Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Two days of heavy rain...

Good weather for a duck - or a swan*. And for the robins, who are gobbling up the drowning earthworms left and right.

The depression under our feeder is a lake this morning.

We haven't been out to fill the feeders since last week, and also since we realized that it was the House Sparrows who were the primary customers.

Our weekly bird-sighting list, which is tallied with a dry erase marker on a glass partition in the hallway opposite our feeders.

This is the final feeder count for the winter. Starting in November, Lynn submitted weekly lists of activity at our bird feeders to the New Haven Bird Club's annual feeder survey.

A few more wet denizens of West Campus - our Wild Turkey flock took cover from the heavy rain under this ventilation structure.

What --- you don't have turkeys in your parking lot??

*The reference to a swan in my opening line is for a pretty special bird which is making an appearance in Stratford Connecticut this week. Stratford is close enough to us here at West Campus that Lynn and I took a lunchtime trip to see it on Monday.

A pair of Trumpeter Swans, Cygnus buccinator, are feeding and resting in a little inland pond in a wooded residential area of Stratford. For both of us, this was a life bird - the first time we've ever seen one. The largest bird (by weight and length) native to North America, and the largest waterfowl in on EARTH!

link to Lynn's blog to see her photos!!!!!

This majestic swan is easily distinguished from our common Mute Swan by its all black bill (Mute's is orange and black), and by its habit of holding its neck very straight (Mute's is often curved). The Trumpeter is less easily distinguished from the Tundra Swan, another native swan which is occasionally seen in Connecticut. Here the primary distinction is in overall size of the bird, and in details of the shape and color of the bill.

I'll refer you now to Cornell's Birds of North American Online - where you can also see range maps of these two native swans, and get an idea of how uncommon they are in Connecticut.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday field trip, and the week's birds

Don't know why, it just seemed like a good day to get to the coast. Lynn and I spent the better part of an hour at the mouth of the Oyster River at lunchtime, searching the flock of Bonaparte's Gulls for the one Black-headed Gull which had been seen off and on yesterday. Within a few minutes of arriving, Lynn picked out one that was different than the others - or so we thought. The flock was feeding and preening and would occasionally spook, wheeling away in unison. Sometimes they flew down the beach out of sight before returning and settling on the mudflats again.

When they returned we searched and searched and did not see that "different" bird again, finally convincing ourselves that we really had not seen the Black-headed Gull in the first place.
- it should be a larger bird, 16 inches long vs 13.5 for the Bonaparte's, actually closer to the size of a Ring-billed Gull (at 17.5 inches)
- it should be completely white at the back of the neck, where the Bonaparte's shows a shadow of gray, and should appear paler gray on the mantle and back in general than the Bonaparte's

Anyway, it's always good to get out birding, even if you don't find your target bird! I had never seen a large flock of Bonaparte's Gulls - we estimated about 150 birds.

This week's West Campus (and coastal) birds:
Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo
Canada Goose, Branta canadensis (and coast)
Brant, Branta bernicla
Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos
Red-breasted Merganser, Mergus serrator
Great Black-backed Gull, Larus marinus
Herring Gull, Larus argentatus (and coast)
Ring-billed Gull, Larus delawarensis (and coast)
Bonaparte's Gull, Chroicocephalus philadelphia
Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus
Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
Rock Pigeon, Columba livia (and coast)
Monk Parakeet, Myopsitta monachus
Downy Woodpecker, Picoides pubescens
American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
Fish Crow, Corvus ossifragus
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
Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
Dark-eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis
Brown-headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater
Red-winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
Common Grackle, Quiscalus quiscula
American Goldfinch, Carduelis tristis
House Finch, Carpodacus mexicanus
House Sparrow, Passer domesticus

Thirty species for the week - including today's field trip to the coast - but still no Phoebe or Tree Swallow to report - hopefully next week! The Tree Swallow will be a new bird for our list, since we started our birding efforts last fall after the swallows had flown south.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Friday noon birding anyone?

I'm sitting at my desk on a sunny Thursday and just checked the weather forecast for tomorrow. Looks like Friday's rain may clear up in time for lunchtime birding - anyone up for a quick trip to the coast? I'll leave the A-21 parking lot shortly after noon and pick up anyone who'd like to join in the outing. Plan a portable lunch and I'll bring my 'scope. I can shift the time to later if it works better for some, but either way, plan for a full hour out in the cold wind.
Good weather for gulls, ducks, maybe a shorebird if we hit the right patch of shoreline.
later - Sue

Friday, March 19, 2010

Oyster River gulls

Mixed gull flock resting and feeding at the mouth of the Oyster River, Orange/Milford town line - yes, and one pigeon strolling through the foreground

Right after work I headed to the shore to see if I could locate the Bonaparte's Gulls which have been hanging around at the mouth of the Oyster River. This is a species which becomes more common along our coastline during late winter and early spring. There were at least 12 of these small, agile gulls mixed in with the usual flock of Ring-billed and Herring Gulls.

I singled out the Bonaparte's Gulls by their fluttery, almost tern-like wingbeat, their overall much smaller size, uniquely marked black and white pattern in the wing and a small dark bill. They are still in non-breeding plumage, manifested by a dark "smudge" behind the eye, rather than the fully black cap of a breeding bird.

A short video, taken through my binoculars, of Bonaparte's Gulls, Chroicocephalus philadelphia, on the beach at the mouth of the Oyster River, Orange, Connecticut.

