Friday, July 30, 2010

Expect The Unexpected When Birding

I recently took a ride down to the Old Lyme area to look for shorebirds. There were a few sandpipers around but not as many as I had hoped. For no particular reason other than I like the place, I made a stop at the DEP Marine Headquarters. If you've never been there, it's worth checking it out. They've got a boardwalk that goes under a railroad bridge and leads to a marsh restoration area and you get a great view of the Connecticut River. I hear a Marsh Wren on the way in , saw the usual Osprey on the platforms, then I zeroed in on the Double-crested Cormorants.

I've probably seen cormorants dozens if not hundreds of times over the years. My usual reaction when I see them is to have a quick look through the binoculars and then move on to the next bird. For some reason, this particular day I had a different reaction. The first thing that caught my attention was the way the webbed feet wrapped around the edge of the beam it was standing on. Hmm, never noticed that before. I had a good look a the bill which is serrated so that it can better grip its prey. I had a good look at the tail which reminds me of one of those corrugated Chinese paper fans. Then a thought or a feeling came over me that I was looking at a species that must have been around for a very long time. I later read that cormorants had similar ancestors that dated all the way back to the time of the dinosaurs. I always thought they look pretty cool when they spread their wings out to dry. "Hey Mr. cormorant-"Where's a good spot for me to drop a line and do some fishing? " cormorant response-"I suggest you head down river about a mile and try underneath the Osprey nest."
I was on the road that leads to The Great Island Boat Launch when I saw this pheasant on the side of the road. I'm not sure what I was expecting to see at Great Island but I can tell you that a pheasant would be at the bottom of my list. It was at this point that I could imagine Forrest Gump saying-"Life is like a box of chocolates you never know what you're gonna get."
I drove a little farther east towards Four Mile River boat launch in Niantic. I usually have good luck finding egrets there but on this particular morning, not a single one. What I did see was a hawk that spent 20 minutes in a tree doing warm up stretches before it finally flew off into the woods where its parents were waiting. I'm guessing this is a Cooper's Hawk since they are the more common species in Connecticut this time of the year.
It was interesting to watch it contort into such odd positions. It looks like he lost his head for the moment- Nice look at the tail here. I could come up with a better caption but I'll be polite.
I was on the Branford Trolley Trail talking to an elderly birder who was intently studying an Osprey family. Suddenly across the marsh I spotted a fawn with its mother. I should say I saw the fawn since I can't take credit for giving it spots. The birder who was with me said this was only the first time she had seen any deer here in years. As I was on my way home I looked out into a flooded farm field and saw egrets. Not just the 3 in this photo. I counted nearly three dozen of them and those were only the ones which were in my immediate view.
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This video clip gives you an idea of the number of egrets that I was seeing last Saturday. I'm not even sure which road I was on at the time.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Over The Bridge And Down The River

I took a walk across the Arrigoni Bridge this weekend. It is a steel arch bridge which opened in 1938 connecting the towns of Portland and Middletown. Sometimes the bridge offers an interesting viewpoint from which to observe birds. It's also much easier to drive across the river if you use the bridge.
Peregrine Falcons are sometimes seen perching on the Arrigoni Bridge or the old railroad bridge. This is a view looking south down the Connecticut River with a portion of Middletown in view on the right.
Just across the bridge in Middletown is the locally famous O'rourke's Diner. It's been in business since 1941 and was recently featured on the Food Network show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. I had my first steamed cheeseburger at O'rourke's back around 1970. Their breakfast menu offers a great variety of choices. On Sunday I ordered eggs over easy and vegetable hash topped with horseradish sauce.
Do you know of a restaurant that has been around forever and brings back memories?
If you take a short walk behind the diner you'll find Riverside Cemetery. It has been there since the 1600's and has an interesting history. You can read more about it on Connecticut Museum Quest.
I made a brief stop at Harbor Park to have a quick look around. This grackle was already panting from the heat by 8am.
I followed the Connecticut River down to Saybrook Point. I saw a Snowy Egret and what looked to be a Little Blue Heron in a distant tree.
I was in no hurry to go any where so I ventured further along the rocks to a small marsh pond. I stood there near some tall grass for about 20 minutes when the Little Blue Heron decided to drop in for a visit, or maybe I was the visitor.
I assumed this was a Wood Duck but it looked a little different to me. I thought it was a female at first but realized after looking in a field guide that it is a male without the exotic colors it displays during breeding plumage.
It's always nice to see the Osprey when you're down at the shore. Before you know it they'll be gone again.
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This is a short video of the LBH preening itself. It turns out that the error messages I was getting the last couple of weeks only applied to uploaded videos that I was attempting to preview. The videos still work once they are published despite the error messages. I also figured out how to trim and compress quicktime clips that the Panasonic video uses. I'm hoping that I can adjust the settings on quicktime pro to improve the video image in the future but it's nice to at least have it working again.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Observations From The Edge Of The Field

