Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Our Own Christmas Bird Count

Today was our own Christmas Bird Count on West Campus. Our intrepid team was Lynn, Nick and Sue. Lynn was on campus at 6, while it was still dark, to try to find a few owls. Nick joined her half an hour later, and I was there by 6:40 - with color just showing in the east. The sky was clear and the temperature may have been in the single digits... by 8:30, an hour after sun-up, it was 12 degrees fahrenheit. We had expected wind, but thankfully there was none!

The first spectacle of the day was the sight of the crow roost breaking up and heading off in all directions. We figured, conservatively, 1500 birds were leaving the trees along Frontage Road, just in front of the north entrance to West Campus. In the flock we had two positive Fish Crows, and there were probably more, but we were happy to have this new species for our list.

Lynn had no luck calling owls with her tape recorder, so once the sky was light we began birding in the nature preserve, along the river. We walked downstream, then up, birded the brambles along the parking lots behind the B buildings, birded the shrubs and pines behind the A buildings, then at 8:30 took a 15-minute warm-up break indoors.

Next we drove along the back side of the large warehouse - our good sparrow place, then went to the far south end of campus to walk the fence line as far as the river. We ended up spending quite a bit of time in the woods here, and in the overgrown dumping area, which we scanned from within and from above. Heading back up to A21 for a lunch break, we drove the lower parking lot edges looking for a few last species before calling it quits - at noon.

So, six hours of birding yielded 33 species. Had it been an actual "count day", we probably would have stayed until dusk - but since we were just out for fun, and we had had our fun, we called it a day.

1. Canada Goose ...................105
2. Turkey Vulture .................... 1
3. Red-tailed Hawk .................. 2
4. Sharp-shinned Hawk ........... 1
5. Herring Gull ........................ 12
6. Ring-billed Gull ...................66
7. Hairy Woodpecker ................1
8. Downy Woodpecker ............. 6
9. Red-bellied Woodpecker ..... 1
10. Northern Flicker ................ 4
11. Mourning Dove ................... 7
12. Cedar Waxwing .................. 1
13. American Crow .............1500
14. Fish Crow ............................ 2 confirmed
15. Blue Jay ............................... 7
16. European Starling ............. 45
17. American Robin .. ............ 121
18. Hermit Thrush ....................3
19. Northern Mockingbird ...... 1
20. Brown Thrasher ................ 1
21. Gray Catbird ...................... 1
22. Carolina Wren .................... 5
23. Golden-crowned Kinglet .. 3
24. Black-capped Chickadee .. 8
25. Tufted Titmouse ............... 1
26. Northern Cardinal ............ 9
27. Dark-eyed Junco .............. 11
28. White-throated Sparrow . 59
29. Song Sparrow .................... 1
30. Eastern Towhee ............... 1 by ear
31. American Goldfinch .........12
32. House Finch ...................... 6
33. Red-winged Blackbird...... 6

So, the special bird of the day was definitely the Brown Thrasher, which Nick spotted, but, we had a total of FOUR new species for our bird list!
Brown Thrasher
Carolina Wren
Fish Crow and
Hairy Woodpecker

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

more Winter at West Campus

One rather cold-looking male Northern Cardinal perched in the Sycamore tree - just to his right is our little feeder. His preference seems to be to pick up seeds from the ground (snow) under the feeder, rather than use the feeder directly.

Here's a better photo of the curled-up leaves of our Rhododendron, with next spring's flower bud just visible at the apex of the twig.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Snow :-)

Saturday's big nor'easter hit the mid-atlantic states and coastal southern New England with lots of snow. Here at West Campus, we didn't have an unusual snowfall, maybe 6 to 8 inches.

We haven't been out birding yet this week, just observing the birds in our little feeder, see above. We have a regular female Downy Woodpecker, and some occasional Chickadees.

There remains some natural food in the A-21 courtyard, as seen on this ornamental fruiting tree - not sure whether it's a cherry or a crab-apple. We still see Robins in this tree.

If you don't have an outdoor thermometer, and you do have a Rhododendron shrub, you at least know if it's really cold or just sort of cold. The leaves of the Rhododendron curl up very tightly when it's really cold, and open out as the sun warms them. This is, I believe, a moisture-conserving mechanism. The leaves of the plant in the photo above have already begun to warm with the morning sun. Now go back up to the first photo and take a look at the leaves of the shrub still in shadow.

