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!