Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Birds Of The Past Present And Future

I happened to notice over the last month just how many versions there are of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Most of the time they change a few details around and give it a new name but in the end they are basically the same story. This gave me the idea to organize this post into birds of the past, present and future.

Part 1-Birds of The Past-Salmon River Christmas Count: I have participated in the Salmon River Christmas Christmas count for the last few years by joining other birders to count birds in my home town of Portland. It was nice just being one of the birders and not having the responsibility of being a team leader. This year I received a call from the group leader of Portland telling me that their was a vacant spot in the East Haddam territory because the captain of that area, had recently moved to Texas. She wanted to know if I could take his place in covering his former territory. I wasn't overly excited about the idea. First of all, Clay is a great birder. He even found a Western Tanager a couple of years ago during the Christmas Count. He went all out to do this count including owling and even searching for ducks by using his canoe. Those were shoes that I knew I couldn't fill but I decided to do my best to try to help out. I started out by making three dry runs through the territory before I was comfortable with the area. I was able to get help from three other excellent birders. Thanks to Adrian, Beth, and Andrew! I wouldn't have been in over my head without them.

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Some of the highlights included:
  • Dozens of Eastern Bluebirds. They seem to be everywhere in East Haddam right now.
  • A large flock of Cedar Waxwings. I don't have the list in front of me but I think we saw about 70 in one flock.
  • A Barred Owl that we were able to call at Machimoudus Park before daylight.
  • 2 Pileated Woodpeckers seen in full view at Machimoudus Park.
  • A total of 4 Winter Wren and 10 Hermit Thush.
  • Several Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.
  • Several Red-shouldered Hawks.
  • A Red-throated Loon was the last bird recorded that day near the East Haddam Bridge.
  • It should be noted that I almost ended up in the Connecticut River when I drove through a puddle of water near the Salmon River Boat launch that turned out to be over three feet deep!

Over all, I think we did okay considering it was the first time we covered the area. The most challenging part was trying to figure out how much time to invest in each area before moving on. I was supposed to take part in another count but it was postponed due to weather. That should be coming up this weekend.

Part 2- Birds Of The Present- I spent this weekend camping at Pachaug Forest in Voluntown, Connecticut. Yes, I do know that it is December. It was a bit chilly with a temperature of about 20 degrees but that's a heatwave in places like Minnesota. People that know me aren't even surprised any more when I tell them that I'm doing something......unconventional.

There was one other camper when I first arrived. It did appear that they had a wood stove in their tent as evidenced by the chimney jutting out from the top. I didn't see many birds outside of the usual Hermit Thrushes, woodpeckers, Kinglets, creepers and other assorted winter woodland birds. I was hoping to come across some winter finches but that never happened.

When the night set in, I was all alone. I thought it fitting when the song here -Here Comes The Night started playing on the radio. I have to admit that it was a little creepy being out there alone. I could feel my adrenaline rise a little making me more aware of sound and movement in the vast darkness surrounding me. In the course of every day life , the accumulating number of minor concerns can lead to anxiety that doesn't make make a lot of sense to me. At times I can feel anxious or stressed out without even knowing what the cause is! We are prepared for fight or flight, but against what? At least in the woods I know what the source of my fear is. Being alone in the woods and surrounded by darkness makes you more vulnerable. The unlikely possibility that someone or something may sneak up on me does sometimes enter my mind. I consider that feeling just part of my camping experience and it really doesn't bother me. Spending time alone in the woods gives me a chance to clear my mind of needless thoughts. It is kind of like clearing temporary files/cache from an Internet browser.

I regret not having recorded the vocalizations of an owl that I heard the last time I was camping. This time the owls were fairly quiet but if you listen closely to the video you will hear an owl call out with a short hoot at the beginning and then again at the end of the video.

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Can you hear the owl call in the background? What kind of owl do you think it is?

Part 3-Birds Of The Future:

Participate In The Big January Listing Game!

Some of you may remember this game from last year. Simply keep a list of every species of bird that you see in January in your home state starting January first and ending January 31st. Every species you see in your state counts whether you see it at home, work, or while you're out birding (except for dead or captive birds). Remember, a House Sparrow is worth just as much as a Snow Bunting! I set a goal to see at least 90 species. I'm really hoping to reach 95 or more this year. Set a goal that is realistic for you in your particular state and try to reach or exceed it.

Why? you may ask. Because, It makes the month of January more fun!

You can post results on your own blog or comment on your progress here.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Season's Greetings From The Snowbirds!