We've had our share of high heat and humidity over the last week with temperatures that reached triple digits on a couple of occasions. My goal this past weekend was to do some birdwatching while expending as little energy as possible. The way I went about it was to look for some birdworthy fields in the area and snap a few photos form the driver's side my truck window. For my first stop, I pulled right up to the edge of a field on Silvermine Road in Middletown. A female Red-winged Blackbird landed on top of a plant and started picking away at the seeds.
The male which had been skulking through the weeds along the ground finally made an appearance. I could see the glint in his eye as he contemplated his next move. What I find interesting is the blackbirds would be so focused on eating in the middle of the field and then in a matter of seconds , would form a big flock together in the top of a tree. Was it that they detected a predator in the area that went unnoticed by me, or was there some other reason for the sudden decision to call a group meeting?
I stopped at Haddam Meadows which is located along the Connecticut River and can be a decent place for birding at times. On this particular morning they were having a classic cars show. They seem to be very popular in Connecticut. They had the oldies playing to match the era of that the cars were from. It seems to be a fun way to bring back some memories of day gone by.
On the other side of the dirt road which leads into the meadows was a Great Blue Heron. Something tells me he was probably more interested in eating frogs than watching cars, but you never know.
I'm always interested in checking out areas of land that have been set aside for preservation. This photo was taken at the 33 acre Bamforth Wildlife Preserve in Haddam. it is being managed to promote bird habitat.
A wide grass path was mowed around the perimeter of the field that pleasant morning stroll. I saw a few interesting birds such as Barn Swallows, a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks, Indigo Buntings and Eastern Bluebirds. it was the Wild Turkeys that reigned supreme here though. There were several adults and some younger turkeys as well. They gave me a bit of start a few times as they would suddenly fly out of the tall grass and cross my path. Hopefully this field will be an attractive nesting place for some interesting birds in the future. I will be sure to check back here again in the fall to see if there are any interesting sparrows hanging around.
This lazy man's style of birding seemed to be the perfect fit for a hot summer morning.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Allowing The Camera To Choose The Birds

I purchased a new Panasonic DMC-FZ35 camera from Amazon which arrived just in time for the holiday weekend. I had high hopes that this camera would be better in terms of image quality than my Canon S2IS. It took one day of failed attempts of trying to photograph a Prairie Warbler to realize that a new camera wasn't going to make photographing birds any easier. I was anxious to see of what kind of potential the new camera had so I to choose a location where the birds were a little more cooperative. Instead of insisting on getting shots of a particular species, I decided to let the camera choose the birds. I took a ride down to the Guilford boat launch. Although I didn't see a large variety of species during my visit there last year, I was able to get fairly close to the few that I did see.
These gulls kept themselves busy by fighting over a scrap of fish that one of the fishermen left behind. They reminded me of those synchronized swimmers you see in the olympics.
There were plenty of Willets around and they aren't particularly shy during the summer months.
I thought this jellyfish looked a little like a sunny side up egg.
The sunlight was pretty harsh by the time took the picture of this mockingbird but at least it was in focus. I read a lot of complaints about cameras that produce images with a lot of noise in the reviews that I read. I spend too much time deleting pictures that are dark or blurry to worry about ones that have noise.
I tried to get a picture of this sparrow that kept popping up out of the marshy grass. At first, I assumed it was one of those saltmarsh sparrows but after taking a closer look at the photo I'm wondering if it might be a juvenile Seaside Sparrow. The lighting makes it difficult to see a lot of detail. What do you think?
This dragonfly was courteous enough to land on a stick right in front of me. Does anyone know what kind it is?
These flowers look a little like Tiger Lilies to me. Can you identify them? I used the flower mode on the camera for these.
I enjoy seeing Osprey nesting on platforms along the Connecticut shoreline this time of the year but it was kind of nice to see them build a nest in a tree for a change. This photo was taken inland not too far from where I live.
I didn't get anywhere near the nest but I think this Osprey was telling me to back off so I did. They seem to be more tolerant to human presence at the shoreline nest sites.
Is the Pansonic FZ35 better than the camera that I have now? Maybe slightly better, but that remains to be seen. It has more optical zoom which makes it more sensitive to camera shake but when I can keep the camera steady, the images seem slightly sharper than the Canon. The video I took came out nice and clear but I haven't figured out how to edit and upload it yet.
Buying a new camera has boosted my enthusiasm for attempting to photograph birds but it won't do me much good if I don't use it properly. With that in mind, I borrowed a DVD from the local library called Digital Photography Unleashed. It gave me some useful tips along with a few new ideas. I have no intentions of trying to become a real photographer but it would just be nice if I was able to get a higher percentage of usable pictures.