Today was MISERABLE from a weather standpoint. It was a steady rain the entire day, and coupled with temps in the low 40s, it created uncomfortable conditions to say the least. However, I actually thoroughly enjoyed the day. It helps that I saw some new birds, but I really felt motivated to defeat the weather in round 1 of what will surely be a yearlong fight. I could have used the weather as an excuse, and instead I used it as motivation. This is the exactly the type of mindset that I hope will translate beyond the still distant conclusion of Biking for Birds.
As for today, I rode from Madison to Hamden, Connecticut. This distance was about 27 miles. Coupled with the riding I did around Hamden, I rode 47 miles today.
I found year bird #97, monk parakeet, in Branford. Monk parakeet is a species that has been introduced to North America. It normally resides in South America, but several populations have become established around the country, presumably from escaped birds. They can now be found in South Florida, Chicago, Brooklyn, and some areas of central Connecticut around New Haven. They are colony nesters and build very large stick nests at the tops of trees and telephone poles. The nests are so big that they can be a bit of a nuisance. The birds are also very noisy which often upsets residents near these huge nests. This very short article sums up the problems associated with these birds here is Connecticut. It also has a photo of the birds and their nests.
WAIT. HOLD ON. If Monk Parakeet is introduced, why can you count it on your North American year list? Generally, and there is much debate about this, if an introduced species becomes established for a period of greater than 10 years, it is countable. The rationale is that although the species did not originate in North America, once it reaches the point that it can sustain itself it has, for better or for worse, become a part of the North American avian landscape. Many common birds such as mute swan, house sparrow, and European starling represent introduced species.
I first found the parakeets today by ear. As I crested over a hill in a residential neighborhood, I heard a large ruckus. I looked up to see a huge nest in the top of a tree in the front yard of a roadside house. Since it was raining, I snapped a quick photo with my phone just to show the nest. It was almost as big as an eagle's nest!
The main motivation for my visit to Hamden was to find the Rusty blackbird. This small icterid (icterids are the family that includes blackbirds, meadowlarks, grackles, and orioles) has seen a precipitous decline in its numbers over the last 100 years. Some estimates put the decline as highs 90%. This short article talks a bit more about this decline. The bottom line is that these birds can be tough to find despite the fact that they are geographically rather widespread. There have been reports of several groups of these birds coming to feeders around Hamden, and I was going to visit these feeders to find this species.
I did not find the birds at the first set of feeders that I visited. The second set were 8 miles beyond the first, which meant a 16 mile round trip to get to them. However, this detour was softened by the fact that these feeders were owned by Jim Zipp, one of the premier bird photographers in North America. If you think my photos are good, you should visit www.jimzipp.com. He's been in the game for ~30 years, so he's got a few years on my 3! I met Jim at his family store The Fat Robin. This store sells everything birds: optics, books, feeders, and even Jim's photographs. If you are even in the Hamden area I highly suggest a visit.
Jim escorted me back to his house (he drove, I biked!), and within minutes a few rusty blackbirds appeared under the feeders in the backyard. This represented year bird #99. Five minutes later a fox sparrow appeared to give me #100! The afternoon was spent feeder watching and swapping photography and birding stories. It was a nice break from the rain in which I been riding for the previous 3 hours. Here are some record shots of the blackbirds. You gotta love small birds photographed at a great distance, at ISO 1600 with the 7D, in the rain, without a tripod, through a window. I hate to post shots this bad, but at least the bird is identifiable (hence "record shots"). Why I bothered watermarking these I have no idea......
I added red-shouldered hawk on the ride home for species #101. Tomorrow I am going to Fairfield CT to chase down some interesting waterfowl. I hope to find cackling goode, eurasian widgeon, and barnacle goose. Stay tuned tomorrow, same birdy time, same birdy place.