Tuesday, January 29, 2008

One Day Birding Marathon Helps Bring Total Number Of Species To 93

The first 78 species on my January list were compiled independently. In order to exceed 90, I would need to visit the western part of the state looking for species that I am less familiar with. On Saturday, I met up with a group of birders who had one common goal; to add as many species to their January list as they could. I arrived at a commuter parking lot in Chester, CT at 7:30am so that we could carpool for the trip. We didn't return to that parking lot until 6pm!
I like the idea of carpooling if you're going to be putting on a lot of miles for a birding excursion. It's cheaper, more efficient, and seems like the environmentally conscious thing to do. Adrian and Beth led the trip, which focused on the Connecticut shoreline. We made numerous stops between Old Saybrook and Stratford.

Here are some of the highlights of the trip:
  • At Hammonasset State Park (Madison) we saw several robust Fox Sparrows scratching for food beneath cedar trees. We missed out on seeing a Western Tanager, which has been reported being seen here, but we all had a nice view of a Pine Warbler, which seems strangely out of place in the month of January.

  • While at the Stewart B. McKinney Wildlife Refuge in Stratford, we had a fairly close-up view of a Black-crowned Night Heron. We also spotted an American Kestrel which could only be identified by using a scope.

  • We visited several other ponds and river inlets in Stratford, which led to sightings of Canvasback, Ring-necked Ducks, Greater Scaup, White-winged Scoter and Long-tailed Ducks (only males have the long tail).

  • Our final stop was in New Haven. We were able to see some Northern Rough-winged Swallows which were flying around near a sewage treatment plant in East Shore Park. The last species of the day was a life bird for me! The Brant (below) were seen right at sunset in Fort Nathan Hale Park. From what I understand, they are fairly common in this area. They look similar to a Canada Goose but have some unique features including a smaller bill and an all-black face.

I received a lot of help with finding and identifying the birds that I saw on Saturday, but I was careful to make sure that I could recognize the identifying field marks on each species that I added to the list. This final big day of birding was very enjoyable as well as a great learning experience. I was also able to surpass my goal of seeing 90 species in the month of January!

Here is my complete list of species for January: Red-throated Loon, Common Loon, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Cormorant, American Bittern, Great Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Turkey Vulture, Canada Goose, Brant, Mute Swan, Gadwall, American Wigeon, American Black Duck, Mallard, Canvasback, Ring-necked Duck, Greater Scaup, Surf Scoter, White-winged Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Merlin, Ring-necked Pheasant, Wild Turkey, Black-bellied Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Purple Sandpiper, Dunlin, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Greater black-backed Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Fish Crow, Horned Lark, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Carolina Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Eastern Bluebird, Hermit Thrush -(seen Sunday 1/27/08) , American Robin, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pine Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Eastern Towhee, American Tree Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Snow Bunting, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Purple Finch, House Finch, Red Crossbill, Common Redpoll, American Goldfinch, and House Sparrow.

So there it is.....the final list. I actually saw 3 less species than last year, but I was able to find 80 species without help versus finding only 68 on my own last year. A few species that I was surprised not to have seen during January included: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Hairy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker-(update-just seen today-1/30/08), and Brown-headed Cowbird. Next year I would like to see if I can find ninety species on my own. I had fun this month but I'm looking forward to taking a different approach to the type of birding I do in February. I hope you all enjoyed your January birding! -(This post was edited 1/30/08 to add Pileated Woodpecker).

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What Would It Be Like Birding With These Celebrities & Fictional Characters?

Here's a silly post that I just couldn't get out of my head. Did you ever hear a song that kept on playing over and over in your mind? It doesn't necessarily have to be a good song either. It could even be a jingle from some commercial. That is what happened in this case. I need to post this just so I can get it out of my mind once and for all. Yes Daffy-I know-It's despicable but here it goes:

Here are some thoughts on what it might be like to go birding with the following people/characters:

1) Birding With The Brady Bunch:

(Jan) "Hey Greg-I just saw A House Sparrow!"

(Greg) "Hold On Jan, Marsha's yelling something-what Marsha? You're kidding! Marsha's just found a California Condor! Groovy!"

(Jan) "Marsha, Marsha, Marsha - Why does it always have to be Marsha?!"

2) Birding With Oprah Winfrey:
I think it would be interesting if Oprah did a special on the phenomena of birding. I could visualize her setting up a giant bird blind for her entire audience in a prime birding area. At the end of the show she would give everyone Swarovski Binoculars and a free guided trip to Costa Rica!