As the tide ebbed, the gulls shifted from feeding on what looked to be small minnow-like fish just offshore, to bathing in the fast-moving brackish current of the Oyster River as it flowed into Long Island Sound. After a period of bathing, they came up to the sandy shore to preen.

So the same Oyster River from which a West Campus robin took a drink at lunchtime, is now afternoon bathwater for the local gull population. There's a water cycle for you.

this photo is cropped from the larger one above - the Bonaparte's are the smaller gulls in front, and also sit with the tail and wingtips tilted up quite high

this is also cropped from the same photo from above - there are three Bonaparte's Gulls on the beach, the far left, the far right and the smaller gull in the center back

Another walk...

Another noontime too beautiful to be indoors, so we walked around campus for our lunch-hour. Pretty quiet out there, but I know the phoebes will be back soon!

Today's birders:
Lynn, Debby and Sue

Today's birds:
Canada Goose
Wild Turkey
Killdeer - returning migrant! *
Mourning Dove
Rock Pigeon
American Robin
Blue Jay
European Starling
Northern Cardinal
Black-capped Chickadee
Song Sparrow - singing
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
House Sparrow

yesterday there were House Finches

Watchful birders throughout the state are beginning to report migrants:

Eastern Phoebe
Tree Swallow
Piping Plover
Broad-winged Hawk
Yellow-rumped Warbler - singing
Eastern Bluebird

And many bird species have been observed nest-building:

Red-shouldered Hawk
Eastern Bluebird

*Although it's possible to see the Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus), year-round in Connecticut, it is a migratory species, traveling as far south as Colombia and Venezuela. It breeds across nearly all of North America, from northern Mexico to Canada's mid-latitudes.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wednesday birding revived?

Lynn and I were back outside, birding West Campus today. A beautiful early spring day, about 50 degrees out, bright and sunny. We aren't expecting spring migrants just yet, but still, it was good to get out and see who's around on this Wednesday, Saint Patrick's Day.

Wild Turkey - around
Canada Goose - around
Ring-billed Gull
- many, flying high
Cooper's Hawk - one, right over the Nature Preserve area
Mourning Dove - several
Rock Pigeon - around
Hairy Woodpecker - a surprise, in the woods of the Nature Preserve
American Crow - around
American Robin - many, in the trees and thickets of the Nature Preserve and foraging in the grassy areas as well
European Starling - around
Dark-eyed Junco - flashed through the woods of the Nature Preserve
White-throated Sparrow - along the brushy edges and nearby lawns
Song Sparrow - along the brushy edges and nearby lawns
House Sparrow - around

The robins and a song sparrow were singing their spring songs!!!
And there are a few tiny leaves on some trees.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Courtyard Drama!

Outside his office window Nate witnessed a large hawk grab a bird, leaving no evidence other than an explosion of feathers. He ran to get me and other interested onlookers, and together we watched a Red-tailed Hawk holding a medium-sized gray bird in its talons while perched in one of the courtyard sycamores. Disturbed by our movements the hawk flew off and may have actually collided with our infamous corridor windows, causing it to release its prey. It dropped down to collect the bird then flapped out of sight over the building. We followed its flight path but were unable to locate our raptor again.

Out in the courtyard I found enough feathers to be able to identify the prey as a Mourning Dove.

Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura, brown wing feathers and the white are tail feathers

Some information about the Red-tailed Hawk from Cornell University's Birds of North America Online:
The species is primarily a sit-and-wait predator and generally requires elevated perch sites for hunting. The species’ diet includes a wide variety of small to medium-sized mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, arthropods, and fresh carrion.
Here on campus, we've seen our Red-tails perched in the tall spruce tree in the A-21 parking lot, in tall deciduous trees around the borders of the parking lots and sometimes on the edge of the roof.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

On again off again winter

The A-21 courtyard seen through our floor-to-ceiling windows. This late in winter when the snow can be wet, the flakes tend to clump together and show up as streaks and splotches in my hand-held photos.

Dark-eyed Junco, feeding under a shrub where I had spread some seed earlier in the morning.

Mourning Dove keeps a wary eye on all who pass through the corridors. Our doves are extremely skittish birds. When they're not on the ground pecking seeds from under the birdfeeders, they're often sitting quietly up in the Sycamore tree in the courtyard.

Black-capped Chickadee, taking cover in a Rhododendron shrub right near the window. These guys will usually grab a sunflower seed and bring it back here to eat, holding the seed between the toes and whacking the seed cover open with well-placed hammers of the beak.

And, in the interest of full disclosure... here's the original image taken by my little Nikon Coolpix 7600, at the farthest extent of its optical zoom capability and through thick glass. With the help of Photoshop I managed to make it actually look like a Mourning Dove.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Early morning early March

Taking my time as I drove through West Campus this morning - including getting out of the car once - I compiled a snapshot of the locals.

Wild Turkey - 6 birds
Canada Goose - 9
Herring Gull - 1
Ring-billed Gull - 2
Rock Pigeon - 15
Mourning Dove - 6
American Crow - 1
Blue Jay - 1
American Robin - 3
Northern Mockingbird - 1
Black-capped Chickadee - 2
White-throated Sparrow - 1
House Finch - 1
Common Grackle - 1
House Sparrow - 10

Three of the House Sparrows were checking out one of the many nest boxes around campus.

Fifteen species. More to come when I check the courtyard feeders during the day.