Monday, December 31, 2012

7 Reasons I Will Do A Big January This year

1)There are some great birds to see in Connecticut during January - like this Snow Bunting.

2) It gives you a reason to get off the couch and out the door: I like being outdoors, even in the winter but sometimes it takes a little motivation to brave the elements. Making a list of the bird species I see in January is a good motivator.

3) Gas finally dropped below $3.50 a gallon: There's no doubt that driving around looking for birds eats up gas. $3.50 a gallon is still expensive but not as bad as $4.00 a gallon.

4) Big January helps make the winter go by faster: I like winter but it does seem to drag on after a while.

5) It's a fun tradition: I  know several bird bloggers who look forward to doing a Big January each year.
6) Big January Makes ordinary birds seem extraordinary: The American Tree Sparrow is a nice bird but in January it's an excellent bird!

7) It gives me something to blog about for the entire month: I don't have to waste too much brain power trying to figure out what to post about this month. I already know what the topic is-Big January. It's almost like a blogger break!

What is Big January? Make a list of all the bird species you see from January 1st until January 31. I count birds only in my state but
you can set your own boundaries. It's difficult to compete with someone who doesn't live in your same region but it's still fun to compare notes. Are you doing a Big January this year?

Happy New Year Everybody!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

I've Had Enough Of Multitask Birding !

December was a busy month for me so I tried to squeeze birding opportunities in between various tasks on my to-do list. I stopped at Westmore Park on my way to a meeting. I've had good luck there in the past finding warblers in the spring, swallows in the summer, and an Eastern Screech Owl last winter.
This time the best I could manage was a mockingbird, farm animals, and a few starlings.
I stopped by Lyman's Orchard for a deli sandwich and did a quick scan of their man-made pond. I found Mallards, Canada Geese, and Ring-billed Gulls.
This is a nice stretch of power lines I found on my way to do some Christmas shopping. There was plenty of food and a lot of bird activity there. I  found Winter Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Juncos, goldfinches, sparrows, and Eastern Bluebirds. No time to track them down for photos though.
On my way to the dump I stopped by Great  Hill Pond and found some Hooded Mergansers.
 It was a relief to stay home during a snow storm this weekend. I could stay in one place and watch birds at my feeder (when I wasn't shoveling snow).

  Multitasking seems to be a popular term these days. Many people take pride in their ability to complete multiple tasks simultaneously. I think that it's a little overrated. If  I'm trying to do a number of things at once I'm less efficient than if I were to focus on one thing at a time. I know that I wouldn't want to text while I'm driving, deliver eggs while on a pogo stick, or read a newspaper while riding a bike. Birding in between tasks isn't all that satisfying either.

 I'm looking forward to the next time that I can focus all my attention on birding. At least I was able to finish this post about multitask birding (while watching NFL football and eating nachos)!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Domestic Wild Turkeys & Wild Domestic Ducks?

We've had Wild Turkeys roaming around out backyard for a while. We don't  live in the woods or on a farm so watching the antics of the turkeys is a treat for us. As you can see, they aren't exactly shy.

I've watched them eating lavender, ornamental holly berries, dropped bird seed, and whatever they find  scratching through the fallen leaves I left behind. It seems that Wild Turkeys have adapted well to changing habitat. They find food in woods, fields, and aren't afraid to visit residential neighborhoods when the need arises.
  These are pet ducks which have taken the opposite approach from the turkeys. Instead of leaving the wild to visit someones backyard ,they left home and  swam downstream. I found them along a woodland trail eating some sort of algae from the bottom of the brook.

I find it interesting to watch birds adapt to areas  outside of their natural habitat. It doesn't matter to them whether they are domestic or wild. They just want to know where the food is!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Geminid Meteor Shower Peaks Tonight!

I've been reading various articles about the Geminid meteor shower. Conditions are excellent this year because the skies are clear and the moon won't interfere with viewing. You might see as many as 100 meteors per hour with bursts of several within a minute. The peak may start as early as 10pm tonight and continue until about 3am Friday morning. The reports have been good from areas where people are already viewing the meteor shower. The key is to get to a dark area that doesn't have a lot of glare from city lights. I've been disappointed by these things before but I think this one is worth a try.
Update: I was in my backyard at 9pm and was able to see a handful of meteors streak across the sky over a period of 20 minutes. There was too much interference from lights  in the neighborhood so I went to a dark area near Meshomasic Forest for better viewing.
 I counted 38 meteors there over a 45 minute period. The best part was when I saw 5 consecutive meteors in a row. If I didn't have to work the next day I would have stuck it out longer. The photo is a view of the constellation Orion as seen from my backyard. I used the starry sky mode on my Panasonic fz35. Not exactly a "stellar"
shot but at least you can see it.

