Sunrise Birding Walk – June 13 – Trout Brook

18 06 2009

Ovenbird - Luke Tiller

Spent a nice morning out with some of the usual gang at Trout Brook Valley in Weston/Easton. A little bit of a birding by ear experience as although there were plenty of interesting birds around singing up a storm there weren’t many all that keen on making themselves seen on the day. At this time of year I think birding can be a little frustrating if you don’t start to learn a few songs as the dense foliage rarely makes for excellent viewing opportunities.

Anyway it’s always nice to walk around TBV as it has plenty of nice breeding bird species and one or two such as Acadian Flycatcher that are as readily seen there as probably anywhere else in the state. After a couple of hours listening hard we had come up with quite a fine little list for the day and hopefully a few new songs had cemented themselves in everyone’s brains. We also had fun working out the Worm -eating Warbler song and trying to get everyone straight on that identification. Not easy as my previous post notes.

Species List

Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Acadian Flycatcher, American Robin, Wood Thrush, Gray Catbird, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, House Wren, Carolina Wren, Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Black-and-white, Black-throated Green, Ovenbird, Louisisana Waterthrush, Worm-eating Warbler, Common Yellowthroat , Scarlet Tanager, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, Baltimore Oriole, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Indigo Bunting, Northern Cardinal.

Latest Trips – a couple of pictures

8 06 2009
Black Bear Cub - Luke Tiller

Black Bear Cub - Luke Tiller

I am busy finishing up trip reports from Colorado, New York and Montana. Just as a teaser here is one of the pictures. This one is a digiscoped snap of one of the Black Bear cubs that we found frolicking by the side of the road. OK, not a likely inclusion for any copies of National Geographic but it’s all my own work and is a memory that will live with me a long time.

I also note that Gary Howard has started to post a few of his shots from our tour of Colorado in April. Check out the Rosy Finches and other stuff here, Some absolutely cracking photo’s!

Montana and Wyoming – great finale to a great trip.

6 06 2009
Lewis's Wodpecker - Luke Tiller

Lewis's Wodpecker - Luke Tiller

We finished up the trip with two days in Billings MT. After being shut out of the Beartooth Highway due to snow – on June 2nd!!!!! (which we had luckily already hit for Black Rosy-finch and breeding Pipit) we swung through the Chief Joseph Highway and managed to pick up some nice birds en route including finding a Golden Eagles nest with two accompanying chicks!

After touching down in Billings we wandered in at a leisurely pace, and after a relaxing early afternoon a few of the group decided to roll out to a couple of Billings local birding hotspots. First on the list were the Pictograph Cave State Park. What an amazing place, with stunning scenery (hasn’t it all been?!) and interesting history (see website here). We soaked up the atmosphere (pretending we were Native American’s watching over our Bison herds) and then picked up a few nice birds as we strolled including killer views of the usually skulky Yellow-breasted Chat and we also worked hard for some great view of our first Canyon Wren at a nest site – what a fantastically characterful little bird – the very definition of cheerful!

After that we hit another couple of nice spots including the nice city park Two Moons. In the end we had managed a few better looks at some desirable birds (like Lazuli Bunting) and managed to add a nice Wood Duck to the growing string of sightings. A stop at Lake Elmo was somewhat disappointing but with a flyby Caspian Tern we still had another great day under our belts.

The final day and we had an appointment with Helen Carlson, local birder extraordinaire and she quickly started to produce some of the local specialty birds of the area including such goodies as Pinyon Jay (I love their calls!) at a friends feeders, Chestnut-collared Longspur, McCown’s Longspur as well as such goodies as Says Phoebe.

All in all a simply brilliant trip with loads of great birds, great scenery and most of all great company to what is surely North Americas own Serengeti. If you haven’t considered a trip to Yellowstone yet, start thinking about it right now!

Attached one of my horrible digiscoped pictures of the Lewis’s Woodpecker – better ones to come I hope.

