Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Green Heron hunting

I was watching a Green Heron hunting in the Allen Brothers marsh in Bellows Falls. It would stand motionless for minutes at a time and then suddenly stretch its neck forward, flap its wings and come up with a small fish in its beak.  It caught two fish during the twenty minutes I was there.

Stalking slowly on the thick vegetation in the shallow water it caught another fish.


The fish slid down the hatch....
It's been reported that sometimes Green Herons use bait to lure fish. They may drop a worm  or insect into the water and wait for hungry fish to swarm to the object and then pounce on them with their beak. BNA Online: "One bird dug earthworms from mud and used them as bait, and twice birds broke pieces of stick to make bait, an example of tool-making." Authors: Davis, Jr., W. E., and J. A. Kushlan

Good Birding!  For more birding blogs from all over the world visit World Bird Wednesday.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011


As an antidote to the oppressive heat smothering much of the country I retrieved photos of an Arctic Tern from my web gallery.

I took them 3 years ago on a perfect early summer day during a trip to the North Sea coast when visiting my family in northern Germany. We were relaxing on a bench facing a small fishing harbor when I noticed an Arctic Tern coursing over the water. I grabbed my camera and, running along the wharf, chased after the bird for the next half hour .

Per BNA Online, the Arctic Tern is  a global traveler, covering an annual round trip of 40,000 km from pole to pole. It breeds around the Arctic Ocean during the northern hemispheric summer, staying for about 2 to 3 months, and then migrates to the opposite pole, the open waters around Antarctica, spending the southern hemispheric summer there, thus accumulating more daylight hours than any other bird. It is pelagic during much of its lifetime and is rarely seen from shore. Its potential life span of 34 years or more is commensurate with the long distances it has to travel.

Sterna paradisaea, distribution migration, red: breeding, blue: winter, green: migration
Author: Andreas Trepte Wikipedia -- Creative Commons License

Arctic and Common Terns are easily confused. Even James Audubon apparently wasn't quite clear about the distinction. In his painting of the Arctic Tern everything looks right except the bill. His bill  is red with a black tip which is typical for the the Common Tern bill whereas the Arctic Tern's bill is entirely red.

By chance there was an article on July 18th in 10,000 Birds by Corey on the Arctic Terns found on Long Island, with a link to an article by Shai Mitra discussing the distinction between Common and Arctic Terns.

This my contribution to this week's World Bird Wednesday. Good Birding!

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Birds of Black Mountain, a deadly mushroom and a harmless snake

One of my favorite walks is going up the trail to the top of  Black Mountain. It's an easy walk of just about 20 minutes.

The trail runs on smooth ground as it first traverses deciduous forest, then makes a sharp  uphill turn into rocky terrain of white pines and hemlocks. Mountain Laurel thrives on the acidic soil under the dappled shade of these trees. Toward the top the forest lightens. Crooked Pitch Pines and low brush of Bear Oak, growing between the fractured sheets of granite, take over. It looks like Sierra Nevada in miniature.

The needles grow directly from the trunk allowing the Pitch Pine to recover and regrow rapidly after a fire.  Its pitch was formerly used in ship building and the wood was favored for rail road ties since the  abundance of resin makes it very resistant to decay

The warm granite polished smooth by glaciers in the ice age feels good under bare feet. You can still see where those glaciers, pushing big boulders along, ground the edges into the surface. These semi-circular indentations show the direction of the glaciers' travel.

Yellow-rumped Warbler foraging in a Pitch Pine. 

A couple of days ago I heard Black-throated Blue Warblers singing at the lower level where the deciduous and the coniferous forests overlap.

But they are mostly occupied with finding food for their young.

As I was approaching the top I could hear a solitary Pine Warbler sing its rapid trilling song. At first I thought it was a Chipping Sparrow or Junco, but the location wasn't right.

My dog Chance, of course, loves these walks. He is a good dog,  sticks mostly to the path and does not go off hunting unless he sees a squirrel, though he often gets bored during my slow stop-and-start progress, as I listen and look for birds, and heads back to wait for me at the car. .

After a good look around on top we headed back down and found on the way

a couple of deadly Amanita mushrooms. The color of Amanitas range from pure white (the "Angel of Death") over buff to bright red. They are fairly easy to recognize by the warts on their cap and the bulbous bottom of the stem.

We also encountered a harmless Garter Snake. It apparently felt threatened as it flickered its long tongue every time I moved my foot.

I am going to stay inside today in front of a fan with the drapes closed, as it's just too hot and humid outside, and read Kenn Kaufman's "The Kingbird Highway, the Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder" on my iPod. It's a GREAT book, inspired and inspiring. I would love to travel to the many places he is writing about, particularly Gambell Island in the Bering Sea.

Cheers! Now head over to World Bird Wednesday for a fantastic variety of birding blogs from all over the world!

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Common Yellowthroats and a Black Bear

This holiday weekend I  took a walk  through a  wildlife management area belonging to a local college. The campus was deserted. I walked along a field of wild grasses and weeds redolent with the scent of flowering milkweed. Overgrown sumac formed a hedge along the other side of the path. On the far side, the field was bordered by a swamp and a wood with cathedral-tall trees. Prime birding habitat, and yet it was oddly quiet. Most birds were probably tending to their young, no longer needing to defend their territory against migrating males.The only birds I saw were a pair of Common Yellowthroats.. .

In contrast, my backyard was noisy and busy every morning after I had scattered seeds along the wooden porch railing, The home crowd was waiting; first the Chickadees, then a pair of Tufted Titmice with a bunch of begging juveniles, a pair of Northern Cardinals with the male occasionally passing seeds to the female, a Red-bellied Woodpecker and his  youngster, and, never far away, a crowd of Blue Jays. Soon chipmunks would appear to vacuum up the remaining seeds. Young squirrels were chasing each other, bouncing along and shaking the limbs and leaves of the tall trees surrounding our yard. High in the crown a couple of juvenile Crows were crying and wailing whenever their parents were near, sounding uncannily like human infants.

I had to take the feeders down because a young bear is roaming in the neighborhood and has come around our place several times now. The first time he stopped at the porch steps but moved on to the stonewall upon hearing our dogs bark.  I managed to get picture just as he was about to scramble over the stonewall into the adjacent field.

He came by again two days ago, this time not stopping at the porch but heading straight to stonewall as if this was a route he had travel many times before.

It's probably a yearling male evicted by his mother and trying to find his place in the world. Our neighborhood of fields and fragmented woods is not good bear habitat. So far he has not caused any trouble and none of the neighbors have called the game warden whose only recourse then would be to shoot him since he lacks the equipment to tranquilize and  move him out of the area. I hope though that eventually the bear will find a more suitable home.

Happy Birding!

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