Saturday, September 28, 2013

Butternut Squash, Butter-Butt Warblers, and other Signs of Fall

Since my last post exemplified the extraordinary, an American Golden-Plover, I thought my next post should celebrate something ordinary.  One of the true signs of fall is the arrival of Yellow-Rumped Warblers for me.  Their kissing calls mark the coming of fall in many ways.  Although most people will tell you about the cool brisk breezes, the changing autumn leaves, and the omnipresence of pumpkin as the true signs of fall.  But for birders, birds announce the change of the seasons.

For me, the Yellow-Rumped Warbler is one of those signs of fall.  This flighty warbler is one of my true signs of autumn.  This warbler is unique in that most of its wintering range is in North America and not the Neotropics.  There are wide ranges of biodiversity with birds and even within bird families.  Some warblers like the inside of the tree, some the outside, some the brush.  You can have several different type of warblers in a single tree, eating completely different kinds of insects in completely different parts.  The variety of Yellow-Rumped Warblers also helps us to appreciate the differences of individuals in the bird world as each butter but can pose a challenge for IDing under certain lights.  In the end, getting out and appreciating Yellow-Rumpeds helps us to understand the world of warblers better.  So get out and bird!

A Frog in a Pond

The Butter-Butt in a Tree

More Butter-Butt

Can you find the Butter-Butt?

2013 Year List: 263

Yellow-Rumped Warbler on All About Birds - Link

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Famous American Golden-Plover

Thanks to the movie, The Big Year (Link) the American Golden-Plover has gained an almost mythic status to new birders.  In the Movie, Jack Black shares a scene with his father over the epic migration of the Golden-Plover.  And indeed the Golden-Plover's migration covers almost all of the Americas as they move from Tundra to Southern Cone.  This migration, coupled with free movie stardom, has made people flock and wonder at the American Golden-Plover.

For the bird enthusiast, the Golden-Plovers migration is just the start.  For most of us, who don't live in the tundra or southern cone, the Golden-Plover is only a casual visitor to our locales.  Connecticut is no exception.  Although the past week has seen more than a few Golden-Plovers, they are still delightful birds and worth chasing.  When one was reported at Hammonasset Beach State Park, I had to go and chase it.  This young GP was so cooperative that it got within 10 feet of me and allowed me to take some great pictures.  I can't wait to go chasing this bird again and be witness to its migration!

All About Birds - The American Golden-Plover

American Golden-Plover in 

Looking for food in the open Fields

Can you find the American Golden-Plover

ID Challenge: What do you think it is?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Migrants Migrants and More Migrants

Fall Migration is in full swing and Connecticut has had some great visitors in the past few weeks.  Amazingly, all the photos were taken at Hammonasset Beach State Park. I've attached links to the park below.  HBSP is an amazing park and one that has been classified as an Important Bird Area by National Audubon and people work to try to expand the park.  Recently, there were efforts to try and pave over the open grass and gravel parking lots and make them asphalt.  While this would increase the amount of non-point source population in the park, it would also decrease the open grass and gravel fields that so many birds love.  These parking lots have yielded, Golden Plovers, Black-Headed Gulls, Lapland Longspurs, Horned Larks, Lesser Black-Backed Gulls and many more.  News Link here  Since the Paving stopped, the Birds keep will coming back to this little spot.

My last visit here got me two great birds to add to my Connecticut List.  Wilson's Phalarope and American Golden-Plover.  I had seen both species before on my trip to Texas and got to see them in their breeding plumage.  While they weren't as decorated as when I saw them in spring, it was still a wonderful opportunity to see these birds.  The pharalope was having a good time playing hide-and-seek with the many birders trying to see it.  He kept darting in and out of  the tall grasses and we went picture crazy trying to snap a photo or two... or 50.  The Golden-Plover was playing a different game.  He was playing chicken with us and got within 10 feet of the birders watching him.  I am going to put a more detailed post of the pictures and poses I got from that experience in my next blog!  Until then, get outside and see some birds!

A Wilson's Phalarope

An American Golden Plover

A Snowy Egret and Little Blue Heron Face Off!

2013 Birds:

Hammonasset Beach State Park
Friends of Hammonasset

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What time is it? Hawk Watch Time!

Hawk watches are a great example of how citizen-scientists can have a positive impact on bird conservation.  The work of Hawk Watches cover the migration of raptors as they return to their winter grounds.  Like many birds, the return trip is different than the trip up and different raptors attempt types of voyages.  Some try to go solo and some try to go in groups.  Hawk Watches have told us several different things and also have alert us to the different plights of raptors around the continent but also a few success stories.  Peregrine Falcons, Bald Eagles, and Ospreys have made a tremendous recovery given their numbers while Kestrels and other raptors are facing a serious decline.

The keys to a successful Hawk Watch are easy.  Sorta.  First you study forms, you read books like Crossley's Raptor Guide (C) and Hawks in Flight (C).  Then I think the best thing to do is to bird and watch in the presence of people who know what they are doing.  The Connecticut Ornithological Association (COA) ran a great workshop and I am looking forward to more time doing a hawk watch.  Once you are out there, you hit the real challenges.  Raptors like to soar and glide around.  The keys to identifying these raptors become Behavior, Color, Tail, and Technique.  How can you tell the difference between a Red-Tailed and a Red-Shouldered Hawk when they are a mile high?  Well, Wings, behavior and timing become the keys.  Experience can teach you a lot about this.  Although,we will all still be tripped up by the Male Cooper's Hawk and the Female Sharp-Shinned Hawks.

