Monday, November 28, 2011

Twenty-six Ruddy Ducks Can't Be Wrong

 I recently took a ride to the Durham/Wallingford area in search of ducks and geese. This is known to be a productive area to find certain types of waterfowl, especially in November.
 I was able to find some Green-winged Teal ,  which seem to prefer the most shallow of ponds.
  I don't know what the deal was with this white- headed goose but I'm guesing it must be some sort of hybrid. It looks like Canada Goose that had a bad bleach job and used artificial tanning cream on its legs.
The Canada Geese in this photo were in a small pond on route 68 that is owned by a hunting club. I noticed just beyond the geese were some small ducks.
A closer look revealed that they were Ruddy Ducks. I have found Ruddy Ducks at this pond in past years. I 'm guessing that the depth of the water, type of vegetation, and geographic location are some of the reasons why they return here but I'm curious why they ignore other ponds in the area that appear to be almost identical to this one. They must have their reasons because I counted 26 of them and 26 Ruddy Ducks can't be wrong!

 The Ruddy Duck is a small diving duck that rarely walks on land. It is very difficult for them to walk because their feet are set so far back on their body. I like they look swimming around with their tails perked up in the air. They were an introduced species over in Europe and are considered to be a problem in some areas over there.

 Below are some links to information I found on the web about Ruddy Ducks. Much of the information is the same but each one offers something slightly different.
and there is fantastic photo of a Ruddy Duck on this recent post from Birding is Fun

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Watch "My Life As A Turkey" On PBS Nature Program

  I watched a program on Saturday night title: "My Life as a turkey."
 Here's what it's about: A local farmer left some turkey eggs on Joe Hutto's porch. Joe who is a naturalist with an interest in imprinting young animals, incubated and hatched the eggs. He then spent the next 6 months following these turkeys everywhere. Joe followed them as they foraged through the back woods of Florida, and even joined them as the turkeys roosted in the trees. He learned a lot about turkey behavior, communication, and interaction of the birds with other animals such as deer. It was  amazing to see the bond that developed between Joe and these turkeys. It led to some touching moments as well as some sad moments. It's hard to explain what made this all so interesting. It is one of those shows that you have to see for yourself.

I don't believe you can watch this online but it is going to be rebroadcast on the PBS program,  Nature, several times between Sunday and Wednesday. You'll need to check your local PBS  for scheduled  air times. Here are the scheduled air times for Connecticut.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Keys To Proper Misidentification Of Birds

    I suppose I could do a post about how to identify birds just as Bob Dylan could give a seminar on how to sing opera if he wanted to. Instead, I've decided to pass along tips on how to overlook or misidentify birds. You might ask, what purpose would this information serve? I will try to provide some answers to this question in part 1.

Part 1:  The role of subpar birders in the birding community 
  1. If every birder were an expert then what would be the value of an expert birder? There are birders who spend countless hours studying birds in the field, reading books, and tapping into the latest technology to perfect their birding skills. The existence of  birders with subpar skills adds value to this level of achievement allowing experienced birders to share their knowledge with those who have less experience. It also allows those few elitist birders to derive some pleasure in looking down upon incompetent birders with pity and shame. After all, what would the value of gold be if everyone could find it in their backyard?
  2. Misery loves Company: How would you feel if you were the only birder in the crowd that was prone to making mistakes ? As a mediocre birder, you can provide a level of comfort to those who are still finding their way.
  There is so much information and technology available about birding these days that it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain a level of incompetence. In Part 2 of this post I will provide a few ideas on how to counteract this problem.

Part 2: 7 ways to properly misidentify birds (or not identify them at all)
  1. Relying on color as your determining factor in identifying species: Many times color can be a key field mark in identifying a particular species but you can't always rely on these field marks. For example, an immature Bald Eagle doesn't have a white head , a female Red-winged Blackbird doesn't have a bright red patch on its wing, and maybe that yellow area on the side of a Savannah Sparrow's face doesn't show up so well on a cloudy day. These are some of the reasons why relying on color as a field mark can be a powerful tool in when it comes to properly misidentifying birds. Avoid using complicated field marks such as bill shape or tail length.
  2. If you've seen one grackle you've seen them all: Let's say a large flock of grackles land in a field. You take a glance at the them through binoculars and from what you can tell, they all look like grackles. If you check each individual bird in the flock it's possible you might come across another less common species such as a Rusty Blackbird for example. By looking at the flock as a whole you can avoid the possibility of picking out a rarer species.
  3. Don't bother cleaning the lenses on your binoculars: Regularly cleaning your binocular lenses may remove valuable residues such as coffee, donut smears, oil residue, and other organic materials resulting in improved image sharpness. This could make a difference when trying to distinguish between two similar species that are difficult to tell apart. In order to avoid this possibility just leave the lenses alone.
  4. Let the expert do the work:  Your out in the field with another birder who really knows their stuff. When they point out a bird just accept that they must have properly identified it. Just take a quick glance at the bird as yo admire its beauty and move on. By using this method, you can avoid improving your own birding skills. This is like being a passenger in a car while driving to an unfamiliar place. You won't remember the directions because someone else is doing the driving and you're not really paying attention.
  5. Ignore things like bird behavior and flight patterns: Noting details such as the flight pattern  or behavior of a bird will give unwanted clues as to its identity without relying on field marks. You'll most definitely want to avoid this one!  
  6. Ignore bird songs: Knowing the song of a given species can sometimes be a more reliable way of determining its identity than seeing it. 
  7. Don't trust your instincts: You're out on a field trip with a group of birders and you see a species whose identity is a unknown. Aim your spotting scope at the mystery bird and bring it into focus. Now here's the key- Rely on what everyone else in the group is saying about this bird and ignore what your own eyes are telling you. This is a good way of slowing the rate at which  your confidence grows as a birder.
  Obviously, we've just scratched the surface on this topic. If you have any other ideas on this subject feel free to share!

Note: The views expressed in this post don't necessarily reflect those of The Brownstone Birding Blog

related post: 10 things a new birder isn't required to do

Thursday, November 3, 2011

All Tricks No Treat From Mother Nature

 Last weekend Connecticut was hit with a major noreaster that dumped over a foot of heavy, wet snow in many towns. If this storm was in December it wouldn't be that big of a deal, but this is October! Most  of the trees still hadn't dropped their leaves so snow quickly accumulated on the branches. The  loud crackling sound of tree limbs could be heard as they snapped off and fell to the ground.
It didn't take long before most people lost power, including us. Since we were snowed in,  I decided it would be a good time to start feeding the birds again. I counted as many as sixteen Mourning Doves beneath the bird feeders.
This is a pile of branches that snapped off from one of our trees during the storm.
The morning after the storm I took a walk around the neighborhood and found this Red-tailed Hawk snacking on some sort of rodent.
    Most of the state has been without power since Saturday afternoon due to downed power lines.
    The storm was on Saturday and I took these photos on Wednesday. There has been record lines at gas stations in the city with some people having to wait 2 hours to get gas. Streets have been obstructed by downed tree limbs and power lines. Every traffic was out and had to be treated as a four way stop sign. Some people didn't understand this and would drive right through without stopping. Laundromats were filled to capacity with people trying to catch up on laundry.

  It's been a difficult week for many residents of Connecticut. About half the state is stil without power with 99% restoration predicted by Sunday. There are some good things that happen during situations like this. Friends,family, and neighbors have to rely on each other for help. People are forced to take a break from television, computers, and cell phones. It makes you appreciate some of the modern conveniences you have while you are forced to adapt to diffiult circumstances. I didn't mind the experience but I'm glad we have our power back!