Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Birds At The Power Lines

There are many people who don't like power lines mostly because of the electromagnetic radiation they produce and the land that has to be cleared below the lines. That being said, power line cuts are often productive places to find birds. 
On Christmas morning I took a walk along the power line cut crossing at East Cotton Hill road in Portland. I encountered a number of sparrows, wrens, cardinals and finches that were eating a variety of seeds and berries (male House Finch pictured above).
 Gold Finches aren't quite as colorful during the winter as they are in the summer but I'm always encouraged when I hear their whiny call that sound to me like "eaaaat". 
This Red-shouldered Hawk preferred perching on the smaller lines along the roadside.
The habitat can vary quite a bit as there is at power line crossings as you venture out toward the edges. It looks as though this crow of black has found its Christmas snack!

 Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Close To Brownstone Quarries On Birding Break

I usually like to have some sort of plan or theme in mind when I'm heading out on my weekend birding excursions. Occasionally I start out full of enthusiasm and then it suddenly feels as though I've blown a motivational fuse.Whatever great ideas I had don't live up to my expectations and I feel like calling it a day before I even get started.When I'm feeling that way I know it's time for a break. I might skip a day I would normally go birding or keep thing as quick and simple as possible.

I was feeling that way this week as we've had cold weather and snow set in so I decided to visit the river and brownstone quarries area within walking distance of where I live- (link to hog river journal article about quarries by Doe Boyle) . The tangled mess in the top photo is near a trail that passes along a slag pile where the unused brownstone used to get dumped from the nearby quarries. There are pockets and caves formed by the old brownstone pieces under the trails and you can see steam rising from the ground on cool mornings.
click to play
 Here's a view of one of the quarries looking toward the Connecticut River which is just beyond the tanks in the background. The water in the quarry is about 100 feet deep in some areas. It is currently being used as a water park. As you can probably tell from the photos I didn't encounter a lot of birds during my walk. A few sparrows along with the usual suspects.
When I reached the river I was happy to see my first two town hoodies and since I was wearing a hoodie at the time I felt like we sort of bonded. It would have been nice if the sun was on my side of the river but that's okay. At least I got out there and even managed enough energy to post something. This weekend I've got a Christmas count coming up so there's no need for me to come up with a plan.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Return To Dead Man's Swamp

 Dead Man's Swamp is about a 500 acre area that is situated along the Connecticut River in Cromwell. It used to be the favorite birding patch for a local birder named Dave. He was known for his great skill in finding birds by ear. He could not only identify a species by its song but also the key it was singing in and its date of birth.He insisted on carrying around cheap, beat up binoculars while every other birder felt the need for Swarovski or Leicas.

I'm not sure why the area is called Dead Man's Swamp. I heard one story that many years ago a couple of hobos tried to hitch a ride on the nearby train bordering the swamp. One of them had his hand severed at the wrist as he was reaching out to grab a bottle of whiskey from his traveling companion. He then fell off the train and into the swamp. The hand was supposedly found in the swamp still holding on to that bottle of whiskey but the rest of the body was never recovered. 

There have been stories that people have seen a shadowy figure wandering the fields. It is supposedly the ghost of the victim searching for his lost hand. I couldn't find any evidence of any truth to this story on google so it's probably just a local campfire tale. I'm not about running into the ghost but the place is heavily hunted and I don't like the thought of being pelted with bird shot.
It seems like every time I go to the Cromwell side of the river I see something interesting across the river in Portland. The last time I was here there were White-winged Scoters on the opposite side. This time it was a pair of adult Bald Eagles. If you look closely  you may be able to see them on a platform which is mounted on top of a very tall pole.
I took a ride across the river to get a closer look. It seems they were still there waiting for me to return to my hometown. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Skunk-headed Coots At Saybrook

I stop and check Saybrook Point several times during the winter. It's a good place to find winter ducks and loons.
I found it amusing to learn that Surf Scoters have the nickname skunk-headed coots. There were about 30 of them there along with several Ruddy Ducks.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Horned Larks Are Back In Town

 Over the last couple of years I've spending a lot of time along the shore during the winter months. There are a lot of birds I get to see at the shore during the winter that I don't see other times of the year.
 The Horned Lark is one such species.They stay mostly on the ground and have a look of their own.
 I especially like their colorful black and yellow facial pattern. I can't say that I'm excited about the approaching winter but I do look forward to winter birding.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Red-headed Woodpecker Caching Behavior

 I was near a little nature area called Whalebone Creek in Hadlyme last week hoping to find a Red-headed Woodpecker that's been hanging out in the area. I found the woodpecker which turned out to be just a few hundred yards outside over the New London county line (making it ineligible for the Middlesex County list I'm keeping).
 I attempted about 100 photos of it but the bird was always in the wrong place at the wrong time. During the failed attempts of getting the right photo I ended up doing something different altogether; studying the caching behavior of Red-headed Woodpeckers. 
I made an informal count of 40 trips of this bird flying from one side of the road to the other side of the road. After a while I realized it was collecting food (mostly acorns) and then caching it in a dead tree. Afterwards I googled and found out that Red-headed Woodpeckers are known to do this.

I wasn't thrilled about getting crappy photos in the wrong county but getting a first hand look at the caching behavior of a Red-headed Woodpecker made it feel as like it was time well-spent.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Early To Rise And The Sky Is The Prize

If I sleep late on the weekends I feel as though I'm missing out on something so I do my best to be up before the sun rises. 
As I crossed the bridge I continued to admire the view and decided to drive down to harbor park to catch the morning light reflecting off of the Connecticut River. 

Getting up early is usually all about the birds on weekends for me but sometimes the reward may be as simple as the view of a brilliant morning sky.

(note: I did have 2 Great horned Owls calling back and forth outside of my house at 4am this morning which I managed to locate but could not photograph).

Monday, October 31, 2016

I Hear The Train A Comin'

I still have grainy memories as a 4 year old running to the end of my yard trying to catch a glimpse of the freight trains passing through town. It's amazing to me that trains like are still running to this day. When I recently saw the Providence And Worcester Railroad  train crossing the river to enter Portland, a wave of nostalgia came over me. For just a moment, I felt like I was a young boy back in 1968 again. 
 In a time when so many people are under the hypnotic control of their "smart phones" these old freight trains seem like mechanical dinosaurs but I find it comforting that pieces of our past still exist. 

This swing truss railroad bridge has got to be pretty darned old. It stays open most of the time but when a train needs to cross it turns to make the connection just as it did decades ago. It was featured in the 1993 Billy Joel video "River Of Dreams".
Even though the area near the bridge is an industrial area, there are still some nice birds in the area. During the year I find Peregrine Falcons, Common Ravens, and in this case, a Savannah Sparrow perched on the  top edge of a large dumpster.
A couple of years ago I found some fox kits wandering near the train tracks as their parents were hidden in the grass watching over them.
Here's a short video clip of the train.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Mesmerized By One Proud And Noble Bluebird

 It was a beautiful Fall morning yesterday with crisp, clean air and bright blue skies. I was out making my rounds looking for birds that I haven't seen yet this year. I don't consider myself to be a "lister" but I have been keeping track of bird species that I see in my county during the year. It's sort of like completing a puzzle but in this case it's a bird search instead of a word search.

  I was at Machimoodus Park walking the trails at a moderate pace, taking inventory of birds along the way when I encountered a flock of bluebirds out in the field. My whole plan came to a halt when I came face to face with one particular  bluebird.
 While the other birds were coming and going,  I would move a couple of steps closer to him every minute or so but he did not move. this went on for 20 minutes until we were just a few feet away from each other. As other bluebirds came and went he stayed rock solid and continued to look me straight in the eye.
Such a proud and noble bluebird he was!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Random Fall Birds & Thoughts

Fall might be my favorite season. It has a mysterious feel about it  that I can't quite put my finger on. I love the smell of burning firewood on a cool night, fresh-picked apples, seeing the decorative pumpkins, camping out in a tent and especially the colorful foliage. 

I don't like the term leaf-peeping though. It sounds like a crime. I prefer saying that I'm going on a fall foliage ride. 
The Girl With Something Extra: I was a little surprised when I first found out that it was the females that have an orange breast band on Belted kingfishers (also juveniles to a lesser extent) and not the males. I made a connection with a title from a 1970's tv show "The girl With Something Extra" as a way of remembering that.
My most underrated piece of birding equipment: I don't know what took me so long to invest in these rubber boots. It allows me to comfortably cover areas that I would normally avoid because I'm not a big fan of wet socks. I've been able to find birds that would have eluded me otherwise.

I headed out to Wangunk Meadows hoping to add a couple of new species to my yearly county list which as 190. it is becoming increasingly difficult to find any new species as the end of the year approaches. I was walking around for a couple of hours without any luck.
Then there was a "Flicker Of Hope".
I was able to find my first purple Finches of the year. The female has that broad white mark across the head.
Then with the help of my trusty boots I was able to stomp through some heavy brush to find the secret hiding place of a 1st winter White-crowned Sparrow.

It would be nice if October could last twice as long. Now it's time to break out the heavier clothing and prepare for November.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Fall Comes And Goes In The Blink Of An Eye

 It was just a couple of weeks ago that summer was coming to an end. I was walking through the fields and you could feel the cooler air pushing in the morning fog.
The damp air left dew drops on plants and spider webs.
 It's usually around the end of September that Great Egrets start showing up at the rookery where the Great Blue Herons left their nests in July. 

 The first week of October is here now and the leaves are just starting to change color.
 Belted kingfishers seem to fly off with a loud rattle the second I look in their direction.  Maybe the birds are slowing down now that Fall is her because this Kingfisher actually stayed still long enough to let me take his picture. Fall is probably my favorite season but it seems to come and go in the blink of an eye which is why I'm going to try to avoid blinking my eyes for the next few weeks.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

A Huge White Pelican Just Flew Over My House!

I was in my back yard cutting my grass this morning with one of those non-powered reel push mowers. At the same time, I was watching the sky knowing that this will be the last weekend that large numbers of broad-winged Hawks might move through the area.
Suddenly, I see this huge black and white bird with an an enormous wingspan (108") flying towards my direction.
 It was soaring like a giant bird bird of prey. What an awesome sight an American White Pelican is when in flight! It's also considered a rare sighting for Connecticut. Maybe I should start cutting my grass more often!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Some Warbler Done Somebody Wrong Song

 A few weeks ago I was walking along an undeveloped portion of the Airline Rail Trail. It is an elevated trail which is bordered on one side by forest and overlooks the Connecticut River from the other side. Over the last couple of years I've found a few interesting birds there including good numbers of Black Vultures and Hooded Warblers during Fall migration. This time around I saw some Hooded Warblers again and a large number of House and Carolina Wrens, about 8 of each in a short stretch.

I also encountered many Common Yellowthroats along the way. I thought that I was going to run into another one when I heard this warbler singing but the song wasn't right for a Yellowthroat. 

The possibility of Kentucky Warbler popped into my head because one had been seen a few miles west of this location a month before and I was told about another a few years back just about a mile north of this location. I didn't get a chance to see the Kentucky which was in town a month before because it was in a private area and the statute of approved viewing limitations had run out by the time I had the opportunity to see it. 

I had one good 2 second view of this bird and judging by the face pattern it looked like a Kentucky Warbler to me. However, this would have been my first live view of one so I needed better evidence than a 2 second look, half of which didn't count because I was a bit shellshocked. 

After 45 minutes of trying, I wasn't able to get another good view of this bird. It was singing repeatedly so I thought that a recording of its song would confirm my sighting for sure. Here is my desperate attempt at capturing the song and hoping to get it into the camera view at the same time.

As it turns out I was wrong. After sending the song to a few experts I received responses like: "It's reminiscent of a Kentucky but I can't be sure" and "I can't say it's not a Kentucky but then again I don't know what else it would be". It would have been a nice addition to my town year list but in the end I decided that I just better let this one go. This warbler sure sang me the wrong song! It reminded me of that  pop hit in the 70's by Bj Thomas titled "Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song" 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Quiet Nature Preserves Have Their Busy Days

We have a small nature preserve in town named The Helen Carlson Wildlife Sanctuary. I like to stop in for a quick look around whenever I'm in the area. During my last visit their was a Red-shouldered Hawk calling out keyeer keyeer keeyer from the top of a pine tree just as I was getting out of my car.
The preserve used to be a cranberry bog but since the beavers moved in the flora has changed quite a bit. I don't know what these flowers are but I did like the color.
  They built a nice platform a few years back. It makes for a comfortable place with a good vantage point form which to view birds. I look forward to seeing Hooded Mergansers in late winter and there are Wood Ducks here most of the year. In summer, you can expect to see  flycatchers, swallows, Great Blue Herons, and Green Herons.

The preserve happens to be located at the edge of Meshomasic State forest so I've had good luck finding migrating warblers in the surrounding woods during spring migration .
 A couple of weeks ago there was about 75 Tree Swallows here feeding on insects getting ready for their fall journey.
Here's a little clip of the Red-shouldered Hawk calling. The ringing in the background is the result of me leaving my keys in the ignition and leaving my car door open.

Being a nature preserve does not necessarily make a place 
a birding hotspot. The birding can be slow at the Helen Carlson Wildlife Sanctuary but every so often it seems to come alive just when I least expect it.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Black Swans Not Native But A First For Me

I saw a Black Swan this weekend which has been hanging around South Cove in Old Saybrook. They are native to Australia so this is probably an escaped bird. Still, it's the first time I've seen one.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Ignored Birds Are Conspicuous Birds

 My wife and I Spent a couple of days at Saybrook Point Inn. The top photo is a view of the Saybrook Point Marina as seen from our window. 
 I had no plans to do any birding during our stay but birds seem to have a way of finding me. It's hard to ignore a tree full of Monk Parakeets when they're ten feet from where you parked your car. I don't know what kind of tree this is but it had some sort of greenish round pods the parakeets were eating.   
 I had no real desire to go cormorant watching but look at how neatly they're lined up on top of a rock. How could I resist taking a photo of them?
 I continued my walk down the causeway which crosses south cove and there must have been 20 Osprey circling around looking for fish.
 It was compelling to watch them set their sights on a fish target and then dramatically plunge into the water to retrieve them.

I sometimes take breaks from my usual birdwatching routine but birds only seem more conspicuous if you try to ignore them. And why would I want to anyway?