Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Good Day Birding PI

Plum Island has not been to good to me the last two times I have gone birding there. I hadn't seen any
new birds for the year nor had I really seen anything rare. As I wrote last week, I planned on going up last week but couldn't bring myself to take the 200 mile round trip. I knew I'd have to go up there one more time to get some winter target species. I always have Fridays off from work, but the weather forecast for this Friday (as of this writing, tomorrow) was for heavy rain in the morning. However late Wednesday afternoon I was told I would have Thursday off (today). The weather was much better. The daytime high was about 55. I knew it would be overcast with a SE wind of about 15 knots. Not too bad, so off I went.

I had a few "target"species for the day.  They were in no particular order

Snowy owl (seen at Salisbury St. Beach yesterday)
Long Tailed Duck
Red Throated Loon
Snow Buntings
Black Scooter
Snow Goose

These were birds I drove there to see. Of course, any and all other cool species were welcome to join the party.

I started off at Salisbury Beach looking for the owl. After a few minutes at the beach, I thought my prospects for the day were sort of bleak. I didn't find the owl. I went to the beach with my spotting scope. There were birds out the mouth of the Merrimack. I could tell a lot of them were Common Eiders and Scooters. The only problem was they were really far out. With the wind, my spotting scope wouldn't stay still. Because of the scope shaking in the wind, on high power, it was tough to identify the birds. I could tell some of the scooters were black, while some of the others were white winged, but the ones that were to far out, I could merely guess.

The highlight of my time at Salisbury was the seals on the rocks inside the river. There are some rocks about 100 yards out that the seals haul out on. I counted at least sixty seals. This is a low ball estimate, because I am sure some were behind large boulders and other seals out of my line of site.

American Black Duck
I left Salisbury for Parker River about 11 am. I knew viewing the ocean was going to be fairly
difficult thanks to the wind. Still, I was hoping to see some of my target species.  I decided to drive to the end of the road at Emerson Rocks and work my way back towards the entrance. At Emerson Rocks, I saw some black scooters that were not too far out. They are a common bird. Even though they are on my  target list, it was only because I did not identify any my last two times at Plum. I was still happy to see them.

I then went back to Parking Lot 5. There I saw some loons. In the winter, loons have a completely different plumage than they do in the summer. Gone is the black head and black body with white dots. In the winter all species of loons are a much more drab grey and white. There are subtle differences. The loon we have summering in the northeast is the Common Loon. The Red Throated Loon lives in the far north by the Arctic. In the winter, it will be off many coastal areas of New England. The surest way to tell the two species apart is, the Red Throated swims with its beak in the air slanted toward the sky. The common loon swims with its beak perpendicular to the water.  I saw a loon with its head tilted, and am happy to report I saw a Red Throated.

Next up, by the Stage Island Pool I saw a bunch of birds on the ground. They would rise up in a flock circle around the area then land back in the same area. They were showing a lot of white. I was pretty sure right away they were snow buntings. I got my scope on them and watched them for ten minutes.

After I left the buntings I went to the Bill Forward Pool. This is always a good area for ducks (and shorebirds in early autumn). The pool did not disappoint. There were five species of ducks. I saw mallards, black ducks, green wing teal, pintails and American widgeon. I also saw a great blue heron and a Northern Harrier (one of four for the day)

I also saw two falcons today. One was certainly a Merlin. I was at Lot 1 hoping to see a long tailed duck when the falcon came buzzing past. It landed on a plastic pipe about 30 yards away. I put my scope on it and watched it for a minute before it took off again.

The second falcon, I assume was a Merlin, but didn't see it very well. I was standing outside my car looking at some ducks in a marsh. The falcon blew right by me heading north. I jumped in my car and tried to follow it. It was using the roadway as its highway. I followed it up to 40 mph and it still was distancing itself from me. Since the speed limit is 25 mph, I decided to give up the chase.

