Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Stratford-Milford CBC 2010

Sunday's Stratford-Milford Christmas Bird Count went on despite the weather forecast. Between the lack of available days to reschedule the count and the fact many people would be unavailable it seemed prudent to go out and get what observers could find before the snow came in. After checking my yard briefly and getting a feel for the weather I met up with Frank Mantlik to join him on his Short Beach area count in Stratford around 7:45. He had been out for hours already having found some nice birds, including an American Kestrel and 11 Boat-tailed Grackles at the Sikorsky Airport, but only one owl - Eastern Screech. We started on Sniffen's Lane, watching the mouth of the Housatonic River. It was not even 8AM when I noticed flurries had begun. I checked the radar on my BlackBerry and figured we had a few hours before snow really started to fall.

Before we left Frank wanted to check a nearby stand of birch trees for winter finches. The sizable patch did not disappoint as he found about 35 (yes, thirty-five!) Common Redpolls feeding there. It was early and even darker than usual with the nor'easter approaching, so this was the best I could do for a photo.

We got wonderful looks at the redpolls until a plane taking off from the nearby airport flushed them. From here, we drove to the Stratford open space area behind DeLuca field since it was near low tide. I walked the perimeter and checked what is left of the brushy tangles while he looked for shorebirds on the open flats. Stratford removed much of what was a great habitat here while adding paths for people to walk and bike on. It may have been unattractive, but it was very useful to birds. Because of this, we did not turn up too much here beyond Northern Mockingbird, a few sparrows like Song, American Tree, and House, and plenty of the usual gulls.

Next, we split up to cover more ground in less time. Frank went to the foot of Cove Place to check out the massive group of sea ducks on Long Island Sound that has been there for most of the fall and this week of winter while I went to the Birdseye St. boat ramp. There I found a couple of Pied-billed Grebes and an impressive total of 18 American Coot. I also saw two Northern Harriers hunting the marshes in the Housatonic. Frank discovered the sea ducks were close to shore and in great quantity.

He estimated 3,000 White-winged Scoter, 3,000 Greater Scaup, and 500 Surf Scoter. He picked out 1 Black Scoter and 10 Lesser Scaup. When I got there we both enjoyed views of 2 female King Eiders, a nice rarity for the CBC. These were conservative estimates - there may have been even a couple thousand more birds.

See the two brown ducks in the bottom of the photo closest to us, facing towards the center of the picture and at one another? Female King Eiders

Frank and I moved on to CAS' own Stratford Point next. We hoped to find all of the ducks we needed plus passerines that frequent the point’s open coastal grasslands habitat. As the strengthening northeast wind bore down on us, we managed to locate Common Goldeneye, Gadwall, American Wigeon, American Black Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, and more. Frank even saw a Double-crested Cormorant on the breakwater, rare to see in winter instead of Great Cormorant. However, no Snow Buntings, Savannah Sparrow, or American Pipit were seen, a few of the species we hoped to find in upland areas. I saw another Northern Harrier hunting over the grasslands while being tossed about by the wind.

Northern Harrier hunting

By this point, around 11AM, snow started to fall and collected very quickly. In a matter of minutes, roadways were covered and it was becoming decidedly...well, "unbirdy". I am sure everyone knows what that means. I decided to head home and check a couple spots along the way, including Shakespeare Theatre. I did not add anything to our list for the day, but Frank walked in to Short Beach and found quite a bit. This included an American Pipit, 25 Horned Larks, a Lapland Longspur, and a wintering Great Egret. On his way home he also had a Wilson's Snipe at the boat ramp since it was high tide by that time and a Northern Pintail at Raven Park Pond on East Main St.

Another reason I wanted to get home quickly was to fill up and watch my feeders. I knew the rapidly declining conditions would send hungry birds my way. I was glad to see this Fox Sparrow appear again to be included on the count day.

It may not have been your typical Christmas Bird Count, but it was still successful and a lot of fun.

Photos © Scott Kruitbosch

Monday, December 27, 2010

Blizzard of 2010

The Blizzard of 2010 started about halfway through the Stratford-Milford Christmas Bird Count on December 26. Technically, it was actually even earlier, as flurries from the storm began around 8AM while I was in the field with Frank Mantlik in his section of Stratford. However, significant snow held off until about 11AM. I will post a summary of our abbreviated day along with photos tomorrow. For now, I want to concentrate on the storm as it continued through this morning. Every state in the northeast is still feeling the extreme winds and bitter cold air left in its wake. Western areas were hit the hardest with snowfall totals reaching nearly 20 inches in some spots (and perhaps higher once all the totals are in!). Central and eastern Connecticut had more of a routine snowstorm, with many spots recording less than double-digit totals. The most notable part of the storm for many was the wind. Some weather stations in Connecticut recorded 50 or even 60MPH gusts! The combination of heavy snow and ferocious wind was remarkable and truly rare.

I knew some fascinating sightings would be had at bird feeders today, and there will likely be even more tomorrow. I had two interesting birds, the first being very likely the same Fox Sparrow that visited me last Thursday (photos of it tomorrow). The second was another species I recorded that day, a Rusty Blackbird!

