Sunday, September 21, 2008

IBA Class Trip to Barre Falls Dam and Rutland State Park

A small group of us met at Barre Falls Dam at dawn for what we hoped would be a great first class trip to see fall warblers on the move and, hopefully, catch some hawk migration.It was only 32 degrees and even though we were greeted by a chorus of Towhees and one lingering Wood Thrush, we didn't have anything flying over so we weren't sure whether or not it would be a good day for migrant landbirds.
It was cheery to see that the Nodding Ladies Tresses were still blooming as we headed down the hill from the parking lot to the dam to check on the ravens that Deb and Dan Berard had seen earlier. Somehow having orchids in bloom when there's frost on the ground seems incongruous, but it was good that we stopped to check the flowers.......since that's when we came across our first wave of warblers!
And it was a good one! We had good numbers of Black-throated Green warblers....
But the greatest numbers of warblers passing over were Blackpolls. And of course they were all in their fall plumage. Some might call this plumage "drab", but I'm always amazed when I look at the subtlety of the colors and faint streaks.
Of course with all the warblers passing through you know you're going to get Sharpies looking for an easy meal....or sometimes just hassling "the locals". This Sharpie came bombing through the trees near some of the foundations along Prison Camp Road and made a quick turn when he saw me and landed long enough to catch his breath and let me get a few quick shots. We also had great views (no photos) of 2 Sharpies giving some Pileated Woodpeckers a hard time. The Bluejays, in turn, were letting the Sharpies know they weren't totally in control either.

As morning wore on some of the bird activity slowed down....actually it's just that the birds were no longer concentrated in those few sunny spots and started to feed throughout the entire park. Therefore, we spent some time looking at the other highlights at this time of year. And one of them is certainly the concentration of Closed Bottle Gentian that blooms right along the road near one of the beaver marshes. You would think that something this colorful would be easy to spot, but somehow it blends in with all the foliage and lots of people just pass by and don't even see it.
As we moved back up Coldbrook Road we picked up another wave of warblers and when we stopped this Mourning Cloak landed on my car. It then proceed to land on this remnant of web worm and sun itself. It stayed for so long that for a while we all thought it might be stuck. It wasn't and eventually flew off maybe looking for the perfect place to hibernate for the winter.

We continued to pick up different species of warblers and hit a small pocket of Magnolia Warblers and this somewhat cooperative Parula. I think we ended up with 13 or 14 warbler species for the day -- certainly a good inland movement!

We ended the morning back where we started -- at Barre Falls Dam -- looking for migrating hawks. However, since more than 4,000 Broadwings moved through this same spot on Thursday, we didn't have much in the way of Broadwings. While we had a couple of BW's and Sharpies, plus the local resident Red-tailed Hawks, we had to be content with these Savannah Sparrows who kept flying under the picnic tables and posing in the close ornamental trees.
Since it was a "morning only" trip we ended shortly before noon....a great early fall morning!

Monday, September 15, 2008

A quiet Sunday

Since it was raining when we got up Sunday morning, we decided to take our time before going out to check for birds in the we started with a hearty diner breakfast. Worcester has a lot of great diners (not like New Jersey, but still good) and this one behind Union Station never disappoints. The Kenmore Diner been around forever but has a new facelift since it was damaged in that horrible fire in a vacant building several years back that killed a number of firefighters.
After french toast and Greek omelettes we headed down to check out shorebirds in the RI section of the Blackstone Corridor...but the peregrin falcon at the reservior in No. Smithfield put an end to that quest. So we headed back to Worcester to see if anything was happening at Wachusett Res. Plus I needed to take some location shots for Mark's birding class. I'm always a sucker for the Old Stone Church right over the causeway in West Boylston.
The real highlight of the day (like I said it was a slow day) was this newly-hatched snapping turtle that we found trying to make it's way across two very large overgrown fields to some water. We couldn't actually see the water so we took him to a secluded marshy part of the reservoir near River Rd. and watched him make a beeline for the water. Now at least he has a chance if he can stay out of harm's way til he's a little bigger.
If he's lucky she/he will grow up to be as big as this female we found a few months ago when she was out looking for a place to lay her eggs!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Mystery Bug....Solved

