Friday, April 24, 2009

A weird birding memorial day....

We left Worcester yesterday morning for a strange combination day -- we were heading north to Cape Ann and Plum Island to scatter Mark's mom's ashes. And we were going to bird as well. Now this sounds totally strange, I know, but if you've been reading this blog for the past whatever time period, you've probably realized strange is nothing new to us. This is something Mark had planned to do when his mother passed away in January, and we wanted to do this on her birthday, which was April 23rd. (BTW this Red-tailed Hawk is often perched on the weather vane of the church on the corner of Park and Salisbury.)Our first stop was in Magnolia overlooking Kettle Island. Mark's mom, Doris, often took Mark there as a kid and his memories of her being at peace just staring out into the ocean told him that this is one of the places she would want to be. BTW, there were lots of egrets already on nests and we had our first Glossy Ibis flying into a nest on the island as well.
Now I hope you realize that scattering cremated ashes is not something we have any experience doing -- in fact we both had visions of The Big Lebowski as we approached the ocean on this very windy day! Either that or being arrested for doing something quite illegal. But it was fine, in fact more than fine -- it was perfect.
After leaving Cape Ann, we headed up to Plum Island along Rt. 133 and stopped for Double-crested Cormorants near Woodman's in Essex.
We also had our first Snowy Egrets of the year as well.
As we drove down Plum Island, we were delighted to find several Great Egrets in the close pools by the Salt Pannes. We were also grateful that Doris's birthday fell on a Thursday this year and not the upcoming 80-degree weather we're expecting on the weekend. Therefore, Plum was relatively empty.
Heron's definitely seemed to be out and about whenever we stopped.
When we reached the State Beach at the southern end of the island, there was no one else around and Mark was able to complete this final phase without interruption. And while we had a beautiful environmentally-made Basswood urn, our friendly and helpful funeral director advised us to use a beach pail if we wanted to be less conspicuous, which we did. Doris would absolutely have loved the "caper" we went through to return her to nature!
Driving off the island we, again, got close looks at Snowies.....
and their plumage was perfect.
Once off the island we checked along the very slowly-receding tide line for any shorebirds and were pleased to find Yellowlegs (mostly Lesser)
And we even had our first Dowitchers (Mark says the one on the left is a Short-billed)
As we sat studying Yellowlegs near the "clam shack" I noticed a new "sculpture" in the front yard of the house across the street -- Mussel Man! I have no idea what this is all about, but I've come to accept the strange as strange and just move on. After all how many answers can there be to the question: "why would someone construct a statue totally out of mussel shells and then have them seeming to be mowing the lawn?"
So ended our latest trip to the North Shore -- weird day, don't ya think?


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Few Shots from This Weekend

Sunday we checked out our Southbridge blocks for the upcoming atlas season. It's really such a nice way to watch the changing seasons. When we started back in early March, we didn't have Wood Duck yet. But on Sunday we had several pair checking out nest holes in old trees or perched right outside the nest hole itself. We also had our first butterfies and our first real spring plants. These marsh marigolds really made their mark in the wet woodland. We also saw early bloodroot plants pushing up in a number of places as well.
At this very old cemetary right near the Connecticut border we had bluebirds checking out a nearby nest box. Both the male and female were actively involved and I'm sure the next time we check out the area, we'll have the male bringing food to the female (and young) in the nest box. I have a number of photos of thrushes on top of gravestones, from Robins to Swainson Thrush and lots of bluebirds. I wonder if there's some connection between cemetaries and thrushes? (I'll have to ask Melissa if the Gravestone Girls have noticed that when they're out doing their work in various cemetaries.)
We had this male Kestral in an "abandoned" golf course in Southbridge. The Royal Oaks Golf Course was built about 10 years ago by a land developer in Southbridge who just didn't want to retire. He had no idea what he was doing and the course never really got off the ground. An article in 2007 talks about plans to sell the club and never-completed banquet facility, but it's obvious no one was going to pay several million dollars for this place. From a natural history viewpoint there's a great marsh right behind the "clubhouse" and we had breeding Canada Geese, Mallards, Wood Duck, Killdeer and Tree Swallows. I just hope the 110+ acres doesn't get subdivided when the economy picks up!
This Red-tailed Hawk was definitely looking a little worse for wear as he circled around looking for something to bring home for Sunday morning breakfast.
One of the highlights was finding a Spotted Turtle by the side of the road in Spencer. We can expect these turtles to be under more pressure since the state removed them from the list of "species for special concern".
We picked this one up right by the side of the road and it's a relatively delicate turtle, so the concern is car traffic in this area.
Even though they're not protected anymore, we took all the definitive shots just as if we were going to report the sighting it's always nice to get up-close-personal shots of Spotted Turtles.
This last photo was taken late yesterday afternoon. I had gotten a call at work on Saturday night (which I didn't check til Monday a.m.!) about a Great Horned Owl nest. The concern was that there was a baby owl hopping around on the ground and the person didn't know what to do. As much as I tell people BRING IT TO TUFTS they somehow think the State Police is really going to help. Tuft has a great wildlife clinic where they will try to help any wild animal in need -- but you have to bring it to them; they don't do field calls. I know someone who brought in a chipmunk that was found lying, sick in their backyard and then called for 2 days to see if he made it (he didn't). We've found a male Hooded Merganser in the middle of a back road in Spencer that had obviously been hit by a car and brought it in to them -- they tried to fix his badly-broken wing, but we don't know if it survived.
The point is try to do something to help an animal in distress if at all possible -- whether it's a turtle crossing the road or an owl that's fallen out of the nest -- it's all good karma.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Everything's in Spring mode