My last good bird was at the maintenance area known as the Wardens. I saw an American Tree Sparrow in the berry bushes. It had a rufus head and two distinct wing bars. I probably missed long tailed duck for the year since I have decided to do other daytrips between now and the New Year. I might do a van trip to the Great Bay on Dec 4, and I want to explore the North Shore  past Boston, so maybe I will see some

 About 2 pm, I headed home determined to miss the rush hour traffic. All in all I had a great day. I didn't bother tallying up the number of species for the day. I was content just to see some really great birds. If you are into birding at all, and I assume if you read this far, you probably are, this is a good time to go to Parker River NWR. There are a  lot of ducks around and many birds on the ocean.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Exploring Coventry, RI (and vicinity)

Last week I came up with a short list of ideas for things to do on my day off in November. The time
Ponaganset  Road
period between striper migration being over and real winter weather begins is usually boring for me. The first thing I had planned on doing was a Mass Audubon trip to Parker River NWR. There was a program today focusing on ducks. However, I could not force myself to take the 200 mile round trip. The more times I take the ride to Newburyport, the longer it seems to get. I'm going to have to make it up there again since many sea ducks can be seen, that I can't see where I live.

Today, instead of going to Plum Island, I explored a part of Rhode Island I knew nothing about. By area, Coventry is the largest town in the littlest state.Inside of its borders are two Audubon wildlife Sanctuaries and the pond where the state record largemouth bass was caught (allegedly). As far ar I can remember, the only place I have ever been to in Coventry is Lake Tiogue.

I started my day off doing some scouting out Ponaganset Road in Foster. This road for whatever reason is one of the best birding locations in Rhode Island. During the spring all kinds of colorful migrants show up. There wasn't a lot to see there today. I just wanted to find the road and look for potential hot spots. I drove up Ponaganset Road and the Ram Trail making a couple of stops. All told, I only wasted about an hour.

After I left the area, I headed down Route 102 to George Parker Woodland. Parker is a very large
It's tough to get lost at Parker. Trails are well marked
property. It is 860 acres of woods. There are over seven miles of trails. There are two loops that almost figure eight. I did the closer loop to the parking lot. I considered doing the entire seven miles, but chose not to do the Foster Loop. The entire sanctuary seems to be forest habitat. I couldn't justify burning an hour of precious daylight to walk through the woods. There were very few birds (I saw a total of six) and only one squirrel. So I decided to limit my hiking to about four miles.

Parker was cool. One section of the blue trail in the Coventry loop had about one hundred rock cairns. No one seems to know when or why they were built. In another spot I found the foundation to a house from the early 1800's. On the trail that I chose not to do, there are two stone quarries and a site of an old farmhouse.

From Parker I kept going south on Route 102 and then took a right onto Route 117. My next stop was Carbuncle Pond. The state record largemouth is supposed to come from this pond However most people in the know, believe it was caught elsewhere. Either way I wanted to see this pond. It is in the Nicolas Wildlife Management Area, which allows hunting. Because of this fact, I chose not to do any
Foundation to a very old historic house
exploring of the trails since it is deer season. I took a few quick pictures of the pond. It is very pretty. Because it is in the WMA, it is devoid of development. There is a boat ramp and a very large handicapped accessible dock. Carbuncle is a trout pond, so I suspect it is quite busy in the spring.

After I left Carbuncle, I drove back to 102 and continued south to the Maxwell Mays Sanctuary. In this 265 acre sanctuary is a the seventeen acre Carr Pond. I walked the trails around the pond and in the woods. I found another foundation (this one not on the map) and plenty of stonewalls. The pond had four species of ducks. There were mallards, ring necked, 3 wood ducks and many buffleheads. I watched the ducks for fifteen minutes. I also came across a toad that was hopping across the trail. I don't ever recall seeing a toad in mid-November before. Other than the ducks and the toad, like Parker, there really wasn't much around in terms of wildlife.

I enjoyed my day exploring. If interested in either of the Audubon sanctuaries, a quick google search
About 100 cairns can be seen on this hillside
They vary in size from  a foot to six feet.
Three are in this picture
will get you maps and directions along with a brief explanation of what to expect. Next week, I'm gonna take the long drive to Plum Island. I really want to see old squaw and red throated loons.

Boat Ramp in front, Handicapped Dock in back
at Carbuncle

I came across this old cemetery  at Maxwell Mays

There was one flag. Based on the year, this soldier
may have died in the Spanish-American War

Ring necked ducks

A very cooperative toad

Monday, November 2, 2015

Fort Wildlife Sanctuary

Today was a beautiful November day here in New England. It was comfortable enough for just a sweatshirt this morning. By afternoon the temperature was in the sixties. I was working outside in just shorts and a T-shirt. It was so nice, I tried to get my work done early so I could enjoy some of the nice weather before the onset of darkness.