They are a classic feeder species after a snowfall of more than about three inches. I believe this is because that depth hinders what they can do in terms of their style of foraging. Apart from picking at what is on the earth they shove their bill into the mud, water, leaves, snow or whatever else, opening it and exposing food. When the snowfall gets above a few inches accessing that food probably proves much more difficult to accomplish for their species in particular.

Inserting her bill into the snow in the manner described above

She arrived late this morning and was loosely associated with a group of Red-winged Blackbirds. She would stay on the ground if all the birds were flushed, and return faster if she was scared off momentarily, too. Apart from snow removal and other human activity a Sharp-shinned Hawk and Cooper's Hawk kept the birds on heightened alert. Rusty Blackbirds are usually bolder than other blackbirds in this way.

Compare her with the Common Grackle and Red-winged Blackbirds

She fed primarily on cracked corn, a typical food for the species at feeders. I find that some birds, often males more than females, eat bits of suet that fall while woodpeckers or other birds peck at cakes. This bird did not, keeping to the corn and digging into the snow when she had to for some of it.

A snowy bill

Chewing that corn

Another interesting Rusty Blackbird behavior is their tendency to flick their tails open and closed while they walk around and feed. You can see the tail open and in motion in this photo.

I am sure many people saw Rusty Blackbirds in their yard today, especially in Fairfield and Litchfield counties, the areas hardest hit by the storm. It is of vital importance to log these sightings into eBird including all of the details you can. They are one of the fastest declining species in North America. Your observations of their wintering population, from sex of the birds to habitat selection and foraging behavior can help scientists discover why their numbers are plummeting.

Photos © Scott Kruitbosch

Friday, December 24, 2010

Winter is here

We do not have the snow to show for it as of Christmas eve, but winter has arrived. It was quite evident in my own yard on Thursday as I looked out at my bird feeders. I had the honor of picking up the bird below when it flew in with a group of Red-winged Blackbirds...

Yes, a male Rusty Blackbird! Hosting one in my yard is an annual tradition in December and January, though almost always after a snowfall of more than three inches. Obviously that is not the case - yet. If that were not enough, I also added...

...this Fox Sparrow! It was a great way to start the Stratford-Milford CBC count period. With a historic blizzard coming up on Sunday and Monday get ready to see some amazing birds in your yard. Fill your feeders up and be safe at home. Good luck and happy holidays!

Photos © Scott Kruitbosch

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Bird Count: Westport-Fairfield

On Sunday, I participated in the first of two Christmas Bird Counts, this one for the Westport-Fairfield count circle. Next weekend I will be going out for the Stratford-Milford circle. I was a part of the Fairfield shoreline sector. Charles Barnard Jr. is the captain of the area and graciously had myself and fellow birders Dave Zawisha, James Purcell, and Alex Burdo, who was named a L.L. Bean Outdoor Hero this past July, along for the day. Charlie is exceptionally knowledgeable about where to find what in all of Fairfield. The following is a nearly complete account of our day – I am sure I left out a stop or two and some birds. All of the photos were from the day, too.

We started out on the beach at the end of South Pine Creek Avenue in Fairfield at 7AM. As the group assembled, we ticked off a few of the more common species in the water and at the end of the road. Shortly after, we headed off to walk along Pine Creek Marsh. We saw American Black Duck, Hooded Merganser, Great Blue Heron, and heard a Belted Kingfisher.

Great Blue Heron

I heard the call of two Snow Buntings and we looked up just in time to see them fly by. We kept walking and headed down Old Dam Road to get to the road’s large open space area. We were stopped by a man in a car at one point who asked us what we were doing. Explaining that we were looking for birds he told us an owl was perched on a tree just up the road about a half hour earlier. We hurried up the street but unfortunately came up empty-handed. While I examined some spruce trees, the rest of the group looked through a large group of birds coming to some feeders right near the entrance to the open space. Nearly all of the common feeder species were seen. As the others moved on and I caught up, I looked at the feeders for a minute and saw a Red-breasted Nuthatch fly in.

We all got nice looks at the scarce wintering species as it went back and forth from the feeder to a nearby spruce. I am sure it is very content there. A walk through the Old Dam Road open space was relatively quiet. Going the same way in the other direction back to the starting point we found a bunch of White-throated and American Tree Sparrows, while James and Alex heard Golden-crowned Kinglets. Soon after we went to the Fairfield Beach again near Penfield Reef to scope out scoter species and more while the tide was still high enough. James had seen Black Scoter previous days, and sure enough, all three species were noted with more ducks and gulls. I binned around the area while they scoped through the waterfowl and saw a Northern Gannet plunge diving not far offshore, as I commonly see from Stratford Point.

American Tree Sparrow

From there we went to see two Redheads that Alex had found the day before in Ash Creek viewable from the Post Road. They were still there, a male and female with Canvasbacks. Other ducks included Bufflehead, American Wigeon, Hooded Merganser, American Black, and Mallard. Redhead was a great species to add to the list. Not much later in our journey, we were at Saint Mary’s By-The-Sea just across the border in Bridgeport. As we walked out of our cars, the others spotted four Savannah Sparrows and one “Ipswich” race Savannah Sparrow, a very nice find.

