Birding Basics

April 26, 2015

At Farmington, Ct.

The last week of April and the month of May is a terrific time for birding in Connecticut.

Among the colorful species native to Connecticut is the eastern bluebird. Click to enlarge.

Among the colorful species native to Connecticut is the eastern bluebird, seen here in Farmington, Ct., this month. Click to enlarge.

Spring is popping out all over, with early wildflowers like Dutchman’s breeches coming into bloom, while the trees are leafing out. At the same time, waves of many thousands of birds migrate into Connecticut, some of them bound for the far north, some of them intending to spend the warm weather months right here.

On a good spring day in early May it is possible to see a dozen warbler species, a colorful, hyperactive family of small birds that brighten the woodlands and fill them with song. Some of these birds are here only for a matter of days before they continue their journey to spruce and fir forests in northern New England and Canada, or other habitats.

For a beginner, it is an ideal time. There is plenty to see, of course, and because of that bird clubs, nature centers, Audubon organizations and others host numerous guided birding outings that are a great way to acquire birding skills.

My column on spring birding, with a list of guided hikes for beginners, can be found on The Hartford Courant website. Nice photos by Steve Dunn accompany the column.

An Ice Fishing Primer

January 14, 2015

The January cold has set in, the ice on lakes and rivers thicker by the day. The ice fishing season is here.

For those unfamiliar with ice fishing, for those who think it is crazy to stand in the cold waiting for a fish to bite, its aficionados will tell you the sport has considerable appeal.

Katherine Beauchene caught a nice chain pickerel at the 2014 Burr Pond State Park fishing derby in Torrington, sponsored by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The free event, to be held again this year on Feb. 7, attracted more than 700 people. Click to enlarge.

Katherine Beauchene caught a nice chain pickerel at the 2014 Burr Pond State Park fishing derby in Torrington, sponsored by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The free event, to be held again this year on Feb. 7, attracted more than 700 people. Photo courtesy of Mike Beauchene. Click to enlarge.

Especially on a mild January or February day, with no wind and a temperature of say, 30, and the sun shining, it can be magical on the ice.

“I love to be out there,” said Mike Beauchene, a supervising fisheries biologist with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. “It feels good to be out and getting that dose of vitamin D. It gets you out of the house and gives you the benefits of being outdoors.”

Beauchene’s agency hosts free ice fishing classes throughout the state during January, with experts explaining what equipment is needed and how to fish through the ice.

The agency also sponsors two ice fishing derbies for families, free, with all equipment and bait provided. The first will be held at Patriots Park in Coventry Jan. 31, the second at Burr Pond State Park in Torrington.

Last year some 700 to 800 people showed up for the derby at Burr Pond on a mild, sunny day.

“People can just show up, get a little tutorial, start fishing and hopefully be successful,” Beauchene said. “The big part is they get out and get to enjoy a little of the fresh air Connecticut offers.”

My story on ice fishing in Connecticut appears today on CTNOW.com. Here is the link:

Considerable information on fishing regulations and events is available through the DEEP website. On the left rail choose Learn to Fish for information on ice fishing classes throughout the state in coming weeks, and information on the two fishing derbies. On the right rail, under Featured Links, choose Angler’s Guide for all regulations covering fishing in Connecticut including ice fishing.

A Winter Walk in Middletown

December 16, 2014

gravestone

A poignant gravestone inscription in the historic Riverside Cemetery in Middletown. Click to enlarge.

Mindful that we need exercise even in the oh-so-busy month of December, consider a winter walk among the holiday decorations and the historic sites and buildings in downtown Middletown.

The Middlesex County Historical Society makes it easy to get a sense of the city’s history with a Middletown Heritage Trail brochure highlighting 20 notable sites, some of them right on the city’s mile-long Main Street, others within a few blocks of Main.

Middletown is one of the oldest cities in the state, with a rich history well worth a morning or afternoon of sidewalk sauntering. Its booming maritime economy in the late 18th Century made it Connecticut’s most populous community at the time.

With the downtown shops decorated the holidays, a couple of restaurants on every block, and historic sites aplenty, December is a good month for a long stroll that gets you out of the house and into the crisp winter air. The weather in coming days should be ideal, with temperatures into the high 30s or 40s.

Don’t miss the Riverside Cemetery, cared for by the Middletown Old Burying Ground Association. It is the city’s oldest graveyard, the resting place for many early residents of the community.

You’ll need to borrow the key to the cemetery gate, available nearby at the fire station at 533 Main St. The cemetery itself is behind the well-known O’Rourke’s Diner.

Many of the markers convey poignant messages from centuries gone by. “Here lies one dead which in her life was my loveing (sic) pious wife. Abigail Harris died May the 22, 1723.”

There are many other sites to see, including General Mansfield House and a Civil War Monument at the other end of Main Street. Take the time to walk over to the Connecticut River, only a couple of blocks from Main. My column describing in more detail a history walk in downtown Middletown appears today in The Hartford Courant.