Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Post-Sandy Shore Sights

I went out to the beach this afternoon, and I have to say, I felt pretty guilty as I drove past the many people (with bulldozers, garbage trucks, or just shovels) working hard to clear away the sand and mud that the ocean dumped in front of their houses during Superstorm Sandy.... And here I was, just going out to look for animals on the beach. Guilt aside, though, my trip to Milford Point (a place I've only visited once before) was fun, and there was a lot to see.

(OK, fine, this is yet another bird-centric post. I need to get out to the woods to get some more variety in this blog soon!)

A bunch of dippy little Sanderlings were combing the rocky shoreline, showing off their pristine gray and white winter plumage:

Quite handsome little birds, no?

This Sanderling found a massive mollusc-y meal:

It worked hard to get the food, flipping that shell around and pulling at the soft stuff inside...

Ah! There we go! (Gulp!)

A group of Brant came cruising in for a water landing...

And then floated toward shore:

They even did a little surfing on the way in:

I actually ended up seeing a bunch of birds I'd never seen before, including a flock of Snow Buntings (adorable little white-black-brown birds that flew by too quickly for me to get pictures), and three Horned Larks with their crazy yellow and black faces:

What a face!

So the storm had some lasting effects (some very serious), but life continues, and that's always good to see.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Well, we made it through Megastorm Sandy in one piece, and we even still have power, unlike more than half of our town. I drove around outside for a bit today, and there are plenty of downed trees (big ones) and power lines out there, and I know we were very lucky to get through so unaffected. I can only hope for a quick recovery for those people who were hit badly by the storm.

In our yard this afternoon, several birds were making up for yesterday's horrible weather by foraging pretty much nonstop, and among those birds were two Golden-crowned Kinglets who spent quite a bit of time within camera-range of our windows.... How can I pass up the opportunity to take pictures of these fancy (and fidgety) little birds?

I'm always kind of amazed at how small kinglets are -- when I saw these guys out of the corner of my eye today, I thought for a split second that I was seeing hummingbirds. And because they're small, it's really easy to overlook them. I might have mentioned this before, but I'd never even heard of a kinglet until a couple of years ago. I think such a gorgeous bird deserves much more public attention:

These Golden-crowned Kinglets were looking particularly pretty among the bright orange and red Asian Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) berries -- these plants are invasive, but they are very pretty, too:

I'm glad I got to see these kinglets up close, tiny striped puffballs that they are. :)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

New Entertainment!

Almost exactly two weeks ago, Paul and I took our first steps into the world of wild bird feeding when we attached a small plastic feeder to one of our office windows. We (mostly I) fretted about whether the birds would ever find the feeder, and whether they'd want to eat from it at all with the two of us working pretty much all the time just a few feet away. We scattered some seeds on the windowsill in hopes that the birds would recognize them, and we even tied a White-breasted Nuthatch figurine (a 3/4 size Christmas tree ornament we've had for years) to the top of the feeder, in case a decoy could help the birds notice the location and/or feel more comfortable with it. And then we waited. I don't know whether the extra things we did actually helped, but today.... Success!

Yaaay, little Tufted Titmouse, you are the coolest, and the bravest! Thank you for your patronage, and don't forget to tell your friends! (And yeah, I keep thinking that fake nuthatch is real.)

I am optimistic that this new addition to the apartment will eventually mean lots of happy birds in our yard, and lots of entertainment for us. Plus, it's always exciting to find new ways to see birds up close! :D

Incidentally, if you're wondering about the ethics of window feeders (which we definitely were), apparently attaching bird feeders directly to the window actually decreases the likelihood of window strikes -- the feeder helps breaks up the illusion of an open pathway, and the little feathery creatures don't try to fly through solid glass. I just hope that actually turns out to be true for us!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Two Awkward Bird Pictures

The Yellow-rumped Warblers have been coming to our Red Cedar tree recently to chow down on its juicy cones. I have a habit now of grabbing my camera whenever something cool comes near the window, and somehow I ended up with this picture -- I'll call it "food, mid-gulp":

Then, when I was visiting the beach today (there was so much stuff to see last week, I had to go again), I caught this Song Sparrow in the wind, its long side feathers spread out almost like a second pair of wings:

I considered calling this post "Unflattering Bird Pictures", but I actually think the Song Sparrow's pose is quite pretty, if a little unusual. (Does anyone else see the Marilyn Monroe comparison?)

Cameras are definitely interesting -- how else would we get to see such weird frozen moments?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

White-crowned Sparrows and More Birds at the Shore

Today felt like a beach day, so I paid a visit this morning to Silver Sands State Park. I hardly spent any time on the actual beach, however, because there was so much going on in the other parts of the park!

The field-like area next to the marshes was positively bursting with small birds -- mostly sparrows -- flying from tree to ground to dried goldenrod stem and just all over the place. There were dozens of these little brown birds, presumably in the midst of their south-bound migration. As far as I could tell, most of the birds were Song Sparrows and Savannah Sparrows -- I'm still not 100% confident in my sparrow identification skills, so there was a lot of pointing-and-shooting with my camera so I could check the IDs later at home. This actually turned out to be a useful lesson in how much variety there can be from individual to individual within a single species. I'm fairly certain, for example, that the bird in this picture is a Savannah Sparrow, even though it doesn't have much yellow above its eye at all, and that's the feature I usually use to identify these birds. (Perhaps this is the pale "Ipswich" subspecies that my field guide shows.)