Not much to report in the birding department. Folks have noticed that the crows are gathering at West Campus again. Just at sundown they can be seen flying in our direction, singly, and in small groups. They alight in the bare branches of the tallest deciduous trees along nearby roads, and on our rooftops as well. Eric estimated about 600 yesterday afternoon.

Lynn mentioned that our resident flock of Canada Geese seems to have departed since the snowstorm, though a small flock was winging overhead this morning, perhaps ours?, checking for bare ground. They will find grazing either in coastal areas or wide open wind-swept areas.

Well, we will stock our little feeder tomorrow before we depart for our extended Christmas recess. And maybe I'll keep posting with some non-West Campus birding excursions.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Cold and clear.

A very bright, very cold day - so we sought shelter down in the river bottoms. Sounds like Louisiana... The floods from last Wednesday had receded and any remaining standing water was frozen! Our goal was to explore upstream from the Nature Reserve footbridge as far as we could go. The Oyster River itself was flowing along, but mostly under thin ice. Just as in warm weather, water can be a bird magnet - so there was some activity along the edges of the stream.
John James Audubon's Canada Goose

Today's birders: Lynn and Sue
Today's birds:
Canada Goose
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Red-tailed Hawk - two
Mourning Dove
Downy Woodpecker
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
American Crow
Blue Jay
American Robin
Northern Cardinal - a group of 12
Black-capped Chickadee
American Goldfinch (heard)
White-throated Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird

The cardinals were actively flying about, from the brushy slope down to the water, from there up into the cottonwood trees then back to the bittersweet tangles. There were several females, with their subtle golden-gray coats and bright red bills, but mostly males, in varying shades of bright to dusky red. Their strong clear "chip" notes followed us as we made our way along the river bank.
John James Audubon's Cardinal Grosbeak, our Northern Cardinal

Tomorrow is the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count in our area, and though we will not be counting birds here at West Campus, we will submit a list of birds we've seen to the area compiler. If nobody else counts a Barred Owl tomorrow, then Lynn and Scott's sighting of OUR Barred Owl - again - two days ago, will be added to the area list! Most of our other birds are very common, and will likely be counted elsewhere.

To all of you who will be participating in Christmas Bird Counts this weekend - good luck, and have fun!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sunset, Sunrise

If you're outdoors regularly at sunrise and sunset, you may be pretty sensitive to the subtle changes in the daylight. And guess what? The sun is already setting later. But, you may say, what about the shortest day of the year being December 21st? Well, the sun is still rising later, and that won't change until the end of December. So, the average of earliest sunset - Dec. 14th, and latest sunrise - December 29th, gives us the northern hemisphere's winter solstice, that day with the fewest hours of sunlight, December 21st.

Sunset at West Campus today, with crab-apple tree in foreground
December 16, 2009, S. Hochgraf photo

So linger a moment outside these days, and enjoy that lengthening afternoon light!

And hey - where are all the birds anyway? Hunkered down against the cold and wind of winter which is really just beginning - despite those later sunsets.

Today Nick, Lynn and I spent 15 minutes out birding, and found:
American Goldfinch, three
Dark-eyed Junco, five
White-throated Sparrow, several
European Starling, one
Ring-billed Gull, one
Canada Goose, 27
Anything at the feeder I missed? let me know!

The dates I mentioned above are averages, gleaned from a variety of sources. For really detailed information try the U.S. Navy's Astronomical Information Center:

Monday, December 14, 2009

Winter Birds

After a cold, rainy weekend, we were lucky to have a sunny lunchtime walk today. Temps in the low 40's, very little wind. There were a lot of birds around this morning as we all arrived at work, but after lunch we scared up only a few birds, but a good new one!

Today's birders: Nick, Lynn and Sue
Today's birds:
Meleagris gallopavo, Wild Turkey, high count of 11
Branta canadensis, Canada Goose
Larus delawarensis, Ring-billed Gull
Larus argentatus, Herring Gull
Columba livia, Rock Pigeon
Zenaida macroura, Mourning Dove
Colaptes auratus, Northern Flicker
Picoides pubescens, Downy Woodpecker

Passerella iliaca, Fox Sparrow

Corvus brachyrhynchos, American Crow
Cyanocitta cristata, Blue Jay
Sturnus vulgaris, European Starling
Turdus migratorius, American Robin, still a big flock hanging around
Bombycilla cedrorum, Cedar Waxwing, flock of a dozen
Poecile atricapillus, Black-capped Chickadee
Junco hyemalis, Dark-eyed Junco
Zonotrichia albicollis, White-throated Sparrow
Melospiza melodia, Song Sparrow
Passerella iliaca, Fox Sparrow - good bird, Lynn!!
Carduelis tristis, American Goldfinch
Agelaius phoeniceus, Red-winged Blackbird

Alas, I am very jealous, because I didn't actually see the Fox Sparrow, well, except as it flew away. This sparrow spends the winter from Connecticut south to Georgia and across the southwest to California and Mexico. It breeds in northern Canada from Newfoundland and Labrador through the prairie provinces, and from Alaska south into the Rocky Mountains of the U.S.