Yellowstone Park/Grand Tetons – the story so far…

1 06 2009

Scarlet Tanager - Luke Tiller

Scarlet Tanager - Luke Tiller

Is it me or is Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons a vastly underrated birding destination? It seems like there aren’t many birders here (we’ve met one – who strangely enough I met during my time with another tour company). Anyway the highlights thus far have been legion including: my GPS taking me down a wrong turn in Jackson and stumbling upon the towns best feeder setup, with multitudes of Western Tanagers, Bullock’s Orioles and in the stream nearby a spritely little American Dipper, 4 sightings of Three-toed Woodpecker including crippling views of a pair, Great Gray Owl, Sandhill Cranes aplenty, Trumpeter Swans all over the place, both Crossbill species, Jackson’s second record of Broad-winged Hawk (trust me to stumble on a mega that barely raised any eyebrows amongst the US contingent!) and today’s highlight – drop dead views of two Lewis’s Woodpeckers at a nest site. Throw in Williamson’s Sapsucker, Lazuli Bunting and Calliope Hummingbird and you have a host of wonderful accompanying beauties.

I have to say though, even as a hardcore birder, the mammals somewhat steal the show with great looks at Grizzly Bear and Gray Wolf amongst the ubiquitous Bison and Elk. Today’s special was a sow Black Bear with two young cubs that were putting on quite the show climbing trees, pouncing on each other and generally just behaving all too cutely for words. Anyway my useless laptop isn’t compatible with the card in my new point and shoot so for now you’ll have to make do with this snap of a Scarlet Tanager from my yard until I get home.

If you are desperate to see some great pictures of the local birds and animals check out Dan Hartman’s online gallery – we just snuck in there today to do some shopping (link here).

Sunrise Birding – New York State Weekend May 15-17

18 05 2009
Yellow Warbler - Luke Tiller

Yellow Warbler - Luke Tiller

Lots of traveling has meant a break from blogging for a few days. I just got unpacked after an amazing trip to NY State for the weekend with a group of really fantastic birders. It really was action packed and great fun all around with lots of amazing views of great birds, many good laughs and a couple of memorable meals along the way. I am just writing up a full report but wanted to post a few highlights from the trip. Co-leading on the trip was Joe Bear (so many many thanks go out to him for his invaluable eyes and ears) and I had some excellent behind the scenes assistance from Curt McDermott (see Hawk Owl Gallery here) and Chrissy Guarino (see Hawk Owl trip here).

Birding highlights were numerous but special mention has to go to seeing a Ruby-throated Hummingbird giving it’s ‘swinging’ display flight, a Scarlet Tanager popping up in a flowering dogwood just a few feet from the group, as well as hundreds of migrant swallows, comprising 5 species, strung out on the telephone wires at the Basha Kill. As for the top birds, they were legion: Virginia Rail out in the open at our feet, an inquisitive Sora skulking through the marsh just yards away, 2 Bitterns (one booming hauntingly at dusk and the second in flight past us), scope views of Kentucky Warbler and a jaunty Red-headed Woodpecker frolicking on a nearby fence.

Throw in Olive-sided Flycatcher, 3 Upland Sandpipers, 2 Grey-cheeked Thrush at our feet, point blank views of Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and Black-billed Cuckoo, Common Nighthawk hunting and calling overhead, more Hooded Warblers than you could shake a stick at as well as Cerulean and Golden-wing and, as a finale, being serenaded by multitudes of Bobolinks and Eastern Meadowlarks at Galeville and you can tell it was quite a weekend. Simply outstanding! Thanks to everyone who came and made the whole thing so special!

Check out all of our forthcoming trips here. Check out the full trip report here.

Sunrise Birding Walk April 11

13 04 2009
Lapland Longspur - Michael Ferrari

Lapland Longspur - Michael Ferrari

After a weekend off in the UK for my mothers birthday we were back into the swing of things looking for spring migrants at Sherwood Island on Saturday. The weather forecast was at best unpredictable, and in the end we had a somewhat shortened morning. Still in the couple of hours we got under our belts the going was pretty good, with a Lapland Longspur (captured above by Michael Ferrari) being one of the mornings highlights. Truth be told though as I caught it’s rattle-like call I was hoping that the bird was going to be something more exciting like the Smith’s Longspur that Larry Flynn found on my birthday two years back (see picture from COA Website here).

