Friday, April 29, 2011

The Miller Park hawk

Last spring, I provided a few links to birds being featured in Major League Baseball games for one reason or another. You can see them here and here. On Easter Sunday, I was watching yet another random baseball game between the Houston Astros and the Milwaukee Brewers. It was at Miller Park in Milwaukee. Between innings and during a commercial break the crowd enjoyed some unexpected action as a hawk killed a pigeon on the field - check this video out!

The roof at Miller Park is retractable, and at the time it had been closed, so what appears to be a Cooper's Hawk was stuck inside. After the game the Brewers opened it up so that the hawk could fly out on its own. Initially, Major League Baseball was calling this a falcon, and I replied to them on their Twitter account from the CAS account that it was not (along with thousands of others I am sure). They seem to have made the correction. The hawk buzzed the dugout, flew around right field, landed in the stands - it put on quite a show for the large crowd. At the game the next day there were numerous signs for the hawk and even one saying "RIP pigeon" as it had become an Easter Sunday meal on the field. It was the talk of the town, and the post-game on Sunday, as all of the players went on and on about the odd experience.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Rainforest Project presentations streaming live

Rain Forest Dissertation Day Information

We are proud to share with you the research presentations from the Rain Forest Trip via live streaming video tomorrow, Thursday, April 28, 2011. The process for logging onto the Forman live stream is as follows:

  • Make sure you download the latest version of Adobe Flash Player.

  • Go to the USTREAM website and sign up for a free account

  • Click on this link , or on the USTREAM site, type "Dissertation Day 2011" into the search box at the top of the page

  • You are all set to watch these very impressive presentations!

The schedule for the day:

8:35- 8:50 Multimedia Slide Show

(Shawn Mullen/Wendy Welshans)

8:50- 9:15 Tropical Moths

(Matt Pelow and Lilly Perlstein)

9:20- 9:45 Spider Silk

(Megan Blair, Ariel Blouin, Nicholas Manzella)

~Break ~

(Second showing of Multimedia Slide Show)

10:35-11:00 Tropical Reptiles and Amphibians

(Vince Hastings, Walker Miller, Brandon Turner)

11:05-11:35 Volcanic Streams

( Collin Felton, Dominique Dimaria)

~Lunch in Peirce Dining Hall~

12:35-1:00 Migratory and Tropical Birds

( Faye Curran, Matt Markelon, Chris Moran)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Connecticut Audubon Society biologist identifies new species of salamander in Costa Rica during research trip with Connecticut high school students

Between March 5-17, Connecticut Audubon Society staff members and Litchfield area high school teachers traveled to the Costa Rican rainforest again to teach a group of local high school students about the importance of forest conservation. This year their trip was crowned with a very special find: a salamander species new to science! Twan Leenders, Conservation Biologist for the Connecticut Audubon Society, who leads the project’s amphibian and reptile research, says that, "It is very exciting to find a new species of salamander in a time when many amphibian populations are declining dramatically worldwide. This discovery underscores how much we still have to learn about tropical ecosystems even in relatively well-traveled regions."

This small salamander was discovered during a recent tropical biology course in Costa Rica
and identified as a new species to science

Twan Leenders has been involved with the project for 18 years and has been studying declining amphibian populations in Costa Rica and elsewhere for many years. Over the years, several teams of Rainforest Project students have helped him document the population status of several threatened amphibian species in the preserve. The discovery of a new species of salamander in the area provides a little bit of a counterbalance to the many years of documenting declining species and loss of habitat.

The new salamander is small, measuring only about 2.5” from its snout to the tip of its tail, and was discovered in a plant that had fallen from the canopy. Even without access to many resources it quickly became clear that this animal did not resemble any of the known species in the area. The animal was photographed carefully and all its diagnostic features were documented. Additional research upon the team’s return to Connecticut and some feedback from other salamander experts quickly confirmed the animal’s uniqueness. "This is an undescribed species of Oedipina" says Dr David Wake from UC Berkeley, the world’s premier authority on salamanders, "unlike any I have ever seen."

