Sunday, March 29, 2009

Top 5 moments in the first week of Spring

Spring seems more like the beginning of the year than winter does. Wouldn't it make more sense if the year started in Spring and ended in the Winter? Any way, here are 5 of my most memorable moments from the first week of Spring. They are listed chronologically, not in order of importance.

1) The American Robins: There were robins everywhere in the first week of spring. I see them here throughout the winter in Connecticut but they are usually in the woods eating berries. This week I came upon a flock of about 100 American Robins scouring the ground for earthworms and other goodies. If they weren't eating, then they were singing from the treetops.

2) Gravestones with no names-I saw a flock of Wild Turkeys at the Connecticut Valley Hospital Cemetery in Middletown. CVH is a state funded mental health and substance treatment facility. As I was looking at the turkeys, I noticed something else. There were no names on the gravestones, just numbers. A memorial plaque was finally put up a few years back listing the names of the deceased. I found this article telling the sad history behind this cemetery.

3) Northern Pintails, Wilson's Snipe, and Green-winged Teal at The Portland Fairgrounds-
There is a muddy little skating pond located at the fairgrounds here in Portland. Every March around this time the area in and around the pond attracts some interesting birds. On Saturday March 22nd, I saw 14 Wilson's Snipe, Mallards, Canada Geese, Wood Ducks, Green-winged Teal and 8 Northern Pintails! I was excited because this was the first time I've ever seen Northern Pintails at this location. These elegant looking ducks are somewhat uncommon in Connecticut.
There are a couple of drawbacks to this spot. The background is somewhat drab looking for taking photos and 4 wheel drive vehicles generally show up scaring the birds away, but it was fun while it lasted.
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Here is a short video of a few of the ducks I saw enjoying the first weekend of Spring.
I was looking for birds but found this frog instead at a small nature preserve in Glastonbury located off of Great Pond Road . Do you know what kind of frog this is?
I ended my first week of Spring at the Pine Brook Bog in East Hampton. You wouldn't know it from this photo but I spotted about 80 Ring-necked Ducks, along with some Hooded Mergansers and Common Mergansers here. I saw my first Tree Swallows of the year zig-zagging over the water. Red-tailed Hawks flew overhead while Red-shouldered Hawks called out from the woods. I was surprised to find an immature Bald Eagle perched in a tree along the opposite shore. There are plenty of eagles in Connecticut these days but they are usually along the Connecticut River or some other major body of water, not in a little bog like this. A young boy and his father who lived up the street came to ask me about what I was seeing. I was happy to share views of the birds in my scope with them and they seemed to be impressed with what they saw. It was a nice way to wrap up the first week of Spring.
What were your favorite moments during the first week of Spring?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Birding Connecticut's Quiet Corner Part 2

During my visit to the Quiet Corner I stayed at Chickadee Cottage B&B in Pomfret, CT . The innkeepers are Bob and Katie Haney. Katie was a gracious host and prepared a terrific breakfast which included an omelet with a variety of cheeses, homemade bagels, and a freshly prepared papaya/guava juice blend. The cottage had everything I needed including a stove, refrigerator, and private bathroom. Staying at the cottage allowed me to explore the Quiet Corner at a leisurely pace.
One of the most convenient features of Chickadee Cottage is that the famous Airline Rail Trail is right in the back yard. All you have to do is follow a short path through the pine trees and you're there! I followed the trail to Bafflin Sanctuary. Some of the birds I encountered along the way included a Red-bellied Woodpecker, Carolina Wren, Eastern Bluebirds and noisy flock of American Goldfinches that were making a squeaky call that sounds like eeeeat!
During my travels, I noticed a sign for place called Cat Hollow Park. I thought it was sort of funny that I had to drive down Dog Hill Road to get there. I wondered if there was a story behind it. Is this where the cats went to hide from the dogs? I took a short stroll through the park which was formerly had several mill along the banks of Whetstone Brook. The brook still has a nice mill pond and scenic waterfalls. The variety of species in the woods during March in Connecticut is a bit limited until Spring Migration gets into full swing. I enjoyed watching a Tufted Titmouse which was fluttering its wings while perched on a branch like a juvenile bird does when begging for food. I imagine this is part of the courtship process that occurs during this time of the year.
After a long day of hiking and birding I stopped at the The Courthouse Bar & grille for a bite to eat. I like the atmosphere here which was friendly and laid back. The had a pretty extensive menu but I decided to keep it simple. The angus burger, cole slaw, and fries I ate were very good. The interior design of the place was interesting too. It actually was a courthouse during the early 1900's.
After a restful night's sleep, I took a ride out towards Killingly. When I'm in an area that has a lot of undeveloped land, I love checking out nature preserves, and bodies of water that I find on maps. I feel like I'm on a treasure hunt. There were several ponds and reservoirs listed on the map in Killingly. One particular pond that I located , Bog Meadow Reservoir, which was loaded with ducks.
This is a photo of two male Buffleheads (left) and 1 female (right). I'm not sure about the one taking off. Go ahead and guess if you want to.

