Monday, December 27, 2010

Window Blind White-throat In The Snow

As you can see from my backyard, we had a bit of snow Sunday night into Monday. Portland only had a total of about 10 inches but the wind gusts were strong enough to knock over one of my heavy wooden chairs.
I spent most of Monday shoveling snow and making homemade chicken noodle soup but managed to sneak in a little backyard birding. I set up a simple blind by hanging an old blanket over my breezeway door and putting a piece of cardboard in the window with a hole cut out for the camera lens. Surprisingly, we didn't have a lot of bird activity. There were lots of juncos, 1 Carolina Wren, 1 Mourning Dove, 1 Downy Woodpecker, 2 Northern Cardinals, and a few White-throated Sparrows. Normally, I see a lot of birds at the feeders during a snowstorm.
I set up branches for the birds to land on but they always seemed to land in a position where they were obstructed by other branches or were facing in the wrong direction. I know there are certain methods to control the way the birds land so that is something I'll work on in the future. At least the White-throated Sparrow cooperated by landing in the snow near the window blind. They breed mostly in Candada but I look forward to their return to Connecticut each year in the late Fall.
It's interesting how different a bird can look when it changes it's posture. This photo is of the same bird as in the previous photo but it looks a lot taller in this photo. There are two different forms of the White-throated Sparrow. There is a tan-striped form and the white-crowned form seen in these photos. I think the white-crowned form are more striking to look at. I learned this interesting fact at whatbird: "Individuals almost always mate with a bird of the opposite morph. Males of both color types prefer females with white stripes,and both kinds of females prefer tan-striped males." Don't worry, I didn't set up a secret snow trap just to get this photo. Little birdy did it all on his own.

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and I want to wish you all a Happy New Year!

Monday, December 20, 2010

36th Annual Salmon River CBC

I participated in the 36th MAS Annual Christmas Bird Count Sunday. I was one of a group of 5 birders in the territory. I like this particular CBC because it is very casual. We walked some of the areas but covered much of the area by car. I did spend much time taking pictures but couldn't resist snapping a photo of the goldfinches eating seeds off this plant with the sunlight coming in from behind them. It was taken in the Portland Reservoir area where we also found Golden-crowned Kinglets, a Brown Creeper to go along with the other usual suspects.
One thing that can be a little frustrating about this particular bird count is that we have a few nice ponds in our territory but naturally they are usually frozen this time of the year. Ducks generally seem to prefer open water over ice. It made for nice scenery though.
There were Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, and even a Red-bellied Woodpecker searching for food beneath a canopy of White Pine Trees.
I took a ride deep into the Meshomasic State Forest looking for more birds. I found plenty of streams but not many birds but I did see a Red-shouldered Hawk near Del Reeves Road the day before which counts on the list.
We ended the day with a search of the Connecticut River from a couple of locations which are within the circle. One of the locations was at the end of Shipyard Road which has some beautiful old historical homes. A couple of the neighbors came out to chat with us. I was pleased by how friendly and supportive they were when we told them what we were doing.
While we were there, we were able to add a Bald Eagle to our list. We also enjoyed watching several Northern Flickers flying in and out of the knotholes in some of the big old trees. As we drove around the area we had a nice sighting of a Pileated Woodpecker from the car as well as an eye level view of a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk.
We moved down to another public access site at the bottom of Oakum Docks Road. There were 50+ Mallards, 6 Common Mergansers, and one Common Goldeneye on the river. We scanned the shorelines with the scope and spotted a Great Blue Heron looking back at us. We saw two Great Cormorants land in the river but upon further inspection there were another 16 cormorants in a tree. Some flew from the tree to the water and appeared to be Great Cormorants as well.The preliminary number for total species seen is 74. I'll be curious to see what the final tally turns out to be.
You can't tell from this photo but I came across a rafter of Wild Turkeys totalling over 50 in all. Unfortunately, they were 1/2 mile outside of our count circle so they didn't make it onto our list.
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I enjoyed watching the antics of the toms as they walked around Showing off their fancy tail feathers. They came crashing to the ground one by one as they left their roosting spots in the trees. They all gathered in a fenced off area that was occupied by a couple of horses. The horses didn't seem to mind the turkeys and the turkeys paid no attention to the horses. Just one big happy family.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Birding Along The River Of Dreams

