Saturday, April 27, 2013

Catching Up With Spring

The weather has been so beautiful here in Connecticut lately! Just a string of perfectly sunny, mid-60 degree days. By yesterday afternoon, I couldn't resist the outdoors anymore, so I headed off to Osbornedale State Park to soak in the feeling of spring.

I love all the color and activity going on right now! I've been craving the sight of wildflowers recently, and this walk gave me lots of pretty blooms to admire. Small patches of dainty Dog Violets (Viola conspersa) dotted the path:

And Trout Lilies were all over the place, bright yellow lanterns lighting up the forest floor:

These are definitely some of my favorite flowers, and I'm very happy I got to see them in full bloom. Those mottled leaves make this plant even more cool-looking:

So pretty:

The Spicebush blossoms were already fading (but with little green leaves coming out):

In the meadows next to the woods, a couple of Yellow Warblers were singing loudly, an Eastern Phoebe was catching flies, and a pair of Red-tailed Hawks circled in the sky:

A pair of Northern Flickers made their presence very clear with lots of calling and drumming, and I even caught one of them with its head poking out of a hole in a tree. Will there be babies soon?

And look! Turtles! Now I know it's spring.

I saw mostly Painted Turtles at this pond, but that one on the right is a Red-eared Slider, a non-native species and probably someone's released pet (or its descendent).

This is such a great time of year, with a constant stream of new things to see. Here's hoping it won't be too long before I'm able to get out into the woods again!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Exploring Wales, Part 2: Not-Quite-Wildlife

One of the coolest parts about our recent trip to Wales was that we saw animals everywhere we went. Not all of them strictly counted as wildlife, so I guess I'm veering a little off topic with this post... but these creatures entertained us greatly, and I think that makes them worth sharing. :)

From the little bit we saw, Wales seems to be a land of sheep. So much of the countryside (even right outside town) was fields dotted with these white puffy mammals. We had fun seeing the sheep, of course, but even better was the fact that we were visiting during lamb season, and just about every field had a few (or several) of the smaller frolicking creatures:

And they were definitely frolicking! Such cute babies!

One more picture of this pair, with a little pink tongue for extra cuteness:

These first pictures are from the inland town of Dolwyddelan, but we saw sheep on the coast as well. This mom and her very young baby (a few days old? less?) were at a farm way at the top of the Great Orme, a hunk of land surrounded by cliffs that juts out into the ocean at the town of Llandudno:

The wind gusts were super intense on the day we visited the Great Orme -- I actually got blown off course by several feet at one point -- and this poor baby was having a hard time standing up:

Eventually it gave up on the whole walking thing and plunked down in the grass to rest:

The Great Orme is also home to another group of large fuzzy mammals: feral Kashmir goats that have been roaming this place since the late 19th century. We were lucky enough to get to see these fancy creatures on our visit -- just look at those horns, and that long fur!

These goats apparently help with conservation on the Great Orme because they graze away the tough competitive plants, and this makes room for rarer and more delicate wildflowers to grow in this unusual limestone environment. It wasn't yet wildflower season when we visited, but we were more interested in seeing the goats anyway. :P

The goats made quite a sight as they ambled across rocky fields bordered by cliffs and ocean (the goats are the little white dots in this picture):

It's a good thing goats are so sure-footed -- I would definitely be afraid of tumbling over the edge if I were standing where these three goats were:

Some of the goats came quite near the road where we were walking, and we got to admire them up close:

I'm a big fan of all that hair, and this one even has bangs:

Another goat. Hello!

Long fur and strong wind makes for some dramatic poses:

Overall, Wales was completely awesome, and I definitely could've stayed longer. Wonderful scenery, friendly people, interesting history, and cool animals... I'd call that a successful vacation for sure!

And now, back home in Connecticut, spring is in full swing but I haven't even gotten a chance to go for a walk in the woods yet. Next on the agenda: Catch up with the local spring happenings!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Exploring Wales, Part 1: Conwy Jackdaws and Other Birds

Last week, Paul and I ventured across the Atlantic Ocean and visited an exotic land: Wales! We stayed in Conwy -- a medieval walled city (castle included) on the northern coast -- and spent three glorious days exploring centuries- (and even millenia-) old man-made structures and amazingly dramatic countryside. We saw tons of things in our relatively short visit and had an awesome time!

There were old buildings and landscapes, of course, but we saw plenty of wildlife as well, mostly birds. It was really cool to hang out with these foreign (for me) creatures, and I even reached a new level of familiarity with a few recurring birds by the end of the trip. One of these was a bird that we saw everywhere we went in Wales, but which made a particularly strong presence at our home base in Conwy: the Eurasian Jackdaw.

These handsome birds (members of the crow family) were all over in Conwy, and especially in the main part of the town, where they were busy building nests in the tall, 13th-century walls:

I think these birds are extremely cool-looking, with those stark silvery outfits and brilliant eyes. And they certainly looked right at home among the craggy ruins of walls jutting up above more modern rooftops, watching over the town like sleek uniformed sentinels:

All throughout Conwy's town and castle, we saw Jackdaws peering out of holes in the old stone walls:

Basically, the Jackdaws seem to have some degree of ownership over parts of Conwy. And even more interesting to me, Conwy itself seems to have made the bird-town connection official. Surely that's a Jackdaw on top of this signpost in the center of town, yes?

