Sunday, September 21, 2014

Art and Nature Combined in Williamstown -- Saturday, September 20th

Mark and I headed out to Pittsfield State Forest to, hopefully, catch some migrant landbirds and spend time atop Berry Mountain looking for hawks.  I absolutely love this place so I can't tell you how disappointed I was to get to the state park and find a sign saying that the road to the top was closed due to recent storm damage.  Trying to make the best of the situation we opted to drive up Mt. Greylock and hopefully see some of the same species of migrants there.  Driving up the road from Lanesborough things seemed pretty quiet.  We pulled over several times but other than finding a Woolly Bear caterpillar and a Milkweed Tussock caterpillar we didn't see much.

As we got closer to the summit we realized that the low-hanging fog and brisk winds weren't helping either.
It was about 9:30 at this point, so we decided to bag Greylock for the morning and head down to Williamstown to visit The Clark Museum.  It had reopened this past July after going through an amazing renovation to their 140-acre campus.  Since there was an abstract painting exhibition on display we figured we could spend some time inside and then hike around the campus on the more than 2 miles of trails they advertised.
And it was as advertised!  We were totally blown away when we got there.  Not only was the design of the museum absolutely gorgeous, we arrived on the next-to-last day of an exhibition of ancient bronze castings from the Shanghai Museum.  Unfortunately photography wasn't allowed so I can't show you some of the amazing pieces in the exhibit.  However, the abstract paintings from the National Gallery in DC was just as fantastic...and they did allow photography.
Of course they chose a Jackson Pollock (Number 1, 1950 Lavender Mist) as the signature piece when you entered the gallery, which was okay with me since I must admit that I truly enjoy his work.  I still remember back in the 80's having a dress that everyone said looked like one of his paintings...and I loved the dress.  The dress was quite like the close-up below, with less pink tones.
There was a Frank Stella....Delta 1958
a piece by Joan Mitchell - Piano mecanique, 1958
and this rather odd piece by a Belgian artist, Marcel Broodthaers, Panneau de Moules (Panel of Mussels), 1966...which didn't seem to fit with the other pieces.  Although it seemed to grow on Mark the more we went back and looked at it.
And this one by Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Nets Yellow, 1960 which I was drawn too.  They did a great job with the exhibition and had the paintings hung by a unifying theme, such as pattern, texture, shape and color field.  Definitely worth a trip to the Berkshires if you like abstract paintings from the 50's, 60's and early 70's.
One of the centerpieces of the new museum is the 1-acre reflecting pool designed by Reed Hilderbrand which really seemed to be a focal point for everybody...maybe it was because the day turned out great and people were outside enjoying the area.
They had 4 benches by one of my favorite artists, Jenny Holzer.  I wish I had copied the quotes carved on the benches, but that will give me an excuse to go back.
In the photo above you can see the original museum building which houses, for the most part, the permanent museum collection much of which was the private collection of Sterling and Francine Clark (he was heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune.)  One of the special exhibits in this area was called Radical Words and included an original 1215 Magna Carta alongside the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  WOW!
By the time we finished three special exhibitions and took a quick tour through many of the other galleries, my head was spinning.  Mark was totally blown away by their collection of Winslow Homers, George Inness, Remington....not to mention the French Impressionist and tons of others.  Definitely need to go back just to see the permanent collection.  Oh, I almost forgot we did go to a separate museum building on the property called the Lunder Center at Stone Hill which had a special sculpture exhibition called Raw Color:  The Circles of David Smith...amazing.

Finally we took a break for lunch and had a picnic overlooking the hills....we walked one of the trials part of way up to another museum building and along the way had four species of butterflies, even though it was very windy.  Besides the Clouded Sulphur below we had a few Monarchs, many Cabbage Whites and a few Common Ringlets.
We also had at least two Praying Mantis, but the windy was so brisk it was almost impossible to get really decent photos.
We had this little fall wildflower, Herb Robert, as we were returning to the museum reflection pool.
And we came across this nest of the Mud Dauber wasp in one of the trees.
They also had a great pond on the property and once the sun warmed things up a bit, we found lots of odonates breeding -- I'm still trying to identify this pair of spreadwing species.
And of course lots of Autumn Meadowhawks zipping around.  And some darners that never put down and I couldn't get a good id on the wing.
I have to say I was totally impressed with The Clark and will definitely make it a regular stop.  It was such a great place to combine art and nature and the surroundings are fantastic.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Westport and Acoaxet, Sunday August 10th

Yesterday we decided to get an early start and head to the coast.  It was a perfect beach day so we did have some reservations, but figured if we got to Gooseberry Neck before 7am it would probably be okay...and it was.  The first thing we noticed was that there were swallows moving...a sure sign that fall migration is just around the corner.

