Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Thrush for the Ages

Sometimes you encounter a bird you never expect to.  A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky to see a Grey-Cheeked Thrush here in Connecticut.  The bird was in a local park and had popped up in front of me and a friend.  I had never seen one before and my mind went racing when I first saw it.

Swainson's Thrush? No, couldn't be.  Doesn't have enough color in the throat to be a Swainson's.  Does it have an eye ring? No... Ok, so it probably is not...

Veery?  Not brown enough.  Also, these trees don't seem right.  A Veery passing through possibly.  But the Brown isn't right and the throat is too plain...

Hermit Thrush? The Color is all off...Maybe this is a Grey-Cheeked Thrush

Bicknell's Thrush?  Can't tell until it vocalizes... Oh there it goes!  Perfect

I've got myself a Grey-Cheeked Thrush!  A new Life Bird.  Enjoy a photo of the bird.  Until the next time, get outside and Go Birding!

Grey-Cheeked Thrush at AllAboutBirds - Link Here

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

On Winged Flight

Swallows and swifts are two birds that enjoy most of their lives on the wing.  Meaning that their capacities for flight are impeccable.  Some of these birds can only eat on the wing and some can even sleep on the wing (so the rumor goes...).  These birds are simply put awesome visitors to our environments.  I've been lucky enough to be a Tree Swallow Nest Monitor for a local Park Group and Audubon Connecticut IBA.  Being a Nest Monitor means that you get a real close up view of a birds nest.  It also means that you get buzzed a lot by Tree Swallows.  I am hoping that consistently doing this over the next few weeks will mean that the tree swallows will eventually recognize me and will buzz me less.

Some fun Facts about Swallows:

For many years, people and ornithologists believed that swallows would borrow into river banks to hibernate.  Today, we have tracked their migrations as far as south America.  Some appear to have flown through the day and night!  Do these birds possess the capability to sleep in flight?  or can they, like dolphins, shut off part of their brain?

The vast Majority of Purple Martins live in Human made habitats.  Why you ask?  Supposedly Native Americans discovered the fact that Purple Martins like to nest in dying Gourds.  At the same time, they discovered that the Purple Martins ate a lot of the insects that would otherwise threaten the crops.  They also also protected the crops and fields from Crows.  So Wins all around for the Martins and the Native Americans.

These birds are also among the hardest to photograph.  I was going to include a picture of Chimney Swifts, but they all come out blurry or too tiny to really appreciate the bird.  Chimney Swifts are also a struggling species due to habitat loss and the growing unpopularity of Chimneys (no joke).  Many people are opting to cap their Chimneys and this has resulted in a massive decrease in where Chimney Swifts can nest and their successful broods.

Bank Swallows nest along side the Banks of rivers, not in commercial Banks :) Couldn't resist.  

Here's a tip when it comes to IDing Swallows.  Learn how to do it without your bins.  Take time to appreciate their colors and shape with your naked eye before you start chasing them around with your bins on.  Enjoy their acrobatic antics and make observations and use your bins to verify details and colors.  Until the next time, get out side and go birding!

What do you think about our winged friends who soar instead of dart?

Tree Swallow sitting on a Nest Box

Northern Rough-Winged Swallow flying over water

Purple Martins in and out of Gourds

Bank Swallow over a River

Wild Bird Wednesday - Link Here

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Nesting Season

ETHICAL DISCLOSURE: These nests were minimally disrupted.  I did not touch the tree with the nest nor move and nor harass the nest or birds.  If Parent Bird was close, I did not approach.  When Parent approached, I ceased my activities and left the scene.  In short, I aimed to respect the space of the birds and their chances at breeding.

Birds breeding powers their migration, courtship rituals, and plumage.  While we may dream about seeing the amazing breeding grounds of the tundra or the rainforest, our local birds aren't too shabby.  We just need to know where to look and how to look.  Finding nests is kind of like finding a pot of gold.  You can get a real intimate view of the bird.  But here are some thoughts on the ethics and moral dilemmas of looking at and photographing Nests.

