Sunday, June 27

Birding the Northeast Kingdom

Just driving down the road we spotted this first year moose feeding in the muck.  I love getting good photos of Moose.Birding and camping in Northern Vermont this month took us through Island Pond, Victory Basin and a part of the Sylvio Conte refuge network. We had good sightings of birds, butterflies and even one fairly cool sighting of a young bull moose. We stayed at Brighton State Park which is a nice campground. We arrived on a Friday night and almost bagged out Saturday morning due to rain, mosquitoes and general misery. [sidenote: we stopped for coffee and found a coffee shop with a right to life magazine on one table and a Second Vermont Republic on another. Never let it be said that Vermont is easy to understand]. But, we stuck it out, and it's a good thing we did. The trip yielded not only some pretty amazing looks at birds (including two life birds), but a wide array of insects as well.


Our campground in Island Pond didn't yield a lot of sightings, but it did show us a couple very cool things. First, this photo...
If you look closely, you'll notice two birds here: a black-throated blue warbler and a ruby-throated hummingbird, both competing for access to the holes left behind by a yellow-bellied sapsucker
...takes a bit of explanation.

What you see here is two birds. On the lower left is a black-throated blue warbler. In the upper right is a ruby-throated hummingbird.

In between them is a tree full of holes. Those holes are wells dug out by this yellow-bellied sapsucker:
Yellow-bellied sapsucker
What you saw above was the hummingbird and the warbler getting in each others' face over access to the well holes.


Sylvio Conte is a lot of driving to get kind of in the middle of nowhere. It turns out that one of the "trails" we went in to visit (Molly Beattie) takes you through complex, winding narrow dirt roads to hit a boardwalk which is approximately 50" long and then just stops. By that point, frustration was at a bit of a high and I just decided I wanted to walk along the road for a bit; I didn't even care which direction, because I just was really annoyed. Three miles of walking later, I was in a much better mood, partially because of this:
In Northeastern Vermont, there is a long and complicated drive to get out to a nature trail that it turns out is just one very tiny boardwalk that doesn't go anywhere.  After that disappointment, we decided to just try a walk down the road instead, which was kind of nice because it yielded this photo of a Gray Jay, first time I've ever seen one.
This is a Gray Jay, the first of the two life birds I got on this trip. I was particularly pleased with this photo because I just had a few seconds to get it. I heard the bird first (and luckily, recognized the call). Then, I looked, spotted it, fired off about five shots and this was the best of them. Not a spectacular shot, but a life bird is a life bird.

I was also particularly pleased with this photo:
Tiger swallowtail, feeding and then flying
I was photographing a Tiger Swallowtail when it took off from the flower and caught it in motion. I also got this cool shot of Arctic Skippers:
I'm told these are Arctic Skippers.
There's a lot more in the photos, but if you click on the Sylvio Conte link from above, you'll see the whole gallery.


So I have to start with this: we parked at a pullover spot which had an empty bird feeder nearby. We chose the shady spot which was directly under the feeder, not thinking much of it. Just as we started walking, about 15 minutes in, someone pulled up next to us and asked if that was our car back there. We said it was and he warned us that a bear had just just come out of the woods by our car ("it looked like it came right out of your car!") and to be careful. So we thought about it, and decided we'd give the bear plenty of time to finish whatever it was doing and continued on our walk. Fast forward more than an hour as we'd walked up the road quite a ways and were heading back.

About 15 minutes from our car, a guy pulled up next to us and asked if we had a really big black dog and if it might be near our car which he saw a little ways back. Of course, we figured out right away that he wasn't talking about a great big dog but instead a small black bear. Now... black bears are not dangerous except under some specific circumstances, one of those being if you startle them. So we started making lots of noise as we walked back, even singing ("Shiny happy ursines holding hands!") and planning ("if it's not between us and the car we can set off the car alarm") what to do. Turned out to be the most uneventful eventful walk we'd ever had-- no sign of the bear, but a lot of fairly rapid heart racing when I realized that the car was close enough to the trees that I wouldn't be able to see if there were a bear in there. But once we were in the car, we felt a little cheated-- not even a hint of a bear? Oh well.

Anyway... Victory Basin's a pretty awesome place to bird. Last year we had some fairly amazing looks at warblers. This year, not so much luck with warblers, but a life bird and some amazing butterflies, as well as this:
This is the first time I ever got a photo of a ruffed grouse doing its tail display like this.
. I've seen Ruffed Grouse a few times before, even locally, but I've never had one do its display like this. Neat.

There was also this neat shot:
While taking this photo of a great spangled frittilary, I didn't expect to see a 2nd one flying towards it this close.  This turned into one of the best photos of butterflies I've ever taken.
I was taking a photo of one butterfly when another came rearing up behind it.

The coolest thing, however, was a new life bird. This black-backed woodpecker...
Notice the yellow mark on this woodpecker's head?  That's one of the distinguishing features of the black-backed woodpecker, which is pretty cool since I'd never manage to photograph one before today, especially given how close it was willing to get to us.

Notice the yellow mark on this woodpecker's head?  That's one of the distinguishing features of the black-backed woodpecker, which is pretty cool since I'd never manage to photograph one before today, especially given how close it was willing to get to us.
...was just pecking away on a nearby tree and I got some okay photos of it, but then it flew in much closer, and I got the one shown.

So that's some highlights (and a couple lowlights) from our camping trip. Just a couple more things before I wrap it up, entirely personal, and totally pandering, so feel free to skip to the end at this point :)
  1. I've completely redesigned my photos site. If you click on any of the images shown above, you'll see larger versions of the photos in the new site. This site is a fairly major redesign, so I'd love any feeedback anyone has.
  2. I've been taking time to seriously hone my web building skills as well as design a line of note cards based on my photography. If you're interested, feel free to check out the site and I'd love to hear whatever feedback you have on that as well.
  3. As far as web design goes, I'm particularly interested in feedback from people using iPod touch/iPhone, Android, Blackberry or other hand held browsers. I made a point of designing a different layout for those browsers (on both sites) and would especially appreciate any suggestions. I can only simulate so many environments from my MacBook Pro.
Okay: the pandering and/or personal commentary is now over, and I shall simply leave you with a video I made the other day, taking a hummingbird in flight and slowing it down to about 1/4 its original speed:

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