"Ipswich" Savannah Sparrow

"Ipswich" Savannah Sparrow

While it is a subspecies it is definitely worth noting in its own right and rare on the Connecticut coast in fall and winter. Seven Killdeer ran, flew around, and called while we looked at some gulls and hundreds of scaup just offshore.
Heading back to Fairfield we walked through the Ash Creek open space finding many of the usual and expected species. For the most part, we only added to the totals of species we already had. We missed Field Sparrow, but saw another group of American Tree Sparrow, one of the species tallies that ended up on the higher-than-usual side for the day.

More American Tree Sparrows, a common bird for the day

On the way out, we saw two more Snow Buntings. This time they were on the ground, feeding on the grasses in and along the roadway.

A Snow Bunting feeding

A trip back to Pine Creek Marsh and the landfill beyond it was in order to look for Winter Wren and other species James had noted days before. Unfortunately, the landfill, while once a prime open habitat of grasses and small shrubs, has turned into a wasteland dominated by phragmites. The invasive plant has all but rendered the habitat useless in most areas. Our walk over the icy and frozen earth was rather quiet, but we did tick off Swamp Sparrow. We missed any Fox Sparrows despite the fact we got two of them here last year. You can see one of them in my photo below that was also included on the Christmas Bird Count photo gallery page from last year’s count.

Fox Sparrow from last year's count at Pine Creek Marsh

After a very refreshing lunch break we split up - the rest of the group went out to walk Penfield Reef while I first made a stop at the thick brush and tangles behind the Scandinavian Club. It was, finally, a "birdy" area. I added White-breasted Nuthatch, another Carolina Wren, more Northern Cardinals and Mockingbirds, and additional American Tree, Song, White-throated Sparrows.

Song Sparrow

The same Song Sparrow posing some more

I even called out a Fox Sparrow that popped up for about 30 seconds about 100 feet from me. It was a fantastic surprise. I was sorry everyone else missed it, though. What was even more of a shock was finding another Fox Sparrow about five minutes later near the entrance to Pine Creek Meadows. It was also quite far from me at a distance permitting only record-type photos, but it stayed in the open for a couple of minutes among many other sparrow species. As I walked in further I finally heard a Red-bellied Woodpecker - two, in fact. This area yielded Brown Thrasher for Charlie and me last year, but none were to be had this time. After combing over it thoroughly I went back to the Pine Creek Marsh to meet up with everyone. We watched unsuccessfully for any owls until sunset. I was drained after 10+ hours of birding and headed home.

It was certainly a fun day for everyone, and is exactly why all birders (and others!) should try their hand at the CBC experience. As previously mentioned next Sunday it is time for my hometown circle, the Stratford-Milford count. I will be out quite a bit starting on Thursday, the beginning of count week, to hopefully find a real big rarity and plenty of our usual species.

Photos © Scott Kruitbosch

Monday, December 20, 2010

Yard and patch lists on eBird

I am thrilled to see eBird is continually rolling out new ways to explore and utilize data on a regular basis. In 2011, Twan and I will be conducting eBird classes - more information on that will be coming soon! For now, the following is directly from eBird in a post which can you find here.

Just in time for the New Year, we are releasing a new tool to allow you to keep track of your yard list and patch lists and compare them with your friends and other eBirders. For decades birders have kept cumulative lists and year lists for their yards, and favorite birding locales. Sharing these lists with your friends and seeing what they have recently seen is great fun and the focus of this new tool. Many of us have our favorite patches where we keep track of birds and almost daily and enter them into eBird. But it was hard for us to see what each other was seeing. With this new tool, it will be easy for all of us to see what we are seeing--indeed this new tool provides the first way to see a checklists submitted by other eBird users. Our new "Yard Totals" and "Patch Totals" will allow you to keep track of your lists and see what others are seeing either in your home county or around the world. In order to participate, you will need to sign up and define your yard or patches. To find out more, visit our page on Yard and Patch Listing Guidelines.

Personally, I am not much of a "lister", though I do enjoy counting what I have seen in my yard and love adding a new species. Now it will be easier for everyone to compare yard lists by month, year, or all-time. I don't know about you, but naming my "best" yard bird is easy since it's a Purple Gallinule!

This is just another reason you should be entering your sightings from anywhere and everywhere all the time. Help conservationists, researchers, and yourself - put those birds in eBird please! Even if it does not have all the features you crave now, it soon will.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Unique Juncos

The Dark-eyed Junco is one of the most abundant, variable, and controversial species in North America. The controversy lies in its subspecies, and whether or not they should be considered their own distinct species. It can be very confusing. Suffice it to say, the one we have to be concerned with in Connecticut is slate-colored. The vast majority (99.99%+) of juncos you see here will be of that form. Only rarely has an Oregon form of Dark-eyed Junco been recorded in our state.

The slate-colored form can appear exceptionally variable in itself. You will see very dark gray males to light gray males. Females can be gray with hints of dark brown or with little or no gray and nearly all light brown. Some birds might appear to be pink or nearly black in some spots. A small percentage of slate-colored birds even have a bit of white on the wings (though they are not a part of the white-winged form). Many people (myself included at times) can be fooled into thinking they have a Dark-eyed Junco of a form other than slate-colored only to examine it carefully and figure out it is simply at the extreme end of appearance.

