Saturday, March 28, 2009

Last Class Trip to The Brookfields - 3/28/09

We had a perfect Saturday morning, tromping around the Brookfields and definitely feeling spring-like! The geese were flying high overhead and you knew they were headed north...since we had defending birds on a number of ponds. We spent time at Lake Quabog, where we had a number of Bald Eagles, including both adults and first-year birds. And then we headed to the WMA between Quabog and Quacumquasette. While we hoped to get woodcock in the trees along the edge of the cornfields, we had to settle for singing Fox Sparrow and lots of blackbirds setting up territories.
The Pussy willows were popping out....
and the Red-winged Blackbirds were chasing away anything that came near their favorite corner of the marshy edges of the field (and that included me).
We stopped at Coy's Brook in West Brookfield and were treated to a pair of Hooded Mergs just looking for the right hole in a nearby tree to set up house.
We even had our first Painted Turtles near Lake Wickabog. As the weather got warmed Mark started looking seriously for his first butterfly. He had heard from Tom Gagnon the day before that he had 16 individuals flying on Mt. Tom. So we were definitely patrolling for our first Mourning Cloaks.
At the north end of Lake Wickabog there was still a good-sized flock of Common Mergs.
While many of the other duck species were getting paired up, the Common Mergs definitely seemed to still be in their loose winter flocks. Although there was some definite displaying going on.
The real excitement came with finding a male Red-breasted Merganser with a female duck we could only conclude was some weird hybrid. Everyone spent quite a bit of time glued to their scopes trying to determine exactly what field marks we could see. Dan Berard's photo below shows the best shot of the black facial markings of the bird. If you have any ideas on this bird, please email Mark....since he's spent all afternoon pouring over field guides and online resource material trying to get a concrete answer.
Eventually we moved on to Elm Hill MAS (having made an oh-so-quick stop to see the new miniature horse babies). Still searching for butterflies, we had lots of singing Song Sparrows.
We had siskins everywhere we stopped, but none would come out for picture taking. I'm hoping that means they're starting to thinking about nesting, since we had both flocks and individual pairs. But the most common songbird in view continued to be the Song Sparrow.
We had some nice views of Red-tails definitely on territory. And we even had our first Ruffed Grouse drumming!
As we ended the morning at the north end of Lake Lashaway, Dan managed to get a quick view of a Mourning Cloak across the water, but I'm sad to say that Mark and I went home butterfly-less.

Oh well, it's just the beginning of spring and there's always next weekend!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Early Atlasing in Southbridge - 3/15/09

So when I say early atlasing, I mean both for the season and the time of day! On Sunday we decided to get out early and check two of our new blocks for the Breeding Bird Atlas for this year. Actually it's really only 1 block and a "sliver". That's what I call the partial blocks that border CT and RI on the south and NH on the northern part of Worcester County. We started before dawn in Southbridge 8 & 9 -- that's the actual names of the blocks from the Atlas project. I talked about the Breeding Bird Atlas (BBA2) project last year. It's a 5-year project and we're the Regional Coordinators for Worcester County....which is the largest county to be covered. We found a number of displaying American Woodcock in the sliver block, along with several pairs of Great Horned Owl "duetting"......but we ran out of dark by the time we got to a wonderful little marsh in the full block. This is quite a bit early for most breeding birds, but for the owls and some of the year-round birds (like House Sparrow, Starling and Rock Pigeon) now is a good time to be checking for breeding behavior.
Red-tailed Hawks are definitely on territory and many are doing aerial displays or sitting close to the other bird on the nest already. And that's exactly what this Red-tail was doing.
Some of the spring birds were migrating through....
...while others were still lingering from their winter incursion into our area. Although there's a good likelihood that some of the Pine Siskins who invaded this winter will stay to breed if they find suitable habitat.
One of the morning's highlights was finding a Pileated Woodpecker very close to downtown Southbridge! What was even better though was finding a pair!
Defending territory and definitely displaying to each other. I'm not sure what the safe dates are for this species, but this will certainly go down as a Probable for the block.
We spent about 4 hours in the block before heading up through Charlton to the Brookfields to check how spring was progressing there. We stopped at Lake Quabog hoping for an early Tree Swallow, but there was still quite a bit of ice on the pond and we had to settle for an adult Bald Eagle sitting on the nesting tree. And of course, there were numbers of Ring-billed Gulls looking for the expected handout.
There was a small part of the lake which had opened up, and we were treated to numbers of Common Mergs, along with the geese and gulls. I thought this size comparison of the female Common Merg was interesting.
By far there were more males than females and some of the birds appeared ready to head farther north.
One of the big surprises was a Horned Grebe on Quabog! We don't often get these birds in the spring, so it was a good record.
We headed around the southern tip of Quabog to Quacumquasit (aka South Pond) hoping to find more open water or something of interest in the WMA cornfields. Other than some Grackles and Red-wings, it was fairly quiet.
We did have the usual group of white domestic ducks lazing near the parking lot.....but we also had this unusual "mallard" hybrid. Not that it's unusual to find a mallard hybrid (since they'll mate with just about anything) but I thought the coloration was a little odd.
Not much else in the Brookfields, so we took a quick tour around Wickabog and stopped to see how our piglets were doing and drove by the miniature horse farm to see if there were any new colts....there were, but I'm waiting for a few weeks to take one of our granddaughters back to see them before I take another million photos!
We headed back to Worcester around noon and just missed the St. Patrick's Day parade by coming in from the west.
Somehow it just seems more festive to see "Irish" green moss coming up than the artificial green of hundreds of carnations.