When I first started birding, I got confused between male Buffleheads and male Hooded Mergansers when I was viewing them from at a distance. The male Buffleheads have white that extends all the way to the back of their head. The male Hooded Mergansers have heads that show white completely surrounded by black .
This is an adult male breeding Ring-necked Duck. If you look closely you can see the dark, purplish ring at the base of its neck. This is one of the less reliable fieldmarks for this species because the ring isn't usually visible. Not the peaked head, dark back, white spur on the side that extends into the black, and the white bands that cross the base and front of the bill. He's a handsome duck isn't he? There were about 80 of them on the pond, both male and female. Other ducks seen at this reservoir included Wood Ducks, Mallards, and Hooded Mergansers.

My journey ended at Trailwood Preserve, the former homestead of Pulitzer Prize winning author Edwin Way Teale. He gave each trail on the preserve a specific name -( Veery Lane, Beaver Pond trail etc.) - so that he and his wife could have a point of reference if something notable happened during one of their walks. It's not hard to see how Edwin Teale could find inspiration for his work while living at such a special place. I've never read any of his books but just checked out one of his last works, A Walk Through The Year, from my local Library. His writing cabin, seen in the above photo, overlooks a small pond. It wasn't open at the time of my visit but I hope to have a look inside when I return later in the Spring.
I had a wonderful time during my short stay in the Quiet Corner. I saw a nice variety of birds but I'm looking forward to seeing a whole lot more when I return with my wife in May. There should be plenty of warblers to see here during spring migration. The last bird I encountered before my departure was a White-breasted Nuthatch. Goodbye my feathered friend. Hope to see you again in May!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Birding Connecticut's Quiet Corner Part 1

One of the most beautiful areas to visit in Connecticut is the northeastern corner of the state, also known as the "Quiet Corner". It comprises the largest portion of The Last Green Valley, a relatively undeveloped area between Boston and Washington. The region is known for its scenery, culture, historical museums, and numerous antique shops. There is another good reason to visit this area, and it is the reason that interests me the most, Birds!

The Quiet Corner is loaded with lakes, ponds, farms, and forests. For this reason, my first stop was to The Connecticut Audubon Society Center at Pomfret. I was able to get a lot of helpful information with the free brochures that were available. The staff and volunteers at the center were also very helpful in providing me with information beyond what was provided in the brochures.
As I was standing in front of the Audubon Center, I saw a hawk perched on a nearby antenna . At first I thought it might be a fake bird set up as a practical joke to trick people but closer inspection revealed a Red-tailed Hawk taking in a birds eye view of the area. During my visit I saw numerous Red-tails. You know the saying a car for every garage. Around here it should be a Red-tailed Hawk for every farm field!

My favorite birding moment of the weekend was my sighting of this female American Kestrel. The sign at the Bafflin Nature preserve that stated kestrels usually return to the area some time in April so this one was a little ahead of schedule. As you may notice, the box on which it is perched is not an American Kestrel Nestbox. I was disappointed when the it flew off because I was hoping to get closer for a better photo but...