While I was home on Wednesday, I noticed I had at least 75 or so Dark-eyed Juncos around the yard and at my feeders. The night before I stumbled across a couple of old photos (below) that show this interesting Dark-eyed Junco in my yard on December 7, 2008.

Hmm...let's go back to my yard on Wednesday before getting to that guy. I found two fascinating individuals from the large group. The first of these two birds resembles those old photos but has an even more complete, larger, and bolder eye-ring.

The second bird was quite engrossing and more difficult to spot. If one were looking out the window at their feeders, they would never notice it. Even if you were counting each individual of the species, you would very likely not see it. However, I was looking specifically for juncos with pale throats with my 10 power binoculars.

That pale throat is a trait often seen in Dark-eyed Junco and White-throated Sparrow hybrids. You can see a large section of the throat and upper breast are paler than the other gray unlike the typical Dark-eyed Junco. It also has a hint of the dark mustachial marks of a White-throated Sparrow. I talked to junco lover, artist, and expert (only one of his many areas of expertise) Mark Szantyr about these birds and showed him the pictures. He noted both of the features I mentioned in this last bird and added that the inner tertials appear to have white tips that would once again suggest feathers of a zonotrichia sparrow. With all of that in mind, I believe it is probable this individual had at least some White-throated Sparrow in it.

Mark was not quite sure what to make of the first bird with eye-rings. I do think it shows a bit of dark mustachial area for what it's worth. I had no idea what to say about the second eye-ring individual. While examining it I could not pick out anything that was out of the ordinary apart from those eyes. Mark thought it was possible the bird may have a fungal or bacterial growth noting that the rings appear somewhat interrupted and a bit clumpy in areas. This may well be the case, though it did not behave as if it were ill in any way.
We would need the birds in hand to confirm all of these thoughts and hypotheses. After all that I hope it goes without saying that you should stare at your Dark-eyed Juncos!

Photos © Scott Kruitbosch

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sea Ducks galore - part II

Frank Gallo just sent me a few digiscoped pictures of the sea duck flock off Cove Place/Stratford Point, taken yesterday. They illustrate nicely what great views we are getting of these often difficult to observe ducks. Note the female King Eider at the bottom of the first image!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sea ducks galore!

As reported on the CT-Birds list serve, there is currently an impressive flock of sea ducks present on the west side of Stratford Point. Thousands of ducks of both scaup species and all three scoters are within easy scoping distance from shore -- best viewed from the bottom of Cove Place, but also visible from Stratford Point. In previous winters, a comparable flock has been present well off-shore (possibly half a mile out) from Stratford Point with smaller numbers of ducks (a couple dozen tops) closer to shore. However, we have not had such great views of these birds and in these numbers for a while. It is quite a sight to watch the flock constantly reshape itself, with birds flying up from one end of the pack to the other. Come see it for yourself sometime - but dress warmly!

large numbers of White-winged Scoters and Greater Scaup rearrange themselves
within the flock currently present off Stratford Point

Another reason to come see these ducks is that all kinds of other species could be hiding in their ranks, as Frank Mantlik's discovery of two female King Eider shows. Both were still present today. During an afternoon survey on Stratford Point I found another unusual species on the fringe of the flock: an adult male Common Eider was foraging between the rocks below the US Coast Guard lighthouse.

Common Eider have become fairly regular visitors to the Long Island Sound and to Stratford Point during cold spells in winter, but it is still rare to see an adult male here.

The video below shows it diving, "treading water" and resurfacing with an undoubtedly tasty morsel. Watching this striking bird up close certainly made the frigid temperatures out there a little more bearable!

photos and video copyright Twan Leenders

Monday, December 13, 2010

CBC 2008

This week is the start of the 2010-2011 Christmas Bird Counts. If you are not already participating in one (or more!) you should sign up as soon as possible. You can find the list of Connecticut count dates here. These counts are a great way to learn more about birds, explore habitats you may not have before, get to know fellow birders, and contribute to science in a very meaningful way. You can read more on the National Audubon website that I linked to above.

On December 28, 2008 I participated in the Stratford-Milford CBC, my local count. I shot the following video over the course of the day.

CBC 2008 from Connecticut Audubon Society.

Species in the video include Great Blue Heron, Glaucous Gull, Greater Yellowlegs, Sanderling, Dunlin, American Pipit, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, and Horned Lark. I also took a lot of photos. You can find one of the group of Sanderling on the beach in front of the waves in the video in the 2008-2009 Christmas Bird Count summary magazine on page 56. If you participate you will be sent one of these magazines several months later - yet another benefit from what is always a fun day.

Video © Scott Kruitbosch

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Calliope Hummingbird

Yes, another western rarity has made its way to Connecticut! A Calliope Hummingbird, the third state record, has been coming to a feeder at 120 Indian Cove Road in Guilford for about a couple of weeks. Director of the CAS Coastal Center at Milford Point, Frank Gallo, was able to visit the home of Hank Kranichfeld on Friday and take the following photos.

