Sherwood Island State Park – Photography Exhibition and Talk

29 07 2009
Wall OF Prints - Sherwood Island Nature Center

Wall OF Prints - Sherwood Island Nature Center

Many of you who live locally (or came on my last walk) will know that the new Nature Center at Sherwood Island State Park is now open. If you didn’t, and or haven’t been yet, it is well worth a perusal if only to get to see some of the stunning photos donated by local photographer (and amigo of yours truly) AJ Hand. There is more about the Nature Center here and the kind of exhibits and activities that they have there (last Saturday they were about to dissect a shark on our arrival – having just eaten I declined the opportunity to view the spectacle). AJ will be giving a presentation at 6:30pm on August 6th on the basics of bird photography at the center which is bound to be a popular event amongst local birders. I hope to see you there!

I have a couple of AJ’s pictures on my blog. If you click the AJ Hand categories tag below you can see a few of his great pictures on my posts. Also check the link to his photos from Sherwood in the links section.

Bizarre looking gull!

29 07 2009
Mystery Gull - Juliet Balian

Mystery Gull - Juliet Balian

Hey gull fans here’s a few pictures for you to puzzle over. These digiscoped pictures were taken in Provincetown MA today of a gull found by Tina Green recently. This is one well and truly worn and beaten up gull (note lack of feathers on the nape and back of head.) So the bird itself seems a little less bulky in the field than a Herring gull, the deep pinkish legs, dark eye and head shape (what you can make of it) seem to point towards a possible first summer Kumlien’s Gull to my eye. Anyone else got any thoughts?

EDIT: The voting thus far seems to be two and two halves for leucistic Herring (a couple of people hedging bets?) and one and a half votes for Kumlien’s Gull. My vote for what it’s worth was that initially the previous pictures I was sent had me leaning towards a¬† Herring (as others pointed out the heavy feather wear is in line with leucistic feathers) but did wonder about the leg coloration and a bill and bird overall that apparently seemed smaller in the field to nearby Herrings. Perhaps noteworthy that no-one is being drawn into an online ID so I’m not naming names on how the voting went ūüėČ Any more thoughts appreciated. Man I hate gulls – especially ones that look like this one!!!!

EDIT 2: Nick of Shorebirder blog fame and king of rare gull finds in CT dug up some pictures from Rick Heil’s photstream from earlier in the month that has the bird tentatively ID’d as a Kumlien’s Gull (see more pics here).

When birds attack!!!

22 07 2009

My dad sent me this story from England about Buzzards attacking joggers. Good to see the guy who was hit seemed to take it all in his stride as opposed to the usual levels of hysteria one encounters when these kind of things happen. Anyway it made me remember my own close encounter with a rather upset Northern Goshawk pair.

I was taking a hike through the property around the Saugatuck reservoir when I heard the screeching calls of a Goshawk (listen here) as it bombed through the dense Hemlocks, making something of a beeline towards my head. I admit I was momentarily drawn between admiring this stunning bird as it gracefully weaved through the trees and throwing myself head first in the dirt. As it closed upon me I quickly ducked and it passed just a couple of feet above my head. Terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.

I moved on down the path realizing that I had probably stumbled upon a nest site and needed to withdraw to a distance that the bird no longer perceived me to be a threat. Of course the way I was heading was taking me back into the path that the bird had taken, giving him another chance to have a pass at my head. Ducking away at the last second as it came in again, I felt somewhat like a matador must feel as I skipped away from further attack.

By this time I noticed that the second adult had arrived and they began to work like a wrestling tag team, one sitting up watching my movements as the second bird came in for a bash. It was all over in a couple of minutes but felt much longer as I retreated carefully but fairly sharpishly from their domain. A pretty exciting experience and quite an adrenalin rush, although a couple of their passes were a little too close to my head for comfort. Who says birding isn’t an extreme sport!

Thought I’d also stick up this clip of ‘The Birds’ trailer. Pretty fun. I like old Alfreds little sarcastic digs at our relationship with our feathered friends.

Yard Moth – ID suggestions?

20 07 2009
Unidentified Moth - Luke Tiller

Unidentified Moth - Luke Tiller

Wondering if anyone can help me with this moth ID. Seems like someone who knows about moths might know as it seems fairly distinctive.Some kind of Sphinx Moth possibly?

EDIT: Seems like this is a Blinded Sphinx or Blinded Hawk Moth (as some places seem to refer to it). More on the species here: Certainly a cool looking moth – specially if you get some good pictures of it like Chris did (see comments). There’s an explanation as to the naming of the moth in the link which works better when you can see the spread wings.

