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Preview: The Brownstone Birding Blog

The Brownstone Birding Blog

A Connecticut native with an interest in birding shares his outdoor adventures

Updated: 2018-03-19T18:01:14.057-05:00


Early At The Shore With Oystercatchers


 I made a stop down at the shoreline early in the morning. I was trying to catch low tide hoping to find shorebirds.
 The only shorebirds I came across were American Oystercatchers.
 They had no problem finding plenty to eat.
 The oystercatchers were boisterous making lots of noise communicating with each other. I also saw my first 3 Great Egrets of the year.

Scenery Trumps Weather At Chatfield Hollow


 We were back to winter weather this weekend as it was in the 20's with a moderate breeze this morning. We had a snowstorm this week so I was looking for a place I could walk around without having to wear snow shoes which brought me to Chatfield Hollow in Killingworth.
It turned out to be a good choice because the access roads were plowed and the small amount of snow on the boardwalk was packed down for easy walking.
While walking around the state parks and forests in Connecticut you often come across work projects completed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930's. This little camp which is now being used as a nature center is an example of that. Most of the bridges,stairs in the forest, and bridges seem to be holding up well. It seems they did some quality work back then.
I didn't come across any rare or unusual birds but was happy to see a few familiar feathered friends like this White-throated Sparrow out catching a bit of sunshine. It was one of those mornings when the benefits of nature's scenery outweighed the discomfort of winter weather.

Feathered Friends Of The Fairground Fields


 It was a windy, overcast weekend and the fairgrounds along with the other fields in Wangunk Meadows were flooded from the recent nor'easter. Once March hits these flooded fields start to attract all sorts of birds.Hidden behind that distant clump of trees on the left were Green-winged Teal. Wilson's Snipe have also started to move in.
 Wood Ducks that didn't want to get their feet wet took breaks in the trees (sorry my point and shoot doesn't like cloudy days).
 I also counted 24 Great Blue Herons flying in ready to claim their own nest at the local rookery.

It's just the beginning of March which is a little early for so much activity. If the weather is decent then  Wangunk Meadows (eBird) will live up to its reputation as a local hotspot.

By Land Or By Sea?


 It's only about a half hour drive for me to reach the shoreline which has a greater variety of birds than I can find further inland this time of year but I love being out in the local woods too. I ended up splitting my time between the two.

 I was searching around some farmy areas in Middletown the other day hoping to find a few birds I've yet to see this year like kinglets,robins, and Hermit Thrushes. I enjoyed checking out some new areas even though I didn't find what I was looking for.
 I love finding remnants of old structures hidden in the landscape.  I'm not sure what this silo type building was used for but it looks like a piece of farm history. Maybe someone who knows can clue me in?
 I struck out looking for shore birds down at the shoreline too. Getting the right tide at the right time is essential at the shoreline and I must have misread the tide chart.
Still, there was plenty of winter ducks around like this pair of Bufflehead. 

Birders Shouldn't Overlook Tiny Parks


 It was a pleasant Sunday morning with a light coating of freshly fallen snow decorating the landscape. I decided to visit a handful of the tiniest parks in town. My first stop was Ravine Park. It consists of a short trail that follows along side a tiny brook. It is well protected by a steep hill making it a very comfortable place to visit on a windy day. I could visualize sitting here on a warm summer day sipping iced tea as chickadees came down from the trees to pick sunflower seeds from my wide-brimmed straw hat. Birds seem to take a liking to shallow brooks like this one as I can imagine that most birds prefer to avoid drowning.I saw a handful of finches,sparrows, wrens and woodpeckers here.I don't particularly enjoy count huge numbers of birds. There are some places I just decide that there are too many to count but it only took me 15 minutes or so to make a list of all the birds here. There are huge parks with that you can spend hours hiking around taking in the scenery to the point of exhaustion. But it only took me 20 minutes to slowly walk around and take in all that natural beauty of this tiny park. I found this Goldfinch at the miniature Middletown nature gardens. one of the advantages of coming here is that there is always food for birds to eat. They seem to be more tolerant of human presence here because people are always walking there dogs here.Birds seem to be easier to observe right after it snows too. their behavior seems to change as they seem to be to be too preoccupied eating to pay much attention to people. I also stopped at Butternut Hollow which has a little pond located next to an apartment complex.My first thought was there was probably just the usual Mallards and Canada Geese here. Upon closer look I was pleasantly surprised to see their were a couple of hooded Mergansers mixed in.I took one more careful look and was shocked to find 3 Northern Pintail swimming around in this little urban pond! It's always better to check than to assume you know what's in that little pond you're passing by! My last stop was at a puny little city park called the Frank S. Merszalek park. It had a small open ball field thinly bordered by deciduous trees and brush. I almost kept driving because I thought, surely there is nothing special to see here. Then I took a closer look and saw some old industrial buildings with a waterfall behind it. That type of scenery appeals to my nostalgic side. I decided to walk the property which would take me no longer that 10 minutes anyway.I walked to the back corner where there was an old broken foundation bordered by a chain link fence. I did a little pish pish sound and up pops a Gray Catbird! I see plenty of these during the year but in the summer, not in the middle of winter! It was a pleasant morning of birding for me requiring very little time and effort. It made me think that we shouldn't judge a park just by it's size or popularity. I know that birds certainly don't![...]