A quick but productive morning before heading out to do some fundraising during the last day of WICN's spring fund drive.


A Very Bright Day at Salisbury & Newburyport - 3/14

Normally, bright sunshine and blue skies make me feel great! However, after getting home Saturday from a wonderful class trip to the Newburyport area, I was grumpy. For the first time in the 15 months I've owned by digital camera, I realized that I had totally screwed up the exposure settings and many of the shots I had taken were totally fact unusable. So I decided to go out to Best Buy and get myself Photoshop to see if I could fix my problems (not all my problems, but just the ones with my camera). After getting home and opening the box, I realized I had gotten Photoshop Elements FOR MAC -- and I have a PC. So what we will see here is a "sampling" of the day. (And Danny if you got great shots from Salisbury, or especially of the Long-tailed Duck in the Harbor, DON'T TELL ME!) We met at dawn at the MAS Sanctuary at Joppa Flats in Newburyport, and started the trip with a Snowy Owl perched far out on Newbridge Island.
As dawn broke there were flocks of Canada Geese taking off, and we hoped to pull out a Snow Goose, but it was not to be.
In the shrubbery around the building, we had several Yellow-rumped Warblers putting up, Song Sparrows doing their spring song and we heard a Killdeer calling as it flew over. No doubt that spring was here.
While it's a beautiful setting, it's always annoying to see this eyesore. This ugly house is illegally built sitting right on the salt marsh. The story goes that the person just started the construction before anyone knew what he was doing and the house was built before anyone could raise the warning flag. Personally, I think someone got paid off and I find myself hoping for a targeted storm surge just in this one spot!
After leaving Joppa Flats we headed over to Salisbury State Beach Reservation, and found our second Snowy Owl driving the entrance road just past the rotary off to the right of the building. BTW, this is where my camera setting first got changed, so photos from this point on are a little off in terms of exposure (except where I was able to adjust the brightness/contrast).
The bird was an adult of the whitest birds I've seen in quite a while. Deb Berard found a 3rd Snowy farther out in the marsh, and we realized that 3 Snowys had already made this class trip a success!
As Mark took the class to the end of the boat ramp to search the harbor, I drove the campground hoping to find a lingering crossbill. In just 2 weeks the place had changed dramatically. Instead of crossbills, I had displaying Killdeer. I had 2 birds land on the roof of the bathroom building in the middle of the campground, and I wondered whether they nest on that roof or were just using it in their display.
The Mourning Doves were also in full display with each other....
and the displaying Grackles were EVERYWHERE!

After picking up the rest of the class at the boat ramp, we stopped to check for seals since the tide was low.
I have to admit that this is the first time I've run into a "don't pet the seals" sign in the wild.
We were treated to a couple of dozen Harbor Seals lounging on the exposed rocks, but the big treat (and it was big) was the Gray Seal out on the rocks with the Harbors. In the photo it's the large dark rock-like blob poking his head up behind the little Harbor Seal all the way to the left in the photo. He was huge!
After spending some time watching the big guy yawn and show his teeth, we went to the big parking lot overlooking the ocean. The class was treated to several Red-throated Loons and a Harbor Porpoise.
We headed to the boat launch near Cashman Park to look for eagles (we had two immatures for the day) and then back into Newburyport to the big municipal parking lot to look for close ducks. This is where we had fantastic close views of displaying Goldeneye and a beautiful male Long-tailed Duck. If you close your eyes you can imagine the great shots I would have gotten had I not messed up my settings.