Sunrise Birding Walk – July 12

14 07 2009

Snapping Turtle - Luke Tiller

Snapping Turtle - Luke Tiller

It was billed as a return of the shorebirds trip but they were disappointingly not on time to make the trip. Apart from one Greater Yellowlegs. Anyway it was nice to be out with a large group of birders and to catch up with some regulars and a few faces that I hadn’t seen in a little while and a few newbies to the group.

Birds were a little few and far between but it was nice to make the most of one of the first nice days we seem to have had this summer. Best of all the humidity still doesn’t seem to have kicked in as of yet this summer! Still no need for air-con in mid-July – amazing! Highlights bird wise were a couple of Yellow-crowned Night Herons that were looking for crabs out on the far side of the river and a couple of Marsh Wrens that always amaze me by breeding right don smack bang in the middle of downtown Westport – talk about prime real estate! Other than that it was fairly quiet although it was good to see some Glossy Ibis that have loitered over the summer at Sherwood Island – have they nested there?

Highlight for me of the trip was Tom Walker finding a baby Common Snapping Turtle (see picture above – hand-modeling by Tom ). Now that is the size of snapping turtle that I like. In general it just worries me that eventually he/she will turn into one of those dustbin lid sized ones. That alone is enough to keep my squeamish self from swimming in lakes and rivers in New England – it makes my skin crawl imagining sharing space with these prehistoric looking beasts. You can read more about them here.

Trip List:

Mallard, American Black Duck, Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Double-crested Cormorant, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Red-tailed Hawk, Osprey, Turkey Vulture, Glossy Ibis, Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Spotted Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Monk Parakeet, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Tree Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Eastern Kingbird, American Robin, Grey Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Cedar Waxwing, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Marsh Wren, Common Yellowthroat, European Starling, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, House Sparrow, Song Sparrow, House Finch, Northern Cardinal

Eagles in Homer – The Daily Show

13 07 2009

Some cool footage and the piece made me laugh:¬†helms—the-eagle-has-loitered I’d love to be able to get some shots with eagles like I did with my chickadees. It does make me wonder however why people who are interested in birds and birding always seem to be completely bonkers on TV – it certainly isn’t my experience within the birding community. Not that the mayor comes across particularly well – no comment on the standard of politicians from Alaska!!!! Shame they are stopping the feeding of the birds I would think it would make for a good tourist attraction.

BwBTC Meetup – Saturday July 11

13 07 2009
The Bloggers - Luke Tiller

The Bloggers - Luke Tiller

Saturday, thanks to some cajoling from Dawn (blog here) I lead (in the loosest terms possible) a days tour of my own fair state for a group of birders who Blog Tweet and or Chirp (basically use some form of electronic communication to muse on birds and birding). It was a really fun day and a great chance to meet some people whose blogs I had read but never met in person. It really is amazing how birding, like most things in life, has been affected by the invention of the internet. Whether it be through listserves getting rare sightings out to 100’s of birders a the blink of an iPhone (ctbirding), giving birders the opportunity to contact people around the globe to discuss identifications, ask for advice on places to visit, to simply share our passion for birds (on blogs or listserves) or as happened on Saturday, to simply offer a chance to meet up with a group of random strangers who share a passion for all things feathered.

I say I was cajoled into leading the trip but actually it’s something I love to do, otherwise I’d be doing something else for a living. It’s certainly not something that you get into for the opportunity of making a vast fortune (if that had been my goal I might have let myself get headhunted by a now defunct merchant bank at 27).¬† It’s always a joy to show people new places and especially new birds and although we didn’t exactly set the world alight with our sightings on Saturday, the end of day haul was pretty nice with a mix of birds that were either somewhat at their northern boundary in the US (Boat-tailed Grackle, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron), at the southern end (Common Raven – 2 by the shore in Stratford), coastal specialties (Saltmarsh and Seaside Sparrows) a global rarity (Piping Plover – perhaps only 6-7000 on the planet!), and one special out of place vagrant (King Eider).

The only down side of leading is that having to keep at least half an eye on the actual birds you get less time to just natter with people, but then I guess that’s what lunch and ice-cream breaks are for! Anyway I got to meet some really nice people from as far away as New Jersey and Vermont and hopefully made a few new birding buddies both in the real and the virtual world. Check out the other blogs for some reflections on the day out.

Present on the day were:

Dawn and Jeff from Dawns Bloggy Blog

Dan from Nature Observances

Dee from Oak and the Seed

Chris from Tails of Birding

Bev from Behind the Bins

Christopher from Picus blog

Larry from The Brownstone Birding Blog

Cindy from Living in Brooklyn, Longing for Maine

Laura from Interstitial Spaces

Mark from Strack16

Catherine from Birdspot blog

We also ran into CT birders Paul Desjadins and Scott Kruitbosch. It’s always fun to hear Paul reminisce on the history of CT Birding. You may have seen a few of Scotts videos online if you a regular on CTbirds – if not check them out here.

