Sunday, July 27, 2008

Moving At The Speed Of Summer

I've had enough of trying to fight the summer. Instead of fighting it, I'll just move at the speed that the summer dictates.

I've taken the same approach with my summer birding. Instead of struggling to find the birds, I'll let them find me. On Saturday, I visited the Pine Brook Bog in East Hampton. When I first arrived, there didn't seem to be many birds around. Great Blue Herons, a few Wood Ducks, and an Eastern Phoebe were the only species to get my attention. I leaned back against my truck for a few minutes and listened to a New York sports station as the callers talked about the Yankees and Red Sox Series that is going on this weekend. That's when I noticed a big, dark, butterfly playing hopscotch across the sandy soil. I didn't come looking for butterflies but the butterfly was there. So why should I ignore it? I don't know much about butterflies but I do recall someone telling me last year that this particular species is a Spicebush Swallowtail. Feel free to correct me if I'm mistaken.
After watching the butterfly for a while, a dragonfly landed on my antenna. I'm probably less interested in dragonflies than I am in butterflies. After all I'm looking for birds-right? The thing is, with the current heat and humidity , I was not about to go bushwhacking through the woods. At the same time I was listening to callers arguing about the Red Sox and Yankees on the radio, two dragonflies were fighting to gain position on top of my truck antenna. I'm not sure what species these dragonflies are. I think the top and bottom photo might be the same species even though they look very different because of the variation in lighting.
This one almost looks like it has a smile on its face is it happy because its summer or because it won the battle for control of the antenna?
Do you know what species of dragonfly this is?

I never did get very close to the birds this weekend.
How many Great Blue herons can you find in this photo?

I never seem to be able to get close-up photos of Belted Kingfishers. I'm thinking that this is a male because it doesn't show the rusty orange color on the breast that the female has. Most of the time it's the males that end up with the flashy colors so Belted Kingfishers are different in that way.
I also made a visit to The Rocky Hill Meadows which is a series of farm fields along the Connecticut River. Unfortunately for me, the roads were flooded out from all the rain we had . For the next couple of months, the meadows are a great place to observe migrating shorebirds. I took a short walk along a nearby trail there and was scolded by a House Wren. It didn't take much convincing for me to turn around and head back to my truck.
On the way back, I came across a nice patch of black raspberries. Shortly after I took this photo, the raspberries mysteriously disappeared.
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I made a brief visit to the Portland Fairgrounds this morning. I was impressed with the the swarm of swallows feeding on the wing as they skimmed across a giant rain puddle. I'm not very good at trying to identify swallows that are in the midst of flight. The usual species at these fairgrounds include Tree Swallows, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, and Barn Swallows.

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I caught these Barn Swallows in the middle of a conversation but it looks like one of them is doing most of the talking.
So that was it for this weekend. A few birds, a couple of dragonflies, one butterfly and a bush full of fruit- (I'm not taking a crack at our president-I would never say that Bush was full of fruit). I put in minimal effort and just enjoyed watching whatever happened to be in front of me at the time. Summertime and the living is easy.

Monday, July 21, 2008

More From The Shore

I continued my strategy of birding along the shoreline until the level of humidity decreases. I concentrated my efforts on the Old Lyme area on Saturday. There are numerous Osprey nesting platforms in Old Lyme. In fact, I think there are more Osprey platforms than there are Dunkin Donuts in that town. This photo was taken at the Four Mile River Boat Launch. Notice that the Osprey on the left has white scaling on its feathers indicating that it is a juvenile. The one on the right is an adult bird.

I'm sure that most of you have seen Common Loons before. I saw this one at the Great Island Boat Launch also in Old Lyme. From what I understand, there are a few non-breeding Common Loons which show up around the Connecticut shoreline during the summer. The fact that this one is in breeding plumage makes my sighting a little more unusual.

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Here is a short video of the loon quietly motoring along searching for food. I'm used to seeing loons dive but the water is shallow enough here that this bird never needed to go below the surface. The people heard talking in the background are a man and woman meeting for their first date. They were kind enough to let me get some footage before putting the canoes in the water.