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It's been quite a while since I've had a chance to really see what's going on at my feeders. It's dark when I go to work and dark when I get home on weekdays. On the weekend, I'm out birding somewhere while the birds are most active at the feeders. Last weekend, we had a substantial snowstorm. I wasn't excited about all the shoveling but it was nice to watch the backyard birds for a change. Yeah Yeah-I know nobody likes starlings but they do have that just snowed on look don't they?
One of my favorite winter visitors at the peanut feeders are the Carolina Wrens. We've had two of them visiting our feeders this winter. This one looks like it's frowning. Maybe he could get a starring role in "Grumpy Old Wren"!
Wrens have such quick, jerky, movements that make them fun to watch. I'm always compelled to take a look at them through binoculars. They have such interesting fieldmarks with their white eyebrow, curved bill, and cocked up little tail. The two wrens in my yard have been working as a tag team, calling back and forth to each other. "Hey Caroline-There's a fresh batch of peanuts over here"!
Blue Jays are underrated if you ask me. It took a moment to stop and appreciate the bold facial markings of this jay.
I don't think any bird appreciates the peanuts I put out more than the Tufted Titmouse.
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I captured a short segment of a Red-bellied Woodpecker at the suet. The starlings that showed up couldn't seem to get along with each other as usual.
The Downy Woodpecker is another bird that we take for granted just because they're usually the most common woodpeckers at the feeders. Still a nice bird though.
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This Northern Flicker drove me crazy. I saw it on the suet and was so impressed by the bright yellow coloring on it's underside that I set up my camera on a tripod and constructed a blind out of cardboard to take photos from my breezeway. I am convinced that this flicker knew what I was up to. Every time I attempted to get the flickers photo, it flew off. If I left the house, it came back. My wife, Joan, would call me on my cell phone to give me updates. The best I could do was get this video of Mr. Flicker giving me that suspicious look as it perched on the top of the shepherd hook. I've got a couple of days off and I'm looking forward to catching up on reading all of your blogs.
Merry Christmas And Happy Holidays To Everyone!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Books by Julie Zickefoose, John C. Robinson, and Nevada Barr

I recently read a book titled Letters From Eden by Julie Zickefoose. The book is a collection of stories about her encounters with birds and other animals. What makes the book special is the way Julie is able to bring each story to life using words, sketches, and paintings that are able to connect the reader with each moment by seeing them through her eyes. She is able to take what is happening in her own life at the moment, and make a seamless transition into nature.

One of the things I enjoyed about reading this book is that each chapter was an individual story. This allowed me to read the book at my own pace whenever the mood hit me. The morning after I finished this book. I was inspired to sketch three bluebirds perched on a snag in the middle of a bog. This book also gave me some new ideas as to how I might approach my own observations of birds and animals. Birding For Everyone -by John C. Robinson
John C. Robinson , world renowned natural history tour guide leader, ornithologist, delves into the topic as to why there seems to be a lack of interest in birding and other nature related activities among African-Americans . In this book, John talks about some of his birding experiences and shares a few tips about his personal approach to birding. The main point of this book is to bring attention to the fact that there is a lack of participation amongst African-Americans and other minorities in the birding community. The book uses statistical analysis gathered from various surveys to offer some possible explanations as to why this is true and suggests some ideas on how to start reversing this trend. John makes the point that Americans now considered to be minorities will become the majority in the not too distant future. This is something that is important to consider if we want to vote people into office that are interested in passing laws that will protect the environment.

Winteer Study-by Nevada Barr
Nevada Barr is a National Park Service ranger who has written a number of mystery novels with Park Ranger Anna Pigeon as the lead character. I listened to the audio version on my mp3 and thought the voice characterizations were done very well. The story takes place in Michigan's Isle Royale National Park where Anna pigeon is sent out to join a team that studies wolves. Homeland Security also plays a part in the story as they are considering shutting down the 50 year old wolf study project. Several Members of the team are viciously attacked and killed by a new breed of giant wolves ....but is there more to the story? This is the first book I've read by Nevada Barr and found it to be very entertaining-like Lifetime meets Discovery channel. I especially enjoyed the parts where she so vividly describes scenes in which the characters have been overcome by the elements of nature. I'm looking forward to reading more of her books in the future.

Note: If you live in Connecticut, check out this link to download free audio books on to your mp3.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tornadoes In Connecticut? Run Toto Run!

I put in a solid 10 hour day of birding Sunday for a Christmas Count. I was driving across the bridge to meet with the other participants of the count when I saw this mysterious cloud . My common sense told me that there wouldn't be a giant tornado in Connecticut during the month of December . Still, I did a double take when I saw this interesting cloud formation illuminated by the late afternoon sun.

Friday, December 12, 2008

First Snow Of The Season

Last Sunday, I walked through the fields and woods of Wangunk Meadows until I ended up in this pumpkin field in Glastonbury. Where's Charlie Brown?
I managed to avoid the high winds that had been predicted for that day and instead found the air to be still and refreshing. The snow that fell Sunday barely coated the ground but it was enough to bring back some fond memories. I reminisced about how I used to build snow forts with the neighborhood kids , stage elaborate snowball fights, and race down Foss Hill with my Flexible Flyer. I remember one Christmas Eve when we looked out the door and saw snow rapidly accumulating on the roads and sidewalks. The giant snowflakes had a magical quality to them as they fell silently in front of the streetlights. This inspired a group of family and friends to go from doorstep to doorstep singing Christmas carols. The whole experience was like a scene from a Dicken's novel.
The falling snow seemed to muffle the sounds of distant noises like planes and traffic. This seemed to make the chatter of the birds more clear and distinct. I wonder if I could tell if it was snowing simply by the smell and sound of the air?
The birds were very active on this morning as they usually are when it snows. Watching them search for food reminded me of people who rush out to the store as soon as they hear the word snow in the forecast. People stock up on food as though their lives depended on it. The difference being that the lives of birds do depend on their ability to find food. Can you find the hidden bird in the above photo?
During much of the year, I tend to look past some of the more common birds because I'm looking for migrants. Winter is a time that I'm more able to appreciate birds like this Black-capped Chickadee.
I admire the ability of birds that manage to survive through tough winters. It's hard to believe that cardinals were once a southern species. I saw over a dozen male cardinals during Sunday's
walk. Cardinals always seem to be most stunning against a snowy background. Most of the birds I saw were the same that I might see at my feeders this time of the year. Goldfinches, various woodpeckers, titmice, and sparrows. The exceptions would be the Swamp Sparrows, Red-tailed hawks, and Eastern Bluebirds that I encountered. Still, for some reason, there's something special about all the birds during the first snow of the season.
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What are some of your fondest memories of snow?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Songbird Lyrics 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-answered

1)Maybe you think that love was made for fools. So it makes you wise to break the rules..

