Monday, February 3, 2014

Different Directions on the First Weekend in February

We did two very different trips this weekend...trying to take advantage of some milder weather.  On Saturday (2/1) we headed down to the Cape to check out areas along either side of the canal.  The snow wasn't as bad as we expected, but it was unusual to see chunks of ice flowing through the canal.
Our first stop was Scusset Beach on the mainland side of the canal.  I don't think I've been to this place in 15 years or more.  We were hoping to find maybe an alcid at the entrance to the canal or a Snowy Owl in the parking lot...but neither was happening.
We had the usual flocks of Common Eider (but no King) and smaller flocks of Red-breasted Merganser and scoters.
This sleeping RB Merg floated quite close to us on the tide moving through the canal.  Many of the ducks, though, in the canal were hard to see because of the light.  It probably would have been better to be on the Cape side of the canal first thing.
It was a beautiful morning though and there was definitely a hint of spring walking as I walked along the beach.
The entire time we were out on the beach there was Coast Guard helicopter flying quite low like it was looking for something.  I hope it was just "rescue practice" and that there really wasn't anyone in trouble.
Back at the parking lot, Mark spotted a nice flock of Horned Larks, with a few Snow Buntings mixed in. We hoped to find something else, maybe a Lapland Longspur, but we were left with just the larks and buntings.  We also had a nice flock of Tree Sparrows working in the dune grasses.
Driving through the campground, we had several Northern Mockingbirds defending "their" patches of bittersweet.
The habitat driving along the road into the park and out to the beach is just one big tangle and looks perfect for over-wintering chat, catbird or possibly a Hermit Thrush.  We were disappointed to get none of them.
By far the most common land bird in the area was American Robin!  These guys seemed to be everywhere.
Passing over a small, open stream we spotted a Belted Kingfisher sitting on the power lines.  And the stream itself held a good number of Hooded Mergansers and some Gadwall.
After spending a good 2 hours beating the bush though we decided to cross over to the Cape and do the east end of the canal in hopes of finding something a little more exotic.
We had more flocks of eider and RB Mergs, along with a few scoters and some Dunlin perched out on the rocks of the jetty by the canal.
Finally we decided to head to the other end of the canal (near the railroad bridge) and see if we would have the large flocks of Common Eider that we've had in winters past.
While the flocks were definitely smaller than past years, we did have some nice close looks at both male and female Common Eider.
This is the time of year that these ducks are in their peak plumage, and I never get tired of photographing them, especially that subtle shade of green on the back of the head.
Back on the mainland we poked into a couple of stops near the Mass Maritime Academy and the park right at the base of the railroad bridge.  We spotted a Peregrine Falcon on top of the bridge and realized he had his choice of cuisine....pigeons, ducks, gulls.
We decided to check the Aqawam River in Wareham before jumping back on 495 and heading home.  We had a small flock of American Widgeon, along with numbers of Blacks, Mallards, Hoodies and the ever-present Mute Swans.
All in all a very nice morning's birding.  If I have to pick my favorite spot in this area, I would definitely go back to Scusset Beach and watch spring happen there.

* * * * * * * * 
On Sunday (2/2) we decided to stay in Worcester County....still hoping to find an Evening Grosbeak or some other unusual sighting in northern county.  As we headed out through Barre and Petersham we were greeted with a fairly dense morning fog.  We hadn't heard anything about fog on the weather report before we left, so we were hoping this wasn't going to be one of those when you say "should have gone to the Berkshires" or some other place.
Our first was actually a non-birding stop in Athol.  We're doing a presentation for the Athol Bird & Nature Club on Wednesday, the 12th, at the Millers River Environmental Center.  And we wanted to make sure we knew how to get there!  After driving by the building in downtown Athol we headed up Rt. 32 to see if there was anything at Tully Dam.

Besides a small group of hardy disc golfers, we did have a Common Raven appear out of the fog and put down on the rocks.  Since we know they breed in the nearby spillway, I wondered if they were getting ready to set up territory or were they just checking out the disc golfers.
After spending a minute or two, he took off back into the fog.....
We did have a Black Duck fly over which was somewhat exciting this far north in Worcester County in the dead of winter.  We headed on Doane Hill Road and found 2 more Black Ducks at the river crossing north of Tully Lake.  We've had Hooded Mergs in past years, but only the Blacks seemed to be hardy enough this day.
Now this next picture is hard to describe.  At the bridge at the river crossing we noticed large amounts of a plant underwater right under the bridge.  Realize at this point the river is flowing quite rapidly and the plant looked like long grasses underwater.  I have no idea what it is and WOULD APPRECIATE ANY HELP identifying this plant.
Unfortunately, this photograph doesn't do a very good job showing you just how mesmerizing these plants were.  Seriously, I could have stood there watching them move in the water for minutes...maybe longer.  This is really when I realize how fascinating nature is and what a poor job photography does trying to capture it...very humbling...

When we got to the town center of Royalston there was more land bird activity than we had seen thus far.  We had Robins feasting on much of fruiting trees near the common and we had two very busy Chickadees investigating every nook and cranny of the old Library building....

And we also had a pair of Tufted Titmice in the area doing their spring song.
We heard both Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers calling and had some Starlings working the fallen apples along with the Robins.  But that was it....not a winter finch to be seen or heard.  In fact we didn't even have a Red-breasted Nuthatch and we were certainly in prime habitat for them too.

We traveled north on Rt. 68 and drove out Falls Road, again hoping for Evening Grosbeak...but we had to settle for some nice fungi growing on a rotted tree trunk...
 and several nice specimens of Shag Bark Hickory.
Further along Rt. 68 we found some Ruffed Grouse tracks, but that was about it.  We took Rt. 32 right up to the New Hampshire border to check the Metacomet Trail head where we had summering Evening Grosbeaks...but again no luck.  Although it's always nice to walk around small Newton Cemetery and check out the tracks in the snow.
 The old gravestones looked particularly solemn against the snow.
On the way back to Royalston center we had a small group of chickadees, titmice and White-breasted Nuthatches checking out some fresh Pileated holes.  I thought this nuthatch an extremely long bill, until I got home and blew up the photo and saw that it was carrying a seed around in his bill.
We hoped we might find a Boreal Chickadee this far north, but I guess the report from Ontario late in the fall was correct....their prediction was for a very poor winter for any movement of northern species to the south.  We made a quick stop at Little Pond just before entering the town center and noted some shrubs with tiny pine cone-like fruit on them.  I think I've identified them correctly as Speckled Alder.  I'm sure I've seen these seeds many times and never bothered to pull out a tree book and id them.  It's amazing what you take the time to look at when there's not a lot going on.
I just keep telling myself "I don't care what Punxsutawney Phil says...February is a short month and spring is just around the corner."  Seriously, I want to see dragonflies again!

Til then....enjoy.....Sheila

1 comment:

  1. some fantastic pictures, and great narrative, too...thanks very much, one birder to another!