Thursday, December 31, 2009

CBC's No. 3 and 4 (Quabbin & Truro)

Christmas Bird Count #3 was Quabbin CBC the day after Christmas! There was some snow and possible icing predicted -- but neither seemed to happen. We had a fairly large team compared to some of the other Quabbin count sections. We had a team of 9 working just the inside part of our Dana sector and another team of 4 working outside. Just our sector had 50 species, with a good number of eagles and ducks since the water was open. The highlight for us was the adult Golden Eagle around 9 in the morning.The "inside" crew starting to assemble about 7:30 a.m. -- just before Kevin & Rebecca showed up.
We did very little "formal" owling due to the predicted bad weather, but Simon Hennin, Mark & I had this Barred Owl fly across the road right in front of us on the way to the Mt. Zion overlook.
The day was gray, but with the water open we had 6 species of ducks.....and a Common Loon.
This lonely-looking female Bufflehead finally found the flock of 9 female Common Goldeneye and hung out.
Chickadees seemed to be pretty common -- sometimes we have to work hard for a handful of them.
While not exciting to photograph, I was thrilled to see Snow Fleas (Hypogastrura nivicola). They aren't really fleas at all, but a type of Springtail and they're definitely a sign of spring or at least relatively mild winter days. They don't bite or do anything else nasty....but they hop around and convince optimists like me that this will be a short, mild winter! And they are even being studied for the protein they have that allows them to survive sub-zero temps. It's thought that they could provide insight into keeping organ transplants viable longer...and help ice cream from forming ice crystals.
Juncos seemed to be everywhere.
And we ended the day around 2 with another adult Bald Eagle perched on the island where it nested last year.
The snow started to fall, so we called Scott Surner and met up with him and Val's mom, Priscilla, to hand in our numbers and head back to Worcester. We had finished the "hump" CBC -- three down and two to go.

Our fourth CBC (and one of my favorites) is the Truro CBC which was held this past Tuesday (12/29). The weather was brutal! That was the really cold day and to call it windy would be too absurd. We headed down to the Cape on Monday so that we could try to see what birds we might hope to get the next day. Our thought was that if it was too windy on Tuesday, we could at least get some birds for the "count week" on Monday afternoon.
First thing in the morning, the wind hadn't become unbearable.....and to look at the ocean it didn't seem that bad. But with the numbers of Gannets that were flying right along the beach, we knew that the winds would prove challenging for us.

So before taking up a post to look for alcids, we stopped by the marsh at the base of High Head and taped out the Virginia Rail we heard the day before. There was only one bird this morning (2 the day before) but at least it went down on the count. We also had a Pied-billed Grebe in this marsh and lots of Blacks, Mallards and a good number of Hooded and a few Common Mergansers. I guess everyone wanted to be in the marsh rather than exposed on Pilgrim Lake!
Mark did most of the seabird counting -- tucked behind the little building at Head of the Meadow Beach. There were great numbers of Razorbills and LUA's (Large Unidentified Alcids) heading into the winds up towards Provincetown first thing in the morning. Plus we also had smaller numbers of Common Murres, a few Thick-billed Murres, Dovekies, Puffins and 1 Black Guillemot (that was the most unexpected.)
We talked to Chuck Caron who was a few miles down the beach at another overlook, and he was having the same spectacle. Also Simon Hennin on the bay side was getting good numbers of Razorbills and Gannets -- not something you usually see on the bay side. But it was windy!
Suddenly around 8:30 it was as if someone just turned off the spigot -- they weren't flying anymore.
The Gannets were still around; in fact a good number of them had formed a large feeding flock and we could watch them dive straight into the ocean for fish. But the alcids had moved off.
So we headed to the bikepath to try to do some land birding....but the wind was brutal.
I attempted to walk in from the north end of the path, but within less than 1/4 of a mile it became clear that the birds were not about to pop out for my spishing....
There were lots of Robins around, but even they seemed loathe to stay out for very long without seeking shelter.
And I know our numbers for Yellow-rumped Warblers were low based on previous years' counts.
This Iceland Gull flying over the whitecaps on Pilgrim Lake was a nice find....but the large flock of Greater Scaup we found the day before were gone.