2)Just then I saw a young hawk flyin', And my soul began to rise, And pretty soon, my heart was singin'...

3)You'll remember me when the west wind moves-Among the fields of barley -You can tell the sun in his jealous sky

4)Sleigh bells in the air. Beauty everywhere. Yuletide by- the fireside And joyful memories there

5)Guess who eats together at the Carnegie Deli? Bowser from Sha Na Na and Arthur Fonzarelli!

6)So long sad times-Pull along bad times-We are rid of you at last

7)'Cause I have wandered through this world
And as each moment has unfurled

8)Down in Louisiana- Where the alligators grow so mean
There lived a girl that I swear to the world -Made the alligators look tame

9)If I seem edgy, I want you to know, -That I never mean to take it out on you.
Life has its problems, and I get my share, -And that's one thing I never mean to do

10)Saturday night and you're still hangin' around-Tired of living in your one horse town-You'd like to find a little hole in the ground, For awhile

11) Some folks like to get away, Take a holiday from the neighborhood. Hop a flight to Miami Beach or to Hollywood. But I'm takin' a Greyhound on the Hudson River line...

12) I want you to know, that I'm happy for you-I wish nothing but the best for you both

13)By the county line the cops were nipping on our wheels-Pulled off the road kicked it to 4 wheel-Shut off the lights, tore through a corn field

14)This morning put salt in my coffee. I put my shoes on the wrong feet. I'm losin' my mind, I swear; It might be the death of me, But I don't care.

15) I, I’m driving black on black -Just got my license back-I got this feeling in my veins this train is coming off the track

16)Time cast a spell on you -But you won't forget me

17)It is the summer of my smiles - flee from me Keepers of the Gloom. Speak to me only with your eyes. It is to you I give this tune.

18) A church house Gin house- A school house Outhouse-On Highway Number Nineteen-The people keep the city clean

19)You say you're cried a thousand rivers-And now you're swimming for the shore-You left me drowning in my tears-And you won't save me anymore

20)I've wasted all my tears-Wasted all of those years-And nothing had the chance to be good-Cause nothing ever could oh yeah

21)The mood is right- The spirits up- We're here tonight- And that's enough

22)Out of all the reindeers you know you're the mastermind

23)A cloud appears above your head-A beam of light comes shining down on you-Shining down on you

24)We sailed on together-We drifted apart-And here you are by my side

25)Oh oh here she comes-Watch out boy she'll chew you up

26)May God bless and keep you always -May your wishes all come true-
May you always do for others -And let others do for you

27)And I've lost my light-For I toss and turn I can't sleep at night

28)Movin' down a crowded avenue- Doing anything we like to do -There's always lots of things that we can see- You can be anyone we like to be

29)Well, I grew up quick and I grew up mean, My fist got hard and my wits got keen,

30)Well, if it rains, I don’t care-Don’t make no difference to me

Friday, December 5, 2008

Call Me Gullible When It Comes To Gulls

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Last Friday, I had already decided that I was going to look for gulls the next day. The only ones I usually see are Ring-billed, Herring, Black-backed and the occasional Laughing Gull that hangs outside of the comedy club. My plan was to make an attempt to figure out the age of gulls based on their plumage and markings. On the same night, a report came across that a Slaty-backed Gull had been found at the Windsor Landfill. This would be the first confirmed record of one in Connecticut. A very skilled and determined birder named Nick Bonomo was the one who found it. I decided to take a ride the next morning to see if the gull was still around . I arrived at the landfill as soon as it opened along with 20 other birders. Soon after we arrived, We saw this (1st winter?) Iceland Gull.
There must have been well over a thousand Gulls at the dump, probably more. I didn't take the time to count them.
We found the bird we were looking for within the first half-hour that I was there. In all honesty, I don't know that I would have picked this gull out amongst the others that day if I were by myself. I guess I'll never know. Another birder who was knowledgeable about gulls found the slaty-backed for us. I had to see it a few times before I was able to clearly distinguish it from the other gulls. The photos I took of the bird of the bird came out poorly. You can see the Slaty-backed Gull does have very pink legs and somewhat of a pot belly. It also has black wing tips with white dots that you can see when the bird flies. Click on the link for Nick Bonomo's blog: Shorebirder to see a detailed description of the SB-Gull along with some great photos of the bird. It was fun to know that I was seeing the first confirmed Slaty-backed Gull in Connecticut. One birder from New Jersey told me that he had missed this particular gull on five previous attempts.
I watched gulls at the Windsor Landfill before heading off to Wethersfield Cove to have a look at what was hanging around there. I took notes, photos, and even made sketches of the gulls that I saw. I posted the photos on a bird identification website and sadly discovered that my assessment of the gulls ages were mostly wrong. A lot of them turned out to be "sub-adults according to other birders who had some experience with gulls ." In fairness to myself, I didn't even see sub-adult listed as one of the choices in my field guide. I'm thinking about purchasing a gull specific field guide to help me gain a little more knowledge on the subject. I saw a review by Mike of 10,000 Birds for a field guide called Gulls Of The Americas.
Does anyone have a recommendation for a field guide that specialize in gulls?
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Here's a video of the Slaty-backed Gull in action. There was a lot of noise from the wind but you can also hear birders talking in the background, some of whom came from out of state just to see the Slaty-backed Gull.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Destruction Of Habitat In Canadian Boreal Forest

