Friday, July 30, 2010

Least Terns, is the third nesting attempt the charm?

With amazement, I found seventeen Least Terns today on the Cockenoe Island sand spit sitting on nest, the amazing part is that this is their third nesting attempt this season, with seventy five of the eighty nest having been wiped out by extra high tides during June and July's new moon phases.

I knew they were renesting, and again thought this will be for naught, when something happened... I was following Common Terns bringing fish back to shore for their hungry offspring.

A Least Tern passes close bye with a fish and I follow it to the nest, figuring he's providing nourishment to its mate sitting on the nest, the mate quickly move off the nest to accept this gift, this broke the cover for what was sitting under its wing.

Out of no where pops up this tiny hatchling, WOW! Through all their nest failures, this very late nesting attempt is producing young, she went back to sitting on the nest and the youngster stayed close by. We will continue to monitor these late nest for as long as it takes.

Common Terns have now fledged several hundred youngsters on this tiny area, but they still have aways to go, at least forty are still nesting and there are many hatchlings at various stages on the island. In this photo a butterfish? is being fed to the oldest chick, but lets look deeper into this photo.

This cropped closeup shows four chicks in all, in different stages of development.

To the right of the chick being fed, is a stone, between that stone and the next obvious older chick are two much smaller, very hard to notice smaller chicks. Click on the image to enlarge, its not clean at that magnification, but the birds are there, hope you can see them.

What I had many photos of were this years, begging young Common Terns, the parent to the right seemed disgusted with this, and tried its best to walk off, yet the youngster kept following, finally the adult flew off, for some peace and quite, or to bring back some food?

Besides the terns, there are many other visitors here, including this pair of Willet coming in for a landing.

We also had an alternate plumage Red Knot on the shoreline, this bird flew by at close range, I was not able to photograph it, nor could we relocate it after two hours of trying.
Also seen was several looks at a Roseate Tern feeding near the island.
There are large amounts of baitfish close to the island, with feeding frenzy's all around.
More time needs to be spent around these feeding free for alls, I'm sure there are other birds that I am missing.

A number of Laughing Gulls were loafing along the shore line, these three are in different stages of molting, a nice comparison.

Semipalmated, whether it be Plover as in this photo, or the many hundreds of Sandpiper

were an easy spot along the shoreline.

I'm thinking this is the neatest, coolest dance new dance going on in the islands.

I don't know what it is called... the Oystercatcher Shuffle?

And then there were two! My favorite nest, the one that we have been following, three were there as we approached, it happened, the oldest hopped off the nest, skimmed the water and slowly gained altitude, flew off to perch on a pole next to dad.

The bird to the right is practicing lift, but is not ready yet, the youngster to the left seems to be wondering what this wing flapping is all about, I give him one more week and he'll have it down pat.

This one was flapping its wings with out lifting off, encouraging the other chicks to do the same.

I'm sure you have seen the movie Jurassic Park, recall the Velociraptors?

It's easy to see what this bird evolved from, and they still even call them raptors today, imagine that?

Here is a crop of the above photo, a nice look at the business end. You can also see that well known "reversible outer toe" this is the toe closest to and facing you.

By reversible, the Osprey can hold this toe out to the side as it is doing in the photo, or move it forward, perching with three toes forward and one back as most other raptors do.

By moving the toe to the side it allows the Osprey to carry fish, two toes in, and two toes outside of the fish, better gripping power and more aerodynamic.

Owls also have the ability to do this.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Doormat Fluke and Snorkeling with the Birds!

The South Norwalk Boat Club held their annual Fluke Contest this weekend.
This beautiful 9lb 1oz Doormat Fluke was leading the board with one hour to go in the contest.
Proudly displaying his catch is Paul Fosse, who along with partner Paul Lovas had a fine weekend of fishing with a number of other fish pushing the five pound range.
This fish was about 30 inches long, it was well on the thin side, if it had packed on a few waistline inches, it could have gone in the twelve pound range, either way, great fish guys!

With the outrageous heat wave we have been in, I have had no desire to go boating, other than the Norwalk Seaport Associations Bird Cruises to which I am committed.
My friend Marc called me a few nights ago and suggested we go snorkeling around the islands this weekend, huh?
I always have my snorkeling gear onboard, but never use it, outside of cleaning off the boats bottom several times during the summer months.
I have many hundreds of hours in the water snorkeling from Florida to St. Croix but never thought much of trying it in the Norwalk Islands.