I decided to go to a Rhode Island Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary in North Smithfield, RI. Fort is the last name of a couple and not as the name suggests the remnants of an old fort. I had never been to Fort before. I had downloaded a map, and wrote down the directions. I didn't know what I would find other than some nice late fall weather.

The parking lot is just off the Providence Pike (Route 5). It was easy to get to and only about 20 minutes from my house. When I got there I noticed a sign on the kiosk. The refuge is bisected by some power lines. The sign said that trails past the power lines are temporarily closed because National Grid was in the process of replacing all the wires in the state. This meant that I could only walk about half the trail system. Also, two of the ponds are past the power lines, so I was also going to miss some pretty scenery

I set out on the trails. For the most part, the trails go through a woods mixed of white pines and deciduous trees. I could tell that a large area to my right was a dried up swamp. I came across the one pond on my side of the power lines. At one end was a beaver lodge. Many of the trees around the pond were dead. I take this as a sign the beavers raised the water level with their dam and drowned the surrounding trees. I saw a woodpecker in one of the dead trees.

All total, I probably only walked about a mile and a half on the blue loop trail. Given that I was fighting darkness from the moment I got there (parked car at 3:40, sunset was at 4:38) I really couldn't have done much more anyway.

By far the highlight of my day was seeing a barred owl. I was trying to call in some little birds. As I was doing this an owl must have heard me. It flew to a tree about twenty feet away and perched about 20 feet up. It looked at me for some time. I'd say I watched it for a solid fifteen minutes. My presence clearly did not bother it. It would look right at me then look away when it wanted. I sat on some leaves and just enjoyed the encounter. After about fifteen minutes it flew off. It dropped to within three feet of the ground and flew gracefully through the undergrowth, Owls do not make a sound when they fly. Watching such a big bird fly in silence will make you question your hearing. It was really neat.

After the owl flew off, I made the loop around the blue trail getting back to my car a few minutes before dark.The walk and especially the owl made for a nice afternoon after work.

Pond, beaver dam and lodge are at the
far end out of the picture

Neat rock formation

Bald Eagle I saw at Wachusett,
I wanted to share the picture

Friday, October 30, 2015

None at the Chu, what else is new?

I decided to give Wachusett Reservoir a try today. The ocean was rough and it was a beautiful day. Although I would prefer the weather to be crappy at Wachusett, I didn't want to waste a nice day. However, good weather or bad, usually I don't catch a hell of a lot when I go there.

Today was just like any other at Wachusett. I didn't catch any lake trout. The good news is, as usual, I saw a few cool animals. I spooked two deer. I also saw a loon and a bald eagle.

So today was a typical day for me at the big lake. No fish, nice scenery, wildlife, no regrets

Friday, October 23, 2015

Monadnock- A photographic journey

Yesterday I hiked Mount Monadnock in southern New Hampshire. Monadnock is one of the most hiked mountains in the world. It regularly has 100,000 people a year on its summit. The reason is proximity to major cities. It doesn't hurt that it is the tallest point for fifty miles in all directions. I did not want to hike the normal route because it is so crowded with people. Instead I chose to hike a route the Mountain Wanderer did in June 2014. This route is much longer but well worth it. On my hike to the top I did not see a sole until I got to the summit.

Although it was in the low fifties at the bottom, the summit was thirty six degrees. It was cloudy and the sustained winds were twenty miles an hour. In short it was freezing. I stayed on top just long enough to eat. I didn't study the views of the northern mountains. Like everyone else I found a rock to block the wind and ate. Since I had all this extra time, I stopped many times to enjoy the view from rock perches on the way down. Total time took me five hours and forty five minutes. I would have stayed longer if the summit would have been more hospitable.

