Sunday, August 21, 2011

Porcupines and more at Croft Sanctuary

This past Thursday, CAS Science and Conservation staff once again joined forces with the summer campers from the Coastal Center at Milford Point led by Frank Gallo. Our mission was to explore the CAS Croft Preserve and find all the life that we could in this sprawling and spectacular 700-acre sanctuary. As you can read on our website Croft includes upland hardwood forest, hemlock groves, managed early successional habitat, bogs, swamps and beaver ponds. It is managed for wildlife, not humans, and the very limited trail system is exceptionally rough and difficult to navigate. It is full of undergrowth, steep, muddy, rocky, and very slow going for even those in the best physical shape.

Those campers had been through a summer full of outdoor activity across Connecticut and were certainly up to the Croft challenge. Looking at the date and mid-day walk scheduled, we figured we would find a few birds but also focus on mammals along with reptiles and amphibians. I arrived before them, and Twan arrived before all of us, so I walked in to meet him as the skies got darker. Rain and possible storms were on the way.

Earlier Twan had stopped to take a call from me and looked up to see a porcupine in a tree. As I stopped on the trail to call Twan about the weather, I found another porcupine in the same way! Yes, we were lucky, but this is a frequent occurrence as there are many in Croft. We certainly had a couple of targets for the least until it started pouring. You cannot just leave Croft - you have to follow the one trail in and out and hike it as best you can. We made good time but were soaked through as we arrived to see the Milford Point staff and campers had arrived.

 Two drenched but happy guys met by Frank Gallo and co. (Twan Leenders front, Scott Kruitbosch back)
Fortunately, the heavy showers passed, there were no storms, and we could take them in to Croft. While we missed my porcupine, we found Twan's again, and it posed for everyone. There were plenty of people in awe, including the adults.

 See it up there to the 11 o'clock of Twan?

Very obliging porcupine

We pressed on, hearing birds like Eastern Wood-Pewee, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Gray Catbird, and more. The next stop along the trail was to see something else Twan had discovered earlier in the day - bobcat footprints!

By the time we had arrived, the rain had washed them away somewhat but they were still identifiable. These were of course quite fresh and Twan probably hadn't missed it by much in the morning. They move so quickly they even beat the wildlife cameras we sometimes put out in parts of the preserve. Check this shot out from winter as an example.

From there it was something of everything as we headed to a large clearing created as more early successional habitat by CAS staff and volunteers. It is thriving and has changed a great deal since this work started. I spotted the third porcupine of the day in one of the remaining trees as we rested and the campers found salamanders.

A brief break for the Science & Conservation staff

Here are many more shots of everyone in action...

 Counselor Kevin McFadden, who did everything and more for the kids this summer, enjoying the fantastic habitat

A Spotted Salamander! The kids found many as Croft might be home to the largest Connecticut population

 There were also many red efts, the terrestrial stage of Eastern Newts




Goodbye for now!

The campers headed back home from there while Twan and I continued through the sanctuary, surveying more areas and recording more life of every kind all around us. From carnivorous plants to moose, this lifelong Connecticut shoreline resident still cannot believe these sights are possible in the state.

Our favorite herpetologist catching odonata, dragonflies and damselflies

Spicebush Swallowtail

That night we were told the campers found moose prints on their way out! Twan and I did not see them, though we did encounter fresh bear scat, missing one that had came across the trail not long before us. Black bears enjoy the blueberries and raspberries growing in abundance throughout Croft.

If you ever want an incredibly challenging but rewarding hike you should check out Croft, but please take our warnings seriously - it will take a physical toll on anyone and you may encounter some a great deal of wildlife you might not expect in your backyard.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

All photos © Frank Gallo, Scott Kruitbosch, or Twan Leenders

Friday, August 19, 2011

Two mammals in two days

I had some good luck last week, as I was able to spot two uncommonly seen mammals, a coyote and a red fox, in two days. The first one was the coyote. It ran out in front of me across the path to the beach at the Coastal Center at Milford Point, going from dune to dune through the grasses. It did not stop or even glance at me.

Director Frank Gallo mentioned to me how often he has seen red foxes going by in broad daylight lately, too. This is a prime time for these animals to be feeding young. They do not have to be ill or injured to be seen in such a way. They are not a threat to us, either. Ironically, at Stratford Point around 8AM the next day, I was walking out to meet Twan as he was already in the upland area surveying plants and insects. I saw a red fox staring at him from a distance by the main gate. I should have taken a photo of it first, but silly me shouted over to Twan to point it out. It took off like a shot and ran into the brush.