So we headed off to find Chuck and finish up any sea-watching, but it soon became clear that the winds were so strong that we couldn't even get out of the cars....and we didn't want to stay at the overlooks much longer since our cars were actually being "sand-blasted"!
We called Simon and all met for a nice warm lunch, compiled numbers and then headed back to Worcester. Between the 4 of us we had 66 species in our little section from the Highland Links Golf Course up through Pilgrim Lake. Haven't heard yet how the whole count circle did.

And now we're down to the fifth (and last) CBC for this season -- Cape Ann. This count has already been postponed once due to weather and as it stands now, it's unclear as to whether or not we'll make it up to do our section of Gloucester on Sunday....stay tuned!


Sunday, December 27, 2009

CBC's -- 2 down, 3 to go

On Monday, 12/14 we did our first Christmas Bird Count of the 2009 CBC season. Now I admit to having mixed feelings about CBC's -- on the plus side, it's fun to see what birds hung around, the weather can be great (it's always good to be out in great winter weather) and the compilation can be such fun as people always have their little surprises of what they found -- and it's just good to see some folks you only see occasionally. However, on the less-than-positive side -- the weather can be horrible, doing a CBC makes a busy holiday season seem busier and Mark's tension level rises through the roof (especially when the weather's involved!). So we have been talking about "cutting back" but for this year we're still doing our five usual counts. Here are some of the highlights of the Sturbridge CBC (12/14).......
Turkeys seemed a bit hard to come by.
First time we had Mute Swans in our section (the Brookfields)
Wondering about this late Great Blue Heron's foot....seemed to be having problems.
A female Hooded Merg in a sliver of open water near the southern edge of our territory.
Robins were everywhere...
And the big surprise of the White-winged Dove in Sturbridge (which is still around as of 12/30)
The gang at the compilation at Bill & Nancy's store -- The Bird Store and More -- in Sturbridge.
Just over 30 people turned up 79 species (with 5 additional "count week" sightings). A great showing!

On Saturday (12/19) the Worcester count was held and John Liller reported that 20 birders (plus 3 feeder watchers) reported 76 species. Mark & I do a section covering part of Wachusett Reservoir plus some great areas in Boylston.
A very hungry River Otter kept us entertained for about 15 minutes popping up and down through breaks in the ice.
At the Boylston Town Office complex, a territorial Mockingbird was chasing everyone in sight of
"his" berry bushes.
On the border with Northboro, we found a Carolina Wren....
and a lingering Catbird using the same thickets along a brook.
House Finches seemed a little scarce this year, so I thought this female at least deserved to have her picture taken.......
But, chickadees were everywhere (new high count total of over 1300!)
And Tufted Titmouse put in a good showing as well.
But I couldn't ID this lonely duck on the entrance sign at an elementary school in Boylston.
Robins near the high school on Rt. 70....
where a Red-bellied Woodpecker was acting more like a flicker.
We ended the day with some great views of this soaring adult Bald Eagle as we stopped by South Bay to do a final check of ducks and gulls before heading to the compilation at Broad Meadow Brook.


Chaffinch in a private home

I hate to post about birds that aren't totally accessible to the public, but the Chaffinch which has been hanging around since early December made it through the recent storms and onto the Boston Christmas Bird Count! I'm sure the information will now become more public -- although you still need to be invited inside a private home to view the bird. Even though I still don't feel comfortable giving a specific location, I did want to share some of the photos I was lucky enough to get of the bird.

The Chaffinch (Fringillidae coelebs) is a fairly common bird throughout Europe. There have been other records of this bird in Massachusetts -- although many of them are dismissed as released caged birds. Since this was a young bird showing a lot of feather wear, it's quite possible that this is an "authentic" bird. While not highly migratory (in the milder climates) these birds are known to form loose flocks and leave the colder regions, with some straying to eastern No. America. We may never know........Hopefully this bird -- or another like him -- will appear in a more accessible, public area so that more birders get the chance to see him.


