Friday, March 29, 2013

Wood Frogs!

Today was pretty much the perfect spring-like day. Paul and I decided we had to take advantage of such gorgeous weather (sweatshirts, not coats!), so we went for an afternoon walk in West Rock Ridge State Park, where I was super excited to find Wood Frogs in full courtship mode! Yaaay, Wood Frogs!!

This little pool (almost more of a big puddle, really) was practically roiling with dozens of male Wood Frogs, all calling and charging around at each other. I actually only saw one pair of frogs that had coupled up, and no other females. (I'm sure the girls were hiding in there somewhere.) These frogs were so totally engrossed in displaying their masculinity that they didn't seem to care at all that Paul and I were walking around (not quietly) just feet away from them. These guys mean serious business.

I just love these creatures, and it was really great to get to show them to Paul, who'd never experienced their mating frenzy before. We just stood there for a while, watching these frogs wrestle and listening to their ridiculously loud/hilarious chorus, and it was awesome -- definitely one of my favorite spectacles of early spring.

Here's a brief video I recorded of these frogs in action. (Note the air sacs on either side of this guy's head.... I was really surprised when I first learned that this is how male Wood Frogs work, and I still think it's extremely cool.)

As a bonus, we heard a few Spring Peepers in the woods today as well. So now that the amphibians are waking up, I think that means spring can really begin. :)

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Growing Moss, and the First Moth of the Year

I was so hoping, when I went to the woods yesterday, that I would see some Wood Frogs. I know these guys are waking up and getting into mating mode around here (I've heard reports from other southern Connecticut towns), and it was bright and sunny yesterday afternoon with 50-degree temperatures, which seemed like nice Wood Frog weather to me. Unfortunately, the only place near my house where I know I can reliably find Wood Frogs is in Naugatuck State Forest on a section of trail that is currently closed for logging. So, as a second option, I headed off to Southford Falls State Park, but even though I checked out some likely-looking vernal pools, I saw no sign of frogs or their eggs. :(

Oh well, I'll keep my eyes open on future walks. It's early yet, and there will be plenty of time for amphibians in the months to come.

Perhaps I'm getting antsy for signs of anything green and growing, because I kept noticing the moss during yesterday's walk. Here are some of my favorite mossy sights from yesterday afternoon, lovely green/orange textured carpets spreading across the forest floor:

Although I didn't get to see any amphibians, I met a different first-of-the-year creature late last night. I've seen one or two moths flapping against our windows over the past couple of weeks, but this is the first one to pay a visit to our porch light:

This moth is (as best as I can tell) a Roland's Sallow (Psaphida rolandi). I love seeing the first moths of spring, because this means the creature diversity will only expand in the weeks to come! (And I can finally balance out all the birds that take over this blog in the winter.) Plus, this guy's pretty cute -- I'm really liking those red spots above its knees, and its tucked-back antennae:

While a few scattered patches of snow and ice remain, the insects are coming out, and growth is happening. (Especially exciting: This weekend the garden goes into the ground.) Yay, spring!

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Blackbird Horde

Spring migration is well underway, and for a few minutes this afternoon, our yard was host to a large mixed group of blackbirds as it passed through our neighborhood -- mostly Common Grackles and European Starlings, with a few Red-winged Blackbirds thrown in. Big blackbird flocks like this are pretty common occurrences in winter and early spring, but these birds don't come by our yard very often, so it was a cool sight to see. With easily over 100 birds flying around, I had a hard time getting pictures that could show the extreme hectic-ness of these birds' brief visit, but I managed to get a portion of the action, at least.

This tree seems to have sprouted big, dark leaves:

And the birds put on quite a show flocking from tree to ground and back:

How gorgeous is that Common Grackle on the right-hand side of the above picture? I still can't get over those colors, which seem so plain and black from a distance.

In fact, the starlings looked quite handsome up close as well -- a study in iridescence, both species together:

(Also, those Red Maple buds look close to bursting! Come on, flowers!)

Pretty soon, the flock was flying away again, off to inhabit someone else's yard for a while (note the Red-winged Blackbirds in the upper-right corner of this picture):

I think it's interesting that European Starlings fit into groups with native species of birds like this. Also, I'm ready for the trees to leaf out now, if only so the views from our back windows won't look quite so industrial. :P

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Happy First Day of Spring!

Today was sunny and beautiful, and I've been itching to get out into the woods, so I headed off this afternoon to Southford Falls State Park. After all, what better way to celebrate the first official day of spring than with a nice walk through the woods?

Did I say "spring"? This doesn't look particularly spring-like!

Even with a thin layer of snow still on the ground, though, the seasons are definitely changing. You've got your Skunk Cabbages in bloom (our first flowers, although they've actually been blooming for weeks now):

And your American Robins foraging in the muddy ground:

I also saw an Osprey wheeling high over the park's pond this afternoon -- these birds are just now returning from their winter stays to the south.

For a short stretch of my walk, I was accompanied by two Brown Creepers. (That is, they kept flying ahead of me along the path, although I'm sure they didn't actually intend to stay in my presence.) I think these little birds are really cool, and I'm always glad to see them doing their creeping thing up tree trunks:

I also really love the pattern of colors on this bird's back:

It looks like temperatures should start inching upward in the coming weeks -- this gradual shift into spring is so completely different (and much more normal, I imagine) than our jump to 70 degree days around this time last year. I'm happy to wait, because I know spring will be in full swing soon enough!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Return of the Operatic Song Sparrow

Two years ago, way back near the start of this blog, I posted about a particular Song Sparrow in our yard whose song sounded remarkably like the first few notes of "La donna è mobile" from Verdi's Rigoletto (this tune). Song Sparrows produce a wide variety of songs, and individual birds each have several songs in their repertoire, so Paul and I have heard many different offerings from these birds over the years (some more Rigoletto-like than others). But then this morning, I was surprised to hear the same song that first caught our attention years ago, and I took the opportunity to record the event. And now I'm pleased to present, in his internet debut, our local operatic Song Sparrow:

Pretty close similarity, right?? (Not exactly the same in terms of pitches, but pretty darn close nonetheless.) I don't know whether this is the same bird who serenaded us years ago, or whether it's another individual who learned the same basic song from that earlier bird. Either way, I think it's a pretty cool sonic coincidence.

