Milford/Stratfordcount which includes part of the shoreline had an unnoficial total of 117 species.

We took a lunch break at Rossini's Restaurant, in the town of East Hampton, and met up with two other birders (Rob and Alberta) who were also involved with the count. It was interesting comparing notes with them about the birds we saw. I will pass on the final results of the count when I receive them.

Saturday, I was in East Hartland trying to find some Pine Grosbeaks. I didn't have any luck finding the grosbeaks but I did see a flock of about 50 Cedar Waxwings and also recorded this video of Wild Turkeys eating something in the snow. This is the first time I've uploaded a video! Unfortunately, you can hear cars in the background, as well as me zooming in and out on the turkeys. If you listen closely, you can also hear the turkeys.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Giuffrida Park And Hartford Audubon CBC

A Red-tailed Hawk perched on top of light a post, along the highway, is a common sight to me, but the view I had of this one was nothing short of stunning. This Red-tail stood out so vividly as I watched it circle overhead against the backdrop of a brilliant blue sky. It's interesting how quickly your perspective can change when you see something so familiar in a different light.

I saw this Hermit Thrush while I was at Giuffrida Park in Meriden on Monday morning. It was kind enough to land on a branch and show off his reddish tail before ducking into a brush pile for cover. There was also a Golden-crowned Kinglet nearby which seemed to demand my attention. It was flying from branch to branch at eye level. At one point, it came so close to me that I thought it was going to land on my head. It looked me straight in the eye from a foot away before wandering off into a different section of woods. I also noticed eight Common Mergansers swimming on the opposite shore of the parks reservoir. It's been awhile since I've seen the mergansers and I'm pleased to see that they're back.

One thing I really like about the winter is that the air often seems so clean and crisp . On days like that birds really seem to stand out in such sharp detail. Monday was a day when the trees were covered with ice and the ground was covered by a hard, crusted snow. Large numbers of American Robins were picking at crabapples that could be heard bouncing off the ice as they fell to the ground.
I spent half a day at The Hartford Audubon CBC on Saturday. I saw this American Pipit, along with three others, spending some quality time together on a pile of manure. They were bobbing their tails incessantly as they hopped around searching for bits of food. Pipits are usually hunkered down in farm fields. Watching them play King Of The Mountain made for interesting observation. Probably my favorite sighting on Saturday was that of a Winter Wren . I've heard Winter Wrens singing during the summer but this was the first time that I actually found one on my own.
Nothing is burning in this picture. It's just a steaming pile of mulch reacting to the cold air. I just thought it looked interesting. There was another CBC scheduled for Sunday but it was rescheduled for this upcoming weekend. I'm really looking forward to this one and I'm crossing my fingers that the weather holds up.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

My Climb Up Mount Chocorua In New Hampshire

It was over 20 years that my sister, Michelle and her boyfriend Wayne, invited me to join them to hike up Mount Chocorua in New Hampshire. I'm always up for any kind of outdoor adventure, so naturally, I said "yes." I did have one concern though. What would it be like to climb an actual mountain? In Connecticut there are several areas of elevation that are referred to as mountains. In reality, almost all of them are less than 1,000 feet in elevation and are really just hills. Vermont and New Hampshire have real mountains. At 3,500 feet, Mount Chocorua is one of the smallest of The White Mountain Chain, although it did have a reputation of being a fairly steep climb. I decided it would be best to take a few practice hikes in Connecticut wearing a backpack so I would be better prepared for the trip.

So the three of us headed up to New Hampshire. Actually, there was a fourth hiker. Wayne's dog, Brutus, also came along. Brutus was a big Rottweiler that had been trained as a guard dog. We found out at rest stops that he had a habit of chasing tractor trailer trucks and didn't seem to understand that there is a limit as to how far you can run when you are tied to a tree with a leash.

After we arrived, I noticed something shortly after we started our ascent up Mount Chocorua. There was no view on the way up. We walked through hardwoods followed by evergreens. All we could see was trees on the way up. I had envisioned a view off into the distance throughout our hike. I recall that we met several other hikers on the way up. One of them pointed out that there were "kinglets" in the pine trees. I had never heard of a kinglet before and was surprised to see how tiny they were.

