Sunday, April 20, 2014

Frogs and Flowers

I'm glad I made it out to Naugatuck State Forest this afternoon to soak in the spring. Yellow-rumped and Pine Warblers were flitting through the treetops among Red Maple blossoms (way too high up for my camera to reach), and the Pine Warblers' trilling calls rang out all over. And I was just in time to catch some of our early woodland flowers coming into bloom!

Trout Lilies are some of my favorite wildflowers, mostly because of their gorgeous mottled leaves:
 

Trout Lily flowers are also lovely, of course, and one particularly sunny patch in the woods was already full of these dangling yellow blooms:
 

Speaking of yellow flowers, the Spicebush plants are just now making clouds of small yellow blossoms, either floating just above eye level:


Or bursting in sprays from the ground:


This (I think) Small White Violet (Viola macloskeyi) looks like a tiny cheerleader, or perhaps a conductor ("come on, spring!"):
 

American Willow catkins float, backlit, above one of the ponds:


I love that the amphibians and reptiles are now out and about. These two Green Frogs looked so perfectly relaxed on their moss-covered rock next to a stream:


Ah yes, sun-warmed rock and stream-dampened moss. I can't imagine a more comfortable place for a frog:


Seeing these two frogs next to each other made me appreciate the variability in Green Frog markings. (And yes, these are both the same species, as far as I know. The only other green-colored frog we have in Connecticut is the American Bullfrog, which lacks the Green Frog's ridges along the sides of its back.) Where the first frog has a lovely green mask, this second frog looks like it dipped its whole head in some green paint:
 

Around the ponds' edges, practically every branch in the water was a basking spot for rows of Painted Turtles -- at least, until a person (me) walked by. Here's a stealthy shot of one of the turtle logs, just before the exodus.
 

The birds were mostly distant or hidden, but this lovely little Chipping Sparrow paused on a shady branch just long enough for a picture:
 

And the explosion of spring life is just beginning!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Noisy Neighbors

The Red-shouldered Hawks that live in our neighborhood have been particularly boisterous in recent weeks. This morning, one of the birds sat in a tree in our yard and yelled (about what, I don't know) for 15 minutes or so. I was trying to work, but of course I had to get up and take a video of this bird instead. There's only one call in this video, then a lot of sitting around (which I was too lazy to edit out), but then there's also a cool shake and leg-stretch after about a minute:

 

I should point out that I don't at all mind the noise if it means these awesome creatures are hanging around. What an impressive bird!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Assorted Beach Sightings

Between migrating birds and increasingly active residents, the beach certainly is an interesting place to watch spring take hold! Here are a few sightings from my visit to Silver Sands State Park yesterday morning.
 
Several male Red-winged Blackbird were busy staking claims in the marsh, and I guess the boardwalk is part of this fancy fellow's territory:
 

Sing it, Mr. Blackbird!
 

A Greater Yellowlegs graciously posed for a few pictures:


Those legs are quite striking!


I was pretty tickled to find that the stretch of boardwalk that was rebuilt last summer is now a roosting and courting (and possibly nesting) spot for Rock Pigeons. It was a little strange to hear cooing sounds coming from beneath my feet!
 

And there's a rabbit again! I'm surprised at how bold these creatures have gotten at this park; this rabbit was even near a path where people and dogs frequently walk:
 

All in all, a lovely beach day.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Amphibian Afternoon, Plus a Mole Cricket

The ponds at Naugatuck State Forest were positively raucous with amphibian activity when I visited there yesterday afternoon. Hooray for spring! Spring Peepers were calling their piercing calls from all around the water's edge, but even though I looked and looked for these tiny frogs, I couldn't see a single one. They must have been very well hidden under the grasses and brush! Well, whether I could see them or not, they were definitely there:



(The bird flying around in the above video is a Song Sparrow who every few minutes added his voice to the Spring Peeper cacophony.)