3) What would it be like to go birding with famous tap dancers like Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly?:
I was thinking that it might be a good idea to bring these guys out to an area with a hard surface so as to make best use of their tap dancing ability. All the jumping and flailing would probably spook most birds away but perhaps the incessant tapping of their feet might attract a nice variety of woodpeckers!

4) Birding With Dustin Hoffman's Character Ray From The Rain Man:
Imagine if Ray took an interest in birding. I would love to have him on my team during a Christmas Count:

(Larry) "Ray, how many Red-winged blackbirds do you think were in that flock?"

(Ray) "Four hundred and twenty-seven Red-winged Blackbirds."

(Larry) "Are you sure there's that many? I was thinking more like 300."

(Ray) "Definitely 427 Red-winged Blackbirds."

5) Birding With Al Pacino:
"Hooah! I do believe that's one more lifer to add to my list!"

6) I wonder if Linda Blair would have a fixation with owls because of their ability to turn their heads 270 degrees?

7) What if Steve Austin and Jamie Sommers (aka bionic man and bionic woman) entered into The World Series Of Birding? Their ability to leap over bushes and run 70 miles wouldn't hurt. Their real advantage would be Steve's telescopic eye and Jamie's super sensitive ear. Imagine the list they could produce!

8) Imagine if the host of The Weakest Link, Anne Robinson, was a field trip leader.

(Innocent Birder) "Anne isn't that a Red-headed Woodpecker?

(Anne)-The correct answer is Red-bellied Woodpecker. I'm sorry but you are the weakest link.-Goodbye!

Do you have any celebrities or characters you'd like to add?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Weekend Three In The January Quest For Birds

One of the fun things about keeping a January list is that species such as the Northern Mockingbird, pictured above, take on new importance. Every species you find makes your list grow by one. I've become better at learning to identify species that I don't normally see and have also learned more about where I can find them. Probably what I enjoy most about the experience are the unexpected surprises that happen along the way.

1/19/08-Saturday Morning In Old Saybrook: I visited the Old Saybrook area hoping to find Long-tailed Ducks, grebes and Monk Parakeets. I didn't find any of these. Maybe I wasn't looking in the right places or they just knew I was coming!

My first stop in Old Saybrook was at North Cove. I was immediately encouraged when I looked across the water to see a nice little group of ducks just waiting to be seen. The only problem was that they were decoys-can I count those? As I looked to the right of the decoys, I did see what looked to be ducks of the non-plastic variety. They were very small though, so I decided to set up my scope. As I've said before the scope is tough to use mainly because the tripod is too flimsy and I have to hunch over to use it. I remedied the height problem by setting up a folding chair so that I was more comfortable. Just as I was getting ready to focus in on one of the ducks....BANG!....a hunters gun went off and so did the ducks. I did finally locate them. They were Hooded Mergansers and
Buffleheads, two species that I look forward to seeing each winter.

I tried a few other spots in the area but it wasn't until I checked out the Saybrook Jetty that I came across some new species. There was one particular duck that looked familiar to me as it repeatedly made short dives in to the water. "Ruddy Duck" I thought. The only problem was that I remember Ruddy Ducks having their tails stick up. I checked to see if there were any other possibilities but that's what it was. There were also at least a dozen more Buffleheads and Hooded Mergansers, but then I saw a shaggy-crested Red-breasted Merganser. I spotted a Common Loon while in the Saybrook area.

1/20/08- Meshomasic State Forest: On Sunday morning I visited Meshomasic Forest, right here in my hometown of Portland. As I was driving down one of the dirt roads, I was surprised by a Red Fox crossing in front of my truck. As I hurried to get my camera , it stared right at me! I was only able to catch a photo through my windshield before the fox was gone. I think they are such elegant looking animals. This is only the second time I've seen a fox in Portland, although I've had numerous Eastern Coyote sightings.

