Monday, December 27, 2010

A Pre-Blizzard Walk

After securing the boat with extra dock lines, I had a few moments this morning to take a walk in the woods, before the snow started in earnest.
I stopped by a nearby patch of evergreens, to see if these trees were holding any owls, since there has been a number of of Saw-whet and Long-eared Owls, reported thoughout the area recently

It was nice to get lucky this morning, as it took little time to happen upon this Long-eared Owl, perched very much in the open in a spruce tree.

Generally, instead of looking in trees for owls, it is easier to look on the ground for signs that they are around.
In the above picture, the white wash on the ground is bird guano, in this case Saw-whet owl waste.

Owl pellets are another sure sign that they are in the area. 
These are  usually tightly wrapped grey fur balls, that owls will regurgitate after their meal is digested. 
Pellets are the undigestable body parts, (fur, bones) that are left from the owls catch, which can be anything from a mouse, squirrel, to other small rodents, mammals and birds.

Looking above the ground at eyeball height, there is more wash.
This time on the branches, this is where your heart may start pounding, because as you look a little higher in the tree...

...You might see one of these little darlings staring back at you,
the Northern Saw-whet Owl.
Although a few nest in the State, this bird is more of a wanderer or migrant in this area, with most birds being found from late Autumn to early Spring, the same hold true for the Long-eared Owls. 

These are small birds, only eight inches tall, that's smaller than a Robin, a hard find as they blend into their environment and the backround of trees, branches, leaves, vines, cones and more.

The Great Horned Owl is a resident in this area, and are often the most common owl found.
They are large, about twenty-two inches, although they also conceal themselves very well, their size makes them a bit easier to find.
Their prey is also much larger then that of the smaller owls, skunks are on their diet, so if your in a stand of evergreens and you get a whiff of Pepe La Pew, look up, something may be staring back at you.
Other resident owls we have in Connecticut are Barred Owls, Eastern Screech Owls and a handful of Barn Owls.
I didn't see any of them today, although a few may have seen me.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Bird Count by Boat

A boat trip in the winter on Long Island Sound often starts with breaking some ice to get out of the marina.
This mornings Christmas Bird Count  for the Westport Circle was no exception.
With temps in the 20's and little wind in the marina, it almost felt balmy as we were slicing our way thru the ice before finding open water in the harbor.
My friend Chris Bosak was on board to help with the count, we both anticipated a good day and couldn't wait to get out and see what we would find.
Outside the islands, a brisk nor-east breeze is chilling our faces as we make our way to Buoy 24 off  Westport, the seas are getting choppy, and this makes it hard to find birds sitting on the water, especially from a rocking boat.
We soon picked up White-winged Scoter, in small flocks scattered about, I was hoping to find a few thousand, by I knew that would be difficult in these conditions.
A lone gull lifts of the water to our north, white head and tail, very light gray back and a white leading edge on its wings, a Boneparte's Gull, a nice find, a large white object is sitting on the water off to the east, an adult Gannet, we make made our way over to it, it stayed on the water as we closed to 10-15 yards.
Wow I've never been so close to one of these. The bird finally stopped trusting us and flew off to the east.
We counted a hundred Scoter and decided to move in closer to the shoreline, more for safety then anything else. There is no one out here but us, I would feel happier a bit closer to the mainland.
We laugh along the way as spray hits the side of my face and ear, I joke...
 "Chris, you know it's nasty out here when the cold spray warms your face"
There is no warm car to hop into out here.