The new salamander is apparently quite secretive since it managed to escape detection for almost two decades

To learn more about Connecticut Audubon Society's efforts in conservation and education, please visit our website (, give us a call (203-259 6305), or drop by one of our centers for more information.

Students involved in the Costa Rican Rainforest Project present their findings, including the discovery of this new species, during their annual dissertation day at The Forman School in Litchfield. The event is free and open to anyone interested. More information and a complete schedule for the day can be found here.

Video of the presentations will also be streamed online in real-time here.

Photographs © Twan Leenders

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Gazebophil's Purple Martins reporting for duty. In Iraq!

Every once in a while we receive a message from the public that just has to be shared with as many people as possible. Today we heard from Glenda Wolfe, who is watching the Purple Martin cameras of our good friend GazeboPhil from her post in Iraq:

I am an active duty Soldier, currently stationed in Iraq, as part of the combat stress control team. I can't tell you how great it has been the last few weeks, to check in to your webcam, in anticipation of the arrival of a nesting pair of these beautiful and interesting birds. And how exciting it is to watch them begin to set up house in the gourd. I love to hear the whole flock- my CHU (Combat Housing Unit) is filled with their songs. I have sent the site to my team members and am certain they are watching in wonder, as well. I will be giving it to many of our stressed out soldiers, too. It is a very wholesome, relaxing and stress-reducing activity! Thank you for setting this up! I am eager to follow the progression from setting up house, to flight of the fledgelings!

These birds have traveled thousands of miles to reach their current summer homes in Connecticut, which is a bit of a miracle in itself. However, the fact that that these Purple Martin's daily antics travel this far and affect people so profoundly is amazing!

Check them out for yourself and be amazed too:

Young researchers present their findings on 4/28

Between March 5-17, Connecticut Audubon Society staff members and Litchfield area high school teachers traveled to the Costa Rican rainforest again to teach a group of local high school students about the importance of forest conservation. On Thursday 4/28 these students will present their findings during the annual Dissertation Day, which will take place at The Forman School, 12 Norfolk Road, Litchfield. See the bottom of this post for a detailed schedule of the day's presentations.

The event is open to the public and admission is free. Please come see the incredible work that these young researchers do.

Since its inception in 1992 the Rainforest Project has been a demonstration project of sorts, researching different ways to highlight the tremendous value of an intact rainforest - both biologically and economically. Once people realize that it pays to leave forest intact and use its resources intelligently, a major step has been taken towards its preservation. In addition, it is also critically important to understand these complex ecosystems as best as we can; it is very difficult to ensure that habitats, plants and animals can continue to function if we don’t know what they require to do so. Perhaps the most exciting thing about this project is that it is driven primarily by the same young people who will be the future stewards of our environment.

The Rainforest Project’s study area is a complex of private rainforest reserves in northeastern Costa Rica (SelvaTica and Rara Avis), bordered by the Braulio Carrillo National Park. Every year for the past 19 years, a group of 12-14 students travels to this remote rainforest area and sets up camp in Rara Avis for almost two weeks. Students and staff study the area’s biodiversity and research sustainable non-timber resource projects that can provide local people with alternatives to deforestation or destructive agricultural practices.

This unique hands-on biology course is based out of The Forman School in Litchfield, but also involves high school seniors, juniors and staff of the local public high schools (Litchfield High School and Wamogo Regional School). The program currently emphasizes five research topics: migratory birds, tropical moths, rainforest stream ecology, amphibians and reptiles, and arachnids.