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My disappointment quickly disappeared as the kestrel put on a thrilling aerial displays! I have seen kestrels hover hunt briefly on a couple of occasions but never like this one did. She flew up into position and hovered in one spot for as long as 45 seconds at a time while searching for prey below. This video doesn't fully capture the moment but it gives you an idea of what I witnessed. Half of the video has been edited out so that I could upload it onto the blog. I also muted the audio because the sound of the wind was too loud.
I was on my way to get some lunch when I noticed this unusual building with a sign that read Celebrations Gallery When I passed by this building my curiosity got the better of be so I pulled in to take a closer look. Inside there were very large rooms filled with bright, colorful paintings and interesting sculptures. I'm not one to spend a lot of time admiring art but I couldn't help but be impressed with what I saw.

I had lunch at the Vanilla Bean Cafe. Their philosophy is to never compromise on the quality of the food. They try to use locally grown products from the numerous farms in the area whenever possible. I really like the idea of using locally grown products. It's nice to know where your food came from and I'm sure the local farmers appreciate it too. I had half a veggie sandwich on homemade bread and a cup of clam chowder. Everything in the sandwich was so fresh tasting and flavorful too. The clams in the chowder were nice and tender with a broth that was somewhere between Rhode Island and New England style. The dining area was very relaxing with wood floors and high ceilings that made it feel very roomy. The dining area is decorated with the paintings of local artists and the cafe features musical entertainment on a regular basis.
In my next post, I'll tell you about the rest of my adventures in the Quiet Corner including a visit to an interesting nature preserve which was the former homestead of a Pulitzer Prize winning author and naturalist-any guesses on who that might be?
Click: here -to read Birding Connecticut's Quiet Corner Part 2

Monday, March 9, 2009

Where There's Crows There's Probable Caws

On Sunday Morning I parked at the end of Clarkhurst Road in East Hampton and started my descent down a steep dirt road which leads to George Dudley Seymour Park.
I love looking down at the stream here which lies at the bottom of a steep ravine. A beam of sunshine cast its warmth upon me as it shone down through the cedars. It felt so good after a long winter that seems to have overstayed its welcome. I encountered a few birds along the trail including a few woodpeckers, a Tufted Titmouse, and three Black-capped Chickadees, and lots of American Crows. At the end of the trail there is an area of open fields. The DEP has posted signs here about the importance of open grassland with a list of birds that need this type of habitat. If only those birds would read these signs and follow the directions but I haven't had much luck with the grassland birds here. I have often see Birds of prey patrolling the skies above these fields including Bald Eagles, Red-tailed Hawks, and on this particular morning there was a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks over the woods crying out with a loud Keyear! Keyear! One of the more interesting areas in the park is this swamp. I remember finding an Eastern Phoebe here in the month of December. There were a few Wood Ducks working their way through here on Sunday along with a substantial flock of Red-winged Blackbirds, and one Belted Kingfisher that was perched on the end of a branch making making the rattling sound that they are known for. Once I passed the swamp, I came to the part of the field that leads to the bank of the Connecticut River.

I've probably visited this park about 10 times but I've never ventured beyond the far corner of the field. We are exposed to words like no and don't so many times in our lives that I wonder what effect it might have on our subconscious when it comes to our decision making. There seems to be an awful lot of information that comes out about what you shouldn't eat like bread (too much carbs!), eggs (too much cholesterol!), coffee ( too much caffeine!) etc.. etc.. .I like the Ben Franklin philosophy-everything in moderation-(unless it's really good). Of course you should take everything I say with a grain of salt-(unless it would put you over your daily allowance of 2400 mg per day ).
I'm glad that I finally decided to look beyond the field because it led me to a nice path that followed along the river and along the back side of the swamp I was talking about. I was taken by surprise when an American Woodcock flew low across my path into the swamp. I haven't seen many of them before. I know that there are certain locations where you can find them but I've never gotten around to it.
It was on my way back that I heard a knocking sound that made me wonder if it was a woodpecker at first. Then I thought maybe it was one of those weird sounds that squirrels make. It turned out to be another American Crow making one of its odd vocalizations. I read that they've even been known to imitate human voices on occasion. You've got to watch out for those crows-they're very sneaky. There were two crows on that branch in the above photo. One took off into the woods, while this one try to fool me into thinking he was taking a nap (actually just scraping its bill).