I agreed with Marc that, I'd be very happy cooling off in the water in this hot weather, and with a noonish high tide, I'd be game to try it out, we met at 10:15am and were in the water by 10:45.
Crow Island was my choice, it is a rocky, cobble sandbar extending between Chimmons and Copps Islands.
It has a variety of underwater habitat that is exposed at low tide, but can easily be explored with a snorkel, mask and fins at high tide. I was not disappointed.

In fact I was incredibly impressed, this was not the Florida Keys, Hawaii, or the Virgin Islands by any means, but yet I was awed at the underwater beauty and life that was surrounding me, it only took moments before I became one with this incredible environment.

The first school of a few hundred, one inch long shiner type fish passes a foot in front of my mask, the visibility in this shallow water is four to six feet, and having this school so close to me, perked my interest.

I have my eye on a number of Turnstones, Plover, Cormorants, Terns and Oystercatchers that are either resting along the rocky shoreline or are perching on large offshore boulders.
I wonder, how close I can get to them in the water, will they accept me as something natural, and not fear me, or just flush as they would a human on land?

Before I can get to them, I have to snorkel around a few boulders and a good bit of vegetation.
My mask is below water all this time exploring the fascinating world around me, as I get close to bigger boulders I see larger fish darting for cover beneath the large rocks, small scup, three, four inches long, then snapper bluefish, the same size, just feet away I venture near a maze of eel grass, sea life is very abundant along this edge, a small blue crab scampers away, many Asian Shore crabs run for cover, large Atlantic Silverside shiners are abundant, in schools of many hundreds, a school of fifty, two inch long Menhaden pass inches in front of my mask, I'm almost looking cross eyed to see them.

Face down and floating on the surface, I laugh as the eel grass is now tickling me, with the wave action softly brushing the tips of these grasses against my belly, I am laughing through my snorkel, this is an experience I would have never imagined could happen in these islands.

There is a Common Tern loafing on a boulder twenty feet in front of my, I wonder how close...?
I slowly snorkel along the shallow water until I reach the boulder, I tilt my head and mask half way above the water line, look up, and just twenty four inches in front of me is a juvenile Common Tern, looking at me as though to say "gee, I never saw on of these before".
The bird never flinched, I wished I had the camera for this shot, plus catching the twenty one Ruddy Turnstones from water level would have been neat, but with no camera in hand, I just slowly backed off, the birds stayed in their places.

Turning around and looking away from the shoreline, I see a Double-crested Cormorant, floating on the water thirty feet away from me, I thinking that if he dives, can I hook up with him and see him underwater?
Yeah Right? I now know I must be suffering from rapture of the deep (the bends) from my two to three foot dives, the corm is not happy with me and dives in the other direction.

The tide is now moving with the outgoing tide and is bringing Moon Jellyfish in numbers,
these small transparent jellies are incredible to see underwater and I attempt to play with a few in my hands, this looks much easier than it is, sort of like trying to catch jello in a bathtub, they just continue on their own merry way.
A small horseshoe crab is crawling along the sea bottom, I pick it up for a moment, I hope this little one survives to help reproduce many offspring, I release it and marvel as it slowly swims off to its next adventure.

Anyone that has ever walked a shoreline at low tide must have come the upon many groups of seemingly lifeless seaweed that are flattened out against the ground, but at high tide these seaweeds are anything but lifeless.
They lift up and now float still attached to the bottom and abound with great beauty, not unlike our most favorite perennial shrubs and bushes, wavering in the wind. Sort of like the sea fans of the southern oceans.
Within the cover of this vegetation hide many small fish, crabs, periwinkles, barnacles and probably one hundred thousand other organisms that I am not capable of naming.

I can't wait to get back and do this again, it is a fantastic underwater world, and it's in our own backyard!

From past blogs, you know this youngster, the one that was always ruffled up.

This is probably the last shot we will ever get of the three amigos/amigas together
as they are about to fledge and fly off any moment now.
They will still return to the nest site for a few more weeks, but to get the three together for a photo, will probably never happen again.
Good Luck, My Friends!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Terns Survived

After this weeks new moon tides, three 8.5 and one 8.6 tide, I had to think that the Cockenoe Island Tern Colony had to have been devastated, a look around at low tide on Tuesdays, Norwalk Seaport Associations Bird Cruise didn't reveal a whole lot of birds.

We could see where the previous night tide line came up to, there was very little island left above the tide line, if a bird couldn't fly away it may have been swept away by the extra high tide and the currents.

I had to get a better look at high tide, when I can get my boat very close to the island.

