Monday, April 30, 2007


I started birding at 6am today. It seems to me, getting an early start usually pays dividends. My plan for today was to survey some of my favorite local birding spots (at least the ones that weren't flooded).

My first stop was the Old Marlboro Turnpike Power Lines. It was about this time that I had seen Prairie Warblers there last year. Unfortunately, there were no Prairie Warblers today. I was surprised when I saw a WHITE-TAILED DEER and a WILD TURKEY at the top of the hill. They seemed to be having a private conference.

There was also about 6 or so EASTERN TOWHEES singing- drink your tea-. I was fooled by one towhee that was calling out a single note. It was raspy sounding, so I thought it might be a Tanager.

After leaving the power lines, I drove a short way up the road to The Portland Reservoir.
The first thing I noticed was the CHIPPING SPARROWS. There was so many of them that I was hesitant to open my mouth in fear that one might fly in. I took a walk along the reservoir enjoying views of BELTED KINGFISHERS, BALTIMORE ORIOLES, and TREE SWALLOWS along the way.

At the end of the reservoir, there is a stand of pines on the left. It was here that I heard the little tin horn call of the Red-Breasted Nuthatch. I spotted the bird picking at a stump on the ground, but it flew further in to the woods before I took a picture. In this same area, there was a BLUE-HEADED VIREO, PINE WARBLERS, and BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLERS. The BT-Green has an easy to remember song which can be found here.

My last stop of the day was at the Portland Riverfront Trail. As I passed by the flooded field, I noticed some water birds on the far end. They looked very strange to me through the binoculars. I had forgotten to take my field guide, so I started to make primitive sketches. I took a photo that could be used for i.d. purposes. I recognized one of the birds as an AMERICAN WIGEON.

I moved a few feet up the path and saw my first BLACK AND WHITE WARBLER of the year. There was another warbler in the area that was making a strange buzzy song that was unfamiliar to me. It was similar in tone to a Blue-Winged Warbler's bee-buzz song, but the notes had a totally different pattern. I could not get a good look at this bird, and it was driving me crazy. I followed it for 30 minutes before finally, it showed itself. What was it?
It was a BLUE-WINGED WARBLER of course! I wasn't aware they had an alternate song. Not once did it bee-buzz me. Where was this bird's consideration?


When I returned home, I searched my field guides to determine the identity of the water birds I had seen earlier. It turns out they were BLUE-WINGED TEAL. I had never seen them before, and they did not look the way that I had envisioned them. I have seen Green-winged Teal which seem to match their name in appearance. Today was one of those days that I learned a few things.

1)Do you remember being excited about figuring out a new species or learning one of its songs?
2)-Can you think of a caption for the Deer and Turkey Photo?

Spring Sightings

If you have any sightings that you would like to share, you can post them here. You can post any bird or mammal sighting that you think might be of interest. Include your name, the species, date of sighting , and location it was seen. Add it to comments or e-mail it to: and I will post it for you. If it is something uncommon or rare, it should be reported here as well: CT. Rare Bird Report

From Larry:

3/21/07-Portland Fairgrounds (skating pond)-I wanted to make note that the little pond is starting to load up -I noticed several WOOD DUCKS, GREAT BLUE HERON, MALLARDS, CANADA GEESE and a NORTHERN HARRIER flying around. Keep your eyes open for Wigeon, Teal, and Snipe which showed up here last year around this time.

3/24/07-Great Hill Pond, Portland-20 RING-NECKED DUCKS, 2 HOODED MERGANSERS.


3/31/07-Meriden, Guifrida Park-4-GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLETS.

4/7/07-Portland,Riverfront Park-1-BROWN CREEPER,(gleaning insects from trees behind pump station). 6-WILSON'S SNIPE & 4- KILLDEER (field across from pumping station).

4/8/07-Portland, Fairgrounds-40+WILSON'S SNIPE, 1-GREATER YELLOWLEGS. Wangunk Meadows-1-NORTHERN HARRIER-hunting in the large field with tower.
-Portland,Riverfront Park-2 WILSON'S SNIPE, 1-EASTERN TOWHEE
4/13/07-East Haddam, Machimoudus Park-AMERICAN KESTREL.
Portland-field across from St. Clements on 66-A FISHER CAT!
4/15/07-WILSON'S SNIPE continue at Portland Fairgrounds in good numbers.
4/18/07-(E-mail sent to me)-Larry,
Three Mile Course Rd in Guilford at the Spencer Creek Preserve I spotted about 70 Glossy Ibis monday morning after the storm. Also have at least one pair of mallards with 4 eggs on one of my floating platforms on the Quarry!!
4/21/07-Hebron/Amston, Airline rail trail-15+YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, 15+ palm warblers,4 pine warblers, 4 EASTERN BLUEBIRDS, 1-EASTERN TOWHEE.
4/26/07-From David Lowe: -Just wanted to report a FISHER CAT sighting in Storrs Mansfield, CT, just before dark yesterday evening 4/26/07, in woods behind our home in a neighborhood adjacent to the University of Connecticut campus, west of the Mansfield Community Center and north of Moss Preserve (to the south across S. Eagleville Rd.).
4/29/07-Portland, Old Marlboro Turnpike power lines-6 EASTERN TOWHEE.
4/30/07-Portland-Riverfront Trail-At far end of flooded field-7 BLUE-WINGED TEAL
5/2/07-Portland Fairgrounds-8-GREATER YELLOWLEGS.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Two New Lifers !

