Sunday, March 30, 2014

Stranded 20 Miles Deep In The Woods- Post # 2

Post # 2-
 I first found out about them 30 years ago when we on a fishing trip. We heard the locals talking about these "woods people".  Apparently, they broke off from the community almost 200 years ago and chose to live in complete isolation. The only time anyone has seen them was on rare occasions when one of the men would wander into town dressed like Daniel Boone looking for supplies. They spoke some sort of hybrid language that was thought to be a mixture of old English, Penobscot, and French. They still rely on the method of trade and leave immediately after making a purchase not to be seen again for months.

It took us  2 full days to hike out here so I'm guessing we are about 20 miles deep in the woods. We had to blaze our own trails marked them on the way in. We brought compasses but I hope my cousin finds his way out okay. He said he had to return to his job in Quebec but maybe he was just afraid to continue any further. I was unable to follow him because my ankle is going to require a couple of days rest before I can make the long trek out of here.

It was a little unnerving hearing them in the woods at night and not being able to see them. It's not the stories about their Pagan traditions that worries me. Just because their beliefs are different doesn't mean they are bad or violent. It's just unnerving to know you're being watched by someone you can't see. In the morning when the sun comes a foggy steam rises from the damp forest floor making it hard to see anything. It's hard to tell if you're hearing an animal moving through the woods or if it might be them. The rumors about hikers in that area woods disappearing is disturbing but not surprising. There are thousands of acres of wilderness and anyone could get lost or hurt here. The nearest town is 50 miles away and the territory I'm in is marked only by signs with map coordinates. 

 What brought me out here was curiosity about the animals they are rumored to breed. I asked my biologist friend if he thought it possible to hybridize 2 animals that seem so different. He told me that it was possible but he questioned whether or not they would be able to reproduce on their own. I really want to get a look at one. They must be bizarre looking creatures and have to weigh at least 150 pounds. I'm hoping they'll allow me to visit their settlement. I've heard they are adept at taming  wild birds as well. 

I don't know when you will be able to view these posts. My cousin took a couple of photos using a cheap disposable camera he got from a cereal box. I gave my him written instructions on how to post on my blog. I'm hoping that he'll at least be able to post part 1 and 2 to give you the background information on this project. Judging by the smoke I see coming from their settlement I would say that I'm within a mile from where they live now. I should be there withing the next hour or two. I'm guessing if they meant me any harm then I probably would have known it by now. Wish me luck-I may need it. Further posts we'll follow when I return (hopefully).

Please Note: The limited information we could find about the people of this area before the start of our trip can be accessed  by clicking on this link. (Update: This was an April Fool's Joke!)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Green-winged Teal Helped Crack The Duck Code

It wasn't that long ago bird-watching became an official hobby for me. During the my year ducks were a mystery to me. All I ever saw was Mallards. I didn't know enough that you had to be at the right place or time to find those other ducks that seemed only to exist in field guides. It was the Green-winged Teal (above) which I found one March day that finally convinced me other ducks really did exist.
Ducks are great to study if you're trying to learn more about bird identification. You can see in this one picture how much smaller the Teal are compared to the female Mallard and how the 2 different species of female both have that drab brown look. The nice thing about watching ducks is that you have plenty of time to look at the more subtle field marks and use a field guide to make comparisons (as long as no one scares them off). If you tried that while watching sparrows the bird would be gone before you could even open the field guide.

 Ever since I saw those Green-winged Teal for the first time years ago I've returned to that same place and time every year to look for them. As long as the ice is melted they're always there around the 3rd week of March and hopefully other species of migrating ducks are soon to follow. 

It took me a while to realize that certain ducks like certain ponds and only show up at certain times of the year. You can't just go to any local duck pond in the middle of summer and expect see something other that Mallards. Once I got that through my head I was on my way to cracking the secret duck code and I can thank the Green-winged Teal for helping me to get started.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Red-necked Grebes Visit Portland Connecticut

I was doing a quick check of my local patch this morning when a diving bird in the Connecticut River caught my eye. I didn't have binoculars with me but did have my camera. I thought it was a Red-necked Grebe but  wanted to capture a photo. It was cloudy and the bird kept diving before I could focus on it and eventually disappeared from sight. I traveled further down the river to the local fireman's grounds where I spotted it again, only this time there were 2 grebes! I managed to get a usable picture of one of them. The other bird had less reddish color on the neck. It was only the second time I've seen a Red-necked Grebe and to see 2 of them right in town made it that much more exciting!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Starting With The Gathering Of Wood Ducks

