Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sparrow Me the Bird Puns

This Weekend was definitely sponsored by the Family of birds called Sparrows.  A couple of trips added a number of sparrows to my year list and even my life list.  Looking for and finding sparrows can be a great challenge for any birder.  Sparrow Identification can be fairly tricky and takes a great eye to distinguish between the different species.  Here are some of the keys I use for sparrow iding:

Breast Color and Streaking -  This can often be difficult to use depending on the glimpse.  However it is important to start distinguishing between clean breasts, streaking, dots and the differences in colors in those.  Remember that streaking can be messy, blotchy, fine or clean.  The Colors on the Breast can be tricky as often contrast can be minimal.  Finding the contrast can go a long way to

Beak - The key here is to look for the color of the beak and whether or not there is one or two colors.  Some sparrows have two colors in their beaks, some have light colored beaks and some have dark colored beaks.  Distinguishing the beak colors can help parcel sparrows apart.

Head - With this I am including the eye, even though some separate the two.  Learning how to id patterns and color of the head is essential.  Chipping Sparrows, White-Throated, White-Crowned, Golden-Crowned Sparrows all have unique heads and one can learn a lot by studying the heads and eyes of sparrows.  Of course, Vesper Sparrows are a famous for their eye ring and Clay-Colored Sparrows are also famous for their signature heads.

Tail -Long or Short, White or Dark, can help you distinguish between different kinds of sparrows.  Knowing how to look at the tail can be a useful tool to distinguishing between common and uncommon sparrows.

Obviously this isn't a scientific list.  This is just the process that I use when I look at Sparrows.  If anyone has any suggestions, I'd love to hear

An Immature White-Crowned Sparrow

Savannah and Song Sparrows

Lincoln's Sparrow, a lifer for me!

A Lark Sparrow, another lifer!

Here are some links to Sparrows by AllAboutBirds and Cornell Lab:
Song Sparrow
White-Throated Sparrow
White-Crowned Sparrow
Lark Sparrow

2013 Year List: 269
Notable Additions

Friday, October 25, 2013

Becoming a Citizen-Scientist

Since signing up for eBird (, being a citizen-scientist has become something that has been increasingly on my mind.  A couple of weeks ago, an opportunity presented itself.  A local New Haven Park, Beaver Ponds Park (link) was look for people to monitor a couple of bird boxes that went up.  The opportunity was one that I did not want to pass up.  The task is simple and the park itself is one that worth spending time in.  The park has received a lot of attention from lots of groups including a very active group of local neighbors.  Seeing the park getting such care and invest makes for a good place for people and birds.

Since I volunteered to monitor some nest boxes, I wanted to get to know the Park and its seasons.  If I want to do the best job I can, this means becoming familiar the park, its birds, and its habits.  Having been to the park, many times before I was excited to return and begin to become reacquainted with the park.  I've seen Least Terns, Green Herons, and American Coot all at this site.  I am hoping to be able to see how the park changes with the seasons and how the birds and other animals adapt to the seasons.  I am going to try to dedicate a blog to the park once a month until July 2014.  This should provide a real good look at the changes in the park.

I want to be able to contribute to the world of birds and birding and this project is one little way that I can help.  While there are lots of people adding their efforts and time to the world of birding and I know that my project is but a small one.  I feel that I do need to contribute beyond just listing on eBird.  Not saying that's not important, but I can apply myself and my skills in other ways.  I intend to do just that so that I can starting giving back to something that has given me so much.  Until then, get outside and bird!

Can you find the Carolina Wren?

Eastern Phoebe

A Soaring Raptor

A Blue Jay

Hairy Woodpecker

2013 Year List: 265

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Book Review: North Atlantic Wildlife

Before I took my pelagic trips this summer, I bought A Field Guide to North Atlantic Wildlife by Noble Proctor and Patrick Lynch, published by the Yale UP in 2005.  The Guide was recommended to me by the Brookline Bird Club ( before I went on one of their pelagic trips.  I have to say that the book has been very useful in almost every regard.  The Plates and the information contained in the book are incredible.  I've attached a plate of the Atlantic Flying fish to provide an example.

The Information in the book about the water of the North Atlantic is invaluable for anyone who wants to do a pelagic trip or know more about want lies beyond the beach.  The information contained in this book makes a useful entry into this world.  The book starts with a oceangraphic overview of the area.  How the different canyons affect the water temperature and what that means for the biology of the North Atlantic.  The book also introduces the history of the region and namely the role that fishing has played in the region.  There the vignette of the history of fishing off of Newfoundland that has rendered that fishery to be in dire straits.  This book provides a great introduction to looking at the geology that shapes the Atlantic Ocean.

The other great thing about this page is the biological information that it provides for the animals and plants of the North Atlantic.  From Leatherback Sea Turtles to Lion's Mane Jelly to Great Shearwater, there are well-written, concise explanations of the habitat, tendencies, and tools to identification of the different animals and plants of the North Atlantic.  This is helpful for anyone working to identify the different creatures they might encounter in this diverse world.  I have to say that since I bought this book, I've found it incredibly useful and take it out with me if I am going on a boat or going to be near the ocean. It is a definite must have for field work, reference, and one's personal understanding of some amazing birds, animals and plants!