Whilst we were busying ourselves with the Longspur I however we might have inadvertently distracted ourselves from a more interesting bird. I had spotted a group of Green-winged Teal in the marsh as we were walking over towards the Longspur but had switched focus from them to follow the little passerine. However as the ducks flushed I had a momentary glimpse of small duck in the group in flight which had the possibility of being a Cinnamon Teal, however views were so brief I just couldn’t pin it down enough to be sure and it will remain the one that got away. This would have been only the second record for the state (see pictures of the first on the COA website here) had it been accepted but the views were just to brief and poor to be sure of anything, although I can’t imagine it was a Blue-winged from what I saw on the bird. Not the first frustrating bird I’ve had on a Sunrise Birding trip at Sherwood. A couple of Decembers back Sara Zagorski spotted a late oriole sat in the spruces at Sherwood but it was flushed by a Mockingbird before we were able to pin down the ID and was never relocated despite numerous attempts by a few different birders!

The rest of the trip added a few nice species including a briefly singing Brown Thrsher. A species of concern in Connecticut due to the disappearing shrubland habitat it requires (even at Sherwood it’s not safe, in the past areas have been cleared in the park which they have been known to breed in). The Thrasher song is reminiscent of Mockingbirds but the way it couples or doubles up repeated phrases is very distinctive compared to the Mockingbirds runs of repetitive phrasing. Thrasher song here, Mockingbird comparison here.

Other notable species included a Northern Shoveler (with another pair being seen post walk when I picked up my car) as well as a nice female Kestrel and a load of Bonaparte’s Gulls, accompanied by the first Laughing Gull of the year for everyone at Southport Beach.  With the rain well and truly tipping it down by this point we all decided to retire early and go and get a well deserved cup of coffee and some breakfast over at the Sherwood Diner. Despite the downpour, a very nice morning out. Walks are now on hold for a couple of weeks as I head off for Colorado although I do have a midweek walk at New Canaan Nature Center on Wednesday before I go.

Trip Species List: Canada Goose, Brant, Mute Swan, Gadwall, American Black Duck, Mallard, NORTHERN SHOVELER, Green-winged Teal, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Loon, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Red-tailed Hawk, AMERICAN KESTREL, Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, Bonaparte’s Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull,  Laughing Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Monk Parakeet, GREAT-HORNED OWL, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Phoebe, Blue Jay, Fish Crow, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-Breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren,  American Robin, European Starling, Northern Mockingbird, BROWN THRASHER, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, LAPLAND LONGSPUR, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common  Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, House Finch, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow

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

Sunrise Bird Walk – March 8th

9 03 2009
Northern Pintail - Lionel Stringer

Northern Pintail - Lionel Stringer

Spring has finally sprung in Connecticut, although it’s been more of a trickle thus far than anything resembling a spring. Last weekend I lead a tour around Fairfield County and we were all pretty happy with a productive day (maybe less happy with the hour change and the early start!). Highlights of the tour were 6 Wilson’s Snipe, including one sat out very nicely on the airfields at Sherwood Island and a group of six which went skittering away with their usual raucous croaks from the ditch alongside the fields. We got into a quick discussion on how to separate Common Snipe (the very closely related Eurasian species) from Wilson’s Snipe (our one) probably the best article I could find online to reinforce this difficult identification process was this article on identification of a Wilson’s Snipe in France which gives some clues on what the differences are (many are somewhat qualitative). From our side of the pond check Martin Reid’s section on Snipe ID on his website.

Other highlights included a regular Lesser Black-backed Gull (which we did a little impromptu ‘workshopping’ on as its telltale yellow legs were firmly tucked beneath this lounging bird), a cracking adult male American Kestrel and a flock of 4 Northern Pintail. Pintails has always been a favorite duck of mine so it’s sad to read how badly they are doing in the US (although this particular year in CT thee have been a good number of them showing up even in decent sized flocks (proof that localized observations aren’t that helpful when trying to give context to bird populations).  I note that Ducks Unlimited even have a specific initiative targeting this bird (here), my wife asked if this included not shooting them.In all seriousness though the hunting fraternity here in the US plays a massive role in protecting important habitat that support waterfowl, and as a byproduct any number of other species. Birders are often encouraged to buy duck stamps in order to support land preservation (details here). I do however wonder whether the introduction of a similar ‘Birders Stamp’ might let us gauge the support that birders provide to this preservation process.