I received the following e-mail today:
My name is Paige Knappenberger, and as an intern for the Natural Resources Defense Council I do social network outreach for our Advocacy Campaigns department. Today we released a big report describing how continued tar sands development in the Canadian Boreal Forest is destroying the habitat of many migrating bird species that spend their winters in our backyards. Basically, when our feathered friends return to Canada in the spring they are going to be homeless if the destruction of their habitat is allowed to continue unfettered. I was hoping you might be willing to share the report with your readers to help raise awareness about this problem.

This is the first I've heard of this particular problem so I am passing along this article but I don't know all the facts about this particular situation.

Danger in the Nursery
Impact of Tar Sands Oil Development in Canada’s Boreal on Birds
Each spring more than half of America's birds flock to the Canadian Boreal forest to nest. There, tens of millions of birds -- as many as 500 breeding pairs per square mile of forests, lakes, river valleys, and wetlands -- spend the winter. Yet almost all the biggest oil companies are mining and drilling important Boreal forest and wetlands to access thick, low-grade petroleum. As much as an area the size of Florida is endangered. This December 2008 report from NRDC, The Pembina Institute and the Boreal Songbird Initiative describes how Canada and the United States must protect migratory birds and bird habitat from this new form of high-impact energy development.

Tar sands oil development creates open pit mines, habitat fragmentation, toxic waste holding ponds, air and water pollution, upgraders and refineries, and pipelines spreading far beyond the Boreal forest. This development is destroying habitat for waterfowl and songbirds that come from all over the Americas to nest in the Boreal. Each year between 22 million and 170 million birds breed in the 35 million acres of Boreal forest that could eventually be developed for tar sands oil.

Faced with tar sands development, migrating birds don't just move elsewhere since they depend on a certain type of habitat. Not only do many adult birds die when faced with lost and fragmented habitat and ponds of mining waste, but future generations of birds will have lost their chance to exist.

The rapidly expanding industrial tar sands oil extraction operations increasingly place these birds at risk. Virtually every facet of tar sands oil development has the potential to harm Boreal birds -- many of which are migratory birds that are protected by treaty and national law. Combining the various estimates of the loss of birds from mining and in situ operations, the report projects a cumulative impact over the next 30 to 50 years ranging from a low of about 6 million birds lost to as many as 166 million birds lost.
Tar sands oil development should not be the solution to our fuel needs. Both Canada and the United States have a choice to make between fuels that harm the environment (including damage to critical bird habitat) and clean energy now.

Danger in the Nursery: Impact of Tar Sands Oil Development in Canada’s Boreal on Birds. By Jeff Wells, Ph.D., Boreal Songbird Initiative; Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, Gabriela Chavarria, Ph.D., NRDC. November 2008. Print version, $7.00. Order print copies.

Here is another link on the same subject: Millions of birds could die from oilsands development

I would also like to pass along a link to the Cornell Online Store.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Leftovers

I hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving and for those who don't celebrate the holiday, there's always something to be thankful for anyway. I just finished up a huge plate of Thanksgiving leftovers along with some cake and pie. Right now, I am about as lazy as could be. I decided this would be a good time to use up some of my leftover photos and video. They are in no particular order. I'll decided to add some brief comments using the bullet method. This turned out to be a mistake because I accidentally deleted photos from this post about 6 times by trying to shorten the space between the photos and paragraphs. Once I deleted them, they had to be uploaded all over again.

  • The top photo is a view of the Connecticut River from the Gillette Castle observation area taken today at the end of a Hartford Audubon Field trip. This is a good area to see Bald Eagles from during the winter. We saw one adult and one immature Bald Eagle here today.

  • Before stopping at Gillette Castle, we worked off a few calories with a walk through Machimoodus Park in East Haddam. The birds were kind of quiet today but we did manage to see a few interesting species including a Hermit Thrush, Bufflehead and a good-sized flock of Eastern Bluebirds. There were hunters trying to shoot ducks in the cove while we were trying to look at them. A few bird shot even made their way up the hill and into our area.

  • Last weekend I took a ride to a private Simsbury home to see a Calliope Hummingbird. I couldn't resist taking a photo of this chickadee while I was there.

  • I did see the Calliope Hummingbird which is very rare is Connecticut. I think only one other one was seen last year but it must have got the word out to his friends because another one showed up this year in Simsbury. It was really nice that the owner let people up on the deck to view the hummingbird. There was no morning light where the photo was taken and I didn't want to use the flash. The owner of the house is into sports and is betting his Calliope Hummingbird will stick around longer than last year's Calliope Hummingbird. He calls the bird Charlie and keeps it's feeder well stocked with nectar.

  • This young deer was feeding on the grass about 10 feet away from road workers along Research Parkway in Meriden and didn't seem to have a worry in the world.

  • I saw my first Hooded Mergansers of the Fall last weekend. I like them so I took a picture of them. That's all I have to say about that.

  • I posted one photo of a Palm Warbler from my October camping trip already but I like the way the sunlight shows the yellow underneath the tail of this one.