I often see the Fox Sparrow only in early and late winter - December and March, so our sighting today is pretty typical, but still a beautiful little bird to add to our list.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Another Oyster River

I wanted to share this photo with you. This is the Oyster River in Durham, New Hampshire, where I grew up - a hop skip and a jump from my parents home. As kids, once we were deemed seaworthy, we were allowed to take the family canoe or rowboat out on the river - with a buddy of course. Deep in winter, a thick layer of salty ice covers the river and mudflats, shifting with the tides.

Oyster River, at the town landing, Durham NH, December 6, 2009
I took this photo last Sunday morning after the new snow, when the sun was just coming over the treetops. That's a flock of Ring-billed Gulls in the foreground, and the dark spots on the river are mostly Canada Geese. This Oyster River of my childhood is a tidal river (there really are oysters), one of five estuaries which ebb and flow to the Piscataqua River and thence to Portsmouth Harbor and the Atlantic.

The Oyster River running through West Campus has its origin only half a mile north of campus, and follows a pretty direct north to south route. Our campus provides just about the only real woodland bordering the river, and even that is pretty sparse!

Follow Marsh Hill Road from the south end of campus towards the east (road name changes to Woodmont) and when you cross the river there, you'll see that it has entered a flat marshy plain.

Oyster River at Woodmont Road, Milford CT, December 11th, 2009
The river slows down and cuts through the
Phragmites marsh in a series of looping meanders. Farther along its course, near Anderson Avenue, the river turns 90 degrees to the east, and shortly reaches Long Island Sound, right near The Oyster River Tavern.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Good weather for a Duck!

Yes, birders DO go out in bad weather! Whatever snow fell last night was washed away by heavy rain - and it's raining still. We don't have standing water at West Campus, no ponds or open marshes, but today the puddles in the parking lots were pretty deep. Not deep enough for a duck, but we did have a duck fly-over. Our first duck! Geese are in the same family, but they are geese, so we are happy with our first duck. In my photo, you can see that the Oyster River was running high and fast, good water for a Torrent Duck, but here in Connecticut, we're pretty much out of the range of Merganetta armata. If you're curious why I chose this image of the Torrent Duck, it was to show how they swim upstream, against strong currents. There are many beautiful photos of this beautiful duck, but not so many of them swimming.

Today's intrepid birders: Nick, Kristof, Lynn and Sue
Today's wet birds:
Herring Gull,
Larus argentatus
Ring-billed Gull,
Larus delawarensis
Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
Common Merganser, Mergus merganser - ours was flying high overhead, not skimming the water

Wild Turkey,
Meleagris gallopavo
Accipiter species
Northern Flicker,
Colaptes auratus
Downy Woodpecker,
Picoides pubescens
Mourning Dove,
Zenaida macroura
Common Crow,
Corvus brachyrhynchos
Blue Jay,
Cyanocitta cristata
American Robin,
Turdus migratorius
European Starling,
Sturnus vulgaris
Black-capped Chickadee,
Poecile atricapillus
Northern Cardinal,
Cardinalis cardinalis
White-throated Sparrow,
Zonotrichia albicollis
Dark-eyed Junco,
Junco hyemalis
House Finch,
Carpodacus mexicanus
Red-winged Blackbird,
Agelaius phoeniceus

Birding by car means driving from one spot to the next, getting out and looking for birds in the rain, and moving on to do it again - maybe crazy, but definitely typical!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Wednesday walk - in the snow??

We'll go out tomorrow for a bird walk in the first really wintry weather of the season! Meet at the big warehouse at the southeast end of campus.
Might want waterproof footwear?
See you tomorrow!
photo of junco and titmouse in snow, taken from:

West Haven Crow Roost??