Rainforest Dissertation Day
Thursday, April 28, 2011

Location: Johnson Arts Center

The Forman School

12 Norfolk Road

Litchfield, CT 06759


8:35- 8:50 Multimedia Slide Show

8:50- 9:15 Tropical Moths

(Matt Pelow and Lilly Perlstein)

9:20- 9:45 Spider Silk

(Megan Blair, Ariel Blouin, Nicolas Manzella)

~Break ~

(Second showing of Multimedia Slide Show)

10:35-11:00 Tropical Reptiles and Amphibians

(Vince Hastings, Walker Miller, Brandon Turner)

11:05-11:35 Volcanic Stream Ecology

( Collin Felton, Dominique Dimaria)

~Lunch in Peirce Dining Hall~

12:35-1:00 Migratory and Tropical Birds

( Faye Curran, Matt Markelon, Chris Moran)

All photos copyright Twan Leenders

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The early bird gets caught in the net

I stopped by our Birdcraft Museum and Sanctuary early one morning last week to find that the banding station was up and running and getting some fantastic birds. They had caught not only one of the early Prairie Warblers, but a Nashville Warbler as well. That Nashville Warbler was the first for the state of Connecticut in 2011. I am a field guy, and while I have been around for and helped out with bird banding on multiple occasions, I am rarely there for warblers. It never ceases to amaze me how tiny they are in the hand. Nevertheless, this photo I took may make it look huge...

I did not want to hold this bird for any longer than it had to be, but you can see all the beautiful features. Note the striking yellow throat and breast, a green sort of color on the wings and back, the gray head, and of course the bold and full white eye-ring. Do you see one more feature? The small brown-ish cap that is barely visible in the gray on the top of the head. You will only see it in the field if you get a very close look.
Visit Birdcraft soon to witness the banding operation.

I once had a Nashville Warbler come over for Thanksgiving dinner...well, it came to the bird feeders in my yard on Thanksgiving, so that is close enough. That was not normal, but more of the species will likely be seen this weekend in Connecticut. I hope some of you get to have one stop by for Easter.

Photo © Scott Kruitbosch

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Purple Martin gourd battle

Early this morning I woke up and saw that Gazebo Phil had a couple of Purple Martins in the cam gourd. They were not there last night. I was thrilled thinking that these two birds were inspecting what would be their home for the summer.

However, just after I finished doing some survey work this morning, Gazebo Phil called me to say there was a fight underway! This huge and lengthy battle was between two males that both wanted to use that gourd. Gazebo Phil described it as a wild and loud scene with splayed wings, ending with the vanquished on his back. He told me the defeated bird gave up and left the gourd. Afterward it seemed as if everything went back to normal. I finally got to a computer to see a pair sitting in the gourd post-battle as if nothing had happened. You never know what you might see, so please keep a close eye on the community. Please use his website to alert us to any action you may spot.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

First birdy day of the season!

This morning I carried out one of our monthly wildlife surveys for the US Army Corps of Engineers at their flood control project at Colebrook River Lake. As I shivered through the first half hour of my survey, not expecting much in gloomy 40 degree weather with a steady drizzle I rounded the corner towards a beaver pond near the entrance of the project site and suddenly found myself overwhelmed by the sheer number and diversity of birds present there! Hundreds of swallows twirled over the pond while likely hundreds of warblers moved through the adjacent understory and tree tops. Many, many yellow-rumped warblers were seemingly everywhere, as were smaller numbers of Palm and Black-and-White Warblers . I saw and heard my first of the year Blue-headed Vireo, Black-throated Green Warbler, Spotted Sandpiper and many other noteworthy birds showed themselves during the subsequent couple of hours.

The full species list and a couple of pictures are below. A total of 58 species in the area - not bad for a frigid April day! I can't wait for the days when this kind of birdlife will be the norm again...

Several Tree and Northern Rough-winged Swallows take a breather on the local beaver lodge,
while hundreds more swirl around them

Another random shot of some vegetation along the edge of the pond: swallows everywhere!

Palm Warbler

A classic early-spring scene: Yellow-rumped Warbler with maple flowers

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Black-and-White Warbler

Black-and-White Warbler

Brown Creeper

Northern Flicker - many individuals were highly territorial

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Most people in Connecticut associate Dark-eyed Juncos with winter, but up in the Colebrook area this is a year-round resident and breeder.