In the mean time, I suggest getting out and finding a Hawk Watch

A Raptor Far Off

Getting a Great Lesson from the Connecticut Ornithological Association

A Bald Eagle looking like a Chocolate Sprinkle

An Osprey and a Bald Eagle fighting it out

Hawk Migration Association
Hawk Watch International
Hawk Count

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Why not, Red Knot?

There are few birds that capture the imagination like a Red Knot.  They travel awesome distances, gather in spectacular fashion, and embody a plight of all nature, dwindling numbers.  Many people will tell you that the Red Knot's story is dwarfed by others who also face the same struggle.  For me though, the Red Knot was one of the first birds to really understand their plight and their migration.  The Story of B95 is one that is widely well known and shows the great story of the Red Knot and other Shorebirds.

Shorebirds are amazing birds.  I don't think I need to sell many people on how amazing they are but its a good reminder and exercise to do so.  Red Knots were one of those amazing migrations that I had always wanted to see and witness.  It was a definite moment when I was hit with the unicorn effect when I found this Juvenile Red Knot.  I can't wait to see more of migration and hopefully more Red Knots.  I can't wait for the opportunity to try and chase some Red Knots in breeding plumage to round out my experience of them.  Until then..

Juv. Red Knot

Snowy Egret Hiding in the rocks

Northern Waterthrush at Jamaica Bay

A Cicada

2013 Year Birds: 261

Coming Up:  More Fall Migration!  Hawk Watch!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Fall Migration Madness

Fall Migration is a wonderful thing.  While it isn't over, its very exciting to be see birds come through again and some with good numbers, while we are still very concerned about the future of many species, its is still good to see nature being so active and working.  I had a easier time with Fall Migration last year due to spring being a busy season for teachers.  So far this Fall Migration has been a hit.

This week was the first week I could really get out after recovering from Birding in Dixie.  I have to say that the first trips outside were quite productive.  I've added a bunch of birds to my Connecticut List, Year List, and my Life List.  I even got one of my goal birds!  Of the past couple of days, I've seen a lot of birds, I'll just outline some of my favorites.

I am so thrilled to finally seen Clapper Rails and Bobolinks.  I can't count the numbers of close calls and dips for getting trying to find these two birds.  The Bobolinks were fluttering around a tidal grassland.  I didn't get great looks at them but its pretty hard to.  I hope to get better looks at them in the near future.

The Clapper Rail was a great pick up for me as I had been searching for one for a while.  They are awesome and mysterious birds.  People call them 'Chickens of the Marsh' and when I heard their call, I knew I was close to finally seeing this elusive bird.  When I finally saw the Rail, I can't tell you how excited I was.  I probably don't have to since I imagine most of you have felt the same way.

What bird or birds have literally made your heart skip a beat?

A Clapper Rail!

A Monarch Butterfly, Haven't seen too many of these guys around 

Can You Find the Sparrow???

Laughing and Herring Gulls

A Black-and-White Warbler

2013 Year List: 260
Recent Additions:
Bobolink LIFER and GOAL BIRD
Clapper Rail LIFER
Nashville Warbler
American Kestrel

Next: More Fall Migration!  Waterfowl!  Raptors!  Hawkwatch!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Birds and Dinosaurs

There is an increasing discussion about the connection between Dinosaurs and birds.  While some may just be learning about this, this theory has definitely been making the rounds.  After all, weren't velociraptors just "six foot turkeys" according to Jurassic Park?  Still its hard to imagine the connection between:

This Stegosaurus
This Great Blue Heron
(C) Me, Rocky Hill, CT

Yet, the fact of the matter is that Birds and Dinosaurs seem to share a common link and it is easy to ignore those.  After all, how much can a T-Rex be like those lovely Cardinals coming to our feeders day after day. But the basic truth is that the birds around are tiny dinosaurs.  But this idea helps me to see how amazing nature can be and how incredible the world before us is.  What follows are how this information has changed the way I see birds and the world around me.

First, I now know that the forms and adaptations around me are ancient.  The Turkey Vulture's large olfactory nerve is only small when compared to the T-Rex's.  A Duck's bill shares a similar shape to several dinosaurs found in the fossil record.  A Great Blue Heron sharp reflexes have to have something in common with the dinosaurs of the past.  When I see birds today, I see amazing creatures that share something in common with distant creatures.

The Second thing I think about is the world we lost.  With the wide-range of birds around us what kind of dinosaurs are we missing?  We have several duck-billed dinosaurs, dinosaurs that share forms with dolphins, what else was there?  Was there a woodpecking dinosaur?  And what about the future of birds?  What can future generations expect if their diversity today and their diversity in ancient worlds is as rich as we think?  Better get out birding to figure it all out!

Some Ducks with their Bills and a Gull

Was there a Woodpecking Dinosaur?

American Museum of Natural History - Link
NBC News - link
National Geographic - link

Coming Soon - Hawk Watch! Fall Migrants! and Waterfowl!