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.
click to play
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.