Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Quit Grousing Around

I've written on the Unicorn effect several times in this blog.  But the thrill of the hunt and ecstasy of victory are simply too much to ignore.  For a long time, ground birds presented me with great difficulty.  The problem here in the Northeast is that several populations are declining and some have been expatriated from the region.  For those that remain, several enjoy being secretive and elusive.

Many more people hear Grouses in Connecticut than see them.  They are fans of the second growth forests and for a while that was an uncommon environment in Connecticut.  They are most often heard and not seen.  People can often hear the drumming in the distance.  That's the best way to find them around a forest.  Finding them in Connecticut can be a challenge but a worthwhile one.

As some of you know, I placed them on my list of goal birds for this year.  Hearing them drum and then finding them in the open was a real thrill.  It is often such a thrill to see awesome birds in the wild.  I can't help but be more and more excited for the next adventure!  In meantime, get outside and go birding!

The Grouse crossing the Road

The Grouse kept his eye on me...

And then left giving me some great shots!

Wild Bird Wednesday - Link here

Ruffed Grouse is a 2014 Goal Bird

AllAboutBirds -  Ruffed Grouse

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Book Review: The Thing with Feathers

A new book has come out recently about the amazing world of birding.  Noah Strycker's new book The Thing with Feathers does a good job of beginning to explore the wonderful world of birds and our human affinity with them.  The book is designed around talking about different aspects of different birds and our human understanding of them.  In many ways, the book hopes to address our images of birds as "bird brains" and start thinking about them as highly complex members of our natural world.  The essays throughout the book do a great of illustrating how amazing the natural is.  Feats of strength, endurance, and intelligence fill this book and all the while help encourage us to become better members and observers of the natural world.  This is a great read and one that I highly recommend for anyone who loves nature, birds, or understanding more about what they see!

I've picked 3 of my favorite stories and scroll to the bottom for some words of wisdom by the author!

Pigeons and Migration - we all know the amazing power of birds on migration.  Strycker encounters a racing pigeon in Oregon and this leads to contemplations and examinations of migrations across the birding world.  Migrations are one of the more truly amazing aspects of the birding world.  Strycker does a good job of outline the wonders and feats that some of our feather friends undergo to reach their nesting grounds and their wintering grounds.

Nutcrackers - This was my favorite chapter.  I've mentioned it to friends and other birders alike. Strycker does a good job illustrating how smart these birds are and how we've gone to great lengths to discover it. I also think we've globe to great lengths to ignore their intelligence but that's another story. this chapter is an enlightening read that does well to introduce the reader to done of the teal bord brains out there.

Hummingbirds - Hummers are amazing creatures. Their stamina, feats of strength, and capacities are easily some of their hallmarks. Burr we don't often imagine these tiny pollenators as fierce competitors and survivalists. Strycker opens us to a whole new way of seeing these tiny competitors. Looking beyond these beautiful and tiny birds, keen observers can find the laws of nature fiercely at work. Hummers are definitely amazing birds that merit more observation and consideration from us as more than a cute little birds that subsist on nectar (also not true)
(C) Noah Stryker and Riverhead Press

Noah Strycker out in the Field

Some words from Author Noah Strycker!

Look! A Seagull - Your style captures your observations quite well.  What do you think is the key to making good observations?

Noah Strycker - The key to good observations - of anything, birds included - is patience and passion. Nobody makes good observations when they're bored. Luckily, birds are fascinating creatures!

LAS - The book centers around essays and adventures.  What would you have liked to include that you didn't?

NS - This book only touches a few highlights of bird behavior. I could only feature 13 out of 10,000+ bird species in the world - and there are so many more stories I would have loved to include! Someday, I will make it to Africa (the only continent I haven't visited yet), and learn the stories of the birds there.

LAS - What birding adventure are you planning next?

NS - I'll be spending this summer in Svalbard, an isolated archipelago about 1,000 miles north of the tip of Norway, as a naturalist guide on several adventure expeditions. Polar bears are the main draw there for most people, but, personally, I'm looking forward to the Ivory Gulls ;)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hello Old Friend, Migration Begins

The first signs of migration are abound.  If you subscribe to an email list or alert, you will know that is true.  More and More passerines are arriving as the waterfowl are disappearing.  It is kind of like seeing an old friend when you see a migrant bird that has returned.  I was happy to see that the Piping plovers have returned to the Northeastern Coast.  Seeing them is a great reminder that spring is on its way.

It is also a reminder of how fragile nature can be.  Our natural world is constantly at risk and changing.  Piping Plovers and American Kestrels are two beautiful examples of threaten birds in Connecticut.  Both are suffering due to the loss of habitat along with other issues.  But habitat loss seriously affects these birds.  Plover nest on the beach and Kestrels on open fields.  These are highly prized spaces for development and the birds are the ones who lose their habitat.

This is my Earth Day post of asking you to just be a little more aware of these key and diminishing habitats.  So try to find some time to take a walk through a field or one the beach and try to imagine new ways that we can co-exist and share space with the great diversity species of the world.  Enjoy birding and go birding!

Say Goodbye to the Northern Pintails...

Say Hello to Piping Plovers, a Species of Concern here in CT...