Somewhere along the way we saw a hawk. I don't remember what kind it was but it didn't matter. Back then, I referred to hawks as small hawks or large hawks. If it seemed that it was to big to be a hawk, I just figured it was some kind of eagle. If a hawk was near a farm area, then it was surely a Chicken Hawk. That was the extent of my identification skills at that time. I really wasn't familiar with many species beyond birds that are commonly seen in the back yard.

As we passed the half way point of the hike, I was getting pretty winded. I used to smoke cigarettes back then and I was feeling it. My back and legs were getting tired, too. My sister seemed to be having an easier time than I was. I thought for certain that I was in better shape than she was.

I was relieved when we finally reached the base of the summit. There was a hiker's cabin that we were to camp in overnight. I recalled that it was anchored to the side of the hill with gigantic chains and wondered why? I started to take some of my gear out of the backpack. I removed my sleeping bag, water and food. As I reached in a little further, I felt something hard towards the bottom wrapped up in a towel. "You have got to be kidding!" I thought to myself. There in the bottom of my backpack were three 10 lb. weights wrapped up in towels! I had put them there when I was doing my practice hikes and never taken them out. No wonder my climb was so tough!

It was late in the afternoon, so we decided to climb the summit in the morning. The cabin that was provided for hikers had a bunch of wooden bunks. Some sort of mice ran back and forth across the beams during the night. At about three o'clock in the morning, we were awakened by Brutus who barking and growling furiously as he repeatedly charged into the wooden door. What was out there that had him so riled up? A bear? Bigfoot? No, it was nothing more than a lost hiker looking for a place to sleep.

I woke up at the crack of dawn, anxious to see what the view would be like from top of Mount Chocorua. There was a winding trail that allowed for a gradual walk to the top. I met two local hikers who had spent the last week up in the mountains. They assured me that the trail was not the way to go. They told me there was a much quicker way and suggested that I follow their lead. They started to climb right up the rocky face of the summit. It looked pretty easy so I followed right behind them. I must have been half way up before getting my first view. Looking off into the distance, I realized how high up we really were. I could see other mountains and clouds below. The two hikers, or should I say climbers, were already at the top chuckling to themselves as tehy watched me struggle. I now realized that I was no longer just hiking.I was actually rock climbing. The thought of clibing back down was too scary so my only option was climbing up. Adrenaline was rushing through my veins. At one point, I had to make a small leap to grab a hold of a metal spike which had been pounded into the rock. It was an experience I will never forget. The two hikers were long gone by the time I finished my climb. When I finally reached the top, it all seemed worth it. I could see mountains in every direction. I now realized why that cabin was chained to the hill. The winds must have been blowing 50 miles an hour.
Back then I had never even heard of the term "birding", which is why I would like to make a return visit some day. This time, I would bring along my binoculars and leave the weights behind!
The photo was provided for free courtesy of: Free New Hampshire

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Preparing For The Christmas Count

On Sunday morning I decided to visit some areas in Portland, CT to help prepare myself for the upcoming Salmon River Christmas Bird Count. This particular bird count is one of the smaller ones going on in Connecticut this month. I will be counting birds strictly in the town of Portland, although there are other towns included in this Christmas Count. I have lived in Portland for the majority of my life and have been birding here for the last few years. The one thing that I find a little disappointing is that the best birding areas in Portland (Wangunk Meadows and other areas along CT River) are excluded from the count because they are not within the count area which is literally a circle that is drawn on a map which defines the territory within which the birds are to be counted. Portland is not exactly a birding hot spot to begin with, so that makes it a little bit more challenging. A Hermit Thrush or Fox Sparrow, for example, would rank pretty high up on our Portland list. In a way, I like the fact that the expectation for finding uncommon birds in Portland is so low. That makes common birds seem more interesting.
As I searched through different areas of the town, I came across some familiar areas from the past. So many of the places that used to be beautiful natural areas are now housing developments. They say change is good because it can lead to growth. I believe that to be true, but in the case of houses taking the place of land, I don't appreciate either the change or the growth. I guess that makes me a little hypocritical. I imagine land had to be cleared to build my house. Fortunately, there are some things that do stay the same. The falls in the above photo look the same as they did 30 years ago.
How Has Your Home Town Changed Since You First Moved There?
I won't get into too much detail about the birds that I saw, but I plan on adding a couple of stops along power lines to my list. I noted Eastern Bluebirds, Golden-Crowned Kinglets, and Eastern Towhees in these areas. I saw several hawks along the way, including Red-shouldered, Red-tailed, Northern Harrier, and the Sharp-shinned Hawk, as seen above. I visited The Portland Golf Course and found a nice flock of Cedar Waxwings and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, but later found out that the golf course is outside of the circle as well.