Apart from that there appeared to be a few hirundines flying way off inland that I scoped from parking lot but couldn’t be certain of ID they were so many miles away, almost certainly Tree Swallow though. A beautiful day that certainly got me thinking about spring for sure though. Not long now until we have singing warblers and all those goodies streaming back to join us. I spoke to my friend EJ in Louisiana and he is already starting to see stuff that’s on the move. Making me look forward more and more to my first big spring trip in May over to NY State (details here – just a few spaces left). Post walk we went to the unbeatable Blue Bird Cafe in Easton (perhaps I need to update my local birding map with my favorite diners!). From there I was kidnapped and taken to go find the Cackling Goose that Charlie Barnard ad spotted at Trap Falls reservoir. I relocated it on the far side of the reservoir and although views were distant one could make out the stubby bill and the very boxlike head of the Richardson’s subspecies. Steep forehead, almost flat top to the head. The bird was generally very light and the upperparts silvery but one has to be careful reading too much into this due to the harsh light (Cackling Goose ID Tips). Nice bird though and probably a good addition to the boys Stratford Big Year. A great day out with a nice group of birders and 60 degree temperatures- can’t complain about that in March!

Trip Species List:

Horned Grebe, Common Loon, Red-throated Loon, Mute Swan, Canada Goose, CACKLING GOOSE (with some of group at Trap Falls), Brant, Mallard, American Black Duck, American Wigeon, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal (TF), NORTHERN PINTAIL, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck (TF), Hooded Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Merganser, Long-tailed Duck, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, AMERICAN KESTREL, Killdeer, Ruddy Turnstone, WILSON’S SNIPE, Wild Turkey, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Ring-billed Gull, LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, Blue Jay, Fish Crow, American Crow, Yellow-rumped Warbler, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Common  Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, American Goldfinch, European Starling, House Sparrow

Sunrise Bird Walk – Norwalk Feb 28

28 02 2009
Saw-whet Owl - AJ Hand

Saw-whet Owl - AJ Hand

An enjoyable mornings ‘work’ in Norwalk with some of the regular gang. Nothing majorly exciting  on the day but it always seems to be a fun morning out. Amongst a wealth of ducks, a couple of LESSER SCAUP were a bonus in Norwalk Harbor.

We had a few more cool ducks on the day and I assume there must be some staging up going on pre-migration, as the harbor in Norwalk was packed with Bufflehead.  Over on 14 Acre Pond we had great looks at a few Green-winged Teal and a rather novel (for the site) Common Merganser sitting on this shallow little pool.

Probably the highlight of the walk though was a Pileated Woodpecker over in Weston that put on quite the show for us as it flew in and proceeded to drum on an obviously favored dead branch for some minutes in absolutely perfect light, just a few feet away from us (see Mike’s photo below). It was either that or the glimpses we had of a nesting Great Horned Owl that we came upon.

To round off the walk we stopped for lunch at the rather fantastic SoNo Bakery for sandwiches, soups and cakes. It’s always a nightmare to get a seat in there but the food is well worth the wait.

Pileated Woodpecker - Michael Ferrari

Pileated Woodpecker - Michael Ferrari

Post walk I took Tina’s offer of a ride up to Watertown to see the Northern Shrike that Greg Hanisek found. This was a particularly handsome adult bird and although we had to wait a while for the bird to put in an appearance, there was plenty to enjoy while we waited including an adult Bald Eagle, a few calling Pheasant and some newly arrived? Killdeer.

I have to say shrikes in general are high up on my list of favorite bird species. I also love those northern boreal birds  as they just seem so romantic, so it’s always cool to see a Northern Shrike as it combines both elements. It was a life bird for Tina and a year bird for me so there were high fives all around. It seems like they have been particularly thin on the ground this season after last winters irruption so it was cool to get one in the bag.

After the Northern Shrike, we were all set to head home when we decided on a whim to swing by Westport and just see what was around. We managed to find one of the Eurasian Wigeons down on the Sherwood Island Mill Pond, (Frank Mantlik had reported two earlier in the week) in amongst a raft of 100 or so Gadwall and American Wigeon. Another quick stop produced probably the highlight bird of the day and a most unexpected surprise, a Saw-whet Owl!

Last year I had convinced myself that I had become gods gift at finding these super cool little owls but this winter I had completely struck out thus far. Owl finding is a great leveler in that no matter how good you think you are getting at finding them, it is never easy and always seems to need a little luck. This one was a case of looking in just the right spot,  following the white-wash trail and there it was. A quick call to my friend AJ Hand produced the stunning photo above.

