Friday, April 30, 2010

CT Council of Environmental Quality Annual Report

A few weeks ago , I was surprised to receive an e-mail from Karl Wagener. Executive Director ,

of The State of Connecticut's, Council of Environmental Quality, asking if they could use one of my photos for their 2009 Annual Report.

I was more than pleased to accommodate them with a photo of a Wilson's Storm Petrel from July 13 2009

This specie's is an oceanic (pelagic) wanderer that occasionally graces western Long Island Sound with it's presence in the summer months.

Deep water fisherman refer to these birds as "Jesus Christ" birds for their apparent ability to be able to walk on water, as shown in this photo.

Please check out the CT CEQ site, for their newly released report,
it is a wealth of information as to what is happening in our own backyards.
Click on the "annual report" on the right near the petrel photo, for the info.
Get involved!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Stranded on Chimmons Island

I woke up this Sunday morning, looked out the blinds, saw dark grey skies and rain, I returned to my bed, tossed the covers over my head and caught up on some sleep.

After an added hour of sleep, I watched the news and weather forecast, checked out the Internet and made some breakfast.
Gleniss, my wife asked me what I was going to do this afternoon?
I replied that I didn't know, maybe I'll go out on the boat, but the forecast was for 15-20 knot winds out of the East, not a comfortable day on the water.

I stopped and purchased a Norwalk Clamming Permit, yes I could now taste my fresh homemade Linguine with red clam sauce, lots of garlic, oregano, parsley, evoo, the best!
With clamming tongs tossed over my shoulder I walked down the ramp to my boat, started the engine, untied the docklines and was off.

It was 1:30 and I had plenty of time before the 3:45 low tide for clamming, I decided to try to check a few areas out for nesting birds. The first was the Osprey pair on Channel marker 1 in Norwalk Harbor, this are the pair that have never produced offspring, as I edge closer to this site I see how large the nest has grown in the past week, and "lo and behold" she is sitting on the nest, this is a first! In the past years they built their nest and both of them just looked at it for the whole nesting season, I think they finally have it together. Good for them.

As I near the end of the harbor and protection of land I feel the easterly winds and realize a trip to Goose or Cockenoe Islands for a count will not happen today as the seas are on the nasty side. I decide to go to the west side of Chimmons, to get out of the wind. I ram the bow of the boat on the beach the best I could so that I could hop off the boat and not get wet.
With binoculars, camera and a raincoat I jump to the beach and set the anchor in the sand, half way up to the high tide line.

If I walk over to Crow Island Bar, I can get some nice fresh steamer clams, then the thought occurs to me, my pitch fork and garden claws are home, I remember I'm still planting a garden at home,
Oh well, I take a walk down to the bar, I see a late pair of Red-breasted mergansers sitting on a rock, a few dozen Brant feeding along the shoreline, a handful of gulls and a pair of Oystercatchers, there is no rain and the skies look dry so I walk around a bit more, time goes by and I remember the tide is still falling, I head back to the boat and of course it is high and dry.

I now know that I will be on the island for a few hours so I decide to take a walk around the island, I think this island is around 70 acres, I should be back around the time the boat is floating again, off I go, I will let the pictures tell the story.
You can click to enlarge these pictures if you wish.

Memoriam to Stewart B. McKinney

Old Farming Cultivator

Remains of barge that I remember for the 50's
and early 60's, this is on the NW side of the island.

High and Dry!

I have a different attitude for these geese, they
are the truly wild ones, that want no part of
Golf courses, State or local parks, or green lawns.
This bird is not banded and is not sitting on a nest, just
relaxing, I accidentally found his mate later.

Many of these small tidal pools are on the SW
section of the island, crabs and small fish become captured
in these pools as the tides recede, making these pools
an oasis for feeding birds such as egrets and gulls.

I walked the entire island hoping to find a Piping Plover or two.
Then I remembered the islands raccoon population.
No plover, but I did find a pair of nesting Killdeer.

There were a fair number of these caterpillar nest
around the island

Old 8 cylinder engine on north side of island,
could have been from a shipwreck or from farm equipment.

There were plenty of mockingbirds on the island,
other species that were plentiful were robins,
common grackle, red-winged blackbirds, starlings
and song sparrows.

