Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Legend of the Carrot-Nosed Mottlebird

When I'm indecisive about what type of birding to do, I often refer back to a link on the COA website titled "A Connecticut Birding Year", written by David Provencher back in 2000. After reading Part 3, which includes the summer months, I decided that I would do a good portion of my birding along the shoreline for the next month or so.

On Saturday, I visited a place called Chaffinch Park that I had found on the Connecticut Coastal Access Guide website. Two things caught my attention about this park. One was that it was listed as a place that was good for birdwatching and the other was that there was no entrance fee. I spent only a short time there because there weren't as many shorebirds as I had hoped. I did see an Osprey nest with 4 Osprey in it. I filmed a video but didn't include it here because it was of poor quality. There were a lot of robins and other birds feasting on berries in several of the fruit trees located in the park.
Somewhere along my travels in the town of Guilford, I noticed a large bird perched on a power line with its wings spread out like a cormorant or vulture. When I stopped to take a closer look I identified it as a Red-tailed Hawk. I'm guessing this is a younger bird. I've noticed that some of the younger red-tails seem to settle themselves in unusual places. I've seen them sitting on the ground at beach parking lots or perched on places that don't solidly support them like the tops of cedar trees. This one seems to be trying to figure out the logistics of how to turn that Rock Dove into a meal.
When I first started birding a few years ago, I came across what turned out to be a Black-crowned Night-Heron perched in a tree. It was near the Connecticut River, not much more than 100 yards from my house. I had no idea what it was so I started sketching a picture that included any noticeable field marks. Then I noticed it a reddish eye and some sort of plume feathers on the back of its head. Was it some rare bird that had accidentally flown in from a tropical location? I started checking through my field guide. Ah-ha! Black-crowned Night-heron. An interesting bird to find so close to home even though it wasn't the rare bird I hoped it would be. Sandy Point is a good place to find these birds. I have been there three times and seen them during each visit.
Many years ago in a small village near the ocean there lived an obnoxious species of birds, which were referred to by the villagers as mottlebirds. The mottlebirds were a large bird with brown bodies and dark heads . They were often seen walking about the town green putting on displays. They would spread their wings and then slowly turn in circles while holding their bills in an upward direction. This type of displaying seemed to give them an air of conceit. The merchants in the village did not like them because they were constantly stealing food from their carts. The mottlebirds were also known for harassing other birds and animals that came within their range.
During one particular winter, a snowman had been built on the town green. This did not seem to sit well with the mottlebirds who were constantly pecking and squawking at it. People joked that the snowman, with his brightly colored orange carrot nose, did not live up to their standards. The mottlebirds, with their perfectly shaped shiny bills, seemed to be fixated on that carrot nose! They kept up this harassment every day from dawn till dusk.
One morning it was noticed that the snowman had been moved from one end of the green to the other; and the very next morning the snowman was seen on the other side of the road near the hardware store! Residents joked that the snowman couldn't take any more abuse, but assumed that children had moved it during the night as a prank. Each time the snowman moved, the unrelenting mottlebirds followed him. The snowman's final day of existence ended when he reached the shoreline and was overcome by an exceptionally high tide. All that was left of him was the carrot nose that had washed up on the beach. It was promptly eaten by the greedy mottlebirds.
Later that summer, when the eggs of the mottlebirds began to hatch, an odd thing happened. Instead of shiny little beaks, the baby birds were born with gigantic orange bills. The babies were ostracized by their parents and chased away from the village. The young birds eventually settled along the shoreline. They soon discovered that their giant orange bills came in handy for opening oysters and other bivalves. This new generation of birds were a modest species and had none of the mean traits that their parents possessed. They were named oystercatchers and till this day they are still with us. The original mottlebirds disappeared from the village and were never seen again.
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The main attraction for me at Sandy Point were the Black-crowned Night-Herons and American Oystercatchers seen in this video. I noticed a Peregrine Falcon resting on a distant sandbar. It sat there for over an hour with something next to it, which may have been prey it had captured. There were very few terns as it had been explained to me that their nests had previously been wiped out by stormy water conditions. I did see one piping Plover and 2 dowitchers as well. It was reported that a Whimbrel had been spotted in the area too, but I didn't get a chance to see it before I had to leave.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Connecticut Wildlife Magazine & a kestrel