A neat bird and a real thrill to find. Plenty of discussion on owls on the CTBirding list but in keeping with the current rules there are no details on the location. Today though was proof positive though that there is nothing better than the thrill of stumbling on your own owl discovery, spinetingling!

Trip Species List: Horned Grebe, Red-throated Loon, Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Brant, American Black Duck, American Wigeon, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, LESSER SCAUP, Ring-necked Duck, Hooded Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Merganser, Long-tailed Duck, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, GREAT-HORNED OWL, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, PILEATED WOODPECKER, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, Blue Jay, Fish Crow, American Crow, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Common  Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird, European Starling, House Sparrow

Sunrise Birding Walk – Feb 15

18 02 2009

Another fun day out on the local walk. I arrived at Sherwood Island to hear the group declaring that there was a hawk stuck in the tree in the parking lot and asking whether we should get on the phone to a rehab specialist that I know. I could see the hawk was flapping around, but as I swung my scope into action to see what exactly the hawk was caught on, I realized it wasn’t caught on anything but rather was trying to get at something in a hole in the tree.

The Red-shouldered Hawk was flapping around the hole trying to get into it with his talons and then stopping every now and then to appraise the situation. It was amazing to watch and as the bird peered into the darkness, moving it’s head side to side to better appraise how to deal with the problem, it’s easy to see how they mold the actions of dinosaurs in movies like Jurassic Park when you see that kind of behavior. Eventually the bird lunged in and for a while it had the squirrels tail and was trying to yank him out using it’s beak ,but without much luck. As with most raptors the real strength lies in their talons and it eventually gave up on the meal and departed.

When I told my wife the story when I got home she said that she felt happy for the squirrel but kind of sad for the hawk as it was going hungry. I knew how she felt even though I am not a huge squirrel fan (especially when they wreck my feeders). It was an amazing episode to watch though and one of those incidents that you just feel lucky to stumble on.

It made me think of an incident a few years back at Sherwood when I had hiked in early to to be there at dawn and had seen a skunk scuttling back towards its daytime den. Spotting the mammal crossing open ground, one of the young resident Red-tails had noticed the seemingly easy meal and was swooping in for the kill. As I watched it close in on the skunk the skunk turned and gave it an almighty spray from its scent glands and the hawk visibly stalled in its attack path. The hawk recovered fairly quickly and renewed it’s attack but was met with another accurate burst and again it reeled backwards, after a third squirt the hawk quite obviously realized it had bitten off more than it could chew and decided to go look for a slightly more defenseless meal, at which point the skunk headed on it’s merry way home.  Apparently Great Horned Owls and Red-tails are the skunks most common predators. I would guess that the irritant factor (which can even cause temporary blindness) of the well directed spray was enough to deter this hawk. It’s these kind of fascinating things that you feel blessed to see when you are out in nature.

The rest of the walk was fun but with nothing Earth shattering in the way of birds. We had a couple of chipping Yellow-rumped Warblers that were new arrivals at Sherwood but probably weren’t early migrants but lingering fall birds that had wandered in from somewhere. The blackbirds however were migrating and those first flocks of Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds are to me the first real gauge of the beginning of spring. It’s a great moment when you get those first flocks winging their way north and as they move during the day, unlike many of their passerine brethren, they are a real visual sign of an exciting spring to come. Other highlights on the day were an adult Bald Eagle that I think Mike and Katie spotted first at Southport Beach and the regular (but still uncommon in North America) Lesser Black-backed Gull at Burying Hill Beach.

Post walk I stumbled upon a singing Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a somewhat unexpected sound on a still cold February Day (listen here) and an adult Kumlien’s (Iceland) Gull at Compo Beach in Westport (see dreadful pictures below). It was cool to see this adult as I haven’t seen that many previously. Obviously with gulls structure plays a key element in IDing the birds and this one has the typical dove like rounded head, cute expression as well as the small bill and longish primary projection.

Trip List

Horned Grebe, Red-throated Loon, Common Loon, Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Brant, American Black Duck, American Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Long-tailed Duck, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Bald Eagle, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, American Robin, Blue Jay, American Crow, Northern Cardinal, Yellow-rumped Warbler, American Goldfinch, American Tree Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow, DE Junco, Common  Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird, European Starling, House Sparrow