We hiked out to the end of the neck and found that shorebirds were starting to build up.  The lighting wasn't the best but we had a Black-bellied Plover, Sanderling and Ruddy Turnstone all on the same rock.
We also had our first Semipalmated Plovers of the season....
...and some adult Least Sandpipers starting to move through.
 Some of the Rudy Turnstones were really sharp-looking in the early morning light.
And we started to see groups of Sanderlings all the way out at the end of the neck.  Seems like it was just a few short months since we had them heading north to breed...
 ..and here they are again on their return trip.
Some of the birds still had a bit of their breeding plumage left, although many were starting to molt into their winter plumage
Our major reason for walking out to the point was to get a better look at a rock off the end of Gooseberry Neck that had a number of cormorants on it.  Mark had picked out what he thought was a juvenile Great Cormorant and wanted to get a closer look.  I managed to get a couple of photos but they were quite a ways out and I could only enlarge them so far without totally losing clarity.  You can see how much larger the third bird from the left is compared to the Double-crested Cormorants.  In fact at one point we were wondering if we were looking at an immature Booby!
Both on the way out and on the way back I found two Primrose Moths sleeping in patches of Evening Primrose.  I can't believe I never saw them before this year....clearly I wasn't looking for them!  Now that I know this is their behavior, I check every patch of Evening Primrose I come across.
There was a woman hiking out behind us with a camera and I waited for her just so that I could show her the moth.  Clearly, she wasn't as excited as I was, but I did notice her checking other Evening Primrose blooms after I pointed the moth out to her.
 Back at the parking lot it was getting filled up with both fishermen and beach goers, so we decided to head off to Allen's Neck before that got crazy too.  But not before I took a photo of the Chickory.  I know it's just a weed to most folks, but I so love their blue color.
Full disclosure here.....the next couple of photos were not from yesterday's trip, but were from a trip we made to this area back on July 20th.  Since I never did a blog for that trip I thought I would include a couple of the photos this Common Eider with ducklings.  There were actually 7 ducklings (3 are hiding on the back side of the rock) when we got to Gooseberry Neck on that trip.
And while we still had Black Scoters hanging around off the causeway near the big rock, there were so many bicyclists, pedestrians and cars, that I couldn't stop for a photo.
So I'm including these shots from the July trip as well.
Our walk out at Allen's Neck was a good one.  The tides were very high, so we didn't get good looks at any shorebirds, but we did have big numbers of both Snowy and Great Egrets sitting up in trees at the far side of the pond.  We also came across this pair of mating Blue Crabs right at the tidal inlet under the road.  We had hoped to find Seaside Dragonlets (a coastal specialty) but didn't see any.  We did, however, have a few Wandering Gliders working the fields of the sanctuary....unfortunately no photos were gotten.
We drove back up Rt. 88 to check the big marshes before heading off to Acoaxet.  The traffic was totally non-stop heading south to Horseneck Beach so we didn't really pull off at either the marsh nor the boat launch just south of the bridge.  We cut up Drift Road and headed through some back roads to Acoaxet.

Now for those of you who've read my blog, you know I'm totally fascinated by the big fork in the road just after you enter Acoaxet.  And I've posted pictures of the metal fork next to the road sign at least twice before (despite Mark's protests.)  Well when we were down here on our last trip (July 20th) there was obviously an event happening nearby and somebody had added a meatball with spaghetti to the fork!  I can only assume this was done with the artist's permission, since clearly the meatball was made of a suitable material to adorn the fork.  Alas, when we passed the fork yesterday, there was no food of any kind.  
We made our usual stop to check on the status of Zabulon's Skipper and sure enough we found one butterfly moving around in the exact same bushes where we've found him every year for the last six years.
Usually we see this guy in August and early September, but we also had one flying in June this year.
We made followed our usual route down Brayton Point Road and found that the huge old redone house that we both would love to own is for sale.  How exciting.....I wonder if we could afford it...hahahaha! Unfortunately the asking price is just over $2.8 MILLION.....which is just a wee bit outside of our budget.  Oh well maybe in my next life.

After checking for butterflies and odenates in the fields (had a Black Saddlebag and Common Green Darner (no photos), we did a quick check of Richmond Pond but didn't see any shorebirds.  We then decided it was time to start thinking about heading home since there were people everywhere.  When we made our last stop at the herring run in Acoaxet, I took this distant photo of the crowds on Horseneck Beach.  There's no way I want to be in their traffic at the end of a beautiful summer Sunday at the beach.
We did have a pair of Green Herons flying back and forth along the inlet and over to Cockeast Pond.  Since there were lots of fish running, they couldn't resist the area, even with all the boaters and Mark & I standing there with our scope.
This Great Egret was wary of us, but she never flew off and we got quite close poking around in the marsh grass looking for odenates.
We had a number of Big Bluets again...we first had them back in July when we were here.
And we finally found a female Seaside Dragonlet!  These guys are relatively small for a dragonfly and the male is pretty dark.  But the female is brightly patterned and reminds us of the coloration on a tiger with all that orange and black.  Just stunning!
Since it was almost noon we decided we really did need to leave so that we could beat the traffic, so we cut over through RI (getting an in-depth look at south New Bedford along the way) and we missed all the heavy traffic and were back in Worcester before 2 having had a great day birding in a beautiful area.