  • Here is a video of Theresa Kramer talking at the Northwest Park Nature Center during Hartford Audubon's Family Day which took place on October 5th. I hadn't posted this previously. I will post it now so I can delete it from my computer.

  • Here is a video from last weekend of a Red-tailed Hawk getting mobbed by crows. Now I am going to relax and read a book but I'll be back out searching for birds tomorrow morning. Hope you enjoyed my Thanksgiving Leftovers!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Faithfully Following Foraging Flocks Facilitates Finding Foreign Fowl

Last Saturday (11/16/08) I took a ride to the ponds along Research Parkway in Meriden, CT. I wanted to see if I could relocate the Eurasian Wigeon that Vern had spotted when he made his visit to Connecticut. There were still plenty of American Wigeons as well as a Northern Pintail, but the Eurasian Wigeon must have been hiding somewhere. I was talking to a young birder, (a guy in his early 20's, if that) who was telling me about his birding adventures over the last year. He had come into some money and decided to drive all the way to Alaska and build his list of birds along the way. As we were talking, a third birder came along and informed us of a Barnacle Goose that had just been seen on a farm off of North Branford Road in Wallingford. I thanked him for the information and within 15 minutes I was at the farm. I found the Barnacle Goose mixed in with a flock of Canada Geese. It's markings were very distinct. The white face and black that extended down to the breast made the bird easy to pick out with binoculars. It was the first time that I had seen one and I was very impressed by it's appearance. At the same farm there was an added bonus. It has an orange bill but it's too small to be a Great Egret and Snowy Egrets have a black bill. This bird seems to have shorter legs and is a little bit chunkier than a snowy. The reason it doesn't fit into either category is that this was a Cattle Egret! That is another pretty good bird to see in Connecticut and was also another first for me.

It was great to see the Cattle Egret and the Barnacle Goose on the same morning. News had spread quickly of the favorable viewing location of the two rarities. When I see rare bird chasers in action, they remind me of a secret government agency. They should have a special name-How about the AVI (Avian Bureau Of Investigation)? As the convoy of cars arrived, there were cell phones, binoculars, spotting scopes, two way radios, and cameras with giant lenses everywhere. I'm not complaining about it. After all, I was there doing the same thing. It just gets to be kind of amusing at times. As pleased as I was to have seen these two rarities, it would have been more fun if I had found them myself. You have to give credit to the birders who find some of these rare birds. They put in a lot of time carefully scanning through large flocks one by one. Most of the time they don't find anything unusual. Many birders don't have the patience to search through every flock of Canada Geese they come across. I've been trying to make a point to search through large flocks of birds, but apparently I don't do it consistently enough or I probably would have found something besides the occasional Brant by now.

I was on my way to Simsbury, hoping to get a look at the recently reported Calliope and thinking about what I was going to write in this post. I was traveling along Day Hill Road in Windsor and noticed a flock of Canada Geese. Probably just a bunch of Canada Geese and nothing more I thought but I would have felt hypocritical if I didn't stop to take a look. When I first entered the lot, some of the geese took flight before settling down again. I started scanning through the flock. I caught a glimpse of an orange bill on one of the geese in the pond. Probably one of those domestic Graylag geese I thought. I remember being fooled by them before.
The orange-billed goose then came out of the pond and started to walk across the grass. It had white behind the bill and orange legs. It had a dark area on the side. The head and body were smaller than what I've seen on Graylags. It turns out that I was rewarded for my efforts because this bird turned out to be the much rarer Greater White-fronted Goose. I was pleased to have found this bird on my own for a change without having to rely on the CT rare bird listserver!

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This is a short video of the Cattle Egret I saw last weekend.

Additional Notes: For interesting information and great photos about the birds mentioned in this, post see Gaggles Of Geese in the November 14th post of Talking Nature With Greg Hanisek. He is very knowledgeable about the population and distribution of birds in Connecticut. He is the guy to ask if you have any questions about birds in Connecticut.

There have been a lot of interesting birds seen in the fields and ponds near route 68. Here are a few places to check in that area:
  • Mckenzie Reservoir in Wallingford .
  • The ponds on either side of Research Parkway in Meriden.
  • Traveling down 68 from route 17 in Durham, there is a skating pond on the left, and further down the road there is a game club pond on the right.
  • The Lyman's Orchard Pond in Middlefield.
  • There are also a number of farm fields throughout the area that are worth checking.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

In The Light

There are a number of definitions and usages for the word Light in the English language. It is a verb, adverb, noun, adjective and is frequently mentioned in reference to spiritual awareness. For the purpose of this post, I would say that light and the lack of light influenced both my thoughts and actions.

I looked out the picture window of my living room at 6:30am and determined that it was going to be one of those gray, drab, days. It wasn't raining but a light mist stayed suspended in the air throughout the morning. One of the things I enjoy most about the birding experience is enjoying the visual beauty of the birds. They are like living works of art set in a natural landscape and you get the added enjoyment of being able to observe their behavior as well. Of course the quality of lighting really plays an important role in what we see. On cloudy , gray days we just aren't able to see the color and detail that we can on a clear, sunny day. Having considered all this, I just wasn't in the mood to do any birding. I considered chasing after something that might have showed up on the rare bird report or just going back to bed for some much needed rest. I know that it is vital for me to spend time outdoors on the weekend so I settled on the idea of exploring a new trail in the area. I checked in my Eastern version of The Connecticut Walk Book and found a listing for a portion of the Shenipsit Trail off of Birch Mountain Road in Glastonbury.