I already knew that the Least Terns nest went underwater, as they play Russian Roulette with the tides, yes these nest were gone, but as I peered closer, I could see life on this tiny sand spit, and a whole lot of life there was.

I counted one hundred Common Tern chicks , there were more, I was so impressed to see that these chicks survived, I stopped counting them and started looking for Least Tern chicks.

On the southern edge of the island, there they were, first one, then two, three, four , five, perhaps a dozen made it, alright!

Though their nest have been wiped out twice from big tides, this Least Tern seems to want to try again. Again well below the tide line. Recognize the coffee cup in the backround?

The adult American Oystercatcher is to the left, note the bright orange bill, yellow eyes and orange eye ring. The youngster in the middle still has black in its bill and has dark eyes and no eye ring.
Click to enlarge any of these photos.

Here is one of the few Least Tern chicks that survived.

Least Terns are on the Threatened Species List in Connecticut, and are on the Federal Endangered Species List in other parts of the United States.

This herring species fish is now dinner for one of the hundred or more Common Terns chicks running about.

Common Tern chicks are at all ages out here, this one has fledged and can fly short distances.

They are loud and cranky, I was target practice. They won!

A younger Common Tern chick, huddling up to an old Lobster pot buoy.

Adult Common Tern in the backround, with it's chick in the foreground.

I know its hazy, hot and humid, but talk about a bad hair day.

This young oystercatcher is learning to preen its feathers.
Edward Scissorhands?

Part of the Heron Colony out here. On a recent survey that I was part of with CT DEP

108 Great Egret nest were counted, 27 Snowy Egret nest, Glossy Ibis and Little Blue Heron had five nest each plus a number of Black-crowned Night Herons.

These areas are off limit to the public, they are NASTY, filled with poison ivy, broken glass, vines prickers, and stink beyond belief!
Please don't even think about it.

Besides, most of the colony has fledged, these birds are now feeding inside the bay at high tide.
There were over one hundred herons and egrets feeding here.

I keep checking on these dudes, I cropped the third bird on the left out of the picture, as I was awed by this pose.

A bit more cropping, incredible!

This is The Norwalk Seaport Associations brand spanking new tour boat, The C.J. Toth Quest.

At 45 feet, it is an incredibly comfortable vessel. If you have any interest in seeing the wildlife around the Norwalk Islands, or even just a nice three hour get away, book a seat on this boat for one of the very popular bird cruises, I promise you won't be disappointed, it's quite awesome.
In the backround is the Seaports Sheffield Island Light House which can be visited daily.

Visit for times and reservations, for both the Lighthouse and the Bird Tours.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Backyard Pool Party, For The Birds!

It was just too hot to be on the water this week, I checked the sand spit Tuesday morning and all is well. In the meantime it wasn't just you and I that thought it was HOT!
Let's get out of the sun and take a quick look at the backyard at our house.

A number of years ago, I installed a flowing water bird creek in our back yard, it was always a magnet for birds, but it had served its purpose, it was time to do something a bit different.
This spring I pulled it out and did something a bit different, it was still based on a waterfall or two, but this time it has a bigger, deeper water pool, about a four foot round by two foot deep pond.
In here are a few Koi, Goldfish and water plants and a fountain.
Surrounding the pond is a shallow, one to two inch deep bog area, with a number of shallow water plants, this is the playground for many of this years fledged and adult birds.

With the heat wave, and drought that we are currently experiencing, this has become pool party central for the neighborhood birds, the adults have always brought their fledges here to drink their first water and take their first baths, but with the expanded area that I installed, more and more have come, especially in this heat wave.
At night I have also see skunks, raccoons, opossum and others come in for a drink.
A short-tail shrew has also adopted us, we see him in the daylight often.
This is the lower pond area, it a few feet deep and four feet around, Goldfish and Koi are visible in this photo.
The outside area is the bog, a very shallow area, also with lots of moving recycling water that is a favorite for birds, bathing, drinking or cooling off, it is washed and cleaned daily!
There are two waterfalls and a fountain, lots of aeration, even on these hot days, it stays cool as it only gets an hour or two of direct sunlight.
This is a 24/7/365 water feature, I add a heater in the winter to keep the water fluid, in deep freeze it is very popular, not just with birds but with mammals also, it may be the only open water for miles.

This is the upper waterfall, it flows into a very shallow pool, sort of running brook style,before flowing into the pond. Birds cannot resist it, the sound of running water stops passing birds in flight, to come take a look, a drink and maybe a quick bath.

A side view, we have less than quarter acre lot, the arborvitae and red cedar provide perfect cover for the many birds visiting and nesting in our yard.
Believe it or not, I have had 8 and 10 point deer, right here.

