Friday, February 28, 2014

The Empire Shrikes Back

To many birding puns?  NEVER

During this past trip to Minnesota, we dipped out on seeing a Golden Eagle and a Townsend's Solitaire.  Either would have been a life bird for me.  But we got great looks at a Northern Shrike...

Shrikes are interesting birds as they are fierce predatory song birds.  Northern Shrikes have stark colors that make them great inhabitants of northern territories.  Like most birds, they are great listeners and Northern Shrikes have the capacity to mimic or ape the calls of other song birds to bring them out it the open.  They can grab and catch small mammals and hawk insects in the air.  Versatile hunters make for successful hunters.

The Back of the Northern Shrike

A Profile of the NOSH

The Northern Shrike in Flight with Prey

Seeing the Shrike hunt, kill, and carry off its prey was just awesome.  The sailed across and through brambles of the roadside and just pounced on its prey.  You can't help but be impressed by the small shrike's ability to hunt.  Until the next time, go birding!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Prairie Home Visits

For the past few days, my wife and I visited southeastern Minnesota.  While we didn't pick any life birds, we did see some awesome birds.  Most people visit Minnesota and go north to see the Sax-Zim Bog, we did not.  While it is a site that we definitely want to go see, we just didn't have the time during this trip.  Hope
fully next time!  We did visit two awesome sites that were definitely worth the visit.  Oxbow Park and Quarry Hill and the Whitewater State Park and Wildlife Management Area.

Oxbow Park yielded some great looks at some Minnesotan Black-Capped Chickadees which are pretty big compared to the Connecticut BCCHs.  We also got a look at some WBNH and a Rusty Blackbird that was hanging out with some sturdy American Robins. Link Here

Whitewater State Park and WMA - This was definitely the most exciting place we stopped at.  Before I write any more, let me give a shout out to the Minnesota State Park Naturalists.  Their attention to our query (about the golden eagle) was answered and they told about atoll the other boss we could see and enjoy as well.  We missed out on the Golden Eagle and Townsend's Solitaire, we did get to see Bald Eagles and some very active Northern Shrikes.  Even the drive to the Whitewater was productive.  We picked up a ton of horned larks, Turkeys, and even got to see an American Kestrel hunting in thesnow covered farm land.
I look forward to the next time we can come back to the Land of 10000 Lakes.  They have done a great job in protecting a lot of their environment  and open farmland.  Link Here.

Until the next time, get outside and go birding!

A Gaggle of Turkeys in Oxbow Park

The Chickadees were huge in Minnesota.

Horned Larks getting a jog in as they search for food

A Juvenile Wild Turkey joining in on the fun of running

2014 Year Birds: 122
Notable Additions:
American Kestrel
Northern Shrike (Subject of our next blog)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Coastal birding

The Beach in Winter

How cold is it?  Just ask this puffed up Mockingbird!

This weekend, my wife and I went in search of Snowy Owls.  While we were thwarted by the fact that the big white owls are superstars of hiding and stealth, we did get some great views of birds this weekend.  Savannah Sparrows, Gulls, Black Ducks, Horned Grebes, Common Loons, one Common Eider, and some surfing Brant.  We visited Avery Point which is one to a UConn Campus that focuses on marine science and biology.  It is quite a trip to be looking for birds among buoys, rigs, boats, and lighthouses.  If you are ever birding in eastern Connecticut, a trip to Avery Point is definitely a fun and nice visit.

The visit was definitely worthwhile.  I was able to add 2 birds to my year list.  Horned Grebe and Common Eider.  The Points rugged coastline provides for lots of opportunities to see some great sea ducks.  I had never had the ability to appreciate the chestnut tones of the Common Eider.  Usually the males stark black and white get all the attention.  But seeing the juvenile Eider was a great opportunity to enjoy this awesome sea duck.  I have to remind myself that while I may be cold all bundled up, Eiders find their homes and flourish in some of the harshest and coldest environments on the planet.  Their down is renowned for trapping heat and keeping others warm worldwide.  Until the next time, get outside and go birding!

Sparrow in silhouette

Common Eider

Horned Grebe

Horned Grebes and a female Red-Breasted Merganser

My Own drawing of a Common Loon in Winter Plumage since you all seemed to enjoy my drawings

2014 Year List: 120 (130 to go!)
Common Eider
Horned Grebe

CT Year List: 115 (110 to go!)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Snow Day, Art Day

How to spend a snow day?  Well, without a feeder nearby and low visibility, I decided to use my time as productively as possible.  Grade?  Nope.  Sort through photos and make edits?  Well, that too, but I dedicated some time to drawing and studying bird diagrams and photos and making my own sketches.  While there is no substitute for being in the field and making astute and well reasoned and guided observations, I learned a lot making my sketches and drawings.  Being stuck inside meant that I had to turn to some of the greats out there.  I poured over books, images, and even resorted to using Google Images (c) to find some good images to practice learning the bird form:

How I spent a snow day in Connecticut:

Practicing Parts of a Gull found in Kaufmann's Advanced Birding Guide

Iceland Gull in Dunn's Peterson's Gulls of America

Benches on Whitney Ave in New Haven, CT

Bonaparte's Gull after a photo found on

What do you think of these drawings?  While I can't honestly say that I'd trade a day outside for one inside, it is important not to waste any time being frustrated with the weather.  Until next time!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Mind the Grassland Birds

One of the most troubled environments in the US and across the world are flat grasslands.  Why?  Grasslands are hard to maintain.  Grasslands are fertile spaces for growing and eventually trees colonize and take over.  This is of course a better alternative than when people buy the grassland and turn it into a development.  The Native Americans of the Southwest and other regions used to practice ritual burns of certain mesas to maintain the open grasslands.  Currently, open grasslands are threatened all over the world as people see them as easy spaces to convert into profitable projects.  That makes protecting them all the more important.