Saturday, I went on a birding field trip with The Hartford Audubon. They have numerous free field trips throughout the year.

I not only saw some nice birds, but also observed some interesting bird behavior.

22 people showed up. It was nice being around all the birders but a larger group can slow things down a little. The group leader, Stephanie, did a great job of making sure that we kept up a good pace.

The early part of the trip focused on observing birds that were around the airfields of Bradley International Airport. It was here, that I added my first lifer of the day. It was none other than the EASTERN MEADOWLARK. They can be found in certain areas of Connecticut during the year but I've never been in the right place at the right time. Savannah Sparrow, American Kestrel, and Upland Sandpiper were also seen at this location.

The Upland Sandpiper would have been a lifer for me as well, but I did not identify the bird to my own personal satisfaction. There was no question among the group that the bird was an Upland Sandpiper, but I wasn't confident about what I saw. A buffy appearance to the underside of the bird confused me. This may have been due to a reflection from the orange barrier that the bird was standing on. Do you have certain requirement before a bird makes your life list?

Next, we drove past some local farms, searching for more birds . We found a ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW along the way. Someone spotted something that caught their interest in one field. It turned out to be 2 UPLAND SANDPIPERS! This view was much closer than the first. I was able to see the birds well enough to add to my life list.

We spent some time beside a farm pond which harbored a small Heron Rookery. We had nice views of a Yellow Warbler, Eastern Bluebird, Belted Kingfisher, Great Blue Herons and Killdeer at this location. One of the most exciting moments of the trip came when we saw a Red-tailed Hawk fly directly over us with a Red-winged Blackbird firmly attached to its back. The Blackbird piggy-backed for about 100 yards before letting go. What a sight that was!

This Hawk had an unwelcome passenger.

The last stop for me was on an abandoned railroad trail. On the way in, we were checking out a patch of skunk cabbage. There were large numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers. There were also Pine and Palm Warblers here. One pine warbler was seen taking material from an old nest for its own nest. A warbler that recycles-imagine that! On the way out we all saw our first BLUE-GREY GNATCATCHERS of the year.

I had to leave before the trip was finished but had a great time. I think we were at about 40 species before I left.

This Baltimore Oriole was a nice surprise. I've put orange slices and grape jelly out many times trying to attract Orioles. It never worked. Flickers ate the oranges and catbirds ate the jelly. I had no idea that they would eat peanuts. This picture was taken just before a European Starling chased it off. Even though I took the picture through a closed window on what is a cloudy day, the bright orange color still showed up nicely.

Bad photo I.D. Quiz

I've got a few things I want to post but I'm too for the time being. The last i.d. quiz was too easy for you experts. PA Birder guessed Dowitcher(it was a short-billed), and Yellow-billed Cuckoo on the first try. Both anwers were correct. Someone did mention that they thought the Dowitcher was a Snipe when they saw it. I actually thought the same thing when I first saw the Dowitcher. It was in a farm field, and I did not know that Dowitchers could show up at an inland location.

Here are two failed pics from today. I might as well post them before I delete them. See if these are any more difficult for you: Try to I.D. the two birds posted above.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Here is a report of a Fisher Cat that was e-mailed to me:

Just wanted to report a fisher cat sighting in Storrs Mansfield, CT, just before dark yesterday evening 4/26/07, in woods behind our home in a neighborhood adjacent to the University of Connecticut campus, west of the Mansfield Community Center and north of Moss Preserve (to the south across S. Eagleville Rd.).

It was all black, no brown as I’ve seen in some photos online. Seemed a bit smaller than some in the pictures as well, about the size of our cat, who did keep his distance but watched with considerable interest from our back porch. A few days before, I had noticed unfamiliar scat on an old rotten stump in our back yard. It was an elongated turd, very different from the deer pellets we frequently see in the same area of the yard, and looked more similar to our cat’s, but he buries his.
Has anyone else had any experiences with Fisher Cats?

