Friday, December 2, 2011

Mostly Ducks and Raptors (and mostly at a distance)

Yesterday was cold but clear, and I decided to have an adventure. I've been curious about what the beach is like at this time of year -- I have no idea what sorts of animals live at the shore in late fall/early winter -- so I headed down to our beach of choice, Silver Sands State Park, to check it out. I walked through some areas that I'd never been to before, along the shoreline and through some marshland, and there was plenty to see!

Several ducks of various species were gathered in a medium-sized pond along the path, and I had fun trying to figure out who was there. I don't spend a lot of time around ducks, and these ones preferred to stay some distance away from me -- I think I figured out why real birders bring spotting scopes with them on walks -- but I was able to get a good enough look to identify some of them at least.

Most of the ducks were American Black Ducks:

If I hadn't seen these birds before (and had someone tell me what they were), I probably would've thought they were female Mallards -- Mallards don't have such a dark body, though, or such a clear line between neck and breast. There are other differences, too, between the two species, but that's the most obvious one to me.

A pair of American Wigeons was hanging out as well, a new bird for me. The male was particularly fancy, with shiny green and yellow on his head:

And speaking of fancy ducks, a female Wood Duck was paddling around, too:

What a pretty girl. I think Wood Ducks might be some of my favorites. :)

Moving away from the pond, I was pretty excited to see the bird in this next picture, even from far away:

Hiding among all that tall grass is the characteristic write rump of a Northern Harrier. (I'm pretty sure this is the only raptor in our area to have that distinctive marking.) I'd love to see one of these birds up close one day -- they have the most interesting faces, all angular and pointed and very strange. Later, I saw the Northern Harrier again (or possibly a different one) hunting over another patch of marsh, flashing its white spot as it flew:

Meanwhile, a few yards away, a small herd of White-tailed Deer looked on:

It seems crazy that I've been keeping a wildlife blog for months now, and yet I haven't posted any pictures of White-tailed Deer until now. I think this has to do with the fact that I have never once seen a deer in the woods where I usually walk -- Naugatuck State Forest -- and I have no idea why this is. (Could it have to do with the hunting?) Deer are anything but rare in this area, but for whatever reason, I guess I frequent places where they do not. In any case, it was cool to actually see some of these big mammals that I always expect to encounter in the woods, but never do.

Toward the end of my walk, four Red-tailed Hawks burst from a tree, screeching and wheeling through the air, and sometimes careening into each other. They seemed to be having some sort of tussle -- a family dispute? I didn't get any pictures of the action, but one of the hawks flew low enough over my head for some nice views:

For all that these birds are so common around here, I don't think I could get tired of seeing them, especially at such close range. They're quite impressive.

As I was leaving, a few Great Egrets flew by:

Does anyone else think these birds look like dinosaurs? (Or possibly dragons?)

And here's one last surprise for the day:

The first day of December, and a butterfly is still hanging around. This sulphur butterfly (I'm not sure of the exact species) was definitely alive -- it flew up into the air when I first walked by -- but it seemed pretty sluggish in the frigid air. That was probably to my benefit, actually, because it meant that I got to get very close to this beautiful creature. I'm a big fan of those bright green eyes.

The shore feels so different from the woods, and it's fun to add some variety to my walks every once in a while. Hooray for exploring and seeing new things!

1 comment:

  1. Holy cow! So many great sightings in one trip, congratulations! We occasionally see Harriers in the farmland around here, they are so graceful to watch when they're hunting.