Birding - Northeast Connecticut - and Points West!
Listing of some of the great CT birding spots. Connecticut has more than its share of great birders , but the one area of the state that receives less attention than it deserves is the northeast quarter. I'll define this area as anywhere east of the Connecticut River and North of Willimantic (Windham), although, of course, I may stretch the boundaries at any time. 2013 - I'm traveling more - to the SW so far, and I'll add some info about my adventures there.
Monday, July 16, 2012
My hearing aid works by reducing the frequency of the high frequency sounds by half, 1, 2 or 4 times, but I never have to set it for more than 1. It doesn't affect the "normal" lower frequencies. But sometimes, like today, I have noticed that some of the choruses of the thrush are so high that I hear them as squeaky and "small", even with the aid. With or without, when I hear that I know the sound is at or above the upper limit or my hearing.
So today I tried an experiment; I set the aid up a notch to 2. And to my amazement, I discovered that a few times the songs went so high I had trouble hearing them! When I pushed it to 4 I could finally hear the entire song, but that is almost unimaginably high! Only someone with very seriously impaired hearing or almost deaf would need to use that setting.
And that makes me wonder if the vast majority of people can ever really hear that song. I believe it would require very exceptional hearing such as they say young children have. I know a few birders whose hearing is exceptional and perhaps they share that gift, but I'm guessing most of us just don't. I'd love to know what others think and what they can hear.
At my first stop, when I arrived I heard a lot of chattering, which I Id'd as a large flock of BC Chickadees, but it sounded like something was up. Sure enough, after I looked around for a few minutes I spotted a Barred Owl staring back at me from a branch about 50 feet away, in the center of a maelstrom of angry Chickadees, Titmice, WB Nuthatches, etc. I don't know if it was me or the birds, but after about 30 seconds the owl took off and flew a couple of hundred feet to another branch, with all its little friends following close behind. When that didn't work it gave up and flew off down the road.
The odd thing is, that's at least the 7th time this year I've seen that owl, always within a couple of hundred yards of the same spot, but the first time I've seen it being mobbed or even noticed. I suspect the birds are hyper because of all the fledglings currently fluttering around the "Hollow." There is no doubt this has been a great year for the nesters so far, and I see signs that a lot are trying for a 2nd time. In fact I think a few may have already fledged a 2nd batch.
While I'd been watching the "show" I was hearing one bird I shrugged off as a Black-and-white Warbler, but I knew it didn't sound right. Once the action died down I could still hear it and finally found it in the tops of some tulip trees. To my surprise it was a Blackburnian Warbler, singing a song not quite like any I've heard them sing before. As a bonus I got to watch it as it foraged in bright sunlight for a good 5 or 10 minutes. A little bit later I heard a 2nd Blackburnian, this time with a much more normal song. At the beginning of the season I had trouble even finding one, and now I see/hear them quite often.
I heard several Waterthushes today, but they were only "clucking" their loud call notes, not a single song from either species.
I also heard 2 Winter Wrens and saw a third, and one of the singers either has a totally new song or was not there till the middle of June. The song is very different from any I heard earlier in the year. But the other bird I heard also now sometimes sings a longer version of his formerly short song.
Another bird I'm hearing new song versions from is the Black-and-white Warbler. In the spring their song was very standard and somewhat monotonous as they squeaked their 2 notes back and forth. Some only sing quietly now, but I've heard others with extended songs, sometimes with 2 or 3 parts and sometimes so different I had to listen a minute to be sure that's what it was.
There are still a few Canada Warblers singing, sometimes cutting their song short but other times getting excited and repeating it 2 or 3 times. A couple of weeks ago I walked down the road a bit and heard a very loud and angry sounding chip note practically right next to me. It was so loud I thought it was a Waterthrush, and I was amazed when I realized it was a Canada, staying not more than six or 8 feet away from me and flying frantically from one side of the road to the other. I assume he had fledglings somewhere close by, but I was being careful to stay in the middle of the road so as not to go near anything. I never knowingly even heard a call like that out of a Canada, before or since.
I heard 2 birds this morning that I thought were Wood Thrushes, which I've hardly heard in weeks now, but the songs were short and I'm not sure they were not different thrush. Definitely not Hermit or Veery though.