Is a cheap scope worth it?

After birding with just binoculars for three years, I wondered if it was time to buy a spotting scope. I wanted to expand my birding by watching more gulls, shorebirds, and water birds. Having a spotting scope would be very helpful in these situations.

As I started to gather information about spotting scopes, I came to the conclusion that I would probably have to spend over a $1,000 to buy a good one. This was not in the budget for the time being. I decided to buy the least expensive scope I could find, knowing that I would eventually want a good one anyway. The question is-Was it worth it for me to buy this
$150 Alpen 15-45x45 Spotting scope? I would say that it does serve a purpose for me. I use it occasionally to get a closer look at waterbirds. I have used it to take a quick look at shorebirds from convenient locations. I have also used it to spot a mystery bird on the ground or in a tree. I often balance it against my truck window and use it to make a quick i.d. I can also stuff it in my vest pocket so I can use it in a pinch.

How well does it work? In terms of actually viewing a bird for the purpose of identification, it works pretty well. If lighting conditions are low, I don't bother using it. If it is windy, I don't bother using it. I have it mounted on my wife's old video camera tripod right now. I know this is just plain wong.
My next step would be to spend a little money on getting a more stable tripod that I might be able to use on a better scope down the road.

I have had the chance to look through several high end scopes. One major difference between my budget scope and one of the better ones is actually something that I hadn't considered--the size of the eyepiece. My scope has a small eyepiece. Looking though a larger eyepiece makes a huge difference! Imagine watching birds in your back yard through a paper towel tube. Now compare this to watching them through a nice clean picture window-you get the idea.

To sum it up:

  • It was worth the money- but it doesn't provide a joyful viewing experience.
  • I haven't tried to use it for digi-scoping yet.
  • A good tripod is very important. That would be my next move.
  • I hate carrying around scopes -if I had the money I would not only get a better scope, but would also hire a scope caddy (like golfers have).
  • I wish that I had tried to find one with a bigger eyepiece.
  • I'm going to upgrade my binoculars before I get a new scope.

Do you enjoy using a spotting scope to view birds or do you prefer birding with binoculars? What type of birds do you most enjoy viewing through a scope?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Can You See What's Right In Front Of You?

There has many times in life I've overlooked something important that was right in front of my nose. I'm some times looking too far ahead. This has happened to me while I'm birding as well. I can remember someone saying to me on more than one occasion "Did you see that ---- bird back there?" -My answer - a dejected "No- I guess I missed it.
It doesn't stop with birds. I even stepped on a snake once while I was searching for birds.

The reason I've missed some birds was that I focusing enough attention to what was right in front of me. I always had that feeling that there was going to be something better just around the corner. This was especially true after I became familiar with most of the more common birds. I was bitten by the seeing-a- new- species- bug.

I know that I'm not the only one to do this. Someone told me a story about some birders who were lined up along a shore point. They were looking for a group of rare birds. (can't remember what they were). Apparently these birds had been right below them. They were so close, that they didn't even need binoculars to see them. -Have you, or anyone you've known, been guilty of looking past birds that were right in front of you?

Recently, I've tried to slow down again so that I can try to appreciate each moment. I consciously move more slowly when I'm birding at a single location.

Today, at work, I was removing some old papers that a former employee had previously posted on the wall above his desk. Unfortunately the employee, Hakeem passed away several months ago from cancer (he was 29). I don't want to dwell on his death. Instead, I would like to share with you something positive that he left behind.

He had two quotations posted on the wall from a man named Charles Swindoll. I think I briefly read them once, after he first put them up. I know that I've passed by them many times without giving them a second look.
-anyway here is one of them:

"The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company ... a church ... a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude ... I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you ... we are in charge of our Attitudes."

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Bad photo i.d.

Here's a photo that I took last summer which came out poorly. Can you identify it? Extra credit for the scientific name.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Flight identification

I had just planted the Hollyhocks , and was taking a little break in my backyard. I looked up, and saw this little bird high in the sky. It was gliding at a fairly rapid speed. I noticed that it had pointed wings and a long tail. Suddenly it stopped and hovered in one place, flapping it's wings to maintain it's position. That was the final clue I needed to identify it as an American Kestrel.

I'm not particularly good at identifying birds in flight. Gradually, I have picked up a tip or two that helps me out with some flight identifications. This small falcon, has a wing span of 22", and a long tail. It is also known for its ability to hover. Note the rufous tail and little black band at the edge. Looking at Sibley's, I think this is a male.
I am surprised that you can see this much detail on the bird. It was definitely out of range for my camera. It's amazing what a difference favorable lighting can make. If anyone would like to add some tips for identifying a Kestrel in flight, feel free to do so.
I stopped by Gotta's farm, one of our local farm stands. These pansies were nice to look at, but I decided to wait for marigolds. They are much easier to care for, and last longer. I did buy a couple of Hollyhock plants to add to the flower garden.