At the end of my scouting trip, I decided to visit the Portland Riverfront Trail which I've avoided lately. There is a nice field near this trail where I've seen the hard to find Brown Thrasher every year. Unfortunately, they decided to cut down many of the trees and tangled thickets that the Brown Thrashers seem to favor. I found this to be a discouraging development and have avoided this area since then. Wouldn't you know I found a Brown Thrasher there Sunday. December is pretty late in the year to find a Brown Thrasher in CT, especially inland. I hope that they still come back to nest because I would miss seeing them each spring. Good luck to everyone who is participating in a bird count this weekend!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Red Crossbills At Hammonasset

Today, I went to Hammonasset in Madison, Connecticut to look for crossbills and hit the jackpot. These birds are just awesome to watch! The top photo shows eleven, but I counted as many as forty at one time. They were feeding in the trees next to the West Beach parking lot but every so often, they would take off together in a fairly tight flock. They seemed to have an undulating flight, often circling the area several times before coming in for a landing. Crossbills have a very distinct tone to their flight call which is fairly loud and easy to hear. I can understand now how people who are familiar with this species can identify them when they fly over. Here are two male Red Crossbills. When I first arrived, there was one other birder who was very familiar with this species of bird. He said that they like to eat the seeds within the pine cone but not all pine cones have seeds in them every year. They also seemed to be gleaning food-(insects? sap?) from the bark of deciduous trees.
The female crossbills were a subtle yellowish color with dark wings. The photos weren't perfect but I was happy to get some this time around.
It's just like I anticipated. Once I saw my first crossbill the other day, I knew there would be more to come. I'm looking forward to seeing more irruptive species but I'm a little tired tired of the word irruptive. It makes it sound like the birds are being spewed out of a volcano or something. This has been a nice way to start the winter. Hopefully there will be more good birds heading our way this winter!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Fox Sparrow In The Back Yard Brushpile And My First Red Crossbill!

Brush Pile Fox Sparrow-I've slowly been constructing a brushpile in my backyard. Every time I take a visit to the town dump, I grab a few select branches to add to the pile. The workers at the dump have a quizzical look on their faces when they see me putting brush back into my truck. Some birds find brush piles very appealing including this Fox Sparrow that showed up on Sunday morning. That was a nice surprise! They are very robust looking sparrows. I like to watch them do the jump back and scratch dance when they're trying to rustle up some food. We get the red version of the Fox Sparrow in the east. Here's a link for making a good brushpile.

I took a ride down to East Shore Park (New Haven) Sunday morning hoping to find a Red Crossbill. I didn't have to look very long. As soon as I entered the park, there were three birders standing near a coniferous tree. Two of the birders had binoculars focused on the tree top and the other was holding up a parabolic microphone attached to a stand. They had located the recently reported Red Crossbills. I was able to get an excellent view of the male which was at the very top of a fairly short tree. It was great! I could see the crossed bill so clearly and the bird had a nice bold red coloring. I was so absorbed in viewing it through the binoculars that I lost the opportunity to get a photo. A female was present, as well, but I did not get a very good view of it. I had a quick word with EJ, Nick, and Luke. They had recorded the bird's song in order to be able to determine the origin of its location before they were off to check on more rarities.
Red-breasted Nuthatches, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, White-throated Sparrows, and Brown Creepers were very active at this location. I was able to get the photo of the Brown Creeper just before it started snowing but the lighting was very poor. The most important thing is that I was finally able to see a Red Crossbill. That was a lifer for me. It also broke a dry spell of not finding any of the irruptive species that everyone has been talking about. Whenever on a fishing trip it's pretty well agreed amongst the fishermen that you have to catch that first fish before you start to have some success. Now that I've seen the crossbill, I'll feel more confident in finding redpolls, Pine Grosbeaks, Evening Grosbeaks, Bohemian Waxwings, and Boreal Chickadees. I probably won't find all of them, but if I can find two or three of them before winter is over, I'll be happy.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