This is a view from the overlook at Selden Creek Preserve . It is one of the unique areas along the Connecticut River which is featured in the book: Tidewaters of-the Connecticut River- An Explorer's guide to Hidden Coves and Marshes . The book contains excellent information about the geological history, flora, and fauna of the Connecticut River. There is one chapter in the book about birds of the Connecticut River which was written by Noble S. Proctor. He is a Professor of Ornithology and botany at Southern Connecticut State University.

One of the more interesting aspects of the book was reading about the history of the towns located along the river. Here's one example: In the early 1800's there were privateers who would leave ports in Lyme, Saybrook, Deep River and Essex that would head out onto the high seas to steal cargo from other ships. They would bring the stolen cargo back to town and sell it. The town authorities condoned these actions because they were getting a percentage of the profits. In 1814, the English sailed up the Connecticut River into the town of Essex and destroyed 28 ships from one of these privateer fleets. It was the greatest financial loss inflicted on American soil by a foreign power until Pearl Harbor.
I recently came across an article that reminded me Billy Joel's "River Of Dreams" video featured a lot of footage taken along the Connecticut River back in 1994. This is the "Come On Over" sign which is featured in the video. It is situated between the Arrigoni Bridge and Railroad Bridge here in Portland, Connecticut.
During the past few weeks I have been birding at various locations along the Connecticut River. There is a trail near my house that is a convenient place for me to go birding when I want to save time and gas. In the past, I've seen Fox Sparrows, Great Horned Owls, Brown Thrashers, Brown Creepers, Black-crowned Night Heron (once) , American Kestrels, Bald Eagles, and a variety of other raptors in this area. It is pretty good for migrating warblers as well. The photo show where the walking trail ends. Just around that point is a line of oil tanks and the brownstone quarries.
This is a view overlooking the brownstone quarries where the Brownstone Discovery Park recently opened. It did a good business over the summer. The Connecticut River is just beyond the blue tanks in the far left background. Some say there are underground tunnels that connect the river with the quarries but I'm not sure if that's true or not. I've heard many people say over the years that the Connecticut River used to empty into the sound in New Haven at one time until it changed course and emptied into Old Saybrook. I learned that this is not true according to the book "Living Resources and Habitats of the Lower Connecticut River" that was written people from the Connecticut College Arboretum in New London. I can't believe that I bought into what was nothing more than geologic folk history for all these years.
During the summer months, I come across lots of Green Herons in the swampy areas along the river.
During certain times of the year I'm able to see interesting ducks in some of the flooded fields near the river. This is one of the Northern Pintails I saw at the flooded fairgrounds one morning.
Double-crested Cormorants in large groups sunning themselves on pylons and other structures in the middle of the river.
Over the last month I've seen Peregrine Falcons near the river in the towns of Portland and Glastonbury. There are numerous places worth exploring on the Connecticut River but the use of a kayak would open up many more opportunities. I'd like to buy a kayak so that I could explore out some of the coves and inlets which are only accessible by boat. I'm not interested in a kayak that rolls over in the water. My whole purpose of using a boat is to stay above of the water, not in the water. My other concern is that I want to be able to bring along a camera and binoculars without worrying about getting them wet. Here's one that I was looking at called the Coleman Hooligan. If anyone has experience with kayaks I'd appreciate some advice about what type of kayak would work best.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Meopta 8x42 Binocular Review

I've had the pleasure of using the Meopta 8x42 binoculars for the last couple of months. Here is a brief summary of what I thought about them:

The first thing I noticed about them was their green armor exterior and rugged build. They're not particularly lightweight at 30.4 ounces but they have an ergonomic design that makes them feel well balanced in your hands. I also liked the sculpted thumbs pockets which allows for a secure and comfortable grip.

