Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Early Spring in Worcester County....finally

During the past week we spent several mornings and full days out and about fairly close to home.  The farthest we ventured was to south Quabbin on the 10th.  We visited the Brookfields and the "Boro" ponds several times to check on waterfowl, ventured out to Delaney WMA when it was raining on one of our trips to Bolton Flats and Oxbow and walked into Gate 41 and the power lines at Gate 39 at the end of Dugway Road in Petersham.  Probably our best day, though, was yesterday in Wells State Park and poking around Warren and the Brookfields again.  Highlights for me included a number of "firsts" for the year:
  • miniature horse foal in West Brookfield
  • Mourning Cloak butterfly in Petersham
  • Palm Warbler and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher at Wells SP
  • Spotted Turtles at Wells
  • Banded Watersnake in North Brookfield
My big disappointment -- no dragonflies yet!  But it's still early....I didn't get my first photo of a dragonfly until 4/28 last year.  Of course I would like to beat that early date if at all possible.

So here are a range of photos that should give you a good sense of what we've been up to this past week.  And let's start with the totally adorable first.
Every year for the past 9 or 10 years I look forward to stopping by Sawmill River Farm in West Brookfield and see the miniature horses, especially early in spring when they foal.  This is the first foal I've seen this year, but a visit to their FB page tells me they are expecting 8 foals this spring...can't wait.
Best moment on a class trip several years ago was stopping by the farm just as a mare decided to give birth.  We all stood there in silence while she delivered a new foal.  Would so love to repeat that experience.
We stopped Quaboag Lake a few times this past week to check on migrating waterfowl...
On one of the trip we had several Common Loons...probably starting to head back north to breed.
And while we haven't seen an adult Bald Eagle at Quaboag yet, just this past weekend we had this very young bird hanging around Lake Wickabog.  From the amount of while on the bird when it flew in, I would guess it's a bird born last year.
There certainly are still Ring-necked Ducks around....
...we had this pair on a little marshy pond where Brickyard Road branches off East Brookfield Rd.
On our trip to the east, we found our first inland Osprey at Suasco, along with a good number of Mute Swans.
And the Great Blue Heron and Double-crested Cormorant colonies seemed to be in full swing on the pine island in the Sudbury Reservoir right on Rt. 9.  We find the best place to set up a scope and view the birds coming and going is along Winter Street.  As you can see from the photo though, you're still quite far away.
We also had a few Ring-necked Duck in the reservoir but even more at Bartlett Pond in Northborough.
On our trip out to South Quabbin we found the Ravens nesting again at the spillway..
...where we had our first Rough-winged Swallows of the year.
And, of course, the ever-present Eastern Phoebe....they seem to have come back all at once over the past 2 weeks.  You can hear their little chip note almost everywhere you go.  I have 2 friends who have them nesting on their front porches already....one in Petersham and one in Belchertown.