A Greater Awareness

It was cold and windy Saturday. Very windy. Windy enough to knock over 40 pound wooden chairs that were set up in my backyard. As soon as I stepped out of my truck at Wadsworth Falls State Park, I was blasted in the face by a cloud of dirt with a little gravel mixed in just to make sure it got my attention. I asked myself, "Is this really going to be worth it?" As I looked up into an increasingly cloudy sky, I saw a Common Raven, four Turkey Vultures, and a Sharp-shinned Hawk all taking advantage of the wind to dip and glide to their hearts content. I was anticipating that most of the other birds would be avoiding the wind today. That seemed like a good idea to me. I'll head into the woods to find out where they're hiding and find a little shelter at the same time. The birds and I were on the same page this morning. It's an important part of life to have a real awareness of what surrounds you. Both man and animal have that ability, but sometimes I think that we as human beings lose sight of this. We use are natural instincts to survive which is necessary. We have the ability to solve problems and achieve goals as well. My question is "Do we make life too complicated for ourselves?" We create droves of red tape, paper works, regulations, and social rules to the point that we sometimes become trapped in our own minds. We have to be on guard as to what we say or do at all times or we will become a victim of our own self imposed rules. Social interaction in society and our workplace can be complicated. Income tax, healthcare, and our legal justice system have become a complicated mess. Having to deal with these things can make us prisoners of our own minds at times. In order to have awareness of ourselves and the environment around us, we need to keep our minds clear of unproductive thoughts. That's tough to do these days. Fortunately, there are still places like the beautiful Wadsworth Park that make it much easier to reach a healthy state of mind. Sorry for the rant, but it's been a challenging week. I guess we all have those sometimes, don't we? The trees pictured above were loaded full of Golden-crowned Kinglets and Dark-eyed Juncos. There were also a couple of Red-breasted Nuthatches and Brown Creepers to round things off.

As I expected, the birds were hiding pretty well. I could hear the trees crackling, knocking, scraping, and creaking as they were being blown in every direction. Nature has its own language. We probably ignore this language much of the time because we are geared as humans to go from Point A to Point B. We move on before we've had the chance to absorb the moment. It seems so natural to listen the trickle of a stream or the sound of the leaves crunching underneath our feet. It feels wonderful to take a slow breath of cool air as it settles deep into our lungs. Look at the waterfall above. There's barely a trickle of water running down now. I wonder how many years it took for the rocks to be etched out to the natural steps that they have become?
The trails at Wadsworth are well worn and easy to follow. They take you past Mountain Laurel groves, streams, old stone walls, tall deciduous and evergreen trees. This park tells a unique story to each person who walks its trails. I can tell you that there is no shortage of woodpeckers in this park. I saw Downy Woodpeckers , Hairy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and even Pileated Woodpeckers. Unfortunately, it turned its back on me when I asked it if I could take a picture. These giant cousins of the Ivory-billed hammer so hard that it almost sounds like someones hitting a tree with a bat. Their call is like something that came straight out of a jungle. These are great birds. We should appreciate them while we can.

Does this Red-bellied Woodpecker look a little lazy to you? Maybe its just taking a break. In addition to the woodpeckers, I also came across a secret society of Black-capped Chickadees and Tufted Titmice hiding in deep, sheltered area of the woods.

This entire area really is a nice place to take a walk. So was it worth enduring the wind and walking miles of trails through the park? I'm ashamed that I even asked myself that question.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Do Birds Sing Jazz?

When I checked my e-mail Tuesday I saw one that was titled: Jazz Aviary- Jazz Music for Bird Lovers. That was enough to make me curious, so I opened it. It was from a woman named Christina Duren who had come across my "Dirty Birds" post when doing a google search. She explained that she is doing online promotion for a jazz artist named Susan krebs.

