Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hudsonian Godwit Video At Hammonasset

I took a ride to Hammonasset State Park today hoping to see the Hudsonian Godwit that has been reported there for the last week. It was located in the fields near the West Beach parking lot. There were several people there photographing the bird from their car windows.
This was a new species for me so I took the time to read a little about it. According to All About Birds, the Hudsonian Godwit breeds in the Arctic and winters in South America. They migrate through the Great Plains in the Spring and along the Atlantic Coast in the Fall. It is a large shorebird that has a long, bi-colored bill that is slightly upturned.
I had an added bonus as a Western Kingbird was also reported at Hammonasset yesterday by Ron Pelletier. I had fun crawling through the sand trying to sneak up on it for a photo but wasn't able to get very close. It was doing its flycatching thing and moving around to different areas near the Meig's Point area of the park. It was noted that this particular bird doesn't seem to have much of a tail.
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The godwit was very tolerant of the presence of people. Here is some video footage I was able to take with my camera.

Monday, October 19, 2009

6 Ways I Made The Most Of My Fall Birding

Every Fall new species of sparrows arrive in Connecticut just as warblers are heading south. I had no specific plan over the last two weeks but I knew that I wanted to take the opportunity to observe sparrows and warblers in more detail than I usually do. Here is a list of 5 things I've been doing to get the most out of my Fall birding.

1) I found a new birding spot that's good for sparrows

I did some birding at Bear Hill Wildlife Management Area in Bozrah. I found it in a book titled "Finding Birds In Connecticut" written by Dave Rosgen and Gene Billings in 1996. The area consists of large open fields divided by hedgerows with a few trees scattered about. The land is managed by the DEP and is used extensively by hunters. It would be best to visit on a Sundays during hunting season. During my first visit the entire place was loaded with hundreds of birds in the trees and fields. I thought that I had found a birder's paradise. I soon discovered that most of the birds I was seeing were Yellow-rumped Warblers . It still turned out to be a good spot. I saw a variety of sparrows including Savannah, (8) Field Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrow, Song Sparrows, (6) Eastern Towhees, and a Lincoln's Sparrow. There was also a flock of 30 Eastern Bluebirds that seemed to take a liking to an old barn on the premises.

There were a lot of Eastern Phoebes there as well. The one in the above photo flew directly at me three times as I tried to take it's picture. I don't know if it was provoked by a reflection from my camera lens, the beeping sound of my shutter going off, or it was just bothered by my presence. I managed to get a photo after it decided I wasn't worth the trouble.
2) Don't touch that camera just yet!

In the past, I've relied on taking photos of birds so that I could use them to help me with identifying them afterwards. This method has worked well for me on many occasions but there are some drawbacks to doing it this way. One problem is that if you don't get a usable photo of the bird in question then you'll miss the opportunity to identify it if it flies away. I've decided that from now on I will only try to take a photo of a bird only after I've identified it or at least studied it long enough to remember what it looked like. I used this principle to help me identify my first Nashvile Warbler.
I was standing next to an old apple tree when I noticed a small bird moving about in the branches. I noticed it was very small and fairly plain on the side. It did have a notable eye ring and at first I thought it might be a Ruby-crowned kinglet. Then I noticed that it was quite yellow on most of its underside including underneath its tail. I was tempted to try to take a photo but I'm glad that I didn't. The bird flew off after only a few seconds. If I had fumbled with my camera, I never would have gathered enough details to make an identification. I took a photo of a Palm Warbler instead and let the picture of my first Nashville Warbler remain in my mind.

-3)Remembering to consider behavior and habitat when attempting to identify a mystery bird:
I was recently out with a small group of birders when we found a small bird hiding in a tiny patch of tall grass in what was otherwise an open field with relatively short grass. We managed to get brief looks at the bird and were able to determine it was a wren of some sort. The only wrens we had previously seen in this inland birding area were House Wrens and Carolina Wrens. A wren that is secretive and hiding in a little patch of marsh-hmm-what could it be? Some of us finally got a better look at it and confirmed what our suspicions. What was it? You guessed it-a Marsh Wren.

4)Avoiding the game-show birding mentality:

Part of what makes birding with a group fun is to be able to contribute by finding interesting birds. Sometimes I have a tendency to be in too much of a hurry to identify birds in these situations which can lead to mistakes. When birding with a group I plan to take more time looking at a bird before announcing what I've seen. In other words I'm working on accuracy instead of quantity. I think it's also a good idea to confirm identifications made by other birders in the group. Sometimes rare birds are overlooked because others in the group have a tendency to go along with the initial identification without taking a careful look at it.
5) Studying sparrows a little more closely:

I'm comfortable identifying most of the sparrows we see in Connecticut but still can become confused with certain juvenile birds especially when they only give you a split second to look at them. There are also some of the rarer sparrows that I haven't seen at all yet. Sparrow markings vary quite a bit not only in different species but also in individual birds. I want to pay closer attention to more subtle details like tail length, overall shape etc.

