Thursday, March 20, 2014

More Mergansers on the First Day of Spring

Today was a beautiful day, warm and bright, and perfectly appropriate for the first day of spring! To celebrate the turning seasons, I went for a walk in Naugatuck State Forest this afternoon. I was hoping, when I set out, that the mid-50s weather and the rain-soaked ground would bring out the Wood Frogs, but I saw no signs of amphibians yet. Ah well, there's plenty of time to meet up with these creatures in the weeks to come. In the meantime, there were lots of other things to see in the woods!

As soon as I arrived, I was greeted in the parking area by a flock of American Robins feasting on cascades of bittersweet berries (the introduced Asian plant species, I believe):

Now that the ground is soft and mostly snow-free, I would expect the robins to be hunting for food there. But I guess these birds still like their fruit, too:

The bodies of water in this park are still mostly iced over, but the melting edges made some cool-looking paths through the ice:

And who should be in one pond's melted corner but a trio of Hooded Mergansers! This seems to be quite the week for Hooded Mergansers, after my other relatively close viewing a few days ago. Well, I'm always happy to see such awesome birds! The trio included two males, who were (of course) gorgeous:

Hello, Mr. Merganser, with your funny head.

There was quite a bit of chasing and stretching and preening among the two males, who were probably hoping to impress the single female. I guess it's getting to be that time!

I also love how, for all their elegance in some poses, the males can look downright frumpy when those hoods go down:

And I have to say, as awesome as the males are, I'm kind of obsessed with the female Hooded Merganser right now. How beautiful is her auburn hairdo?

What a glamorous lady:

I spent a long time with the mergansers, but there were lots of other cool sights as well. This orange fungus looks like it's about to explode out of this tree.

And this sleek Sharp-shinned Hawk perched up high with its songbird meal (looking like it had two tails):

What a wonderful day in the woods. Happy first day of spring!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Suiting Up for Spring

We've had American Goldfinches visiting our yard all winter for the first time this year. (They found our feeders in the fall.) These dainty little birds are delightful all the time, of course, but right now they're making me especially happy, because the males are changing into their summer costumes. Spring is on its way!

This guy has bright yellow feathers among the gray and brown, the beginnings of a black crown, and an almost-all-orange beak. This is such a drastic change from the plain grayish-yellow outfits these birds wore a month ago, and different again from the sleek and brilliant costumes they'll have by next month! I'll be excited to see these birds in their summer finery in the weeks to come. Right now, though, I'm loving these in-between patchwork suits. :)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Free to Wander!

Whew!! I've been cooped up inside for several weeks now, working toward a huge deadline. But now the deadline has come and gone, the work is done (yay!), and I can finally get outside again for some relaxing wanderings in the woods. And how perfect that this new freedom has come just in time for some really great spring-like weather!

It was gorgeous yesterday morning when I visited Osbornedale State Park. The animals were definitely feeling the onset of spring, too! So much of the park was just the same as when I visited here at the end of February last year; aren't seasons amazing? A male Northern Cardinal was singing jubilantly from the tallest trees:

Male Red-winged Blackbirds were all over the place, calling and flashing their bright shoulder patches:

A tiny Golden-crowned Kinglet fluttered around in the woods, checking out the sap flowing from a tree trunk:

Mmm, sap:

I love how the same place can be so similar from year to year, but there's always something new to see. The Eastern Bluebirds I met here last year were absent, but dozens of American Robins were foraging in the stubbly fields:

I'm happy to see Dark-eyed Juncos while they continue to hang around for another month or so:

I was also very happy to meet a few Fox Sparrows under the trees; I think these birds are super pretty, and I only see them every once in a while:

An Eastern Chipmunk watched me from high up in a vine-covered tree:

Happy almost-spring, little mammal! That's quite the fortress you've got there, and a lovely throne.

My favorite surprise of the day was a trio of Hooded Mergansers in a small melted corner of the pond -- two fancy males and a plainer female. These birds are so much like perfectly carved and painted statues, it's amazing:

Those are some really awesome costumes, especially when the males decide to raise their hoods:

Female Hooded Mergansers are also very pretty, of course, with their own funny fancy hair:

I am definitely excited for the many more spring happenings soon to come!