Thanks to Gail Trenholm, the mystery is solved....we think. Mark directed Gail to my blog to help with the identification of my "mystery bug" and Gail believes it is a cranefly with MITES riding on its back! I went back and enlarged the photo and sure enough you can see the individual mites. If only all of life's questions could be solved by emailing Gail!!!!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Fall comes to the Berks

Today we headed out to Windsor to take some photos of the habitat around the Moran WMA, since we are planning a class trip there in a few weeks as part of Mark's class on IBA's (Important Bird Areas.) We certainly birded there earlier this year, but I think my camera was in the repair shop, so we didn't have any location shots....that's now solved. Even though we haven't hit the halfway mark in September yet, it certainly looked like an early fall morning when we got there, especially with so many of the swamp maples already turning great colors. But did that mean we would have a fall migration day?
And we weren't disappointed. There were numbers of warblers and vireos moving through all the areas in Windsor we birded....yet thrushes seemed oddly absent.
There were good numbers of Black-throated Greens, as well as Magnolia and Common Yellowthroat on the path up to the top of the hill at Moran. We even had 2 Connecticut Warblers skulking through the heavy brush on either side of the road. Elsewhere in Windsor we came across little pockets of migrants, including Parula, Tennessee, BT Blue, BT Green, Mags plus others I'm sure I'm forgetting. I know Mark will have put down a thorough list on MassBird so you can always check that out. One of the most numerous birds throughout the area was the Cedar Waxwing. We had more immature birds than adults, so it was hard to figure out if they were migrating or just family groups gathering around the various fruiting trees.
There were also numbers of vireos at almost every stop we made -- Red-eyes and Blue-headed were predominant, but we also had a number of Philadelphia Vireos and even a Warbling Vireo.

This empidonax flycatcher proved challenging for me to id -- it stayed far enough away or with his back to me or in bad light; hence I wasn't confidant calling it. There were both Yellow-bellied Flycatchers and "yellowish" Least Flycatchers in the area.....and no one was calling! So if anyone out there can confirm an ID from the photo let me know and I'll correct this post! On the other hand, I didn't have any trouble with the id of this Eastern-tailed Blue. She was totally cooperative and allowed me to get both upperwing and underwing photos (and this one which shows a little of both.)

However, this fellow is unidentified right now for me. I'm not normally enthralled with "bugs", but the color on this one was so striking, I wanted to see if I could get a shot and then come home and id it. Again, HELP from anyone would be greatly appreciated (like Gail up in Canada.) I've tried some preliminary on-line insect guides, but so far no luck.
It was a really nice morning out in the Windsor area, just hiking around amongst the New England asters, the goldenrod and the beginnings of fall foliage to come.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Staying Local

Not sure when we might see some precipitation from tropical storm Hanna, we decided to bird locally on Saturday. (I think Mark was also being considerate, although he may not admit it, since I have a pinched nerve in my neck and pulled muscles in my back.) Anyway we had a quiet trip to Rutland State Park, hoping that some warblers would be moving.

Things were pretty quiet and we had to work to coax some of the birds out of hiding. This immature House Wren was one of the more inquisitive birds we found along Prison Camp Road.

And driving through the park without a lot of people around can be enjoyable, and it gave me a chance to look for some of my favorite flowers -- Closed bottle gentian (Gentiana andrewsii), Cardinalflower (Lobelia cardinalis) and Nodding ladies'-tresses (Spiranthes cernua) a late-blooming member of the orchid family.