I took a walk along some abandoned train tracks in Middletown on Sunday morning. Winter continued its icy grip as the wind gusts exceeded 30 mph.  
As I searched off in the distance I found an encouraging early sign of the arrival of spring. March is the time that Wood Ducks start gathering at their breeding grounds in Connecticut. I counted another 50 Wood Ducks flying overhead in addition to the ones seen in this (overly-zoomed) photo.
Here's a sharper view of a male followed by a female (older photo). The official arrival of Spring is only 4 days away. Warm weather and massive waves of migrating birds are soon to follow but the gathering of Wood Ducks is a great place to start!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Try Asking The Locals Where To Find Birds

 I decided to head towards the eastern shoreline to do some birding but stopped at a local diner along the way. While I was having breakfast, one of the patrons at the restaurant saw me reading a field guide. He suggested that I check the area where the Black Hall River crosses 156 claiming there were lots of eagles and ducks near the bridge. After breakfast I drove to that location and found that there were indeed eagles and ducks there just as advertised. I saw 3 young Bald Eagles and a Red-shouldered Hawk perched in the trees. I was able to get a decent view of a female Red-breasted Merganser (above) but the Hooded Mergansers and other ducks were off in the distance. 

An older gentleman walking his dog stopped and asked me: " What are you looking for?, eagles? " I thought about it for a moment and said that I would really like to get a look at a closer view of the Hooded Mergansers. "Oh-you mean those ducks with white spots on the side of their heads" he said. He then proceeded to give me directions to a nearby back road which crosses over a small brook. He said that he'd seen a bunch of  "those ducks" right near the side of the road yesterday and added that there was also a cemetery on the same road where they've been finding owls. I thanked him and set out to find the location.
 It turns out that the old timer was right on the money! There were a few Hooded Mergansers hanging out near the edge of a small brook. It just goes to show you that it doesn't always take an expert birder to know where the birds are. I've seen plenty of hoodies over the winter but this was the first time that I had a close view. I found  out first hand that they do breed in Connecticut but they're difficult to find when they're hidden away in wooded wetlands during the nesting season. 
It was great being out on a relatively warm (upper 40's), sunny, winter day for a change. I've been finding more Killdeer showing up around the state which is a promising sign that spring is just around the corner.

I sometimes ask the locals if they know of any "good" places in their area to see birds. You need to use discretion as to whether or not searching for a suggested location is worth the gamble. It's a strategy that could get you lost but the payoff is that it might lead you to a hidden gem-of-a birding spot that you never knew existed! 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I Just Watched A Birder's Guide To Everything

I've been anxious to see the movie "A Birder's guide To Everything" since I learned about it last summer on the Birding with Kenn & Kimberly blog. It's only playing in select theaters so I decided to rented it from the online Itunes store and watched it on my laptop.

 It's a coming of age story centered around some high school teen birders taking off on an adventure to look for an extinct duck. The main character is David whose mother passed away about a year ago. Now his father is getting remarried to the nurse who had been taking care of his dying mother. This independent film wasn't promoted the way the star-filled movie "The Big Year" was. The only actor in the movie I recognized was Ben Kingsley. It was a simple but touching story with a bit of humor and birding mixed in. I enjoyed the movie  but only wished that it was longer than 88 minutes. It would be great if they could turn this into a tv series but that's just wishful thinking on my part. You can learn more about the movie on one of my favorite websites- IMDB

Monday, March 3, 2014

Goodbye Winter- Let's Zoom Ahead To Spring!

There are some things I enjoy about winter like a walk through the woods with a path decorated by a light coating of freshly fallen snow or a sunny day with blue skies and no wind. The powerful sound of large sheets ice breaking free as they fight there way down the Connecticut River is an awesome sight.

I've had enough of winter for this year. The number of days with decent weather were just to few and far between.The groundhog can come out of his hole and stay out. I'm tired of sinking into crust-covered snow holes and trying to withstand record cold temperatures.
I said that I would do a Big January/February this year. My birding excursions during these months were limited to short morning outings on the weekends. Many of the ponds that I rely on to add to the species list were frozen over. Black Vulture made the list (December photo from Middletown). Some of my favorite sightings of the winter were Tundra Swan, Redhead, and Northern PintailI finally exceeded 100 species but it took me 2 months to get there.
One of the things that kept me going was my desire to see what my new Canon SX50 camera can do. Not surprisingly, the image quality varies greatly depending on lighting conditions, how stable the camera is, and the amount of zoom used. 

If you look across the river you may be able to pick out 2 black dots near the top right of the tallest tree if you use a magnifying glass.
I used a combination of digital and optical zoom to take this hand-held photo of one of the eagles. It may be grainy but that is some powerful zoom capability. I just wish we could Zoom ahead to Spring!