Sunday, December 28, 2014

Brigantine Birds

In a now-annual Christmas tradition (five years running!), I took a trip with Paul's dad on Tuesday out to the Brigantine division of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge while we were visiting family in New Jersey for the holidays. With an eight-mile wildlife drive through coastal wetlands, this is a pretty special place, and there are always lots of interesting birds hanging around. Some of the coolest creatures are the Snow Geese that come down from their arctic breeding grounds to overwinter here in huge numbers:

We estimated the Snow Geese on Tuesday numbered somewhere in the thousands. They made quite a sight blanketing the marsh as they foraged, and they were striking in flight as well, with those black-tipped wings:

Most of the Snow Geese wore pristine white costumes:

But there were a few blue morph individuals as well; I think these birds are particularly handsome:

Here's a (very) brief video of some of the Snow Geese foraging; the sound should give an idea of how crowded the area was with these birds:

Lots of other cool birds made an appearance during our visit as well. This gorgeous Great Blue Heron was hunting near the road:

A Greater Yellowlegs (such an appropriate name!) brightened up the shoreline:

And there were ducks all over the place. We saw big American Black Ducks that flashed the iridescent patches in their wings as they bathed:

Buffleheads that dipped in and out of the water, pursuing their meals:

Ruddy Ducks with their funny round bodies and big beaks:

Flashy Hooded Mergansers:

And a single female Common Goldeneye, looking quite pretty in her simple costume:

It was great to get out to the shore and see so many creatures. What an awesome place!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Some Lake Erie Birds

On Monday afternoon I was out shopping and found myself next to Lake Erie. It was a beautiful sunny day -- quite rare around here lately -- and I had brought my camera and binoculars with me, so I settled down on the town's public beach to watch the water.

I guess I still haven't posted much here about this Great Lake, which is crazy, because I'm astonished every time I encounter it. This lake is so much more ocean-like to me than the Long Island Sound (which is my ocean paradigm after living in Connecticut) mostly because I can't see the land on the other side, and also because I've already seen bigger waves here than I usually saw in Connecticut. On Monday, though, the lake was surreal, with flat, barely moving water that blended exactly with the sky in the low afternoon light. This has got to be one of the strangest landscapes (or maybe make that water-scapes) I've seen:

It took a big passing barge to create the horizon with its wake:

Aside from the amazing water-scenery, I had a lot of fun meeting the local birds as well. Ring-billed Gulls made up most of the population, and the lighting was just perfect for pictures of these handsome birds as they moved from water to shore:

There was quite a bit of jostling on the beach every time one of the gulls came in for a landing:

The Ring-billed Gulls made handsome sights on the reflective water as well:

But mostly I just had way too much fun taking pictures of them in flight:

A Great Black-Backed Gull loomed over the smaller Ring-billed Gulls from its rock:

Several ducks made brief appearances as well. These two female (or immature male) Buffleheads came closer to shore when the barge went past:

And then they took off in a series of splashes:

This bigger group of Buffleheads made a water landing a little further away, the males showing off their pink clown feet (ducks can be so funny looking):

A few Common Mergansers flew past, too, a bit like arrows with those pointy beaks:

With so many interesting creatures and sights, visiting Lake Erie is always a good idea.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Streamside Traffic and Ghosts of Creatures Past

I was happy to discover yesterday that the banks along the creek behind our house gather some interesting signs of animal traffic. There were deer prints, of course, sometimes quite deep in the mud (I think there's something of a deer highway through these woods):

And little hand-prints, which (I'm pretty sure) were left by a passing raccoon:

The bank with these tracks was also dug up in several spots. What tasty treats might a raccoon find buried in the mud and rocks?

The creek's banks held another type of animal artifact, again (I think) from a raccoon, but this one long dead:

Skulls are definitely interesting -- look how bright and sharp those teeth are -- but I didn't feel the need to explore this object more closely. It'll stay on the bank until the water rises again and carries it off somewhere else.

Speaking of long-gone creatures, I've been keeping an eye out for Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, because the signs of these birds are all over our yard. This tree in front of our house features several conspicuous lines of sapsucker holes:

And I've come across a few trees in the woods that are about as covered with sapsucker work as it's possible for a tree to be:

It must have taken years for the sapsuckers to so thoroughly work over this tree:

But all the holes I've seen are pretty old by now, and I haven't come across any more recent signs of these birds. I wonder why this former sapsucker territory is apparently abandoned now.

It's always interesting to see signs that creatures have left, although I still prefer to see the creatures themselves!