Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Morning Rounds, Part 1

My morning drive takes me past several “birdy” spots with a variety of great habitat. Depending on the weather, the traffic, and my schedule, I’ll stop at two or three of these havens; I rarely have time for them all.

First stop is often a little riverside lot where I look for ducks and other water birds. (Read HERE about a particularly wonderful birding experience I had there recently.) In spring and summer, this is also a good place to see perching birds that like “edge” habitat, particularly flycatchers, warblers, vireos, orioles, and the like. The riparian (river) habitat is also a great place to see Bald Eagles and Ospreys, both of which I’ve seen here.

My route takes me next through agricultural fields and rolling hills, where field-side trees and shrubbery offer good cover. Here I look for blackbirds, bobolinks, swallows, sparrows, and other grassland birds. On a lucky day, I’ll see an American Kestrel, our smallest falcon. This beautiful, colorful little hawk is endangered due to development of open grassland and a lack of trees appropriate for nesting. The Kestrel, a cavity nester, prefers old woodpecker holes in dead trees but will use nest boxes when they are provided. It consumes many grasshoppers, mice, and other agricultural pests.

Next stop is an old vacant lot next to an unused industrial building. A vacant lot? Yes, it’s a great birding area with a scrubby grassy weedy field, an adjacent cornfield, lots of trees on the edge, and a nearby stream. I saw some great birds there this morning: a Rufous-Sided Towhee (a female and the first I’ve seen in ages), a Black-Throated Blue Warbler (female, migrating), several vireos, several Phoebes, a Peregrine Falcon dashing overhead, a Red-Tailed Hawk being mobbed by a murder of crows, a Grey Catbird, and other common birds. Other good finds here (in season) include Indigo Bunting, many woodpeckers, whole families of Killdeer (a large, showy plover), heron flyovers, more warblers and vireos, and lots of flycatchers.

After threading through a darkly wooded section (look for Wood Ducks on the little pond), the sharply sinuous road emerges into another large open area, with athletic fields, a natural area with a small lake and walking trails, extensive agricultural fields (corn, alfalfa, hay), a large stream and a small wooded pond, and pastures bordered by mixed woods and the Farmington River. Birding heaven!

First to the parking area next the lake. Here’s where I fell in love with a very birdy old tree (read it HERE) that was cut down later in the summer (as told HERE). (I’m still aching over that.) This is a good spot for ducks and geese (spring and fall migration), herons, kingfisher, flycatchers, and grassland birds (bobolinks and sparrows, in particular). A Willow Flycatcher was in residence this summer. Here, too, was where I witnessed an interesting encounter between some young Cooper’s Hawks and several crows, as described HERE. This is also a good spot to see Baltimore Orioles, Orchard Orioles, and the warblers and vireos that frequent waterside wooded areas. Warbling Vireos are reliable here.

Nearby, there’s a little rustic parking area with views over the alfalfa fields to the River, and a lovely peek across the stream to the little wooded pond. This morning, a migrating Kingfisher rattled loudly over at the pond, perching in the scarlet swamp maple in between fishing sorties. He caught and ate several little fish while I watched. I saw a gigantic river otter here this spring, as well as Osprey and, one day, a coyote. This is also an excellent place to find Hooded Mergansers in spring and fall. Red-Tailed Hawks nest in the woods across the road, and there’s usually one or the other of the pair at the top of the big oak tree out in the alfalfa field The brushy edges are host to warblers, vireos, buntings, and beautiful sparrows – Song, Savannah, and Swamp have all been seen here. A pair of Baltimore Orioles nested here this spring, and it was great fun to be here to see the parents feeding several fledglings. Tree Swallows are abundant here, too, and this summer the young ones used a nice tree over the stream as a staging point for feeding and flying lessons. I had the privilege of watching one young Tree Swallow at play – read it HERE.

My route takes me next through a long stretch of cornfields and pasture, where I frequently see wild turkeys, deer, the occasional fox or coyote, and almost always at least one Red-Tailed Hawk. Last week, a Great-Blue Heron was hunting in the field; I presumed it was looking for small rodents and perhaps snakes. It was strange to see it so far from the water. On one memorable day this spring, I watched about 40 Bobolinks swirling and swooping over the meadows, singing the whole time. In spring and summer, Red-Winged Blackbirds guard the field edges; each fence-post has its sentry, red epaulets flashing in the sun.

Those are several favorite spots on my "morning rounds"… I’ll cover the rest in a future post.

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