Friday, May 30, 2014

Piping Plover Up Close

During my visit to Silver Sands State Park yesterday, I took a bit of a detour to check on a pair of Piping Plovers that have set up a nest on the beach just east of the park. I've never walked out of the park's boundaries in this direction before, and the shoreline's definitely beautiful. I can see why people would want to have houses here:

The Piping Plovers (perhaps the same pair I saw at Silver Sands a few weeks ago?) were nicely settled on their sandy nest essentially in someone's back yard. The nest is surrounded by protective fencing that the plovers can wander freely through but which keeps predators and people away. (I don't have any pictures of the nest because I kept my distance.) The two plovers took turns incubating the eggs while the other bird went foraging. It was a little strange to see the plovers running past furniture as they hunted around their home:

After I'd finished watching the nest, as I was heading back along the shoreline, the male Piping Plover flew down to the water's edge and landed right in front of me to hunt. I avoid approaching these birds so as not to disturb them (especially now that they've got a nest), but if they come to me, then OK!

I settled down to hang out with this guy as he darted around, snatching up food every few steps:

Apparently there are tasty creatures hiding in the sand:

He really does have a handsome outfit; classy, even:

The hunting must've been good at this patch of beach, because he wandered around me but stayed close:

Open plover mouth!

I know, this is a lot of pictures, but who knows when I'll next get the chance to see these creatures so close:

Best of luck with your hunting, little guy, and take good care of your family. Here's hoping there'll be tiny plover chicks on this beach before too long!

A few flocks of Semipalmated Sandpipers were also foraging along the water's edge:

And the Horseshoe Crabs are appearing on the beach again for this year's breeding season. I saw several of these creatures half-buried in the sand (waiting for the approaching high tide, I assume). This individual was crawling around in the shallow water with part of its sand-burrow still on its head:

You never know what will show up at the shore!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Cozy Raccoon and Company

I'd almost forgotten how lovely Southford Falls State Park is. Good thing I visited this morning to remind myself!

I wasn't the only one enjoying these shady woods. Hey, is that a furry creature up in that tree?

The ball of fur dozed for a while, but then shifted around to show a ringed tail:

And little paw-hands and a masked face:

What a perfect perch for a sleepy Raccoon! The creature shifted a bit more to find the most comfortable position:

The most comfortable position, of course, would be one that doesn't involve a person pointing and clicking a camera at you, even from a distance. OK, no need to glare, I'm leaving:

Wow, what a beautiful reddish color on this creature's shoulders. Thank you for hanging out here, handsome/adorable Raccoon. (So cool!)

An Eastern Garter Snake was also out and about in the woods:

Garter snakes are always pretty, but I especially like the dark spots behind this individual's head:

Yay, little snake:

Familiar late-spring wildflowers were brightening up the woodland floor, including big patches of Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense):

Feathery plumes of False Solomon's Seal (Maianthemum racemosum):

And pale floating Spotted Geranium (Geranium maculatum):

Near the park's pond, Eastern Kingbirds chased each other and hunted from high perches:

And dozens of the palest, wispiest damselflies (perhaps newly emerged) fluttered around:

A lovely woods walk indeed!

Friday, May 16, 2014

So Many Shore Sights!

I couldn't find the Piping Plover pair that's been hanging out at Silver Sands State Park when I visited yesterday morning. They may have decided to nest somewhere else, or perhaps they were just particularly well hidden.... I'll continue to keep an eye out for these little birds on future visits. Even without nesting plovers, however -- and despite the occasional drizzle -- there were tons of cool things to see. The park was positively overflowing with activity!

One of the first creatures I saw when I first arrived was also one of the most exciting, because I've only seen them once before, and never before a male in his super strange breeding plumage. Look, a Bobolink!

Make that a whole bush full of male Bobolinks, with their black bellies and yellow caps:

When these birds weren't perched in bushes and singing their weird metallic bubbling songs, they were foraging in the grass. The dandelion heads were apparently particularly interesting:

Bobolinks are pretty uncommon in this part of Connecticut, so I consider this a lucky encounter indeed!

