Friday, September 26, 2008

A Return To Meriden's Hubbard Park

As I emerged from a trail near the top of Hubbard Park's East Peak, I stopped to admire the view of the Castle Craig standing high upon the hill. The scenery was stunning with the clear blue sky and blanket of fog creating a dramatic background.

The castle sits upon east peak which is a portion of the trap rock ridge that runs north all the way from Long Island Sound through Massachusetts up to the New Hampshire border. The ridges were formed by volcanic activity and erosion 200 million years ago when dinosaurs still roamed the earth. The castle itself was made out of native trap rock and has a metal staircase that will lead you to the top for a nice view.
On October 29, 1900 Walter Hubbard presented the tower to the city of Meriden. About 250 people showed up for the event and Mr. Hubbard provided six barrels of clams for his guests. Click on the photo of the plaque for more details about the tower.
I spent quite a bit of time hiking around the trails on Saturday (9/20/08) . I wasn't particularly focused on looking for birds. One of the trails I climbed up was pretty steep and I had one tense moment when trap rock started to slide from under my feet making me lose my footing. When I reached the top, I saw a colorful hot air balloon floating around the landscape like a lollipop without a stick.
As I started back down the path, I turned towards the woods and I found myself staring directly into the eyes of this deer. We watched each other for about a minute or so until the deer got tired of looking at me.
It's hard for me to believe that Ronald Reagan was president the last time I hiked the trails at Hubbard Park. So much has changed in the world since then, but it's comforting to know that no one has figured out how to put condos or a Walmart on the Hanging Hills of Meriden. They remain almost exactly as I remember them. Why did I wait so long before coming back for a visit? I suppose I must have felt that I had seen all there is to see there. Now I realize that you can never see all there is to see. Our senses are constantly interacting with each other before sending messages to our brain, and there are so many variables that can alter our perceptions. I believe that each moment in life is unique unto itself. We may not always have the clarity of mind to recognize it as such but that doesn't make it any less true.
Sunday Morning Birding (9/21/08) :
It occurred to me that with all the time I spent hiking, sightseeing and daydreaming on Saturday, I hadn't really spent that much time birding. I returned Sunday morning to focus on searching for birds. This time I passed through this gate and stayed on the main road instead of taking the trails. You actually see a better cross section of habitat if you go this way. The gate doesn't open until 10 am which is nice because there are no cars to bother you. The few hikers, joggers, or dogs that passed by me weren't a problem either because the road was plenty wide for all of us. At one point, I did see a group of about 40 hikers heading up the hill towards me. It reminded me of the scene in Frankenstein when a mob of angry villagers were trying to hunt down the monster. Fortunately, they turned left onto another trail as I continued on my trek up the hill. Part of my walk took me past the Meremere Reservoir. I was admiring the ridge that bordered the shoreline on the opposite side when a pair of Common Ravens flew along the treetops from right to left letting out loud croaking calls as the passed by. I would hear these birds several times but they always seemed to stay just out of sight. It seems they were well aware of my presence. Whenever I followed the sound of their odd vocalizations, I could hear them fly off before I would have a chance to see them. I spotted two Carolina Wrens in the low shrubbery along the edge of the road . Two Northern Cardinals were steadily moving towards the wrens and pestering them with a constant barrage of chip notes. American Goldfinches were picking seeds from some old flower heads and Black-capped Chickadees were chattering in the trees above them. I also saw a Great Blue Heron, Eastern Phoebes, and a Belted Kingfisher before reaching the end of the lake. I saw a nice variety of warblers along the way too (no luck with photos-that's an older photo of the yellowthroat). There were several chattering flocks of hyperactive Tufted Titmice in the park. Each time I followed them, I seemed to come across a few warblers. The Black and White Warblers and Pine Warblers looked pretty much as I expected them to. I saw what I believed to be Blackpoll Warblers that take on a different look in the Fall. They were a dull color with rather nondescript streaks. Their wingbars stood out boldly though. I had to strain my neck to get a look at two Northern Parulas in the very top of a tree. I identified one of the warblers as a
Black-throated Green Warbler, but it didn't show much black on its throat at all. It was singing a very weak version of the zee zee zee zo zee song. The song had a gurgling sound to it, almost as if the bird was gargling with a mouthful of Listerine and singing at the same time. I saw a Common Yellowthroat in a patch of briers. One of the birds had my curiosity as it took cover low to the ground and did not show itself again. Could it have been a different species? I also saw other warblers that I was unable to identify.

There was a stretch of road past the reservoir before the cliffs that had some interesting woodland habitat. There were lots of dead standing trees mixed in with the cedars, hardwoods, and Mountain Laurel. I came across two very vocal Hairy Woodpeckers. They were making their usual distinctive peek notes, but also let out some loud squawks and rattles when they left an area. I also saw Red-bellied, Downy and Pileated Woodpeckers on this portion of my walk. It looks like at least one of them has it out for that tree in the above photo. After passing the woodpecker area, I was startled as a Barred Owl flew across the road just a couple feet off the ground and right in front of me. I caught a brief glimpse of it in a tree before it flew off deeper into the woods. Yellow-throated Vireo and Ruby-crowned Kinglet, which I hadn't seen since much earlier in the year, were two other species that I was pleased to see.

It was now past 10 am in the morning. I thought that my best option would be to head up to the cliffs to look for migrating hawks. I hear that mid-September was prime time to see them. I spent a couple of hours searching in every direction from West Peak. I saw two Red-shouldered Hawks, a Red-tailed Hawk, Turkey Vultures, and a Merlin, which flew right past my head!
There was also this hawk, which I figured to be a Cooper's Hawk. I sent confirmation from people who are more experienced identifying hawks in flight, so I posted this photo on a birding forum to get a second opinion. Some birders thought the hawk might be a juvenile buteo, judging by the short tail and chunky appearance.

When I posted this second photo, which shows the same bird from a different angle, most people agreed that it was a Cooper's Hawk, although a well fed one. The problem I have with identifying hawks in flight is that you often see the hawks at odd angles or at great distances when the field marks aren't visible. Experienced hawk watchers can identify birds by their wing beats and other means. I was disappointed that I only saw a handful of migrating birds of prey. It seemed like a perfect place to watch them from. When I came home, I discovered that Hartford Audubon had cancelled their hawk watching trip because they had only seen a few migrating hawks at their hawk watching site on Saturday and expected conditions for hawk migration to be even worse on Sunday.

If you live in CT and have never birded at Hubbard Park, I highly recommend it. It's worth the trip just for the views. If you plan to walk to the top I should warn you that it is over 3 miles each way! I probably walked a total of fifteen miles between the two days. If you just want to take in the views or look for raptors, you can drive to the top after 10 am, but I believe the gate closes for the season at the end of October and doesn't open again until Spring.

directions:Meriden Hubbard Park - Meriden, CT: From I-84 to Rte 691 - Take Exit 4 and turn right at end of exit. Hubbard Park is less than .5 miles on your left. From New Haven - 91 North to Exit 17 - Follow .4 Mile to Rte 691 (Waterbury). Take Exit 4 off of Rte 691. Take left off exit. Hubbard Park is less than .5 miles on your left. Park in the lot on the far side of the pond near the playground. walk past the gated main road and underneath the highway bridge. When you come to the split, staying to the left will bring you to Castle Craig and staying to the right will bring you to the radio towers and West Peak.