This morning we decided to head out and see if we could find any unusual birds which were "assisted" northward by Hanna. We started out at Worcester Airport where we found this American Golden Plover. Neither photo is "great" but it does provide appropriate documentation for an uncommon bird migrating through Worcester County. You can certainly see them in the Connecticut Valley in fall, but we don't often find post-breeding adults in the city of Worcester! And it's important to note that the Upland Sandpipers were still present, along with two Least Sandpipers and a good number of Killdeer. We also had a half dozen Kestral flying around the western end of the runway near Mulberry Street.
We then wandered out to Wachusett Res. and Bolton Flats. Nothing of note at the reservoir and Bolton Flats parking lot was under water -- looking more like a spring morning instead of a fall one. We did stop by the Clinton High School on the way home to check on the increasing numbers of Killdeer. Yesterday we had about 35 flying out of the 'A' field and landing on the school roof; today we only had about 15 birds. I wonder whether the rest of them headed out early after the storm or were simply up on the roof out of sight.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Birding over the Labor Day Weekend

One of the advantages of a long weekend is that you get to sample lots of different birding areas, including some local ones. It seems that with all the atlasing we've done this year, we haven't been able to get much surveying done in the Blackstone Corridor. So we spent Saturday staying somewhat close to home, especially since we wanted to continue surveying nighthawks from the Rt. 56 overlook in Leicester.

Sneech Pond in Cumberland was rather quiet in the morning with just the usual gang of Wood Ducks in both the main part of the pond and the little back pond down the road by the powerlines. There was also a very inquisitive young Mockingbird that was not about to leave his favorite berry bush no matter what! We spent the morning looking for low water ponds in the RI section of the Corridor, but it seems like the wet summer has been keeping all the ponds high.; therefore, very little in the way of shorebirds.

When we got to Rt. 56 we saw that the flying ants were starting to emerge from their ant hills and we thought for sure it would be a high count night.... But even though the ants were flying, we were disappointed with the show of nighthawks. I still can't figure out the right conditions under which these birds fly.
Sunday morning we decided to head out to Northfield and check the sod farms, hoping we would be lucky enough to get some Buff-breasted or Baird's Sandpipers. Alas, the sod fields were without shorebirds; I think this is going to be a very poor shorebird season inland. But the weedy fields nearby produced a variety of early migrants like this very alert Yellow Warbler....who appeared to be standing on tip-toes! Actually I think she/he is just getting ready to launch itself off the branch which is why it looks so wierd. We also had several Indigo Buntings and flocks of Bobolinks, all using the same weedy field right along the road.

A quick side trip to Turners Falls Airport produced nothing more than this lovely American Copper.
However, our real destination for Sunday was to explore Satan's Kingdom. People think we just make this stuff up, but if you check the Western Mass birding guide you will find complete directions in section C7. Northfield under "Hell's Kitchen and vicinity. It's a wonderful WMA with a series of ponds and wooded swamps....regularly hosting Olive-sided Flycatcher in spring and fall. And we weren't disappointed!

Now Satan's Kingdom may not sound like a party place to you, but since we've been going there (every couple of years or so) one of the highlights is to look and see how the party-goers are progressing with their beer cap tree. I'm not sure I have "documentation" of the progress, but one thing we noticed this time is that almost all of the bottle caps were Corona. Maybe we need to start calling it the Corona bottle cap tree!
One of the mystery signs we came across as we were heading along a back road in Northfield was this very stylized road sign. Mark and I have different theories about the sign -- I think it's about being cautious since there are birds crossing the main road and Mark thinks there are letters hidden in each sign and there's a mystery message. Anyone who can shed any light on this will be our hero. Until then, this photo will get filed along with the ATM "tree" in Greenfield as strange photos.
On the way home we made a quick stop to see how the hawk watchers were doing at Barre Falls Dam. Still early in the season so not much was flying....but we spent some time talking about the Mississippi Kites from NH which will surely pass this way!

Monday's birding got screwed up due to house painters who didn't show, but in the afternoon we went to Winchendon to survey a block that hasn't been atlased yet. Things were very quiet, but the Otter River WMA seems like a great area to bird. The highlight was a Black-billed Cuckoo flycatching along the river. On the way home we found several ponds with a variety of bladderwort we had never seen -- Purple Bladderwort (Utricularia purpurea). Bladderworts are carnivorous plants of bogs and shallow ponds and some of the areas along Rt. 140 in the Princeton/Sterling area seem to fit the habitat.

A very nice, quiet weekend to end the summer. Now it's time to get ready for fall migration, Mark's birding class and thinking about Christmas Counts...YIKES!