Blackbirds Galore Video And Birding By Car


I spent the morning checking the fairground area along the Connecticut and then cruising the back roads for more birds.
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My most interesting find at the fairgrounds was a large number blackbirds moving through the area.There was a flock of probably over a thousand Red-winged Blackbirds and grackles which was quite a sight!

I usually don't see this many until March. From what I understand, the birds have been in close communication with local groundhogs who share valuable information about the arrival of spring based on whether or not they see their shadows.The video shows just a small portion of the total flock departing from one of the trees.
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While I was cruising around in the car I came across a Pileated Woodpecker working over a tree. Birding by car can be a bit dangerous because you tend to be distracted while searching for birds. For that reason, I try to stay on quiet back roads, make use of emergency flashers while I'm driving, and pull off the road whenever I see a car coming. Birding by car is advantageous because it allows you to get closer to birds without scaring them off.

The reason this video has a color effect was so I could hide the fact that the woodpecker was out of focus. Now when you watch it you'll think I am creative genius and won't know I'm a lousy videographer! 
Another note: I thought that I was just labeling the video files for my own reference. I did not realize titles like "cartoon pileated" and "red wing fury" would end up in the post!

Birding With The Emphasis On Comfort


 I've been continuing my strategy of putting minimal effort into my birding during the winter months. The Wadsworth mansion grounds provide a nice landscaped area to walk around that includes a large number of mature pines and cedars bordered by a deciduous forest.
It by no means qualifies as a hot spot but it is a comfortable and pleasant area to walk around.I have neglected to list many woodpeckers this year so I was pleased to find all of Connecticut's woodpeckers on these grounds with the exception of the Red-headed Woodpecker (rare).I don't have any photos to back them up though.
Finding this Wood Duck along with 11 others at our local brownstone quarry was a nice mid-winter surprise. I had to take the photo with the sun in my face so it didn't come out so hot. All in all my local lazy weekend birding wasn't too bad. Our state woodcuck calls for an early spring so we have that to look forward to as well.

Common Birds Are Great For A Scavenger Hunt


 My birding jaunts this month have been short and almost painful (coooold!). That all changed this weekend as we had sunshine and 40 degree temps on Saturday.I visited Machimoodus Park in East Haddam which has a healthy population of Eastern Bluebirds.
 The habitat has a nice mix so the birding is always good there. I've avoided looking for the more common birds so far knowing that they would be there for me to enjoy and appreciate on a warm sunny day like it was this weekend.
The nice weather made me appreciate birds like the Dark-eyed Junco. It was fun to search for birds like chickadees and titmice that I hadn't added to my year list yet. It felt like a good old-fashioned bird scavenger hunt!

Birds Hanging Out In A Tree Warmed By Sun


 During the winter I look for areas where birds concentrate that I can pull close to in my car.This old tree was near a brushy field in a lighted area. Among the birds that landed in the tree was 18 Red-winged Blackbirds,16 Eastern Bluebirds,......
8 Dark-eyed Juncos...........
and 22 Cedar Waxing!

Ice Jams Along The Connecticut River


With the deep freeze we had followed by warmer days we've had a lot of ice building up along the Connecticut River. They've been sending ice breakers through to open up the water and then the broken hunks of ice pile up at certain areas along the river. This photo was taken from Haddam meadows.
I've had my eyes open looking around for any areas of open water. 
I found a couple of Ring-necked Ducks in a little patch of open water along a stream at roadside.