The same goes for White-throated Sparrows, which also breed in this area

Some early wildlflowers are emerging, adding to the spring-like atmosphere.
This is Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Hepatica (Hepatica nobilis) flowers come in white, pink and purple

For those interested, here is the full list of birds observed in the Colebrook River Lake area this morning:

Location: ACE Colebrook Reservoir

Observation date: 4/20/11

Number of species: 58

Canada Goose 10

Wood Duck 7

Mallard 2

Ring-necked Duck 4

Hooded Merganser 1

Common Merganser 8

Common Loon 5

Double-crested Cormorant 11

Great Blue Heron 5

Bald Eagle 1

Sharp-shinned Hawk 1

Peregrine Falcon 1

Spotted Sandpiper 1

Mourning Dove 2

Belted Kingfisher 1

Red-bellied Woodpecker 1

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 4

Downy Woodpecker 5

Hairy Woodpecker 1

Northern Flicker 7

Eastern Phoebe 4

Blue-headed Vireo 2

Blue Jay 7

American Crow 5

Common Raven 2 -- on nest

Northern Rough-winged Swallow 38

Tree Swallow 250

Barn Swallow 4

Black-capped Chickadee 8

Tufted Titmouse 3

Red-breasted Nuthatch 1

White-breasted Nuthatch 3

Brown Creeper 1

Carolina Wren 1

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1

Golden-crowned Kinglet 2

Ruby-crowned Kinglet 13

Eastern Bluebird 6

American Robin 21

Cedar Waxwing 4

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) 120

Black-throated Green Warbler 1

Pine Warbler 3

Palm Warbler (Yellow) 9

Black-and-white Warbler 4

Eastern Towhee 1

Chipping Sparrow 1

Savannah Sparrow 1

Song Sparrow 5

Swamp Sparrow 2

White-throated Sparrow 13

White-crowned Sparrow 1

Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored) 27

Northern Cardinal 5

Red-winged Blackbird 12

Rusty Blackbird 1

Common Grackle 14

American Goldfinch 3

All photographs copyright Twan Leenders

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Friendly Merlin

We are waiting to see if the American Kestrel box at Stratford Point hosts a family this year. A female has been hanging around but we have not spotted a male for some time. This Merlin was the only falcon present a few days ago. It was very friendly, allowing me to walk right up to it since I was slow, quiet, and alone. Too bad they don't nest here because they seem to enjoy the coastal grasslands even more than the kestrels at times.

Photos © Scott Kruitbosch

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Hope lives on

Excuse me for the cheesy title, but Twan thought this would be an outstanding story to share with everyone, and I wholeheartedly agree. The below tale is from a posting on the Shorebirds listserv. You can see Whimbrels at the Coastal Center at Milford Point and Stratford Point each summer, even if they are just flying by on a distant journey like Hope. Every time I have seen a Whimbrel in the past two years I have thought of her and this project. This is the sort of work we hope (no pun intended) to do at Connecticut Audubon Society in future years with species important to our state.

The odyssey of Hope, a whimbrel carrying a satellite transmitter, continues
to amaze scientists. Hope was originally captured on 19 May, 2009 on the
southern Delmarva Peninsula of Virginia. She left Virginia on May 26 and
since that time has logged more than 21,000 miles (33,000 kilometers) flying
between a breeding territory on the MacKenzie River near Alaska and a winter
territory on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. On Friday (8 April,
2011), Hope returned to Virginia following a 75 hour, 1,850 mile (2,900
kilometer) flight out over the Atlantic Ocean.

During the course of two full migration cycles, Hope has clearly
demonstrated how distant locations are interconnected in the life of
migratory species and how their conservation requires collaboration on a
multi-national scale. For three consecutive springs, Hope has returned to
the same creek in Virginia where she has fed on fiddler crabs preparing for
a transcontinental flight to her breeding grounds. The creek, located in
the the Nature Conservancy's Virginia Coast Reserve, is part of the
Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, a network of international
sites considered critical to populations of declining shorebirds. Hope's
breeding grounds on the MacKenzie River are part of an International
Important Bird Area and one of the areas of highest conservation value in
Canada. Efforts are ongoing to protect the area considered by many to be
one of the most pristine watersheds remaining in North America. For the
past 2 years, Hope has wintered at Great Pond, a Birdlife International
Important Bird Area on St. Croix. Protection of long-distance migrants like
Hope requires that countries recognize the importance of vulnerable
populations and work together toward effective conservation solutions.