While I searched for peepers, a Pickerel Frog leaped out of hiding. I wish I would see these fancy frogs more often:


In the pond's shallows, the water was practically roiling with Red-spotted Newts:


And just a few feet away, in a small pool, Wood Frogs were making their quacking-croaking sounds. When I got near, these frogs went quiet and did their best floating-leaf impressions, just drifting across the water's surface:


So many amphibians, and I love them all! There were already many clusters of Wood Frog eggs in the pool, along with cloudy masses of (probably) Spotted Salamander eggs. I keep hoping to come across a Spotted Salamander on my walks, but so far these awesome underground creatures have stayed hidden.

Although yesterday's walk was (as usual) lacking in terrestrial salamanders, I did happen upon another creature that's usually hidden away underground: a mole cricket!


This bizarre insect (I think the species is a Northern Mole Cricket, Neocurtilla hexadactyla) was wandering across the muddy ground next to a pond, and it very helpfully froze as soon as it knew I'd seen it. I've only ever seen a mole cricket once before, and that was a dead and mangled individual, so I was super excited to get to check out this guy (or girl) close up. What an amazingly weird animal!


I love those claw/spade-like front legs, so perfect for digging, and I'm intrigued by those alien tube-like structures down its back. From what I've read, I'm guessing these are modified hind wings; I've just never seen anything like them before. The mole cricket was big, too, maybe around two inches long.

The mole cricket eventually decided it'd had enough with the photo session, and it pushed its way under a wet leaf:



Ah, snug as a... mole cricket in a wet leaf. (Can you see the antennae sticking out in the upper middle of this last picture?)


Other sights from yesterday's walk included 20 Common Mergansers on the open water, drifting in large groups from one end of the pond to another:


Common Mergansers show up at these ponds around this time every year before they move on to their breeding areas. I'm always happy to admire the elegant females:


And tuxedoed males:


The Skunk Cabbage blooms are showing off their gorgeous colors and patterns, as usual:


And look, green leaves unfurling! I guess spring really is here!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Beach Season Begins

I was happy to return to Silver Sands State Park this morning for the start of a new season. As I have for the past two summers, I'll be monitoring this beach again for Piping Plovers and other potential nesting shorebirds this year. This will actually be my last summer in Connecticut -- big changes are coming in the next few months -- and I plan to take full advantage of my proximity to the Long Island Sound while I still can.

Today was a perfect beach day: warm and sunny, and with plenty of spring-like things to see. I'm assuming these Ring-billed Gulls were feeling appropriately amorous, judging from their strange balancing act (which was accompanied by loud calls but no actual mating as far as I could see):


Behind the marshes next to the beach, a few Red Maples were just starting to bloom, looking particularly dramatic against the bright blue sky:


A pair of Mourning Doves walked right past me on the path. I've never noticed the splash of iridescent gold highlights on these birds' necks before, and it's kind of amazingly pretty:


(How is it possible that I've been keeping this blog for more than three years now, and this is the first time I've posted a picture of this common and placid bird? Mourning Doves clearly deserve more of my attention.)

In the fields at the back of the park, many of the bushes and trees had been stripped of their bark up to a couple of feet off the ground:


And a few minutes after I stopped to look at the bare trees (and to watch a couple of American Robins tussling in the grass), the culprits came bounding into the open:


These rabbits must have gotten hungry with all the snow we had this winter, but at least there's always bark to nibble, and they seem to be thriving now! A few of these creatures were chasing each other in and out of the underbrush, and I felt lucky to get to watch these wild bunnies being so active.

As I was driving out of the park at the end of my visit (no plovers yet), I came up behind a curious trio of pedestrians on the shoulder of the road:


Wild Turkey crossing:


How crazy and cool that we have these dinosaur-creatures just wandering around. Oh, you strange and awesome bird:


All in all, this morning was quite a wonderful start to a new season of beach visits. Hooray for warm weather, sun, and sand!