Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy Halloween

So anyone who knows us will know that Halloween is one of Mark's and my favorite holidays. We get on average between 300-400 trick-or-treaters every year! In fact the street in front of our house is usually jam-packed with cars & vans as parents "bus" their kids in. Plus our proximity to WPI adds that older nerd element. This all happens within a very tight 2-1/2 hour period. Now in addition to the usual snack-size Milkway or Skittles, we also give out weird little finger puppets for the younger kids, and something like glow-in-the-dark super bounce eyeballs for the older kids (and this sometimes includes the parents!) Anyway my point being that we love Halloween! So I thought I would share some of my more unusual photos just to celebrate the occasion......
While I've gotten lots of shots of puffballs before, a few weeks ago we came across this rather unusual conglomeration on a decayed tree trunk. Sort of looks like a brain.....
And then there were the mushrooms that oozed blood! Out near Tom Swamp in Petersham we discovered this group of mushrooms that looked like they had drops of blood oozing out of them as they started to decay....

And then of course there's the grave of H. P. Lovecraft in Swan Point Cemetary in Providence. H. P. Lovecraft is an author who wrote really weird fiction/science fiction in the early 1900's and is associated with names like "Cthulhu" and the Necronomicon. (I've included a link to a website where you can learn more about him and his works, if you want

So let me tell you about our experiences with his gravesite. When we first learned he was buried at Swan Point we set out to find WHERE. I found a picture of his family plot which was a large pillar with the family name PHILLIPS engraved (that's what the P. stands for -- Howard Phillps Lovecraft.) So whenever we were birding in Swan Point we would drive around and check out as many pillars as we could looking for the Phillips name. Finally about 5 years ago we found it! And we weren't disappointed. Although the grave itself is rather unremarkable the inscription (I Am Providence) let us know we were in the right place, along with the different "momentos" that people left. There were always weird coins or black roses or plastic get the idea. So of course we left one of our Halloween give-aways (it was a monster PEZ dispenser -- very cool)
And then there's the goth kids....if you go the week or so before Halloween you'll inevitably run into 2-3 teenagers (black clothes, black nail polish, etc.) wandering around Swan Point looking for H.P. Lovecraft's grave. So we usually stop and offer to show them where it is! Now realize that we do look like someone's grandparents (which we are) and we have all our birding gear in the car, so these kids are never quite sure....but Mark usually puts them at ease!
Now whenever we take a birding class to the Blackstone Corridor we usually end of doing various spots in Providence at the southern end and will end up at Swan Point Cemetary. So we have to take a tour and point out the grave. (BTW, we were then once just 2 days before Halloween and we were surprised to find the area around Lovecraft's grave to be surrounded by large spotlights on high poles with motion detectors! We could only assume that the cemetary wanted to be sure no one was doing any ritualistic Halloween sacrifices there.)
Anyway, as I was saying we usually take our birding class there. So 2 weeks ago we were finishing up a trip to the Blackstone IBA and stopped by Swan Point. When we got to Lovecraft's grave we found the usual things -- coins, flowers, a two-headed rubber dog. As we got up close to the grave there was a terrible smell (definitely like rotting meat)...and then we spotted this weird thing. If you enlarge the photo you'll see it's totally weird. In fact everyone on the trip thought it was disturbing and no one wanted to hang around long. But I stayed long enough to get a couple of shots and have no idea what we were looking at....some thought it was a dead animal that had been sacrificed and then sort of melted together and left as a "tribute". But no one really knows????

Anyway, have a Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It seems like it's been ages since I posted....and it has been. But this past weekend we drove out to the Bershire lakes to see if the waterfowl were starting to move through yet. We started in the north at the Chershire Reservoir, then moved on to Pontoosuc, then Onota Lake and finally Richmond Pond. We didn't have big numbers yet, but we did have some choice sightings including a late Great Egret, a Brant, a Red-throated Loon and even a late sulphur butterfly. While it was a beautiful day, it was amazing to see how much of the foliage was down around the Cheshire Res. And even though neither of us mentioned the 'S' word, it's just a matter of time til the top of Mt. Greylock is covered in snow....such a depressing thought!
We were definitely surprised by this late Great Egret at the south end of the Cheshire Reservoir

And among all the geese on Summer St. we found this Pied-billed Grebe darting off out of sight.