Hope is one of several birds that have been fitted with state of the art
9.5-gram, satellite transmitters in a collaborative effort by the Center for
Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary, Virginia
Commonwealth University and the Virginia Coast Reserve of The Nature
Conservancy to discover migratory routes that connect breeding and winter
areas and to identify en route migratory staging areas that are critical to
the conservation of this declining species.

Updated tracking maps may be viewed online.

Satellite tracking represents only one aspect of a broader, integrated
investigation of whimbrel migration. During the past 4 years, the Center
for Conservation in partnership with The Nature Conservancy has used
conventional transmitters to examine stopover duration, conducted aerial
surveys to estimate seasonal numbers, collected feather samples to locate
summer and winter areas through stable-isotope analysis, and has initiated a
whimbrel watch program. Continued research is planned to further link
populations across staging, breeding, and wintering areas. Funding has been
provided by The Nature Conservancy, the Center for Conservation Biology, The
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Virginia Coastal Zone Management
Program, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, The Toronto Ornithological
Club, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, the Willow Beach Field
Naturalists, and the Northern Neck Audubon Society.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Harlequin Duck Stratford

On Wednesday a friends of ours from Stratford, Barney Bontecou, wrote an email to another friend, Frank Mantlik, about a male Harlequin Duck at Long Beach. Since he is away he passed it along to others to check out. I think all of us included in that email were busy yesterday or saw nothing, but today Keith Mueller found the bird (without knowing about it I think). I was there briefly this afternoon and took some photos with my point-and-shoot:

Photos © Scott Kruitbosch

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Support H.B. 6557

Attention CAS Environmental Advocates:

Please help support H.B. 6557 which you can find if you click here.

This bill has been in the works since the May 2010 jury verdict awarded $2.9 million for a mountain biker who was injured at the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) Reservoir in West Hartford, effectively closing MDC properties for public use and setting a precedent that could close all municipal lands to public recreation, including birding.

Fortunately, Connecticut Forest and Park Association has taken up this issue and has done much of the heavy lifting. They need our support now, as the deadline for the Judiciary Committee to vote is this Friday (April 15).

More than 10 state legislators have become new co-sponsors of H.B. 6557 -- An Act Concerning Liability for the Recreational Use of Lands (click here).

Unofficial polling of Judiciary Committee members suggests that, at this point in time, 16 members of the Committee would likely vote in favor of restoring liability protection to municipalities on recreational lands, 2 would likely vote against, and 27 members of Judiciaries are still undecided. No vote is scheduled yet. We need more support from the conservation community!

If you have not yet made contact with your State Representative and Senator (, please ask them to do the following:

1. Make contact with the Co-Chairs of the Judiciary Committee -Senator Eric Coleman (D-Bloomfield, Windsor) and Representative Gerald Fox (D-Stamford); and

2. Ask the Co-Chairs to hold a vote on H.B. 6557 -- An Act Concerning Liability for the Recreational Use of Lands -- before the upcoming Committee "JF deadline" of April 15th.

If you have already contacted your state legislators, please make one more contact to the leadership of your town (mayor, selectperson, or town council). Let them know that NOW is the time for town leaders to ask the state legislators who represent them and let them know that their support is critical to restore liability protection for municipalities on recreational lands. Even if they believe that H.B. 6557 needs to provide liability protection that is even stronger, their support is needed in the next couple of days.

Remember, the deadline for the Judiciary Committee to vote on H.B. 6557 is THIS FRIDAY, APRIL 15TH. Without a vote, this bill will die.

