Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Paddling Gulls, Fishing Kingfishers, a Hidden Mammal, and Other Beach Sights

Yesterday afternoon, with all that clear blue sky and 50-degree temperatures, I decided to take a trip to the beach. Silver Sands State Park in Milford, when I got there, was practically empty of people and just gorgeous -- it was a great day for an adventure!

I'm starting to understand why birders hang out at the shore, especially in the winter. My recent walks in the woods have been mostly quiet, a time to relax and ramble and see cool things every now and then; by comparison, this place was bursting with activity. Besides the hundreds of gulls flying around everywhere, there were several other interesting creatures out and about, like this flock of Brant, a small goose that breeds in the summer at the very top of the continent and comes down here to spend the winter:

This is the first time I've seen these birds in Connecticut, and it's always fun to meet new visitors.

Speaking of new birds, I watched a group of dippy little Sanderlings foraging on a sandbar at low tide -- I like how there's one bird taking a bath all the way on the right of this picture, while the rest of his friends are hard at work:

I'm sure I must have seen Sanderlings at some point in my life before now, it's just that this is the first time I've been able to call them something more than just "little dippy birds".

At a pool near the beach, a Belted Kingfisher was doing his thing -- no orange on his sides, so this is definitely a "he":

I have never met such a bold kingfisher before! There's a female Belted Kingfisher who lives at the lakes in Naugatuck State Forest, and I see (and hear!) her just about every time I visit there -- but almost without fail, she stays on the very opposite end of a big body of water from me. This guy had no such reservations. He wasn't about to come land right next to me, but he didn't fly half a mile away when I walked by his tree, either:

I think Belted Kingfishers are quite majestic (appropriately enough), but they can also look a little goofy, if the wind blows their big fancy crest the wrong way:

This kingfisher was making good use of the pool. I watched him dive into the water, snatch up a little fish, and then do a victory lap (or at least, that's what it seemed like to me) while he swallowed the fish in midair:

I love how he got perfectly arrow-shaped as he cut through the air:

So that was awesome -- I don't know when I'll get to hang out with a kingfisher like that again!

On the bank of the kingfisher's pool, a Song Sparrow was hopping around in a small tree, and that drew my attention for a little while. By random chance, though, my eyes wandered down from the sparrow to a thick tangle of brush below the tree, and then I realized... there was something in there looking back at me!

Hello! You're a bunny!!

I always wonder how well wild rabbits get along in the winter -- my own pet bunnies are here running around their comfy apartment, eating a constant supply of fresh hay and pellets, and what do the wild rabbits have to eat now? Twigs and bark? (To be fair, my bunnies like those, too.) In any case, though, this bunny probably isn't doing too badly, especially with such an excellent hiding place and superior camouflage on its side. I really never would've noticed this creature inside that mass of branches if the light hadn't been at just the right angle, and if I hadn't been standing in exactly the right place:

(Incidentally, I don't know for sure what species of rabbit this is, but my guess is that it's the more common of our two Connecticut rabbit species, the Eastern Cottontail.)

My final sight from yesterday's beach trip has to do with gulls. I still mostly think that gulls are boring, but I'm finding that the more I pay attention to them, the more I notice them doing cool things. Down at the edge of the water, where the sand was all fine and muddy, several gulls, including this Ring-billed Gull, were doing a bizarre dance that I've never seen before (and I apologize for all the wind in this video):

This behavior is officially known as "foot-paddling", and from what I've been able to find out (the internet isn't providing me with a lot of material on this topic, other than a name), it seems like this is probably a way for the gull to stir up little creatures out of the mud so it can eat them. I'm sure the gull's dance is useful, whatever it's purpose, but I can't help also finding it kind of hilarious -- I inevitably break out laughing about halfway through this video. (Paddle paddle paddle paddle!)

Between the sounds of little gull feet flip-flapping in the water, and more gulls dropping shells from the air onto the rocks, it was quite the percussion concert at the water's edge! And I guess gulls aren't so boring after all. :P

So many cool things! My favorite place is still the woods, of course, but more and more I'm coming to appreciate what the shore has to offer. It's nice, every once in a while, to take a walk on the beach.


  1. Haha, I posted a video of dancing gulls too at one point while I lived in Georgia! I'm jealous of your Brants - I've never seen one.

  2. Rebecca: I just found your video -- how cool that we both saw Ring-billed Gulls doing the dance! Hehe, funny birds.

  3. Lizzy, In 26 years of being a Ranger and spending summers at the shore, I never saw that behavior from gulls. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Joe: I'm glad I could share something new! :D

  5. I want to see a kingfisher! They look so punk! Love the bunny!

  6. The reason the Florida ranger never saw that gull dance is obviously because that bird is dancing the .." oooh oooooh ! that cold water is freezing my toes !!"dance. Great stuff Elizabeth.......Victor

  7. I just finished my Master Thesis on Ring-billed Gull feeding habitats in Montréal area. Very interesting video!

    Thank you for sharing.

    Biologist MSc., Research Assistant
    Laboratoire de Jean-François Giroux
    Université du Québec à Montréal

  8. hikeagiant2: Kingfishers are definitely punky! If you make it out to NSF sometime, I can almost guarantee that you'll see one. (Of course, having said that, I didn't see her the last time I was there, but usually I do!)

    Martin: How cool! I'm glad you found the video interesting. :D

  9. We have some banded Ring-billed Gulls that have been saw along the East Coast, including in Connecticut. With luck, you could see one! You can report your sightings on our website (gull.uqam.ca).