I would normally drive back home this way on 17a (Main Street). It looks like it might still be a little flooded.

Years ago, when I was about 20, I dared to drive my father's pick-up truck through this same flooded portion. I thought the water might have been two feet deep, but soon realized I had miscalculated. Water started to push up over the hood. The truck slowed down to the crawl, and I could hear the exhaust chugging for it's life as it became completely submerged. Water started to seep in to the front of the truck (good thing it was rubber and not carpet). My heart was pumping all the way but I finally made it out the other end. Others have tried the same thing over the years, and some have found themselves stuck. Once was enough for me.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Strolling Along The Airline Rail Trail.


Many years ago, some of the abandoned railroad tracks were converted to walking trails. What a great idea! Many of these trails pass through beautiful natural areas.

Today, I walked a portion of The Airline Rail Trail in Hebron/Amston Connecticut.

I was hoping to find a few warblers, and I was not disappointed. I probably walked about a mile along the trail. In that stretch I was able to get "premier" views of 15+ each of Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers gleaning insects from the trees. What I mean by premier is one of those special days when the sunlight shows the colors of the birds perfectly. There were no leaves on the tree to block the view either. I'm surprised that I didn't get better pictures , but I spent more time appreciating views than trying to take pictures.

This Downy Woodpecker seems to be inspecting its new home.-"Hello-anybody in there?

The Eastern Bluebird was a little far for my camera, but did mange to strike a pose. Who could complain about a day like this? -Not me-I was loving this 70 degree sunny weather. I probably saw about 30 species but the quality of the views I had was what made this day a special one.

Hey Mr. Mallard-can you find my car keys for me? I dropped them in the water. "No problem-bottoms up." After he gave me my keys back it was time to go.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Brooks Of The Past To Books Of The Present

As I was driving along route 16 heading towards Colchester CT. this morning, I passed a large group of anglers fishing in The Salmon River. I was continuing on my way, when something compelled me to turn around and go back for a closer look.

Today was opening day of fishing season. I looked down and watched the fishermen standing under the 173 year old
Comstock Bridge. They were casting bait and lures in hopes of catching a trout. I was struck by the beauty of the moment. The crystal clear river flowed beneath this historic covered bridge. I could see steam rising off the water where the sun shown down upon it. Two Eastern Phoebes flew from tree to tree perching on different branches along the bank.

I started to daydream a little. I wondered what this very scene would have looked like a hundred years ago. I thought to myself, It couldn't have looked much different. The bridge would have looked similar as would the river itself. The fishermen probably would have been dressed differently and using long fly rods.

A feeling of sadness came over me. I had fished this very river on opening day for the last time over 20 years ago. It had been a tradition to camp out next to the river the night before opening day of fishing season. We had done this every year for many years. It was all about friends, food, celebration and waking up to a promising day of fishing. Who would catch the most?-or the biggest?

Those special times are now only a memory. I could still go fishing here on opening day, but it wouldn't be the same. Things have change. I have changed. Most of the friends I knew back then then have moved on with their lives. Some have died, some have relocated, and some I've just lost touch with over the years. I wish I could go back in time back and relive some of those moments.

Years pass by me-
like a distant dream-
I watch my memories-
drifting down the stream-
Just when I catch a glimpse of them-
they disappear around the bend-

I remembered that I had to be somewhere. When I checked the time, I was surprised to see that I had only been standing there for a minute or two. Does time slow down when you're dreaming or does it just seem that way?
I have seen reports of Pine and Palm Warblers in Connecticut over the last week. I decided to see if I could locate some. -Where would I find a Pine Warbler? -I've got it-PINE TREES!

I took a ride over to Portland Reservoir. It consists of a dam, stream, reservoir(obviously),and a nice little bog-pictured above. There were lots of Tree Swallows flying about(they show beautiful color in bright sunlight), but I was not able to get a close-up picture of them.

I did hear a few Pine Warblers high up in the trees (kind of a mechanical trill call similar to a chipping sparrow). It took plenty of effort just to get a good look at them in the binoculars, getting a picture was out of the question. What I did get is a case of warbler neck from looking up.

Here is a picture of a Palm Warbler taken in the low brush near the reservoir. It's a bit fuzzy but good enough to see the field marks. Note the rufous crown and breast streaks on this adult breeding warbler.
I also saw this butterfly. Anyone care to i.d. this for me?

Friday, April 20, 2007

My local patch flooded again.