Wilson’s Storm Petrels – Larry Flynn

13 07 2009

Just thought I’d post a couple of the fantastic Wilson’s Storm Petrel pictures that Larry Flynn sent me from his trip out from Norwalk to Stamford today. He apparently had 9 birds in total. Connecticut is notoriously embarrassingly bad for pelagic species with the shallow Long Island Sound waters far from ideal for many of these deep water specialists. Combine the fact that Long Island is in the way of most of these birds ever entering our waters and we have a situation where pelagics are usually a real rarity in the state. Nick at Shorebirder was lucky enough to see a few Wilson’s off of the New London/Orient Point Ferry last week. But considering the wealth of species being seen up in MA and over from NY it’s always a surprise to me that we don’t get a few more waifs and strays. I guess part of it is down to a lack of Sound observers (I include myself in those not doing enough of it), but I know that at least a few local birders put in a few hard hours by boat or from land looking out for these cool birds.

Anyway thanks to Larry for sending me these cool pictures and letting me use them on the blog. It’s good to know that a few people are taking time out to try and add to the seriously small amount of Shearwater, Jaeger and Petrel sightings for the state. I’m sure there is more to be found out there – it’ll just require some hard yakka (as my Australian friends might say) and a little luck.

New Walks

3 07 2009

Baby Piping Plover - Luke Tiller

Baby Piping Plover - Luke Tiller

Just thought I’d mention that I am just kicking off the return of the shorebirds with a free walk at Grace Salmon Park in Westport on Sunday July 12th at 10:30am. I will also be running a couple of free evening shorebirding sessions mid-week at Grace Salmon (complete walk details for July below). It’ll be a great opportunity to get to see some of these fascinating birds as the site is a great spot to see these birds as they are often in very close to shore and providing the close views that allow one to really get to grips with identifying this complex little group.

It’s weird to think of fall migration being underway already, but with the short breeding season available to these birds and a long trip back home, many are already on their way. Shorebirds are of much fascination to birders due to their amazing migrations, in the US from Arctic Canada and Alaska to all points south as far as Chile and Argentina.¬† In 2007 a Eurasian shorebird species (Bar-tailed Godwit) was shown to undertake the longest non-stop flight of any bird. Using satellite tracking, birds in New Zealand were tagged and tracked to the Yellow Sea in China. The distance between these two locations is 9,575¬†kilometres (5,950¬†mi), but the actual track flown by the bird was 11,026¬†kilometres (6,851¬†mi). The flight took approximately nine days. At least three other Bar-tailed Godwits also appear to have reached the Yellow Sea after non-stop flights from New Zealand. These huge migrations make rarities a real possibility so it’s always fun to sift through the throngs. Some of you may remember the Red-necked stint which found itself in Milford a couple of years back after wandering off course from Siberia!!!!!

I have included all the walk details below, the sign up form is on the Sunrise Birding website (here). Hope to see you all soon.

Forthcoming Walks

Sunday July 12 – Grace Salmon Park 10:30am FREE

Saturday July 18 – Stratford Shorebirdin’ 10:30am $10

Saturday July 25 – Penfield Reef Fairfield – 7am $10

Saturday Aug 1 – Birds and Blueberries – 8am $10

Saturday Aug 8 – Norwalk to Westport Shore – 9am $10

FREE Weekday Evenings at Grace Salmon – I’ll be doing my usual stake out of Grace Salmon during shorebird season in the evenings. If you want to come meet me for some impromptu birding and perhaps join me for a burger and a beer afterwards I will be there for sure on: Tuesday July 21 at 5:30pm and Tuesday Aug 11 at 5:30pm

Diggin’ my Yard

1 07 2009

Eastern Box Turtle - Luke Tiller

Eastern Box Turtle - Luke Tiller

There are always a multitude of animals messing with my yard. Anyway this morning I was kind of excited to find a somewhat unexpected guest digging what I assume was a nest in amongst my Salvia. Much more fun to find this little creature messing around in the perennials than a White-tailed Deer or Groundhog. I am not very knowledgeable¬† with most things herp but this was as I guessed an Eastern Box Turtle. There is a great site that the National Wildlife Federation run called eNature that has great online fieldguides to help ID those other critters that you aren’t an expert on which I use a fair bit. You can check out the website and the details for box turtle here. Best of all I read that they love slugs; so have at it young lady!

edit: Bummer – as with most all nature in CT it seems Box turtles are on the decline in the state and are a species of special concern. You can check out the DEP fact sheet here.