Frank notes that the photos show the short straight bill, pale buffy flanks, short, square-tipped tail with dark subterminal band and no red, and the overall tiny size of the bird. Mr. Kranichfeld has graciously agreed to allow birders to visit, as long as they come at a reasonable hour (after 9 a.m.), and do not disturb the bird or inhibit its access to the feeder.

Frank tells us that the house is black and on the left. The feeder is behind the house. The bird roosts in a cedar at the back edge of the property, which can be seen from the road to the right of the house. To best view the feeder and cedar walk around the left side of the house to the back. If you stand a few feet back from the regular bird feeders, you can see the cedar and hummingbird feeder well without disturbing the bird. Parking is very limited in this congested neighborhood. Only 1-2 cars can park in his driveway, and there does not seem to be much, if any, street parking. Please carpool! Additionally, please do not block the road nor inhibit neighbors access or permission could be rescinded.

We give our thanks to Mr. Kranichfeld for allowing everyone to enjoy this gem. Good luck if you see it, and please try to respect the guidelines mentioned above. I hope it sticks around!

Photos © Frank Gallo

Friday, December 10, 2010

Mountain Bluebird

Tuesday's second big western rarity was a Mountain Bluebird. This one was discovered by Rollin Tebbetts at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks. Rollin is a birder who works at the airport, and therefore has access to areas the public does not. Nick Bonomo received photos from Rollin that he posted on his blog here: http://www.shorebirder.com/2010/12/mountain-bluebird-photos-from-rollin.html

The Mountain Bluebird has been viewable to a limited degree along Perimeter Road, though the public is only allowed to drive down this street due to the fact it runs along the perimeter of the airport - not to park, stop, or get out of their vehicle. The state police typically responds quickly to anyone who does. This has made the bird essentially a lost cause to anyone who wants to chase it. I do not advise going to see it...well, at least until this afternoon and some good news.

Thanks to Rollin and cooperation from the airport as well as the police, viewing will be allowed from Perimeter Road on Saturday morning, December 11, from 8AM until noon. That is your chance to get a look! If you want to see it and be able to do more than simply drive by you have to go then. There is a decent chance others will be located in the northeast in the next month or so. Past sightings of one bird have usually lead to more being found.

And it seems yet another western rarity was revealed today...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Black-throated Gray Warbler

The Connecticut hits continued on Tuesday! The state has been unstoppable when it comes to very rare birds since the White-tailed Kite showed up on August 1. The first bird was a Black-throated Gray Warbler, endemic to the west coast from just into British Columbia through California and east to Colorado during the breeding season. It is seen in points south through Mexico in migration where it winters, though some may be able to be found in southern California. Past Connecticut records have come from the late fall and early winter, too. Frank Mantlik discovered this little gem in Westport while he was delivering mail. As Twan said, he is a rare bird magnet.

I know Frank has an extensive species list seen while working, with some very rare birds, but he did say this was probably the rarest passerine he has ever had on the job. He observed it foraging for insects in the small plantings of a house in a neighborhood right near Compo Beach. It was flitting around between yards and flying back and forth across the street. It stayed near the ground, and Frank was somehow able to grab his point and shoot and snap these quick photos of it:

Subsequent relocation searches that afternoon were unsuccessful. I was among a few people who searched the area Wednesday morning, but no one saw the little warbler again. After seeing the neighborhood I was even more impressed that Frank found it, and even more skeptical that it would be found. It was not exactly a great habitat for the species among lawns and small plantings. I believe it would feel much more at home near a sizable stand of trees. You just never know what you will find in Connecticut this year. We will soon see what the Christmas Bird Counts turn up - maybe the same species as Tuesday's second big rarity...

Photos © Frank Mantlik

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

December events

As always I want to remind everyone to keep track of Connecticut Audubon Society events on our calendar page. You will find a diverse list to choose from, for children and adults, all across the state. Many are also free of charge. Here is a list of what is going on during the upcoming week.

Thu - Dec 09

4:00 PM - 4:30 PM Center at Fairfield: Creature Feature

Join us for a live animal program featuring our resident education animals. Get close up with mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians and a few creepy crawlies. Our staff Naturalist and Animal Care volunteers will share facts and stories. Admission is by donation. Donations of laundry or dishwashing soap are greatly appreciated. For info call 203 259 6305, x 109.

Sat - Dec 11

Pomfret: Holiday Nature Store Opens November 27 through December 22

Featuring all kinds of gifts for all ages with Mother Nature in mind...bird feeders, houses and seed, gardening gifts, nature books, field guides, Christmas plants, nature jewelry, gift baskets, holiday swags and more. Tax Free Day on Opening Day...Saturday, November 27! Hours: Monday thru Friday, 9am-4pm; Saturday and Sunday, noon-4pm.

Sat - Dec 11

10:30 AM - 12:35 PM Center at Fairfield: Designing with Nature

Using natural metals, create a wreath or centerpiece that brings nature to your home. We'll provide materials and ideas to get you started. Members: $12/person. Non-members: $16/person. For info call 203 259 6305, x 109.

Sat - Dec 11

3:15 PM Seaside Stories at Milford Coastal Center

Get nice and cozy in our Milford Coastal Center and listen to a good tale about turtles. We'll make a craft and maybe the animals will come visit too!