I recently ordered a subscription for Connecticut Wildlife which is put out by the Connecticut DEP. They put out six issues a year and the subscription cost is only $6.00 for 1 year and you save a couple of bucks if you get a 2 or 3 year subscription. It's only about 20 pages long but there aren't any advertisements in the magazine as far as I can tell. My first issue has an interesting article about the status of the Cerulean Warbler and it's habitat in Connecticut. The front cover photo was taken by Paul Fusco (what a dandy!) and he wrote the article as well. The magazine has information about all sorts of wildlife in Connecticut. I like to keep track of the latest information about black bears, fishers, coyotes, fox, bobcats, moose, and birds in Connecticut. I also like to follow what the state is doing in terms of land management. This sometimes gives me ideas for new spots to try for birding. The order form can be found here if you are interested. (You can read the Cerulean Warbler article online at the same link in the May/June issue page 10-11 pdf). - I did not spend much time watching birds over the weekend. I made a quick check at a few local spots. The most interesting bird I found was an American Kestrel down at the Portland Fairgrounds. I was curious about how common kestrels are in Connecticut during the month of July and fortunately I have a way of finding out.
I checked a copy of Connecticut Birds by the Season by Greg Hanisek of Talking Nature With Greg Hanisek . It is in a publication called The Connecticut Warbler (volume 25 No. 1 January 2005) which is put out by the COA. Whenever I have a question about the abundance of a particular species during a certain month I refer to this. I have found it to be extremely helpful to me. It shows you by use of bar graphs just how abundant each species is during each month of the year. Looking at the listing of American Kestrel, you can see that they are rare in Connecticut during the start of July and uncommon towards the end of the month. Of course this is not an exact science. It was published in 2005 and the status of certain species has probably changed since then. I do know that this gives me a good idea of what species are around or not around at certain times of the year. It is much more detailed than what you get from a color coded map from a field guide. I'm not sure where you go to get a copy of this issue but you might be able to find out from Greg Hanisek or the COA.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Birders Meet In CT For BwBTC Field Trip

I went to Milford Point on Saturday to meet Birders who Blog Tweet or Chirp for a day of birding. The trip was organized by Dawn, of Dawn's Bloggy Blog and led by Luke of Under Clear Skies. I do most of my birding alone and don't often travel out of state, so this was a nice change from my normal weekend birding routine. We had a lively group with an interesting mix of personalities. I found myself focusing in on the different aspects of birding which appealed to different individuals within the group.

Here are a few of the of birding related topics that I can recall being discussed:

  • Birding adventures at a Maine Sporting Camp

  • identifying Pine Warblers by their chip notes as they flew across the New york City sky at night.

  • Various social gatherings and festivals by birders in various states

  • species added to state lists, monthly lists, year lists, and life lists
  • how attempting to sketch what you see can be beneficial even if you're no good at it

  • differentiating species of birds by their flight patterns & wing beats

  • The different species of birds one might find in a backyard birds in Brooklyn

  • The excitement of being a new birder rapidly adding to the number of new species seen

  • How to make homemade digiscoping adapters

  • Proper identification of various species including Boat-tailed Grackles and various terns

  • The recent increase in quality of lower end optics

  • and of course-blogging, tweeting, and chirping (I'm still not sure what tweeting and chirping is)

By the end of the day I felt a renewed interest in certain aspects of birding that I may avoided for some time. I was also pleased by the number and variety of species we were able to see by the end of the trip. I won't list all of the species which totaled more than 60 but I'll point out a few of my favorite sightings. This photo of a Baltimore Oriole was taken for the observation deck at Milford Point Nature Center. We also saw Glossy Ibises, Black-crowned Night Herons, Purple Martins, and Orchard Orioles here. At other stops we added Brown Thrasher, Salt-marsh Sparrows, Marsh Wrens, Boat-tailed Grackles, and Piping plovers to our lists.

An Osprey flew overhead with the catch of the morning gripped tightly in its talons.
While we were carpooling I mentioned to Luke that it would be nice if I could get my first look at a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. He told me that with any luck we would see one in a few minutes. We were driving along a residential road and there it was-my first Yellow-crowned Night-Heron! I found the markings on the head stood out distinctly as the bird made its way through the tall, pale grass. Another nice sighting for some in the group was seeing a flock of Monk Parakeets and their jumbo-sized nests. I've seen my share of these birds but I haven't gotten used to their lime- green color always catches my attention.

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I started hit the record button but was disappointed when I saw that my memory card full after a few seconds of filming. I had forgotten to delete the old videos which fill up a lot of space. I was able to record a short clip of the Yellow-crowned Night Heron but don't blink or you'll miss it.
After stopping off for lunch, we headed out to Hammonasset State Park. There were plenty of egrets there like the Great Egret above. We were also able to get some glimpses of a Little Blue Egret as it flew by us a couple of times. I enjoyed learning about the differences between the different terns as we carefully searched for a Roseate Tern without success. We were able to find a King Eider which had been reported here recently. This was a lifer for several of us including me. We also had an excellent view of a Surf Scoter that was perched upon a rock. The low angle of the sun and the texture of the rock upon which it stood made the bold markings of the scoter stand out nicely. Some other birds of interest included Least Terns, Common Terns, Double-crested Cormorants, Short-billed Dowitchers, Spotted Sandpipers, and Least Sandpipers .
A cool breeze was coming off the water as we used the last of daylight to take in the final views of the day. After leaving Hammonasset we stopped at Fishtale for some ice cream. It was a nice way to put a finishing touch on what turned out to be a great day of birding and camaraderie.