There didn't seem to be much in the way of waterfowl on Quabbin though.  I poked around the woods while Mark walked down to overlook the water at Hank's Meadow.  We did have several Turkey Vultures flying low over the area though.
And there was a Red-tailed Hawk who flew up into a tree and did not want to leave the area.  He must have seen something in the grass and was going to wait it out.  So I took a couple of shots and then we left him to hopefully catch a meal.
At the marsh on Rt. 9 between the eastern and middle entrance to Quabbin we had several pairs of Hooded Mergs.  They've erected some new duck boxes so it will be interesting to see if the Hoodies take over one of the boxes.
Probably our most unusual sighting of this trip was to find a Pied-billed Grebe sitting on a little mud island in the marsh.
This is the first time I've ever seen one out of the water.  Remember, unlike ducks, loons and grebes are not built to walk on land....their legs are too far back on their bodies.
We watched him for a while and he certainly seemed okay, but really strange to see him sit up and flap his wings before settling back down on the mudflat.
On our trip to Petersham on Saturday we had a nice American Kestral hunting the farm fields along Maple Lane off East Street.  This looks like such a good area for them to nest, but I've never seen any Kestral boxes erected in the area.
At the marsh at the back of the East Street Cemetery we had several Tree Swallows checking out the natural nesting cavities in several tree stumps.
Finally we came across a group of Hermit Thrushes on the road down to Gate 37.  They were being pretty quiet but definitely came out when we whistled a screech owl call.
And at the power lines we had several Chipping Sparrows.  It seems like the Chipping Sparrows all came in together.  Since we had them in a number of places...
...and we had our first singing Field Sparrow at the power lines as well.  And we found both species at the power lines at Gate 39 at the end of Dugway Road too.
We finally had our first Mourning Cloak butterflies along Dugway Road too.  Some of them looked to be in pretty rough shape after sleeping under the leaf litter this past winter.  But as we walked into Gate 41 we found a tree that a beaver had started chewing and the sap was running....
Sure enough we had a beautiful Mourning Cloak there, obviously attracted to the running sap.
We watched him for a while and noticed a lot of bees coming into the sap as well.  I haven't identified this little guy yet, but he certainly seemed to be enjoying the early spring feast.  This is a good thing since there aren't a lot of flowers blooming yet.  We did have Green-winged Teal, Wood Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks and Common Mergansers in Gate 41 as well.
As we headed back to Worcester we took a side trip to check out the wet area in Glen Valley cemetery in Barre.  Again, hoping for a dragonfly.  We didn't have one, but did have a Wood Frog and a fresh batch of frogs eggs.  Since this was this past Saturday, they've probably hatched already.
On Sunday we headed out to check Wachusett Reservoir again and Bolton Flats and Oxbow.  But who could drive by the manatee family in West Boylston dressed for Easter?   I really like the way they made the baby manatee look like a marshmallow peep!
Bolton Flats was still under water so we didn't walk in, but at the entrance by the red barn on Rt. 110 we found this unusual nest in a bush.  Mark did some research when we got home, and it appears to be the home of a White-footed Mouse.  It seems they often take over old bird's nest and top them off.  First I've ever seen.  However, that probably just one of the places we picked up the dreaded Black-legged Ticks! 
At the reservoir we had a flock of Double-crested Cormorants....probably a migrating flock.  
And walking out Scar Hill bluff Mark found an adult White-winged Scoter.  I stayed behind in the cemetery and photographed the Chipping Sparrows which had arrived in the last two days.  We had showers on and off for the rest of the morning and finally decided to give up and head home.
On Monday we decided to get our early since it was predicted to get very windy in the afternoon.  And we really wanted to put a big push on for early butterflies and dragonflies.  In Warren we found two Great Egrets hanging out with some Great Blue Herons in the marsh along Brook Road.  While the photo below is pretty bad, it's at least documentation of this spring record.
We spent most of our time walking in to the power lines in Wells State Park though.  After we found an Osprey in Warren, we figured the one nesting in Sturbridge was back as well...it was.  We had a pair of Belt Kingfishers in the trees along the marshy area under the power lines.  At least we thought they were a pair until another bird appeared and the female flew off with him.
We did have a pair of Mallards though.
And all along the trail we had Ruby-crowned Kinglets calling.
While we've heard Pine Warblers for several days back on territory, this was the first one I was able to photograph and it was a female picking up spiderwebs for her nest.
Also, our first Palm Warblers were along this same trail....and we had quite a few moving through.  It was like a mini warble wave.  We also had 3-4 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers back on territory as well.
While we were looking for butterflies and odes near the parking area, I spotted this colorful moth.  Turns out it's an early spring moth called "The Infant".  Had never seen one before...but then I've just started paying attention to moths.
Wells SP also had lots of Painted Turtles out on logs sunning themselves.
But the big surprise was finding 5 Spotted Turtles there as well.
And much to Mark's joy we got two snake sightings driving home through the Brookfields.  We had a Ribbon Snake that moved quickly across the road and into the brush and this sluggish Banded Watersnake.  We would certainly have run this one over if we didn't stop.  And while he/she just sat there as soon as Mark picked him up, he became quite feisty.  Not only did he give Mark a good bite, he exuded that horribly smelly substance all over him.  In fact I threatened to make Mark walk home the smell was that bad.
Of course Mark was in 7th heaven...his first snake save of the year!

What a great day...and the days leading up to it were fun as well.  Oh I forgot, we had two different Louisiana Waterthrush yesterday as well.  Just because I didn't photograph them doesn't me I shouldn't mention them!

Now if only the odenates would begin flying.....