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Sterling Peat, Lancaster & Wachusett

Now that my crazy July is behind me I'm going to do a bunch of blogs to catch up on trips we've made the last two months.  What follows is a series of photos from Wachusett Reservoir, Sterling Peat and Lancaster all within the last few weeks.  Hope you enjoy the tour!

You can't seem to stop anywhere at Wachusett these days without finding a Common Loon.  I think it's a bit too early to see migrants, but there are an awful lot of adult birds on the reservoir.  Each time we do a morning trip we usually find 5 to 7 adults and sometimes more.  BTW, the adult and young bird at Gate 17 (South Bay) continue and the young bird is growing larger every time we stop by.
Walking out Gate 37 is a new piece we've added several times a week....
 ...mostly to check on the breeding Eastern Meadowlarks.
And they seem to be doing fine.  As of this past Monday, they've mowed all the grass, but the birds are still hanging around.
We've also had Blue-fronted Dancers along the wide pathway just by the end of the forest edge.
Up on the dike at Gate 39 we finally saw our first immature Bald Eagle this past Monday....I was beginning to wonder since we hadn't seen an adult for months.
One of the joys for me was trying to photograph Chimney Swifts.   They seem to favor the dikes at Gate 36 and 39, flying with the swallows and some coming quite low in search of food.
Since you never get to see these birds sit still, I always feel great about getting a clear shot of them on the wing.
There's also been a nice show of  Butter-and-eggs at Gate 39.  This interesting member of the Snapdragon family has a orange path on the lower lip that leads to nectar and is call a "honey guide" for insects.
Mark continues to hike out to Scar Hill Bluffs on the east side of the reservoir and I usually poke around the cemetery after I park out on the road.  There were a family of crows under the pines and this crow allowed me to add to my "photos of birds of gravestones" collection.
One of the more interesting sights we've had on two different trips was a swarm of Eastern Cicada Killers.
I have to admit I normally don't like to get to close to bees, wasps, hornets and the like so when I saw this one VERY LARGE wasp I was a little reluctant to get too close.  But I did want a photo since it was quite unusual looking.  Suddenly I heard buzzing over the my should and turned around to see 25-30 of these digger wasps moving over a grassy knoll among the gravestones.  So I decided I'd wait for Mark to finish his hike and we could do this together.
It was Mark who immediately identified it as a Cicada Killer and when we researched it back at home we found that colonies of these solitary wasps can number over 100 and they dig their nest hole up to four feet deep.  I certainly hope that the cemetery workers don't have any graves to dig in this particular area!
At Gate 17 the Familiar Bluets were still flying -- always cheery
 A quick run out to check water levels at Bolton Flats, allowed us to check on the land clearing that's been done at that small conversation area at the end of Pine Hill Road in Lancaster.  We did have one Vesper Sparrow and it appears that Kestrels bred successfully there.  Field Sparrows seems to be doing quite well and we watched this parent still feeding a young bird who seemed perfectly capable of feeding itself.
We also found a Streaked Tussock Moth, but couldn't tell whether it was dead or alive.  We did move it off the road just in case.
And in the open area we had a few butterflies....including this Viceroy
and this Eastern Comma.
We had received a call from fellow birder Bart Kamp that there was a Glossy Ibis out at Sterling Peat, so we decided to check and see if it was still there the next day....and it was.  It's always nice to see such a typical coastal species so far inland.  We watched it feed for a while at the far end of the marsh and then it flew up into the big dead tree where you often see herons roosting and preened for a few minutes and then tucked his bill over his back and promptly went to sleep.
There were some shorebirds starting to build (oh, no it's fall migration)!  We had several Solitary and Least Sandpipers, along with Spotted and Killdeer...the latter two are likely breeders.  We also had a good number of Green Heron fishing in the dwindling pools.  And I saw my first Halloween Pennant of the season.  These are one of my favorite late summer dragonflies.
And for the second time this summer, I've managed to find a Primrose Moth sleeping in Evening Primrose.  Obviously with a close photo of the flower you can see the moth pretty clearly, but it's amazing how they look like a reddish part of the flower from further away.  You can see that in this photo of the flower stem just underneath and to the left of the yellow Evening Primrose.
Here's a side view so you can get a good sense of what the moth actually looks like as well.
So even when things start to quiet down a bit during summer, there's always plenty to see...and all so close to us in Central MA.