Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Staying Local - Memorial Day Weekend (5/23-25)

Three long, lovely days spent birding various parts of Worcester County -- and getting a jump start on some of the atlasing blocks. This included a wonderful land trust area right on the Connecticut border in Southbridge....The Opacum Land Trust. We had Virginia Rail and Least Bittern calling in a huge cattail marsh. And Yellow Warblers seemed to be everywhere we looked.
We had both female and male Bluets (not the flower)
We also stumbled upon a family of newly-fledged Carolina Wren. And while the parents were being very quiet and discreet, the fledglings were popping in and out of every bush and log....almost like they were playing hopscotch with each other.
In our Warren blocks we visited Cranberry Pond.....
and while the emergent vegetation looked good for Wood Duck ducklings, we were disappointed with the lack of waterfowl. We did have a male Woodie, so it's likely the female was somewhere hidden nearby with the ducklings.
One of the great things about birding a number of different blocks is that you get a good variety of habitats and, therefore, a chance to see a good variety of birds. It's also interesting to see the same species inhabiting a number of different venues. This Great Blue Heron was is a nicely vegetated, but small, pond on a side road in Southbridge.
While this Great Blue, was in a very urban setting along the river behind the Southbridge Industrial Park in downtown.
At that great marsh behind the deserted gold course, we had a hatching (if that's what it's called) of dragonflies. The tenerals were everywhere, even flying in the open windows of the car. We must have had several hundreds within a fairly small area. And they were in all state of development. Some even looked like their wings had not fully uncurled yet. While I'm not sure about the species, it's possible that they were all Blue Dashers -- but don't hold me to that. If anyone has a better id, let me know!
Now if you study the nest below you should be able to figure out the bird just based on peek you get at the tail. (of course I can say that since I saw the bird fly into the nest)
It was an Eastern Kingbird nest at eye level at the north end of Cranberry Meadow Pond!
There were also Baltimore Orioles nest building in the same area. I think the traffic in the area is going to get amazing once both families start actively feeding young in the nest.
And what would a trip be with a turtle rescue? I'm happy to say this little guy made it safely and I now have yet another hand-held turtle photo. In fact I have so many that I've had to add a separate folder of turtle photos. And most of you should be getting really familiar with the freckles on Mark's hands. In fact you should be able to pick them out of a line-up!
In Spencer (one of our Warren blocks) we came upon this family of geese scurrying away and I got out of the car to photograph them.
We've been trying to figure out whether or not Green Herons have been decreasing in Worcester County. I remember seeing them much more commonly 10-20 years ago, and even though some of the ponds we've visited look perfect, we're not finding them where we'd expect to. This is when I wish the atlas project was doing information with density instead of just noting the breeding status within a block.
And we had our first Viceroy of the season in the WMA area near Quacumquasit.
And, again, regardless of which block we surveyed, we came across breeding Yellow Warblers.
I'm also happy to report that we only hit one parade -- in East Brookfield near Lake Lashaway.
So ends our rather tame Memorial Day. Now it's time to get ready to kick off atlasing in earnest....stay tuned!


Monday, May 18, 2009

Anti-Bird-a-thon Weekend - May 15th & 16th

So here's my saga about why I now perform a ritual anti-bird-a-thon weekend..... For years (decades really) I participated in Bird-a-thon. I raised money for it and went all out for the event. In fact, Mark organized the teams from Broad Meadow Brook and we even held strategy meetings so that everyone knew what key birds they needed to get in their section of the state. And then when the event was over, we all talked about the unpleasant things we had seen -- people being rude to one another because they were on competing teams from different sanctuaries. Or limiting the flow of information the week before the event, so that one could keep the good bird to himself. Or even worse, birders from multiple teams taping the same rail or owl in the same spot over and over and over.