Monday, April 7, 2014

Fairhaven: The Bad and the Good ~ Saturday April 5th

We traveled to Fairhaven this past Saturday to see how spring was progressing in southeastern MA.  This is always a fun area to bird...seeing what birds are at Fort Phoenix, checking out Angelica Rock for early breeding and visiting West Island (my favorite.)
We had a nice flock of Greater Scaup in the harbor south of Rt. 6 and we kept seeing small flocks throughout the morning....although it's clear that a lot of the birds we had just 2 weeks ago are starting to move back north.
From the hurricane barrier at Fort Phoenix you could see the harbor was busy as they are getting the ferries ready for service from New Bedford to Martha's Vineyard and also to Cuttyhunk...
...and fishing boats were coming and going.
There were lots of flocks of Horned Grebes in the waters and we even had this Red-necked Grebe fairly close in.  If you enlarge the photo you can see he was starting to go into breeding plumage with the red starting to fill in on his neck.
We drove down Sconticut Neck we decided to stop and check for ducks in Little Bay and Nasketucket Bay.  At the end of Edgewater we had our first American Oystercatchers of the season.   We had a pair calling and doing a display flight right off the end of the boat ramp.
Our big surprise (and this was a good one) was a young Snowy Owl right in the bushes of the parking lot.  It was actually perched on a rock and as out car pulled into the parking area flew a few feet and just stared at us.  We shut off the car immediately.
There were two crows dive bombing him the entire time we were there, so we didn't dare get out of the car.
The owl flew off a bit (to get away from the crows)....
...and after a few more passes the crows quieted down and left the owl along.  Based on the dark pattern this bird is likely a juvenile born last year and is just now starting to head back to the arctic.
When we left the area (after about 15 minutes) the bird was still there but it's likely he would move off soon since this is a fairly area.  We continued down Sconticut Neck to our favorite overlook of Angelica Rock.  While we had 1 or 2 Great Cormorants, the Double-crested were back and it looked like some of them were already on the nest.  And while we didn't see any Great Egrets yet, it appeared as if some of the gulls had set up their nesting territories as well.
On to West Island and a chance to check on the Piping Plovers at West Island Beach.  These birds are early spring migrants; some coming back in March.  Sure enough when we parked and walked out to the beach you could see that Fish and Wildlife had already roped off their nesting area and there were signs posted.  They usually wait until the first pair appears before roping the area off since you don't know for sure if they will come back to the exact spot.  As many folks know, the Piping Plover is a federally-endangered bird and there have been some fairly public disagreements between people who want to keep the beach totally open and the law which requires they close off that part of the beach where the birds nest.  The area on West Island is pretty close to the dunes at the point so this roped off area helps protect the sensitive dune grasses as well.
Since it's pretty early in the season, there were only two others cars in the parking lot and we didn't see anyone when we walked out to the beach.  Unfortunately as I walked down the beach to get some photos (totally from the area far outside the patch which was roped off) 3 large dogs came tearing out of the dune grass and ran right through the nesting area headed for me.  Let's just say that the string of expletives that came out of my mouth could have been heard for quite a distance.  Sure enough there were two young women running their dogs (which there are signs when you enter the parking lot that tells you to keep your pets leashed and pick up after them.)  Needless to say the two women weren't paying attention to any of the signs posted.  I immediately headed back down the beach so that I could tell Mark and we could get back to the parking lot to try to get their license plate numbers and report them.
One of the women was already leaving the lot and didn't even make eye contact.  But I did get her license plate.
The other young woman wasn't too far behind and decided to give me a salute and then the finger as she drove off.
 But I also got her license plate.  I wanted to follow them but Mark wouldn't let me so I just hope if we send the pictures of their car and license to Fish and Wildlife they track them down and give them a ticket.  I have to admit that even as I write this (2 days later) I still get so angry.....I know the dogs can't read and don't know what they're doing is wrong, but their owners should know better....and I think they just don't care.  JERKS!!!
Anyway, we did do a bit more birding on West Island before we headed north.  We had an adult Northern Gannet flying around when we drove to the north part of the island.  It seemed unusual and I can't remember if we've ever had one from this location before.  These birds are usually pretty far out to sea at this time.
And we had another Oystercatcher.  This one seemed to be alone and I got a chance to snap some photos before he took off.  I'm always amazed by the color of their bill.

Instead of going right home we decided to head up to Rochester to check on the Purple Martins we had found when we did the breeding bird atlas work.  We had some nice looks at Tree Swallows, but I don't think the martins were back yet....at least we didn't have any.  We did, however, have a Peregrine Falcon come bombing through with a Killdeer in his talons.  In fact I think it was the Killdeer Mark had just counted less than 5 minutes earlier.

On the way home we checked on the Purple Martin colony and Rehoboth, but didn't see any birds there either.  We heard reports of them in Lakeville, so it should be any day now that they're back in both these locations.