Sunday, August 31, 2008

Songbird Lyrics Game

Thanks to my Brother-in-Law, Shelvie, for this photo of a Baltimore Oriole eating oranges on his deck in Colchester, CT.
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. I will change the lyrics from blue to black after they have been answered.

1) My hands are small I know-But they're not yours, they are my own...
2) People living their lives for you on TV-They say they're better than you and you agree
3) And I will never grow so old again -And I will walk and talk In gardens all wet with rain
4) And all the night's magic seems to whisper and hush-And all the soft moonlight seems to shine in your blush
5) Move yourself-You always live your life-Never thinking of the future
6) Now, this is a story all about how-My life got flipped-turned upside down-And I liked to take a minute-Just sit right there
7) Rollin' Rollin' Rollin' Keep movin', movin', movin', Though they're disapprovin', Keep them doggies movin'
8) I got me a Chrysler, it seats about 20-So hurry up and bring your jukebox money
9)Papa would do whatever he could-Preach a little gospel-Sell a couple bottles of Doctor Good
10) Doesn't have a point of view, Knows not where he's going to, Isn't he a bit like you and me?
11) So put me on a highway-And show me a sign....
12) You say you lost your faith-But that's not where it's at-You had no faith to lose-And you know it
13) Splashing through the sand-bar, talking by the camp fire, It's the simple things in life like when and where
14) As the snow flies-On a cold and gray chicago mornin-A poor little baby child is born
15) Tell all the gang at Forty Second Street -That I will soon be there!
16).......Read It On The Wall-And Realize, You Just Can't Have It All....
17) Every night in my dreams I see you. I feel you. That is how I know you go on..
18) 'Cause he gets up in the morning, And he goes to work at nine, And he comes back home at five-thirty, Gets the same train every time.
19) Help me, help me, help me sail away, Well give me two good reasons why I oughta stay. Cause I love to live so pleasantly, Live this life of luxury, .....
20) Every day I wake up, then I start to break up-Knowing that it's cloudy above. Every day I start out, then I cry my heart out....
21) It was late in December, the sky turned to snow-All round the day was going down slow-Night like a river beginning to flow-I felt the beat of my mind go
22) On a morning from a Bogart movie-In a country where they turn back time-You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre-Contemplating a crime

Monday, August 25, 2008

If You're Passing Through Portland

There have been a couple of times over the last couple of weeks that I had planned to go hiking and then suddenly lost my ambition. Instead, I ended up wandering around Portland. This morning I was heading west on route 16 when a Black Vulture caught my eye. I turned back hoping to find the bird before it took off. this is the less common of the two species of vulture which are found in Connecticut. The Black Vulture is smaller than the Turkey Vulture and has a sort of grayish skin on the head that extends down to the neck. The feathers are more black than those on the Turkey vulture and have a more smooth appearance. The Black Vultures also show silver wingtips when in flight.This is the second time that I've seen a Black Vulture on the ground. I had previously seen one at The Portland Transfer Station off of Sand Hill Road. Both of these sightings came in the month of August.

click to play
Here is a typical Turkey Vulture seen at the Portland Transfer Station. It has a more brownish appearance than the Black Vulture and also has reddish skin about the face. If you happen to be driving through Portland on route 66 during the summer, you may want to make a quick stop at the transfer station to check out the vultures. The time to go would be when the dump is closed-before 7am after 4pm, or on a Sunday.
If you were traveling on Main Street Portland, you'd never know that you were so close to the Brownstone Quarries. I took these photos from Silver Street, a short road that connects Main Street to Brownstone Avenue. You can get a nice view of the quarry from Silver Street. You need to be careful though since there is no protective barrier and it is about an 80 foot drop before you reach the water. There have been some unfortunate accidents here over the years. If you look off in the distance you can see some of the oil tanks which line a portion of the Connecticut River. There is actually a second quarry that can be seen from the other side of Silver Street but it can probably be better viewed from Brownstone Avenue.

