Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Recent Trips to No. Berks - July 4th weekend

Finally the sun came out and Mark & I made a couple of trips to the northern Berkshires to finish our atlas blocks in Windsor, Cheshire and Adams. The "Cheshire Valley" is a totally magical place with wonderfully scenic views and lots of rolling farmland still left. We have 3 adjoining atlas blocks and depending on whether we want to start in the north block or south block determines the route we take to get there. Much of the time we head out Route 9 through the Connecticut Valley and head up to Windsor and start at the Eugene Moran WMA right on 8A. Alternatively we go out Route 2 and pick up 112 south to 116 just past Shelburne. Either way makes for a great birding trip.One of the features of this area is a fairly larger Turkey Vulture roost at a very nice dairy farm (in fact it's a Dairy of Distinction and we even saw a Cabot Cheese truck picking up quality milk). So remember the next time you buy VERMONT Cheddar Cheese it really might be MASS Cheddar Cheese! Anyway you can often see numbers of TV's sitting on the fence posts looking a little like cormorants drying their wings.
Recently we found a pair of Black Vultures (that's one on the rock right in the middle if you enlarge the photo) with the TV's.
A great place to get good looks at TVs.
Especially when they start to go up.
We also had two different Bald Eagles flying over -- this very young bird and an adult. Probably breeding in one of the not-too-distant lakes in Pittsfield.
And a great area for Raven as well. We had a very noisy family this past weekend when we were out there.
But one of the real raptor highlights was finding an active Kestral nest box. The male perched in a tree nearby and the female kept perching on the side of the box (like a tree swallow) feeding the young inside. Very cool to watch.
But it's not always all birds -- this area has some really special plants. While not particularly rare, I just love the colors of Deadly Nightshade (also called Bittersweet Nightshade). While it is toxic, it's not deadly....although I must admit I love the name.
At Moran WMA in Windsor there's one of tiniest orchids -- Slender Ladies Tresses. This plant can be often overlooked (and stepped on) when walking the major "road" up to the top of the hill so be on the lookout if your out there before the end of June usually.
I have to admit I'm partial to blue wildflowers, so whenever I come across Pointed Blue-eyed Grass I take a photo -- sorry.
But the butterflies aren't going to be outdone by the plants either. We had a fields with hundreds and hundreds of European Skippers. It had rained recently (surprise, surprise) and these little guys were everywhere when the sun came back out. They were particularly numerous on the Cow Vetch and clover.
Also this past weekend brought us our first fritillaries. We spend some time really working to get all the field marks nailed on the Great Fritillary.....
as compared to Atlantis Fritillary -- of which we had quite a number. (I just love being able to see the big eyes on this frit.)
You can really notice the dark borders on this Atlantis -- one of the differences from the Great Spangled or the Aphrodite (which we didn't see)
So after studying this guy from lots of different angles (including my leg) Mark & I proceeded to come up with our own, unique way of trying to "anchor" the field marks in our minds. This discussion, of course, led to our usual craziness around how differently we one point I think I accused Mark of trying to force his mnemonic into my head while I thought mine was better! Only time will tell whether either works (although I know mine will!)
It seemed that everything was just coming out of the breeding season....young cows, young birds.....
Or really alert parents out gathering food -- like this Song Sparrow
This Chestnut-sided was just foraging around.
And this Rose-breasted Grosbeak was really feeding only himself in the nearby apple tree.
But there were definitely parent birds everyone on patrol as soon as you spished.
And Ovenbirds were still doing some territorial song.
Along with hummers patrolling their territory.
Every male bird we came across (like this Indigo Bunting at Moran) just seemed perched up and on high alert. It really is a fun time to be birding if you want to see all the territorial defense going on.
And lots of food gathering going on as well. It was hard to tell whether this Purple Finch was gathering food for the family or just gorging himself.
Some birds (like this Cliff Swallow) was still on the nest, although she clearly was sitting there to protect her nestlings, since a few minutes later she flew off and returned several time to feed the hungry mouths popping out. Remember this area has some wonderful colonies of Cliff Swallows (we found a new one in our middle block), so you some can get great looks at these birds. One of the farms has a sign (which I need to photograph still) along a fairly busy road that says "Caution, Cows Crossing and Swallows Swooping!
And some birds are clearly out with their young trying to feed them and keep them from harm (or noisy birders) all at the same time. This male Common Yellowthroat was so fluttery, that I knew he must have a newly-fledged bird somewhere nearby.
and sure enough, this downy little fellow popped out to see what all the excitement was about.
Fledged Bobolinks were already out on their own foraging....
But Barn Swallows (perfectly able to fly) were still begging Mom & Dad for food.
We spent a couple of really wonderful days in our 3 blocks (and finished them....yeah!) and then meandered back to Worcester to start the workweek.

Of course along the way there are still things that catch you these potato people painted on a barn next to a potato field in Plainfield.
So the great thing about birding is knowing you can always do it again the following weekend!


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