I could see a bird perched on some driftwood  as we approached Cockenoe Island Bay.
This lone Peregrine Falcone was surveying the beach, well so much for finding shorebirds in this area.
It's mate soon join in and the two flew off towards the Norwalk shoreline.
East White Rock rarely disappoints when it come to Purple Sandpipers, and it came thru again today, in total there were nine of these guys here. This rock wall they are sitting on is near vertical, they hop around it as though they were mountain goats.
Earlier we had a mixed bag of over a hundred assorted Ruddy Turnstones and Dunlin at Copps Island, these in total were all the Shorbs we would see today.
Purple Sandpiper, always one of my favorites.
As we neared Goose Island, Chris spots a seaduck in the choppy waters ahead of the boat, a Common Eider, this species is rarely seen this far west in the sound, my first ever seen from my boat around the islands.
Thanks to a phone call from Nick Bonomo, we  found out we were a bit incorrect at naming this bird,
 this is a King Eider (The Queen as Nick calls it) and not a Common Eider
A still better find.

Another blurry shot of the Female (Queen) King Eider
A Great Cormorant passes us at Goose Island.
This was one of the Osprey nesting sites from this year, its now used as a Cormorant perch 
Of couse we can't forget our Long-tailed Ducks, we easily had over five hundred of these today.
A few of the other species we found today were, Cooper's Hawk, Northern Harrier, Common Loon,
Great Blue Herons to name a few, of course there were the normal, Brant, Canada Geese, Herring and Great Blacked-back Gulls, Black and Mallard Ducks, Gadwall and more.

You may note that I did not post any photos of the up close Gannet and others.
This is because of Photographer Malfunction.
Some day I may learn to manage my camera's settings.
I did the same thing last week and lost all my shots, therefore no blog.
At least I salvaged a few from today.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wildlife Christmas Tree

My wife suggested that this year we move the Christmas Tree from inside the house to the outside, I thought for a moment... "sure let's do that, we can make it a wildlife tree, with all kinds of good eats for the birds"
So come Sunday morning I was out bright and early, bought a tree, went food shopping for some goodies, came home and we both worked on the tree for most of the day.
The Mrs. made a lovely bow to top the tree, right next to the suet.

Stale Italian bread, soaked in bacon fat then dipped in thistle.
Thoughts of Pine Siskens are dancing in my head.
Peanuts are strung with needle and twine.
The Bluejays will have a feast with these.
More bread, this time slathered with peanut butter and dipped in sunflower seed, and hung as an ornament with twine.
Tufted Titmice were after these, moments after they were put up.
Ahh, this tree will be magical!
Strands of cranberries and raisins are necklaced around the tree.
How long before Cedar Waxwings find these?

We tried to string the homemade popcorn, they kept breaking so we balled them in an onion bag.
This is going to be great, this tree is awesome, birds of many varieties will soon come the visit, we can't wait!
It then hits me... what about Rocky and Bullwinkle? How long will this tree last, if a deer finds it?
A few pesky squirrels shouldn't be too much of a problem, no?
OK, so maybe we'll have to refill the tree every few days or so, just as we do with the other feeders.
No problem.
Sunset had now come, we turned on the lights, the tree was beautiful, and all was well.
The following morning sunrise came and the tree was still standing, at least a deer didn't go and get his antlers caught up in the lights. 
I see is movement within the branches, must be a titmouse or junco feeding on the seeds...
The branches are bouncing to much for a small bird, I see gray, but its not feathers, it's fur.
Rocky is engulfing everything he can,  no problem we'll just make more. 

Rocky enjoying the peanut butter and seed bread, in fact he and his crew had just about eaten everything on the tree in less then a hour... stuff that tooks us several hours to make, oh well.
It's the thought that counts, right?
Later in the day as sunset approached, I plugged the lights in.. what the #%&^@  why is the whole top half of the tree not working?
Seems Rocky doesn't know the difference between strands of peanut and strands of LIGHTS!!!
 Thankfully the power was off, so it made for a good laugh.
This morning I just threw the nuts and stuff on the ground just as I always have.
 I'm now hoping these squirrels don't develop a taste for copper wire and plastic insulation, while we still have a few lights left!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday, lunch on the half-shell

