Thursday, December 29, 2011

A cold winter morning

While peering out my kitchen window, I notice that the hummingbird feeders had frozen up over night.
With this mornings temperatures being in the low twenties, I guess it's time to take these feeders down before the glass tubes break from the ice.
All was normal, White-throated Sparrows and Cardinals were under the other bird feeders, picking up seed that was being dropped to the ground by Chickadee's and Titmice.
Joining in on the feast were a number of Grey Squirrels.
Suddenly I saw a something spring out of nowhere, the wildlife that was just having breakfast scattered in all directions, I saw the critter that cause this commotion as it returned empty handed from under the junipers.
Although this is not the culprit, it was one of this guy's feral cousins that was looking for breakfast.
I saw where he went...
He appeared to go under the deck, I could see this place as a potential place for a surprise ambush.
I though he had gone back there to set up another attack.
Armed with a 2 million candlepower search light and my camera I set out to see if the cat was hiding in the dark shadows beneath the deck.
I didn't see anything obvious, but searching deeper into the darkness I saw something stir, however I didn't see the orange that was this cat's color.
Instead it was very dark...

...and with a black stripe.
I took a quick snapshot and feeling bad that I had rudely awakened this sleeping skunk from its winter slumber, I called off my feline search party.
As I was walking back towards the house, I saw one of our local Red-tail Hawks perched very close by in a neighbors tree.
Yes, this juvenile hawk was giving be a very stern gaze, not only had the cat interrupted his hunting, but I was certainly doing the same.
Back inside the warm comforts of the house, I could see the squirrels slowly inching their way back to the bird feeders.
I turned away from the window to leave nature to play out the remainder of this day on it's own terms.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cockenoe Is. vs Irene

The Cockenoe Island Sand Spit did not fare well in it's recent bout with Hurricane Irene.
All of the islands vegetation is gone as well as a foot or so of the top of the spit.
Above is an old metal post, one of many that was exposed with the removal of the vegetation.
My guess is that these were part of a dune grass protection fence from a few decades ago.
Seems like I remember something of that sort.
In this post Irene picture we are looking south. You can use the back round trees as reference point for the next photo.
This photo is the same part of the spit, from summer of 2010.
Here is another shot from 2010, this time looking north towards the mainland.
Same north facing shot, after Irene.
Check out the small dark projection in the middle of this photo.
It is what was left to the root system of one of the beach plants, this root is about a foot or more in height, it is easy to see where the plant snapped off and how much erosion took place in order to expose the remains of the plant.
The USFW bird fencing has been either ripped out or snapped off and is now on the eastern side of the island.
The metal fence post were either bent 90 degrees or snapped in two.
I tried to pull this line out of the ground, impossible!
It is covered over with so much sand and rock, it might take a backhoe to dig it up.
I'll leave it for the next hurricane or for someone else to find in another fifty years
There is still bird life around, I found six American Oystercatchers at Cockenoe and another fifty three gathered on Crow Island, these were some of them.
A half dozen Osprey were feeding in Norwalk Harbor, here is one carrying an Atlantic Menhaden, one of the ospreys favorite dishes. This fish is locally know as "bunker"
There was a feeding frenzy near the Cockenoe Is. sand spit, not only by Laughing Gulls, but a number of Common Terns and Herring Gulls as well. 
The disturbance was from small bait fish being pushed to the top by bluefish.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

It's been a while...

It's been a while since my last post, health issues have slowed me to a crawl for the past several months.
Feeling a tad better, I finally made it out on the boat today for the first time in almost two months.
 Though I spent most of my time scraping barnacles,
I did get some fine birding in at Cockenoe Island, Westport.
Before I made it to Cockenoe, I found these two Long-tail Ducks hanging out on Calf Pasture Island.
A few of these birds may hang out around the islands during the summer instead of migrating north to the arctic to breed. I often wonder, is this because they can't fly?
These are both males and appear to be in post alternate (breeding) plumage
Arriving at Cockenoe, I found about fifteen American Oystercatchers.
In this photo a juvenile is to the left and the adult is on the right.
Notice several difference between the two.
The color of the eyes, bill and back are not the same.The young bird is changing it's look fast and soon it will be the same coloration's as the adult.
In the islands back bay I couldn't miss all these egrets.
I counted 127 in this area, the camera missed a bunch on either side. Elsewhere on the island
I easily found another one hundred.
These are mostly all this years youngsters as there is a good size rookery here.
The majority of this flock are Great Egrets with a few dozen Snowy Egrets mixed in.
I didn't look up close, I'm sure there were other heron species here also.
The Sandspit.
US Fish and Wildlife took care of the fencing this year.
Judging by the hundreds of young Common Terns USFW did a great job protecting the colony.
I did not see any Least Terns out here today, they started nesting here in late May but did not succeed and move on.
Another view.
A few laughing gulls on the sandbar leading to the sand spit.
Note the three different plumage stages between the four gulls.
With ninety degree temps today, these six Common Tern hatchlings found the only shady spot on the sandspit.
Todays surprise was this Whimbrel mixed in with several Willet.
Whimbrels do show up as individual birds almost every year on Cockenoe in late July and August.
The calender say's we are almost into August, yet this female Osprey is still adding to her nest on one of the local lighted channel markers.
Her mate is perched above to the right and she has three chicks in the nest.
Those three chicks appear to be wondering " where's the fish, we can't eat any more of the darn sticks"
The third chick is way to the right, almost hidden.
I hope to be back soon.