As I was approaching the reservoir entrance area, I saw that an old tree was burning. I decided to inform the fire department, but I assured them that it didn't appear to be an immediate threat. Then I had to hurry out of the woods or one of their trucks might force me off the narrow dirt roads. No luck with birds here.
1/20/08- Wangunk Meadows: It was wicked cold and windy when I reached the meadows. I don't mind the cold but have never cared much for wind. I walked along the river until I reached South Glastonbury. Along the way, I had a brief but close up-view of a Merlin as it zoomed right past me. I could see its pointed wings and dark colored body. I had seen the same bird two weeks earlier. Still, I wish that I could get a better look at it while it was perched.
Further into the wooded section I came across 6 Eastern Bluebirds. I seem to find them in wooded areas, more often in the winter than I do in the spring. I was hoping I would see a Wood Thrush, Hairy Woodpecker, or a Pileated Woodpecker; strike one-strike two-strike three! On my way out I heard a very odd sound, like a cross between a loon and a cat meowing. I have no idea what it was. So it was an interesting morning for me and I felt pretty good after walking a few miles.
During last week, I saw some Wild Turkeys in Bloomfield and a Purple Finch at the bird feeder at my workplace. Common Grackle was another recent addition. Since my last update, I added nine new species but each one is getting harder to come by. That brings my total up to 75 for this month, with one more weekend of birding to go!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Looking Ahead In 2008

Now that I shared some of my favorite birding experiences of 2007....."What do I have planned for the rest of 2008?" Here are a few ideas that I have in mind:

When I first started the blog I thought that I'd be posting five times a week. I've decided that posting a minimum of twice a week is a pace that I'm more comfortable with. I'll probably post more often during Spring and Fall migration.

  • I have some ideas for posts that are a little--unusual--I guess. I plan on posting them with the label "Wacky Wednesdays" in order to make it clear that they are just for fun and not to be taken too seriously.
  • It would be nice if I could find someone who would like to be a guest blogger before year's end.
  • My wife, Joan, has been proofreading my blog to look for mistakes and sentences which are poorly phrased, etc. I like having her involved because it makes her more tolerant of the time that I spend birding and on the computer .-Don't tell her though-I wouldn't want her to know that I'm such a master of psychology!

On My Wish List:

  • Upgrade in binoculars-(Preferably Swarovski, Leica, etc).
  • New scope and tripod-I'm a little more open minded for my options on this one.
  • One of those bird-pod gadgets that plays back bird songs.
  • Some new camping equipment-A cot, mini-propane stove, and led lantern.
  • A portable bird blind so that I might get some better photos.
  • I'd like to take Joan on a nice vacation-(At a location that would have different species than what I can see in Connecticut).---The key word here is wish.-I seriously doubt that I'll get everything on this list.- Unless, I win the lotto -and I don't play the lotto so my odds of winning it are probably fairly low.

Birding Goals:

  • I would like to make use of "e-bird". I've been putting that off for awhile.
  • Lead or organize a couple of local field trips for beginning birders.
  • Capture and upload some audio clips of spring migrants. I haven't figured how to upload strictly audio.
  • Take some video of Spring Migrants-particularly thrushes and warblers.
  • Explore at least 2 new places per month.
  • Learn to fly much in the way a bird does (think of how much gas I could save).
  • Continue to improve my identification skills.

The above is just a few of my thoughts on what I'd like to do this year!

What are your goals & wishes in regards to birding, blogging, and nature for this year?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Looking Back on 2007

It would be very difficult to for me to choose my five favorite birding experiences of 2007, therefore, I will choose the first five that come to mind. I put them in chronological order.

1) Spring Migration 2007: This time of year is overwhelming. There are migrant birding opportunities and migrant species everywhere you look. The Eastern Kingbird is just one small reminder of spring migration. I saw this particular bird at Machimoudus Park in East Haddam. Here is a post of my first birding memory of spring migration in 2007.
2) Pittsburg, New Hampshire: I don't do much traveling but I have gone on a spring fishing trip just about every year for the last 30 years. In 2007, I made sure that I chose a location that was not only good for fishing but also good for birding. Pittsburg offers an opportunity to see lots of great birds, including boreal species. One of the highlights of my trip was definitely seeing my first Gray Jay. Here are three posts about my trip to New Hampshire: Part-1 , Part-2 , and Part-3.

3) Favorite Rare Bird: Over the past couple of years, I've sought out some birds that were reported on the rare bird report for CT. This year, my favorite example of this, was seeing a Harris's Sparrow for the first time. The drive to Wilton, CT was inconvenient, to say the least, but in the end the trip was worth the effort.