Two days after the big storm, I decided to check out my usual local birding spot. It's just down the road from my house. Looks like I'll need my chest waders if I'm going to walk this way. I was feeling thirsty at this point, and wondered if the water was safe to drink.

Here's is a view looking down on a field that I visit throughout the year. I often find Brown Thrasher in the field as they sometimes nest here. Can you see the Sycamore tree in the distance?- Birds singing in the Sycamore Tree........ Here is a Brown Thrasher that I saw singing in the top of the very same Sycamore tree last spring. Brown Thrashers usually sing a song twice in a row before switching to another. They make themselves very noticeable in the spring, but become very secretive in the summer.

This horse is friendly. There is a black horse that will run toward me when I get in his field. I have to ease my way in and walk way around him. This picture of the horse was taken a week ago. It is grazing only about ten feet from that Sycamore tree. What a difference a week makes!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Have you ever been fooled by bird songs?

This Eastern Bluebird was not the bird I was hearing.

I heard a bird making a whistling type call in a patch of woods Saturday. It seemed to be coming from about 30 feet back in the woods. My first impression, was that the call sounded similar to an Eastern Bluebird's call. Could it be a variation of the Bluebird's call?

Just between you and me, I decided to try to imitate the call. Don't tell anyone because this is probably not a nice thing to do to a bird. Anyhow, I was able to mimic this call very well by whistling.

Sure enough, the bird came rapidly to the edge of the woods and landed right near me. -What was it? A Tufted Titmouse. The Tufted Titmouse has fooled me quite a few times with the variety of noises it makes. Have you ever had a similar experience?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Famous birder quotes.

Can You identify the bird pictured above?

Here are some quotes from famous people who are known to have some connection with birding. Match the quote with the person who said it.

1)"Unrestrained greed means the ruin of the great woods and the drying up of the sources of the rivers." -also -"Speak softly and carry a big stick" -Teddy Roosevelt

2)"When I started birding, I had my father to help ID birds so I didn't need a field guide." -David Sibley

3)"Not all is doom and gloom. We are beginning to understand the natural world and are gaining a reverence for life - all life." -Roger Tory Peterson

4) "I never for a day gave up listening to the songs of our birds, or watching their peculiar habits, or delineating them in the best way I could." -(sounds like something that was said a long time ago.) -John James Audubon

5)"We don’t like to just add a name to our list. We also like to learn something about each species’ habits." -(talking about birding with his wife.) -Jimmy Carter

6)"A spirit with a vision is a dream, with a mission."
-Neil Peart

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Birds Inside And Out

Before I attended Saturday's COA Meeting, I decided to take a quick look around . I spent an hour before the program started birding the Middlesex Community College Grounds. The nice thing about birds is that they are everywhere you go.

I saw a few species-maybe 15 or so. The most interesting to me was a Cooper's Hawk which kept gliding through the area. There was a Red-tailed Hawk in the area as well. One that I missed out on, was a Broad-winged Hawk that others said they had seen when I was inside.

This Brown-headed bird wasn't about to move until the cows came home. At least it was alive. I can't say that much for the birds I saw on the inside.

These poor birds look like they have seen better days. How many birds can you identify on this table of death?

Besides the excellent Singing Life of Birds program, I also watched a video that talked about the joy of watching hawks during migration. I'm going to touch on that in a separate post.

I purchased a paperback version of a book called-"Good Birders Don't where White." This is a collaboration of many authors several of whom have their own birding blogs including Bill Thompson III, Julie Zickefoose, Laura Erickson, Amy Hooper, and The Stokes. It is very entertaining and easy to read.

Another video presentation featured information about The Birder's Exchange Program. For those of you who might not have heard about this, click here to find out more. It is a program in which you can donate used birding equipment, field guides, or cash to South American birders. The more awareness their is of the importance of neotropical migrants in South America, the better the chances that people will have an open mind when it comes to conservation of habitat in that area.

It was nice to see many familiar faces. It's always fun to talk to others who share an interest in birding.-Wouldn't you agree?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

There's More To The Ear Than Meets The Eye

I attended The Connecticut Ornithological Society's annual meeting today at Middlesex Community College in Middletown Connecticut. There were several things that captured my interest today. The high point of today's events for me, however, was a presentation by Don Kroodsma ( pictured above), author of "The Singing Life Of Birds".

The presentation was excellent but there is no way I can translate that in this post. Instead , I will give a summary of some of the ideas he tried to express.

There is more to birding by ear than just identifying a species by it's song. Don Kroodsma illustrated this point something like this.

Imagine getting together with your friends. You don't say a word to each other. You look at each other, make a positive identification (maybe even using binoculars), and then check each other off on a list.