Here is a portion of the e-mail I received: "Hey Larry, I came across your blog while searching for birding sites and bird related blogs and found yours! Love your "Dirty Birds" will be keeping a closer look at the ground now. I actually handle online outreach for a wonderful collection of songs about birds that I think your readers may enjoy. It’s called Jazz Aviary and it’s a celebration of birds and of the universal music that we share by L.A. based jazz artist Susan Krebs. "

I thought that this approach to jazz music was an interesting and unique idea. Here is a link to the website if you would like to learn more about it: Susan Krebs-Jazz Aviary (click enter then Jazz Aviary to get to music samples).

Birding Magazines that I read-I've had a subscription to
Birdwatcher's Digest and Wildbird
for the last year or so. I enjoy reading both magazines. The letters from readers our always of interest to me. Their is usually one or two articles in each of the magazine's issues that captures my attention. The most recent issue of Wildbird has an excellent article written by Kevin T. Karlson which is titled: A different set of Eyes-Enjoy Backyard birding with new observation tips. In the article he writes about concentrating on shapes, behavior, and movements of birds in order to absorb three-dimensional impressions of birds instead of the two-dimensional impressions we get from a field guide. This topic is not something totally new to me, but I like the way he presents the concept in his article.

Do you have any other birding magazines that you would like to recommend?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Zeroing In On Particular Species

Part of what helps to keep birding interesting for me is to approach it in different ways. Most recently, I've decided to zero in on trying to find certain species. I've been looking for species that I haven't previously seen or ones that I haven't seen much of during the year.

The Casino Effect-Rare birds are reported by birders in Connecticut almost every day. I believe you would have a reasonable chance of relocating some of them if you went back to the same location within a short period of time. There are, however, certain species of birds that don't tend to stay in one place for very long. When one of these nomadic species are reported, it can be very tempting to try to search for them where they were originally found even though the chances are that they probably will be long gone by the time you get there. There may be only one or two reports of a certain species in the whole state but suddenly droves of other birders will have high hopes of finding that same species. It reminds me of people who play slot machines at the casino. The place is filled with people losing money. No one pays much attention to the people who are losing but if one machine suddenly pays off it gets everyone's attention. The nice thing about searching for elusive birds is that you never really lose. You still have a great time trying even if you don't always succeed.

Hammonasset-The day after Thanksgiving, I spent a few hours at Hammonasset. During my visit I was fortunate enough to see two new species (lifers)! These would be the Lapland Longspur and the Northern Gannet.

Let me give you a bit of detail about how I came about finding these birds. I ran into Adrian, Beth, and Fran, all fellow members of The Hartford Audubon . We were all checking through flocks of House Finches hoping to find a Redpoll mixed in. They mentioned seeing a Purple Finch and I happened to come across a couple of Fox Sparrows. We scanned through a flock of Horned Lark at the parking lot near the nature center hoping to find a longspur but there was none. Only a single Snow Bunting was mixed in with the flock. I was particularly interested in seeing a longspur as I had never seen one. They gave me some information about other locations in the park that they have been seen before. I found another flock of Horned Larks at the end of the West Beach Parking Lot. I searched through them one by one and Shazaam! There it was-the Lapland Longspur. It's not that rare of a bird to see but it was for me. It was not in breeding plumage and really blended in with the larks. What made it even more fun for me was that I found it myself. Adrian and Beth are always finding good birds. I finally beat them to the punch on this one and was able to show them where it was. They told me about some Northern Gannets which had been seen at Meig's Point, which is also located within the park. I went to look for them and sure enough they were still there. I watched them as they took turns diving into the water. There was also a swallow flying around the park. It was reported to be a Cave Swallow.

On my way back home, I noticed two Canada Geese with yellow neck collars swimming in a small pond. I checked the numbers and realized they were the same two that I had reported seeing last winter.