A view from the northshore of Chimmons.
That is Peck's Ledge Lighthouse in the back round,
with Cockenoe Is. behind it and to the left.
The nearby island to the right is Grassy Is.

There are many remnants of shipwrecks on this island.
If this piece of wood and rusted bolts could only speak.
I'm sure it would have a colorful tale.

The shoreline is covered with just about
everything you could possibly imagine.

Even an old shoe!

This awesome rock is on the SE corner, it is about
4ft x 4ft and was perfectly split, I'm sure by ice.
Glaciers deposited this rock during the last ice age
10-20 thousand years ago.

One of the many boulders on Chimmons Is.
This is on the south side, that is Copps Is. in the back round

This can marked "T" was near Goose Is all winter,
the March storms washed it up in Chimmons.
It had a good fifty feet of anchor chain attached.
Anybody own it?

This unique tree on the south shore has most of its
northerly roots exposed, with no apparent roots in any other direction.
It was spectacular.

I even found the kitchen sink!

I didn't see the mate to the previously mentioned
Canada Goose until I unknowingly almost walked upon
her as she was well hidden above the high tide line.
She flew off, I snapped a shot and left quickly.
Before leaving I reached down to pull the anchor out of the sand,
I notice a few white spots on my left sleeve,
the size of a quarter, somewhere on this island a bird high
above me had good aim.
I thought of it as a badge of honor to this incredible island, which has a history that can only be captured in a book, not in this blog. I hope to be back out here soon.
As for the clams, I will wait for another day.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Norwalk Islands, a bird nesting haven

It's April 15th and time to cruise the Norwalk Islands again,
to get a good count as to what is coming and what is going.
At 10:00 this morning, I met Chris Bosak and David Parks at the boat, the plan was to survey all the osprey nest sites in the Norwalk Islands and surrounding shoreline.

The Norwalk Ospreys are doing well, with at least ten confirmed nest sites being used as of today.
Besides checking the osprey sites, my plan was to also survey the nesting areas of all other species.
I was concerned about the seemingly low numbers of American Oystercatchers a few weeks ago, not to worry we found eight pair around the islands and I'm sure there are a number more.

Double-crested Cormorant numbers have swelled to over three hundred on Goose Island, I expect this number to double or triple in the weeks to come.
The Herring Gull colony on this same island is now at six hundred, with Great Black-backs at three hundred.
I don't see the oyster-catcher pair here this year, as their nesting attempts the past two years turned into food for the gulls.

The Heron colony at Cockenoe Island is well over one hundred, I can't determine between Great and Snowy Egrets at the distance needed to view all, but it seems that the Greats are by far the majority, there are also Black-crowns and other species in there as well.
Goldfinch can be heard throughout this island, which is also a great spot for a few early season Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, I didn't see any today but did note a Morning Cloak Butterfly making it's way between islands.

Peregrine Falcons, the pest of anything that dares to fly out there are also doing well.
This week they were not harassing a Bonapartes Gull but rather a Rock Pigeon, near the Norwalk Power Plant, which has installed a nest box for them on the main building, not far from the Osprey nest which has the camera on it, this could become interesting as I and others have watched Peregrines attacking young osprey in there nest before they have fledged.
Hopefully this is just a game for them.
We also witnessed a number of mating attempts today, from ospreys to gulls.
The kids are coming in another month or so, stay tuned.

Channel Marker #1, just one stick on April 1st
lean two style, it grows daily.
This is the pair that has never
produced offspring.

Aigrette, doing that incredible dance, a slow hop up and down,
a little side to side sway, head extended then into a tuck.
Plumes extended.
The tango, egret style!

Not a good panoramic view but the are over 100
egrets in this one area.

DC Corms, their numbers are growing,
Did I mention the guano stench in this area?
Es muy mal!

A close up, note the hair doo.

Bad hair day?