Friday, September 19, 2008

I'm passing this along from Cornell:

Little Green Places: contest invitation‏ From: Patricia Leonard

Hello again! This past June we told you about the Celebrate Urban Birds! project from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It's an easy, fun way for city-dwellers to get to know their birds, enjoy the outdoors, and contribute information that scientists can actually use to study urban birds. Now we want to tell you about our "Little Green Places" contest. We want to see your photo, drawing, or video of a Little Green Space that's good for birds. Have you noticed a spot that birds like because it provides shelter, food, or water? It could be an ivy-covered wall, flowers next to the stoop, a windowbox, a container garden on a rooftop or balcony, your school garden, or the potted plants by your library entryway. Send a photo, drawing, or link to your video to . We'll send the first fifty entries a copy of the new "Celebrate Little Green Places" poster and there will be other great prizes, including a $100 gift certificate from Johnny's Selected Seeds. The deadline is October 31. Information about the Little Green Places contest can be found on our web site: sure to watch our video about the contest!) We're also attaching a flyer that you can post on a bulletin board, if you wish. Please feel free to modify this information for use in a newsletter or in any other way that helps spread the word. We can't wait to see your Little Green Places!Best wishes, Karen Purcell, project leader Celebrate Urban Birds!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

"To See Every Bird On Earth" By Dan Koeppel (audio version)

One drawback of riding the bus to work each day is that it takes longer than if I were to drive my own vehicle.

Listening to music on my mp3 player helps me pass the time but I can only listen to so much music before I need a break from it. I also like to read, but reading in a moving vehicle gives me motion sickness. That wouldn't be fair to the person sitting in front of me. I don't read as much as I would like to at home either. If I have free time on my hands, I would rather be outdoors doing something active like hiking or birding, for example. When I do finally find time to read, I'm usually tired and reading makes me even more tired...zzzzzz.

Recently, I've started to listen to books on CD while riding the bus. It's a great way to make use of my traveling time. On average, I'm able to go through about two books a week.

Last week as I was searching through our local library's audio books, I came across an audio book titled "To See Every Bird On Earth" by Ted Koeppel.

This is the story about Richard Koeppel as told by his son, Dan Koeppel. Richard's life ambition was to become an ornithologist but he ended up becoming a doctor in order to satisfy his parent's expectations. Richard went on to get married and raise a family but he never lost interest in birds. Much of the book is about the personal experiences of the Koeppel family. Dan writes about the family's Jewish heritage, his father's disappointments in life, his mother's infidelities, his parent's divorce and Dan's desire to have a closer relationship with his father. All of this is woven in between the birding-related portions of the book which follows Richard from the time he saw his first Brown Thrasher to the moment he reached -(and exceeded)- his 7,000th species.

The reading is done by John Mcdonough whose voice reminds me John Houseman or David Attenborough. He enunciates each word clearly, making it easy to hear him even if there is a lot of background noise on the bus. His scholarly reading style works well when he is describing circumstances surrounding the sighting of notable species as well as colorful details about the birds themselves. I thought the most interesting part of the book was reading about the personalities of the big listers-(birders who are obsessed with seeing and listing as many species as possible)- and the intricate rules that they have to follow.

I would have preferred that this book would have focused a little bit more on the birding. The portions which dealt with the family gave the book an overall somber tone. Still, I don't imagine that it's easy to write this type of book and it did keep my interest throughout. If I wasn't interested in birding, I'd probably rate this book about 5 out of 10. Since I am interested in birding, I'll give it a 7.5 rating.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Part 1- Birds Of Prey Are On Their Way

I've had some memorable moments this year viewing birds of prey. I enjoyed a close-up view of this young Red-tailed Hawk back in January as it perched in a cedar tree at Hammonasset park.
I also enjoyed watching this immature Bald Eagle sitting on the ice at Wethersfield Cove.

When Spring arrived The Ospreys started to move in. This one was perched on a snag at Wright's Cove in Portland, CT.
I had some difficulty trying to decide if this was a Cooper's or a Sharp-shinned Hawk. I was leaning towards a sharpie but decided to just combine the two and call it a carpie.

Now the time has arrived when many of these hawks, eagles, falcons, and osprey will withdraw from their breeding grounds across North America and fly south to their wintering grounds.

I don't really want to watch these magnificent birds in order to count them or collect scientific data. Instead, I will watch these majestic birds of prey as they circle higher and higher into the sky. There are times that I can almost imagine that I'm up there with them escaping the trivialities of life and getting a bird's eye view of the bigger picture.