We didn't see too much on Pontoosuc so we headed to the causeway at the north end of Onota Lake
Here, along Dan Casey Memorial Causeway, we had a nice smattering of geese, mallards, blacks, green-wing teal and wood duck. Finally I have a decent shot of a Black Duck in flight so you can point out the light wing linings in class!

And, of course, there's always the photogenic male Wood Duck. I now have my lifetime supply of digital photos of Wood Duck....that is if my hard drive doesn't crash before I back up my photos.

This young female (?) was also zipping in and out of the geese hoping for a handout. Now I was tempted to give them an old donut, but the place was clearly posted "Do Not Feed the Waterfowl".
I have to admit I didn't complain when an elderly man pulled up and took out his bag of bread and very cautiously threw pieces out for the geese....that's why these opportunistic Wood Duck were hanging out.

By the time we got to the southern end of Onota Lake, the weather had warmed up wonderfully and you really got the October equivalent of "spring fever".

Sitting in the sun I could almost imagine that this was a warm March day.....

especially when I kept chasing Clouded Sulphurs around trying to photograph them. I must admit that today I winced when I heard the weather forecast talking about wet snowflakes in the Berkshires!

Even though we could have jumped on the Mass Pike to head back to Worcester, we decided to stretch out the day and take a more leisurely pace along Rt. 9 from Pittsfield back to Worcester. One of the highlights for me was to finally stop and take a shot of the Goshen Fire Department sign. It then became the center of a debate Mark and I had as to whether the sign was just an interesting depiction around what they do....or if it was more twisted than that. You decide!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Gooseberry Neck, Westport and environs

Last Saturday (10/11) we spent a gorgeous day in the Westport vicinity checking out late migration. We started around 8 a.m. with a leisurely walk out Gooseberry Neck and immediately noticed the numbers of jays and Yellow-rumped warblers making the most of this natural migration corridor. The bluejays, especially, were headed onto the mainland in large numbers and they only put down when there was a merlin in the area. Since they didn't stop long, it soon became obvious that I was NOT going to get any photos. So when you look at the following pictures, just try to IMAGINE that there are bluejays in the photo.... My inability to get any discernible shots of bluejays on Saturday soon became the (not-so-funny) joke of the day.
While the jays weren't cooperating, the yellow-rumps certainly were. We had huge numbers in just about every plumage, including this bird which seemed to still have some definite immature plumage still going on. (Check our Mark's Massbird post for the day if you want to see the actual numbers.)
Many of the birds just put up and posed for a minute or two but I definitely got my share of photos of fall yellow-rumped warblers.
One of the more exciting pictures for me was this one of the actual yellow rump! Even before shooting digital, I had never managed to get a good clean shot of the yellow rump, so I was very happy.
I thought we might get a good falcon migration, but the only falcons we had were a few merlin (harassing the jays) and a few Northern Harriers wafting just above the top of the bushes along the road.

While we did have a smattering of other warblers, the yellow-rumps so dominated the landscape that I found myself getting really excited about these Common Yellowthroats!

Along the way out we had good numbers of Monarchs and as it started to warm up we noticed a number of Ladies as well.
This American Lady was once of the more cooperative. And if you enlarge the photo you'll notice he has an injury on his body where some landbird tried to take a bite.
The Clouded Sulphurs also put on a show, especially in the fields at the Allen's Pond Mass Audubon sanctuary.
We were somewhat surprised that the marshes along the Westport River failed to produce any lingering Osprey. We did have one bird over in Acoxet, but I would have expected to see a few more birds still hanging around.
However, there were good numbers of Great Egrets still in the area....
One of the nicest surprises of the day was the "discovery" of a new Trustees' property along Drift Road -- Westport Town Farm. The rolling fields going down to the Westport River produced a nice representation of kinglets, sparrows, yellow-rumps and a few bluebirds.
The property was beautiful (as most Trustees of the Reservation properties are) and we were thrilled to find yet another great place to bird in Westport.
A truly wonderful fall day exploring this beautiful area with a perfect mixture of birds, butterflies and fall foliage. It was the sort of day when you get a blend of "spring fever" combined with melancholy! Don't ask me to explain it....but they are the days you really want to capture and hold onto.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Class Trip to Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge

We had a small, but enjoyable, class trip Saturday to the Great Meadows IBA. Actually we stayed mostly in the Concord section of Great Meadows hoping for fall migrants, especially landbirds and possibly an unusual goose. Most of the action was taking place along the dike. We had pipits flying overhead and a number of pine siskins as well. And sparrows...lots of sparrows.
There were good numbers of ducks, as well, but the only one who came close enough to pose for the camera was this Mallard.
Swamp Sparrows were, by far, the most numerous sparrow. And when I stayed behind and stood in one place long enough, I had several moving in and out of the reeds and grasses along the road.

This one was acting like a Least Bittern the way he was stradling the reeds....
Also poking in and out of the reeds were a number of Marsh Wren.
I watched this one bird play peek-a-boo, poping in and out along a 10-foot stretch of the reed bed.
Finally, she made an appearance long enough for me to snap a picture and confirm that it was a Marsh Wren and not a hoped-for Sedge Wren.
We also had good looks at Song Sparrow.....
and this Common Yellowthroat which I kept trying to make into an Orange-crowned until she finally put up into a tree.
The weather was beautiful, the birds were great and it was a well-spent morning.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Quabbin Field Trip

This past weekend we had a wonderful class trip to the Quabbin Reservoir and it reinforced for me why October is my favorite month...even though it does mark the beginning of that long slide into winter and cold weather. But I won't go there yet, since it's still October and I refuse to let this month slip away! This trip was special not only for the weather and fall foliage, but the hawks were definitely on the move, especially at the Enfield Lookout. We started the trip with a slight fog rising from the reservoir and while Mark took the class on a crisp hike across Winsor Dam, Dan Berard & I drove around to the other side to meet them with the cars. As we approached the dam, we surprised these two white-tailed deer out for a morning walk themselves.
While we waited for the group to catch up with us, we were treated with a fairly close Common Loon diving for his breakfast and chasing the fish up to the top of the water so that you could actually tell where the loon was by the activity of the fish just below the surface.
Now one of the oddest pictures I took was what I thought was one of the deer getting ready to spring out of the where she was browsing and bound across the road. When I got home I realized that what I was actually shooting was not a deer getting ready to spring into the nearby woods, but rather it was peeing! Now I know some of you think Mark & I are "weird" (and we are), but even I wouldn't spend time trying to get the perfect shot of a deer peeing. It's sorta like when the cats go to the litter box -- they just want to be left alone and they don't want you watching them!
The Spillway where the Raven's breed was running pretty fast for October...
and while the Common Ravens weren't anywhere in the vicinity, they were around.

The cove where they keep the DCR boats had that early fall look about it...
And while the pull-in at the Winsor Memorial was quiet, we did have a nice movement of Black-throated Green warblers up at the tower.
But the highlight of the morning (and it was a morning only trip) was the raptor show at the Enfield Lookout.
We had a number of Bald Eagles (both adults and immatures) putting up over Ram Hill.

And the Red-tailed Hawks were definitely taking advantage of some great weather to migrate.
Now hawk-watching is NOT Mark's favorite birding activity, but the class certainly seemed to enjoy the time we spent at Enfield.
We also made a stop to check out the fringed gentian in the Quabbin area.....
and another quick stop, this time at the Rt. 9 marsh, produced this young Belted Kingfisher
We then moved on to the Fish Hatchery to check how many Killdeer were moving through.

Our numbers were up around 40, so it's clear that this location is very important to this shorebird before it heads out for milder winter climes.
Even so, this place is one of the best places for the potential over-wintering killdeer (especially in somewhat milder winters).
Like I said a wonderful early fall trip with a great showing of birds.....and birders!