If you happen to stop at the Shell station for gas just after dark, you won't miss the crows! I was there just before 5pm Monday afternoon, and a veritable cloud of crows was rustling in the small trees just behind the building. Very cool!
I'll have to find a video camera with night setting to film the scene to share with you.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Monday Dec 7th

Lynn here, taking over the writing duties of the day. Sue had other obligations at lunchtime and was unable to join us. So, I will try to do justice to Sue's great work and add to the list. On the AM ride through campus, I saw large groups of both Robins and Cedar Waxwings. I was hoping that mixed in with them we might have a chance for a Bohemian Waxwing. Bohemian Waxwings during the winter are found throughout much of Canada and southward in the western United States. In the east they occasionally venture south often times mixed in with groups of Cedar Waxwings.
The elusive Bohemian Waxwing

Unfortunately come lunchtime we could only find one Cedar Waxwing in totaly, where did the 100 or so I saw this morning go?

Todays Birders- Nick and Lynn

Todays Birds-
Cedar Waxwing
American Robin
Rock Pigeon
Canada Goose
American Crow
House Finch
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Coopers Hawk
White-throated Sparrow
Black-capped Chickadee
European Starling
Downy Woodpecker
Mourning Dove

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday's birds.

After yesterday's record-breaking high temperature (66 degrees at Bradley International Airport, the highest since 1932) today's mid-fifties almost seemed cool.
Friday's bird list comes to me from many sources and different times throughout the day. More people looking for birds as they move about West Campus is a GOOD thing.
Today's contributing birders: Nick, Maureen, Sue and Lynn
Today's birds:
Wild Turkey
Canada Goose
Ring-billed Gull
Red-tailed Hawk
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Mourning Dove
Eastern Phoebe
Cedar Waxwing

Mimus polyglottos, Northern Mockingbird
Northern Mockingbird
American Robin
European Starling
American Crow
Blue Jay
American Goldfinch
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco

In my experience, the mockingbird can often be found perched on the outer branches of a tangle of brambles, and usually facing the sun. They will sit rather quietly, and sometimes not even fly off - I passed within 2 meters of today's "mocker". It just cocked it's head and watched me walk by.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

It's been a while since we had a new bird!

High overcast, in the mid-fifties, no wind - we decided to meet for our Wednesday walk on the bridge where the roadway crosses the Oyster River. It's often a good spot to look down on birds feeding and sheltering in the brambles.
Today's lucky birders: Lynn and Sue
Today's birds:
Red-tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
Ring-billed Gull, Larus delawarensis
Herring Gull, Larus argentatus
Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
Rock Pigeon, Columba livia
Downy Woodpecker, Picoides pubescens
Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus

Barred Owl, Strix varia
American Robin, Turdus migratorius
American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata
Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis
American Goldfinch, Carduelis tristis
Black-capped Chickadee, Poecile atricapillus
Tufted Titmouse, Baeolophus bicolor
European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
Common Grackle, Quiscalus quiscula

So, the owl. First we checked down in the brambles on the west side of the road and flushed lots of robins, and the mockingbird, and kept hearing little "chips" on the other side of the road. Expecting sparrows, I walked further down the road to where the good sparrow habitat is, and peered over the stone wall into the bushes and vines. Lynn, however, went straight across the road and looked down into the small trees that border the river. She immediately called me to where she was, with excited hand gestures - as in, look!! down here!! quick!!
We were looking not even twenty feet down on a beautiful Barred Owl - who looked up at the commotion above him and promptly flew off. We followed his flight and found him again further away.
Wow, after that, the sparrows and chickadees didn't much matter!!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Morning Drive.

I've contemplated creating a commuter's guide to birds. Familiarity with size, shape, color and flight habits, even at 65mph can often yield a positive identification. As I drove down the interstate this morning in the purple-pink haze before sun-up, a large dark bird flew across the road. Crow-sized, with an undulating flight - only one thing it could be.
To be continued after our lunchtime bird-walk.
At lunchtime I took a quick walk around the A21 parking lot, and saw:

One Ring-billed Gull
Two Mourning Doves
Earlier in the day, around campus, were seen and/or heard :
One Blue Jay
Some American Goldfinches
A Flock of American Crows
A Flock of small brown birds
At our courtyard feeder there were:
Four Black-capped Chickadees
One Downy Woodpecker
If anything else was out there, it was hiding from the strong wind that blew through our hill-top today.
Yesterday there was:
A small flock of Brown-headed Cowbirds
Two large groups of Canada Geese, totalling over fifty birds
Oh, my mystery bird? I didn't indend for it to be a mystery bird, but spent some fruitless time looking for a photo or video of my bird in flight, as I had seen it this morning. A Pileated Woodpecker - and to reiterate, not a West Campus Bird, though we certainly could have them here.