There didn't seem to be many birds around. I did enjoy listening to the vocalizations of a large flock of European Starlings. With all the strange noises they make, it does seem to me that there is a lot of communication going on between these birds. I also saw another flock of about 30 Pine Siskins but they appeared as not much more than dark silhouettes in the top of a tree. I will say that I enjoyed looking at some of the rock formations and glacial boulders along the trail. The lack of light didn't diminish their appearance. My mind wanders on nearly birdless walks like these. I thought about all the unnecessary purchases that I made during the days when the economy was more robust (about eight years ago). I wish that I could return some of that unneeded junk and deposit the money back into a bank account. At least nature will always be there for us to enjoy free of charge regardless of what the economy is doing. Then I went on to consider the fact that when we're looking at stars, we are looking at light from years ago. I guess the same would hold true with objects that we see here on earth. It must take time, no matter how minuscule, for the light reflected off of an object to travel to our eyes. When we move forward, are we looking into the past or walking into the future? If I could empty the junk in my mind onto the trails that I walk, there would be no room for hikers.
I saw this sign on my way out. It seemed to put things in perspective for the day.
Sunday was the opposite of Saturday. It was all sun and no clouds. I made a visit to Dead Man's Swamp in Cromwell which is located between Main Street and the Connecticut River. There was no need to spend time thinking on a day like this. All I did was walk about the fields enjoying the birds and scenery. There were hundreds of sparrows in the field including White-throated, Swamp, Savannah, and my first Fox Sparrow of the Fall. Other species included Northern Flicker, Pine Siskins, Northern Harrier, 4 Red-tailed Hawks, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Carolina Wren, Winter Wren, Belted kingfisher, and Brown Creeper.
On this day, even commonly seen species were pleasant to look at. I watched Canada Geese pass overhead as the sun reflected off of their wings.
American Goldfinches, even lacking their brilliant summer plumage, had me captivated. I must now end this post abruptly because the Library is closing. This post will probably contain plenty of errors since I had to rush through it. I can't wait to get my own computer back.
click to play
Here is a video of a Brown Creeper creeping up a tree. They have a wonderful song if you happen to catch them at the right time of year. Most of the time they make this tiny ringing sound that you can hear quite well on this video. It is this sound that usually draws my attention to Brown Creepers before I actually see them.
And if you feel that you can't go on
And your will's sinkin' low
Just believe and you can't go wrong
In the light you will find the road
You will find the road -
-Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Birding With Vern

On Wednesday, the day after election day, I met up with Vern from Pennsylvania to do a little birding. He used to have an excellent blog called Big Spring Birds but decided to call it quits for now. I met Vern in Cromwell and after a brief introduction, we headed over to a pond in Meriden located on Research Parkway. I wasn't at my sharpest having stayed up late watching the elections. Vern was following me and I ended up taking a wrong turn or two but we managed to get to our destination in reasonable time. here were two ponds at the location but the one we were looking for was bordered by route 91. It was a busy area and the area around the pond had an ample supply of ticks. The pond itself, however was loaded with ducks, not ticks. There were about 100 American Wigeon in this small pond. The one Vern was looking for was a Eurasian Wigeon. After some careful searching using his scope, he found it-LIFER! There was also a couple of female Bufflehead, 2 Northern Pintail, and a Green-winged Teal in the pond along with various other goodies. Vern is a friendly laid-back sort of fellow that is easy to get along with. He also has a wry sense of humor and is an excellent birder as well. This is especially true when it comes to birding by ear. I can identify a lot of birds by their songs but Vern is able to identify a bird while it's still clearing its throat getting ready to sing! He is also very organized. He brought along a portfolio that included precise directions along with other information sealed in plastic protectors. I have information too, but its loaded up in a giant mound in the back of my truck.

Our next stop was at Hammonasset State Park in Madison, CT. This is one of Connecticut's better birding spots but the birds were kind of quiet on this day. We did have some interesting sightings though. As we came to one marsh across from the nature center, a large brownish bird flew low across the marsh. Vern said that he was pretty certain it was an American Bittern. "We consider that a trashbird where I come from" he said. "Trashbird!" I said. "An American Bittern is a pretty good species to see in Connecticut!" Apparently, bitterns are so common in the marshes in Vern's area that they have to spray the canoes with bittern repellent in order to be able to make their way through the water!

We also saw a few raptors around the park including a Merlin, Cooper's Hawk, and a Northern Harrier. There were also plenty of Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets around. Birding on the Willard's Island trail was very slow but we did see a Hermit Thrush on the way out.
We had some interesting sightings over at Meig's Point. Vern Spotted a Ruddy Turnstone out on the rockpile and we had a close view of some Sanderlings along the beach. We saw some loons out in the distance and finally decided that they were Common Loons. We walked along another trail that bordered the shoreline. We saw a dark headed bird that flashed a lot of white when it flew. Upon further investigation, it turned out to be a White-winged Scoter. We walked further along the trail, and saw some more birds off in the distance. I could make out some white on the backs of their heads and wondered if they might be Buffleheads. When we looked at them through the scope, there was no mistaking that they were Surf Scoters. We had a great look at them. Neither of us had seen them from such a close distance before. They have really bold white markings on the front and back of their heads along with a very distinctive bills. Some birders call them Skunk-headed Coots. This was my favorite sighting of the day. What unusual looking birds. I can't remember if there were six or eight of them because I don't have my notes with me here at the library but it was a treat to see them.