In the marsh, two Willets (large-ish shorebirds with distinctive black and white wings) were preening:

This happy Willet made some cool ripples as it bathed:

Also wandering through the marsh were several Semipalmated Plovers. These birds are small like Piping Plovers but they have brown backs and wings like Killdeer; and, like all plovers, they're adorable:

I've commented many times in this blog on the secretiveness of Clapper Rails, who I often hear calling in these marshes but who typically remain hidden among the grass. The more I visit Silver Sands State Park, however, the more these birds defy my expectations. I've seen them several times now in July and August, after their chicks have hatched. A couple of weeks ago, I actually saw one calling from a slight rise in the marsh landscape. And then yesterday, who should come walking out onto the open mudflats, bold as can be, but a Clapper Rail:

The bird spotted me, but it only ambled (rather than raced) toward cover in the grass, walking right by me in the process. In fact, it seemed to strut and pose as it passed.... Well, sure Mr./Mrs. Rail, I'll gladly take your picture. What a gorgeous bird!

Rail tail!

Clapper Rails have such unusual body shapes. I'm struck by how skinny/compressed this bird looks from behind. It's thin as a... haaaang on.

I've now looked up the phrase "thin as a rail" to try to find out where it comes from. Several online sources say that no, "rail" in this phrase doesn't refer to a man-made bar or post (as I've always assumed), but rather to the bird, which is quite thin and thus better able to move through marsh grass. But then a few other sources say that in fact, no, you had it right the first time: It's not the bird, as some people have recently suggested, but rather the man-made object! So basically, if I say that the Clapper Rail is "thin as a rail," I still have no idea whether I'm being clever, or redundant, or silly. Ah well. Regardless, I'll think of this bird now whenever I hear that phrase.

A second Clapper Rail was even camped out nearby, again in plain view, and the two birds cackled at each other when the first one got close:

Are these birds not actually as secretive as I thought? I'm not complaining! Be as bold as you like, Clapper Rails.

On the beach, a trio of Common Terns were chasing each other across the sky, one of the terns carrying a fish (perhaps for courtship purposes):

There have been so many male Red-winged Blackbirds in this park in recent weeks, it's nice to see the females showing up as well:

Yellow Warblers nest in this park's fields, and a few males were fluttering around and calling during my visit:

These bright little birds make quite a sight, even from a distance:

And this is why people (in North America) don't like European Starlings. I checked on the nesting cavity that the Northern Flickers worked so hard to excavate over the past few weeks, only to find a starling sticking its head out of the hole:

I know it's not the starlings' fault that they're on this continent, and it takes a feisty bird to chase off a powerful Northern Flicker, but... starlings have so many nesting options. Couldn't they have left this cavity to the flickers? Yes, you're very fancy with your spiky throat and triangle wings, but I'm not impressed. Eh, starlings:

In more overall positive nesting happenings, I was happy to see this cool structure hanging from a tree branch:

A Baltimore Oriole nest! The male oriole was singing nearby and keeping another male from his territory, while the female oriole was busy using her excellent weaving skills:

This is such an amazing structure, and I'm curious about the material she's using. Some sort of plant fiber perhaps? Here's a video of the female at work:


Here are a couple more happy sights to close out my visit. This patch of Lance-leaved Violets (Viola lanceolata) made a small field of stars shooting up from the muddy ground:

And I loved seeing this Savannah Sparrow perched near the ground, its yellow eyeshadow so perfectly matching the blooming dandelions:

There are so many amazing things to see right now!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Baby Geese Are Seriously Adorable

There's a family of Canada Geese living on a stream-side lawn down the street from our house. Today, Paul and I walked over to check out these birds' babies, who are somewhere around a week old now. Look at all the little fuzzy creatures!

This family lives behind a chain-link fence, and I'm pretty sure people toss them food, so they're by no means shy. When we didn't offer them any food, they just went about their regular foraging activities, and we got to watch them from only a few yards away. Canada Geese are everywhere, but they're still pretty impressive creatures. And it's hard to think of many things cuter than these little guys:

For such small birds, they've got awfully big feet:

And such fuzzy baby goose butts!

This baby looks handsome in a patch of tiny speedwell blooms:

The babies toddled around just fine, but every few minutes they'd get tired of walking and just plop down to forage while sitting instead:

Mmm, food. If you look really close you can just see the serrations inside this bird's bill, all the better for pulling up bits of greenery:

There actually turned out to be two family groups of Canada Geese in this spot. The second group (with its two goslings) wasn't eager to stay close when we walked by, and the parents led the babies off into the water:

I think it's cool that this random little part of the stream can support so much life, even nestled as it is between factories and offices. Northern Rough-winged Swallows zoomed above the water while we were there, and I was surprised to see a Common Merganser hanging around as well:

It's nice to get out and meet the neighbors!