#1 - Do Not Anger Mom and Pop - Pissing off parents can be a dangerous proposition.  You don't want to scare them off their nesting duties and you don't want to draw attention to the nest.  If you have to make too much motion or commotion, you might really endanger the nest

#2 - Do Not Disturb the Tree/Shrub/Ground - Different birds have different nesting strategies and its important to know them so you don't disturb them.  Knowing where birds like to build their nests also makes it easier to find them!

#3 - Take only Memories - Don't gather a memento of your encounter with a bird nest.  It is against the Migratory Bird Act to take nests and also detrimental to the birds themselves.  

Enjoy the many activities of our breeding feathered friends!  What are your favorite encounters with a nest and breeding birds?  Share in the comments below and until next time!

Northern Flicker in Nest

American Redstart on the Nest

Yellow Warbler Nest

Eastern Phoebe Nest

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday - Link here

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Non-Birding Post

To say that a birder spends a lot of time outside is a bit of an understatement.  Ask the birder and I  bet they'll say that they don't spend enough time outside.  Over this migration I've collected a few non-birding photos that I thought I would share with you.

American Bull Frog

Amphibians are important species in the natural world.  They are important sources of food for many birds from herons to egrets to hawks.   They are also important indicators of the health of an ecosystem.  Since Amphibians have such a permeable skin, populations really suffer with pollution and run-off.  That means that ecosystems with a lot of pollution will have an unhealthy population of amphibians.  Frogs, toads, and salamanders are also pretty cool looking animals as well.  Take a look around for them next time you are outside!

Painted Turtle

Turtles are also great animals to run into.  They are definitely awesome and prehistoric creatures.  My wife and I were lucky enough to see a gopher tortoise in Okefenokee Swamp.  Sadly those pictures are lost to a faulty card reader.  In the mean time, make sure to be on the look out for these reptiles.  Besides, a recent taxonomic change moved them closer birds!

Pink Lady Slippers

Who shouldn't take a moment and enjoy the smell of the flowers.  Pink Lady Slippers are one of the orchids native to the Northeastern US.  They are beautiful plants and one that reminds us all to take a moment and look at the flowers around us.  Pink Lady Slippers and all sorts of others are around to help us enjoy nature all the more.

Leopard Slug

This alien mollusk is at home across the Eastern US.  Slugs are great reminders of the vast diversity of life that we can and should expect to see in our parks.  Without biodiversity, nature would become drab.  At least for a while.

What are your favorite non-bird creatures and plants to observe?

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday - Link here

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Flycatchers in My Soup

Colorful warblers bounce from tree limb to tree limb.  Raptors soar and fly with amazing precision.  Waterfowl zip across the surface of the water and dive and dabble for their food.  Flycatchers just sit there and confuse me.  Peter Dunne has been often quoted as saying that the best tool to identifying flycatchers (in particular empids) is humility.  They are a difficult group to figure out but they can provide for joy and a better understanding of the natural world.

Flycatchers lead to better understanding of habitat.  In fact, one should always consider habitat when thinking about flycatchers, especially empids.  If you aren't examining the habitat, you are missing a key fact about how to identify all flycatchers.  Both eastern and western North America have an flycatcher species that look similar and only habitat and call can distinguish them.

Flycatchers are also helpful to helping birders learn how to distinguish calls.  In fact, calls are one of the most reliable ways to distinguish between Willow and Alder Flycatchers.  Don't be daunted by the task.  Learning to really listen to songs is a valuable key and tool for any birder.  Flycatcher provide a excellent chance to learn how to better id birds and become a better birder.

Thank the flycatchers and especially the empids for the challenge they provide that help us become better birders and a better appreciation of the natural world.  Until the next time, get outside and go birding!

Backlight Great Creasted Flycatcher

Can you find the Eastern Kingbird nest?

Olive Sided Flycatcher

Willow Flycatcher
Wild Bird Wednesday - Link Here