A view of the mountain from an approach road
The weather called for crystal clear skies but
it was cloudy most of the day

The first trail I hiked is the Parker Trail
It starts near this small reservoir

Glacial Erratic

The next trail was the Cliff Walk
It had this surprise ladder to climb

Hard to believe farming was done on
the side of a mountain, but this stone wall
says differently

My first view. On Cliff Walk

As you can see in the picture below there are two signs. The closer sign heads straight for the summit. The one to the left is the Mount Rosa Trail. It takes a round about journey going over a small side peak of Mount Rosa. It is longer but rarely used. I reached deep to pull out my inner Frost

I shall be telling you this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood and I-
I took the one less traveled by
And that made all the difference

So even though I hadn't seen a person on my hike, I
took the Mount Rosa Trail because it was the less
popular trail

Monadnock summit 600 feet above from Mount Rosa

Weather Vane on Mt Rosa Summit

Tough to get lost on this mountain
Trails are very well marked

Some shrubs dressed in their fall best

Hazy, but Wachusett Mountain to the south

People on Monadnock Summit

Mt Rosa 400 feet below

On my way down I took the popular White Dot trail
Here is a steep pitch that was fun
to navigate

I found a rock perch to get comfortable on

Cool tree near the end of the hike

The busiest path is the White Cross. Although I
had a few people on the White Dot, the White
Cross is like an ant highway.

Entrance sign

A view driving out, The sky was clearing nicely...
now that I was down

As I was driving back I saw Wachusett while waiting
at this red light.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Hammonasset State Park and Beach, Madison, CT

Miles of beach at HSP
This morning I went on a day trip to Hammonasset State Park. I rarely go to Connecticut, so it was a new experience for me. Hammonasset (or as I am going to call it, HSP) is considered one of the premier birding locations in the northeast. It is especially good during the fall migration and the winter. I was really looking forward to this trip. I got up early and arrived a little after the gates opened at 8 am.

HSP is a full hundred miles from my house. It is just over forty miles from Rhode Island and seventy miles from New York. However, it is very easy to get to. It is just a couple miles off of I-95. It is off Exit 62. Once you take a left at the end of the ramp, it is a straight shot into the park.

Since I had never been there, I didn't know where to go. Admission is free during the off-season. This is a state beach, so expect to pay a hefty entrance fee during the summer months. Since it was free, there wasn't anyone at the gate to ask for a map or advice ( I will take that as trade for free admission!!!) I decided to drive the park road to the end to get a feel for the place. The road ends at a point. It faces south into Long Island Sound, To the east and west you can see miles of the Connecticut shore. To the west of the point, Hammonasset Beach stretches for a couple of miles. There are at least two restrooms and vending machines along the beach.

Black Bellied Plovers
Near the end of the point is a small pond. It had a couple Greater Yellowlegs and a mallard duck. A few sandpipers flew in, but left just as quickly before I could ID them.

 After my short walk around the point I headed back towards the Nature Center. Another road went
right towards some woods. I followed it to another parking area. At this spot is the trailhead to the Willards Island Nature Trail. This was a pretty walk through the woods. There were hardwoods and pines. All of it surrounded by a huge saltmarsh. On this trail I saw a bald eagle fly over my head. It was going south. I saw a bunch of songbirds. Over the marsh I saw a Northern Harrier and a Sharp Shinned Hawk flying.

Because this park juts so far out to sea, it a natural migrant trap. As birds start flying south, they run out of land at this spot. The end of the line, if you will. So the birds stop, rest up, and feed. It gets bird nerds like me a chance to see a bunch of birds. For the record, the most famous migrant trap in the U.S. is Cape May, NJ.

By far, the highlight of my day was a Red Tailed Hawk. It was sitting in a short pine tree when I saw it. At that point I was only 20 feet from it. I thought for sure it was going to spook. Just after I saw it a field trip full of fifth graders came walking by. I thought my chance to see this
Red Tailed Hawk
bird was over. I was shocked when twenty kids walked within feet of the the hawk and it didn't move. After the kids went by I snapped a few more pictures. It had bigger problems then me or kids. It was getting harassed by a mocking bird that wouldn't quit. On a side note, the biggest lowlight of the day were field trips. I could not get away from kids no matter where I went. There were ten buses in the parking lot. Each group spread out throught the park. On the bright side, what a nice late October day for a field trip. High temperature was seventy degrees today!

Because this park is such a famous birding location, I will make the 200 mile round trip again in the winter. With all the marsh and fields I can see why birds of prey like this area. Even today, I saw four species of raptors. I also can see why this place is so popular with Connecticut residents. The beach is big and beautiful. The scenery is nice. There are miles of walking trails. A lot of people were bike riding today. Best of all for those that want to go during the warm seasons, there is even a campground.