An old distant photo of a red fox from my yard

These mammals are all around us nearly every day, and we as a society typically only hear about the bad encounters. There are plenty of enjoyable sightings like these. Sometimes they're on a mission feeding a growing family. Other times they may be as interested in you as you are in them. That fox was wondering what Twan was up to and watching from a distance. Once I had a red fox slowly creep up to me from behind in the woods. I didn't hear a peep until it was about 10 feet away. I turned, we made eye contact, and it backed away slowly before dashing off. I think it was only curious as to what I was doing as I was stalking a warbler and taking photos of it.

Twan had a mammal encounter of another kind. He has a wildlife camera trained on his compost pile. Lately it has been snapping off skunk shots nonstop, but he also gets a near nightly visit from a rare gray fox.

That is one I would love to see up close and personal. We enjoyed some more amazing Connecticut mammals in our Croft Sanctuary for that post soon!

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bad hummingbird weather

Somewhat like the observations of owls, I heard several engrossing comments about Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in the last few days. It seems that with the nonstop rain, wind, and cooler temperatures they have been flocking to feeders in higher than usual numbers. It is common to see a few migrant hummingbirds stop at feeders on the way south, and this is the time they are starting to move through. I actually saw a migrant in the end of July. However, reports of more than 10 or 20 simultaneously are phenomeonal.

Look at this video a Twitter user tweeted us from Voluntown...

There are at least a dozen birds present, probably more. Did this happen to your feeders as well? Please keep an eye out for rare hummingbirds, too. You never know what you may get right now...

Update: CAS Senior Director of Science and Conservation Milan Bull tells me years ago he once counted 93 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds moving through our Birdcraft Sanctuary in a single day. Whoa!

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Monday, August 15, 2011

Blue-winged X Lawrence's Warbler?

Andy Rzeznikiewicz, Sanctuary Manager of the CAS Center at Pomfret and the adjoining 700-acre Bafflin Sanctuary, recently banded an intriguing warbler. It looks as if it has characteristics of a Blue-winged Warbler and Lawrence's Warbler, a hybrid of Golden-winged Warbler and Blue-winged Warbler.

Andy has found Lawrence's Warbler in the area in the past. Our Bafflin Sanctuary has a high number of breeding Blue-winged Warblers so it is not too surprising to find hybrids among them. What do you think of this bird?

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photos © Andy Rzeznikiewicz

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Good time for owling

Here in Connecticut owls and owling are more associated with colder seasons - the end of fall, beginning of spring, and the winter. We certainly have more species around to find during some of those times as well with more individuals of species like Northern Saw-whet and Long-eared Owl and the addition of others like Snowy Owl, during irruptive years, and Short-eared Owl.

However, August is a subtly good time to stick your head out the window on a nice evening or sit outside for a while after dark. One night last week around midnight I heard not one but two Eastern Screech-Owls calling while I was inside with the windows closed and while I had my television on. They were not even really close to my house, either. They were calling over one another as loudly as they could. I thought I was just excessively tired at first, but I was happy to see...or hear...that I was wrong.

Our friend Frank Mantlik reminded me the next day that early last August he had a similar experience in his home with an Eastern Screech-Owl. Later that morning a Twitter user following our Connecticut Audubon Society account at replied us to say he had the same Eastern Screech-Owl experience that night. When I mentioned it to CAS Coastal Center Director Frank Gallo, he told me he heard a Great Horned Owl, yes, that very same night. That is fantastic for some unprovoked owling!

Somehow, Twan knew to go outside and check things out around midnight as I had, but all he heard was a gray fox, one of Connecticut's rare mammals. We don't feel too bad for him. I definitely think everyone should keep their ears open all night long during August to see how many more owls we can record the easy way. Is this a good time for dispersal of young or are territories being set up all over? What do you think the reason for the calling season is?

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Milford Point on WTNH

Last week a crew from WTNH News 8 came out to visit our own Coastal Center at Milford Point as a part of their "Hidden Gems" series. Center Director Frank Gallo and Senior Director of Science and Conservation Milan Bull met them to talk about everything from the importance of our site, the rare and unique birds and plants it holds, conservation as a whole, and much more. You may have seen the piece on Good Morning Connecticut earlier today. If you missed it you can watch the video and read this piece on the WTNH website right here:

Our thanks go out to everyone at WTNH, Gil Simmons, and all of the Good Morning Connecticut crew. I thought it came out great! Please come visit our beautiful Coastal Center yourself during this lovely August and soon to be September weather.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

More Stratford Point odonata

Since we had several positive comments about our Needham's Skimmer dragonfly here are some more odonata, dragonflies and damselflies, from Stratford Point that we captured on Monday. Most of them were found during our ongoing baseline vegetative surveys.

They are definitely not easy to catch for amateurs like myself, and sometimes we photographed them from afar rather than attempt to net them. Part of the reason behind this is that most are migratory at the site, moving through without stopping or pausing only momentarily. However, this does mean we will likely see some more scarce or rare species, and we are very excited to record as many as we can.