For talking points on this issue, read on:

* Municipalities (including municipal agencies such as the MDC, municipal water companies, etc.) need to be protected from frivolous lawsuits or they will close recreational lands or start charging fees to cover their potential liability and legal expenses;
* Healthy outdoor recreation is good for everyone, good for our communities and good for our state. It reduces healthcare costs and promotes all around well-being; and
* The current law is inconsistent: if one hikes, runs or bicycles on a trail that passes through various private, municipal, and state landowners, it makes no sense for only private and state landowners to be protected from liability. All landowners, including municipalities, should have the same protections and encouragement under the law.


PLEASE contact your State Representative and Senator ( and ask them to contact the Co-Chairs of the Judiciary Committee -
Senator Eric Coleman (D-Bloomfield, Windsor) and Representative Gerald Fox (D-Stamford); and ask them to hold a vote on H.B. 6557.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Volunteers needed for DEP work

Here's a quick message from the DEP - please help them out if you can!

Volunteers are needed by the DEP to help put up string fencing for nesting Piping Plovers (quite a bit of overlap with Least Tern colonies as well).

Here is the tentative schedule for fencing piping plover nesting habitat. If you can help out, it would be appreciated!

1. Harkness Memorial SP in Waterford (metal fencing) on Thurs. 4/14, 10:30am start. Meeting at the park's parking lot-look for gray Expedition with DEP logo on the door.

2. Sandy point in West Haven (stake and string) on Fri 4/15, 11:30am (rain date Mon 18th at 10:30am). Meet at the Sandy Point parking lot across from Captain's Galley Restaurant (19 Beach Street, West Haven).

3. Long Beach/Pleasure Beach in Stratford (stake and string) on Weds 4/20, 10:15 am (rain date Thurs 4/21-same time). Meet at Long Beach parking lot at the end of Oak Bluff Ave.

Bring a mallet if you have one, work gloves, scissors/Swiss army knife for cutting twine, lunch, sunscreen and water. Plan to be walking on sand.

Photo © Kevin Doyle

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Wind power and bird strikes

We wanted to pass along a recent press release by the American Bird Conservancy concerning bird strikes and wind power which you can read below:

(Washington, D.C., April 5, 2011) American Bird Conservancy (ABC), the nation’s leading bird conservation organization, today distributed dramatic footage showing a wind turbine striking a bird—a poignant illustration of the dangers posed to birds by the burgeoning wind industry. The footage will also appear as part of a wind TV commercial to be run on major networks later this week. The commercial encourages viewers to sign a petition asking that wind power be made bird-smart.

Estimates by the federal government say that currently, about 440,000 birds are killed annually by wind farms in the U.S., nearly one bird every minute.

“While the present bird impacts from wind farms are unacceptable, we are doubly concerned about what will happen as the U.S. increases its wind capacity approximately 12-fold by 2030 to meet federal targets. At the present rate of wind development, we expect to see bird kills in the millions from wind farms in coming years,” said Michael Parr, Vice President of ABC.

“ABC supports wind power when it is bird-smart, and believes that birds and wind power can co-exist if the wind industry is held to mandatory standards that protect birds,” said Parr.

Bird-smart wind power implements siting considerations, operational and construction mitigation, bird monitoring, and compensation to redress any unavoidable bird mortality and habitat loss.

The dramatic video, which was provided to ABC courtesy of, was filmed in Crete by an American tourist in the area. It shows a Griffon Vulture striking a large, modern wind turbine similar to those commonly in use in the United States. The bird suffered a broken wing and has been in rehab for over one year, still unable to fly.

“Many people mistakenly think that birds will routinely avoid wind turbine blades, but in reality, turbines kill more than 40,000 birds each month. One encounter with a wind turbine is typically fatal, so there is no learning curve for the birds. Eagles, vultures, and hawks tend to be looking for prey as they soar, so they often fail to see the blades until it is too late,” Parr said.