Goodbye Joe-and thanks for the help-
This is a photo of Joe Wojtanowski, the founder of the peak mountain hawk watch site in East Granby. Joe has been coordinating the hawk watches there for the last six years. Although the number of hawks seen here during migration don't rival the numbers seen near the shoreline sites, Joe did once count 3,00 Broad-winged Hawks here on one particular day. I've stopped by his site a few times over the last couple of years and was able to pick up some helpful information including: tips about identifying hawks in flight , peak migration times for each species, best viewing conditions-(better if there are some clouds around), and the best wind direction- (Northwest).
As I was preparing to add a link to the Peak Mountain Hawkwatch Data Summary Page, I was sad to learn that the site was closed down as of yesterday due to a conflict of interest from some of the residents of East Granby. Joe had mentioned that the next couple of weeks are prime time to look for migrating Broad-winged Hawks.
There are many other Hawkwatch sites in Connecticut from which to view hawks. Here is a link for Connecticut Hawk Watch Sites. You can select the link to any individual sites to get directions to the site and data summaries for the hawks seen at the location broken down by year, month, and day. These sites are open to the public. If you don't live in Connecticut, here is the main link to Hawkcount. In addition, here are tow hawk watching opportunities offered by The Hartford Audubon :
Wednesday & Thursday, September 17-18, 2008 Johnnycake MT, Burlington Come see Broad-winged Hawks migrating at their peak through Connecticut with chances of seeing hundreds or thousands of birds. Also see other hawk species as well. Bring a chair, food and drink and spend the day watching migrating hawks. Meet at 8:30 AM. Call leader for directions. Contact leader for directions. Leader: Paul Carrier
Saturday & Sunday, September 20-21, 2008Hawk watch at Booth Hill, West Hartland-Come see Broad-winged Hawks migrating at their peak through Connecticut with chances of seeing hundreds or thousands of birds. Also see other hawk species as well. Bring a chair, food and drink and spend the day watching migrating hawks. Meet at 8:30 AM. Contact leader for directions. Leader: Paul Carrier

I haven't taken any recent hawk flight photos, so all the photos in this post are older ones. You can see the black wing border and broad white stripe of the Broad-winged Hawk . The dark leading edge of the shoulder area is seen on the Red-tailed Hawk. It's great when you can see these markings but I've noticed that hawks can take on many different shapes and positions when in flight that making them much more difficult to identify at times.

Earlier this month, I saw my first Mississippi Kite. The video wasn't very good but it was a great bird to see! There were actually two that were regularly seen flying over Great Pond in Simsbury for the last couple of months. As it turns out they paired up and were successful in their efforts!
I turned off comments on part 1 but you can post coments under part 2-thanks.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Part -2 Shorebirds After The Storm

Some of the birders around Connecticut were hoping that the remnants of this weekend' tropical storm might bring some new birds in. I checked The Rocky Hill Meadows after a night of some moderate wind and rain. The most interesting sightings for me were three American Golden-plovers. None of them came particularly close to me so I couldn't get much of a photo.
I've only seen these birds a couple of other times. While I was there another birder suggested that one of the plovers was actually a Black-bellied Plover because it showed white under the tail. Not having any experience in comparing the two species it seemed to make sense to me. Although, I was pretty sure that a Black-bellied Plover would be a more unusual sighting at an inland location. After discussing this with some more experienced birders, I learned that the bird in question was an American Golden-Plover that was in the process of molting. The molting gave the appearance of white under the tail. The better field mark for identification was the clearly defined white eyebrow as well as the shape of the bird. I would like to see the two side by side for comparison some time.

It was not quite the fallout we were hoping for but I was happy about the golden plovers. Other birds of interest seen here included: White-rumped Sandpiper (not by me), several Pectoral Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, Lesser Yellowlegs, 2 adult Bald Eagles, 2 Red-shouldered Hawks, 2 Cooper's Hawks, Great Egret ....

And yet another Solitary Sandpiper. These guys don't seem to want to leave me alone. I think they might be following me. I caught a pretty good video of this one talking to me.