From this angle you can see a portion of the newly developed Brownstone Exploration And Discovery Park. From what I understand, the quarries have a maximum water depth of about 90 feet. It has a fascinating history which you can read about in a short article here. I found another in-depth article about the quarries written by Alison Guinness that you can find here. If you ever happen to be passing through Portland be sure check out the quarries which are now listed as a National Historic Landmark. After I took in the view of the quarries from Silver Street, I took a right onto Brownstone Avenue and followed it to the end. There is a trail that you can take from there that follows a portion of the Connecticut River. This is where they used to dump all the unwanted pieces of brownstone. This is actually a decent area to go birding. There are some trails that wind through the woods and a privately owned horse pasture at the end. There were several Carolina Wrens in the area along with a Hairy Woodpecker and a Belted Kingfisher. I spotted several Monarch Butterflies and the field was loaded with grasshoppers. It was difficult to avoid stepping on them.

I also found a red dragonfly with a little piece of its wing missing. Does anyone happen to know what kind of dragonfly this is?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Shorebirds At Rocky Hill Meadows

Every August, an increasing number of shorebirds start to show up in the fields at Rocky Hill Meadows. Since I don't have to travel far to get there, it's a nice alternative to shorebirding along the coast. Another nice feature of this location is that you don't have to worry about catching the right tide since it is nothing more than a series of fields with a few oversized mud puddles.

In this post, I'll be talking a little bit about identification of shorebirds. Keep in mind that I'm just a beginner when it comes to shorebird identification. There's still a lot of species that I haven't even seen and I still frequently misidentify the ones that I have seen. I'm sharing my own personal learning process with you but I'm not attempting to teach anyone else because I'm not qualified to do that.

Least Sandpipers Are Not the Least Of My Problems-
If you look at the photo above, you will notice that the bird is a small sandpiper with a thin, slightly down-curved bill, so I'm going with Least Sandpiper but I'm not 100% certain. This might be an easy identification for a birder who is experienced with shorebirds but it's not an easy call for me. I have to look at them carefully before I make up my mind. I still confuse them with the Semipalmated Sandpiper which is supposed to have a more blunted bill tip and black legs. The problem is that you can't always get a good look at the legs and it can be tough to judge the bill shape at a distance. There are lots of other ways of separating that goes well beyond the shape of the bill and the color of the legs. Least Sandpipers make a high, musical, trilled prreep call according to Sibley. Semipalmated Sandpipers have a low, husky, chruf flight call. I've also been trying to pay attention to the behavior of sandpipers because this can be helpful with peep identification. I find it helps when I seek clarification from more experienced birders when trying to make an identification. I plan on making several more trips to the meadows between now and the end of September. Hopefully, I'll learn something before all is said and done.

When And Where To Look For Birds At The Meadows-
  • August And September seem to be the best months for shorebirds here.
  • Search where the sod has been torn up, especially along the edges.
  • Search for large puddles of water and muddy areas.
  • Look along the edge of the fields.
  • Search areas where there are large concentrations of killdeer to see if other birds are mixed in with them.

People will drive along the main road searching areas like the one listed above, then they will turn around and search the same areas all over again. Keep in mind that if you are birding here you have to stay on the main road. There are side roads that are privately owned and the owners don't like it if birders enter onto these areas. You also have to be prepared to move your vehicle out of the way in a hurry. Operators of large farm equipment and trucks have the right of way. Try to find areas to park where the road is wider and pull way off to the side. There are some really wide areas to park where the road bends.

There are very large flocks of Killdeer in the area this time of year. The killdeer has a double set of dark rings around the neck and breast, but keep your eyes open for Semipalmated Plovers, which are smaller and have a single, wide , dark breastband.