I skipped birding altogether on Sunday so that brings me to Monday (today). I took a ride down to West Haven to visit a place called Sandy Point. This has got to be one of the best places in Connecticut if you are just starting to learn shorebirds. I like it here because you don't have to walk very far to see lots of birds. It is a good place to get really close-up views of a wide variety of shorebirds. I encountered a Marsh Wren on the way in. The marsh to my right was loaded with Short-billed Dowitchers-(from what I understand, you are more likely to see the short-billed variety versus long-billed during most of July and August). I also saw my first Clapper Rail in this area. In all honesty, another birder pointed it out to me or I might have missed it.
I then walked further out onto the point. There were plenty of Common Terns and Least Terns but I didn't see any other varieties today. That doesn't mean that there weren't any other varieties there, it just means I didn't identify any. Although there were no warning signs, I made sure that I kept a reasonable distance from the nesting terns. Occasionally one would fly over and give me a personalized warning of their own. Other species of interest in this area included: Black-crowned Night- Heron, Semipalmated Plover, and Spotted Sandpiper. The species that provided me with my best photo opportunities today was the American Oystercatcher like the adult bird seen above. Shorebird identification would be so much easier if every shorebird had fieldmarks like the ones on the American Oystercatcher. It has a bill that looks like a carrot. If Santa used shorebirds to pull his sleigh instead of reindeer, the oystercatcher would surely be the one to take Rudolph's place!
The juvenile American Oystercatcher like this one has a bill that is a little less flamboyant but it is still an easy bird to identify.
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I will leave you with a short video showing the oystercatcher rustling up a little breakfast. I asked him to share his food with me but it was being awfully shellfish!-(Is that a groan I hear?).

Friday, July 18, 2008

Three Lifers At Hammonasset

I met up with some members of the Hartford Audubon Society to do a little birding on Saturday. It was hot and there was plenty of mosquitoes to go around for everyone. Still, it felt more comfortable along the shore than it has on some of my recent woodland hikes. I think this is the first time that I've made a visit to Hammonasset for the purpose of birding in the middle of the summer. Generally I only go there in the off season when it is less crowded and there is no entrance fee. A few of the birds we saw included: Cedar Waxwings, Spotted Sandpiper, Barn Swallows, and American Oystercatcher. I could go on with a long list.There are always plenty of birds to see at Hammonasset. We saw Willets everywhere we turned and Terns everywhere we looked-which brings me to my first lifer-the Least Tern. this is not a hard bird to find. It's just that for whatever reason I've only seen Common Terns up until now so finding new terns is a little project that I can work on. They are really interesting to watch when they hover and then plunge into the water.

This Great-crested Flycatcher seemed a little out of place at the shore. I'm used to seeing them in more wooded areas. They were nesting and made sure that we knew it.
The best way to tell Empidonax flycatchers apart is to listen to their call. I'm guessing that this might be a Willow Flycatcher because it had a sort of orangish bill and not much of an eye-ring. But that's just a guess.
It was near the nature center that I saw my first Purple Martins. What struck me most about this species was just how large they were! They are only about 8" long with a wingspan of 18" but compared to other swallow species they seem like giants! They way about 3 times as much as a Tree Swallow. As we worked our way along the first path at Willard Island Trail, we saw several Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows. They have a nice orange color in a triangular pattern on the side of their face and crisply streaked underparts. Also, their heads have a little bit of a flat shape compared to other sparrows. Along the same area, we heard a Marsh Wren singing. I was able to get a brief look at one but they ike to stay dwon in cover.

I was also rewarded with my first sightings of Little Blue Herons. We actually saw several of them flying around the area. This photo shows it as a kind of bland looking adult bird in non-breeding plumage. I did have a nice view of one that showed a nice iridescence as the sun reflected off of its feathers. Juvenile Little Blue Herons are white and easily confused with immature snowy egrets. The juvenile Little Blue Heron is distinguished from the snowy by its two-toned bill which is thick and at the base and dark at the tip.
My first birding trip to Hammonasset in July turned out to be a good decision! I'm looking forward to making more visits to the shoreline before the summer is over.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Riding The Bus To Work

I decided several months ago that I was tired of making a 62 mile round trip to work and back each day. The rising cost of gas had a lot to do with my decision but there were other factors. We are too dependent on other countries for oil. We've been talking about increasing our use of alternative energy sources but there seems to be more talk than action.

I've been carpooling for several months now. It's worked out pretty well for me but I haven't been able to do it as consistently as I would like to. Earlier this year, I looked into the possibility of taking the bus to work. I found out that it was possible but would require me to be at the bus stop by 5:55 am if I wanted to make it tow work before 8am. My first reaction was that it would be too much of an inconvenience for me. Two weeks ago I decided it was time to give it a try any way. It didn't tun out to be as bad as I anticipated. Yes, it does take me longer to commute but in many ways taking the bus to work has been a positive experience.