We ended our search in the West Beach area of the park. There had been a Nelsons Sharp-tailed Sparrow reported there. We searched the area where it had been reported along a marsh but if it was there, it wasn't cooperating. We saw a few suspect sparrows pop up but after that they stayed deep under cover. One last bonus for Vern was that he saw his first Monk Parakeets in North America. We could see the lime-green birds flying off . They sounded a little bit like terns we thought. We didn't see a lot of species-only about 35 or so but we had fun.

We decided to call it quits and headed over to the nearby Fishtale Restaurant. I had some scallops and Vern had fried clams. It was a nice way to end the morning. Vern continued on to Rhode Island after that as part of his whirlwind New England birding tour. He also planned to go Maine and up to northern Vermont looking for Boreal species. Good luck Vern-It was a pleasure meeting you !
After Vern left, I started thinking about how we had missed out on that Nelson's Sparrow. I decided to go back to the park and search for it one more time. I went back to the same spot and after 10 minutes of searching, there it was! -Nothing! Again! I did see some other birds that had eluded us before though. There were 14 Snow Buntings in a lot that was further back than we had searched previously.
I also saw an Eastern meadowlark which was actually very interesting to me. At first, it stayed in deep grass and all I could see was the back of it. I never had a close-up view of one and all I could remember was the bright yellow belly. I noted a bird with a boldly striped back of the head and long bill that was acting very strangely. When it emerged, I was kind of surprised to see that it was a meadowlark. I was also struck by how conspicuous the white on its tail feathers were. It kept flicking and flashing the white on its tail. It was also larger up close than I would have imagined. The last birds that I saw on the way out were a group of Black-bellied Plovers in a grassy portion of one of the parking lots.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Dangers Of Listing!

It was a cool Fall morning with the temperatures only in the 40's. I parked along the side of a dirt road and started to gather my birding gear as I usually do; vest, field guide, camera, notebook, pen, and of course, binoculars.

As I walked around the perimeter of the pond, I could see fog rising off of the water. I reached the entrance to a trail that would lead me deep into a little known area of Connecticut woods. Although I wouldn't consider myself a lister, I decided that I would try to find at least 35 species this morning. I didn't want to pick a number that would be too difficult to reach. I figured 35 would be just enough to make a game out of it. The first species I saw was a Blue Jay that hopped out on the edge of a gnarled Oak Tree branch. It called out with brashly with an its alarm that sounded like- thief! thief! thief! The Jay scraped its bill across the bark at an angle that showed off its crest nicely. I started to add to the list as I moved along : Carolina Wren, American Robin, Northern Cardinal, Belted Kingfisher, White-throated Sparrow, American Crow, and Chipping Sparrow were quickly added to the list. I went a bit further and a loud squeeeak! came for the top of the top of a dead tree-Northern Flicker-#9, 21 more to go. A Red-shouldered Hawk cried out kyear kyear and flew from a nearby tree to another one further off in the distance.

As I approached a chain-lined fence reached the first fence, I noted my species count was at 17 .

I really don't want to specify the exact location I was birding in. It is a private area surrounded by multi-million dollar homes with advanced security systems. Behind the homes is a large tract of woods which is of limits to the public. It is bordered by an old chain link fence covered with vines and hidden behind heavy shrubs. A friend of mine who does landscaping told me about a portion of the fence which had been pulled away, creating an opening through which to enter. I crawled through the opening , pushing away the vines and shrubs as I forced my way through. My shirt temporarily got caught on a sharp piece of the metal making my adrenaline rise as I didn't want to get caught in the act.

Many years ago, when I was just a young boy, I used to fish in this area with my father. I miss the days when we were able to catch feisty native trout in some of the streams that run through here. They were darker than the stocked varieties and covered with brightly colored spots.

I couldn't find any trails so I had to walk straight up the middle of a small stream. I continued to walk for about a mile. Most of the stream was fairly shallow and the banks were lined with a massive tangle of shrubs and thickets. I added Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pine Warbler, and White-breasted Nuthatch along the way. As I was climbing out of the stream bed, I slipped and managed to get one of my feet wet. Fortunately, I had extra socks in my vest.

An old trail went at least 2 miles deeper into the woods before leading me to another fenced in area. I remembered my father warning me to stay away from this particular neck of the woods. He never went into much detail as to why I should stay away, just that it was dangerous. Over the years I have heard stories about this area. Everything from UFOs, government experiments, haunted woods, to Bigfoot like creatures were rumoured to have been seen here. I wasn't buying any of it. The UFOs were probably attributable to swamp gas or some sort of military aircraft. The Bigfoot-like creatures were reported by kids but they may have been Black Bears which have been known to wander through on occasion. Still, other people have said they have heard strange voices seeming to come from underground. If you've ever spent long periods of time in the deep woods like I have, it's easy for your imagination to get carried away. The sounds of trees rubbing together on a windy day can create eerie sounds that can make your imagination run wild.

The second fence would be much tougher to penetrate. As I approached it, a Gray Catbird popped on top of a shrub near the fence. It let out several of it cat squawks as I approached it, almost as if it were forbidding me to go in-"hello to you Mr. Catbird"! I said to it quietly.
I was thinking maybe I could climb it but with barbed wire at the top, this would be a very difficult task. instead, I followed it along the edge for about 300 yards before coming to a spot where it appeared that some of the soil had eroded from underneath the fence. It was filled in with some small boulders so I started to pull them out and throw them aside. After all of them had been removed, there was a trench leading under the fence that was almost big enough for me to squeeze under. I spent the next 20 minutes digging the hole out to make it bigger using a large, flat, rock as a tool. I got on my back and wiggled my way through to the other side.

