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.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Enjoying Fall From Sunrise To Moonrise

Every season has its strong points but if I had to pick a favorite season, I would choose Fall. I've been trying to make the most of the mornings by watching the sunrise while enjoying the first coffee of the day. The image caused by the reflective glare from the sun reminds me of an angel with outstretched arms.
I recently visited the Parmelee Farm off of route 81 in Killingworth. This house was built in 1847 and originally belonged to Horace and Eunice Parmelee. The town purchased the house and surrounding property in 2000.
I found the house by doing an Internet search for community gardens in the area after I was reminded by Luke, of Under Clear Skies, that community gardens can be a productive place to look for birds. There were several warblers in the community gardens at Parmelee Farm including several Palm Warblers and the female Common Yellowthroat seen in the photo above.
I discovered that there are several well- established trails throughout the property. I found a total of 5 Eastern Towhees along the trail including the male and female birds pictured above. Other interesting sightings included a close encounter with a Pileated Woodpecker, an Osprey circling above, and a Black and White Warbler.
I found this butterfly in the community garden which I believe to be a Silver-Spotted Skipper . It looks as though it could use a new pair of wings.
This spider seemed a little too close for comfort as it climbed up the sleeve of my jacket but I managed a quick photo before brushing it off. I found out that it is a Marbled Orb Weaver which as with most spiders, are not known to be aggressive or dangerous to people.
Many sparrows have been returning to Connecticut including the Dark-eyed Juncos. I'm still looking forward to seeing my first White-crowned and Fox Sparrows of the year.
I spent a few days in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. We caught some nice trout there but I didn't do much birdwatching. I was constantly hearing kinglets but rarely caught a glimpse of them. Mostly we just took in the scenery as we made stops along route 2 in the northwestern region of the state. At the end of the day we enjoyed a campfire and watched the moon rise above the horizon as it cast a reflective glow across South Pond. If only Fall could last a little longer.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Interview With Diving Bird Magazine

Robert: Hello Larry and thank you for participating in one of our magazine's regular features: " Through The Objective Lens With Robert Cormorant." Shall we get started?

Larry: Thanks for featuring me Robert. I've been a fan of your work for a long time. Go ahead with your first question.

Robert: What type of birding have you been doing lately?

Larry: I recently visited Wangunk Meadows with some other birders. Conditions were unusually dry and we had to work for the birds. We saw 5 species of sparrow including: Lincoln, White-throated , Song, and Swamp but our best view was of a Savannah Sparrow which was perched in a leafless tree at a height of about 15 feet. The view of the bird through the scope was really clear because the lighting was falling on it just right. (Savannah Sparrow in top photo was from a previous trip to Hammonasset). Another interesting sighting for us was seeing 11 Great Egrets fly over. Birds of prey included Osprey, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, and Red-shouldered Hawk. The only warblers seen were Yellow-rumped and Common Yellowthroat.

Robert: Is Wangunk a native American word?

Larry: Yes, the Wangunks were a tribe of Native Americans that lived in the area. Most of the Wangunks had left the area before 1800. The word Wangunk is said to refer to the big bend near our section of the Connecticut River.

Robert: What do you find to be the least and most difficult parts about blogging?

Larry: The easiest part for me is coming up with an idea. The hardest part is taking decent photos and finding the right words to express that idea in a post. A lot of times I abandon my original idea for a simpler one because I realize in the middle of a post that my words are running on and on. English was always my worse subject.

Robert: What have you been seeing of interest besides birds?

I took this photo of mushrooms last week because I was impressed by their clean appearance. They look like a basic mushroom so I figured it should be easy to find out what kind they are by doing an Internet search. It turns out that there are a lot more varieties of mushrooms than I realized. I didn't want to get into another type of field guide but I think it's time I do. Does anyone know what kind of mushrooms these are?
Robert: What is your approach to birding these days?

Larry: I find that the multitask method of birding doesn't work well for me so I try not to concern myself with what I should or shouldn't be doing. Instead I just choose a spot and try to appreciate whatever is best about that particular morning. It could be great viewing conditions, a lot of species, camaraderie of other birders, a zen-like experience, a time to study one particular bird, or any other number of things.