Even crazier, though, is the fact that Paul and I are not the only people to have heard this particular tune in a Song Sparrow's repertoire. I did a Google search for "Song Sparrow" and "La donna è mobile" and came across this passage from a 1921 field guide by Ferdinand Schuyler Mathews, Field Book of Wild Birds and Their Music (Google Books link here):

Mathews 1921, pp. 114-116

Mathews' book turns out to be pretty wacky and awesome. He transcribes bird songs into music notation, often with newly composed accompaniment, and makes these types of comparisons to classical music throughout. It's definitely worth flipping through for fun!

After all this, the Song Sparrow's name seems extremely accurate. Here's to many more concerts to come from these awesome little brown birds. :)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I Heard an American Woodcock!

I first stumbled across American Woodcocks (or, if you prefer, "Timberdoodles") a couple of summers ago in the meadows of Naugatuck State Forest. Since then, I've been hoping to someday get to meet these birds again, and especially to see and hear their funky dusk-time mating displays. Well, spring is coming now, and lots of male birds are getting into courtship mode around here, so late this evening, I convinced Paul to head out with me to the middle of Naugatuck State Forest to see if any American Woodcocks were out and about. And lo, there was at least one male out in the woods, calling his little heart out with his strange, buzzing, kazoo-like call (which birders describe as "peenting"). Sing it, little Timberdoodle! (You'll need to turn the volume way up to hear him in this video. And don't mind the airplane going by overhead.)

Unfortunately, we had to leave before it got too dark, so I missed the later stages of this bird's mating display, in which the male launches up into the air and flies around in circles while making whistling sounds with his feathers. Really, though, I'm just proud of myself for accurately guessing where and when these birds would show up, and getting to confirm that the woodcocks are indeed back in the area this year. :)

As a bonus, the sky over the meadows looked really pretty just before sunset:

Tonight's adventure was a brief one, but it was definitely worth it!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Surprise Snow, and Birds All Over

Apparently out of nowhere, we got over a foot of snow today. (I saw a mildly cautionary winter weather advisory last night, but nothing particularly threatening.) And here I thought winter was over!

And this wasn't just any snow.... It was the kind of thick, wet snow that sticks to everything and turns the world entirely white. I loved this mid-storm view from our apartment's windows this morning, power lines and all:

And whenever the wind knocked down clumps of snow, the already thick snowfall would turn into an impressive avalanche:

I don't know if I've ever seen snow quite this clingy before. It stuck to objects, and then the snow stuck to itself, until inches of snow were hanging down off of various structures. The bird feeder in our yard looked like it was being enveloped by an over-large hat (see this feeder looking relatively normal after last month's blizzard for comparison):

Quickly, chickadee, escape before the snow collapses!

I couldn't stop admiring this snow, and in the process, I found several birds to admire as well. An American Crow cut a stark profile in the snowy trees across the street:

And a male Northern Cardinal looked especially red among all that white:

Our local pair of Red-shouldered Hawks is still hanging around (I saw them sitting together on a branch the other day), and one of these extremely awesome birds took up a snowy post near our yard this afternoon:

(I love that we have these gorgeous creatures around, and I will definitely be keeping my eyes open for a nest!)

Finally, a Northern Mockingbird spent a good deal of time eating old Red Cedar cones and Bittersweet berries in the trees outside our windows, and I got to admire this handsome bird up close. This is how I usually think of mockingbirds, all sleek and long:

I absolutely love the subtle range of colors on this bird's face, and those hazel eyes and tiny white "eyelashes" are very pretty indeed:

One more picture:

Later, I saw another mockingbird (I think this is a different individual), and it gave a totally different impression. Rather than sleek and slim, from this angle the bird was positively puffy. I didn't ever think I would want to call a mockingbird "cuddly," but there you are:

A couple of times, this bird shook its head and spit out some berry seeds. I had no idea this was something birds did! Mouth open... get ready...


Aaaand again! (This last picture has a certain grossness factor, but I think the inside of the mockingbird's mouth looks really cool.)

Wow, the things you learn watching animals up close!

And that pretty much sums up my snowy day. (Pretty snow, pretty birds, and spitting. Yay!) I wouldn't be surprised, though, if this storm was winter's last gasp. The snow turned to rain late this afternoon, and the weather report is calling for 50-degree temperatures over the next few days. In any case, I'm glad I got to enjoy this beautiful, thick snowfall, even if it only lasted a day!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Lovely Lichen

It was cold and windy today (and not particularly spring-like), and all of the creatures I saw on my walk this afternoon stayed too far away for pictures. Lichen, however, doesn't move, and once I started noticing it on the trees, I saw it everywhere, and in so many colors and patterns! Here's my favorite lichen-y sight of the day, like someone splashed generous amounts of neon paint on this tree:

It occurred to me to try to identify some of these lichens (it looks like there are at least three different species here), but as it turns out, there are a lot of lichens in our area, and no clear identification resources (that I can find) online. Maybe someday I'll learn to identify lichens, but I'll just have to settle for the much simpler process of admiration for now. :)