Monday, August 30, 2010

BwBTC Find Proof Of Avian Life On Mars

Birders gathered from around the universe this weekend for what was billed as a fun-filled social event for birders who blog, tweet, and chirp but the true purpose of this trip was something of a more serious nature. For many years scientists have theorized the existence of an avian species living on the planet Mars. A team of birders arrived on the red planet using special equipment (high spf sunscreen) to help them deal with the harsh atmospheric conditions.
For the first time the BwBTC group has obtained photographic evidence of an avian creature on the surface of mars which has remarkably similar features to the sandpipers that are found here on earth. The creature in question is pictured here emitting a form of infrared light from its abdominal area. It is believed the purpose of the light is to help the sandpiper detect water sources that are invisible to the naked eye.
This is another avian species believed to be transmitting data back to its mother ship. Some may think this is just plain cuckoo but we know otherwise.
I'm sorry to say that much of the information which was collected is classified, so no further details can be divulged at this time. Until then, you can read more about the earthbound portion of this trip by continuing to monitor the following blogs:

please note: Anyone looking to add these two species to their list should wait for verification by the proper authorities before making any travel plans.
(It was a lot of fun seeing some familiar faces again and meeting others for the first time. The birding was great and it was a great trip overall!
Special thanks to: Dawn & Jeff for hosting the trip. Hope to see you all again next year).

Friday, August 27, 2010

Across The Promenade And Into The City

This is the view heading into Hartford as you are crossing the pedestrian promenade on Founder's Bridge. Like a garden path that leads you through a landscaped garden, this brick lined walkway provides an inviting entrance into the city of Hartford.

Hartford used to be a place that I only tolerated if there was a special concert or event that I wanted to attend. Trying to manoeuvre my way around the city while looking for a place to park my car was never my idea of a good time. I usually ended up paying to squeeze my car into a public garage where I felt like a can on a crowded shelf in a supermarket.
The Riverfront Recapture project started may years ago with a goal to reestablish connections between the city of Hartford and the Connecticut River. I walked across the promenade for the first time last year to a attend a free concert at Mortensen Riverfront Plaza in Hartford. That experience renewed my interest in Hartford. Last Weekend, I attended the Riverfront Dragon Boat Race and Asian Festival.
Dragon boat racing started in China as part of ritual 200 years ago and eventually became a competitive team sport during the 1970's. Teams from several different states showed up for the competition. I was a little disappointed that the boats didn't breathe fire but it was still fun to watch.
The festival also featured Asian food, art, and cultural demonstrations.
Birds and nature play a significant role in Asian art. These paintings were submitted by six year old students from the Greater Hartford Chinese Language Academy.
I like the visual effect of looking through the arches under the Founder's Bridge. The man in the photo who was participating in the event hopped up for a look at the action as I was taking the photo.
After crossing the bridge, I followed the shoreline of the river back to Great River Park in East Hartford. There were many mature trees along the way where I was able to see some woodland birds along with the pigeons, House Sparrows, starlings, and grackles you might expect to see in an urban area.
One thing that surprised me was how nice and sandy the Connecticut River shoreline was at this park. I was also pleased to find a well decorated Spotted Sandpiper there.
I enjoyed watching as the sandpiper scurried quickly along the shore searching for food proudly bobbing its tail everywhere it went. One of the nice things about birds is that they are everywhere so I didn't have to make a choice between activities like visiting the city or birdwatching. I was able to do both !

click to play

For information about other upcoming events taking place at the Mortensen Riverfront Plaza click here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Watching Flickers From A Natural Blind