Monday, December 10, 2012

I Picked A Partial Path At Peckham Park

Every weekend I  make a choice about where I want to go birding. Sometimes I have a hard time trying to decide where I want to go. I recently visited the James L. Goodwin Forest And Parks Center in Middlefield hoping to get some new ideas.
I like exploring new places but their is a downside to doing that. A lot of times the place I choose doesn't  turn out to be a good birding spot. Lately, I've fallen into a routine of visiting known birding hot spots like Hammonasset or at familiar places close to home. I wanted to break out of the routine so I searched through all the brochures at the center until I found some places that I hadn't visited before.
One of the places in the booklet that was an old trolley line located behind the athletic fields at Peckham Park. It was cleared by the Lion's Club to make a walking trail.
 The first thing that caught my attention was a sign that explained what this pile of junk was. Apparently, the owners of the surrounding land replaced their cattle with 7,000 minks in the 1940's.  All that's left now is these abandoned cages.
The trail quickly enters a deep wooded area as it  passes through wetlands. There were no real surprises in terms of the birds that I saw which included Golden-crowned kinglets, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Brown Creepers, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrows, White-breasted Nuthatches, Tufted titmice, and Black-capped Chickadees. I enjoyed walking the trail of the trolley that never was but I wished that the little bit longer. I'm guessing that it  was less than a half mile long. It amazing how you can find places that have been right under your nose for years.
I took a ride through town to see if I could find any duck ponds.  My journey was temporarily interrupted by a freight train from Providence @ Worcester Railroad that was passing through. There's something about seeing these old trains that brings out the kid in me.
I found this small pond at the entrance of a housing development. I looked across the pond and thought that I saw a diving duck.
When I first looked at this duck I was a little confused. My first impression was that it was a Bufflehead but then realized it didn't look like a female. I am used to seeing adult breeding males with the entire back of their head being white so I was perplexed. I looked in one field guide which didn't have enough detail to slove my mystery but my full sized Sibley showed me that it looks like a 1st winter male. Please don't tell anyone that I was baffled by a Bufflehead!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Over And Under The Bridge

 I recently watched a program on the History channel called "The Men Who Built America". One of the segments was a dramatization about the enormous challenge of building the Eads Bridge . The Eads bridge which was completed in 1874 was over a mile long and made almost entirely of steel. That was a huge accomplishment at the time!

  It gave me a new appreciation of our own bridge here in Portland. The Arrigoni Bridge (above photo) crosses over the Connecticut River connecting Portland with the city of Middletown. It was completed in 1938 and was voted as the most beautiful steel bridge that year. I'm guessing that I've crossed this bridge over 20,000 times in my lifetime so I can only imagine how many cars, bikes, and pedestrians have traveled across this bridge since it was built.
A walk across the bridge you walk across the bridge gives you views of areas that are otherwise hidden from view like this old railroad line which I believe is still used on occasion. I wonder what the trains and buildings in this area looked like when they were new?
This is a view of Saint John's cemetery and church from the other side of the bridge.
This is an old structure below the bridge in Middletown. I'm wondering what is it and what happened to it?
 I took a walk over to the site of the old Middletown landfill. I don't think we used the word landfill back then, it was just a dump. They would just bury trash under a mound of dirt. Since the dump was closed that mound of trash has reverted back to habitat which is appealing to some birds. I found this Red-tailed Hawk perched on a pole there the other day.
On the other side of the bridge there's a road that leads you past oil holding tanks and the old Brownstone Quarries.  A walk over and under the bridge is like a living museum with local examples of history and industry.
 There's a nice little park along the river in Portland not far from the bridge. That's where  I found a flock of  Dark-eyed Juncos. I  spent a few minutes trying to get a picture of one. I think they have a nice, clean look about them.

When I saw this ship sailing by I wondered if all my daydreaming about history might have caused me to time travel or if I was having some sort of hallucination. This ship looks like something from the 1600's.  I sent my photo to Mathew who has a blog called Soundbounder.  He has a lot of knowledge about Long Island Sound and the ships in the area. It turns out that it a replica of a ship sailed by Henry Hudson in 1609. You can read more about this ship in this article from the Soundbounder Blog.

Monday, November 26, 2012

I Used Up My Free 1GB For Photos On Picassa!