ABC has scheduled a Congressional briefing on April 8th on the issue. More than 40 bird groups from 25 states have already signed on in support of the bird-smart wind campaign and the list of supporters is growing rapidly.

Once again, the link to the video can be found here. While wind power obviously negates many of the harmful effects of other power sources, and bird mortality numbers are minimal compared to other issues like cats and window strikes, the release correctly points out that the growth of the industry will mean more and more die each year. Simply put, we have to be cautious and mindful of when and where we place wind turbines. For example, keeping them out of major migratory corridors and areas where large numbers of birds breed or feed is critical.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

More Martins

OK, so it has been a Purple Martin overload lately, but I am excited about the great work being done for them. They would not be able to breed at all without our assistance, so it is crucial we continue to provide more and more of it. The action at Gazebo Phil's started early this year, and below is a screen shot from the night of April 6 - three Purple Martins roosting together to stay warm on a cold spring evening.

Below you see dedicated volunteer Tom Mihaylo and the Coastal Center's Director, Frank Gallo, having readied the Purple Martin gourd trees at the Coastal Center.

A second 12-gourd tree was added this spring. The martins built at least three nests last year and we're hopeful for even greater success this year. Keep your fingers crossed! The Coastal Center staff would again like to thank the New Haven Bird Club for its generous donation of a gourd tree. Connecticut Audubon Society always appreciates and will gladly accept donations of gourds or gourd trees and put them to good use in some of the best habitat in Connecticut.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Great Northern Gannet shots

I may tweet or blog about them a lot, but Northern Gannets really are that spectacular of a sight off Stratford Point. The fact they were exceptionally rare anywhere in the state not long ago makes it all the more special. Twan captured these great shots earlier in the week.

It's only a matter of time until we get truly close photos when they come over our heads over land. I had at least 22 of them at Stratford Point on Wednesday! Visit us soon while they're here in such numbers on days with a south or east wind.

Photos © Twan Leenders

Purple Martin up close

I had to post this - check out Gazebo Phil now and you may see the below image live.

I captured that image just after 10AM today. Amazing, a Purple Martin already in the gourd with the cam inside it! This does not mean it will nest there, but it is great to see them up close on April 7.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Purple Martins return!

Purple Martins have returned to Connecticut! On this somewhat unexpected early date, Gazebo Phil welcomed back eight Purple Martins to Martin Acres by the Sea. If you have never seen his impressive community and amazing website and cameras you need to check out and then bookmark the following site:

We were expecting them to return from Brazil somewhere around the 14th or 15th of April. Even better, Gazebo Phil told me he saw a bird pop in yesterday that he thought was a Purple Martin, and not a European Starling, from the brief glance he got. The birds called and soared all around the area this morning, catching a snack here and there while checking out the gourds. Some of them even went into the gourds already!

Please take a look at Gazebo Phil's website all spring and summer. I know you will find watching the Purple Martin community grow, nest, and feeding hundreds of young birds extremely compelling.

Photos © Scott Kruitbosch

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Young researchers shine during Costa Rican Rainforest Project (Part II)

During the first two weeks of March, Connecticut Audubon Society staff members Frank Gallo and Twan Leenders travel to a Costa Rican rainforest preserve with students and staff from three Litchfield high schools as part of a year-long tropical biology class. Students carry out important research projects, some of which have been ongoing for 19 years. This is part II of a series of blog posts introducing the students, the projects and our results.

Cacho Negro volcano at night - this is the area we worked in for almost two weeks

It is night on a forested volcano in Costa Rica. The forest understory is pitch dark although millions of stars are visible trough small windows in the canopy 100+ feet overhead. The sound of nocturnal animals, birds, frogs and insects mixes with the sloshing of boots slowly walking through deep mud while beams of several flashlights dance around, carefully illuminate every leaf and branch in hopes of finding another hidden gem.