Meopta uses high end European glass in their binoculars which produce images that are both bright and colorful. They have an incredibly wide, flat, field of view (402 ft @ 1000 yds) that is sharp from edge to edge.

The focus is sufficiently fast and brings images into focus with precision. These binoculars have an excellent depth of field which makes it easier to view birds that are moving around without having to refocus all the time.

The close focus is sufficient at 9.8 feet but I have found that I'm able to focus in on objects even closer than that.

The neck strap is wide and comfortable but I did not care much for the lens caps. They just got in the way stay so I just took them off and put them in storage. I just keep the binoculars in the case when I'm not using them. The binocular case is made of some sort of wool or felt material which I didn't care for either. I prefer the old fashioned hard cases that can protect the binoculars in the event that someone happens to accidentally sit on them.

I've had the Meopta meostar 8x42 binoculars with me in all kinds of weather conditions. I've carried them with me while climbing up mountains and bushwacking through dense brush after getting myself lost in the woods. They've never fogged up and the view is always crystal clear, even in low light conditions. I've compared them side by side with the other top name binoculars on the market. In my opinion, the Meopta Meostar 8x42 binoculars are every bit as good as the other top selling European optics but cost hundreds of dollars less. I highly recommend them.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

On A Wild Snow Goose Chase

I work in the Bloomfield area and have been seeing what appeared to be 3 Snow Geese mixed in with a flock of Canada Geese at various locations in town. Unfortunately, chasing birds isn't part of my job description so I had to wait until the weekend before I could get a closer look at them. Bloomfield has a number of large corporate businesses that own property with huge grass lawns and man-made ponds where I found a Snow Goose and a Greater White-fronted Goose over the past couple of years. There has also a recent report of a Barnacle Goose in the area but I was unable to relocate it. This morning, I found the 3 juvenile Snow Geese hanging out at a soccer field at the Bloomfield High School. The white form of the juvenile Snow Goose has a grayish bill and a bit of dingy gray on the upper side. Snow Geese breed on the arctic tundra during the summer and pairs remain together for life.
Maybe it's time I think about getting some knee protection for those times when I decide to crawl across fields on my knees with a camera. My wife always says she likes surprises so she should be surprised when she finds these pants in the hamper! (Just kidding Joan-I already took care of them :)
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Monday, November 15, 2010

Stubborn Red-tail And Tiny Long-tail

I went to make my rounds at Wangunk Meadows on Sunday. I started the morning by taking a couple of photos from my truck window of this Red-tailed Hawk. I watched it as 3 crows came in to take a few dives at it. The crows even flew across the street to round up a few more crows to try to harass the hawk but it seemed immovable. I got out of my truck and walked across the grass to get closer. Still, the hawk didn't flinch. I thought it might be nice to get a picture of it flying off but decided to leave it be since it was so determined to stay on his branch.
I searched for birds in the fields and near overhanging trees and snags. I found the usual variety of sparrows including-White-crowned Sparrow, Belted kingfisher, 4 species of woodpeckers, Brown Creeper and and an Eastern Phoebe.
I was on my way out and noticed a small duck on the opposite side of the river that made me curious because it was in the middle of the channel by itself and was holding its position against the current. I tried to search my mind for a list of possibilities but I really wasn't sure (didn't have my field guide with me either). Long-tailed Duck was one possibility I considered but thought that they're only found near the shore. The only time I've seen them is in January at Old Saybrook. I took some photos and mega-cropped them when I came home. Sure enough, it is a female Long-tailed Duck. I checked with the duxperts to confirm the id. It is unusual to see them this far inland so it was an interesting find for me.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Turnstone Ruddy & His Sanderling Buddy