I don't think the point here is to say that watching birds has no value. Of course, we know how enjoyable it is to study and identify birds. The point is, you are missing out on a lot if you don't pay attention to the vocalizations of birds.

Don Kroodsma noted that the best time to start listening to bird song is about an hour before the sun comes up. Many birds sing different songs at this time than they do after sunrise. I believe that the Eastern Wood Peewee is one example of a bird with a different pre-dawn song.

Don likes to go out in the field with a parabolic microphone but usually does not bring binoculars with him. It is more important for him to know what is on a bird's mind than to see them.

During the presentation , he used audio recordings of birds songs accompanied by sonographs-(visual representations of bird vocalizations) -to illustrate some of his observations. Naturally, you had to be there in order to appreciate this. He slowed the audio of the birds songs as much as 1/10 the natural speed . He said that you need to do this to hear a vocalization the way another bird might hear it. It is amazing how much more complexity a bird's song has when you listen to it in this manner.

Here is a quick summary of some of the things he talked about:

  • A Song Sparrow has 8-10 similar, but different songs . Note the change in the beginning of their song as well as the ending. When you see these different songs on a sonograph the differences become obvious. It brings to mind questions like-"Why do they switch songs?" "What does it mean?"

  • Birds have different dialects in different areas of the country just like people do.

  • In his opinion, Western and Eastern Marsh Wrens are totally different species. The DNA is different, and their songs are not even close to being the same. There is a line right through Nebraska where the two species split. A Western Marsh Wren can learn 3 times as many songs as an Eastern Marsh Wren.

  • In Martha's Vineyard, Black-Capped Chickadees have different versions of the "Hey-sweetie" song (I call it the here kitty song). The Chickadees have 3 different versions of this song across a 20 mile stretch.-Why?

  • The Three-wattled Bellbird (a flycatcher) have changed their song from 5,000 cycles per second in the 70's down to 2,000 cycles per second and know one knows why.

  • Male Hermit Thrushes have about 9 different songs. Each time they sing a song they make sure that the next song is distinctly different than the one before. This is represented as a an up and down effect on the sonograph. When a second male Hermit Thrush enters the area, the two Thrushes very deliberately make sure that their songs are opposite on the spectrum from each other.

  • Male Song Sparrows generally stop singing in August. When a female is injected with a hormone that tricks the male into believing she is still in breeding season, a in her vicinity will sing in any month.

  • You can download free sonograph software from The Cornell Lab Of Ornithology.

I must admit that I once tried to read "The Singing Life Of Birds" but put it down before finishing it. There was more information than I wanted to know at the time. I'm definitely going to give it a second look. This seminar has inspired me to pay closer attention to vocal communication amongst birds. It can be another enjoyable aspect of birding, with the potential to learn something new.

Do you pay attention to the different vocalizations? Have you ever read "The Singing Life Of Birds?"

Friday, April 13, 2007

Today's Birding.

I visited Machimoudus Park today. I had the whole park to myself. Birds were singing away as I sauntered down trails like the one in the above picture.

Machimoudus is a reliable place to find American Kestrel. It was very overcast today, and I was unable to get a good picture of this Kestrel. Interestingly, it would fly off when I tried to take its picture, but seemed to follow me after I left an area.

This is an interesting looking abandoned building on the grounds next to the park.

I saw this Turkey Vulture perched in the tree on my way out.

To sum up what I saw at the Park -( besides the Kestrel and Vulture).

  • A lot of noisy Brown-headed Cowbirds. -(they could have driven a plumber crazy with all that dripping noise).
  • Several noisy Eastern Phoebes (Feee-beee Feee-beee).
  • A handful of Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows
  • Male Northern Cardinals chasing each other and facing off to see who wins the real estate battle.(they seem to be fairly polite about it).
  • A Pileated Woodpecker which was more heard than seen.
  • Red-winged Blackbirds and American Robins in big numbers.-(both of which sing better than Sanjaya from American Idol).
  • Chipping Sparrows.
  • I was hoping to find a Pine Warbler but did not. (strangely absent-just like Don Imus).

I also saw a bunch of other stuff, but that should be enough detail.-Did you see any interesting birds today?

Monday, April 9, 2007

Four Score And Three Years Ago

I had an extra day off from work to make for a longer Easter Weekend. I decided to visit Hammonasset State Park. This park is known for being one of the best birding spots in Connecticut. Even on a slow day, there are birds to see here. Due to very windy conditions, it was a somewhat slow day for birding.