Sun - Dec 12

2:00 PM Trailwood: 2nd Sunday Afternoon Walks

Join caretaker Vern Purlsley and walk the trails, read excerpts from Edwin Way Teale's books while slowing down and enjoying the quiet that is Trail Wood. Free...although donations are always appreciated.

Mon - Dec 13

9:30 AM - 10:15 AM Center at Fairfield Presents Nature Nursery: Colorful Winter

For 2-4 year olds accompanied by adult. Discover the different colors in a winter landscape from birds and animals to trees and plants. Introduce your little one to the sights, smells, sounds and feel of nature!

Wed - Dec 15

10:00 AM - 10:45 AM Nature Nursery: Colorful Winter at Birdcraft Museum

For 2-4 year olds accompanied by participating adult. Join us each week for a different colorful adventure with birds, animals, trees and plants.

Wed - Dec 15

12:00 PM Pomfret: Wednesday Lunch Walks

Get out of the house or office to stretch your legs and clear your head. Join CAS staff for some fresh air and exercise. Seniors and parents with babes in backpacks welcome. Free. Schedule, Wednesdays, Sept. 8 through Dec. 29.

Monday, December 6, 2010

eBird Occurrence Maps

I was planning to post something else about eBird tonight. That entry will have to wait. Earlier this afternoon I noticed the eBird team had posted the long-awaited first large set of occurrence maps on the site. Working from 42 million records and counting, the eBird team at the Cornell Lab has produced animated maps for each bird species that display their occurrence on a continental level throughout the year. This provides us with an easy to understand idea of the bird movement across the lower 48 states. Ten species were posted today, with five more to come each week. They can be found on this page along with the following detailed description of these powerful tools...

These maps, which are called STEM (Spatio-Temporal Exploratory Model) maps, use eBird checklists that report all species and include effort. The location of each checklist is associated with remotely-sensed information on habitat, climate, human population, and demographics. Fine-scale patterns of species occurrence relative to these variables (over 1000) are generated both regionally and temporally, to produce predicted occurrence at some 30,000 locations for every day of a single year (2008 in this case). This massive volume of information is then summarized on maps, which in many cases provide unprecedented information about the annual cycles of North American birds. These maps showcase the power of eBird – year-round, continental-scale monitoring of all species.

I definitely encourage you to visit the page and look at the maps. Each one really does tell a unique story and offer us something to learn. It goes without saying that all of this is possible because so many thousands of people use eBird every day. If you are not you need to be as soon as possible! You will not regret it, and there is no better time than the present. Even if you are recording data in another way, I hope you realize how eBird needs your sightings right now, past, present, and future, for amazing projects such as this one.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Barnacle Goose update

At around 9AM today I re-found the rare Barnacle Goose that Frank Mantlik had discovered yesterday at Wooster Park in Stratford. I was unaware that he had seen it fly out of the pond there about 20 minutes earlier until I called and told him the news. I found it on the baseball field behind Bunnell High School with approximately 140 Canada Geese. Yesterday, when it was at Wooster Park, we observed it in the water, moving only a bit while preening and resting. Today I found it laying down on the grass feeding. Other geese were doing the same. However, when it got up very briefly, I noticed it had a left leg injury. It hobbled along for a few seconds before lying back down. After doing this again, I thought I saw bands on its legs as well.

Barnacle Goose in the center (top bird) resting

As I was about to leave Frank arrived to see it. While discussing the goose we noticed it getting up and moving around a bit more. He immediately saw what I thought I had - bands on both legs. They looked quite obviously to be wild bands, and not of a domestic bird. Naturally, the injury and band placement was not in our favor. The right leg had a plain plastic white band over a silver band with characters that were too small to read (and are meant for the hand). The left leg had a white band with black characters on it that is meant to be read while at a distance in the field. As you can see from the photos and video the geese were relatively far from us as we were on top of a hill being pushed around by strong winds. Nevertheless, Frank's eagle eyes were able to scope two of three characters - the letters V and U followed by something else.

Here's the Barnacle hopping around holding up the injured leg as well as lying down feeding - this video was not meant to be pretty given the conditions, merely a record of a rare bird and a unique individual.

Remember you can make it full-screen by clicking the lower right button in the video or go to the link above to watch it in a larger size on the Vimeo website.

I was amazed Frank was able to read those two characters considering everything. The Barnacle often put its injured leg up and blocked our view as it hopped around. Canada Geese kept getting in between us, too. We both left a short time later figuring that would be sufficient for us to get somewhere, especially since I had a vague idea of reading about a banded Barnacle that had been seen recently in the northeast. We also stood a good chance of finding it there or somewhere else again later today or tomorrow.

Barnacle Goose in the center feeding while lying down

Fortunately that was all we ended up needing. After Frank emailed the CT birding list what we had seen Deb Kral pointed him to this page that details how this very goose was seen at Orchard Beach in New York on November 26 and 27. It has the same first two band letters and the same leg injury. They were able to get even better views of the bands, tracing the bird as having been banded as a juvenile on November 13, 2002 - in Scotland! You can read more about this now eight year-old bird on this blog including the fact it was seen until March 2005 and its whereabouts were unknown until now. It is truly a fascinating find. We will monitor it as best as we can.