Oh well....there's always next time. But it was a great morning trip with some great early spring bird sightings.


Monday, March 9, 2009

South Quabbin - Sunday, March 8th

After being "stuck" inside at the Birder's Conference in Worcester on Saturday, we had our first class trip this past Sunday....and it was totally enjoyable. Now the conference was enjoyable as well (particularly Mark's over-the-top presentation on changes in Worcester County birding over the last 50 years,) but nothing can compare to an early spring day with temps hitting close to 60!When we arrived at the Administration Building at south Quabbin we were greeted by a flock of Cedar Waxwings in the crab apple trees, but no Bohemians.
We spent some time scanning the still-frozen reservoir and then headed off to the fish hatchery to try our luck with Bald Eagles again. Spring was definitely in the air and we had a pair of Bluebirds checking out nesting boxes. However, the arrival of Killdeer on their nesting ground at the hatchery was really a delight. We had heard one flying over at Quabbin, so we hoped to find a bird or two at the hatchery....which usually provides good numbers spring and fall, along with a healthy breeding population. And we weren't disappointed...we had at least 2 birds there.
After the hatchery, we headed back into Quabbin by the spillway to check for Raven. At first we couldn't find any sign of the breeding birds, but as we were leaving, we saw one bird checking out their old nesting site and another Raven silently flew off.
Usually Raven's are quite noisy, but I find that when they're near their nest site, they're often it is probable that these birds are breeding close to the same location.
We did discover what looked like a fairly new nest right out in the open on a ledge. This is not normally where I'd expect to see Raven's nesting, but if it is the nest then these birds are going to be totally visible to anyone who stops to look. Personally, I'd rather the nest be more hidden, so I'm hoping the birds are tucked in somewhere out of view.
We spent a fair amount of time at the Enfield Lookout and had great views of Bald Eagle both close and far off. It was the sort of windy morning that Eagles love and I think we ended up with more than a dozen birds for the morning, between the Fish Hatchery and Quabbin....
and a lot more adult birds than immatures.
Heading down to the "blueberry patch" (aka Jones' Meadow) we convinced Danny Berard that he needed to check out the emerging skunk cabbage. This plant is supposed to have an internal heat differential of about 20 degrees that allows it to survive the ups and downs of early spring temps. This shot of Danny "taking the plant's temperature" had us all cracking up. While I trust the research that Mark did on this for his class....I often think Mark just enjoys getting people to do crazy things. And Danny is always the good sport who "volunteers" to do those crazy things!
We decided to spend some time going over all the Robins which were out in force as the ground started to get that soft mushy spring-like feel. We were hoping to find something exotic like a Varied Thrush....not to be.
But we were delighted with another sign of spring....a Rusty Blackbird feeding in and among the Robins!
As we were tracking the Blackbird, I was totally entranced with this White-breasted Nuthatch. There were a pair of them working a tree right in front of me, and I have to admit that I'm always amazed by their upside-down movements as they check in every piece of the bark looking for stuff to eat.
It's not until I get home and look at the photo that I realize just how unusual these little "acrobats" really are.
After leaving Quabbin we headed up the west side (Rt. 202) hoping we might duplicate out luck from last weekend with the Bohemian Waxwings and Evening Grosbeaks in New Salem. While there was no sign of the waxwings, we did "hear" the Evening Grosbeaks in the exact same area on West Road just past the Hamilton Orchards. It sounded like there was a good-sized flock present, but try as we might, we couldn't get a bird to come in for a visual for anything.

So we had to be satisfied with an auditory "sighting" only. We headed home through Hardwick and New Braintree and made a quick stop at the major parking lot for Winnemessett Meadows. Things hadn't opened up very much yet, but we decided that this would be a great place to take the class to see displaying Woodcock in a couple of weeks.

All in all, a very enjoyable morning's birding with a great group of folks!