Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Redpolls! And Other Foggy Shore Sights

Today was full of surprises. First, I had planned to head out to the beach this morning, but then I woke up to find an unexpectedly thick fog outside. And I mean thick -- the weather forecast said visibility was at 0.2 miles, but I think it might have been less than that at some points. Even so, I was eager to get outside and take advantage of the brief warmth (today's high was over 50 degrees), so after some waffling, I grabbed my chance and set off into the fog. I had another off-putting surprise, however, when I reached my planned destination, Silver Sands State Park, only to find the park's gates closed. Well, OK then!

As a final attempt to get to the shore, I headed off next to Milford Point, and as it turned out, that was the perfect place to be. Even though the day started with two unfortunate surprises, it was all good surprises from then on -- walking in the quiet, enveloping fog was a great experience, and there were a ton of very active creatures around. And the best surprise came as soon as I got out of my car. What are all those little birds hopping around in the weeds on the edge of the parking lot? Oh! Redpolls!

Common Redpolls are one of those species of northern finches that venture south into our area in the winter, but only in certain years. This happens to be one of those years, but even so, redpolls are fairly uncommon in Connecticut, and this was the first time I'd ever seen them. So I was very happy to get to watch these little stripey birds as they sought out tiny seeds among dried stems:

These redpolls were incredibly bold, too -- they would startle and fly up into the trees every once in a while, but then they'd come right back down to forage within a few feet of me. The whole situation was very cool. And can I just say, I love the outfits on these birds. The males had an extra rosy pink wash down their chests (unfortunately, none of the boys wanted to sit still to have their pictures taken), but the females were gorgeous, too, with those perfect velvety caps (what a fantastic color!) and black goatees -- and is that a tiny blush of pink on this girl's cheeks?

Yes, you are a very pretty little bird. I hope you're enjoying those seeds!

What a great start to this morning's adventure! I spent quite a bit of time with the redpolls (who knows when I'm going to get to see them again), and watched several other small birds foraging in the same area. This Song Sparrow must've been picking through the mud, if that large brown glob on its beak is any indication:

Finally, though, I tore myself away from the parking lot and headed down to the beach, where the fog made much more of a presence. It felt distinctly weird to see the shore fading away into nothing:

(Also weird: ice on the beach! That isn't something I expected to see.)

Large flocks of geese, ducks, and other shorebirds filled the area -- they kept emerging from the fog as I walked, and I could hear the sounds of many more birds out there than I could see. This group of Canada Geese and Brant seemed to be floating in space, with no horizon in sight:

It was cool to see these two types of geese side by side, their similar patterns of dark and light making interesting shapes in the fog (the Brant are the smaller birds in the front):

It still seems strange to me, actually, to see Canada Geese hanging out on the beach, but there you go:

Several large flocks of small shorebirds kept flying up and down the shoreline, and one flock of Dunlin (one of Connecticut's more common dippy winter shorebirds) cruised right by me:

I caught up with some of these guys later on, and I got to marvel at their funky profiles:

And then they flew off again. Dunlin butts!

At one point, the wind started to pick up, and the fog lifted for a few minutes to reveal some stunning views across the marsh:

I really just cannot get over that marsh grass and its fire-like glow. OK, just one more picture before the thick fog descends again:

In the end, I'm very glad that I ended up going for an adventure on this foggy, wondrous day. And I'll close with one last sight.... Out of the thick fog, a strange creature emerges:

(At least, that's how I see it. I suppose it could also be a branch.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Yellow-bellied Sapsiclesucker

We have a female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker who's been hanging out in a maple tree at the edge of our yard for a couple of weeks now. This morning, I looked out of my window to see her examining a rather large amount of frozen sap (let's call it a "sapsicle") on the tree:

Sapsuckers drill wells in trees and eat the flowing sap, so I'm almost positive this is the result of her work. This girl was definitely interested in the frozen stuff, but I couldn't tell if she was actually getting any food from it or not:

Does it taste good? I would probably try some frozen maple sap at least once!