I was on my way to a birding location when I decided to check a field that was along the way. I never made it to my intended destination. Instead, I spent the next couple of hours hiding in the bushes watching birds. While out birding , I've been trying to make a conscious effort to find areas where the birds are most active and try to get close to them without scaring them away. In this particular field which is located in Middletown, I noticed that many birds were landing on a dead tree snag which a large bush and other vegetation in back of it. I had to do a little bushwhacking to get into position but eventually settled into a good spot where most of my body was hidden. I even stuck a couple of branches in my hat to blend into my surroundings a little better.
I've tried this sort of thing before and a lot of times it doesn't work out but this time it worked like a charm. I did run into a couple of minor problems. I had difficulty getting my tripod legs to set flat on the ground because of all the roots and tangle. When I went to fold the tripod back up I noticed that the little rubber caps on the bottom of the legs had fallen off when I had to pull the legs back up out of the vines. I couldn't find them so I just bought new ones which were better anyway. The other problem was that I was often looking at the underside of the bird which wasn't always a good angle for taking photos but the birds put on a great show.
-At one point, there were 7 Northern Flickers stretching their wings, calling, climbing, and tapping on wood just a feet away from me. I read in the David Sibley book, The Sibley guide To Bird Life & Behavior, that Northern Flickers have a variable clutch size of 3-12 eggs. An experiment was done by a researcher who would remove one egg a day from a flicker nest but always leaving at least two in the nest. The female flicker ended up laying 70 eggs by the end of the season. I found that to be interesting. The whole section woodpeckers had good information.
I watched as young Eastern Bluebirds would land on the highest point of a branch only to be chased away by another bluebird which would land in the same spot.
A handful of Cedar Waxwings stopped to rest before moving on to other areas.
This Eastern Kingbird has a mouthful of something. It doesn't look very eastern kingbirdy from this picture but it was at the time I was there.
I believe this is an Eastern Wood Pewee. They're easier to identify when they're singing but this one was quiet. I couldn't get it in focus using the auto setting so I blindly turned the wheel to a different setting and tried the manual focus button. It did come into focus but who knows what kind of crazy setting I had it on.
This Blue Jay was last bird I saw before leaving. I plan to keep a record of places where I'm able to watch birds while hiding in the natural surroundings. Birds seem to behave differently when they're not threatened by human presence. This makes them more interesting to observe and easier to photograph.
click to play
Here is a video of some flickers in action.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Seeing A Familiar Place In A New Light

The Helen Carlson Wildlife Sanctuary is owned by the Mattabeseck Audubon Society and has been opened to the public since the 1970's. I walked along the edge of the trail Saturday morning and found that it was loaded with frogs. The sound of their splashing, dunking and diving provided an exotic percussion which was accompanied by the sound of a Carolina Wren trumpeting its lively song in the background. I encountered a few other interesting birds during my walk including a Wood Thrush and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Frogs were jumping across my path during my walk but I barely got a look at them before they would disappear from view. I finally had an eye level view of one with its head peeking out of the water. I found it unusual that not one mosquito landed on me all day. Where did they all go?
The Helen Carlson Sanctuary is a wonderful place but I've never found it particularly appealing as a birding spot. It has a trail with a boardwalk but part of the boardwalk is flooded over. A lot of times I will pull off on the side of the road when I'm on my way from point A to point B and give the bog a quick scan to see what's around. I'll usually see a few ducks or geese, Red-winged Blackbirds, lots of vegetation, and a handful of familiar birds. The viewing platform they built a couple of years ago is impressive but what is there to view? I soon found out the answer to that question. A scope can provide a wonderful view of birds but I've never enjoyed lugging them around. How appetizing would a buffet be If you had to drag your table and chair with you as you filled your plate with food? When I reached the top level of the platform there were two chairs available. It was such a nice change to be able to sit down in comfort and do a thorough search of the area. The first birds that caught my attention were a pair of Eastern Kingbirds. They were were landed on various perches near the center of the bog. It presented me with a great opportunity to sketch because they stayed at each location for a good length of time before moving to the next location. During the day Red-tailed Hawks soared over head and Red-shouldered Hawks called out from deep in the forest. I found these feathers on the ground and by the size and color I'm taking a guess that they're Wild Turkey feathers.
The next time I go, I'll be sure to bring a butterfly field guide. because there were many. The ones I recognized were Monarch, Viceroy, and one of the brushfoots-not sure which one. At first, this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail was showing its underside...
... but eventually showed its true colors. The butterflies all seemed to be attracted to this plant. Do you know what kind it is? Hopefully, I'm not admiring another invasive plant. I seem to have a talent for that.
The best viewing from the platform came in the late afternoon when the sun was to my back and the viewing area was lit up with the golden glow of summer. I could see bird movement in the tree tops along the shoreline. I probably wouldn't have been able to see these birds if I was directly under them but the view through my scope from the platform was awesome! Here is a brief description of some of the birds I heard or saw:
  • As the sun started to move close to the horizon, two Green Herons emerged from a hidden area within the bog and landed in tree close to the shore. They announced there presence with squawks so loud that it overpowered all other noise in the area (photo from 09). It seems they are attracted to places that have a lot of frogs.

  • I heard the sound pa-chang call of a Scarlet Tanager but was unable to locate it.

  • Besides the Eastern Kingbirds there were also Eastern Phoebes, a Great-crested Flycatchers, and Eastern Wood Pewees in the area.

