Monday, February 2, 2009

Visiting the Southern Berkshires - Saturday 1/31

Heading out to the southern Berkshires in January has been a tradition for several years now. The weather is usually milder and it's often much less snowy than Worcester....but not this year! It was pretty obvious from both the snowpack and the fairly extensive frozen parts of the Housatonic that this winter was not a mild one for them. Nevertheless, searching for an over-wintering Black Vulture is always worth it. Going out the Pike to Lee/Stockbridge exit is only about 90 minutes, and then heading south to Sheffield is about another 30. We went straight to the area just south of Bartholemew's Cobble along Rannapo Rd. in Sheffield to look for Black Vultures. In winters past we've had 5-6 working on some cattle carcasses at the far edge of a nearby farm. This whole area is one of my favorites in the state. I really like all the farms that still exist and the meandering river surrounded by the Taconic range nearby. There are a lot of really special places in the Stockbridge-Great Barrington-Tyringham-Sheffield area. You should just go to google maps and take a satellite look at the'll see what I mean.
We came across Ravens in full display and while they weren't Black Vultures, it was still nice to see. It made me realize that we could actually enter a species in the Breeding Bird Atlas already! How weird is that for the last day of January?
We stopped by the actual Trustees center at Bart's Cobble to check out their feeding area. With all the Pine Siskins that have been appearing we thought for sure we'd get some at their extensive feeding station.
And we weren't disappointed. Notice the Chickadee peeking out from the top of the feeder. I definitely got the idea he wanted in, but these little siskins held their ground and never budged.
Like everywhere else we've been this winter, Robins were around. It's only when you see them picking around in the snow that you realize they've been getting good press for years around their image of being the harbingers of spring.
Of course driving the back roads in Sheffield is bound to produce something a little more exotic.
These guinea fowl definitely were enjoying the January sunshine and didn't approve of my stopping the car to photograph them.
We spent most of the morning playing hide-n-seek with a small group of Black Vultures in the tiny village of Ashley Falls right on the Ct. border. Every time we spotted a bird he/she would wheel around in the wind and disappear over the trees, around a corner or something.
We criss-crossed back and forth across Rt. 7 looking for vultures, but also checking out whatever open spots along the river we could find. Besides Canada Geese, we expected to find pockets of Mallards....but the large numbers of both species were missing.

We did find scattered Hooded Mergansers along the river as well.
And small numbers of Common Mergansers too. Notice the color of this male Merg's leg is noticeable in the clear waters of the river.
Our big surprise was finding a lone male Ring-necked Duck. Four species of duck for the day wasn't a bad haul at all.
And of course we did finally catch up with the elusive Black Vultures. In flight they are so different than the Turkey Vulture (which we didn't see) and their short tail is definitely a noticeable fieldmark, even if you don't see the silver patches at the ends of their wings (rather than the full light wing lining of the TV).
As a birder I'd be thrilled to have vultures perching on a tree in my backyard, but as an average person......I might be a little nervous. Imagine what it would be like to get up in the morning, go outside and come face-to-face with a group of these guys.
So even though it was definitely still winter in the southern Berks, the trip proved immensely satisfying and successful from a photography point of view -- I didn't have any good shots of Black Vultures until now.


1 comment:

  1. Lovely pictures! Isn't it funny to compare the perspective of a birder to that of the average person? I'm always cooing things to the cardinals in my boyfriend's backyard while I take their pictures, ("Aren't you gorgeous?!") and his roommates just raise their eyebrows and go on making breakfast. I love reading your blog and from your experience, learning where the good birding spots are :)