Thanks to Dawn for organizing the trip and to Luke for leading it. It was a pleasure meeting everyone. Hope to see you next year!

-Here are links to the birders who attended:

Dawn and Jeff from Dawn's Bloggy Blog
Dan from Nature Observances
Dee from Oak and the Seed
Chris from Tails of Birding
Luke from Under Clear Skies
Bev from Behind the Bins and Murmuring Trees
Christopher from Picus blog
Cindy from Living in Brooklyn, Longing for Maine
Laura from Interstitial Spaces
Mark from Strack16
Catherine from Birdspot blog
Paul D-No link yet (but that may change soon)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Holiday Camping & Birds With Attitudes

My wife, Joan, and I camped out at Austin F. Hawes Campground in the American Legion State Forest over the weekend. The forecast called for a chance of rain and thunderstorms. I usually just ignore weather forecasts but I picked up a tarp to protect the tent from rain just in case. My plan was to tie the tarp to surrounding trees in order to form a roof over the tent. Unfortunately, when I arrived at the campground I found out that tying anything to trees was strictly forbidden and it had already started to rain. Now what do I do? Then I remembered that I had brought some old tomato stakes to use as kindling for the fire. I decided to use the stakes as posts to attach the tarp to. It may not be a work of art but it kept us dry for the weekend.

Outside of a few showers, the weather was nice and we had a terrific time together playing cards, listening to music, enjoying the fire-all that fun camping stuff. I didn't attempt to do much birding but some species that caught my attention were Black-throated Green Warblers, singing Brown Creepers, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and a singing Winter Wren.

When did bicyclists lose their fear of automobiles?
I noticed that there were a lot of bicyclists in the area. I like to see people riding bikes. It's a good way to keep in shape and it's much better for the environment than driving a car. One thing seems to have changed over the years though. It use to be that people riding bikes were expected to stay as close to the side of the road as possible in order to avoid being hit by a car. When I used to ride a bike years ago, a driver would lay on his horn if you were too far out towards the middle of the road. Now it seems to be the other way around. I often see groups of bicyclists riding in the middle of the road with seemingly no fear of automobiles. The drivers of the cars are expected to wait until the bicyclists are good and ready to move over before the car is allowed to pass. This is not a major complaint of mine, just an observation.

Pleasant Valley Drive-in Theater-I passed a drive-in theater on my way to the campground and decided to check it out the following day. There used to be numerous drive-in theaters in Connecticut, but now there are only two remaining: The Mansfield Drive-in and Pleasant Valley Drive-in. I decided to remove the section of the post that was previously here).
After returning home from our camping trip I checked on one of my local patches, Wangunk Meadows in Portland. It seemed that many of the birds here were also telling me to get out. As I passed by a patch of thickets there was a family of Common Yellowthroats yakking at me.
Notice both the female and male yellowthroats have their bills open and you know what their message is-"Get Out"!
Other birds that complained of my presence included Spotted Sandpipers, Yellow Warblers, and an endless supply of Gray Catbirds. I'm not sure if the gray Catbird wanted me to get out too or they were just looking for an excuse to show off their repertoire of nonsensical songs. They do seem to enjoy making noise. A couple of other interesting birds I saw there were an adult Bald Eagle and a Willow Flycatcher. Sort of at the opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of size but they both chase after prey.
I also made a visit to Hammonasset on Sunday morning. One of the first species I saw were Cedar Waxwings. They were acting like flycatchers as they swooped out over the pond to feed on flying insects.
I ran into a couple of birders who had seen a Tri-colored Heron there that morning. I spent an hour searching for it hoping to get my first glimpse of one but didn't have any luck. I took a photo of this Great Egret just because it was there for me to see. The bright sunlight glared off the back of the bird and a green goblin got in my way just as I was taking the photo. I like its pose and the way the feathers are showing on its wings though.
I did manage to see plenty of Glossy Ibises, Willets, and this adult Little Blue Heron. The adults are dark grayish birds and have a grayish bill with a dark tip. The immature birds are white with dark wing tips.
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I captured some video footage of the Little Blue Heron hunting for food. At the very end of the video, a tern plunges into the water. Hope you all had a great holiday weekend!