Here are a few ways that I've found the experience to be beneficial to me:
  • I'm saving close to $200 a month in gas by taking the bus. This does not include money I'm saving on vehicle maintanence.
  • Part of my commute now requires walking 1-2 miles each day. I enjoy the excercise and also see a few birds along the way.
  • It is much less tiring to be a passenger than it is to be a driver.
  • I bought an mp3 player and listening to music during the bus ride is a great way to pass the time.
  • I get to work early and have found that I am more relaxed by the time my workday starts.

I also enjoy the human element of riding the bus. When you are driving to work, you have to maneuver you way through a sea of automobiles driven by nameless, faceless people. After riding the bus for two weeks I am starting to recognize many of the passengers. You get to know peoples names, where they work and where they live. It's kind of comforting to know that we're all heading off to work together to face the daily grind.

I've also seen a few birds during my morning travels. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • While walking across the Arrigoni bridge last week I was able to watch two Peregrine Falcons in action. One of them screamed across the sky to chase a smaller bird. It seemed to change it's mind and turn away at the last second. Another Falcon landed on the bridge about twenty feet above my head.
  • On the same bridge, two Turkey Vultures flew over my head. They came so close that I could feel the rush of air as they passed over. I also saw a Great Egret below -along the shore of the Connecticut River.
  • I pass through a tobacco field as I walk the last mile to work from where the bus drops me off. Prairie Warblers, Yellow Warblers, Blue-winged Warblers, Eastern Towhees, and American Kestrels are just a few of the species I've seen along the way.

I can't tell you that riding the bus has been a perfect experience for me. It has required that I change some of the habits of my daily routine. It's also taken me some time to become familiar with the bus schedules. I haven't been later to work but I have missed my preferred bus a couple of times. If I don't catch the first bus getting out of work, I have to wait an additional 45 minutes to catch the next one. I would say that using the bus to get to work has been a good decision for me despite some of the challenges. To learn more about riding the bus as a means of transportation in Connecticut click on: Connecticut Transit.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Helen Carlson Sanctuary

I'm going to make this post short and sweet. For the last couple of weeks there has been some wicked humidity around here. There is no air conditioning where my computer is and I don't have a laptop. I can barely tolerate staying at the computer for more than ten minutes in weather like this so here goes my ten minutes worth of blogging.

There is a place called the Helen Carlson Nature Sanctuary in Portland. If you are interested in making a visit to the sanctuary, you can get the information you need here. A boardwalk was built around this bog some years back but it is often flooded over due to the work of beavers. I recently found out that a new observation platform was built at the sanctuary. I went to check it out this past weekend. The bog is located on South Road in Portland. If you are facing the bog, there is a trail along the left side that leads to the new platform.

It has quite a few twists and turns to it. It seems to have been engineered to handle flood situations.

There is a nice view from the top deck. I believe that an afternoon visit would offer more attractive lighting because I was facing the sun as I looked over the bog on this muggy morning. I've never had any unusual bird sightings at the bog. I've never seen any particularly rare birds at the bog but I've had some nice sightings. Green Herons, Wood Ducks, and Hooded Mergansers are three that come to mind.
There are a lot of interesting plants at the bog including two types of sundew, a carnivorous plant that catches its prey in sticky, spatula-like leaves. I'd like to find one of those when I get a chance. I came across this turtle along the path that leads to the platform. If you get a close look at his face, he seems to have a bit of an attitude problem. By the way-is the turtle in this photo a Painted Turtle? If so, it looks it has nothing more than a coat of primer so far.
What kind of mushroom is this? I'll bet it's poisonous. It seems like red mushrooms are usually poisonous

I followed a trail that was across the street from the bog that I had never taken before. It led me right out to the powerlines which are always worth checking out for interesting birds.

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There is one particular bird that has been driving me crazy this year. I have heard Eastern Wood-Pewee singing on numerous occasions over the last month or so but I haven't been able to catch one in the act. Just before reaching the powerlines, I spotted this Eastern Wood-Pewee singing its signature song. You know a bird is really giving its all when the tail starts rattling around during the song.
Can you identify any of the birds singing in the background?