  • I viewed a male Belted Kingfisher just as it left its branch and plunged into the water below.

  • Great Blue Herons flew across the water and changed their perch locations from time to time.

  • A flock of about a dozen Cedar Waxwings flew just over my head as they crossed the bog.

  • dozens of Chimney Swifts appeared and entertained me with their odd flight patterns.

  • I could see a Red-bellied Woodpecker as it attempted to remove a round, reddish object from a hollowed out area of a branch. After several attempts, the woodpecker was unable to pull the object out from the top so it finally pushed it upward from a hole on the underside of the branch. It could have been a very colorful acorn or some sort of fruit-hard to be sure but very interesting to watch.
  • A singing Baltimore Oriole landed in the very top of a tree at the back edge of the bog. There was only enough sunlight left to illuminate the very top of the tree where the oriole was perched. The contrast of the brilliant orange and black of the oriole with the dark woods beneath created a breathtaking view. The scene was like a living diorama with built in lighting effects to illuminate the birds.

My weekend visit to the Helen Carlson Bog gave me a new appreciation of a place that I thought I already knew so well. I also discovered a more enjoyable way of using a scope for birdwatching. I'm looking forward to returning for some more late afternoon birdwatching and after the sun sets, maybe I'll even wait for the stars to come out.

click to play -Eastern Kingbird flies away from its perch.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

White-tailed Kite In Connecticut Continues

I carpooled with another birder this morning to look for the White-tailed Kite which was first reported on August 1st by Dennis Varza. After a few wrong turns we managed to find a group of birders who had already located the bird. It was perched in a tree near the west end of Short Beach in Stratford.
We had a great view of the bird through the scope but it was a little out of range for my camera. If you click on the photos, you can see a little more detail but not much. There are better photos available on some of the blogs I listed at the bottom of the post.
The kite had a habit of flicking its tail upward , sort of the way a mockingbird does. It also flexed its wings in different positions and was preening its feathers. We never did get a chance to see it in flight but I'm not complaining.
I don't chase after many birds on the rare bird alert but this was definitely worth the trip! It is the first recorded sighting of a White-tailed Kite in Connecticut. I feel fortunate that I've been able to see a Swallow-tailed Kite, Mississippi Kite, and now a White-tailed Kite within the state over the past 5 years. Maybe word is getting around amongst kites that Connecticut isn't such a bad place to visit.
Other notable birds in the same vicinity where the kite was located included- Yellow-crowned Night-Herons and a Peregrine Falcon.
You can read more about the Connecticut sighting of the White-tailed Kite on the following blogs:

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Why Am I looking At Dead Trees?

During the summer there is an abundance of dense green foliage in the wooded areas often making it difficult to observe or photograph birds. In order to overcome this problem I took a ride out to Del Reeves swamp which is located within Meshomasic Forest. There are many trees in this area which are either dead or bare of leaves. I like this spot because it reminds me of being way out in the middle of the great north woods in Maine or New Hampshire. There is a sense of freedom I feel in places like that can't be matched by a visit to the local park.
When a bird lands on a bare tree it is so much easier to see and photograph them. This particular area is a good place to find a variety of woodpeckers like this Red-bellied Woodpecker. He was fairly distant and high up in the tree but right out in the open which makes viewing much more enjoyable.
It can be tedious sitting in my truck for two hours while waiting for a bird to land in the right spot. There were plenty of birds on the other side of the road such as flycatchers, jays, and swallows but I'd be looking directly towards the sun if I were to look in that direction. As I waited for more action to occur, I spent time watching our native bumblebees at work. What kind of flowers are these? I'm not sure, maybe you know?
How often is it that I use autfocus and a camera focuses on the bird and not the bush surrounding it? The answer is not very often. I have to remind myself that Eastern Towhees are a kind of large sparrow. It was scratching around on the ground before finally coming up for a look around. Maybe she heard me playing the weekend bluegrass special on the radio.
There are rare birds and then there are rare birding moments. This Northern Waterthrush is not a rare bird, nor is it particularly striking but I rarely see them. . This one landed right in front of me, just a few feet from my truck window. I managed to click the shutter once, and then it was gone. I was surprised to find out that the photo had come out in focus with the head facing in the right direction. All it took was that one moment to turn a slow morning of birding into a good one.
For an interesting comparison of the Louisiana Waterthrush versus Northern Waterthrush click on this link from 10,000 birds.