Suddenly (and shame on me for taking so long to realize it) it became apparent that these weren't the actions you wanted to see from people who were concerned about nature, who supported environmental organizations, or who were supposedly working to raise needed funds for worthwhile work! So Mark and I expressed our concern to the "powers that be" at Mass Audubon in Lincoln and we offered multiple suggestions for (what we thought were) improvements to the event -- even ideas on how it could raise MORE money for Mass Audubon. And for several years we got a very perfunctory reply -- thank you for your thoughtful suggestions....blah, blah, blah. But nothing really changed. And after a personal meeting with 3 very senior folks from "headquarters" it became clear that they really didn't want to change. Even if it meant more money for each sanctuary, less wasteful gas utilization (do you really need to have 7 teams do Plum Island if you all work for one list?) and a much more bird-friendly event! So let me show you how we spent Friday night and Saturday instead. We decided to spend the night in the Berkshires atlasing the 3 blocks in and around Cheshire and Windsor and really trying to fill out the list of breeding birds. As I've mentioned before, the Berkshire blocks of the Breeding Bird Atlas are hurting for participation, so we've tried to help with 3 or 4 blocks each year.
It was wonderful to see the Baltimore Orioles back on breeding territory......and the Barn Swallows (along with the Cliff Swallows and Tree Swallows) were definitely in high nest-building, territory-defending, courtship mode.
There's something so nice about the twittering (and I'm not talking technology here) you hear when Barn Swallows are flying in and out of buildings bringing nesting material (and in some cases food) to the nest sites.
We also got to poke around in areas we hadn't seen before -- this monument on Stafford Hill Road in Cheshire was new for us.
And there was a great plaque inside commemorating the gravesite of Col. Joab Stafford who was hired to survey this area by some Rhode Island investors and ended up purchasing some of the land for himself and his friends....thus creating this section of Cheshire (called New Providence at the time). What I loved about the gravestone was the comment about descending to "the tomb with an unsullied reputation" Not a bad way to be remembered, I guess.
One of the things about this site is the view to Mt. Greylock through the trees.
Another nice thing about an anti-bird-a-thon trip is that you take time to enjoy other this beaver who ran across the road and into the grass. Luckily for all of us was that he was pretty fast on his feet!
This Jack-in-the-pulpit almost went unnoticed at first.
But this breeding Junco couldn't have been more obvious with his "moustache" of nesting material. He kept popping all around and never really wanted to go near the nesting area as long as we were watching.
One of the highlights of the trip for me was finally getting some good shots of the not-so-common warblers. This Canada Warbler was definitely defending territory from any other warbler....and from me with my camera.
And this Nashville Warbler sat still long enough (near the Canada) for me to take a quick shot as well.
Most of the time when I "see" Ovenbirds, I really just hear them. Or at best I see them flying off.....this bird never made a sound and just kept turning around on the branch as if it were modeling the new spring wardrobe.
But my favorite bird to photograph was this signing male Mourning Warbler. It was in perfect breeding habitat, but unless we see him again in the same spot (singing more than 7 days apart within safe dates) we really can't count it for the atlas.
A totally delightful weekend (even though we did run into 2 separate Bird-A-Thon teams).

Now I realize this is probably one of my most provocative blog entries. But I really feel passionate about organizations who have their own agenda and aren't upfront enough to put it right out there. And that was my experience -- resistance to change, yesing us to death, and basic organization bull****! So why do I still support Mass Audubon? Because I realize that organizations are imperfect -- made up of humans (like me) with lots of flaws. And also because of people like Deb Cary who is the director at our local MAS sanctuary, Broad Meadow Brook. She has given us total support and has also tried to raise our concerns to Lincoln -- and has even designed Broad Meadow Brook's participation in this event as a total local effort, focusing on Worcester County.

So I continue to give to my local sanctuary, and work on projects for the broader organization (like the Breeding Bird Atlas) because I can support those efforts. But you won't see me doing Bird-a-thon. And thank goodness I don't have to get fired up for another whole year!!!

In the end, get out and enjoy nature, do what you can do on a local level, or a national level, to help protect this environment -- 'cause if we screw this up, we won't get a second chance.