4) Irruptive Winter Finches: Most of you who are interested in birding probably heard about the irruptive winter finch report for 2007-2008. I was excited when I finally had some success in seeing some of these promised species. My first breakthrough came when I saw a large flock of Red Crossbills at Hammonasset Park in Madison, CT. A few weeks later after that, I was able to locate Pine Grosbeaks feeding on crabapples in Norfolk, CT.
5) Thoughts: Out of all the posts that I did in 2007, I probably had the most positive feedback response from the ones labeled "thoughts". I'd like to do more posts like this but I can't really plan those types of moment, they just happen. The year 2007 was truly a year of many great birding memories for me. I hope 2008 will also be a great year of birding for me and for all of you as well!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Taking A Closer Look

Learning to identify shorebirds has been a slow process for me. I was at Meig's Point today in Madison, CT, struggling to see distant shorebirds using a sub par scope and the windy conditions only made things tougher. I decided to walk out onto the rock jetty to get a closer look. It took a while to make my way to the end because some of the rocks were quite slippery but it turned out to be worth it. I was able to see features on this Purple Sandpiper; like orange at the base of the bill and orange feet that I wasn't able to see from a distance.
I saw these Sanderlings flying as a flock and landing on a rock, but to be honest I wasn't sure that's what they were until I looked at them from 10 feet away. It was nice to be able to see their black bill, black legs, and white breast. One of the shorebirds that I saw while out there had me guessing so I asked a forum to help identify the photo of what turned out to be a Dunlin. I saw this juvenile Red-tailed Hawk while walking the trail on Willard's Island in Hammonasset Park. I was caught off guard when a Northern Harrier buzzed right over the head of the red-tail. This hawk didn't even flinch.
If I hadn't been looking right at this American Bittern , I probably never would have noticed it. Can you see the bill, the eye, and the back leg? Sneaky birds they are, I tell you!
Saturday's Yellow-breasted Chat-I was only able to squeeze in a couple of hours of birding on Saturday but I did see my first Yellow-breasted Chat on Lieutenant River Lane in Old Lyme. I was once close enough to a chat where I could actually hear the bird but never even had a glimpse of it. I had to wait about an hour but finally got a great look at it. First a male cardinal popped up on top of a bush and started chirping. After the cardinal gave "the coast is clear" signal, the chat decided to join him. It's breast looked like it was painted with yellow fluorescent paint.
Total for January is up to 66-I was able to add 22 species to the January list bringing the total to 66. Every bird from here on in is going to be much tougher for me to come by. Here are the species that I added to the list this weekend: Red-throated Loon, Double-crested Cormorant, American Bittern, Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, American Black Duck, Common Goldeneye, Bald Eagle, Cooper's Hawk, Black-bellied Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Purple Sandpiper, Dunlin, Ring-billed gull, Horned Lark, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Eastern Bluebird, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Eastern Towhee, and Red-crossbill.
I'll leave you with this short video of Purple Sandpipers feeding at the end of the rock jetty at Meig's Point in Hammonasset Sate park today.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

January Is A Great Month To Keep A List Of Birds

Last year I was introduced to a listing game called "Big January." The goal is to find as many species as possible between January 1st and January 31st with a minimum goal of 90 species(for CT). Some birders take this game very seriously and go at it with a vengeance! With the encouragement of another birder, I decided to give it a try last January and actually ended up exceeding the 90 species- but... I had a lot of help. It was a fun experience. I had a chance to see several new species of birds and visited some great birding areas for the first time. I learned that the key to getting a good list is to make lots of visits to the shoreline areas. On the down side, by the end of the month, I realized that the scope and tripod I own aren't adequate for serious birding. This year, I decided that I probably don't have time to rack up a big list of birds. Who needs to play this silly listing game anyway? At least that's what I thought until I saw Common Redpolls at my workplace bird feeder on January first and a Gray Catbird a few days later. Then I started thinking-Those would make for two pretty good birds to start a list. So I am making a compromise. I'll keep a list of species that I see in January but I'm not going to worry about how many I end up with. If it's 70, that's fine with me. If it's 95, great! Either way, it's a nice way to make the month of January a little more interesting. So far, I've only managed to get out for one morning of birding and stayed in my local area. Besides the two species I mentioned above, here's what I've got so far:
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Mallard, Common Merganser, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American kestrel, Ring-necked Pheasant, Herring Gull, Greater Black-backed Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Carolina Wren, American Robin, Northern mockingbird, European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, American Tree Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, American Goldfinch, and House Sparrow.
I think that adds up to a total of 43 so far-not much, but it's a start. I will keep you updated on any new additions as the month rolls along. The ones in red are the ones that I considered the more difficult species to find.
Are you keeping track of the species you see in January? If not, you've still got 21 days to get your list together and join in on the fun! Set your own goal if you'd like to or just keep track of your total whatever it may be. Any species you see in your state for the month of January counts- as long as it's not caged or domestic. You can post your results on your blog or mine at the end of the month.