I arrived at Hammonasset Saturday in time to see the last glimpse of sun before it disappeared behind the clouds. I started the day by walking along the trails on Cedar Island hoping I might find an owl tucked away in one of the cedars. Twice I flushed a bird that might have been a small owl but couldn't relocate it. In the nature center parking lot there were Black-bellied Plovers, Dunlin, and a few peeps rambling around. I took a few photos but the birds seemed to disappear into the pale grass and gravel background.
I worked my way over to Meig's Point where I found a flock of about 30 Sanderlings. They were running along the tide line picking out morsels of food and at the same time trying to avoid getting clobbered by the waves. It seems like they've had plenty of practice. It find it interesting that they don't have a backward facing toe like the other Sandpipers do. I was curious as to why some individual birds go off on their own to look for food away from the rest of the flock. Are they outcasts? loners? or just picky about where they get their seafood? I was kneeling in the sand wearing my light grey pants trying to move in for a closer look. I must have looked like an over-sized Sanderling because they didn't seem very concerned by my presence.

There were also a couple of Ruddy Turnstones in the area. They really do turn stones to search for food sometimes.
Turnstone Ruddy and his Sanderling buddy
went walking near the shore side by side
they had breakfast by the sea..
but then they had to flee...
as any lunch would soon be swallowed by the tide-
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I went to Hammonasset because there is always the possibility of finding a rare or uncommon species there. Instead, I spent the morning watching common shorebirds, but that was a conscious decision. My philosophy about birding right now is to do whatever feels right at the time and not to worry about what I could or should be doing. It seems that I'm more observant if I follow this approach instead of following the same pattern every time. Watching these birds as they searched for food
was a nice change of pace from the usual seek and identify mode.
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Here's some footage of the turnstone in action. You may want to turn your speakers down a bit because there was quite a bit of wind that day.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Birding Blind 2: Beneath The Platform

I made a stop at the Helen Carlson Bog in Portland on Sunday. I spent most of the morning looking and listening for birds from the top of the platform. I was just getting ready to leave when it occurred to me that the support walls beneath the platform might serve well as a blind for taking photos of birds. I believe the wooden walls were designed with spaces to let water pass through when the water level was high but it also serves well as a place to stick a camera lens through.
I had to wait for a quite a while before any birds showed up but a Dark-eyed Junco finally showed up.
Next, a small flock of bluebirds took turns landing on branches that were fairly close.
The photos didn't come out as well as I would have liked but I was good to find another place where I can have an opportunity to get a little closer to the birds without them seeing me. Finding more ready made blinds is on my list of things to do this year.
I also found this wren sneaking around the edge of the bog. I'm guessing it's probably a Winter Wren from what I can see of it. Some of the other birds I saw at the bog included: Red-shouldered Hawks, Common Ravens which were making some strange vocalizations, Wood Ducks, Mallards, yuk-ducks, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpecker, Ruby-crowned kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and about a dozen White-throated Sparrows. Some of the sparrows were singing their old-sam-peabody song while others were busy rustling through the leaves looking for food. I tried to sneak up on them by crawling on my hands and knees. Needless to say, that method didn't work as well as the blind.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Siskins At The Feeder! Are Redpolls Next?

A couple of weeks ago I caught a glimpse of 2 birds at my thistle feeder that I thought might have been Pine Siskins but they flew off before I could get a better look at them. On Sunday, 2 siskins returned to my feeder but this time they brought some of their buddies with them.Before I knew it, the thistle feeder was loaded with them. Pine Siskins are small finches that are brownish in color and heavily streaked. They have a bit of yellow on their wings and pointy little bills that are perfect for extracting Nyjer seed from a feeder like this. They emptied my feeder quicker than the goldfinches do .
This House Sparrow seemed to have that "What the heck did I do?" look before being chased off by is smaller competitor.
During certain winters I've also enjoyed seeing both White-winged and Red Crossbills in Connecticut but my favorite winter finch sightings was seeing a large flock of Pine Grosbeaks (above photo) in the town of Norfolk a couple of years ago. Dozens of them settled into a crabapple tree and systematically proceeded to extract the seeds from the crabapples. The birds were so colorful and robust looking. I stayed and watched them for almost an hour before they finally flew off to another area.
According to Ron Pittaway's Winter Finch Forecast for 2010-2011 Common Redpolls should irrupt into the northern United States this winter. I've only seen redpolls once before at Selden Park in Lyme. I'd love to look out my window on a cold winter day and see my feeder covered with them!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fall Color & Birds From CT Traprock Ridge