The Lesser Of Two Yellowlegs-
One of the more common shorebirds you can find inland are the yellowlegs. Just like their name says, they have long yellow legs that are almost always noticeable unless they are covered with water. The problem is that there are two different kinds of yellowlegs that look alike. The one below is a Lesser Yellowlegs. I suspected that it was but still asked someone else for confirmation. The Greater Yellowlegs would be noticeably larger and has a bill that is often slightly upturned and has a bill that is noticeably longer than the head. When the two species are seen together, it's much easier to tell them apart. If you see a single bird it can be trickier. I can usually identify a Greater Yellowlegs when it is on its own, but I sometimes have doubts when I'm looking at a Lesser Yellowlegs. It reminds me of the confusion I used to have with a Downy Woodpecker versus a Hairy Woodpecker. I would sometimes see a Downy Woodpecker that was a little larger than average and wonder if it could be a Hairy Woodpecker, but when I actually saw a Hairy Woodpecker there was no doubt in my mind that I was seeing a Hairy Woodpecker. It looked so big compared to a downy. Now, when I am in doubt between the two, I assume it is a downy. There were a few Solitary Sandpipers at the meadows over the last couple of weeks. I saw three of them today. The photo directly above and below this paragraph are the same bird which flew from one side of the road to the other. Notice how the difference in lighting seems to have changed the color of this bird. It looks almost brownish above but it is grey in the picture below. That is why using color as a field mark does not always work. Color can vary greatly due to lighting conditions. The eye ring, along with the overall size and shape, is a good field mark for this species.
As their name implies, I usually find them dining alone like this one. This sandpiper, along with the Spotted Sandpiper, are probably two of the easier sandpipers for me to identify because of their conspicuous field marks.
Rocky Hill Meadows has become increasingly popular among birders. There are many possibilities of rare or uncommon species passing through, such as: Baird's Sandpiper, Upland Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, dowitchers, and American Golden Plover to name a few. I spotted some Semipalmated Plovers, Pectoral Sandpipers, and a Wilson's Snipe last weekend. I was also present when a Western Sandpiper was spotted here yesterday. I was able to observe it wading in some water and feeding. It wasn't picking and skimming like some sandpipers do. It seemed to stay in pretty deep water. By the time I set my scope up, the bird had flown.
If you get tired of looking at sandpipers, there are other birds to be seen. It's fairly common to see birds of prey like hawks and falcons here-(guess what they're eating). Birds such as Lincoln's Sparrow, American Pipits, and Bobolinks can be found here at certain times of the year. I saw Great Blue Herons, Green Herons, and the Great Egret -(pictured above)- just this morning. I thought it was kind of cool that I could take a picture of the Great Egret even though I was pointing the camera right in the direction of the sun. I imagine this would only work early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Too bad the water is so muddy.

If you live in Connecticut and you've never been to Rocky Hill Meadows before, you might want to stop by here for a visit. You could do some limited birding here with binoculars but you would be much better off to bring a scope if you have one.
Directions: Take route 99 (Silas Deane Highway) to route 160. Follow signs to ferry. Once you are in Ferry Park, drive through parking lot towards your left (as you're facing the Connecticut River). The time which the locked green gate is opened in the morning varies. It was opened at 6am this morning but sometimes it isn't opened till 8am. If the Connecticut River goes reaches a level above 14 feet, they keep the gate closed. You can check: here.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America

I recently received a promotional copy of The Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America . Actually, I received it a while ago but it was quite some time before I really took a good look at it. By accepting a copy, I was agreeing that I would write about the book on my blog. This brought back memories of two things that I really never cared for-school and homework. In a way, I wish that I had just bought it. That being said, here are a few of my thoughts about The Smithsonian Field Guide .

