Art and Birds

26 03 2009
Jean Luc Mylayne - Bird Photography

Jean Luc Mylayne - Bird Photography

I have always loved art and at one point, in what seems like a past life now, went to art college to do my foundation degree. Now obviously I see birds and art as making an interesting combination. Some of the photo’s from my linked sites are truly stunning but recently I was turned on to two artists who have been more influenced by nature and birds instead of using them specifically as the focal point of their photography.

The first is Jean Luc Mylayne. My brother actually got me the Jean Luc Mylayne book for my birthday and it is really spectacular. All of his pictures were taken on a large format camera so there are no telephoto lenses involved here, he rather has worked the birds into his photographs either using close approach or just letting them be just one aspect of the particular shot. Often he uses the birds as part of the piece rather than them always being visually at the center of it. My wife likened some of them to a birding Where’s Waldo. Cool pictures with lots of humor and charcter. You can see some of the art online (here) and if you are out in the Midwest you can see his amazing prints in person at the Krannert Art Museum (here).

Another art bird book that I got for my birthday, from my friend Tina Green, was Egg & Nest by Rosamund Purcell. The photo’s are either of bird skins, eggs or nests from all over the globe, but with much of the emphasis on North American species. As well as the photographs, there is some interesting stuff about oology and bird collecting in a historical context. It’s a fascinating book and along with the Mylayne book would make a great present for a birder who has an eye to more artistic endeavors. It seems like the recent exhibition of Purcell’s work at Harvard is over but I will keep my eye’s open for forthcoming shows.

To quote from the reviews on the Purcell book “What kind of genius is Rosamund Purcell? Is she an artist? A scholar? A documentarian? A living cabinet of wonders? Her originality defies category as does her newest triumph, Egg and Nest. Crack it’s shell.” – Jonathan Safran Foer

Both books are available from Amazon at least and I imagine you can find them in good book stores locally. I thoroughly recommend checking them out. Purcell Book. Mylayne Book.

Common Gull – More Pictures – Meredith Sampson

25 03 2009

Common Gull - Meredith Sampson

Common Gull - Meredith Sampson

Meredith Sampson sent me these great pictures of the probable Common Gull from Bradley Point in West Haven. A couple of nice shots. One on it’s own. One standing next to a Ring-billed that gives you a nice impression of the differences in size and structure between the birds and even better for identification purposes a nice shot of the spred wings and primaries.

Fantastic Weekend of Bird Filled Activities

25 03 2009

This weekend was an action packed birding extravaganza. I awoke at 5:30am Saturday morning downed a couple of cups of coffee and flew out the door on my way to Middletown for the Connecticut Ornithological Association Annual General Meeting. The meeting is always a fun day out and manning the Sunrise Birding stand means that you get to meet lots of old friends from previous trips and get to put faces to names that you have read a number of times on the listserve. Anyway I got to meet lots of nice new people and catch up with some others that I hadn’t seen in a little while so it really was a fun day out. Particularly popular on the day were the Sunrise Birding “I’d rather be birding stickers”, although the quality of the presentations certainly kept everyone distracted from the possibility of the Common Gull being re-located (it wasn’t unfortunately, although somehow a rumor spread around at lunchtime that it had been, which had a few people getting a little twitchy!)

Everything ran nice and smoothly and being on the COA board I know just how much hard work everyone put into the day, including all the volunteers that got roped in to help deal with registrations, sort out the much needed coffees and all of that kind of thing. The presentations had a very Connecticut centric feel to them with local presenters and local topics and the consensus seemed to be that the day worked all the better for that. All of the talks were very interesting and well delivered. I even had to chime in to help ID a  Eurasian bird that was part of Chris Fields fascinating lecture. Thankfully I managed to dredge up the correct ID from the depths of my brain (Spotted Flycatcher) although I must admit that US bird identification is now more of a strength than the ones from my home country. All in all a long but hugely entertaining day where I got to meet friends old and new.

Sunday, I ran a free walk to celebrate my birthday. We joined up with my friend Frank Mantlik and his annual NHBC early spring walk in Stratford and all in all we had about 40 participants on the day. An auspicious start to the day was spotting a female Merlin bombing down the Sikorsky Airport Access Rd as we arrived, which then teed up for the rest of the group as we waited for everyone to appear. First surprise of the day was the absolutely huge birthday cake that a few of my friends had brought down for everyone to enjoy. It was amazing, with a picture of yours truly birding on it. Somehow I had managed to wear the exact same outfit on the day, which was all a little embarrassing!

After everyone had a slice of cake we headed off to check for a couple of Northern Shovelers that had been spotted pre-walk on the pond just at the junction of Access Rd. Luckily the birds had hung in there and the whole group managed to get great views of a bird that is surprisingly uncommon in Connecticut. To me he Shoveler is one of the great birding mysteries, in New York you can usually find multitudes of Shovelers hanging out on the ponds of Central Park and yet in Connecticut, just 40 miles away, they are almost as uncommon as hens teeth – one of those birding phenomenons that just makes you wonder why?