Robert: Have you been keeping records of what you see?

Larry: I try to but not of everything all the time. If I find something out of the ordinary, like the Lincoln's Sparrows I saw in our local meadows the other day, I will enter the sighting on e-bird.

Robert: How would you rate yourself as a birder?

Larry: Mediocre-I still have a lot to learn. birding by ear is probably my strong point when it comes to finding birds.

Robert: What are you doing to work at improving your birding skills?

Larry: I don't like to force feed myself information. If there is something I am curious about then I'll try to learn more about it. Some days I'm more receptive to new information than others. I'm in no hurry.

Robert: How would you describe your ideal birding day?

Larry: It's early in the morning when I arrive at a place that is far removed from the nearest sign of civilization. The only sounds I hear are that of wildlife and the gentle trickle of a clear running stream. Beams of sunlight are seeping through the woods reflecting off of a damp mist that is rising from the forest floor. All of my senses are heightened. I can hear the crack of a twig in the distance and the sound of birds as they start to move closer. Birds are moving all around me but don't seem to be aware of my presence. I feel as though I'm invisible and nature has absorbed my existence. It doesn't matter what kind of birds I've seen or how many-just that I am there.

Robert: What was the purpose of inventing an imaginary magazine -(Diving Bird) and an interviewer -(Robert) and then granting yourself an interview?
Larry: I was having a case of bloggers block. The photos I wanted to use didn't seem to flow with the ideas I had. besides, I've always found it easier to give an answer when you're being asked a question.

Robert: Aren't you concerned that when you do silly posts like:
BwBTC Find Proof Of Avian Life On Mars , The Dangers Of Listing and Roast Meat Hill Road that no one will take you seriously and you will be given the Boy Who Cried Wolf Tag?

Larry: How about "The Man Who Cried Eastern Coyote"? I'm too old to be a boy and the last wolf in Connecticut was killed near Bridgeport in 1837. The world is serious enough place already so I doubt that I'll upset the balance by making light of things on occasion.
Robert: You've mentioned that you haven't done much birding outside of Connecticut. Does it ever get boring to you?

Larry: I wouldn't say it gets boring but some days seem more interesting than others. I like to find overlooked places and see if it turns up any unexpected surprises. Just the other day, I took a ride past a farm in Middletown that was unfamiliar to me and saw Turkey Vultures sitting up on fence posts. It wasn't a big deal because I see Turkey Vultures all the time. For whatever reason, that was an enjoyable sighting for me at that particular moment. You never know where a surprise is going to come from and what it's going to be. I guess that's why they call it a surprise!
(photo of accipter from last year-what do you think-Coopers or Sharp-shinned?)

Robert: Have you gone on any hawk watches this Fall?

Larry-I went to a hawkwatch at a place called Booth Hill in West Hartland Connecticut. I probably saw a dozen or two hawks on the morning I went including: sharpies, Coopers, Red-shouldered, Osprey, Red-tailed, and Bald Eagle. I went to check the total count on the hawkwatch site a couple of days later and noticed that they had seen 1500 hawks at the same place the day after I was there. I guess I picked the wrong day!
Robert: You tend to mix things into your post besides birding and you rarely give a complete list of the birds you see-why is that?

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Larry: I find it too repetitious to list all the species I see each time I'm out. I have to squeeze in all my birding and other interests into a weekend so I try to include those other interests in my posts. For example, there was a bluegrass festival taking place on the same road as the last hawkwatch site I visited so I stopped by the festival after I left the hawkwatch. The video is of the band Acoustic Blue performing one of their songs titled: "Workin' Man Blues". I hadn't heard of them before that day but they sounded pretty good to me. I like the harmonizing and the intensity at which the acoustic instruments are played in bluegrass. I was googling to see if I could find any birding/bluegrass connections and I found this: Birdfest & Bluegrass Festival

Robert: I think that about wraps it up for now. Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions.
Larry: Any time Robert. I'll look forward to part 2 some day.