Sunday, July 12, 2009

Our Final Two Blockbusting Trips

Two very different trips ended our Breeding Bird Atlas blockbusting efforts for 2009. On Saturday, 7/11, ten of us traveled north to Lunenburg to finish the Ayer 2 block. Alan Marble, Dan Berard, Donna Schilling, Simon Hennin, Wendy Howes, Alan Howes, Marci Driscoll and Deb Berard joined Mark and me for the 4 hours required by each team to finish the block.While quite a bit of bird song had dropped off, we still managed to get a total of 74 species in the block (26 Possible, 5 Probable and 43 Confirmed). Both Wendy and Alan and Mark, Marci and I were lucky enough to have young-of-the-year Killdeer in this rather urban block. Ours was at the back of a new housing development (parts still unfinished, so lots of dirt mounds) and even though the bird looked pretty able to fend for itself, there was a parent bird nearby trying her hardest to distract us.
Finally with the sun out and the temps popping a bit, we were also treated to some butterflies, including this Silver-spotted Skipper, which was my first of the year.
Red-winged Blackbirds, including young one, were still in their nesting territory in the reeds along the western edge of Lake Shirley.
All in all a nice morning birding, but nothing tremendously surprising, except the lack of warblers. We only confirmed Chestnut-sided and Common Yellowthroat! There was so much development and fragmented woods, it's hard to believe it was just a bad day. And we did have 2 Green Herons, which was nice since they've seemed pretty scarce in so many of our other blocks.

On Sunday, 7/12, another group of us finished up the season's blockbusting covering two tiny, tiny mini-blocks in Bristol County. Our first stop of the morning was Gooseberry Neck in Westport (the formal block name is South of Westport-12). It took 8 of us only 2 hours to thoroughly cover this fragment of a block, and we had a bet going into it on how many species (other than Observed) would be added for this block. Our 2nd block of the morning was even smaller - South of Westport-09. This block (and I say that laughingly) consisted of about 1500 feet of road at the very end of Acoaxet right on the line with Rhode Island.
The crew joining Mark and me on both of these blockettes consisted of Kim Kastler and John Liller, Deb and Dan Berard (who have been with Mark and me on every single one of our block-busting trips so THANK YOU) and the newlyweds (recently returned from Costa Rica) Kevin and Rebecca Bourinot.
Most of the landbirds were pretty tame, including Robin and Brown-headed Cowbirds....
and lots of Catbirds. A couple of surprise landbirds included Black-billed Cuckcoo (thanks to John and Kim) and a Pine Siskin flyover (thanks to Mark's great hearing). On the siskin, though we did speak with a local woman who said they were still showing up at feeders??? In the Acoaxet speck the crew did have Mockingbird on the nest as well.
The surprise find of the morning (thanks to the Berards) were two separate groups of not-yet-fledged Common Eider. Luckily Deb caught Mark's and my attention before we headed off to our sector of the block and I was able to get a number of shots of the first group. Dan tells us the second group had even downier chicks in it.

At a distance you can spot the adult female just by size....
And when we got closer it was hard to get a good look at this young ones constantly bobbed up and down trying to feed.
There were two adult females with 5 young birds......and a sixth young eider was trying to catch up with the group and calling for mama all along the way.
I was able to move fairly close to the feeding birds and it was a fascinating study because the babies still seemed to have a forehead. It was almost like they hadn't fully grown into their bill shape yet.
One of the females was quite protective of the group and seemed to "herd" them together once she noticed me taking photos.
She did calm down once I kept walking, and since this stretch of the beach (fairly close to the boat ramp) gets a lot of traffic, I assume she has someplace among the rocks that she can retreat to once the people and dogs really start piling in.
Definitely the bird of the day -- since I know I've never had breeding Common Eider in Massachusetts!

In between doing these two mini-blocks we took a break from a great sit-down breakfast at the Bayside Restaurant -- that little place on Horseneck Road right across from Allen's Pond Sanctuary. We did a mini-compilation on the first block and ended up with 28 species (17 Confirmed, 2 Probable and 9 Possible.) Kim Kastler won the pool with the closest number of 25. The rest of us were in the low to mid-teens, so it proves that optimism pays off. Our total list for Gooseberry Neck included an additional 11 of Observed species, including two Wilson's Storm Petrels gotten off the point by Rebecca and Kevin and a Northern Gannet.

Our list for the Acoaxet parcel was a tad lower with 11 Confirmed, 4 Probable and 5 Possible (total atlas species of 20) and 7 Observed.

For Mark and me today formally ended our atlasing for the season. We've finished 9 blocks this year and with the help of some great friends "busted" an additional 7 blocks. I really think that block-busting has it's place in the atlas project. It's important to pick the right dates to do it so that you truly maximize the number of species you can confirm, since you won't being going back again to upgrade those Possibles. But then there's always next season!


1 comment:

  1. I go to Gooseberry often as it is close by. A month ago there were Piping Plover chicks there. However, I have not been there since that time.