On Saturday, I visited East Granby Farms for a few hours. This is also the sight of one of the Hawk Watch locations in CT. There is a fellow named Joe who counts hawks there from about September until December every year. He's been helpful in giving me tips about identifying hawks in flight.
On Sunday, I briefly stopped at Glastonbury Meadows before heading over to the famous Station 43 area in South Windsor. This is a large area of farm fields that can be accessed from several locations by roads which divide them. The above photo is the area where I had a brief look at a Northern Shrike. The Shrike, which had been perched on one of those trees, dove into some brush looking for another bird to snack on. I spent a couple of hours birding with a veteran birder named Paul D. He keeps a list of everything he sees. He's been doing this for many years. We were surprised to find ten Ruddy Ducks in the CT River which is a bit unusual. Another birder named Rick told us about a male Baltimore Oriole he had seen. It's pretty late in the year to be seeing an Oriole! Paul and I had no luck in finding it though. We did see several Fox Sparrows and also a very sneaky Brown Creeper.
I had the day off Monday but it turned out to be a rainy day. I visited Lyman's Orchard in Middlefield CT, which has a large farm type store called The Apple Barrel. They have a pond which is loaded with ducks and geese. The majority are Canada Geese and Mallards. I was hoping to find a Greater White-fronted Goose, which had been reported here. I did see the similar looking Graylag seen in the above photo. I'm wondering if I'll know GWFG when I see one. I made an attempt to record a video of several hundred ducks and geese, which were making a tremendous racket. I kept pressing the shutter button halfway down to focus like I do when taking pictures. When I played it back, I discovered that pushing the shutter button halfway pauses the video. Hopefully, I'll have better success next time.
It won't be long before the Christmas Bird Counts start.
Will you be participating in a Christmas Bird Count?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Ten Factors For A Good Day Of Birding

Here is my top ten list of factors that help make for a good day of birding. I tried to put them in order but not necessarily in exact order.

1) Preparation-If you leave things behind such as binoculars, field guide, camera, scope, batteries,field notebook,directions, jacket, or any other needed items it can put a real damper on things. Not leaving early enough can also detract from the day.

2) Sleep-Feeling well rested definitely enhances the day. I tend to be more perceptive in my hearing and vision. I am also much more enthusiastic if I've had a good night's sleep.

3) Weather-You can adapt your day to do some form of birding in any weather conditions but a pleasant day can enhance the overall experience.

4) Location-Exploring a scenic area, hot spot, or a location that you've never tried before can make things more interesting.

5) Birds-Seeing lots of birds, a good variety of species, interesting bird behavior, or new species can definitely help make it a great day of birding. Discovering a really rare bird can make for an exceptional day.

6) Optics-Having superb optics makes everything look so much better. It's not just the quality of the optics though. The viewing conditions- (lighting,air quality etc.) have a definite effect on the performance of whatever optics you do have.

7) Season-There are certain days in each season that exemplify the beauty of that particular season. -The perfect Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter day.

8) Time-I probably should have put this one higher on the list. Not having any time constraints allows you to bird at a much more relaxing pace without feeling that you have to squeeze everything in.

9) Food-It's nice to start the day with a cup of coffee and breakfast of your choice or perhaps hold off on breakfast till a little later in the morning.

10) Company-Although I enjoy birding alone, it's nice to go birding with others for a change of pace.

Which of these would make it to the top of your list? Do you have any that you'd like to add?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sunday Morning Along The CT River

I've really enjoyed seeing large flocks of birds descend upon the fields in the month of November. A field that appears to be nothing more than dead, trampled weeds and grass, contains food desperately needed for their survival. This flock of Red-winged Blackbirds, European Starlings, Brown-headed Cowbirds and Common Grackles were feeding with such urgency on Sunday that my passing though represented nothing more than a brief interruption for them.

My first stop was at Wangunk Meadows right here in Portland. The temperature was in the mid 30's Sunday morning. The lack of wind and bright sunshine made conditions quite comfortable.