Best to All!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Horned Orioles?

The pair of Baltimore Orioles that have wintered over in my Norwalk CT backyard are looking a bit ragged these days.
Check out the A bird in molt, of course it's not a Horned Lark, but it is this oriole's best impression of one.
Last week around 3/22 I noticed a difference in the two orioles, I thought perhaps they were sick.
Worried like the Mother Hen that I am with these two, I almost freaked out.
I started photographing them and talked to bird rehabbers, soon I saw that this was just a molt.
Wow, I could relax.... I am now photographing them daily to show the progression of the molt.
Something that is rarely seen in wild Baltimore Orioles in these parts, since they do this molting process  before they return to New England.

Hanging out near the Oriole feeders, is one of my best backyard bird friends, this Mockingbird is doing it's best Cyclops Mockery.
This bird is very friendly and is always in line for a few meal worms.
Of course all these birds need someone to look out after them when I am not around.

This dude gladly volunteered to keep watch over my flock.
I found it in the neighbors magnolia tree this afternoon, just yards away from the Oriole feeders.
I kept shooting and shooting with the camera, getting closer and closer, this bird had no fear of me.
I walked directly under this Sharp-shinned Hawk, just feet away,  it still would not flush.
I checked under all the evergreens, I did not see any feather piles...
I also did not see the Orioles for the rest of the evening, yet their meal worms disappeared while we were not watching, I'm sure they are fine, they deal with these raptors daily.

Remember that 60's song by Sam the Sham and the Pharaoh's.
"Hey there little Black Vulture Bird, you sure are looking good"
Found this lone bird in Fairfield on 3/29 keeping watch on a roadkill raccoon.
All right, it's Little Red Riding Hood, don't get upset Sam.

This past Saturday, I was the guest on Chris Bosak's "Bird Call's" radio show.
This is Chris in action in the above photo at the WNLK/WSTC Studios in Norwalk.
1350/1400 AM.
The show broadcast live each Saturday from 3-4 in the afternoon.
If you are out of range or missed the show, they are archived on Chris's website.

Yours truely on the radio, move over Don Imus!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Plankton, Tows and Gulls

While at the Connecticut Conference on Natural Resources last week, Dennis Varza and I bumped into
Jack Barclay after one of the classroom sessions.
Jack mentioned that he would like to collect plankton samples off the coastline from Norwalk to Stratford.
It took no arm twisting at all to have me fire up the outboard and start this St. Patricks Day journey.
Instead of being at a parade with marching bands, pipes and drums corps and others, we ran into a different parade, this one was of gulls, thousands of them along with hundreds of other birds, such as brant, black duck, and scaup, all feeding on the microscopic life we know as plankton.  

They all had one thing in common, that was to feast not on corned beef, but the bountiful masses of the various plankton that were afloat to the waters surface.
It was easy to find the plankton, just find the birds
Jack provided all the equipment needed, most importantly this plankton seine.
We would  make a slow troll with it at about two knots and for several hundred yards before hauling it back on board.
This bottle at the end of the net is the capture tank that holds everything we gathered on the trawl.
As you can see, it is past being full.
Jack and Dennis  preparing to unscrew the bottle.
Then empty the contents into a plastic bag.
Thousands and thousands of microscopic living animals (zooplankton) and plant life (phytoplankton) abound in this small bag.

Bags are quickly labeled and put on ice, data entered includes Lat/Lon,
time of drag start and finish, water temp, air temp, wind direction and velocity.

The seawall off Stratford's Lordship Point.
Birds were gourging themselves along the beach from this seawall on east to Stratford Light House. 

More microscopic gull food
Bonaparte's Gull were numerous around the plankton blooms
The entrance to Bridgeport Harbor easily had the largest number of birds feeding on the plankton today
These four pictures could be put together for a panoramic view of the thousands of birds around the boat.
Seaside Park
Just outside the breakwater.
Barnacle larvae attaching themselves to the glass jar.

Penfield Reef was another popular feeding area.
The main reason for this trip was not just to gather plankton, but to gather them for a purpose.
Not to simply identify different species, but for scientific study.
These samples are all going to a lab, where scientist will be testing them for toxins.
When and if I have results, I will post them here. Hopefully soon.

This last night of winter's full moon.