saltmarsh sparrow

Eponymous Saltmarsh

Guilford's East River is rapidly becoming a favorite spot for me. I love that it connects to the new East River Preserve in the north part of Guilford, and it's a bit closer to my house and easier to put into than the Hammonasset River, especially now that I've dropped the $20 for a season pass at the Guilford Marina.

I went almost two miles up the river today, which was almost the entire salt marsh section. While I plan to go farther soon, all the way up into the coastal forest, today had some good exploring.

The predominant wildlife is still Willets (left), Ospreys, and Common Terns (above left). I also saw a high-up hawk that I'm fairly sure was a Cooper's, though she took off over the marsh before I could get a good picture.

I also saw a little guy that's turning into an old friend. I've seen lots of small sparrow-like birds flitting across the water and into the grasses, but they're much shyer than the Willets and the other larger birds, so it's hard to be sure exactly what they are.

But, as I've mentioned before on numerous occasions, here's the huge advantage of the kayak: you can take a few shots at a safe distance, and then set yourself up with current, wind, or even momentum to drift a bit closer and closer.

So I was finally able to confirm my hunch and get a few good pictures at the same time. At least some (and probably most) of the sparrow-like birds are the Saltmarsh Sparrows I've come to know well. I don't like to interrupt birds' habits, and I try to stop at the first sign that I'm disturbing one, but this time I got a little too close, and the sparrow looked back over his shoulder as he took off away from me.

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Friends and Peeps


Jeremy and Ben joined me today for another outing on the Hammonasset River. It was, after all, Jeremy’s idea in the first place. We rented them kayaks at a place on the river and then paddled up almost to Jeremy’s house and back down.

The last couple of miles of the river are essentially a grassy tidal flat, so the lowering tide exposed lots of mud on the banks.

I originally thought this guy was a Sanderling, but I’m not wonderful at identifying peeps, and now I’m not so sure. It’s nice that he and his friends were so cooperative about letting me take a series of pictures that could be reviewed later.

He’s definitely in the Calidris genus, but that’s where it gets more tricky.

If it’s not a Sanderling, which its brown color and face marks make less likely, it’s either a White-rumped or Least Sandpiper. I was able to rule out lots of the similar peeps based on the color of the legs (many candidates have black legs and could be ruled out), the size, the location (CT seacoast) and the behavior, but I’m really stuck between these last two. Pretty guy, nonetheless.

After reviewing the photos together, my dad and I have decided pretty firmly that these guys are Least Sandpipers.
 
We also got a chance to see a pair of Belted Kingfishers scoping the river for their lunch. They were a bit wary of us, so we never got too close. Fortunately, as they’re the only CT Kingfisher, they were an absurdly easy ID.

Ospreys are also an easy bird to shoot, but this one had half an enormous fish up with him in his tree, so I had a good time trying to frame the shot with the tree.

This guy is an old friend, the Saltmarsh Sparrow. There’s really nothing else it could be, but I worry that I may be wrong anyway, since all the entries I’ve read on these guys talk about their secretive behavior, and the two I’ve met have been quite unconcerned about my boat as it drifts closer and closer.

The crabs are definitely some kind of Fiddler Crab, but if you take a second and look up that genus of crabs, you’ll find a dizzying array of species. I gave up after a few minutes.

Regardless of the species, I like the composition of the shot.

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Hammonasset River Solo

Jeremy lives near the Hammonasset River, which wends down through Clinton and empties out at Hammonasset Beach State Park. Jeremy and I had talked a couple of times about maybe putting kayaks in near his house and traveling all the way down to the ocean.

Given that today was the hottest day of summer thus far, Jeremy wisely decided it wasn’t a good day for his first major kayak outing. That freed him up to drop me off and pick me up, which made the whole process much, much more pleasant.

The river wends down through deciduous forest which transitions quite quickly to salt marsh. The luckiest picture of the day, by a long shot, was of this Saltmarsh Sparrow. These guys are known for being secretive and quiet, but I got lucky. This kind of moment can only happen in a boat as quiet and unobtrusive as a kayak. I can see a small bird hopping in the reeds, paddle quietly upstream of him, and drift toward him, snapping photos. If I had more robust camera equipment, I could do even better, but shooting with a twenty-year-old 75x300, I think I did alright.

Ospreys are a far, far easier target, for three reasons: they’re common, relatively calm about humans, and large. There are also about four nests between the put-in and the open ocean, so opportunities abound.


I underestimated both the heat and the distance: the map shows a big channel of open water in Hammonasset Point that doesn’t actually exist, so I had to travel a mile or two farther than I thought in order to go around a point to get to the open sound. Fortunately, Jeremy was a patient pickup, and it really was a beautiful spot to spend an afternoon—albeit a longer, hotter one than I intended.

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