Friday, August 29, 2008

Haven't chased a "life" bird in a long time

I took a vacation day today and we got up VERY early and departed with two friends (Rebecca & Kevin) for the Cape @ 3:30 AM hoping to see the Broad-billed Hummingbird that has been coming to a feeder in Dennis for the last few weeks. When we arrived it was clear that others had the same idea since there were about 15-20 other birders already ensconced with views of the feeder. At 6:05 the bird put in the briefest of appearances (about 5 seconds) and many of us were lucky enough to catch an identifiable look through our binoculars before it disappeared off into the woods. Unfortunately, some folks didn't see it (sorry Rebecca) and when the crowd started to thin out about 7:30 some folks stayed behind hoping for a return appearance.

Needless to say, the bird didn't stay long enough for me to photograph it, but I did capture this newly-fledged Red-bellied Woodpecker sitting quietly in a nearby tree wondering what the heck we were all doing standing around his feeding area!

It was also nice to see young Baltimore Orioles coming and going to the feeders pretty regularly.
We then headed up the Cape to see if we would be lucky enough to catch any pelagic show from land. We made brief stops at Head of the Meadow, Race's Point and Herring Cove, with the best pelagics seen from Head of the Meadow....but they were quite far out. We did get these Semi-palmated Plovers running around at Herring Cove though.

Also, two Sanderlings were definitely combing every piece of open beach they could find, which was surprisingly alot. We kept remarking how empty the National Seashore seemed, especially for Labor Day Weekend.
We headed off the Cape by about 1 and noted how happy we were to be heading "off" as we noticed the traffic starting to back up at the bridge going on the Cape.
A long, but very pleasant day.....and a life bird to boot!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Nighthawk AND Shorebird watching at Worcester Airport

Okay, so we go to Rt. 56 again to watch nighthawks....which are flying around rather erratically. And Mark spots some shorebirds way down on the Mulberry St. end of the runway.

Sure enough there are 2 Upland Sandpipers working in and out of the grasses on the little spur....
I stood very still at the gate at the end of the runway and hoped that the birds would pop out of the grass and move onto the road leading to the gate....

And, hopefully, start to come closer

So even as I'm shooting through the fence I'm standing there hoping some shots will come out

And he or she starts to get even closer...
As the bird moves along the runway catching insects she seems oblivious to my standing at the gate. I think the fence and large metal posts somewhat hid me. Believe me, I don't think I've ever been that still in my whole life!

Even when she started to call...

The bird continued to get closer. At one point Mark said he couldn't see the bird because it was right in front of me!
Finally, one of the camera clicks was just too much and it called and flew back up the spur road and moved into the grass.

Needless to say, some of my shots came out....but that doesn't even come close to what it was like to see this bird up close and personal!

Looking Beyond Birds.....

One of the things that birding has done for me is to give me a greater appreciation of all the things I see when I'm out hiking around. Don't get me wrong, I still reach for my "bins" first and foremost, but when the birds aren't around there's still so much to see, identify and (for me) try to photograph. So here are some of the other natural gifts I truly enjoy. (BTW you can click on the pictures for a larger view)

Skippers can be really difficult for me to i.d. I'm not a butterfly expert by any stretch of the imagination, but this is one of the first ones I learned. You really don't forget the Silver-Spotted Skipper when you see's fairly large and that white patch is sure to catch you eye as it flits from plant to plant. Even just hanging out on cow vetch you can see colorfully patterned he is.

On the other hand, there's a whole group of butterflies that always make me get the book out....and some of them are quite distinctive! The satyrs seem to consistently confound me -- they're all gray or brown and have these spots underneath. This Northern Pearly-Eye at least was accomodating enough to sit and let me photograph her, then get the field guide out and confirm the identification. One thing I learned about this species is that they don't visit flowers.
This satyr (the Appalachian Brown) is somewhat uncommon, so we spent a ton of time checking the id and taking photos so we could be absolutely sure of the species (and I hope we're right.) I have this irrational fear that there are billions of butterfly experts out there just ready to pounce on me for my poor identification skills....that's part of why I've resisted posting butterfly shots until now. So even though it's tempting to go with the "safer" species and post the picture-perfect Monarch or Tiger Swallowtail, I decided to go with the more subtle ones.