The habitat in the second area was a little more open. There were thick areas of Mountain Laurel, a small swamp, evergreens, and mixed hardwoods. I walked away from the fence into a wooded area. I could hear the drops of dew falling from the trees, dampening the layer of leaves that now coated the ground. A Red-bellied Woodpecker flew over to the top of a dead standing tree. My view of the woodpecker was obstructed but I could hear it tapping its bill on the hollowed wood. Its pattern of tapping was interesting as it seemed to vary in speed and intensity. It reminded me of Morse code, which I had learned from a chart on the front of my walkie- talkies when I was a kid. They had a little red button that we pushed to send Morse Code signals to each other. Just for laughs, I followed the pattern of the woodpecker's tapping to see if I could come up with some letters. This is what I came up with: I_tr_der. I couldn't figure out the 2nd and 4th letter but I found it an odd curiosity that if the letters were n and u , it would spell out the word intruder. Of course woodpeckers don't know Morse code so this was just a strange coincidence. Still, the pattern of its tapping seemed unusual. The Red-bellied Woodpecker was my 33rd bird, so I only needed two more to reach my goal of 35.

I came to a patch of shrubs too thick to get past so I worked my way back out toward the fence. It was then that I saw a Black-capped Chickadee fly from the outside of the fence and land in a nearby tree. that was number 34. It let out a chicka-dee-dee-ee call. Immediately after that 3 more chickadees darted in and surrounded the first bird. I noticed something different about these other ones though. All three of them had a large white patch around their eyes. It made their eyes look as if they were bulging out. That's not all either. These birds had a different call that I had never heard from any other chickadees. It was a louder, slower and raspier call that sounded more like a checka-checka-dee-duh-duh-dee. I know that certain birds can be partially albino but these chickadees were huge by chickadee standards. They were more like the size of a Fox Sparrow, with larger bills too. What are the odds of seeing three birds like this? Very strange. What happened next I found to be very disturbing. I can't even bring myself to describe the way these 3 chickadees reacted towards the normal chickadee. I felt awful for the poor bird desperately trying to defend itself against the others but in the end it didn't have a chance. As much as it would be exciting to discover some new species, I hope these birds aren't capable of reproducing more of their kind.
-Note: After they are done checking the video and photos for authenticity, I will post them on this blog for those of you who are interested in seeing them. I will have to take them down after that because they would be too upsetting to look at for most people.
After my disturbing encounter with the mutant chickadees, I decided that I had enough birding for the day. I really didn't care any more whether or not I reached my goal of 35 species. I took a short cut by cutting across a small stream. Then I picked up a wide dirt trail on the other side. I was looking down admiring my shadow when I heard something large passing through the woods along side me. I was thinking it might be a deer but I was shocked when I caught a brief glimpse of what looked to be a man(or woman) wearing a black hooded sweatshirt moving rapidly through the woods. Why wouldn't they use the path? I wondered. They ran so fast that he was out of my sight within seconds. I started running a little myself because at this point, I really wanted to get out of there. I climbed on top of a big rock and looked downward to the bottom of a steep hill. I could see a large rock ledge with an opening to some sort of cave leading into it. I could also make out what looked to be some sort of metal table set up in the opening of the cave . It was what I saw next that absolutely shocked me! (I wish that I could describe it to you but I was told that I have to block out the next paragraph until they are finished with their investigation).
I was so scared that I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. Still, I felt that I needed to get more photos as evidence but my memory card was full. I remembered that my old memory was still in my camera case so I quickly changed cards. After snapping off another 50 photos, I started running, trying to retrace my steps to where I started. Finally I started to see some familiar territory and knew that I didn't have much further to go. I stopped to catch my breath and saw two woodpeckers that looked like either Downy or Hairy Woodpeckers. They were acting very agitated, making a lot of loud Pik! and squeak! noises as they moved erratically around the base of a large tree. Either species would have brought my total up to 30. I bent down to tie my shoe and both of them buzzed so close by my head that I think they might have actually made contact with my hair. That was the last thing that I remembered.
When I first opened my eyes, I was very disoriented. Everything was dark and I was lying on something that was very uncomfortable that had some sort of ridges on it. I started to panic a little. What time is it? Were people looking for me? I didn't like that feeling. Then it dawned on me where I was. I was lying in the bed of my pickup truck. The ribbed thing I was lying on was my plastic bed liner. It was dark because I had a black vinyl top covering the back. I pried up the back of the cover and opened the tailgate. It was still daylight--phew!!! -But what on earth had happened to me? I wasn't hurt . My camera was missing but I still had my binoculars and my notebook. My last 50 pictures were gone with my camera but I still had all of the photos on my first card. I looked at my notes to try to help piece things together. As I was looking over the ABA checklist of birds I noticed that someone... or something, had added another species to my list. There was a small but prominent hole poked through the checklist immediately to the right of what would be my 35th species, Hairy Woodpecker-number 35. Listing birds can be a very dangerous game.

I'm sure it's obvious that this post is completely fictional but I just wanted to make this clear. I saw no mutant chickadees, Morse-Code tapping woodpeckers or hooded people. I didn't break through any fences or get transported to my truck in a state of unconsciousness.