Carrot-billed sparkplug again

I didn't mention the hundreds of Brant still hanging
around, only a handful of Long-tail and other winter ducks
were seen today.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Osprey Nest Building 101

I was somewhat concerned earlier this week, the female osprey that was sitting on Channel Marker #1 in Norwalk Harbor disappeared.
She sat perched alone for four days awaiting her mate, who just never arrived.
This has been a special nest site for me over the past several years for a few reasons.
First it is in the middle of Norwalk Harbor on a Lighted Channel Marker that divides the East Norwalk and the Norwalk Main Channels, this is a high traffic area for both commercial and recreational boaters, these birds never seem bothered by the amount of people traveling just yards away from their nest.
Second, this sight is close to Veterans Park and other shore areas in Norwalk which makes it viewable from many spots along the shoreline.
The third and most important reason to me, is that although they have been nesting here for at least two years, they have never raised young.
They build a nest in a lean-two style (it appears this will be the same model nest this year)
and then they proceed to look at it day on end waiting for something magical to happen, they perch on the railings and peer into the nest, day after day, week after week, month after month.
As late August arrives they abandon the site and move on.
After she sat at this site alone from last Thursday through this past Sunday, she then abandoned it from Monday thru Wednesday, since all other nest in the area are active, I thought the worst, but Thursday afternoon I could see they were both back, and that they were rebuilding their nest.
It takes about four years for Osprey to reach sexual maturity, maybe they were too young, or perhaps one of them is just not able to reproduce, I can only speculate on that and hope for them a fruitful season. I will keep you informed as this plays out.
It was spitting rain as I photographed these birds today, terrible shots of course, but I wanted to document their nest building. That is quite a stick (or half a small tree) the male is bringing to the nest site in the photo above.

Delivering more nesting material

While he adds to the nest, she is eating
a small fish.

A windproof tangle in the making?

Look at the square tail of the fish she is eating.
The State has been stocking trout in locals rivers and lakes
for opening day next Saturday April 17th.
This bird isn't doing some pre-season poaching is she?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Bad day to be a Bonaparte's Gull

It was an incredible few hours out on the boat today, the islands are loading up with birds preparing for the new nesting season that is upon us.
The eight existing osprey nest sites are now all filled, most just in the last day or two.
The bird pictured on the right, just arrived today, yes that's the first nest stick just below the osprey. Several pair were trying to copulate, and others were disputing nest sites
These were not the only birds having disputes today, as I was checking out the Cockenoe Island heron nesting sight, I noted a flock of gulls having a issue, but something was different here, a Peregrine was harassing the flock, I watch for a few moments and realized there were two falcons, not one and that they were after one particular gull, that gull was a lone Bonaparte's which was striving to save it's life.
The gull could not take wing to get away, since as soon as it would try the falcons were be all over it. The only thing it could do is try to dive into the water, the peregrines would always stop short of getting their talons wet.
This went one for at least five minutes, the falcons finally tired and the boney slowly took wing and flew off in the opposite direction.
Getting back to Cockenoe Island, I could see many white patches in the trees around the southern shore, I counted twenty five Great Egrets sitting in their nest trees, their nuptial plumes were all puffed out.
Over at Goose Island, the Double-crested Cormorant factory has now grown to over one hundred individuals, one lone Great Cormorant was along the western shore, which was packed with an easy two hundred Great Black-backed Gulls, the largest number I have ever seen on any one island around Norwalk. To complete the list of the island were four hundred Herring Gulls and two American Oystercatchers.
Checking out one of the local rock piles for shorebirds, I came across two Black-backs pecking away at something, that something was a still alive Black Duck that was on its last legs.
I felt very sad for this bird, but this is a real life and death game that is played out each and every day in nature, most of us never see this world, I know that it is not up to me to change nature's course. I play no part.
Well at least I found a few Purple Sandpipers, six Dunlin and a lone Turnstone, in this area laying very low as not to be noticed by the gulls.
Still an impressive number of at least one thousand Long-tails around, but outside of that the winter duck numbers have taken a dive.
Please click on any of these pictures to enlarge.

A quick mating attempt

Rebuilding the nest that was lost during the winter.

Numbers are growing, just wait to see what happens
at this place! I'll keep you posted

Showing off their nuptial plumage

This is why they are named "double-crested"

Male Long-tail in alternate plumage.

That old "carrot-billed sparkplug" again.
Their numbers seem lower so far this year.

The start of this years heron colony on Cockenoe Island

"Aigrette" French for plume

Peregrine Falcon stooping on Bonaparte's Gull

Boney hits the water as the falcon pulls up

Gulls attempt to get below the water as Peregrine stoops.
Note the hole in the water in which the Boney sits,
he hit the water HARD to evade this predator!

This gulls acts as though I just interrupted
the mugging. I'm guilty