And then there's the beautiful plant communities you come across. And they don't fly away while you try to ID them either! This Wood Lily was poking up through some wet grasses along a powerlines cut-through when we were atlasing in Quabbin. There were several of them, but the variation in colors from orange to this purplish one was striking.
It's really when I take a photo and go back and look at it that I'm amazed at the structure of the plant. I guess when I'm photographing it I'm thinking about whether or not it's in focus or backlit, and I don't really appreciate what I'm seeing. I sometimes worry about that -- does my photography interfere with my "pure" observation and enjoyment of nature?
Another group of butterflies that can be difficult for me are the anglewings. This Question Mark didn't provide too much opportunity to see under his wings to determine if the marking looked more like a question mark or a comma. The clincher was that tiny dash on the forewing (right above a spot) that separated it from other commas. Again, I'm amazed with the subtlety and patterning of nature.
One of the fun finds of this past weekend when birding in Rutland State Park was to come across a group of Obedient Plants (physostegia virginiana). When reading about them in the plant guide, it said that if you push the flower to either the left or the right it will stay there.....and it did! (Hence the name Obedient plant) Of course Mark made some wise-ass comment about the plant clearly not being named after me, but I have no idea what he was talking about.
Okay, so maybe this isn't one of the more subtle species of butterflies, but I wanted to share it because here in the northeast you often see the two variations of this species -- the Red-Spotted Purple and the While Admiral. And there are lots of variations. If you check your butterfly guide you'll probably conclude that this is actually an intergrade, but still looking more like a White Admiral. Any way you look at it, it's a handsome butterfly.

I know some of you (and Mark for sure) may be getting tired of looking at yet another shot of Lupines....but I can't really go on about the beauty of plant communities and not show a different shot of the lupine fields at Singing Brook Farm in Hawley. I really can't help but be in awe of these fields of flowers......only 3 basic colors (blue, white and pink) but the variations make it look like a veritable rainbow.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Nighthawk Watching at Rt. 56

One of the signs that summer is coming to a close is the annual nighthawk watching that we do at the Rt. 56 overlook of Worcester Airport. It's always interesting to see what else is around while you're waiting for the "big numbers" to start pushing south.
This pair of American Goldfinch nervously kept coming to a puddle Friday evening when we were there....after 2 days of sun and warm temps the puddle had evaporated and these guys were relegated to the fields with the bobolinks and green darners.

Two nights in a row this Mourning Dove came and perched on the same pole. Maybe it wasn't the same bird, but I like to think it was and that he just wanted his photo taken!

Finally the nighthawks start coming in from the northeast and we spend the rest of our time searching the skies for these acrobatic flyers.
I put trying to catch these guys against a totally blue sky in the "challenging" category to say the least.

Morning at Great Meadows

This morning we traveled east to Great Meadows, since there hadn't been many posts from anywhere, and we wanted to check the water levels. And, of course, see if the Common Moorhen was still hanging around.

We found a number of Great Blue Herons, Green Herons in all plumages and even a Great Egret which had obviously wandered inland from the coast.

The Marsh Wrens were still moving around in the cattails; although I didn't hear them do their classic call. This young bird was making a sharp chip and with a little coaxing moved into view so that I could get a number of shots off.

The water level was still high, and although we heard a few shorebirds overhead, it doesn't look like it will be a particularly good year for shorebirds anywhere inland.

However, one of the shorebirds that was around and still showing some good adult plumage was this obliging Spotted Sandpiper.

I'm always fascinated by their toes...and their ability to walk across a lily pad without causing a ripple.

Not to mention their incredible BALANCE!

Of course, the looks we got at the Moorhen that has been hanging around since late July made the trip worthwhile.

I do remember when they used to breed at Great Meadows (I know I'm dating myself) but after such a long absence, it's nice that they've been making an appearance over the last several years.

Of course, part of what makes photographing birds fun, frustrating and always bringing you back is the "missed shot". Today mine was the Least Bittern that flew 6' in front of us TWICE! I haven't been working with a digital camera long enough to make taking the shot second nature....or maybe I'm still so much of a birder that I automatically raise my binoculars instead of my camera.