Photos and video © Scott Kruitbosch

Friday, December 3, 2010

Barnacle Goose Stratford

This has been a big year for the Barnacle Goose in Connecticut and the northeast as a whole. Europe has been seeing some very rough weather that may be to blame for it, as well as two Northern Lapwing sightings including Connecticut's first record. As someone who follows the weather, I have been watching it for some time as they get the snow and cold that I keep hoping for. Frank Mantlik found a Barnacle Goose at Wooster Park in Stratford earlier this morning. I popped over there shortly after he discovered it. Frank told me it was with a group of Canada that flew off, though fortunately it stayed for myself and others to stop by. You can see the goose resting and preening amongst the hundreds of Mallards, some Green-winged Teal, and a couple of American Black Duck in the HD video below.

The fact it is resting and preening was likely why it stayed when the other geese left. Frank also saw a Mallard and Northern Pintail hybrid he has found here in previous years. It is quite a nice looking duck. Once again, the temperatures have plummeted here. Ponds and lakes to the north should be freezing up soon. A couple days ago, I tweeted on the CAS Twitter account about how, before the warm front, this was already helping move waterfowl in to Connecticut. There is a lot more to come very soon as the state stays cold yet dry in the near future. The only storm threat in the next week seems to be a tiny threat from a system that retrogrades near the gulf of Maine. Flurries seem to be the only chance of precipitation, but it could move more interesting birds in and around the area.

Video © Scott Kruitbosch

Thursday, December 2, 2010

NASA-funded research changes biology forever

An announcement by NASA earlier this afternoon changed biology, our understanding of the Earth, and our knowledge of the universe forever. A microorganism was discovered in California that reproduces and thrives off arsenic, even using it for cell components. This is a new building block of life. Suffice it to say, I think the article from NASA that I have linked to and put below is worth a close read. Once again we have been shown that the facts humanity "knows" to be true will likely be bent, broken, and dismissed repeatedly as we make technological advances and continue to explore the universe. It is fascinating in itself that this time the astonishing find was in our backyard.


NASA-Funded Research Discovers Life Built With Toxic Chemical

NASA-funded astrobiology research has changed the fundamental knowledge about what comprises all known life on Earth.

Researchers conducting tests in the harsh environment of Mono Lake in California have discovered the first known microorganism on Earth able to thrive and reproduce using the toxic chemical arsenic. The microorganism substitutes arsenic for phosphorus in its cell components.

"The definition of life has just expanded," said Ed Weiler, NASA's associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at the agency's Headquarters in Washington. "As we pursue our efforts to seek signs of life in the solar system, we have to think more broadly, more diversely and consider life as we do not know it."

This finding of an alternative biochemistry makeup will alter biology textbooks and expand the scope of the search for life beyond Earth. The research is published in this week's edition of Science Express.

Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur are the six basic building blocks of all known forms of life on Earth. Phosphorus is part of the chemical backbone of DNA and RNA, the structures that carry genetic instructions for life, and is considered an essential element for all living cells.

Phosphorus is a central component of the energy-carrying molecule in all cells (adenosine triphosphate) and also the phospholipids that form all cell membranes. Arsenic, which is chemically similar to phosphorus, is poisonous for most life on Earth. Arsenic disrupts metabolic pathways because chemically it behaves similarly to phosphate.

"We know that some microbes can breathe arsenic, but what we've found is a microbe doing something new -- building parts of itself out of arsenic," said Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a NASA Astrobiology Research Fellow in residence at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif., and the research team's lead scientist. "If something here on Earth can do something so unexpected, what else can life do that we haven't seen yet?"

The newly discovered microbe, strain GFAJ-1, is a member of a common group of bacteria, the Gammaproteobacteria. In the laboratory, the researchers successfully grew microbes from the lake on a diet that was very lean on phosphorus, but included generous helpings of arsenic. When researchers removed the phosphorus and replaced it with arsenic the microbes continued to grow. Subsequent analyses indicated that the arsenic was being used to produce the building blocks of new GFAJ-1 cells.

The key issue the researchers investigated was when the microbe was grown on arsenic did the arsenic actually became incorporated into the organisms' vital biochemical machinery, such as DNA, proteins and the cell membranes. A variety of sophisticated laboratory techniques was used to determine where the arsenic was incorporated.

The team chose to explore Mono Lake because of its unusual chemistry, especially its high salinity, high alkalinity, and high levels of arsenic. This chemistry is in part a result of Mono Lake's isolation from its sources of fresh water for 50 years.

The results of this study will inform ongoing research in many areas, including the study of Earth's evolution, organic chemistry, biogeochemical cycles, disease mitigation and Earth system research. These findings also will open up new frontiers in microbiology and other areas of research.

"The idea of alternative biochemistries for life is common in science fiction," said Carl Pilcher, director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute at the agency's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "Until now a life form using arsenic as a building block was only theoretical, but now we know such life exists in Mono Lake."

The research team included scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif., Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Penn., and the Stanford Synchroton Radiation Lightsource in Menlo Park, Calif.