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The two crows were having a conversation back and forth. I think they were talking about me. Maybe the one in the woods went to check on some goods they had stashed away. I read that there are a lot of variations-(number, intensity, volume etc)- in the caw vocalizations they in different situations. When I was watching some of the crows scatter from the main flock, they seemed to be moving into strategic locations. I'm not sure what their strategy was but they sure seemed to be up to something. I found it interesting to read that young crows don't breed until they are at least two years old. They also have interesting social habits as they sometimes spend time hanging out with members of their extended family but at other times will join large flocks in a different area away from the family. Don't get me wrong, I'd rather be watching lots of colorful migrants at the peak of spring migration but watching the crows provided a little entertainment on a morning when the birding was slow anyway.
Have You ever observed a crow exhibiting interesting behavior?
What do you do when you're out birding and there aren't many birds around?

Friday, March 6, 2009

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=already answered

1)Blue, blue windows behind the stars-Yellow moon on the rise-Big birds flying across the sky. Throwing shadows on our eyes-Leave us......

2)"Don't worry about a thing, 'Cause every little thing gonna be all right. Singin': "Don't worry about a thing, 'Cause every little thing gonna be all right!"

3)Did you ever see a Robin weep-When leaves begin to die?

4) No use talkin' when the shadows fall-Night birds callin' and he says it all

5) Like a stamp to a letter, Like birds of a feather, We, stick together

6)A-well-a, everybody's heard about the birdBird, bird, bird, b-bird's the word

7)You wore a little cross of gold around your neck-I saw it as you flew between my reason-Like a raven in the night time when you left

8)Getting strong now-won't be long now-getting strong now

9)The Lord knows, I can't change. Lord help me, I can't change.

10)As the sun breaks, above the ground, An old man stands on the hill, As the ground warms, to the first rays of light-A birdsong shatters the still. (heavy metal)

11) There's a bright, golden haze on the meadow-There's a bright, golden haze on the meadow-The corn is as high as an elephant's eye-And it looks like it's climbing clear up to the sky.

12)Yeah we tease him a lot cause we’ve got him on the spot..

13)......Traveled down a road and back again-Your heart is true, you're a pal and a confidant

14)It's a rare condition, this day and age, to read any good news on the newspaper page. Love and tradition of the grand design, some people say it's even harder to find

15)I bet we been together for a million years, And I bet we'll be together for a million more

16)But when you're walkin' down that street-And you ain't had enough to eat-The glitter rubs right off and you're nowhere

17)The old home town looks the same- as I step down from the train, and there to meet me is my Mama and Papa. Down the road I look and there runs Mary hair of gold and lips like cherries. It's good to touch the......

18)Now once I was downhearted-Disappointment was my closest friend-But then you came and he soon departed-And you know he never showed his face again..

20)Was it something I said or something I did? Did my words not come out right? Though I tried not to hurt you-Though I tried-But I guess that's why they say....

21)I bought a ticket to the world, But now I've come back again. Why do I find it hard to write the next line? When I want the truth to be said.......

22)I need someone to show me-The things in life that I can't find-I can't see the things that make true happiness-I must be blind

23)A boy is born in hard time Mississippi-Surrounded by four walls that ain't so pretty

24)Think of me-You know that I'd be with you if I could-I'll come around to see you once in a while-Or if I ever need a reason to smile

25)All alone at the end of the of the evening-And the bright lights have faded to blue

26)Old Man He And His Dog They Walk The Old Land-Every Flower Touched His Cold Hand-As He Slowly Walked By-Weeping Willows Would Cry For Joy

27)God only knows, God makes his plan-The information's unavailable to the mortal man. We work our jobs, collect our pay-Believe we're gliding down the highway when in fact we're.......