We kicked off Year 3 of the Breeding Bird Atlas project last week at Broad Meadow Brook MAS in Worcester. We had a great turnout and spent time strategizing around block busting and different ways to bird this year. Worcester County is in such good shape as we start Year 3 of the 5-year project -- thanks to everyone who's contributing! With spring underway, it's so important to get out and start observing all the wonderful signs of spring renewal. I've always found that nature is a great healer and rebalancer....for me. And right now everything is in great plumage and either trying to attract a mate or already successfully breeding. Here's an assortment of shots from the last two weekends out and about in the Brookfields out to Quabbin.
Male turkey in full display in front of the Administration Building at south Quabbin.
You really get a chance to see how he uses every bell and whistle he has!
Flicker looking for juicy spring ants....
A pair of Wood Ducks on a small wooded beaver marsh in West Brookfield
Great Blue Heron on nest in the same marsh.
Bluebirds look sharp any time of the year. This is near the marsh with the GBHeron rookery on Walker Pond in Sturbridge.
Red-bellied at the nest hole.
We had Canada Geese nesting in several areas.
And who could not think this baby llama is adorable?
Right at the entrance to Wells State Park is a small wooded marsh and this Great Blue thought he was well-camouflaged behind this tree stump.
And my first shot this year of a true spring warbler! There were a small group of Palm Warblers working the trees also at the entrance to Wells.

Well it's almost 6 a.m. and we're late getting out into the field....gotta go

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Mark's Goodbye to Gremlin....

I'm not at a point yet where I can say anything, but since many people have asked for "Grem updates" I thought I would post Mark's note to some friends from this previous Thursday....
I just wanted to let a few friends know that our truly beloved cat, Gremlin died late this morning at Tufts. He had developed heart arythmia early (4AM) Tuesday and we rushed him to Tufts where there is a great cardiac unit. The doctors there tried everything, but the meds that reduced the arythmia made his heart not work well and the reverse was also true. We still thought we would be bringing him home at least for a few weeks as of this morning, but Sheila got a call from the doctor mid-morning that his condition had taken a rapid turn from the worse and he was now almost non-responsive. We rushed down there and there was little doubt that it was 'time" for him to be euthanized. We spent some time with him, but he was in extreme discomfort and distress, still we said our tearful goodbyes, held him and patted him,and stayed with him as he passed on.
You may know that we have had Gremlin for only several years. He was abandoned at our local vet is sub freezing temps in a cardboard box. We took one look at him and knew we had to bring him home: it was obvious he was an amazingly handsome and affectonate cat from our first picking him up at the vets. Almost two years ago, he became very sick, almost died and went into the cardiac unit at Tufts. It was found that he had a leaking aorta and a leaking valve, both terminal and inoperable conditions (for a cat), but that could be "managed" short term with human heart meds. Meaning he could go home, but would not live long. He recovered, came home and quickly became the head of the house. No cat was loved more and showed more affection in return. He was totally active, and despite his heart condiitons , zoomed around the house playing and romping like a kitten literally to the last moment. He certainly epitomized a love of life. He had to have two meds administered every day and we quickly made a decision that we would take no vacations, or even overnights, until he had passed. It just seemed the right thing to do. It was originally thought he might last only a few months, but he kept on ticking for almost two years. He was Sheila's constant companion, always with her at her PC, or with her on the bed, or looking out the window when we went on bird trips. They had a bond that was amazing to behold, I have never seen the like. She named her blog after him.He was a real presence in the household, always in our life, truly part of the family.Even though we knew this day had to come, it doesn't make it any less sad and tearful. There's a huge emptiness in the house that will not be soon filled. But his living so long despite his severe condiitons is also a testament to what good care and affection can do for a cat. There was not a moment when he didn't know he was loved. Attached is a classic picture of the boy..........Mark