The dense rainforest of Rara Avis preserve provides many places for a small frog or snake to hide

Students Walker Miller, Brandon Turner and Vince Hastings are searching for rare frogs, some of which were almost thought to be gone forever a decade or so ago. A deadly disease caused by a waterborne fungus has decimated amphibian populations worldwide and several species of amphibians have gone extinct in Costa Rica as a result of this global outbreak. For nineteen years I have been studying this disease, the animals it affects and the long-term ecological effects of removing a whole series of keystone species from a complex tropical rainforest ecosystem. Helped by veteran field assistants Alex Shepack, Tim Paine, Don Filipiak and these three high school students we try to find more clues to what is happening with these frogs and all the species they interact with.

You could hide a small dog under one of these leaves!

Although the overall picture is pretty distressing and depressing – a worldwide precipitous decline and widespread extinction of amphibian populations that took place during the relatively short lifetime of my young researchers – there is good news to report as well. In recent years we have been able to document a recovery of several species that were virtually absent from the preserve for almost a decade.

Brandon Turner carefully weighs a small frog

Several streams in the area now reliably yield a call or a glimpse of our target species, while additional populations in areas previously not occupied by these at-risk species are documented each year now too. It appears that several of these species have squeezed through a very tight bottleneck after the initial outbreak of the disease, but slowly their numbers are increasing and they are re-colonizing the areas they were once commonly found.

All animals are measured and relevant data is collected for later analysis

My research over the past decade has shown that the disease is still present in the preserve, but natural selection apparently has favored the few individuals of each species that turned out to be more resistant to this novel pathogen than others in their respective species. These few survivors now form the founding stock of a new, more resistant form of these frogs. Although good news in the short term, the long term survival of these frogs is far from secure.

Walker Miller uses some down time to catch up on data sheets

Global changes in climate patterns are affecting their habitat, invasive plants and animals wreak havoc on ecosystems and loss and alteration of their natural rainforest habitat puts even more stress on these already precarious survivors. However, we’ll take the good news one step at a time and hope that their recovery will be complete some day.

Basilisk Lizards are quite funny!

My new recruits are handling their new found calling extremely well. Most people would never volunteer to head out for many hours at a time into a seemingly endless sea of dense tropical forest. In the middle of the night. Trying to catch frogs, lizards and snakes.

Vince Hastings shows off his newly learned snake handling skills

These three students not only do well at it – they love it! Every hike reveals all sorts of new animals. Individuals are caught, returned to our base camp, identified, measured and weighed, and all data is recorded carefully for later analysis. Animals are photographed and quickly returned to the area where they were found.

Brandon seems pretty at ease too with this 6ft Bird-eating Snake -- this is only day three of the project and these students are working like pros!

After less than two weeks in the field, we documented 60 different species of reptiles and amphibians in the area and hundreds of different individuals were observed.

Strawberry Poison-dart Frog Ghost Glass Frog -- one of our target species!
Crowned Tree Frog - a rare species that only started to increase in numbers two years ago Rufous-eyed Stream Frog - this species can now be found reliably in a few streams in the preserve after a decade-long absence! Many frogs are extremely well camouflaged, like this Clay-colored Rain Frog
No fewer than four new species were added to the preserve’s species list – quite a feat considering that this list represents almost 2 decades of intensive research – and one of those, a small salamander, may actually be a new species to science altogether!
This small arboreal salamander may be a new, undescribed species!
Canopy Lizard

Carpenter's Anole

Future research will hopefully tell! For now we can leave the preserve behind, knowing that at least a few of these rare species are not quite extinct yet and are seemingly maximizing their second chance at life.

One of the new additions to the reserve's species list: White-headed Snake
A Lichen-colored Snail-eater
Orange-bellied Glasstail
Central American Coral Snake
Hognose Pitviper
A surprising caterpiller, whose rear end is trying hard to look like a snake!
The Rainforest Project's Amphibian and Reptile Team

If you would like to learn more about Twan's research on endangered amphibians, please come see his talk on Wednesday April 6 at 7PM at the CAS Coastal Center at Milford Point, or come see the student’s presentation during dissertation day on April 28 (more details to follow on that).

All photos copyright Twan Leenders