Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Palm Warblers

Yesterday, a few migrating Palm Warblers showed up in our yard, adding some brilliant color to these gray and drizzly days:

This was actually the first time I've seen Palm Warblers in our yard, and I am (as always) super grateful for the Red Cedar trees outside our windows that allow us to see visiting birds so close:

I just love this bird's outfit. The chestnut cap and chest streaks are especially wonderful:

And those yellow-olive trousers are pretty cool, too:

These birds are definitely welcome visitors!

I love spring. Let the parade of migrants begin!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Where the Wildflowers Are

Apparently I've been going to the wrong woods for spring wildflowers for years now! Well, "wrong" isn't quite what I mean; I still get to see Trout Lilies and violets and trilliums and other cool things at all my usual haunts. But today I visited the Bent of the River Audubon sanctuary, where I saw tons of wildflowers that are by no means rare in Connecticut but that I've missed entirely until now.

Like, for example, Bloodroot, whose blooms were closed when I first arrived:

But which opened into luminous beacons as the morning progressed:

I think these flowers are even prettier in the shade of the forest floor:

There were Dutchman's Breeches, fancy little flowers dangling over wonderfully frilly leaves:

And carpets of tiny Spring Beauties:

This little flower is definitely worth admiring up close:

I was already familiar with some of the other flowers I saw, but that didn't make them any less awesome. A few Red Trillium plants bore nodding blooms:

I think these are some of our most beautiful wildflowers, and I'm very glad I got to see them again:

I also admired the Trout Lilies, of course, stout dark plants in the sun:

And wispier individuals in the shade:

I don't think I'll ever get tired of seeing these plants:

So yeah, this is a pretty amazing place for wildflowers. And some other early spring sights made this morning's visit even better. A few Northern Rough-winged Swallows are setting up nests in holes in the riverbank:

I had way too much fun watching these birds perform their aerial acrobatics above the river as they jostled for territory:

A couple of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were foraging at the edge of the woods, and the female got close enough for some pictures:

Pretty bird:

When I caught up with these birds again later, the male was busy putting on a performance. He would fluff up his feathers and stretch his head down:

The female fluttered from branch to branch all around him, and he kept turning to face her. Bird courtship is so strange and interesting:

What do you think, Ms. Gnatcatcher? Is he fluffy enough for you?

In another part of the woods, a few Palm Warblers worked their way through the underbrush:

One of the last creatures to make an appearance during my visit was this large (multi-foot-long) black snake, who wound its way across the path:

At first, I thought this was a Black Rat Snake, but on closer inspection (and after a bit of research) it turned out to be a Northern Black Racer. How cool, a new snake for me! This website gives a good description of the differences between these two species of large black snake; this creatures' smooth scales were the biggest clue about its identity, since Black Rat Snakes have slight ridges on their scales. This snake rattled its tail against the dead leaves to warn me away -- an awesome behavior I'd never seen before -- but my zoom lens let me get a portrait before the snake disappeared into the woods:

With so many awesome plants and animals, I'm hoping to return to the Bent of the River again soon. I'm very curious to see what will show up here in the coming weeks!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Blue Water, Blue Sky, and Beautiful (?) Bird Faces

Today was perfectly sunny and decently warm. Even with the strong winds, it was a lovely day for a visit to the shore at Silver Sands State Park!

I often admire the water when I visit this beach, but I especially loved the teal-aqua-pale-blue color scheme during this afternoon's low tide. These colors were just amazing:

The sky was also awesome, with amazingly intricate (cirrus?) clouds making frost-like patterns overhead. Without my camera's wide angle lens, my phone took the best sky pictures:

One more. I love those barbed clouds on the left in this picture:

In the field/brushy area of the park, I noticed a hole in a tree right next to the path. I don't remember seeing this hole here before, and it's in such an obvious place (which I've walked by many, many times).... Could this be someone's newly constructed home?

Hey, are those pointy tail feathers in there?