A friend of mine has a new visitor in his backyard, an Eastern Screech-owl has taken up residence in a Wood duck nest box in the middle of a pond behind his house.
While I was in the neighborhood, I stopped by for one more look at the Fork-tailed Flycatcher, In Stamford.
This bird is dazzling!
The day was warming nicely, I decided to head for the boat, although there was ice along the shoreline, and the boat, it would soon melt.
As I was cruising out the harbor, I saw a Common Loon diving in a deep hole just off the Shore and Country Club, as I drove over the hole I could see on the depth finder, the reason he was there.
The little speck just off bottom is a small school of Atlantic Herring, I marked a good number of them while going out the harbor, good Loon food, for sure.
Long-tail duck numbers are increasing, with an easy three hundred of these around the islands.
The water is extremely clear this autumn, I can clearly see bottom in ten feet of water, even over muddy areas.
I found these holes all over the bottom inside Cockenoe Is. bay. They look like tiny volcanoes.
I do believe these are Razor Clam beds. 
The only shorebirds I saw today were a few dozen Dunlin scattered about, this one is coming in for a landing.
The White-winged Scoter population is now around one thousand, it was choppy out in the deeper water and difficult to get a good count, I'm sure there were many more.
Some of the other birds I counted were one hundred seventy Red-breasted Mergansers, eighty-five Bufflehead, three Great Cormorants, a few Greater Scaup,  five hundred Brant, and one dark morph
Rough-legged hawk. 

It was now past noon, so with a couple of scraps along the bottom with my clamming tongs, presto instant lunch on the half-shell! 
Bufflehead are back in nice numbers inside the harbor.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

White-winged Scoter

The winds finally dropped to less than gale force today, in fact there was almost no wind at all, nearly flat calm seas, and with the air temps in the low 60's, there was no doubt that I was starting up the old outboard and heading out to the islands.
I had to see if the Scoter have returned to their favored winter hangout just a few miles off the Westport mainland.
I wasn't to be disappointed, barely a half mile South East of Pecks Ledge Lighthouse, I found the first five White-winged Scoter in about thirty feet of water, there were also groups of Common Loon in the area,  a dozen for sure.
I continued out to the area south of Buoy 24, which is a mile South East of Cockenoe Island, Westport.
Sure enough there they were, 25, 50...100...150...200...3-400, more 500, still more 600..with birds now flying in every direction it was time to stop counting.

That is Compo Beach in the background, as a small group of Scoter leave the scene.
Another view, the building in the background is the Nature Center at Sherwood Island State Park, seems close but it is about three nautical miles away. These are all White-winged Scoter, for whatever reason I see very few Surf and Black Scoter in this area, when ten or so miles to the east, off Stratford these other scoter species are seen with regularity
This one was a loner, and had a hard time flying.
This group of males was inshore, off Cockenoe Reef in about ten feet of water, there are aways a few of these birds hanging around the rocks on this reef.
I saw my first seals of the year, near Copps Island.
From a distance I could see three Harbor and one Grey Seal, hauled out.
By the time I finally made my way out there, there was just this one young Harbor Seal left.
They will become regular, especially after the boaters call it a season, in the next week or two.
By the way, I checked my WW Scoter reports from this time period last year, but about a week later then now. My count was 800 in this same area, close to the same numbers, are they the same birds?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Norwalk Cattle Egret

I stopped by Norwalks Veteran's Park this afternoon to have a look around the shoreline, I notice a few dozen gulls sitting on the grass lawn near the southern edge of the park, plus a number of Canada Geese at bit north of them, I pulled into a parking space to get a look at the geese.
My eyes quickly wandered back to the gulls, huh! that's quite a few egrets hanging out with the gulls, small ones too, Snowy's? nah, can't be, Greats? to small...
Holy Cowchips Batman! They are all Cattle Egret, I lift the bins to my eyes and counted, 1, 2, 5, 9...13
Thirteen birds, a really nice number for Norwalk CT, in fact, I had never seen one in Norwalk before.
I've seen  an occasional single bird in Westport and other areas of the state, I thought this was an impressive sight for Norwalk, I drove back home to grab my camera.
Something was missing.. the Cattle? 