 Blue Dasher - notice the mites? Hmm

 Common Green Darner

 Familiar Bluet

 Painted Skimmer

Seaside Dragonlet

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photos 1, 3, & 5  © Twan Leenders; Photo 2 & 4  © Scott Kruitbosch

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Rare insects at Stratford Point

Apart from all of the wonderful birds there were also two terrific and somewhat rare insects found at Stratford Point this week. Insect survey work is a part of the adaptive coastal restoration plan for Stratford Point. On Thursday, we had some helpers - the kids from summer camp at Milford Point. We will highlight more of their finds soon, but we didn't want to wait to share a couple of rarities, including this dragonfly first spotted by Coastal Center Director Frank Gallo as he and I walked out to check on bird banding nets.

This was the only one of the species we saw. He is familiar with many dragonflies but was not immediately positive on the identification of this one, knowing it was likely uncommon or rare. As the kids helped us track it down while it moved about I was able to get some photos. We were able to determine that it is a Needham's Skimmer, a rare dragonfly indeed.

Twan and I have been regularly searching for insects ourselves during our typical bird survey work to add to the master list of all life for the site. This mostly includes butterflies and moths which are relatively easy to record while searching for birds. I found this butterfly on Wednesday - a Variegated Fritillary. 

The Connecticut Butterfly Association lists it as a vagrant. Records seem to be increasing in Connecticut for the species. I expect us to find many more rare insects as we continue our survey and planning work if only because we work in or own very unique or specialized habitats in many parts of Connecticut.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photos  © Scott Kruitbosch

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Stratford Point in pictures

Here is only a taste of what it looks like at Stratford Point in early August with a bunch of great photos from Twan. The "one that doesn't belong" at the end was shot yesterday by me. I'll let the beautiful birds speak for themselves.

 Common Terns - feeding young

 Snowy Egrets

Semipalmated Sandpipers

Great Blue Heron

White-winged Scoter...what?!

The White-winged Scoter above was resting, sitting, and swimming around in front of the lighthouse on August 3rd. It may have been the same bird seen lingering into June around Stratford, though I do not believe it had been seen since. We see hundreds if not thousands of the species all winter, but it was definitely out of place on a warm August day.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photos 1-8 © Twan Leenders; photo 9  © Scott Kruitbosch

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Stilt Sandpiper

A somewhat rare Stilt Sandpiper has been at the "Access Road pool" in Stratford for about a week now. Last seen two days ago, the Stilt is at what is always a very productive pool near where Access Road meets Great Meadows Road on the saltmarsh side. This has been a popular spot for birders seeking rare shorebirds, waders, or waterfowl for years. Our friend and expert birder Frank Mantlik first found it along with a Western Sandpiper.

Stratford Great Meadows is the most reliable spot for the species to the degree where it does not register as much of a rarity in my mind since I have lived here my entire life. Director of the CAS Coastal Center, Frank Gallo, took the following photos of it.

Here is a photo of a Lesser Yellowlegs for comparison.

It may not be a White-tailed Kite, with the first anniversary of its arrival in 2010 passing on Monday, but a Stilt Sandpiper is still a very nice find. Tomorrow I will post some photos of what Twan and I have been recording at Stratford Point in the past week as migration continues to build.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photos © Frank Gallo

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Banded Purple Martin sighting!

Last Friday we received word from Geoff Krukar of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection that one of Gazebo Phil's banded Purple Martins had already been spotted away from his gourds. In case you missed it, you can see more information about the banded Purple Martins here and check out this lengthy HD video of the actual banding process at Gazebo Phil's that I shot when we went to band his young birds. As you can see, Phil's birds were given red color bands. Even at a distance you can identify a bird belonging to one of the six largest Purple Martin colonies in Connecticut with these different colors.

A look at the bands once again

Geoff said this bird was found at another one of those colonies in Clinton, meaning it traveled over 40 miles to get there around three weeks after it had been banded! This bird not only learned how to fly and function for itself, it went that far from "home" in exploring its surroundings. I should also note this bird traveled east instead of west. You may think of this as the wrong direction, but it very likely did not intend to head for South America yet. This is evidence of dispersal; young leaving their parents range to find their own in the future, aiding the genetic makeup of the species and, quite simply, finding a gourd of their own for next year. This bird will have a wing up on the competition already finding a possible nesting location in a very suitable location.

Who knows, perhaps this individual will go even further in another direction. Isn't it amazing that they can find their own species so easily or a perfect habitat so readily? This is exactly why color banding is so important as it helps us understand these processes. Geoff also mentioned that he read a report of a young bird in New Jersey seen 100 miles from where it was banded only one month later. Purple Martins definitely get on the move quickly. Please keep an eye out for more color banded martins (check the colors again here) and send a report to the CT DEEP or CAS if you spot one.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photo © Twan Leenders