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

You know a Hermit Thrushes' song, but how well have you really heard it?

All of us have heard the beautiful sound of a Hermit Thrush singing, but how well have you really heard it? As some of you know, I don't have any high frequency hearing and have to use a "birder's hearing aid" to hear most birds, except those with very low voices. But I love the sound of a Hermit Thrush, even with the "Songfinder", and I often stop just to listen to them. On occasion I have sat so long I've dozed off, only to wake with the birds still singing.
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.

Boston Hollow, Birds are still singing, Originally posted Sunday, July 8, 2012

I went to Boston Hollow today for the first time in about a week and was surprised and pleased to find that a lot of birds are still singing. Of course some have gone silent and many are singing less, with less enthusiasm or even just call notes now. Perhaps the noisiest ones now are the Red-eyed Vireos.

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
Protocol: Traveling
4.0 mile(s)
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
Veery 8
American Robin 10
thrush sp. 2
Cedar Waxwing 4
Ovenbird 8
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

Where oh where have all the Migrants gone?

At the beginning of May all the state's most ardent birders start heading for known hotspots, looking for the annual spring migrants. Many of them are near the shoreline, like Hammonasset, East Rock park, Greenwich Point, and a bit later, River Road in Kent. But by the end of the month most of the migrants have passed through, and except for residents and a few birds that make those places their summer home, the woods, fields and marshes are relatively quiet. And certainly it's true, many of our spring visitors barely pause before continuing north, sometimes far into Canada.
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

Back Again!

Yes I am still alive. Been 2 years since I've posted on this blog, but I plan on adding a couple of things in the immediate future. Last year I was a bit burned out from birding Az for a month the previous August, and after I retired, April a year ago, I got into several other things which took up a lot of time. But this spring I've been back to haunting Boston Hollow, typically 5 days a week since
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.
Bird on!

About Me

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Old enough to know better (but I don't) and finally retired so I have the free time I've always wanted to pursue my interests - like Birding and Hiking!!