Inside Quabbin - Saturday May 9th

On Saturday (right before Mother's Day) we spent about 10 hrs. INSIDE Quabbin driving from south to north to see if we could add any additional birds to the Breeding Bird Atlas. Some of the atlas blocks were our own from previous years and others were unfinished partial blocks we wanted to make sure were covered in case the person atlasing didn't finish up. We had a total of 87 species which was great for a cool, damp day still early in migration. We also had lots of other observations, including snakes, turtles, odenates, butterflies, plants and just great quiet time.... Even in Quabbin you have to watch for snakes crossing the road...
When we stopped to "help" this Garter Snake, it was pretty clear she wanted to do it herself. I did think it was rather funny watching her pretend to be a little rattlesnake.
We tried to watch out for as many Red Efts as we could.
And this Painted Turtle put up with us photographing her carapice and plastron before she scuttled off into a pond. Luckily there's not a lot of car traffic inside Quabbin, but I do wonder whether the loggers will stop for a turtle or not.

After we put her back down it took her a while to come out of her shell....she was a very cautious turtle.
Some of our first odes of the season. Mark wasn't sure about the ID on this one, but Blair Nikula thought it was a young female Bluet.
And this dragonfly we identified as a young Chalk-fronted Skimmer.
We had lots of Juvenal's Duskywings
And this Spring Azure decided there was something good on my car
The plants were as impressive as the animals...with this extensive stand of False Hellebore....
the always-present, but cheery Bluets....
some Golden Alexanders...
"blossoming" ferns (which I know next-t0-nothing about)

And the always-lovely Fringed Polygala (aka Gaywings). While this looks like a little orchid, it's really a member of the Milkwort family, and it used to be thought that if you gave it to pregnant women or cows, it would increase milk production.....I just love old lore!
The only place we ran into people inside Quabbin was when we got close to the Gate 40 area and down at Graves' Landing.
As we were coming up the long hill before reaching the top of the rise and Deadman's Curve, we can across this family of Canada Geese. Why were they walking up the hill away from any water? Why did they have young so early in the season? Where were they going? All these questions remained unanswered.....
The rest of the birds seemed rather normal for Quabbin in early spring...lot's of calling Towhees in the freshly-cutover areas.
Along with Catbirds all setting up territories...
We had a Nashville Warbler near the crossroad at Gate 45...
And singing Black & Whites were everywhere....this was a big migration day for this species.
At one point we spished to see what was around, and this territorial B&W immediately came in to investigate. He decided to vocally reassert his territory.
We also had a fair number of Redstarts -- both migrants and residents on territory.
The big surprise for us at Gate 45 was a singing White-eyed Vireo -- not a bird we've ever had in Quabbin -- and clearly not a breeding bird....but still nice to hear and see!
And, of course, there was the signature Quabbin breeding bird -- Bald Eagle. If you click on the picture to enlarge it you'll notice not just the adult bird but the nest (with young birds) at about 7 o'clock from the adult in the next tree over.
A very satisfying trek up the east side of Quabbin. Needless to say, we were exhausted when we got home, since it had been a full 12 hours either in the car or on foot.

Sunday, we took it easy by checking out some potential block-busting blocks in north county. Ayer 1 & Ayer 2. Our purpose was to check habitat and ensure we knew the boundaries. We found some great habitat and a wonderful parcel of Conservation land that looked promising.
And we did come across a Blue-winged Warbler singing the Golden-wing of course we had to stop and check it out.
And one of my favorite sightings of the weekend was this "herd" we found as we were leaving the blocks and heading back to Worcester.....
I'm so fascinated by what people are thinking when they do things like this.....maybe some day I'll just stop and knock on the door and interview them. With all the bizarre photos I could definitely publish a book.....
Again, a long post and one that's a week late. I certainly plan to update from this past weekend much sooner.....especially because it's me anti-bird-a-thon posting.....more to come!