I was getting ready to upload a post and wanted to add one more picture when a warning came up that told me I had used up my free 1GB of space on Picassa. I've been blogging since 2006 and this is the first time I've encountered this problem. I found out that if you re-size your photos to 800 pixels it won't be applied to your 1gb limit but I'm not sure if that will affect the image quality. I tested one photo and it looked okay. I have a few questions for anyone who has experience with this situation.

1) If I re-size images to 800 pixels will the pictures still look okay on the blog at the x-large setting?

2) What is a safe way to free up space?

3) If I delete my old blog posts will that free up space?

4) Is there any easy way to re-size images that I've already uploaded?

 I wouldn't mind paying the yearly fee to add space but if they are unable to automatically renew your plan because of a change in credit cards you won't be able to go back to your original plan (whatever that is).

I'd hate to stop blogging because of this issue. Any advice would be helpful. -thanks-Larry

Monday, November 19, 2012

Early Christmas Crossbill Gift From Canada

The forecast for a winter finch irruption this year has been accurate so far. This Fall I've seen dozens of Pine Siskins and Purple Finches. On Saturday,  I had a close up look at dozens of White-winged and Red Crossbills at Hammonasset State Park. The top photo shows the male and female White-winged Crossbills.
The crossed bill on these birds allows them to extract seeds from  pine cones.
Sometimes they seem to argue over cones like kids arguing over a bag of potato chips.
I had a little more difficulty getting close to these Red Crossbills.They would suddenly take off then circle around a few times before landing in a tree again. There are several different types of Red Crossbills which care best distinguished by analysis of tape-recorded flight calls. That's not something I'll be trying any time soon.

It's nice to have the crossbills visiting Connecticut this winter. It seems they are running low on food sources up north. Those crafty Canadians must have used up all the pine cones making decorative baskets!
click to play -click right corner for full screen

Monday, November 12, 2012

Where's A Safe Place For Deer To Hang Out?

I did a double take when I recently found several deer roaming about in a cemetery in the Middletown, Connecticut.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

New Birding Movie, Comets, and Winter Finches

I'm passing along a couple of links from other blogs which had some interesting information.

1) New Birding Movie-The first one is from the Kaufman Blog. A new birding movie titled: "A Birder's Guide To Everything" (IMDB website) is coming out in 2013 starring Ben Kingsley. I have a feeling I might enjoy this movie because it isn't being over hyped the way The Big Year was. Here is a sizzle reel from Vimeo. I first learned about the movie on the Birding with Kenn & Kimberly blog.

The next two links are articles written by Patrick Comins for

2) Comet may be brighter than originally expected in March 2013  (Note that there is an even brighter comet expected in November 2013!)

3) Winter Finch Warning in Effect for All of New England
It looks like winter birding should be exciting this winter in Connecticut! I've already been seeing lots of siskins, Purple Finches and Red-breasted Nuthatches.

Fooled By Piping Plover Bumper Sticker!

 I stopped by a local patch the other day to survey the birds but noticed that the parking lot was full of vehicles for hunters so decided to come back on another day. I was surprised to see what looked like an I Love Piping Plovers( marking seem a bit off?) bumper sticker on the truck but was brought back to reality when I took a closer look. I'm guessing this sticker was made for people who feel inconvenienced by areas of shoreline being closed off to protect  Piping Plovers during nesting season. I agree with protecting Piping Plovers but wonder if stopping and reversing development along shorelines might be a better long term solution.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

7 Reasons Why Birders Should Try Using A Bus

Taking a public bus is not the most convenient way for a birder to get to a birding destination but I believe it's worth the effort. Here is a list of 10 reasons why birders should use a bus:
 1) Taking a bus is cheap-Current bus fares in Connecticut are  about $1.50 each way. That includes free transfers. It costs me more than that to back my truck out of the driveway.
2) fewer choices = less stress:  When you take a bus your choices are limited to places along the bus route. I find this makes things easier. We already have too many choices these days ( cable tv channels, ipod, restaurants, cell phones etc.).  This photo was taken at Wadsworth Park in Middletown which is conveniently located near a bus route.
3) Birders can set a positive example to others by taking the bus: Riding a bus is an environmentally friendly way to go. Not all birders are environmentalists but I'm sure most birders care about the environment so why not set a positive example?
4) Once the bus drops you off you are committed to your chosen location: I know that many birders including myself can get impatient at times. You might be at one spot for a half an hour and then decide to drive to a different location to seek birds. If you've been dropped off by a bus then it doesn't work that way. You are committed to birding where the bus left you. I think that can be a good thing because it helps keep you focused. 
5) Using the bus let's you try places that you might not otherwise bother with: With gas prices so high I find myself only driving to birding spots that are close to a sure thing. Driving around aimlessly looking for new birding spots is a waste of gas. There are new places along bus routes that present interesting birding opportunities and you need not worry about wasting fuel.
I spotted this Pine Siskin during one of my recent bus excursions

6) It's relaxing to have someone drive you around: I get tired of driving so it's nice to have someone else drive. It also allows you to study the bus route for other potential birding opportunities along the route.

7) Using the bus for birding doesn't seem to be very popular: I haven't heard much about people using city buses for every day birding. It's sort of fun to do something that hasn't caught on yet.

It takes a little effort and planning to make use of public transportation but it can be a fun and rewarding experience!

Here is a helpful link for: Connecticut Public Bus Routes  from the Department Of Transportation.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

From A Small Town To Nature On The Airline Trail

I recently went for a bike ride on the Airline Trail and was pleased to discover that it had been extended to Main Street in East Hampton, Connecticut. I talked to the owner of a local coffee house who said that hikers and bikers who use the trail have been coming to her shop since it was extended.
The trail was formely a train track built in the 1870's eventually connecting Boston to New York. It's now a recreational trail for  people to walk, ride their bikes or even ride their horses. It's a nice feeling to be able to cruise through the woods from town to town without a car in sight.
Riding this trail by bicycle is a breeze. I'm not one that desires the challenge of climbing hills on a bike so this trail is perfect for me. You can pedal for 30 feet and the coast for 50 feet. I stopped frequently for breaks. There are several places where bridges cross streams giving you great views.
I can't believe that I saw a Barred Owl two days in a row! I saw this one at Hammonasset while with a Birdingpal  who was visiting from New Zealand. Then I saw another one the next day while on the Airline Trail. Barred owls are probably the easiest owls to find in Connecticut during the daytime but I'm always excited when I find one.
I ended my bike ride at the Raymond Marsh portion of the trail in Hebron. this can be a very birdy spot, especially in the spring. it was quiet on this particular day. I did see some Easterrn Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, and Mallards.
 There were also lots of Ruby-crowned Kinglets. These birds can be a real tease. They land right in front of you but move on so quickly that they're gone by the time you try to get a picture.

Turning old railroad lines into trails used for recreation is a good example of recycling something old into something new and useful. Connecting the trail to a local town is a common sense approach that benefits businesses and nature enthusiast. I hope this a trend that continues in the future.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Vermont White-crowned Sparrows In The Rain

I spent a couple of days camping at Gifford Woods State Park in Killington Vermont. I stopped at the Vermont Country Store on the way up. They offered lots of locally made food samples. They were free but everything tasted so good that I ended up buying some to take with me. 
Right across from the campground is Kent Pond. I didn't see many birds when I did an initial survey of the pond. There were Osprey, Common Mergansers, and Mallards on the water and a few Song Sparrows near the shore. I was hoping to see something out of the ordinary because Kent Pond has a reputation of being a good birding spot.
I hiked from the campground to a trail that took me to the top of an overlook. I think it was called Deer Mountain overlook.
The best way to get a view of Vermon't foliage seems to be when you're driving on long stretches of road. Connecticut has great foliage too but the routes to view them aren't nearly as long.
 I passed miles of mountains painted with colorful foliage, lots of antique shops, country stores, and farms along the way. I saw dozens of country inns on my way up. They must hold the record in that category.
I was disappointed when I heard a forecast of rain for the entire day but it was only a light rain so I decided to hit the trails to look for birds anyway. I finally caught up with the Pileated Woodpecker that had been taunting me with its call. This one looks to be a male with an all red crest and a bit of a red moustache. We're fortunate that these great woodpeckers are doing so well.
Other birds of interest during my walk were large numbers of Golden-crowned Kinglets, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper, and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. I also found a couple of Ring-necked Ducks and a Common Loon on the pond.
The trail led to a road on the opposite side of Kent Pond. The woods along the edge of this road were loaded with sparrows including White-throated, Juncos, Song, Swamp, White-crowned and I also found 1 Lincoln's Sparrow.
Surprisingly, there were about as many White-crowned Sparrows as there were White-throated Sparrows. I saw as many as 6 at a time.
I tried to take photos in between rain squalls. Everything came out grainy or blurry but I managed to keep a few in focus. Several were picking through pebbles on the side of the road. 

 It's funny how things work out sometimes. I spent two rain-free days hiking through the woods for hours hoping to see lots of birds without much luck. Then I go for a short walk in the rain with no expectations and hit the birding jackpot. You just never know.