Still quite a few Yellow Warblers singing and flying around, and I wonder if they are trying again. Seems kind of late for them to be so obvious now.
I don't hear any flycatchers calling any more.
There was also a pair of BG Gnatcatchers chasing each other anound and feeding together, just like 2 months ago. Could be juvies but I had a feeling it was an adult pair.
Also, a juvie Towhee, looking like he was just out of the nest. Good thing he had white wing patches or I might have wondered for a minute. It did have a long tail and looked a little like a miniature Roadrunner. Gawky and awkward. Actually I cut my trip a little short this morning, and never went down Barlow Mill Road. Still ended up with a fair species list though, Ebird follows:
Boston Hollow/Barlow Mill, Windham, US-CT
Jul 8, 2012 7:45 AM - 12:15 PM
40 species (+3 other taxa)
Turkey Vulture 4
Red-shouldered Hawk 1
Broad-winged Hawk 3
Mourning Dove 2
Barred Owl 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1
Downy Woodpecker 1
Eastern Wood-Pewee 4
Empidonax sp. 1
Eastern Phoebe 8
Blue-headed Vireo 4
Red-eyed Vireo 10
Blue Jay 2
American Crow 2
Black-capped Chickadee 12
Tufted Titmouse 2
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
Winter Wren 3
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 2
American Robin 10
thrush sp. 2
Cedar Waxwing 4
Black-and-white Warbler 6
Common Yellowthroat 1
Blackburnian Warbler 2
Yellow Warbler 2
Black-throated Blue Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 1
Black-throated Green Warbler 8
Canada Warbler 3
warbler sp. 4 Waterthrushes - Call notes only
Eastern Towhee 8
Chipping Sparrow 4
Song Sparrow 1
Scarlet Tanager 5
Northern Cardinal 1
Red-winged Blackbird 6
Baltimore Oriole 2
Purple Finch 1
American Goldfinch 3
Friday, June 22, 2012
But there are quite few species whose breeding grounds are in New England, just a bit north of Connecticut. There are a few spots in northern Ct that are cool and forested enough to be very similar to the places those birds are looking for, and a small number of them stay. Most of those locations are in hilly, remote locations in northwestern Ct. As an example,I know there is a breeding population of Dark-eyed Juncos on the Canaan Mountain plateau in Canaan, North Canaan and Norfolk.
But in eastern Ct, similar conditions exist in the Yale Forest area of Ashford and Union, and I assume, up to the Ct line in Bigelow Hollow SP and the Nipmuck Forest to the north. It's not as high, but still relatively cool and damp, with large tracts of deep old woods. As an example, a couple of years ago I visited Boston Hollow in late June when the forecast was for temps in the 90's, but when I left there about 1 PM my car thermometer still only said 76*. I went directly to Willimantic, perhaps 15 miles south, and when I got there the temperature was 93.
In a nutshell, that's why, when the migration hotspots grow quiet, the Yale Forest area is still hopping. In fact, it's just getting started. The breeding season for most species is mid-May through June, and depending on the species and size of the birds it may be the end of July before some are fully fledged (out of the nest on their own). The bottom line is, any migrant bird that's still there after early June is almost certainly going to nest there.
I'm going to try to make a list of the birds I'm almost certain breed in or near the Yale Forest, but I know I'll forget some, and there are other possibles that I'm not sure of:
Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Northern Goshawk, Barred Owl, Mourning Dove, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Wood-pewee, Acadian Flycatcher, Least Flycatcher, Great Crested Flycatcher, Blue-headed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, American Crow, Common Raven, Tree Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Winter Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Bluebird, Veery, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Cedar Waxwing, Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Northern Waterthrush, Blue-winged Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Magnolia Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Pine Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Canada Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Scarlet Tanager, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, Baltimore Oriole, Purple Finch, American Goldfinch.
That's a total of 61 species if I counted right. In addition, I know that Coopers Hawk nests in Bigelow Hollow, just a few miles to the north, and I often see Osprey, so I assume there is a nest somewhere in the area. I probably missed a few others.
There may only be a few pairs of some of these species, but for some, Boston Hollow et al is a major and very important breeding area. For a few it may be the only area in Ct with a significant breeding population.