When I returned, they were still there. In fact one more joined the group, to make it fourteen.
This one had it's stern (nautical term for rear end) to the wind, makes for a nice feather ruffle
Since they were somewhat scattered about, I couldn't get them all in the same frame.
Cool lineup though?
I still can't fit them into the frame, but here are eleven.
A flight shot, that is the Vet's Park Transient Dock, with Sono Water St. area in the background.

This shot shows the 14 egret in flight, click on it to enlarge.
They were still there when I left around 4:30, feeding on the grass lawn where I originally found them

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Milford Point & Rumps

Recently, there has been a small invasion of these young juvenile Yellow-rumped Warblers, this one was foraging through my backyard compost pile.
When I was fishing off Norwalk and Westport on October 17th, hundreds of these birds were passing me, as I was positioned two miles south of the Connecticut Coastline. All of these birds were heading north  towards the Connecticut coastline, they were flying in from the Long Island area.
My thoughts were that they were blown out to LI from the nor-west gale winds that I fished and discussed from Oct.15-16
Their natural migration is way inland from the coast, but these are young birds, and this is there first southerly migration, they have to find it out all on their own.
You would have to think that these birds flying north across Long Island Sound and finding the mainland, is a great example of their ability to globaly reposition themselves when off course.
(Don't forget to click on these pix to enlarge, some are worthy of it)
I spent a day this week with the crew from CT DEP DIV OF WILDLIFE attempting to capture and band shorebirds at Milford Point. as we did in earlier this year.
There are still many shorebirds around, Dunlin (landing on the outer bar, in the above photo)
Sanderling, Black-bellied and a few American Golden Plover.
A view towards the Sound showed  White-winged Scoter, several Black Scoter, Common and Red-throated Loons, closer in, several American Oystercatchers were still hanging out as were multitudes of 
Double-crested Cormorants.  
The gear was hauled out to the sandbars, the net was set and the explosives ready to fire the net.
Now it's time to sit  and wait for the tide to come in and hopefully push the birds to the pre-planned area.
One hour before the expected shoot, what happens?
A couple of fishermen (a lovely elderly couple, by the way) walk out to the end of the bar to fish, between us and the birds, of course they are warned about the explosives and eagerly stay away from that area.
We sit, we wait...  I have my camera and spend the quiet time photographing anything that moves.
The white chested, light gray backed shorebird in the above photo is a Sanderling.
( click on him, he's really cool)
These birds are common along the CT. coastline in the Autumn, Winter and Spring Months, they are always in flocks, anywhere for a few individuals to thousands.
They do prefer the sandier areas of the coastline.
Nothing like a early afternoon siesta, both these birds are keeping an eye opened for me.
Sanderling in the foreground, Dunlin in the back.
Note the comparison between these two, the Dunlin has a brown mottled chest and brownish head and back.
Both these species are in basic plumage, in alternate (breeding plumage) they have a totally different look.
Much more red/rufous coloring on the head and back, plus the Dunlin grows a very black belly patch.

The Mute Swan, an elegant bird, a favorite of many people.
It is an introduced species from Europe, but often upsets the balance of nature in North America.
In local ponds it will push out all native species of nesting waterfowl, including Mallards, Wood Duck, Teal,
Black Duck and others, it is very territorial and protects its adopted nesting area from many native species.
But they are pretty?
A nice mixed bag of mostly Sanderling and Dunlin.
Perhaps one of my last Osprey photo of the year, as these birds have been migrating south for a few months now, many to as far away as Latin and, South America .
This bird could be spending this winter in Suriname, Guatemala or Brazil to name a few.
Oh by the way, we never did get a chance to shoot off the net, to band the birds, sometimes it's just
 Natures Way.