Northern New Englanders sometimes refer to those of us living in Connecticut as flatlanders. We may not be known our mountainous landscape but what we do have in Connecticut are traprock ridges. They were created by continental rifting and the welling up of lava flows 200 million years ago. The highest traprock peak in Connecticut is just over 1,000 feet but the views from the top of the ridge are so wide open it can feel as though you are at a higher elevation. The first two photos were taken along the Metacomet Trail in the Southington/New Britain area.
I parked at a trail entrance located on Andrews Street in Southington. This turned out to be a costly mistake. When I returned to my truck after a short hike, I found a $30 dollar parking ticket on my windshield. It was issued by the water department from the town of New Britain who apparently own the surrounding land. There were no signs visible near the trail entrance stating that parking was not allowed. Instead of arguing my case, I decided to send out some e-mails to see if a no parking sign could be put up in the area. I'm hoping that I might be able to help prevent someone else from getting a ticket for parking there. If I had read this post from the Connecticut Museum Quest website, I could have avoided getting a ticket altogether.
When you're hiking in an unfamiliar area, it's best to familiarize yourself with the hiking trails in the area before you get there. A great site for information about hiking trails in Connecticut is the Connecticut Explorers website:
My original intention was to visit a portion of the traprock ridge that I had never seen before called Ragged Mountain. I headed over to the trail on West lane in Kensington where there is approved parking. From the entrance you take the main trail and then veer left onto the blue & red trail which will take you right up to Ragged Mountain. There was a memorial at the top in memory of Darin Findley, who died during a climb here in 2003. The hike to get to the top of the ridge was a little longer than some of the other trails that I'm familiar with but it was worth the effort. On my way up I saw deer, Belted Kingfisher, Wild Turkeys, and 2 Pileated Woodpeckers having a squabble with a Sharp-shinned Hawk (the hawk left first). There were numerous kinglets in the area with the vast majority of them being Golden-crowned Kinglets.
I also saw numerous Yellow-rumped Warblers that were feasting on cedar berries.
The next day I visited another portion of the traprock ridge in located along the Mattabesset Trail. This photo is showing the deeper end of Black Pond which is located along the Middlefield/Meriden border.
The species of birds that I saw on this portion of the ridge were very similar to the ones I saw in Southington. Here is a Red-tailed Hawk surveying the scene and watching the man laying on the rocks trying to take pictures of him.
The high ridges are a good place to get a close view of vultures and other birds of prey in flight. I had to back off on the zoom to get these flight photos to come in focus so I used 10x instead of the full 18x. The sun was shining brightly on the Turkey Vulture when I took this photo. I thought the lighting effect from the camera was strange but interesting.
Along the trail I passed Powder Ridge Ski resort which closed down years ago. In 1970 a music festival similar to the one in Woodstock was supposed to take place at Powder Ridge. I found a detailed account of the event which includes photos of the concertgoers and a concert poster listing the original lineup of performers. It included big name acts like Van Morrison, Fleetwood Mac and Janis Joplin. The event started to fall apart over legal issues. The only originally scheduled singer to perform was Melanie , who was best known for her song "Look what they've done to my song-ma." She avoided legal trouble by agreeing to perform for free. Another species that I saw a lot of during my hike was the Hermit Thrush. I counted six of them during my hike along these trails.-
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There were two Osprey at Black Pond. I attempted to capture them in flight but barely managed to keep up with them.
So, if you live in Connecticut or you are here for a visit , be sure to explore the traprock ridges. It's hard to beat the scenery, especially in the Fall . If not, I guess you'll just have to take my word for it.