Every field guide has its strong points:

I now have six field guides for birds of North America. No field guide is perfect. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses. Here is a brief overview of each.
  • My first serious field guide was Peterson's Birds of Eastern and Central North America. This field guide is considered to be a little outdated by many birders but it helped me identify more species for the first time than any other field guide. It emphasized the most obvious field marks for each species using arrows to point them out. It seemed the perfect field guide to help me make the transition from backyard birdwatching to birder.
  • The Sibley Field Guide To Birds of Eastern North America: After a year or two of birding on my own, I started to join other birders on field trips. Just about everyone was using Sibley field guides. It almost seemed as if there was a secret birder's bible somewhere with a commandment that said-"Thou shall own a Sibley guide." When I first bought this guide, I didn't like it. The birds in the sketches looked like they had been dipped in bleach. They were so bland looking-nothing like real birds. It took a while to get used to this one but it eventually became my primary field guide. It seemed to be a little more sophisticated and detailed than Peterson's. When I really need to check something specific about a particular species, this is my go to book.
  • Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America: The Kaufman Guide may not be as detailed as Sibley's but it sure is convenient to use. It easily fits in my back pocket which is a big plus for me. It covers all the birds of the United States so if a western species shows up in Connecticut it might come in handy. It is easy to use and Kaufman provides unique tidbits of information from his many years of birding experience.
  • The Sibley Guide To Birds: This is what I refer to as the "Big Sibley". It's too big to carry around but it serves as a handy guide that I keep near my computer.
  • National Geographic Field Guide To The birds of North America: I just bought this one recently. It uses sketches, not photos. I'm not sure what to think of this one yet because I haven't used it for anything.

How is the Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America different from the others?

The Smithsonian Field Guide is the only one of the six that uses pure digital photos. There are some birders who prefer field guides that use sketches instead of photos because it is a more accurate way to show the important field marks of birds in various stages. There may be some truth to that but with today's state of the art digital cameras it is possible to capture high quality images of birds at various angles that best display the desired field marks. This guide has done an excellent job in that regard. I'm not going to go into to much technical detail about this book.

Visual Appeal of this book

One thing that caught my attention about The Smithsonian Guide is that it is visually appealing from cover to cover. I enjoy seeing photos of birds in their natural as I read about them. One of the things that first attracts many people to watching birds is their beauty. For that same reason, I think that some people who are just starting to become interested in birding may be better able to relate to this field guide versus others. For those of us who have already been birding for a while this book may serve as a reminder of why we first became interested in birding.

I like the introduction

There is a nice introduction to birding at the beginning of the book which includes variety of topics about the basics of birding. I especially enjoyed the section that talks about how to identify birds. The author-(Ted Floyd)- emphasises that there is more than just pointing your binoculars at a bird and looking for field marks. He says there are times that a bird may be better observed without the use of binoculars. He also encourages new birders to go out on a limb by identifying birds in front of others and provides a strategy about how best to go about this. In the section about birding by ear, the author suggest closing your eyes as you take in the sounds of birds singing around you. The author seems to have a passion for birding by the way he conveys information to the reader.

Can this guide help someone properly identify a bird?

I don't want to get into all the technical details about what's in the field guide. It provides the information and photos necessary to help someone make an accurate identification of a bird. A lot can depend on the degree of difficulty of the species you're trying to identify and how well you are able to observe the field marks. If you're not able to observe enough details then no field guide will help.

How Do I plan to use this field guide?

  • When a non-birder asks me what a particular bird looks like, I show them a photo from this guide. They always seem disappointed by what I show them in other guides.

  • If I ever decide travel to a different area in the United States, this book will make the trip with me.

  • Once in a while, I just like to sit down and flip through a field guide to review information about one or more particular species. I like the fact that this guide includes wingspan, weight and information about how each species molts.

  • Even though I only carry one field guide with me when I'm birding, I like to carry others in my truck. Sometimes one field guide will have some information that another field guide doesn't.

The Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America is different from all of the other field guides that that I own and is a welcome addition to my collection.

*A DVD of featuring birds singing comes free with the book. It only contains a limited number of birds but it would seem that this would be a nice tool for a beginner to start learning some bird songs.