I was just getting ready to enter the Willard Island Nature Trail, when I ran in to an older gentleman named John who is also a birder. We ended up spending a few hours birding together. When I asked John how old he was this was his response: "Four Score and three years"- (83 years old). John is a determined birder. He doesn't mind talking, but not at the expense of missing birds-perfect-just the way I like it. He moved along at a great pace -barging through wooded trails and knocking away along the way. He was able to show me new trails that I didn't know about. He walked way out to the furthest reaches of the park-jumping over puddles and climbing hills along the way. All I could do was admire this gentleman, and hope that I'm able to enjoy life the way he does if I make it to 83.

A few of the standout birds for me included: SNOWY EGRET, GREAT EGRET, DUNLIN, AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER , and a male AMERICAN KESTREL. I didn't take many pictures because my batteries ran out.-note to me-must get back-up batteries.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

There's No Place Like Home

I started the day out by making a short visit to Devil's Hopyard State Park in East Haddam, CT. This is an excellent area during spring migration but I think that I showed up a few weeks too early. There weren't a lot of birds around but I enjoyed a nice view of the falls.
After leaving the park, I made a stop at some power lines along Mt. Parnassus Road. I enjoyed watching this NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD displaying it's wing-flashing behavior.
There are a few theories as to why they do this. One is that they are trying to scare up insects to eat. I'm not buying that one. Some scientists think that they are tyring to spook off other predators from trying to attack them. They are kind of vulnerable when they are searching for insects in the grass so this might be possible.
Whatever the reason, it is a an interesting behavior to watch. I was tempted to go over to the bird with an oil can to put a few drops of oil in the wing joints. The deliberate mechanical wing-action brings to mind the rusted tin-man in the Wizard Of Oz.
Just before returning home, I decided to make a quick check of my local patch. It was noon time, so I wasn't expecting much. I heard the high-pitched ringing sound that alerted me of a possible BROWN CREEPER. Sure enough, I spotted a creeper working it's way up the trunk of a tree searching for food. I've taken several pictures of these birds, but they never seem to come out well.
I decided to check a nearby field. As I started to walk through the field, I flushed about 6 Wilson's Snipe. I tried to tell them to stay still so I could take a picture, but they flew in to deep cover. I took a quick look, and decided to let them be.
Once again , I drove around looking for birds but they were right down the street.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Finding Your Own Birding Spots

Many birders seem to prefer birding in areas where rare or uncommon birds are consistently found. These areas are referred to as birding hot spots.

Some of the more popular hot spots in Connecticut, such as Hammonasset State Park and Milford Point are located along the shoreline. I enjoy going to these places on occasion because I know there's always a possibility that you are going to see something "good."

That is part of the problem for me. You may not take the time to appreciate some of the more common birds when you are expecting to see something uncommon.

I enjoy checking out new locations. You can spend more time taking in the beauty of the area, and will likely be more appreciative of the birds that you do see. Maybe, you can even take some time to note an interesting behavior or make a few notes.

If by chance something out of the ordinary turns up in this new area , you will be that much more excited about it. There's nothing wrong in adding to your lists and finding rarities. There are, however, other things to appreciate outside of a high species count and finding rare birds.

Maybe a new location may surprise you with the sheer number of birds due to an abundant food supply. Perhaps, you may find an area that is particularly attractive to frugivores. There are many other possibilities.

I have about four new places in mind that I am excited to check out this spring. To me, not knowing exactly what I will see there is enough to keep my interest. The Bobolink and Orchard Oriole in the above pictures were two nice surprises for me. I found them both in areas that aren't known for their birding.
Do you like to explore new areas?-or- Do you prefer proven hotspots? Do you plan to explore new areas this year?

Powerlines Of Portland

Here is a highlight of a few power lines that are worth a look if you happen to be in the area.

My favorite Portland power line spot is on Old Marlboro Turnpike.It is especially good for Prairie Warblers, Chestnut-sided Warblers, and Blue-winged Warblers. It's also good for Tanagers, Hawks, and Towhees. Best time to visit there is late April through June. Late fall is good for Kinglets and Hermit Thrush.

Directions to Old Marlboro Turnpike Power Lines:
  • Follow Main Street Portland all the way past the Portland Fairgrounds (on left)-until you come to the 4-way stop sign.
  • Go straight across and then take your first left on to Cornwall Street.
  • Take a left at the stop sign on to Old Marlboro Turnpike.
  • Look for a green gait on the right and power lines crossing the road.
  • park near the gate and follow trail beyond gate.
  • use caution during tick season.

Another nice power line location to check is on Cox Road. This also seems to be good for Blue-winged Warblers, Cedar Waxwings, hermit Thrush, Hawks, Eastern Bluebird, and Kinglets.