28)You get a shiver in the dark It's raining in the park but meantime -South of the river you stop and you hold everything

29)Well, Romeo and Juliet, Samson and Delilah -Baby you can bet a love they couldn't deny -My words say split, but my words they lie

30)I been everywhere, and I'm standing tall-I've seen a million faces and I've rocked them all..

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Small Discoveries Along The Road To Spring

As Winter continues its hold on Connecticut, I continue to wander about the roads in my area looking for new places to explore. My most recent visit was to a place called Pine Brook Falls Preserve in East Hampton CT. I learned about this location recently from a weekly Hartford Courant column called Nature's Path by Peter Marteka. This is a great source of information if you are looking for new places to explore in Connecticut's woods.

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This waterfall is part of the remains of an old stone mill. There are 40 acres of land preserved at this particular location but it is only a portion of 762 acres of protected land along Pine Brook. There is more information about the overall project in the
19th edition of the Middlesex Land Trust Newsletter (pdf). The area is surrounded by a steep hillside, mountain laurel, and moss covered rocks. What impresses me about this area is that it only takes a two minute walk down a trail to reach an area that feels totally secluded. It would be a perfect place for a writer or photographer to spend some time. In fact, I passed two older gentleman heading into the area with their photography equipment as I was leaving. (preserve is on Sexton Hill Road in East Hampton-dirt road off of 151-park in front of small preserve sign).

There weren't many birds around during my visit but one little chickadee told me that if I came back in the May he would show me where all the warblers were hiding. He made me promise not to take his picture in order to protect his identity. I'm looking forward to sitting next to the stream on a warm, sunny, morning surround by colorful Spring migrants but I'll have to wait a bit longer before that moment comes.
As the temperature dropped and the wind picked up, I decided to do some birding by car. I made a stop along the Connecticut River where I spotted two Bald Eagles. One was an immature eagle that had been sitting next to a skating pond while the other was an adult which was perched in a tree. It flew off a few seconds after I arrived.

I noticed that it appeared to be carrying a stick in its talons. That's one less that our town workers need to take care of. I wonder where it's bringing it?
I took a drive through the Penfield Hill Road area of Portland. I believe that this tiny building is actually an old school. There is still an old water pump and a double outhouse made of brick located behind the school. After some searching, I found the following excerpts of information in an old historical record of Middlesex County:
  • October 5th 1830, upon petition of Penfield Hill School District, a committee was appointed "to designate a spot in s'd district to remove or build a school house that will enable them to receive the donation given to s'd Dis't by Mr. John STEWART deceased;" they established the site for said school house on the east side of the highway, between the dwelling house of Zebulon PENFIELD and the dwelling house of Daniel SHEPARD Esq. This was the present school house, a substantial and handsome brick building.

  • District No. 4, Penfield Hill. This fine brick school house was built in 1830, partly with funds left by John STEWART, in his will. An addition was built in 1840. Miss Fannie STEWART is teacher.

  • Harrison WHITCOMB taught several winters at Penfield Hill, between 1830 and 1840. He came from Vermont, and he is now a physician in Rutland.
I like reading old historical records and find the style of language they used back then to be interesting as well. Often times I find remnants of the past while searching for birds of the present.
After my short visit to the school I came across a flock of turkeys in the woods and this Red-shouldered Hawks perched in a tree. From what I understand, Red-shouldered Hawks used to be rare in Connecticut during the winter. I've been seeing them fairly often this year, especially in the Haddam/East Haddam area. I found it interesting to learn that Red-shouldered hawks and Great-horned Owls are known for snatching nestlings from each other's nests.
I 'm certainly eager for the departure of winter and looking forward to the arrival of Spring. In the mean time, I will continue to wander down roads and trails enjoying small discoveries along the way.