Too Cold To Press The Shutter Button


 The beginning of January started out with a couple of weeks of really cold weather. It was so cold that the couple of times I did try to get out I didn't even attempt taking any photos. I posted a couple of photos from past Januaries when the weather was probably more agreeable..
I don't mind winter weather but there is a limit and single digit temperatures is definitely my limit, especially when there is wind.  Wind is like my kryponite in the winter. My hands got so cold last Sunday that my fingers hurt when I tried to heat them up in front of my car heater.  

If there is a sunny 30 degree day with no wind I could probably walk around in a long-sleeved shirt with no jacket. As I'm writing this we are finally having a warm-up so I'm looking forward to getting out again.

Gift Birds On The Day Before Christmas


 On this busy holiday weekend I somehow managed to steal an hour to go down to the shore. Marinas can be a great place during the winter to get a close-up look at certain birds. One of these geese is definitely not like the other!It was a nice surprise to come across a snow goose which aren't all that common around here. Birds like this American Coot like to hang around marinas in Old Saybrook.I was especially excited to get such a close look at a Surf Scoter which are usually much further out on the water. I'm glad I squeezed in this little birding excursion. It turned out to be like an early Christmas gift. Merry Christmas and happy holiday to all![...]

Return Of The Traditional Christmas Count


On Christmas day in 1900 a new tradition started. Instead of shooting birds on Christmas Day people started counting them instead. Here's the whole story.Many birders,including me, look forward to the Christmas each year. It helps motivate me to get out in the colder weather with a purpose; to look for birds.It's all about watching birds,the camaraderie of birders, and enjoying the beauty of nature. Part of our territory was around the Great Hill area. Unfortunately, all lakes were frozen during the count so we missed out on some of the water birds. Our search led us along snowy paths out in the country........ along side little streams deep in the middle of the forest.... .....and along the old rail trails which provide a nice walking trail.We were too busy to take pictures of birds but we made an exception for this Golden-crowned Kinglet who briefly flashed his crown before flying off. After that our group was off to lunch at a local restaurant. Another Christmas count tradition that we all enjoy![...]

Boardwalk Built By Reform School Kids In 1978


This sign at the entrance of the Helen Carlson sanctuary caught my attention today. Long Lane started in the 1800's as a school set on farmland for troubled girls. In the 1970's it became a high security reform school for boys. The boardwalk and nature trail were built by some of those students as seen listed on the sign.I wonder how those former students are doing today, almost 40 years after this project was completed? Did their lives turn around for the better? Maybe some went into the building/construction trade?  As more land is developed for commercial projects and housing nature preserves become all the more valuable.This is not some birding hotspot but does provide valuable habitat for a variety of birds throughout the year..........including birds like this Eastern Bluebird (older photo)................[...]

In The Scraggly Brush Of An Old Tobacco field


 I visited an old tobacco field in town. It's hard to believe I worked here as a teen almost 40 years ago.It looks like the old shed needs a touch of paint and maybe a wee bit of duct tape.This scraggly looking brush pile caught my attention as well as the attention of a few birds. I had a nice look at some Savannah Sparrows. This one was not as colorful but noticed it had a distinct eye ring. It is a Vesper Sparrow which was a nice find because I don't see many around here.Of course, I wouldn't want to ignore this male cardinal that was hanging out in the same patch. I wonder if his beak would be shinier had he used his crest?[...]

Birding On The Rocks


 There's a parking space in Old Saybrook at Cornfield park where you are allowed to park for 30 minutes and take in the view. Scoter and loons are among the birds commonly seen on the water here during the winter.
 I followed the shoreline and found a few shorebirds like this Black-bellied plover.
I know that starlings are unpopular among birders since they aren't a native species. I like their markings which remind me of snowflakes.

Pectoral Sandpiper At Frozen Fairgrounds


I can never pass by the fairgrounds without having a quick look to see what's around. This morning started out with temperatures in the 20's. That kind of put the kibosh on finding ducks as the shallow skating pond was already frozen over. In fact, there wasn't any birds to be seen except for a brown blob that lloked like a morning dove in the distance.
Upon closer inspection it turned out to be a Pectoral Sandpiper! I didn't see that one coming. A nice surprise for a cold November morning to be sure!