Ah! A moustachioed male Northern Flicker! Hello, handsome:

I'm very impressed by the chisel-work on this cavity! I hope this guy and his mate keep going with what is presumably their nesting project, although I have to wonder why they chose such an exposed spot, right next to a path that will have more and more people and dogs on it in the coming months. Well, best of luck, birds! I'll try not to crowd you, at least, when I'm visiting again.

I'm getting practically used to seeing Wild Turkeys at this park, but that doesn't make an encounter with them any less exciting. A trio of turkeys (perhaps the same trio I saw in this spot a few weeks ago?) crossed the road in front of my car as I was leaving, and I took the opportunity for some portraits:

Are these some amazing faces or what? The light shining through this next bird's skin is particularly cool (and weird):

What a bird!

We're supposed to get a frost tonight, so the cold weather isn't completely gone yet. But early spring still brings plenty to see, and it's exciting to think of all the creatures and plants that will be showing up soon!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Frogs and Flowers

I'm glad I made it out to Naugatuck State Forest this afternoon to soak in the spring. Yellow-rumped and Pine Warblers were flitting through the treetops among Red Maple blossoms (way too high up for my camera to reach), and the Pine Warblers' trilling calls rang out all over. And I was just in time to catch some of our early woodland flowers coming into bloom!

Trout Lilies are some of my favorite wildflowers, mostly because of their gorgeous mottled leaves:

Trout Lily flowers are also lovely, of course, and one particularly sunny patch in the woods was already full of these dangling yellow blooms:

Speaking of yellow flowers, the Spicebush plants are just now making clouds of small yellow blossoms, either floating just above eye level:

Or bursting in sprays from the ground:

This (I think) Small White Violet (Viola macloskeyi) looks like a tiny cheerleader, or perhaps a conductor ("come on, spring!"):

American Willow catkins float, backlit, above one of the ponds:

I love that the amphibians and reptiles are now out and about. These two Green Frogs looked so perfectly relaxed on their moss-covered rock next to a stream:

Ah yes, sun-warmed rock and stream-dampened moss. I can't imagine a more comfortable place for a frog:

Seeing these two frogs next to each other made me appreciate the variability in Green Frog markings. (And yes, these are both the same species, as far as I know. The only other green-colored frog we have in Connecticut is the American Bullfrog, which lacks the Green Frog's ridges along the sides of its back.) Where the first frog has a lovely green mask, this second frog looks like it dipped its whole head in some green paint:

Around the ponds' edges, practically every branch in the water was a basking spot for rows of Painted Turtles -- at least, until a person (me) walked by. Here's a stealthy shot of one of the turtle logs, just before the exodus.

The birds were mostly distant or hidden, but this lovely little Chipping Sparrow paused on a shady branch just long enough for a picture:

And the explosion of spring life is just beginning!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Noisy Neighbors

The Red-shouldered Hawks that live in our neighborhood have been particularly boisterous in recent weeks. This morning, one of the birds sat in a tree in our yard and yelled (about what, I don't know) for 15 minutes or so. I was trying to work, but of course I had to get up and take a video of this bird instead. There's only one call in this video, then a lot of sitting around (which I was too lazy to edit out), but then there's also a cool shake and leg-stretch after about a minute:


I should point out that I don't at all mind the noise if it means these awesome creatures are hanging around. What an impressive bird!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Assorted Beach Sightings

Between migrating birds and increasingly active residents, the beach certainly is an interesting place to watch spring take hold! Here are a few sightings from my visit to Silver Sands State Park yesterday morning.
Several male Red-winged Blackbird were busy staking claims in the marsh, and I guess the boardwalk is part of this fancy fellow's territory:

Sing it, Mr. Blackbird!

A Greater Yellowlegs graciously posed for a few pictures:

Those legs are quite striking!

I was pretty tickled to find that the stretch of boardwalk that was rebuilt last summer is now a roosting and courting (and possibly nesting) spot for Rock Pigeons. It was a little strange to hear cooing sounds coming from beneath my feet!

And there's a rabbit again! I'm surprised at how bold these creatures have gotten at this park; this rabbit was even near a path where people and dogs frequently walk:

All in all, a lovely beach day.