I intended to walk along the river until I reached South Glastonbury. That's probably about two miles. As it turns out, I only ended up walking about 100 feet or so. The birds were so active that I really didn't need to move. I was surrounded by Black-capped Chickadees, American Goldfinches, Dark-eyed juncos, Downy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, American Tree Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, Eastern Bluebirds, Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, White-breasted Nuthatches, and White-throated Sparrows. They were eating berries, searching though empty nests, and pecking at the hollow canes of tall weeds. They were so active and noisy that you'd think they were eating coffee beans! I could see 8 Wild Turkeys walking along the banks of Gildersleeve Island, perhaps looking for a place to hide until Thanksgiving day has passed by. Two Belted kingfishers took turns letting out their loud rattling calls as they flew up and down the river. A group of six Northern Flickers seemed to be communicating with each other in some nearby trees. The sounds they were making reminded me of the squeaky sound you hear when someone is trying to clean a stubborn spot off a window using Windex and a paper towel. A few of the other birds seen here included: 2 Brown Creepers, 1 Gray Catbird, 2 Fox Sparrows, and 4 Swamp Sparrows.

My next and final stop of the day was at Glastonbury Meadows. I finally came on a day when their was no hunting activity going on. I spent less than an hour here, but I was pleased with some of the birds that I found. After walking through the wooded trail, I entered the fields. A mature Bald Eagle took off in flight not more than 30 feet from me. You don't really appreciate the awesome size of these birds until you are really close to them. I once had a view of two Bald Eagles when I was standing 10 feet above them. I looked down over a cliff and watched as they spread their wings and took off in flight. I was shocked. They looked enormous from that angle!

As I walked along the edge of the fields, I was repeatedly hearing the song of one particular species. I wasn't familiar with this particular song but soon discovered it was coming from White-crowned Sparrows. During most years, I only see a few White-crowned Sparrows in Connecticut. On this day, I saw ten, but by the number of birds I heard singing there must have been many more in the area. Moving further along, I heard the sound of a woodpecker making the sound of squeaky toy. It was an immature Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (although I'm sure it was acting its age). A flock of American Crows passed overhead. Interestingly, it seems that a Fish Crow was leading the flock. You can best identify the fish crow by the unique nasally call that they make, which is much different than the American Crow. I wondered if the Fish Crow had to stay at the front in order to have permission to travel with the flock of American Crows? I heard the chip notes of a sparrow coming from some birds that were well hidden amongst a patch of weeds. They kept flying from one spot to another but were hard to see. I was finally able to identify them as Savannah Sparrows. There were Red-tailed Hawks and Northern Harriers patrol the fields. There was also an interesting flock of about 100 Rock Pigeons(some odd variations). If I had the time, I would have checked them out more carefully.

The last species of the day that I identified before leaving was a flock of about 50 American Pipits. They seem to stay close to the ground flying just a short distance away as you move closer to them. I was able to see a bit of the white outer tail feathers when they took flight. I only saw my first American Pipit two years ago. It took me quite a while to make a positive identification of the first one I saw. Since seeing that first one, I seem to have a much easier time locating them. It seems that way with a lot of birds that I have seen for the first time. Once you see the first one, it is usually easier to find more. Has it been your experience that it is much easier to find more of a particular species after you have seen the first one?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Songbird Mix Game

Name the song that the lyrics belong to and/or an artist who performed it. Let us know which ones you knew, even if it has already been answered: Blue=Unanswered Grey=incomplete Black=already answered
1) Well, the rain exploded with a mighty crash as we fell into the sun, And the first one said to the second one there I hope youre having fun-
2) Remember when the circus came to town And you were frightened by the clown?
3) I looked out this morning and the sun was gone-Turned on some music to start my day -I lost myself in a familiar song- I closed my eyes and I slipped away
4) I got chills-They're multiplying-And I'm losing control
5)Now if you feel that you can't go on-Because all of your hope is gone-And your life is filled with much confusion-Until happiness is just an illusion
6) And I would have liked to have known you-But I was just a kid
7) Quite some time, I been sittin' it out-Didn't take no chances-I was a pris'ner of doubt.
8) I've been walkin' these streets so long-Singin' the same old song-I know every crack in these dirty sidewalks of Broadway
9) And if it's bad-Don't let it get you down, you can take it. And if it hurts-Don't let them see you cry, you can take it
10)Girl-it's been a long time that we've been apart
11) A long time forgotten are dreams that just felt by the way. And the good life he promised ain't what she's living to day.
12)There's a sign on the wall-But she wants to be sure-'Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings
Match The Common names With The Scientific Names:
(Feel free to check the field guide!)
1)Picoides villosus
2)Tyrannus tyrannus
3)Troglodytes aedon
4)Pheuticus ludovicianus
5)Passerella iliaca
6)Cathartes aura
7)Plegadis falcinellus
8)Aythya collaris
9)Bonasa umbellus
10)Pluvialis squatarola
a)Glossy Ibis
b)Turkey Vulture
c)House Wren
d)Hairy Woodpecker
e)Eastern Kingbird
f)Black-bellied Plover
g)Rose-breasted Grosbeak
h)Fox Sparrow
i)Ruffed grouse
j)Ring-necked Duck
Famous Poems-Name Poem and/or Poet
1)Here is a little forest, Whose leaf is ever green-
2)And there the grass grows soft and white, And there the sun burns crimson bright, And there the moon-bird rests from his flight -To cool in the peppermint wind

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Following The Wind

With gas prices rising to well over three dollars per gallon again, I decided to keep my traveling distance to a minimum this weekend. I went for a ride down Millbrook Road in Middletown. This is an area of the town that I'm not all that familiar with and I thought it would be fun to scout it for potential birding areas. It was extremely windy this weekend which made the conditions for birding less than ideal. My first stop was at a place called Miller's Pond State Park. I don't recall ever having visited there, despite the fact that it's not very far from where I live. I was pleased to see that the shoreline was completely undeveloped. Birds were scarce here on Sunday, but I did manage to see flocks of Golden-crowned Kinglets and Tufted Titmice working their way through the treetops. I think this place may be good for warblers in the spring.
As I was exiting the park, I noticed that there was a group of Cedar trees at the top of the hill. I could hear Blue Jays making a ruckus and decided to climb to the top to investigate. It seems that they were probably harassing an owl hidden within the cedars, although I never actually saw one. What fascinated me more than that was a set of stone stairs leading to nowhere in particular.
Then I found the remnants of what must have been an old home. Complete with some type of fireplace/oven? structure. I'd like to find out more about the history of this abandoned home.

Is anyone familiar with this style of fireplace? How old do you think it is? This sort of stuff is always interesting to me. I can just imagine a farm family from way back when sitting down to a Thanksgiving dinner in this old house.
The back roads took me in to the town of Higganum. I saw a veteran standing by a memorial to remind us of what day it was. My efforts really didn't pay off in terms of finding birds. I think sometimes it's a process of elimination though. Next time I'll choose a different area to try and hopefully will have better luck.
After I had my share of traveling around it was nice just to sit in my backyard and watch the birds at the feeders. I guess that's a simple pleasure that I shouldn't take for granted.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Watch Out For The Dirty Birds!

You might be wondering what I meant by using the term "Dirty Birds" in the title. I am referring to birds that are found on the ground, in places like fields and parking lots, that have an overall drab color which allows them to blend in with their surroundings.

In the past, I would tend to overlook birds like the ones in the photos. If I saw what looked like an empty field, I probably wouldn't bother scanning it with my binoculars. I figured "who wants to look at a field full of dirt"? These days, I search open fields and lots more carefully.
I was driving past this parking lot at Hammonasset Park, on a cold and cloudy day last week, when I noticed a glimmer of movement out of the corner of my eye. You can barely notice the little brown birds in the above photo, but...

a closer look reveals two Horned Larks and a Snow Bunting searching for a mid-morning snack.

When I returned to my hometown of Portland, CT, there were several hundred American Crows in a pumpkin field off of Route 17, that caught my attention. I almost didn't notice that there was a dozen drab little birds quietly feeding across the way.
It turns out that they were American Pipits. I've never seen American Pipits in Portland before. I probably didn't see them in Portland because I just didn't look carefully enough. If I hadn't scanned what looked like an empty portion of the field, I never would have noticed these pipits sunken down in the soil.
If you see an open field or grassy lot that looks to be empty, take a closer look. You never know, there might just be a few interesting birds waiting to be discovered.
Have you ever been surprised to find a bird in what looked to be an empty lot or field?