Atlantic Flying Fish Plate

The Cover

This book and all images are (C) of Noble Proctor, Patrick Lynch, and Yale University Press 2005

Sunday, October 13, 2013

West Rock, Birds and a Morning Hike

This weekend, I took a hike up a park.  While East Rock is well know to New Haven and Connecticut Birders, West Rock is often forgotten and ignored.  For instance, East Rock has, on ebird(c) 195 species while West Rock sits at 74.  Even the neighboring Edgewood Park also can only boast 102.  But that's how it goes sometime.

So the park was a buzz with birds.  There were lots of birds all over the park.  From the Parking lot to the Rock's Summit, I could hardly take a step without seeing some birds.  Chickadees and Vireos were all over the place.  Jays popped up all over the place.  Nuthatches and Woodpeckers were feasting.  Warblers were singing and kissing the air.  The famous residents of West Rock are Ravens and Peregrine Falcons weren't anywhere to be found.  Perhaps migration has helped them along.  There also Vultures soaring about.  I also found some fox droppings on the trail.  The Park was definitely a haven for all things nature and birds and I can't wait to get back.

While some parks get ignored, it seems that city parks in New Haven are getting more and more attention.  Many people are starting to work harder and harder towards making these parks better and more accessible.  Introducing more native plants and more landscaping with bird-habitat.  It seems that at one time or another, every park in New Haven undergoes positive changes and new plantings, I can't wait to see what they'll do next and what birds will pop up!  I think I might adopt a local park to bird once a week to try and boost the local bird list and appreciate more of New Haven's local parks.  Any feedback on this idea would be appreciated.

Black-Capped Chickadee

Hairy Woodpecker

A Dragonfly

Not West Rock, But a local pond with a Female Northern Shoveler and Euraisan Wigeon!

2013 Year List: 265
Eurasian Wigeon

Friday, October 11, 2013

Nature's Majesty can be found in a Dead Turtle

Nature is certainly majestic.  There is nothing more impressive than the diversity of animals that grace this planet.  Normally I write about birds and while they are impressive creatures in their own right, I had the opportunity to see a washed up leatherback sea turtle carcass.  I heard about the turtle over the birding list-serve and headed down to Milford Point to see this impressive animal.  While I definitely could smell the turtle before I saw it, it was a bit of a bizarre experience to see them in an area so outside of their normal environment.

When I visited the animal, there were several people looking at and standing around it.  They were guessing, asking questions, getting close to the turtle, and just about everything else (without damaging the carcass).  It reminded me of the different historical anecdotes of when sea creatures would be washed up on shores.  People would flock to these events and they would become major events in a locality's history.  Various news outlets have been out cover this turtle's arrival on a Milford shore and standing with my fellow Nutmegers made me feel like I was re-enacting these old medieval gathers while also seeing a truly hidden treasure of nature.  I have to say that while I was sorry to see this animal dead and not alive, I was glad I could share a moment with it.

The Carcass of the Leatherback Turtle

The Carcass from a Distance!

Detail of the shell

Detail of the Head of said Turtle

WTNH Story about the Turtle - Link
National Geographic Page - Link

Monday, October 7, 2013

The World's Scariest Grebe!

Why is the Pied-Billed Grebe the world's scariest?  Because it gives everyone the Pee-Bee-Gee-Bee's!!! While I hate explaining jokes, the bird code of the Pied-Billed Grebe is PBGB which sounds like Hee-Bee-Gee-Bee...  I know, I know, I am shaking my own head.

This weekend, I was lucky enough to find a Juvenile Pied-Billed Grebe this weekend.  This can be a tricky and special bird to find in CT.  It has been listed as a threatened nesting bird and endangered bird in Connecticut.  Seeing one is a great day on any birding walk.  They prefer freshwater ponds and like to quickly dive out of the way when they sense danger.  This makes them hard birds to see and really appreciate.  I guess you could almost say that it is a ghoulish Grebe appearing and disappearing!  I know it is a bit of a stretch, but take a moment the next time to you and enjoy the PBGB wherever you see it!

A Juvenile PBGB in Mondo Pond in Milford

Another view of the PBGB

A Far off PBGB...

2013 Year List: 264 (Migration is beginning to wane)

More info on the Pied-Billed Grebe - Link

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Kingfishers and Woodpeckers

While Kingfishers aren't the prolific migrants that warblers or raptors are, they are still awesome birds and one of my favorites in fact.  Why?  Well, its hard to say, however, as this is a blog, I will attempt to do so.  The only Kingfisher for most of North America is the Belted Kingfisher.  This bird has an impressive beak and an awesome rattling call.  In fact, I have to say that the Belted Kingfisher is just one of the coolest birds around.  Their spiky mane, the cool frosty blue color, and their jet black beak just make this an awesome bird to find around any body of water.  They are also one of the few birds where the female is more brightly colored than the males.  An odd combination but one that makes the world of North American Birds so exciting!

Take the time to enjoy North America's most Common Kingfisher.  Last Winter all the ice forced our resident Kingfishers to leave.  When spaces go quiet they become a bit eerier.  Luckily, the ice melted (thanks global warming!) and the kingfishers returned to my local pond.  While, I don't look forward to the return of ice or snow, I always like to hear the rattling call of the Kingfisher.

A Kingfisher surveying Milford Harbor

Flying across the Water

Can you find the Woodpecker?

2013 Year List: 264
Black-Throated Blue Warbler

The Belted Kingfisher at AllAboutBirds  - Link