All in all, a wonderful morning at Great Meadows!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Finally....a summer weekend

After one of the coolest, rainest Augusts I can remember, this weekend was beautiful. A perfect match-up of blue skies, white puffy clouds and warm temps. And some great birding to go along with the weather. Saturday we spent in the Blackstone Corridor -- a place we haven't been to as much lately, since we started the Breeding Bird Atlas project. It was great to see inland shorebirds, although the numbers were smaller, so were the crowds!

Seeing Great Egrets along the Providence River isn't really that unusual at this time of year, but I'm always fascinated to watch them climb in and around the rotting docks and pilings.

The Osprey numbers continue to increase along the river as well. It seemed every time one dove into the water after a fish, I was looking elsewhere though. There was something definitely running this weekend, and the Osprey were making the most of the fishing.

On the way back to Worcester we spent some time at Broad Meadow Brook attending the Barbara Walker Butterfly Festival in honor of our dear friend who past away earlier this year. There were tons of people, and it was a great way to celebrate her life and her passion for butterflies!

On Sunday we spent the morning poking around Tom Swamp in Petersham, and then worked our way north to Royalston -- not ususally a place we hit at this time of the year, but we were hoping for some of the wandering crossbills from further north (no luck).

Tom Swamp (aka Harvard Pond) from along Rt. 122 in Petersham.

One of the highlights along the back part of Tom Swamp was this Buckeye. Not the rarest of butterflies, but certainly a beautiful one. It made me remember a class trip to Moran WMA in Windsor where I saw my first Buckeye....with Barbara & Rick Walker.

......a perfect summer weekend in Central Mass!

Friday, August 15, 2008

More Photos

Okay, so Mark gave me some feedback about doing a better job identifying the who, what and where in my photos. So I thought I'd try another quick post and see if I can make this blog a little more interesting. The following 3 shots represent very different subjects....and it's a little like Sesame Street's "which one doesn't belong here".

This is a shot of one my favorite places in the Hawley area. It's a fabulous field of lupines that we see every year, only this year when we were atlasing we hit it at PEAK bloom. We ended up talking to the guy who owns the land and it was passed down in his family and they activiely cultivate the flowers. He said they had been written up in Yankee Magazine and people show up yearly to see the spectacle. Unfortunately, sometimes they think that the flowers are truly wild and pull out their buckets and shovels thinking they can dig them up and take them home to their gardens!

Since we live in the city, we don't have a huge yard and feeder area, so getting this male Baltimore Oriole feeding his young offspring right in the tree outside Mark's office was a total delight. They didn't stay long....just made a quick tour of the area and left.

And now for something completely different.......I still can't figure out why they went to all the trouble of creating this totally unique, bizarre- looking drive-thru ATM machine! It's located in the plaza right off the rotary on Rt. 2 west in Greenfield, and I have to admit......I'm fascinated by it! We watched the "tree" being constructured when we headed out Rt. 2 on various birding trips, and couldn't figure out what they were actually building. Then one day there was the ATM!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Starting Out

This is the 2nd time I've started this blog....the reason being I forgot the blog name and URL address the first time I tried this. How sad is that? Since I'm not sure if I'm really cut out for "blogging" I thought I'd start out slowly and share some photos I've taken while we've been out and about doing the Breeding Bird Atlas this year -- hope you enjoy them!

Taken at the Allen's Pond MAS in Westport, I just love the "punky haircut" on this bird. It was great to watch the Goldfinch work to get out one of the sunflower seeds out and attempt to get a hold of it in it's beak.

One of best places in Massachusetts to see Cliff Swallows is in Cheshire. We counted over 200 nests this season during our atlasing and got to watch them in all stages of development. This little guy still has a lot of the juvenile plumage.

Okay, I definitely have a soft spot in my birder's heart for hawks of all kinds....but watching 2 gawky young Cooper's Hawks fly up from the middle of the road (and I'm stretching the use of the word "fly") and then run from one part of the tree to the next and eventually land on a house roof and run all around was definitely worth the price of admission.

While out atlasing in the Brookfields we came across this Elderberry Longhorn beetle (Desmocerus palliatus) which is a very uncommon beetle. And it was on elderberry! Even though I'm not a huge fan of insects, I was totally impressed by this guy and very glad to get a number of good shots.

The lupines of Singing Brook Farm....I could have wasted an entire day photographing the fields there!