...and American Kestrels

Connecticut DEEP Links
Piping Plover Fact Sheet - Link Here
American Kestrel Fact Sheet - Link Here

Friday, April 18, 2014

An Evening with Wilson

John James Audubon gets all the press.  His Birds of America is indeed an amazing artistic, scientific, and naturalist endeavor.  But Before Audubon, there was a Scot named Alexander Wilson.  The book about Wilson is truly a must read for any fan of the history of birding.  For one it contains Wilson's own commentary on the Birds he discovered in North America and how he came here.  The book contextualizes the life of the man and how he changed or revolutionized American Birding (and birding across the world).  Wilson was an activist and poet in his native Scotland, which was the reason for his dismal and eventual migration to the US.  

A great read!

(C) Harvard UP and Edward Burtt and William Davis

Monday, April 14, 2014

Night Birds and Sounds

Video Taken 3/31

In the search for an American Woodcock, the best time to go is at night.  While you can't see them you can hear them.  Finding a woodcock in the day can be hard, they are secretive quiet and like dense wood with lots of leaf cover.  They have the prefect camouflage for their environment as well and well adapted to it.  They have these great long beaks that are perfect for grabbing worms and grubs.  Despite being a shorebird, American Woodcocks are perfectly adapted to life in the middle of forests and leave piles.

If the Woodcock is so well hidden and hard to find, how does one go about seeing them?  Well, there is always the option of stumbling upon one by chance.  Most of the time, they are found by being flushed from a trail or a good grub eating spot.  But the best way to get a woodcock on your list is to hear them at night.  In early spring, at dawn or duck, you can go to a open field near some woods and hear the distinctive peent calls that males give during their flight displays to attract females.  I've captured some of these on video over the years, so please enjoy my clip and get out and go birding!

File:American Woodcock Scolopax minor.jpg
An American Woodcock in Montreal (C) guizmo_68

AllAboutBirds American Woodcock Entry - Link Here

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday

Monday, April 7, 2014

Say Hello to My Little Gull Friend

This weekend, Connecticut was gifted with the arrival of a Little Gull.  Well, arrival implies that there was only one Little Gull around, turns out that the CT Shoreline is playing host to as many as 3 Little Gulls.  Little Gulls are one of the few times where the name is 100% appropriate for the bird.  The Little Gull is indeed the world's smallest gull.  While the vast bulk of the Little Gulls breed in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, they do have a few small and scattered colonies in Ontario.  The Little Gull prefers to eat insects and anything it can find on the surface of the water. This makes it similar to the Ross's Gull and the Bonaparte's Gull.

But that has little bearing on how the LIGU got to CT's coastline and how it was found.  Earlier in the week, one had been spotted in Stratford by a local birder.  So the probability was high that another would be close.  So when one was spotted Saturday Afternoon, I had to rush over to see it.  Unfortunately I was in the middle of a food shopping trip so the poor cashier had to work through my twitching and looking at my phone.  By the time I got over to Stratford, The bird had of course flown away.  Also by the time I got there, a small cadre of birders had joined up to find the gull.  It was great to see several birders at the lookout but it was also fun to see lots of people interested in what we were doing.  While most were confused by the notion of a "Little Gull" Aren't they all little?  Most seem excited to hear about this wayward Eurasian Gull and hoped that we find it

People came, people left, and a few relocations later, we found the bird flying about with a group of about 800 Bonaparte's Gulls.  How do you find a Little Gull amongst 800 Bonnies?  First thing to look for are the dark underwings.  That is the distinguishing mark of a Little Gull.  Which means that most time Gulling is spent minor details and poring over leg and eye colors and hoping that the birds stay still, in the search for a Little Gull, you can do those things, but you are also excited when they take off because then you can see the wings!

I could go on and on.  But instead I will say that the best thing to do when looking for wayward gulls and birds is to look in the field, study books at home, and look in the field!  Until the time, Get out and go birding!

The Little Gull flying away with many other gulls RBGU and BOGU

The Little Gull Closer Up, notice the dark underwings

AllAboutBirds Profile on the Little Gull - Link here

RSPB Profile on the Little Gull - Link here

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Once again in Texas

We made a quick stop in Texas last weekend.  Texas is famous for being a great spot to bird and enjoy.  The people and the food are also top quality.  While our main purpose there wasn't to bird we did manage to sneak some in.  We visited a couple of great parks and saw many great birds along the way!  I can't wait to go back to Texas and do some serious birding instead of just fitting it in when and where I can!

We visited two great parks.  Hornsby Bend and St. Edwards Park.  Both are in Travis County and both are great parks with a great diversity of habitat and wildlife.  While we dipped on some Texas endemics and specialties, I can't wait to go back and bird the Lone Star State!  Maybe next time, McAllen or El Paso.  What are your ideas?

During our visits to  Austin and Bastrop in Texas, I managed to pick up 3 life birds:
Crested Caracara
Black-Crested Titmouse
Eurasian Collared Dove

We also got any year birds that we wouldn't normally expect to get in New England
Black-Chinned Hummingbird
Spotted Towhee
Bewick's Wren
White-Winged Dove
Lesser Goldfinch
Black-Chinned Hummingbird

Great-Tailed Grackle

Eurasian Collard Dove

American Coots with a running Take off!

Blue Winged Teal

Bewick's Wren

Total Birds in Texas in 2014: 42
Year Birds: 152 (73 to go!)
Life List 335 (65 to go!)