Monday, January 7, 2008

A Great In"vest"ment If You Need Pockets!

I bought a Uncle Milty's Travel Vest about two years ago at the Quonset Surplus Store in Portland, CT. I knew that I wanted a vest with plenty of pockets that wouldn't cost me an arm and a leg. I paid $25 for the vest and have certainly gotten my money's worth out of it. A few people have asked me where they could buy such a vest since I've started using it. There are, of course, many varieties of these types of vests on the market but I have no complaints about this one.

Here are a few details about this vest:
  • It has a total of 17 pockets.
  • There are 4 zippered pockets, all of them are in front - two measure 12" x 8". The other two are 9" x 6 ".
  • The rest of the pockets are velcro and are of various sizes. There are two 12" x 7" pockets on the inside of the vest.
Here are a few of the items that I typically carry in my vest (depending on the time of the year and individual needs based on the area I'm visiting): toilet paper (multi-purpose), bug repellent, The Sibley's Field Guide (pocket-size), The Sibley Guide To Birds (I don't usually carry this-but it fits!), checklist, pen, pencils, pencil sharpener, sketch book, gloves, micro-fiber cloth and blower brush to clean my binocular/camera lenses.

I've had a few interesting experiences while wearing my vest:

  • I was once birding near the Eight Mile River in East Haddam when a game warden stopped to question me. He asked me if I had a fishing license and wondered where my gear was.
  • While birding at Wangunk Meadows in Portland, 3 guys on ATV's saw me taking notes in my sketch book. They stopped cold and drove the other way. I guess they thought I was someone of authority and knew they weren't supposed to be riding ATV's there!
  • A couple of times while I was out on a Sunday, I've been reminded that "there is no hunting".
  • People have mistaken me for someone from the D.E.P and asked if it was okay for them to be walking in the area we were in when I should have been asking the same question.

If you are fashion conscious, then this vest may not be for you. If it's pockets you're looking for, Uncle Milty's Travel Vest has them!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Songbird Mix Game

Name the song that the lyrics belong to and/or an artist who performed it. Let us know which ones you knew, even if it has already been answered: Blue=Unanswered Grey=incomplete Black=already answered

1)The flowers in spring- The robins that sing- The sunbeams that shine- They're yours, they're mine .

2) There’s a storm across the valley, clouds are rollin’ in-
The afternoon is heavy on your shoulders

3)Living is easy with eyes closed- Misunderstanding all you see -It's getting hard to be someone but it all works out -It doesn't matter much to me

4) Then turn around, head for the lights of town-Hurtin' me through and through -(slow 50's hit song about a man who has a color for a last name that rhymes with true)

5) Because there's good in everyone- And a new day has begun -You can see the morning sun if you try.

6) Nobody gonna take my car-I'm gonna race it to the ground-Nobody gonna beat my car-It's gonna break the speed of sound-

7)Well the bear will be gentle-And the wolves will be tame..

8) I was born in the wagon of a travelin' show-My mama used to dance for the money they'd throw

9) In that case I'll go underground-Get some heavy rest-Never have to worry-About what is worst and what is best .

10) A boy is born in hard time Mississippi- Surrounded by four walls that ain't so pretty- His parents give him love and affection- To keep him strong moving in the right direction

11)For I've got to be free..Free to face the life that's ahead of me
On board I'm the captain-So climb aboard
We'll search for tomorrow-On every shore

12)Got the wings of heaven on my shoes. I'm a dancin' man -and I just can't lose

13)End of the spring and here she comes back-Hi Hi Hi Hi there-Them summer days, those summer days

14) Well it's you girl, and you should know it -With each glance and every little movement you show it...

Famous Poems-Do you know the title or author?
1) A free bird leaps on the back Of the wind- and floats downstream Till the current ends -and dips his wing In the orange suns rays-And dares to claim the sky

2) Where but to think is to be full of sorrow- And leaden-eyed despairs; Where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes, Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

Here are the scientific names of 5 birds-What are the common names (it's o.k. to use field guide)?
1)Piranga olivacea
2)Toxostoma rufum
3)Strix varia

4)Ardea alba
5)Melanerpes carolinus