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Tyringham and the southern Berks - 4/5

I'm am so late in getting this posted. Last weekend we traveled out to the southern Berkshires to check on one of our atlas blocks from last year that included the Tyringham valley. This place is always magical for me to visit. It's right off the Exit 2 from the Mass Turnpike and there are a number of roads that criss-cross the valley. Some of the dirt roads weren't even open yet, due to mud season, but we did spend a wonderful Sunday poking around several places. This shot looking south from the Tyringham cobble doesn't do it justice. Plus even though the weather had been forecast for sunny and warm back in Worcester, it didn't play out that way in the Berks. In fact we had light snow flurries at several points along the Turnpike.

The valley is usually a great place during migration in the fall, but we didn't know what to expect this early in the spring. We were surprised to have Snow Geese migrating through.

And the wind was so strong they had to circle around several times before they were able to move north up the valley.

This is usually a great place to Snipe and Woodcock, but these Mallards were the only ducks we found in the wet fields. Last year at about this same time we had numbers of snipe flushing out and killdeer were already setting up territories.
We did have a beautiful male Harrier hunting the back edges of the wet fields, and we watched him circle way up and out of the valley along the ridge line moving in the same direction as the Snow Geese.
There were several times we almost gave up and headed back to at least the Connecticut River valley, but we decided to check out some of the dirt roads that seemed passable. After all we were seeing signs of spring even though the temps were down in the 30's.
Half way down the valley (before you get to the "town" of Tyringham) there's a side road we often take. You turn past this farm where they have a few Scottish Highland cattle. I learned recently that the long hair over the eyes is call the "dossan" and it protects the cattle from pinkeye and other fly-borne diseases. Wow....there's something new to learn everyday.
There were a pair of Phoebes recently returned and looking for insects along the split rail fence.
At one point either I got too close or he definitely saw something interesting....
One of the hardest birds to find in the Tyringham valley last year when we did our atlasing was the Rock Pigeon. I know, I know why would anyone actually photograph pigeons! But I'm totally fascinated by these birds when I find them outside of the downtown cityscapes. Most of the time they hang around farms, but still you can't always count on them. In fact after two year's of the state-wide Breeding Bird Atlas, they've been found in less than half of the blocks that already have records. This is probably more than you cared to know about Rock Pigeons, but I felt I needed to justify my posting a group picture on my blog!
One of the interesting animals it's always fun to come across is the "black" gray squirrel. I've never seen them east of the Connecticut River valley (Amherst is the closest) although I'm thinking they must be around. This little fellow was chasing around a backyard in Monterey as we headed down to check on whether the breeding Sandhill Crane has returned. (Turns out we were a week early.)
We dipped into Connecticut from a bit and came back into the state near Ashley Falls. We came upon another Snow Goose -- this one an immature hanging around with a small flock of Canadas. I don't think we've ever seen Snow Goose in the southern Berkshires, and this time we had two different sightings.
We also had more Phoebes in Sheffield and when we stopped at Mill Pong in South Egremont.
The pond was rather quiet, but there was a pair of Common Mergansers and the male kept flying around like he wanted the female to join him and go somewhere else.
We took our cues from the Merg and decided to head out ourselves and meandered back to Worcester.

If you're looking for a nice day-long getaway, consider heading out to the Tyringham Valley area and poking around the Housatonic looking for early spring migrants. I might be biased, but it never disappoints.