Of course there are pockets of breeding birds elsewhere in the state, but very few can match the number of different species seen in the Ashford/Union area. And there are certainly other species that nest in the state, but not in that area, primarily because of the habitat they require. Some of the most notable spots are along the shoreline, such as Hammonasset and the major salt water marshes, and major fresh-water marshes in the state.
So it's really no mystery why the Union/Ashford area is still alive with birds, long after the spring hotspots have gone quiet. A combination of a cool climate and large tracts of ideal habitat are a magnet that some birds just can't resist. In fact, from early June until the end of July, the population probably actually increases as more and more nestlings fledge. Eventualy the frequency and volume of song will decrease, but the birds will still mostly be there until it's time to head for their wintering grounds.
There is a sharp contrast, however, in winter. My experience with Boston Hollow is that it's like a tomb in cold, snowy weather. It's easy to make a tour through the area and not hear or see a single bird. Of course there will be some hardy souls that stay around, but they are few and quiet. I believe that even birds that largely don't migrate out of the state head out of the Hollow in search of more temperate climate and more productive feeding locations. For example, Red-breasted Nuthatches often winter on the shoreline. I'm not sure I have ever seen a Chickadee or Titmouse near Boston Hollow in winter, even when they are all over my yard, 18 miles away. But after the first of April they slowly begin to come home from their winter vacations.
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
April, and I'm enjoying it now more than ever. I've gotten a lot better at ID by ear with my Songfinder, and better in general at bird ID.
Most of the migrants have moved on from the spring hotspots, but Boston Hollow is still hopping! My ideas on why will be one of the topics I plan to cover soon. And a related subject is "best spots to bird" after migration has ended. Hopefully I'll get started soon.
One thing I need to mention. Apparently the online storage sevice I used to post all the bird song tracks and some videos included in this blog now requires that you join it in order to have access to the files. That, of course, is unacceptable to both you and me, and I'll be looking for a new place to store the files so that you can conveniently just click the links and hear or see them. Once I figure out how I'm planning to shift everything over and replace the links. Please bear with me in the meantime.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Way out of the northeast corner, but I can't let this one go unmentioned. On Sunday, August 1st Dennis Varza spotted a White-tailed Kite at the Ct Audubon gun club property at Stratford Point. As of this morning it was still being seen there. What a great bird! Its the first CT sighting, and the 2nd in New England, the only other one being on Martha's Vineyard in 1910.
White-tailed Kite, Stratford, 8-2-10
Julian Hough has described the bird as second-year, due to incomplete molt of the juvenile primary feathers, but I'll leave that to the experts. In any case its a great bird, and I hope it stays long enough that everyone who wants to can see it.
I'll be spending some time in Arizona this month, so maybe I'll see another one. One was reported this week. At least I should be able to ID it with no problem! For that reason, I may not be adding much to this blog for a while. When I'm back I'll re-cap my adventures.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Specifically, both sets of birds were in an area which has been basically clear cut, either by Yale forestry or Hull Forest Products. Clear cutting is a dirty word (phrase?) to many people, including me on occasion, but both entities have really done it right! They cut relatively small sized parcels and left a number of mother trees, mostly white pine, but a few deciduous trees as well. Both areas appear to have been mined for gravel sometime before the cutting - in the case of the Yale property, probably a long time before. As a wild guess, the Yale cut was about 15 years ago, Hull more recently. These sections have become absolute meccas for migrant birds!! Young pines are growing in impenetrable stands, other young trees and brush of all types abound, and there are still considerable more open, weedy areas. The mature pines (150 feet or more tall, I'm sure) seem to serve as sky islands for some species such as Pine Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Cedar Waxwings. Of course the brushy areas are havens for many songbird species, including many of our warblers. Birds such as Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Blackburnian, Pine, Yellow-rumped and Yellow Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, Ovenbirds, Chipping Sparrows, Eastern Towhees, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Downy Woodpeckers, Baltimore Orioles, Eastern Phoebes, etc., absolutely ABOUND in May and June! If you think I am exaggerating or kidding, LISTEN TO THE SOUND FILES BELOW. When I was recording the files my hearing was absolutely on overload, so I could not begin to ID everything I heard. See what you can come up with. The only place I have possibly seen/heard the warblers in greater numbers is Magee Marsh in Ohio. In addition, I heard and finally was able to see a Cerulean Warbler there, although he was on the more wooded side of the road. (I heard a second bird in the same area, and another 1 not too far away that I'm sure was a Cerulean). This is my first year of really exploring the area (only from the roads) and I'm sure many more species are to be found there than I have yet discovered.