NASA's Astrobiology Program in Washington contributed funding for the research through its Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology program and the NASA Astrobiology Institute. NASA's Astrobiology Program supports research into the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life on Earth.

For more information about the finding and a complete list of researchers, visit:


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

White-tailed Kite in New Jersey

Sometimes you lose track of who you tell what when it comes to birds. I talk to friends, family, colleagues, visitors, interested non-birders, even reporters at times, and it becomes a jumble in my head. Somehow, I did not realize that I had not posted about what was very likely "our" White-tailed Kite that showed up in New Jersey on October 21. The last date it was seen here in Connecticut was October 10. This was some fantastic news, and I apologize for not mentioning it here sooner. The two photos here are mine from its stay at Stratford Point.

Classic White-tailed Kite leg-dangling hover hunting over Stratford Point in September

Initial reports were a bit confusing, but it eventually became obvious there was definitely a White-tailed Kite there. McDuffy Barrow first reported it in the Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge impoundment along Bayshore Drive. This is in Barnegat Township in Ocean County. It seems to have been seen at a far distance but identifiable as it is such a unique species. Subsequent visits allowed McDuffy to relocate it and birders from all across the state were soon to follow. It was not nearly as accessible as when it was at Stratford Point. Often enough birders have had to use very big lenses and scopes to get any decent photos. A few have been able to get some closer shots, and the photos I have seen suggest it is the same bird apart from the obvious logic behind it. Google Earth and maps depicts the area as very good habitat for a White-tailed Kite. You can see it by clicking here.

Last photo I ever took of the White-tailed Kite on October 5 as it looked quite miserable in the cold rain. It did not even bother to look at me and it was obviously contemplating a departure.

It appears the last confirmed sighting of the raptor was on November 11. I have not read any negative or positive reports after that date, but do not take that as anything more than what I have gleaned from public information. Perhaps it traveled once again to warmer regions, or finally headed back "home" wherever that may be.

Photos © Scott Kruitbosch

Monday, November 29, 2010

CAS on Twitter

If you enjoy following us on the blog you should definitely follow us on Twitter! The Connecticut Audubon Society can be found at: twitter.com/CTAudubon

Twitter is a perfect place for us to provide you with quick updates on bird sightings in Connecticut, migration conditions, how the weather will affect birding, upcoming event dates, and more of what goes on at our centers and properties. Speaking of that, you should also check out the Birdcraft Sanctuary and Museum's Twitter account here: twitter.com/ctaudbirdcraft

You will of course still find much more in-depth coverage of all these topics along with photos, video, and detailed conservation information here in the CAS blog, and everything you need to know about us on our main website, ctaudubon.org. This is only one more way to follow everything that is going on at the always active Connecticut Audubon Society as we work on conserving Connecticut's environment.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Looking for a Christmas tree?

If you're looking for a Christmas tree why not combine that trip with some birding while helping out the Connecticut Audubon Society? Our H. Smith Richardson Wildlife Preserve and Christmas Tree Farm allows you to do just that. The information that follows is from the sanctuaries page of our website. You can see the days and hours of operation for the Christmas Tree Farm in the photo below.

H. Smith Richardson Wildlife Preserve and Christmas Tree Farm, 74 acres, Sasco Creek Road, Westport

Three distinct parcels make up this preserve: a 24-acre Christmas Tree plantation, a 14-acre field habitat and a 36-acre evergreen plantation that has remained virtually undisturbed for the last 30 years. For a self-guided visit to each parcel, an interpretative brochure is available at the entrance.

FROM I-95 Eastbound: Take Exit 19 - Southport. Go left off exit and proceed to traffic light at Rt. 1. Turn left onto Rt. 1 (Post Rd.) and go to second traffic light. Take a left and follow from * below.
FROM I-95 Westbound: Take Exit 19 - Southport. Stay straight off exit to traffic light at Route 1 - Post Road intersection. Take a right onto Rt. 1 and at third traffic light, take a left. Follow directions from * below.
* At fork, take right and proceed straight on Green Farms Rd. Take a left onto Sasco Creek Rd. Preserve and Tree Farm are 0.1 mile on left.

Maybe you will run into me as I survey the property. Perhaps one of the trees you buy will be from this June photo!

It really is a beautiful sanctuary, and it is a good spot for some late fall rarities...

Photos © Scott Kruitbosch

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Stratford Point Thanksgiving birds

I stopped by Stratford Point today to do a standard survey and found a few notable birds. As I drove up, I saw a small group of Canada Geese fly by. This in itself is a bit odd for the site. A few more followed during the hour I was there, and one of them contained an obvious Cackling Goose. This was a new species for us at Stratford Point. It was the second I have seen this year out of several thousand Canada Geese. On the water, I saw three more Northern Gannet, a rare but relatively easily seen species at the right time of year there. Finally, I found five Snow Buntings feeding on the grasses in the driveway. They were cooperative and let me snap off a couple hundred photos.

We see you!

I know they can be a tough to find species in Connecticut, and especially tough to get nice views of. We often have them sitting on rocks or feeding on various grasses here in the late fall and winter. They are especially cool to see in the snow. I hope we get more of both soon.

The rare birds seem to love the rocks

Photos © Scott Kruitbosch