So yeah, sparrows are tricky. I did see one species of sparrow this morning, though, that stood easily out from the rest.... With that weird helmeted head, it's tough to mistake a White-crowned Sparrow for anything else!

This is the first time I've seen White-crowned Sparrows in Connecticut, although they do apparently show up here in small numbers in the fall and winter. There were several of these birds hanging out this morning -- I saw just the one adult with its stark black and white markings, and the rest of the birds were juveniles, sporting more subdued colors:

This particular young White-crowned Sparrow was nice enough to hop around in a puddle while I stood right there -- I guess the puddle was more enticing than I was scary! So I took this unusual opportunity to go a little picture-crazy with this cool little fellow:

Mmm, plants!

I love the patterns of this young bird's feathers, and the puddle does look like a nice place to hang out:

And I can't help sharing this accidental picture -- look, a bouncing sparrow! :P

There were more little birds besides sparrows flitting around, too. A bunch of American Goldfinches were hanging out, looking a little less than pristine after molting out of their summer colors:

And a few warblers showed up, including this completely adorable Yellow-rumped Warbler -- I just love these birds:

I watched a Belted Kingfisher as it flew noisy circles over a nearby pond:

And an American Kestrel hovered over the field, fanning its tail and flapping its wings to stay in precisely one place for several seconds at a time:

Maybe the kestrel had its eye on one of our little sparrow friends?

When I finally did make it down to the beach, I found much less activity there. Aside from a few gulls and cormorants, in fact, the only movement came from a dead, globe-shaped bush, tumbling along across the sand:

What a surprising day!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Blackpoll Warbler

The traveling birds just keep coming through the yard, and our Red Cedar tree provides the perfect place for the birds to hunt for food while I creepily watch them. Today's fancy visitor was a Blackpoll Warbler:

Like so many other warblers, Blackpoll Warblers look much fancier in the spring, with the males sporting black caps and mustaches. I think this more subdued fall costume is still quite nice, though. And I'm not 100% sure, but I have a suspicion that our visitor may have been a male -- that looks like the remains of a mustache to me:

And are those a few scattered black feathers on the top of your head, too, bird?

I love it when warblers come to hang out here -- they all seem to have such a good time fluttering around and snatching bugs from the branches. What would it be like to live in an environment where there's food literally all around?

Thanks for stopping by, Mr. Blackpoll, and best of luck on your trip south!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Soggy Fall Woods

When I went for a walk in Naugatuck State Forest yesterday morning, we'd just had a couple days of rain, and even though the sun was coming out, everything was still soaked through. I happen to love the way the woods looks after rain, with the trees deep and dark and leaves glowing:

And now that fall is really setting in and the leaves are changing, the woods were looking especially showy. I just could not get over the colors on this (I believe) Sassafras tree, especially against the dark mostly-pine woods!

On soggy days, I tend to keep an eye out for amphibians, and I definitely wasn't disappointed during yesterday's walk. I always love getting to hang out with Red Efts (juvenile Red-spotted Newts), and a few of these brilliant little creatures were taking walks along the same paths as me. I hope they didn't mind my camera in their faces!

Efts are just too wonderful. I wonder why some are more shockingly orange than others:

Under a flat log, I found a little Red-backed Salamander, whose adorableness certainly rivals the efts' (although I don't think I could choose between the two):

And on the underside of the salamander's log was this group of European Sowbugs (Oniscus asellus) -- I'm sure I've encountered these creatures before (in the garden, most likely), but I never really stopped before to notice how crazily prehistoric they look:

Speaking of weird things on logs, I also found these pink bubbly growths, which turned out to be a slime mold (!) called Wolf's Milk (Lycogala epidendrum) -- I identified them thanks to a recent post on Saratoga Woods and Waterways:

(Looking at this picture now, I just realized that there are lots of smaller, brown spheres on the lowers parts of this log.... I wonder what's going on there.)

There were tons of birds flying around, but not many wanted to come in range of my camera. A Brown Creeper did come close enough, however, for me to notice how ridiculously large those feet and claws look -- all the better for creeping up tree trunks, I guess!

For whatever reason, I also saw quite a few Woolly Bear caterpillars crawling around on one section of the path. One was munching away at a big leaf on a Mullein plant, and it had already made a very respectable hole -- how appropriate, a woolly caterpillar and a woolly leaf:

Hooray for soggy days in the woods!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Cedar Waxwings Galore

The Red Cedar tree in our yard is now officially open for business, so say the Cedar Waxwings who were busy feasting on its berry-like cones all day today:
A waxwing in a sea of food.
I counted about 20 or so Cedar Waxwings in this flock, but there could've easily been more -- they were moving around so much, it was hard to get an idea of how many were actually out there. Most of the birds were juveniles, with streaky breasts and a generally scruffy appearance:

Hello scruffy bird, see anything you like?

In fact, I only saw one individual with the sleeker feathers and those funky red waxy deposits on its wing tips that mark older birds:

So this may not have been the fanciest group of waxwings ever, but these birds were a ton of fun to watch as they scarfed down as many cones as they could, as quickly as possible. And yeah, the juveniles could actually be pretty sleek, too:

Look, a waxwing tongue!

Speaking of tongues, there were a few other birds sampling Red Cedar cones today as well, including, to my surprise, a Northern Flicker -- I didn't think these birds ate fruit, but I guess they do! A few cones down, and then it licked its lips....

Now that's a tongue!!

I'll keep an eye on this tree to see what other creatures stop by for a snack. Hopefully there will be enough food to go around for a while yet!