Directions to Cox Road Power Lines:

  • Follow Main Street Portland past the Fairgrounds to the four-way stop sign.
  • Go straight across and stay to your right until you reach the next stop sign.
  • take a right on to Rose Hill Road.
  • Take your first left on to Cox Road.
  • Follow Cox Road, veering to the left where the road splits.
  • Follow Cox Road around a bend and look for a small stream/bridge,
  • Pull off to the side and start birding from inside your car.
  • Once you have surveyed the area, get out of the car and check both sides of the road, especially near the brook..

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

How about backyard bird news. Who wants to hear all that depressing bee news anyway?

Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal took turns on the feeder tonight. It looks like the male Cardinal might be impressed with the reflection of his own handsome image.

Here is a Song Sparrow having a quick after dinner bath. "Do you have to take my picture when I'm bathing?"

This Nuthatch must think it's in peanut heaven. A chock full of peanuts, with a place to hang on to.

This Common Grackle has a bad attitude. He looks a little like something out of a Godzilla movie. Every time the Red-winged blackbirds came near him he would let them know who was boss.

Last year I witnessed a Common Grackle kill a house sparrow much the way a hawk would do it. After making the kill, it proceeded to pluck the feathers from the sparrow before eating it. I reported this, and apparently this behavior is not unheard of.

Honey Bee Colony Collapse Disorder.

This morning, a co-worker asked me if I had heard about how all the honey bees were dying. Then I remembered mojoman's comments on this post. It all started sounding kind of ominous to me, so I thought I'd check it out.

Colony Collapse Disorder occurs when worker bees stop returning to their hives, leaving juveniles and other bees to die. No one has figured out the cause yet, but obviously the impact could be very serious. We count on honey bees to pollinate flowers ,nuts, fruits, and vegetables.

There have been a few theories thrown out there about what the possible cause might be. agricultural pesticides, parasites, diseases, stress, genetically altered crops, poor nutrition, and a lack of genetic diversity among bees. It could be a combination of these factors or something totally different.

The recent problem with declining numbers is different than in past years. It seems that bees are losing their natural ability to find their way back to the hive. Something is seriously wrong here. I hope it is a fixable problem.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Memories Of My Grandparents

Every summer, from the time I was five until I was about 13, I would spend a week at my grandparent's house in Durham Connecticut. Although my mother's parents are no longer living, I still have fond memories of the time I spent with "Nana" and "Grandpa."

Nana was half French-Canadian and half Iroquois. She was a retired nurse from Boston Hospital and an accomplished classical pianist. She became very frustrated when her hands became crippled with arthritis and she could no longer play the way she once did.

Nana had her own way of doing things. For example, bleaching socks and underwear wasn't good enough for her. She also felt the need to boil them in a giant pot on her stove. She had an old-fashioned open tub washer with a manual clothes ringer. When it finally needed to be replaced, grandpa had to order an identical model from some place out west. She insisted on hanging her clothes out on a clothes line; even in the middle of winter. My grandfather bought her a drier, but she would only use it in extreme weather conditions.

She was very fearful of thunderstorms. During a bad T-storm she would go in her room and cover her head with a pillow until it was over.

Nana didn't believe in throwing out plastic bags. She would just rinse them, and let them dry.

She was also an avid Red Sox Fan . We watched every Red Sox t.v. broadcast with the volume turned down and listened to the play-by-play on the radio.

They had a beautiful yard with many mature trees. It was bordered by a trout stream . I would go fishing, while my grandfather worked on his garden. When I caught trout , Nana would cook them up for us.

I remember my grandfather's 7x50 WWII navy binoculars. I would use them to track jets during the day and for stargazing at night. The skies were very dark. I had no problem seeing the milky way. Satellites passing overhead fascinated me.

Grandpa was 100 percent Irish and seemed to have some kind of saying for every circumstance. Many of them were very Irish-oriented and I didn't understand them. He loved to walk around the yard every day. He said he was taking a walk to survey "The Estate."

He also introduced me to backyard birdwatching. He had a basic bird feeder, which he filled with scraps and mixed seed. Although I was only mildly interested, I remember being impressed by the striking beauty of the male Cardinal. I was very interested in Red-winged Blackbirds and felt that they were probably rare. There was one bird that didn't go to the bird feeder but seemed to do an awful lot of singing. My grandfather told me it was -the Northern Mockingbird.

What do you remember about your grandparents? Where did you see your first birds?

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Endangered Species Act Is Endangered

I heard an interview on National Public Radio this morning with Rebecca Clarren. She seemed to be very disturbed by some of the proposed changes to the endangered species act.

I'm surprised -I thought George Bush was known as the environmental president. Maybe I'm mixing him up with Theodore Roosevelt. Anyhow, you can read her article from concerning this topic here.