Fox Sparrows are common bathers during migration.

These young Common Grackles are possibly my favorite, their parents seem to drop them off here by the truckload, "spend the day in the pool kiddies, We'll pick you back up before dark"
They are precious, but also have to feel everything with their bills, they are chopping down my Pickerel Weed, and chewing up every plant in the bog. But that's OK!
In Wednesday's heat there were sixteen birds in the bog at one time, all youngsters, Catbirds, Robins, Grackles, Orioles, Starlings, House Sparrows.
We have several other bird baths in the yard, without moving water, Goldfinches and others seem to appreciate these.

Tail-less Catbird at Oriole feeder.
These Oriole feeders are very hot right now, the bottom is filled with sugar water, 1 part sugar to 4 parts water, boiled, stirred and refrigerated. Hummers love it also!
Where this birds feet are, there are trays that I fill with Poloners Grape Jelly, this is natural jelly, with no artificial sweeteners, (the chemical stuff is not cool and may harm these guys) and of course a half an orange.
Beside the Catbirds, It is the place to be if you are an oriole, I've had up to six males, six females and all their kin fighting for a spot at these feeders, and right now is the time to have these feeders out..
You will also be surprised at the number of other species that show up on these feeders.

Where's the Fruit?

I also keep thistle and shelled nuts out during the summer, goldfinches are here daily, sun up to sun down feeding on the thistle, unsalted peanut halves are a easy delicacy for many birds, including this recently fledged Red-bellied Woodpecker.
Happy Backyard Birding!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

July 4th, no holiday for nesting shorebirds

The 4th of July is official start of summer, but if you are a shore nesting bird, this time of year can bring tragic loss to young hatchlings, and unhatched eggs without a moments notice.
Offshore islands now become the summer playground for thousands of boaters in the Norwalk area.

With the many boaters, kayakers, surfboarders, PWC operators and others now using the shoreline areas around the islands for their enjoyment, birds species that have set up nesting sites weeks or months ago when all was quiet, are now in jeopardy of losing this years clutch of offspring.

Places like Sandy Point, in West Haven, rely on volunteers to monitor nest sites and keep firework watchers and others from trampling through these areas.

It is no different in the Norwalk Islands, except there are no monitors, the wildlife and vegetation are pretty much on there own out there.
I spent a few hours Friday evening, it could have turned ugly, but that was avoided.
I left Cockenoe Island as the sun was setting, all seemed quiet. But this was just the start of a long weekend!
Click on any photo to enlarge.

An unsuspecting kayaker paddling close to shore, flushed this flock of nesting terns.
This often happens, and the terns put up with it, as long as people don't walk onto or get near the nesting area

This American Oystercatcher fledgling has now reached adult size, but has not grown its flight feathers and cannot fly, it is easy game for a loose pet.

So would this young Killdeer, these birds are less than six inches tall, stones and shells are mountains to them.

This Piping Plover chick is almost invisible with it's surrounding habitat, if they can't run away they will freeze in place. Many are trampled on each year by unsuspecting beach goers.

These recently hatched Common Terns, again very hard to see, can't fly and have very short legs, it would be impossible for them to flee from any predator, including humans, that could walk ontop of them since they become almost invisible with the shoreline.
These are just some of the birds that need our help when we are along remote shorelines.
One loose dog can kill many chicks and eggs, I know, I've seen it happen.
It's up to us, to protect them, and let life move on.

While two of this Herring Gulls siblings walked off into the vegetation after seeing the boat, this one chose a different maneuver, He'll just swim away.

Just opposite the young Herring Gull was a Glossy Ibis feeding in the marsh.
On a recent survey that I was a part of with CT DEP at least five Glossy Ibis nest were found around the Norwalk Islands.
I will report on the others after the nesting season is over.

Willet are becoming more common as most their young have now fledged.
Nice photo to left click on.

The food source was not far away, as a school of bluefish were blasting baitfish near Peck's Ledge Lighthouse.
This was a repetitive route, ongoing throughout the evening by hundreds of terns.

This is of concern, these youngsters were pounding the fragile beach vegetation with sticks.
I gave them a holler and they stopped, but they then started walking off towards the tern nest site.
Fortunately they turned around within just a few hundred feet of the site, and went back to their
campground or boat.
I had visions of this crew treating the terns as pinatas. Oh Boy!
This is why enforcement is needed. Law Enforcement that is, not me!

One thing I do understand is "boys will be boys"

As the sun was setting, I caught this last tern, returning to it's nest.