Monday, December 7, 2009

Back to the Blackstone -- Saturday & Sunday, 12/5-6

In that wonderfully quiet time between the end of the atlas season and the chaos of Christmas counts, it's always fun to visit "old friends" -- like the Blackstone Corridor. For several years Mark & I have surveyed the area from Worcester to Providence in an attempt to fill in lots of blanks regarding the birds in this area. One of the things I really like about this is it allows us to freely cross state boundaries without any real concern for our "Massachusetts" list (or our Rhode Island list for that matter.)So on Saturday before any chance of snow could threaten us we decided to go to the Turner Reservoir on the border of Seekonk, MA and East Providence, RI and look for the almost-annual Tufted Duck. It was a gray, drizzly morning and when we arrived at the southern end of the reservoir it became clear that the large scaup flock was really off in the distance. We spotted the Tufted Duck through the scope and watched the entire flock move from RI into MA -- on the eastern side of the reservoir.
We decided to see if we could get the same bird in both states, so we drove around to the eastern side. We traveled south on Arcade Avenue (about 1/4 mile from the junction with Rt. 152 (Newman Avenue) and re-found the male Tufted Duck among the flock of scaup. In the gray morning light you were really able to pick the bird out simply by it's black back and very white sides.
If you click to enlarge the photos, you can see the actual tuft....although it's not as long as I've seen in some other ducks.
Always on the lookout for "lawn trinkets" Mark pointed out the caged demons at the edge of the driveway of the house right across from where we were standing. Don't you just wonder how some people decide what's the exact touch to add to their property to say "this is who we are"?
Since we wanted to get back to Worcester relatively early, we decided to drive up Rt. 1 (Newport Avenue) and check the Cumberland reservoirs out on the way home. After a quick drive through Slater Park in Pawtucket we continued on Newport Ave. and passed a number of office buildings -- it was the headquarters of Hasbro. Now we've passed some of their other facilities near the bike path along the Ten Mile River, but this was their headquarters.

And the reserved parking in their main lot was great. Each spot had an individual reserved sign with one of the colors and one of the pieces from Monopoly!
After driving around the empty lot to find the various pieces we each liked best, it was topped off by Mr. Potato-head near the front door of the building. I know the toy biz is a high-stress work environment, but come on, wouldn't you smile if this is what greeted you everyday you went to work?
After a quick stop at the almost-devoid-of-birds Cumberland Reservoirs, we returned to Worcester to wait for the inevitable white stuff to arrive. When we got home, it was a real disappointment to learn that someone had spotted 6 White Pelicans in the Seekonk River, which is about 5 miles from where we were looking at the Tufted Duck!

And so on Sunday morning when we got up, it wasn't really a surprise to find ourselves in a "winter wonderland" -- although I have to say that Mark has definitely been choosing other phrases which most aptly describe how he's come to feel about winter.
Since the roads were in good shape, we decided to head back down to Providence and check out the possibility -- remote as it was -- of finding the pelicans still in the area.

When we arrived at Swan Point Cemetery on the east side of Providence, we didn't have much at the various overlooks of the river.
The cemetery was filled with Robins, though, and the birds were definitely focused on the puddles created by the snow/rain.....
as well as the food which had been covered over by the wet snow.
While we had 2 screech owls in the cemetery who responded to our calls, the place was fairly quiet.....and there certainly weren't any pelicans in the area. And we did all the usual stops at the southern end of the corridor, including all the stops along both sides of the Seekonk and a trip to Bold Point. We even went down to Watchemocket Cove -- all in vain.
We did stop and check out H.P. Lovecraft's grave, since we had not really visited in the wintertime before.

With another relatively quiet birding day under our belts, we headed back to Worcester.