6) Using reports from other birders to help find birds in your local area :

The COA has a listserve which allows you to read reports from birders throughout the day so that you can read about what everyone hasbeen seeing. I don't see many Lincoln's Sparrows in Portland but when I have they've been at Wangunk Meadows. A report came through that Lincoln's Sparrows had been seen in the town of Glastonbury which is just a few miles north of Portland. I went down to nearby Wangunk meadows, and sure enough I found Lincoln Sparrows there (see above photo). I also noted that other birders had seen Nashville Warblers in Connecticut on the same day that I saw my first one. That made me even more certain that the warbler I had seen was a Nashville. Paying attention to what birds other birders are seeing can be a useful tool not just to find rare birds but also to stay informed about what might be moving through your area.

None of the ideas I listed are new to me. They are things that I've read, heard, or done before but knowing and doing are two different things.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Economical State Forest Cabins Rentals

For the few times that I go camping during the year I've found that a simple tent works fine for me. The campsites at State Parks in New England are generally less than $15 night and in some cases free during the off season. I recently discovered that some State Forests also offer cabin rentals. I was intrigued by the idea and decided to try renting a cabin at Savoy Mountain State Forest which is located in the Berkshires Of Massachusetts. As you can see, the cabins are quite rustic. I believe they were built by the Civilian Conservation Corp in the 1930's. Each of the four cabins are equipped with 2 bunks beds, a wooden table, 2 wooden chairs, woodstove, smoke detector, and co2 detector. You have to bring your own mattress cover for the plastic-coated mattresses, firewood (sold in the area), grill and cookware. There are hot showers (not available in off-season) and flush toilets on the campground. A portolet is located near the cabins. They might not be for everyone but if you don't mind roughing it a little they're a bargain at $30 a night. Cabin 4 even has electricity for no extra cost. I chose cabin 1 because it was more secluded and was located next to a pond.
I noticed that the Blue Jays were very bold when I first arrived as they were landing just a few feet from me. A closer look revealed that the jays were after peanuts which had been left behind by the previous campers.
The weather was not particularly cooperative during my stay. The daytime temperature was in the 50's but cloudy skies along with very windy conditions made if feel much colder. It also made birding a little difficult but that didn't prevent me from trying. There are several well marked trails in the area that lead to various bogs, ponds, waterfalls, and mountain views. The birds were fairly quiet during my stay but this Black-capped Chickadee helped lead me to a few fall migrants including a Black-throated Green Warbler, 1st winter Canada Warbler and 1st winter Magnolia Warbler. I was able to look at these two long enough in the low lighting conditions to gather sufficient field marks to make the id's on the warblers but gave up on a few others that I saw. Other birds of interest included 2 Brown Creepers, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and Common Ravens. I'm betting this will be an excellent birding area in the Spring.
One of the trails I took was called the Busby trail which led me to the top of Spruce Hill which was advertised as a hawkwatch lookout. I only stayed long enough to see a few local Red-tailed Hawks and to take in the mountain views. I had an interesting experience when 100 Blue Jays wizzed by my head on there way to who knows where. The larger hill on the right side of the photo is the locally famous Mount Greylock.You can get views like this just from driving along the main road in the Berkshires. It is a beautiful area but I did noticed that they've been hit hard by the struggling economy. Many of the small stores in the area have gone out of business. Fortunately, a poor economy doesn't affect the beauty of nature.
Most of the migrating Broad-winged Hawks have already moved on. I captured this photo of a Cooper's Hawk at Lighthouse point Park in New Haven as I tried to pick up some more tips from the veteran hawk counters. This bird is showing very little "wrist bend" at the leading edge of the wings and seems to show more of a head protrusion than a Sharp-shinned Hawk would. There are lots of little identification tips to differentiate sharpies from Cooper's Hawks but these tips seem subjective until you have adequate experience with watching hawks in flight (which I don't).
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This video was taken at a place called Tannery Falls. It was a last minute decision to visit this spot before heading back home. There was a safety trail which led you to several waterfalls including this one. It turned out to be a good decison and a nice way to end my camping trip.
For more information about renting cabins at Savoy Mountain State Forest click here.
For information about renting cabins at the Mohawk State Forest click here.