Every winter, we get Horned Larks visiting an opening grass parking lot in Hammonasset State Park.  I love finding these guys and seeing them fly around.  They have a great color scheme and super cool horns. Finding them in the open grass can be quite mercurial as they flutter, land, and often flutter again.  You have to look and understand the landscape and how it ebbs and flows before you can look for the birds.

Once you get a good feel for the land, you can find the birds.  Their motions will be easier to pick up once you know what's alive and fluttering instead of what's alive and being moved by the wind.  Grass after all is alive too.  Once you solve that, you can find yourself some Horned Larks and then some of the other residents of grasslands.  In the winter, that means Snow Buntings, Lapland Longspurs or other Longspurs.  In the Spring, Summer, and Fall, you can find migrating sparrows, Bobolinks, and Pipits.  Until the next time, get up and go outside!

Horned Larks in the open Grass

Can you find them???

A nice close-up

Easier to find them in the Snow!

A shot of a Horned Lark flying

Horned Lark - Click Here

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Winter at the Beach

In the Winter, edge habitat is at a premium.  Lakes are frozen, snow covered brush areas, and harsh winds make life very difficult.  At least for people who don't wear thermal underwear.  Birds have no issue with their amazing feathers and take advantage of their adaptations to find food and flourish in these conditions.  Spending time on the beach this winter with these amazing birds exposes the life and struggles in this tough areas.

What might you expect to see on the beach?  Typical things include peeps, gulls, and raptors with a scattering of song birds.  While the Color-scheme might seem a bit repetitive, there is a lot of life and color to enjoy.  There's a lot of activity if you know where to look.

Sanderlings are always running with the tide.  They are always grabbing a slipper snail or crab or something.  This last time I was out, I notice a particular occurrence.  Sanderlings would grab a snail or crab only to be forced to abandon their catch or fight off from the hungry and aggressive Gulls around.  The gulls were flying about smashing their food whether it is their own or stolen from the Sanderlings.

Raptors fly about.  Many raptors use stealth and surprise as their greatest weapons, but the raptors I saw today were harriers.  And harriers hunt.  You can see it in the way they fly and soar.  They are scoping out the ground and environs looking for their meal.  Seeing them fly and hunt is a real joy.  In my last outing, I was lucky enough to be at a site to see 5 Northern Harriers.  I can't wait to go out and find what else is surviving and flourishing!

A Gull eating by dropping

Gulls and Sanderlings

A Northern Harrier flying across a marsh

A Large 2-cycle Iceland Gull

2014 Year List: 118
CT Year List: 113
Notable Additions:
Wild Turkey
Snow Bunting
Black-Bellied Plover

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ethics of Photo Manipulation

There was an article recently published by Audubon Magazine (C) about the nature of nature photography.  The article posed the question about what are the limits of digital manipulation.  Since the article's publication, my wife and I have been discussing what is the point and goal of Nature photography.  Is it to document?  Is to connect with nature?  Or is it just a hobby?  Of course, which question you choose to answer influences and tells you a bit about how you think nature photography.

IS IT TO DOCUMENT?  Of course, documentation is a clear point of photography and of nature photography.  Everyone wants to grab the perfect shot and the perfect moment that captures the light, movement, and subject in the best ways.  For me, this is of key importance.  Capturing what we see and how we see it are of paramount importance to me.  Part of my drive since entering the birding world has been to document the different species that I've seen.  But does this take away from a sighting if I can't see or if the sighting is brief or impossible to photograph?  Not at all, but the urge to record has driven people to great lengths around the world.

IS TO CONNECT WITH NATURE?  Photographs are just another way to connect with nature.  If connecting with nature is the goal, then artistic expression is a part of eliciting human connectivity with nature.  Photography is definitely a wonderful art medium and can connect people to the natural world and the larger human world.  In this case, digital manipulation is a great and useful tool to improving quality and adding depth to images.  For the viewer and the photographer, connections can be a great incentive to continue taking photographs!

OR IS IT JUST A HOBBY?  Well, this is a much tougher question and one that I don't necessary have an answer too.  So instead enjoy some photos.  How would you manipulate these photos or not?

Link to Audubon Magazine Article: Click Here

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Roughing the Birder!

Flag on the play.  Roughing the birder.  Loss of 5 yards.  Repeat 3rd down!

Not quite the call you'd hear on field today for the Super Bowl.  But cold weather can be rough on birders.  So when Connecticut's Weather was going to hit mid to high 40's I made sure to get out and about!   I dipped on the Mew Gull that had been seen in Southbury, so I won't bore you with that story.  Long story short, I am now more than familiar with Ring-Billed Gulls than I was before.  

Yesterday morning, I got to add a couple birds to my state, year and even life list.  The Rough-Legged Hawk, a smallish buteo of marshs, was something that had eluded me during the winter.  I finally got to add this magnificent buteo to my life, state, and year list.  We found the RLHA in the area of the park called the sparrow lanes.  This also allowed us to spend some time look at and practice identifying sparrows.  At first we were just seeing American Tree and Song Sparrows.  Then we got two lucky birds.  An Eastern Meadowlark flew in and then we found a Chipping Sparrow!  Great Day of birding, even without a Mew Gull...

Rough-Legged Hawk over looking Silver Sands SP

A Close up shot

Can you find the Grey Ghost?

Rabbit Tracks in the Snow

2014 Year List: 115 (135 to go)
CT Year List: 110 (115 to go)
Notable Additions:
Eastern Meadowlark
Cackling Goose
Rough-Legged Hawk (A Lifer)

Life List: 329! (71 to go!)