The term "jackdaw" is also apparently used to refer to people born within Conwy's town walls. Overall, I feel like Paul and I got a special view of this town because we were paying attention to these birds.

The Jackdaws weren't the only birds vying for space among Conwy's walls and rooftops, but these other avian occupants were already pretty familiar (even if their home wasn't). Conwy's Rock Pigeons demonstrated why "pigeon hole" is a phrase:

And just as big and loud as they are here in North America, Herring Gulls staked claims on the walls as well:

Away from the Conwy town center and on our countryside travels, several other utterly delightful birds popped up. This Blue Tit was one of my favorites, and I was very happy whenever one of these fancy relatives of our chickadees and titmice appeared:

This Eurasian Wren was also adorable, perched here on an old stone wall near the small town of Dolwyddelan:

Wood Pigeons were quite common, and I thought of them as Mega-pigeons because they're so much bigger and bulkier than the Rock Pigeons that I'm more used to seeing:

Finally, we saw quite a few European Robins, and after three days, I came to love these gregarious little puffballs who popped up frequently to sing and show off -- often at eye level -- with very little fear of us. Their bright orange bibs certainly stood out among the predominantly brown (early spring) landscape:

These birds looked even more handsome, though, when they posed among new spring-green buds:

One robin landed directly in front of Paul and I as we rested on a park bench, and it proceeded to serenade us (LOUDLY) for several minutes:

Sing it, little bird!

But hey, watch where you're pointing that beak!

In all, I loved getting a feel for Wales through some of its common avian wildlife. We met a few other creatures, as well, who -- while not technically wild -- seemed especially Welsh.... But that's another post entirely! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Creatures in the Underbrush, an Osprey, and More

So today was one of those days where it seemed like we might have skipped right over spring and into summer. It got up to 80 degrees this afternoon, and it was an extremely pleasant 70 degrees when I visited Silver Sands State Park this morning. Quite a change from the 40-degree temperatures I encountered at this park last week!

There were tons of creatures out and about today, and I even got to see a few cool animals at unusually close range, mostly because these creatures felt safe in their brushy hiding places next to the path. I got some good practice with my camera's manual focus this morning!

A group of Wild Turkeys picked through the brush next to the beach, apparently confident that none of the people walking by just yards away would try to chase and/or eat them:

In another part of the park, two White-tailed Deer were also extremely close to the path, but on the other side of a fence that must have made them feel safe from passing people. One deer was lying down in the shade (looking very comfortable), and the other deer was grazing -- both looked up at me, but didn't seem particularly concerned:

A few feet away from the deer, another creature bounded into view, and then froze when it saw me. This Eastern Cottontail Rabbit looks like it's in the process of making a nest -- look at all that dried grass it's carrying!

Yay, I love getting to see wild rabbits! My own pet bunnies have given me a whole new appreciation for these funny little creatures in recent years. This one didn't seem to want any snuggles, so I moved on and left it (her?) to resume the nest-building project.

If you're a predator, you don't need to stay under cover so much, and I saw a few of these larger creatures on the hunt this morning as well. It's always cool to see herons and egrets stalking prey, and this Great Egret made a striking sight with its statue-still pose:

And I saw an Osprey (or possibly more than one) several times this morning, often with a fish in tow. One pass low along the shoreline put this awesome bird on a course directly toward me (I can't get over the huge reach of those wings!)...

...And then right over my head:

Wow, what a creature! And what a day!

This very eventful walk will have to be my last in Connecticut for a little while, because tomorrow I'm leaving for a grand adventure across the ocean! I'll be back in a week or so, most likely with stories and pictures of strange and exotic (for me) creatures in tow. Until then, enjoy the increasingly-emerging spring!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Waxwing Fly-through

A few Cedar Waxwings stopped briefly in the Red Cedar trees outside our windows this morning, just long enough to scarf down a few of last season's cones and pose for a portrait. The waxwings who passed through our yard last fall were mostly scraggly juveniles, but our visitors today were incomparably sleek, and just so cool-looking:

Bird, you are awesome. Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Mostly Blue and Brown

When I visited Silver Sands State Park this afternoon, I found the beach quiet, windy, and cold (the winter coat and scarf came back out)... and totally beautiful:

The low tide made for huge expanses of wave-washed sand, and I don't think I've ever seen the water quite that shade of blue before (practically teal). Seriously, could this water be any prettier?

The sights on the rest of my walk continued the ocean's color scheme: lots of blue (sky, water), and lots of brown. A Killdeer posed among waves of dried marsh grass:

A Great Egret (the first I've seen this year) circled high over the marsh:

A pair of Red-breasted Mergansers drank (in unison) in the middle of a pond:

And highly appropriate to the day's theme, a pair of Blue-winged Teal (a particularly awesome-looking duck which I'd never seen before) were also at this pond, but stayed too far away for pictures. (Too bad.)

There was also at least one sign that some other colors are starting to creep into the landscape. The brilliant yellow on these blossoming Willow trees definitely stood out!

Maybe someday we'll even get to see the color green again?