After that we swung by Lordship Boulevard and managed to track down a few Boat-tailed Grackles, a real outlier breeding population of these birds, although I hear that there was some suggestion that they may have bred at Hammo this past summer. Does anyone have confirmation on that? Apart from the grackles things were a little quiet though we did manage to encounter a large number of Green-winged Teal. There were no sign of any Eurasian subspecies, although a lot of the birds we saw were in flight.

Other highlights of the mornings birding were a Gannet or two at Long Beach and the huge rafts of distant scoter and scaup at Stratford Point, as well as an amazing spot by Gina of a white-winged gull out on the sea walls off of Short Beach. I saw the bird in flight a couple of times and down on the rocks and although pretty distant it seemed to almost certainly be a 1cy Icleand Gull. It wasn’t quite as warm as we had been lead to believe on the weather forecast, so apart from the one Tree Swallow I spotted from the car there wasn’t too much indication of burgeoning spring migration. That said it was a fun day to be in the field with such a nice group of birders and friends.

Post walk, many of us retired to Marnicks (another spot to add to my map of birding eateries in Fairfield County) for Chowder, Lobster Rolls and Burgers. Some more friends drifted in from other mornings activities and I enjoyed a great lunch with the group. I also was surprised to receive lots of great presents, including a few birding books that I will probably have to write a review or two for in the coming weeks. Anyway I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who came for making it a fun day out. It really means a lot to me to know that I have made so many great birding friends from my walks over the years.

Post walk I got dragged out to have a quick look for interesting gulls down at Oyster River and Bradley Point. The only real bird of note was a Black-headed Gull that thankfully had (as they often do) developed it’s hood earlier than the surrounding Bonaparte’s. The caveat was that one Bonaparte’s also had a complete hood, so for a little while everyone was getting confused as to which dark-hooded gull we should have been looking at. A fun end to a long weekend was stopping over at Joe Bears house to have some Birthday dinner and discuss plans for the forthcoming trip to Colorado. I can hardly wait, maybe next year some of you will come join me back there with the Sunrise Birding.

Trip Highlights:


Good news for the Kakapo

20 03 2009

After the mainly bad news in the state of the bird report post and the Spoonbill Sandpiper report yesterday here’s a slightly cheerier note on the flightless Kakapo from New Zealand (story here). On the same note there is an interesting series in the making where Stephen Fry, who is the ex-comedy partner of Hugh Laurie (House), follows in the footsteps of Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) to see some of the most endangered creatures on the planet. The above clip is from the series and there is a great accompanying website to the series (here). At the moment the video elements seem to be down – I hope it’s not blocked here in the US as some BBC content ca be>

Common Gull? West Haven

20 03 2009

Common Gull - Luke Tiller

Common Gull - Luke Tiller

Nick Bonomo seems to be on a mission to get a clean sweep of every uncommon gull possible in the North East this winter. He spotted this probable adult Common Gull at Bradley Point this morning in West Haven and although I have seen a thousand of these in the UK I thought it would be fun to pop along and see one in comparisson with some Ring-billeds. The obvious field marks in my lousy record shot are this birds dark eye and the slender, smaller, fairly lightly marked bill. In the field it looked slightly smaller than surrounding Ring-billeds and to me the legs seemed pretty green toned. In some guides this bird will be illustrated as Mew Gull however it seems that the initial thoughts are that this is more likely that this bird is the European subspecies on this bird Larus canus canus as opposed to the North American subspecies Larus canus brachyrhynchus, but I’m sure better pictures and notes from the field will confirm one way of the other. One of the keys is in the primary pattern in flight or with stretched wings which I must admit I didn’t observe well enough. Cool bird Nick, thanks for the phone call.

EDIT: More and much better pictures online on Nick’s blog (here). Mark Szantyr also posted his pictures online now (here).

Birds and Rock and Roll

19 03 2009


Seeing as the Conan video makes most birders look a bit dull and humorless, here’s a little more glamor: First a cool article about the links between musicians and birds/birdwatching from the Guardian Newspaper in the UK  (here).  The article has a bit of an UK indie music slant. The above video is for the Guillemots who I must say I kind of like. Easy to see their birding influences right there in the name. Also check out British Sea Power’s No Lucifer (here) another set of apparently avowed birders.

Conan O’Brien goes Birding

19 03 2009

My friend Annette sent me this amusing video which some of you may not have seen before (sorry about the poor quality but the Hi Def version that Annette sent me wouldn’t load). In fact Central Park is an amazing birding hotspot in Spring and probably one of the best in the North East. I’m just putting together details for a day trip to Central Park as we speak after the success of last year. Details will be out soon on my Trips and Tours page (I just noticed how badly it needs updating).

Northern Saw-whet Owl – Another look!

19 03 2009
Northern Saw-whet Owl - AJ Hand

Northern Saw-whet Owl - AJ Hand

The latest bird reports are pretty depressing so I thought I’d cheer everyone up (including myself) with a picture that AJ Hand snapped of the Saw-whet Owl that I found on my Sunrise Bird Walk in Westport over the last weekend (it had left by the next day). I wonder how many of you eagle-eyed birders noticed the little mouse/vole clutched in it’s talons before I mentioned it (you can spot the paw) . I’m guessing the mouse was the only one not thrilled to see this bird at the weekend! Thanks to AJ Hand for the loan of the picture – another really stunning capture.