WHEN YOU FINISH LISTENING TO A FILE, HIT THE BROWER'S "BACK" BUTTON, OR YOU WILL CLICK OUT OF THE BLOG!
Saturday, July 24, 2010
UPDATE: I first used my sound recorder on June 21st, and made a large number of recordings that day, trying to get the hang of using the thing. I discarded alot of the bad ones, but conditions were excellent that day, there was almost no wind and the birds were still singing quite lustily in places, so I still had quite a few decent tracks. I have been trying to catch up with editing my recordings now that the birds are not giving me as much new material, and when I went back to that day I found one recording with the faint but clear sound in the background of a Red-breasted Nuthatch calling. At the time, my ears were so overloaded with sound that I hadn't noticed it! It was in the same area, so it seems likely that it was the dad of the 2 juvies I just spotted!
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Next, Adults calling and fledglings adding their 2 cents, then a little discussion
Barred_Owls_By_Stream_juvie_screams, adult chatter
I have lots more I want to mention, but I want to get this post out. More files, coming soon.
Friday, July 9, 2010
I found 3 fledglings all jammed together on a branch, waiting for mom and dad to fill them up. While they were waiting, a Veery stopped by to welcome new arrivals. (see videos).
Here are links to a couple of Videos of the Phoebes:
Today (7/9/10) I pulled over and stopped to listen, and heard a loud chip note, which I thought sounded like a La Waterthrush. I searched for the bird and didn't see anything at first, but then an Ovenbird came out of the grass on the side of the road, chipping loudly and doing a sort of broken wing act. At the same time, I realized I was hearing a whole lot of chipping, alot of it from the trees above. A quick look showed me 5 more Ovenbirds flitting around and making a racket. I didn't even realize that Ovenbirds make that sound.
Here's a link to a sound file:
The odd thing was, the birds didn't look like fledglings, all were flying just fine, high in a tree, and appeared to have adult plumage. Obviously they were upset with my presence, but I really don't know why.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
(see if you can hear the Ravens in the background)
I'd love to know what you think of these.
By the way, my cumulative count for birds in Boston Hollow year-to-date is 82. That is not a very impressive number, but there is little if any opportunity to find shorebirds, waterbirds, or ducks and geese, etc. there. I have now found a couple of places that might produce a duck or two in season this fall or next year. Also, I did not know the area well enough or spend enough time there to exhaust all the possibilities for migrants this spring. I figure a realistic total to shoot for is about 100 birds that could reasonably be expected to be seen there.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
And here is a chorus of Winter Wren and Broad-wing:
and finally, the wren, solo:
Of course, I saw a couple of the ubiquitous Turkey Vultures, and on the way back down Rt 89 to US 44 I saw one more Red-shoulder to complete the day!
If you enjoy hawks as much as I do, you know what a nice day it was!
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
This area is in Ashford, Ct, in a section known as Westford. To get there you can take Ct Rt 89, either east from I-84, exit 72 or west (north) off US Rt 44 at a traffic light in the center of Ashford. When you reach an old white church at a stop sign with a flashing light, you have reached Boston Hollow Road, straight ahead if from I-84, a right turn if from US 44. Here is a link (which hopefully will continue to work) to a Google map of the area: Boston Hollow, Ashford, Ct . In about 1/3 mile you will reach the point where the road turns to dirt (very well maintained), and that's where the birding begins. In the spring this is a great location for migrants of all kinds, and the birding continues well into the early summer because many migrants nest there. The road is narrow, but little traveled, and you can pull over pretty much anywhere to look and listen. Often I shut off the car but don't get out because the car is a great blind, and the valley is very narrow. Once the leaves are out, more birds are seen than heard, but with patience you can find alot of them. This year I have found 18 varieties of warblers there, and most of them nest there. Here is a Wikipedia article on Boston Hollow, which is fairly accurate. wikipedia, Boston_Hollow .
Boston Hollow runs 1.7 miles, until you reach a one lane wooden bridge. Just before the bridge, Barlow Mill Road, also dirt, goes off to the left and is a little over 2 miles long, paved at the far end. Another great spot for migrants with a somewhat different variety.