I don't think there is a prettier
maple in America right now

A view of the point

Part of the Willard's Island Trail
Notice the saltmarsh to the left

Northern Flicker

One of the short sand trails leading to the beach
This mockingbird enjoyed harassing
the hawk

Three Common Surfcasting Mistakes to Avoid

Surfcasting is an ever learning experience. There is always a new spot to learn or a new technique to apply. Sometimes,realizing something is working before everyone else (such as a hot color, or what size bait fish are keying on) can make all the difference.

Here are three very simple surfcasting mistakes. They are very easy to avoid. By default, by not making these mistakes, one is guaranteed to catch more fish.

1. When checking out a spot bring your rod with you!

 I have been as guilty of this as anyone. How many times have you went to scout out a spot "just to see" and when you got there, saw a blitz and had to run back to your car? I'm sure everyone surf fishermen has done that. Half the time, by the time you get back, the fish have either stopped or moved out of casting range.

I have learned my lesson, I always carry my rod (and usually my bag, because it it does no good losing your popper in a school of blues on the first cast) to the water.  So many times  I'll walk into feeding fish and only have one cast before they move on. Better to have that one shot then to be running back to your car dropping F-bombs.

2. Always make a few casts!

One of my pet peeves is what I call "the watchers". A lot of guys will stand around all day and only cast when they see fish. Worse, many guys will drive all over creation stopping at many spots searching with binoculars but never making a cast because they don't see breaking fish. This is a huge mistake. A lot of times the fish are not showing but they are there.

Monday night I went to Narragansett. There were a lot of fish around. Many were schooled up and would pop up all over the place. I got lucky and had fish break right in front of me twice. Both times I hooked up and landed a fish. Both times, by the time I got the fish in, the feeding stopped and I was casting blind. It didn't matter, there were loads of fish cruising just outside "the first wave". I ended up catching many more including a 31 inch keeper. To my right was a guy also casting blind. He caught as many fish as I did. My friend Dave was half a mile away also hooking up with fish hugging the shoreline.

To my left was Pier 5. It was loaded with guys, none casting, all waiting. I am sure there were fish right there, but no one was even trying. This is just the latest example of "dry lines catch few fish" I've seen it time and again, sometimes the fish are there and not showing. Give a spot ten minutes, you have nothing to lose.

3. Put some small plugs and soft plastic in your bag.

I can't tell you how many times I've seen guys casting eight inch poppers into flat water with fish exploding all over one inch bay anchovies These guys have almost no chance of catching anything. I can not understand why they don't carry at a minimum, four inch Zoom flukes, Cocahoes, small bucktail jigs, half ounce jigheads and a wooden egg float.

Of course when fish are on big menhaden, mackerel, or squid, big plugs are the name of the game. In southern Rhode Island the predominant forage is small bay anchovies and peanut bunker. To catch fish you really need to "match the hatch"

One time I was at Potters Cove in Jamestown. There was so much bait the water was black. Schoolies were heavily feeding on the bait. Every cast I would cast to four or five close splashes. However the fish were fussy and I didn't have any lures to match the tiny baitfish.  Even though I was casting at four or five fish at a time, I'd only hook up about every ten casts. Still, the fish were around for a while and my total started to add up. A guy to my right was using an eight inch popper splashing water up four feet (the water was glass calm so it caused quite a commotion). He obviously wasn't catching anything. After a few fish, he came over and asked me what I was using. When I showed him my 3/8 ounce jig and 3 inch shad body he said he didn't have anything that small. And he didn't! I saw his bag. Pencil poppers, big needlefish, and Danny's swimmers.  It really blows me away that guys don't put gear in there bag of all sizes.

Before you say "those are small fish". I watched Ben Pickering land a thirty five pound striper on a five inch swimmer. It was the same deal as Potters Cove. The fish were on tiny bait. But this time a school of giant fish (10-40 pounds!) were keyed on it. They had the bait pinned against the rocks in Narragansett. The fish were in such shallow water, huge stripers were almost beaching themselves. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen in the surf.

As I said, by avoiding these three mistakes, by default you WILL catch more fish. At least once, you will walk into breaking fish and catch one because rod was in hand. At least once, you be surprised
This fish was caught on a small swimmer
that was imitating tiny bay anchovies
Still think big fish only eat big bait?
that fish are right in front of everyone but no one knew it until YOU started fishing. And I assure you, that if you put some small stuff in your bag and learn how to fish a bucktail, YOU will catch way more fish.