Just Passing Through The Shoreline At Sunrise


 I was traveling along the shoreline early in the morning and hoping to make a quick search at Meig's Point at Hammonasset. I was disappointed to find the road closed but not disappointed by the sunrise.
 It was a little difficult to make out these Cedar Waxings this early in the morning.
A littler down the road the hawks have come out to play hide and seek with the little birdies. 

Last Bird Stop In October Was Parmelee Farm


 My last birding stop of the month was at the 132 acre Parmelee Farm preserve in Killingworth. The area has a nice historic country feel to it.They have community gardens which can be a good place to look for fall sparrows.
I've found that pumpkin fields are a good place to look for interesting bird species like pipits, once the remaining pumpkins start to rot.
 There was plenty of bird activity including Cedar Waxings, Field Sparrows, and Song Sparrows like this one.
The month seemed to go so quickly. Halloween is on Tuesday and then we're in November already!(photo is at Colchester town green)

In Search Of Fall Color


 The Fall foliage has been a little slow to develop this year but I started seeing a little more color to the leaves this weekend. I visited the reservoir on Saturday and was pleased to see my first White-throated Sparrows and Juncos of the season.
This is also the time of year that I like to check big flocks in the farm fields to see if their are any rare geese mixed in with the Canada Geese. No luck today but their was still several Killdeer flying around.
I didn't have much luck getting bird photos but this Red-bellied Woodpecker was kind enough to stick his neck out for me and show off its red head.
The skies at night have become clear and crisp with lots of color at sundown. I hope there is more color on the way for the next upcoming weekend!

Wild Turkey And Pumpkin Pie?


Why are they in such a hurry? Let's at least get past Halloween first!

Grey Skies, Un-listable Birds, And The Town Fair


The sky stayed mostly grey this weekend but not all the leaves were brown. They are just starting to take on some fall color. I didn't have much luck finding wild birds before the rain started coming down but this one caught the corner of my eye before I realized what I was looking at. Plastic pink flamingos seem to be popular these days but wouldn't count on most birding lists. I'm sure that someone keeps a list of artificial birds they see though. Looks like the animals have it good in this town, even the goats have their own sports cars. Domestic geese like these look similar to Snow Geese. The fair had some musical entertainment with the first act being the Tony Rome band. He changed his outfit after almost every song and did a lot of stones-type classics.And of course we don't want to forget to mention the horn section![...]

The Comfort Of Routines


I took a walk along the Connecticut River this morning. The twists and turns of life we all experience have kept me away from my  weekend birding routine. Today was the first day I was able to get back to the birding basics. Routines can become mundane and make us feel like robots, traveling though life on autopilot. Breaking away from the usual way of doing things is an opportunity to make some changes and approach things differently.I know for myself, that I sometimes look but don't really see. It's sort of like when you drive in a trance but don't remember the journey.  Today, was one of those days I was able to slow down and look at one, or in this case, two birds at a time. I got back to the habit of writing down what I saw and seeing, not just looking. Today I was following a familiar path but I found it comforting, not boring because I missed my routine birding. (birds in photos 2 and 3 are Savannah Sparrows).I was also able to view things from a different perspective.[...]

September Just Blew Right Past Me


It's hard to believe that September is almost over. The weather in Connecticut this month was as a perfect mix of warm days and cool nights with very few extremes. I came across 37 Bobolinks at the local meadows. They were in heavy cover so I only managed to get glimpses of them. I wasn't able to do much birding but carried my camera during some travels. This is an American Goldfinch taking in a puddle at a ball field. The colorful yellow male birds probably didn't want to get their feathers dirty. Many of the days were dry with clean, cool air and vivid blue skies.September seemed to blow right past me along with the Black Vultures and Broad-winged Hawks. I Plan to take time to take in the fall foliage while I'm out searching for sparrows.[...]

Taking It From The Top In Middlefield


 We've had some refreshing fall-like weather this week. Connecticut is not known for mountains but the the trap rock ridge does provide great views from the top. The trap rock ridge was formed by volcanic activity long ago. 
 I had better luck finding birds at ground level. I caught a sneaky Green Heron hiding at the edge of a pond.
The Mute Swans don't feel the need to be sneaky. They boldly hold their ground or in this case, their water.