If you go to Boston Hollow, it helps alot to know your bird songs. Its quite cool there, and a great place to bird on a hot day.
Monday, June 28, 2010
Monday, July 21, 2008
I cannot begin to tick off all the potential birding locations for Pomfret CAS. The Center is open M-F 9 am to 4 pm and Sat and Sun noon to 4, and the best bet is a stop in to pick up a map and perhaps talk to Andy or the director on some good current birding bets.
LINK : Connecticut Audubon Society
A particularly good bet is at the intersection of Needles Eye and Day roads. Needles Eye Road is a right off US Rt 44 about half a mile past (north of) the CAS Center. Just before Day Road there is an old stone railroad bridge abutment, and good road parking just beyond it. There is a rail trail that runs south from the abutment that often provides good birding, and just past the parking area, on the left, there are open fields and trails that almost always have something interesting lurking in them, from Bobolinks to Warblers to Woodcock.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Mansfield Hollow (State Park)
Without a doubt this is one of the most under-birded spots I know, even though there is some activity. At times it is probably the best spot in NECT. It's a large area, and of course includes the Mansfield Hollow Lake (flood control impoundment) Which is fed by 3 rivers, the Fenton River, the Mount Hope River, and the Natchaug River. Because of the reason it was created, the water level varies much more widely and quickly than any naturally created lake. After an exceptional rainstorm or period of rainy weather the water level may come up as much as 20 feet, and has come up considerably higher than that. The Lake was created by the Army Corps of Engineers, and they control the dam and all the land around the lake up to the maximum possible level of water. The water has never come anywhere near that level, but it has been pretty high. At times the water backs up for a considerable distance on the Fenton River, flooding the leased crop fields near its banks. The lake is a good spot to view several varieties of water related birds, ducks, shorebirds, raptors, marsh birds, etc.
I divide the the area generally into two sections, the Northwest and Southeast Lakes, since they are connected only by tubes through a causeway across the middle of the impoundment. Basset Bridge Road (off Ct Rt 195) crosses the causeway, and there is boat launch area where the road meets the lake. The boat launch is sometimes a good spot to view ducks (especially in spring) and raptors such as Ospreys and Bald Eagles. There were Three Eagles sitting in a dead tree opposite the launch at 1 time in spring '08. A scope is needed to see most birds well here.
The north end of the Northwest Lake is a hotspot for warblers and other migrants in the spring. There is an old road that runs along the normal waterline here, though it is sometimes partially submerged. To reach the area take Ct Rt 195 north from Willimantic or south from Mansfield and turn onto Rt 89. There is a parking turnout immediately past the high causeway that passes the lake, on the right. From there you can climb directly down to the old road. Another way to get there is from a turn-off on the right about half a mile further, JUST BEFORE Atwoodville Rd. It's unmarked but there is a stop sign where it turns onto Rt 89. Follow this old road to the yellow gate and park. Follow the road on foot til you come to the lake. A good place to see ducks and raptors as well as spring migrants.
The BEST spot for birding, particularly after migration is over, is an area called the Field Trial and Wildlife Management Area. It is on the southeast side of the Southeast Lake. To reach it take US Rt 6 north (east) from Willimantic until you see signs for Ct Rt 203 on the right at a traffic light. At that light take a LEFT and follow that (unnamed) road to the stop sign. Turn left over a bridge and turn left again onto N Windham Road, immediately past the bridge. Drive to the gate and park in the lot on the right. Follow the old road past the gate. Birding can be good anywhere along this road all the way to where it meets the lake. Some of the best habitat is in the fields on the left and the pine stands which end at the bank over the Natchaug river. Most any of the birds that summer in Ct can be found in this area.
One other area related to Mansfield Hollow is the dike between the lake and Windham Airport. Take US Rt 6 north (east) from Willimantic until your see the Airport on the left. At the north end, the high dike is prominently visible and there is a parking lot off Rt 6. Birds such as Meadowlarks can sometimes be seen from the dike in the airport grass. At least four kinds of swallows swoop back and forth over the area and many water and marsh birds can be seen to the north in and around the lake. When the water is low enough many shorebirds can be seen on any exposed mud flats. A scope is needed from the dike.