This is actually the third winter in a row I've seen a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker hanging out in this tree, and I've seen sapsicles on this tree before, too. I wonder whether this same female has been coming back to our yard every year, but I don't think I can know for sure. Maybe this particular tree is just super delicious for sapsuckers. Either way, I thoroughly enjoy having this lady around, with or without her funny frozen sap formations. :)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ultra-Puffy Chickadee

It got fairly warm today (50 degrees), but a brisk wind kept things quite chilly while Paul and I went for a quick walk around the neighborhood. Apparently we weren't the only ones feeling the wind, because we came across the puffiest chickadee I have ever seen -- it was huddled into a perfectly round and fluffy ball in a bush next to the path:

What a lovely flowing black-and-white hairdo you have, little bird! And yes, you're doing a marvelous impression of a tennis ball:

(I know it's been chickadee central around here recently, but what can you do? These guys are just the perfect combination of visible, approachable, and adorable.)

Even though Skunk Cabbages started poking their buds above the ground already in late fall, seeing them now among melting patches of snow makes me think of spring:

But we've still got some winter left, yet! Keep those feathers fluffed up, little birds!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hawks and Chickadees in the Snow

We woke up this morning to a few inches of gorgeous snow on the ground. It's been raining all afternoon, so the snow is distinctly less gorgeous now, but I jumped at the chance to take some pictures from our apartment's windows while the scene lasted.

A pair of Red-shouldered Hawks has been hanging around our yard recently, and they were camped out in the trees across the street pretty much all morning:

These are some very handsome birds, and I'm glad they seem to like our neighborhood. :)

And when a few Black-capped Chickadees started foraging in the Red Cedar trees outside our window, I couldn't resist them. What's cuter than a chickadee? A chickadee in the snow!

With snow covering the branches, these guys knew to look for food from below:

I love having these wonderful little creatures around!

Yay, snow!

Monday, January 14, 2013

A January Bat!

I was driving to Osbornedale State Park this afternoon when I saw something totally unexpected.... A bat flew down the road, just over my car!

I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've seen bats in Connecticut. (In case you didn't know, White-Nose Syndrome is a new disease that's been horribly decimating north-eastern bat populations in recent years.... Perhaps that's why I hardly ever see bats now.) Not only was this bat at close range, but it was out during the day, and in winter, no less! So even though I was on a fairly busy residential road, I just had to pull over and get out of the car to see this awesome creature. People, there's a bat flying over your driveway!

This bat was flying back and forth along a short stretch of the road, presumably hunting insects. At this point in the afternoon, the temperature was just over 50°F, and I did see some flying insects later in the day, so perhaps this was a good area for a bat to find food. My best guess is that this was an Eastern Red Bat, a tree-dwelling species, and I have read that these bats do sometimes wake up on warm winter days to feed. (Here's hoping that's actually the reason, and not that this bat was ill.)

I would have loved nothing more than to just sit and watch the bat zooming around, but unfortunately people kept stopping their cars and coming out of their houses to make sure I was OK. (Which was nice of them, but I had to keep explaining that everything was fine, I was just taking pictures of a bat. Yep, totally normal.) So I couldn't stay too long without feeling like a complete creeper. Also, bats are insanely hard to photograph! (Birds fly, too, but they don't zig-zag.) Here's the best and closest picture I ended up with, in which you can just barely see its little ears and eyes (and a tiny hole in its wing):

So yeah, bats are awesome. I actually reported this sighting to the CT DEEP, because their website asked for reports of bats flying in winter. Hopefully this wonderful auburn fellow got a nice meal, and will enjoy a safe sleep until spring!

[Update, 1/17/13: I just heard back from Connecticut's DEEP, and this was indeed an Eastern Red Bat! Apparently these bats typically migrate south (and out of CT) for the winter, but there have been more reports of Eastern Red Bats than usual this fall and winter, possibly as a result of Hurricane Sandy. How interesting!]

Highlights from my subsequent (less eventful) walk in Osbornedale State Park include a few Mallards taking advantage of some remaining ice in the pond as a place to rest and stretch:

And some fantastically gruesome-looking Blackberry Knot Galls (deformities on blackberry stems caused by the larvae of a small wasp, Diastrophus nebulosus):


Spring-like days and dark, damp woods are lovely, but I'd like some more snow this winter, please!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Icy Woodland Sights, and the Cutest Chickadee Ever

I visited Southford Falls State Park this morning, where I was happy to find a couple of inches of snow still on the ground, and a lovely iced-up pond:

We probably won't have scenes like this for long, since it looks like we'll have 50-degree temperatures and rain in a few days.... So these wintry sights will have to last me until our next snowfall!

One of my favorite things about this park is its big rocks in the woods -- the results of ancient glacial activity:

These blocky structures are quite imposing, but the moss and snow soften their edges a little:

I love this rock's shelf of greenery under its snowy blanket:

Snow and ice are pretty, but some parts of the path were downright trecherous (don't go this way!):

In another spot, the snow preserved a fascinating footprint (my foot provides a size comparison):

Dinosaur?! Well, I guess probably not, although that actually was my first thought. (We recently visited Dinosaur State Park, which features hundreds of preserved dinosaur footprints that look remarkably like this one -- so I had dinosaurs on the brain.) Barring a prehistoric visitor, then, I'm guessing this is the mark of a vulture, or possibly some other large bird of prey. [Edit: Or a Wild Turkey! Thanks to Quodlibet for the suggestion.]

The park's stream brought some cool sights as well, including this icy skirt beneath a large rock:

And myriad ice-islands centered around smaller rocks in the water:

Towards the end of my walk, I was admiring some dangling Alder catkins (which will bloom and turn orangey-yellow in the spring):

While a couple of extremely obliging (i.e., fearless) Black-capped Chickadees foraged just a few feet away from me. These guys must've been finding some tasty morsels in these twigs, because they were digging into the wood with woodpecker-like intensity:

I actually saw bits of wood flying as they worked away:

One chickadee came especially close for a few seconds, so you'll have to pardon a brief burst of pictures -- these creatures are just way too adorable, and I can't resist them:

Goodness, but you're gorgeous:

I really just want to snuggle this creature and its fluffy, fluffy belly:

The world is definitely better with snow and woods and chickadees. :)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Still Snowy!

I'm amazed at how well our snow from last Saturday has stuck. I'm used to seeing snow turn to grayish mush and disappear after a few days around here, but it's been a week now without any new precipitation, and the snow still looks surprisingly pristine:

Osbornedale State Park gave me lots of things to explore yesterday morning, lot least in the snow itself. Criss-crossing with the people-trails (full of boot prints and ski tracks) were many sets of deer paths, where hooves left deep, clear impressions in the snow:

And much of the snow under the brush showed the tracks of little hopping sparrows (there's even a perfect pair of avian footprints on the left in this picture):

All the usual winter birds were out and about, including this male Downy Woodpecker (so cute!):

And several White-throated Sparrows gave me somewhat unusual views. This bird happened to take off just as I snapped a picture, showing (who knew!) yellow feathers under its wing:

I watched a couple of these sparrows munching on bittersweet berries -- these plants are invasive, but the birds do seem to like them. [Edit: To clarify, there are two species of bittersweet, American and Oriental, and it's the Oriental Bittersweet that's invasive.] I love the bird's clinging claws in this picture, and its brightly-patterned face with the goopy red berry; too bad about all those branches in the way:

Mmmm, goopy berry:

Unfortunately, it looks like we'll have slightly warmer temperatures and possibly some rain in the next few days.... I'm glad I got out to enjoy the snow while I could!