Bird Reports – Local, National and International

19 03 2009

The Audubon Connecticut IBA site has the Conservation Plan for Lighthouse Point Park online. At last weeks NHBC meeting Chris Field talked a little about the plan and some of the decision making that is still to be made. To see the plan online and to answer the feedback form at the bottom of the document, check out the PDF version here.

The Feds have released their 2009 State of the Birds report (here). To me these kind of things always make for some depressing reading, however the positive notes on Bald Eagles, Peregrines and waterfowl does highlight that where there is the will we can make an impact in turning these declines around. A really nice video, with some beautiful footage, accompanies the report as well so check it out.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper report 2009. Things are looking pretty grim for one of the globes most distinctive sandpipers. The latest report shows some pretty diminished numbers from some of the regular wintering grounds of one of the globes rarest shorebirds (more here). A real shame as this is just a stunning bird that captured my attention even as a child flicking through my field guides.

Sunrise Bird Walk – March 15

15 03 2009
N. Saw-whet Owl - Michael Ferrari

N. Saw-whet Owl - Michael Ferrari

So much for my titling today’s walk ‘Spring Awakening’, apart from a load of raucous blackbirds there was little to make one think of spring and a cool and damp morning wasn’t setting much of a mood either. We started at Grace Salmon Park in Westport but without much sign of egrets or the shorebird or two that I had hoped for. OK there were a couple of Killdeer but it’s a stretch to think of them as shorebirds as they are seemingly just as happy mooching about on gravel parking lots at the Wilton Market as they are anywhere else in the world. The only birds of ‘note’ were some Pine Siskins, but after this year it’s hard to think of them as uncommon within the state.

Next stop was a quick one at Compo Beach where we were surprised by the sheer wealth of waterfowl on show.  There were a number of large flocks of Greater Scaup (I pointed out identification of the wing pattern to the group when the birds stretched their wings), hundreds of milling Long-tails and good sized numbers of many other species such as Red-breasted Mergansers, Horned Grebes and Brant. The pick of the gulls loitering offshore was a ‘Kumlien’s’ Iceland Gull which gave the group a good session on identification. Many of the group found the apparent darkness of the primaries surprising for a ‘white-winged’ gull although the name seemed more appropriate with nice flight views. We also went over the theories as to whether the gull is a subspecies or hybrid – answers on a postcard please gull experts. A brief explanation (here), at the present the AOU treats Kumlien’s as as a subspecies of Iceland Gull.

Over at Sherwood Mill Pond the ducks continued to impress with a large mixed Wigeon/Gadwall flock (no sign of the Eurasian). Sherwood Island itself was pretty quiet apart from offshore where a few flotillas of Red-throated Loons and Horned Grebes as well as continuing ducks, many just offshore, were pretty impressive. The cool air and glassy water made viewing conditions almost perfect apart from a little fogginess further out. The only other bird of note a Greater Yellowlegs that certainly appeared to be a recent migrant  arriving from the south as it circled the marsh for a while deciding where to put down.

A quick coffee break (at which we added a calling Red Shouldered Hawk – right over Rt 1) and a few more spots and more waterfowl (I wonder if I am the only birder who has fantasized about one day birding the length of Rt 1 on one long crazy road trip – David Sibley meets Jack Kerouac style). Although we’d had some excellent views of some nice birds the tour would have not been the same had it not been for a fortunate spot as we explored a couple of local cedar/pine stands. I spotted a few large splashes of telltale whitewash and as I followed the wash up the branches there was perched a cute little Northern Saw-whet Owl. At 8 inches this really is one super cute little bird. As I’ve said before it’s always a thrill to find these birds and the first flash of those little eyes as you spot them gives one an unbelievable rush.  The group all had great looks at what was a life bird for a few involved and a treat for everyone. The group all took turns to have a minute or so with the little beauty and after a few memento shots we left him to his morning snooze.

It’s amazing how one bird can really make a morning out special, so even on the dreariest of days out (not that today was one) I always try to make sure to not let my head drop and keep looking at every bird, as you never know when that great bird might show up. I always remember that finding the Harris’s Sparrow at Allen’s was basically down to a last second change of plan after a disappointing soundwatch at Burying Hill Beach. I almost drove straight past Allen’s on the way home but decided to give it a quick try and make up for the rather fruitless morning. Always worth reminding yourself when you are out that with a little luck the next great bird might be just around the corner (or sat in the next tree!)

Trip Species List: Canada Goose, Brant, Mute Swan, Gadwall, American Wigeon, American Black Duck, Mallard, Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Hooded Merganser,  Red-throated Loon, Common Loon, Horned Grebe, Great Blue Heron, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, Bonaparte’s Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, KUMLIEN’S ICELAND GULL, Great Black-backed Gull,  Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Monk Parakeet, GREAT-HORNED OWL, NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Blue Jay, Fish Crow, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-Breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren,  American Robin, European Starling, American Tree Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common  Grackle, PINE SISKIN, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow