Monday, February 25, 2013

Heralds of Spring

Things are really starting to warm up out there! No so much in terms of temperature -- it was quite cold when I went for a walk this morning in Osbornedale State Park, and there's a good several inches of snow still covering the ground -- but the birds are sending out a pretty clear message: Spring is coming!

Over the past week or so, Song Sparrows and Northern Cardinals have started practicing their springtime songs around my apartment, and these birds were in especially fine form during this morning's walk. I heard sweet sparrow and cardinal calls from all directions pretty much all morning. This cardinal took up a perch high in a tree, where he could beam out his song across the park (and show off his fancy costume!):

And I heard a new (for this year) sound this morning that makes me think of spring even more: The Red-winged Blackbirds have started calling!

It may not look or feel like spring yet outside, but it sure is starting to sound like it!

This morning's walk held several additional delights, too. A tiny Golden-crowned Kinglet flitted around in bare (but bud-covered) branches:

(If I'm not mistaken, those are Spicebush buds swelling up!)

A couple of American Crows found a Red-tailed Hawk in the woods, and chased it off across the sky:

I can't help feeling a bit sorry for the raptors whenever they get mobbed like this. But, well, I guess being a predator has its downsides, and these sorts of encounters do make for some very cool and dramatic scenes:

At one point, a very aggressive mockingbird chased a male Eastern Bluebird right into my path, and I got to have a mini photo shoot while he caught his breath:

We have some very pretty birds around here, and bluebirds are definitely some of the prettiest. With that warm rusty red breast and pure white belly, and those luminous blue wings.... Yes, you are an extremely fetching bird:

And I noticed my new favorite thing about the male bluebird's costume from meeting this fellow up close today: I love, love, love the shade of baby blue on the underside of his tail feathers!

Now that I've gotten my massive snow for the winter, I'm looking forward to more signs of spring to come!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Two-Year Blogging Anniversary

As of today, this blog is officially two years old. Wow! Crazy! Happy anniversary, blog!

I like taking this chance to look back at some of the coolest things that happened here over the past year -- I did this one year ago, so let's keep the tradition going! What follows are some my favorite highlights from the second year of this blog's life. I hope you enjoy this whirlwind tour!

  • Last March (2012), I witnessed a somewhat risque Black Vulture rendezvous on top of the house across the street, and met a mink in the woods.
  • In April, I watched fantastically alien-like Red Cedar galls grow tentacles on the trees in our yard, and started my first season as a volunteer monitoring Piping Plovers and other shore birds for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (I saw one Piping Plover at the beginning of May, but there were no nests at that beach last season.... I'll be monitoring the same beach again this year, so fingers crossed for plover babies!)
  • In May, I went on an awesome trip with Paul's family to Florida, where we experienced Disney World wildlife, and saw lots of other awesome animals, including manatees! Back at home, I met a gorgeous Spotted Turtle who happened to pass through our neighborhood on its travels. 

  • In December, I saw crossbills and seals and more at Hammonasset Beach State Park.
  • In January, I saw an Eastern Red Bat (!) flying around on a warm day and met Common Redpolls at the shore. Between the nuthatches, crossbills, and redpolls, it's been really great getting to see all these northern birds this winter!
  • And now in February, I got a dream-like weekend of snow and snowshoes (after our historic blizzard).

Yep, this past year has been a pretty amazing one. I'm extremely glad that I started keeping this blog two years ago, and who knows what new and exciting things are waiting in the future! Thank you, once again, to everyone who has read and commented in this space -- I love being able to share these sights, and your encouragement and knowledgable input is always awesome. Yay, the internet. :)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Two Frozen Beaches

Whew! There has been a lot of concentrated work going on around here in the past couple of weeks. But then this morning, as my reward for meeting a big deadline yesterday, I finally got to go outside again. :) Yaaaay, freedom from my computer screen!

For my mini-vacation, I chose to visit the shore. I knew it was going to be cold out there, but what I wasn't expecting was the freezing wind that hit me almost as soon as I got out of my car. "Biting" is an extremely apt descriptor here. (In hindsight, this would have been an excellent time for me to be wearing that wool balaclava I got for Christmas.... Oops!) As it turned out, I was only able to last about 30 minutes outside at a time, so I adopted a strategy that balanced outdoors-time and survival pretty nicely: I hopped back and forth between two beaches a few minutes drive from each other, and warmed up in the car on the way. Thank goodness for my car's heater!

I started off the morning at Silver Sands State Park, where heavy clouds and morning light made for some very dramatic skies over the Long Island Sound:

Charles Island looked downright stark, out alone in the water, and with that weird orange light beaming out from it:

Near the the entrance to the park, I came across a bunch of Savannah Sparrows foraging in some pushed-up dirt next to the road:

I don't know what kind of food these little birds were finding in the (mostly frozen) mud, but it must've been something good, because they were in this spot practically all morning (I saw them when I first arrived at the park and also when I left, and then when I came back and left again later). The now hard-packed snow must be making it difficult for sparrows and other birds to find food, and I guess they have to take whatever's available at this point.

I'm definitely growing to appreciate sparrows, dainty little stripey brown birds that they are. These stripes on this bird's back are definitely striking:

I hope you guys found enough to eat here!

A couple of Song Sparrows were flitting around in another part of the park. I like being able to compare the Song Sparrow in the next picture to the Savannah Sparrows above -- the two species are so similar at first glance, but now I'm noticing that Savannah Sparrows have a sort of yellowish-brown cast, whereas Song Sparrows seem more reddish-brown overall:

Before my skin had a chance to freeze, I hopped in the car and headed down the road to Milford Point. Here, the water near the shore was filled with ducks, including three Red-breasted Mergansers who spent most of their time swimming around with their heads in the water (looking a bit like snorkelers) and their funny hair-like tufts sticking up into the air:

Here's one of the male mergansers showing his face -- that really is one crazy hairdo:

I ended my morning back at Silver Sands State Park. By the time I left, the skies had brightened a little, and the wind had mostly died down, but Charles Island looked perhaps even more remote under the weight of some very intense clouds:

Now that I know how cold the shore can be, I'll be sure to come better prepared next time. Either that or pick a warmer day to visit the beach. :P

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Not Snowed In

Friday night's blizzard came as expected, and then some. On Saturday morning, we had a brand new three feet of snow on the ground! Three feet!! Well, I asked for snow, didn't I?

We spent Saturday morning starting to dig our way out, but with no plows coming down our street, we could only get so far. After clearing a path to the road and digging out one car, we spent the rest of the day lazing around indoors and enjoying our newly snow-covered surroundings.

Today, we picked up right where we left off: Snowed in, but working on getting out. Hello, car, we knew you were under that mountain of snow somewhere!

Our neighbor was nice enough to push a lot of the snow around with his truck, but our street still just sort of came to an end in a wall of snow after a few houses -- no one's getting out that way!

Yeah, this is a lot more snow than we're used to getting, especially all at once. I posted a picture of the bird feeder in our front yard the other day, at the beginning of the storm, and here's that feeder again today for comparison:

The birds have been making good use of the feeder, and this Song Sparrow stopped by (to say "thank you"?) while we were shoveling:

After a good stretch of work, we managed to free my car, and then, happily, a huge plow came barreling down the street. Freedom! :D

There was exactly one thing I wanted to do today, and with the route from our house now cleared, I took my chance. I bundled up, grabbed my brand new snowshoes (a Christmas gift I haven't been able to use yet for lack of snow), and headed off for the woods.

And I have to say, I totally and completely lucked out, because I actually achieved my goal. The road situation around here is very bad right now: most roads have only one lane plowed, if that. (A lot of people are still snowed in.) I had no hope, really, of actually finding a park entrance cleared, but I felt like I had to try -- with threats of rain and 40 degree temperatures for tomorrow, this was my only chance to get to walk in the fresh snow. So I drove to Naugatuck State Forest, and as I expected, the entrance and parking area was buried under deep snow. But miraculously, a plow had cleared off a small section of the shoulder a few yards away from the entrance, making a spot big enough for exactly one car. So I parked there, got suited up, and headed off into the woods, where it was just me, the snow, trees, and birds. In short, it was perfect.
Some very snowy woods
A snow-covered lake
Wind-blown waves in the snow's surface
Lots of little birds were flitting around in the trees, and one big bird made an appearance as well. This Turkey Vulture was feeding on a dead something (hidden behind a snow bank) near where I parked my car -- I startled it from its meal, but it resumed eating when I left:

Wow, you are one strange looking bird up close! (Also, extremely cool.) Hey, are you smiling?

A White-breasted Nuthatch also came close while I was walking, and I got to admire this very handsome creature from above:

And from below!

I know, this is a very strange angle for a picture, but you have to admit, that's an extraordinarily pretty pattern under the nuthatch's tail:

I didn't see any animal tracks at all during my visit, which surprised me a little. It felt pretty amazing, though, to be the first one to walk through this snow:

In the end, I spent a good hour and a half tromping around, and while I didn't actually go very far, I was pretty exhausted by the end! I love my snowshoes because they let me experience places like this, but between snowshoeing and all that shoveling, I anticipate that I'll be pretty darn sore tomorrow!

But really, it was worth it. I couldn't have asked for a more perfect day. :)

Friday, February 8, 2013

Bird Flurries, Mid Storm

Well, serious snow is happening now! It's been snowing all day -- we have a few good inches already -- and blizzard conditions are supposed to hit us around midnight. I am excited. :)

At once point earlier this afternoon, our local birds burst into a storm of activity in the trees outside our apartment's windows, and I got completely stuck watching all these little songbirds playing (OK, I guess "foraging" is a more accurate term) in the gathering snow.

There were handfuls of Dark-eyed Juncos, little soot-colored puffballs:

Some of the juncos were even eating bittersweet berries, which is something I don't think I've seen them do before:

There were also several Black-capped Chickadees (of course):

A lovely female Northern Cardinal (who looks a bit grumpy in this picture; doesn't she like being covered in snow?):

And a bunch of Tufted Titmouses -- one titmouse in particular stole the show with its utter cuteness:

I just love that fan-shaped tail, and that pointy, pointy head!

You, Mr. or Mrs. Titmouse, are one snazzy bird:

Hopefully everyone's all snug and safe now, ready to ride out the blizzard ahead. (The wind's really starting to pick up as I type this.) Also, I'm glad I finally decided to fill the old bird feeder in our front yard recently -- the birds sure seemed to appreciate the free meal in today's weather!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Mallards and Geese

Paul and I went for a walk through the neighborhood this afternoon, and we ended up at a little pond next to some industrial buildings. Also at this pond were those most common of water birds: Mallards and Canada Geese. But just because they're common, that doesn't mean they can't be cool, too!

Someone must feed the ducks and geese at this pond, because as soon as we showed up, a couple dozen Mallards came cruising across the pond and over the iced-up banks, heading straight for us:

Ah, humans! Humans have food.

A pair of Canada Geese then came barreling in, and they made it very clear that they're the ones in charge around here:

Geese are big, and very loud -- I'd definitely be intimidated if I were a duck! And these guys were honking quite insistently:

The ducks didn't object, and the geese seemed pretty pleased with themselves:

And after all that, we weren't even giving away any food. The birds figured that out pretty quickly, though, and then we became just boring humans again:

I have to admire Mallards and Canada Geese for doing so well in human-populated areas, and the fact that they can convince people to give them food probably helps. In any case, it's nice to get a chance to admire these very common birds close to home. I mean really, common or not, you've got to love the total flashiness that is the male Mallard: