Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fall in the Tyringham Valley

Friday night Mark & I drove out to the southern Berks so that we could get up and see if dawn migration was happening in Tyringham. Last year about this time we had some great sparrow migration and even though we were a week or so earlier than last year, we were excited about what we might find.Since there had been frost warnings we awoke to find the area filled with morning mist, which only got thicker as the sun came up on the mountains and warmed the frosty valley floor.
We started on Fernside Rd. (which is really in Lee) at the nw end of the WMA that covers most of the Tyringham Valley. We spent the entire morning in this well-defined area -- Meadow St. on the north, Fernside/Jerusalem Rd. on the west/Tyringham Rd./Main Rd. on the east and Jerusalem Rd. on the south. Our detours included time spent on Breakneck Rd. (cutting across the valley) and a trip up George Cannon Rd. to Goose Pond.
Even in the morning mist we were able to see that there were lots of birds moving through, including good numbers of Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, along with flocks of Chickadees.
We knew there were other things mixed in the with Chickadees, and were delighted to find good numbers of Ruby-crowned Kinglets flitting through the treetops....
along with numbers of Blue-headed Vireos. At one point we had 4-6 vireos in the same tree just chasing each other around.
The tree tops were literally alive with birds.
And, of course, one of the most common species was Yellow-rumped Warbler.
We had hundreds (300+ by Mark's count) of these birds in every plumage possible. Some were passing in the tops of the tress; and some were skulking down low.
The one thing I do love about yellow-rumps is that they respond really well to spishing. So you can always get a good photo opportunity. (Unlike the Connecticut or Bay-breasted both of which popped in and out in a nano-second.)
There were also the usual suspects -- like variously-plumaged Common Yellowthroats.
Eastern Phoebes, too, were well-represented. And try as we might, we could NOT make even one of them into anything more exotic! Although 43 phoebes moving across this valley certainly make for a sight.
As the mists started to lift we moved east along Meadow Rd. hoping to find some unusual sparrows in the fields there.
This is a great area for woodcock and snipe in breeding season, but the only shorebird we had for the day was Killdeer.
We had good numbers of Songs and Savis, along with a smattering of Bobolink. We even had 9 or 10 pipits working the fields.

The highlight for me was being able to photograph this Lincoln's Sparrow along the roadside before a car chased him off into the fields.
Being able to study all the fieldmarks was a real treat -- even in the mist, the buffy wash to the upper breast showed up very nicely. This bird always seems perky to me....maybe it's the crisp streaking or something.Runner-up for "most common warbler of the day" was Palm Warbler. It seemed like they were everywhere (conservatively, we had about 60 different birds).
We had good representation of both the Eastern (yellow) and Western (gray/brown) forms of this bird.
We found them along the road in the goldenrod and picking around large tarp-covered piles of brush and mulch. Much like the yellow-rumps, they seemed to be everywhere.
The fall asters perked up after the frosty morning and we even had several Cabbage Whites and Clouded Sulphurs once the temps started to climb.
Robins and Flickers were also moving in big numbers yesterday. I can only imagine they were trying to get someplace where they wouldn't have to put with today's damp, soggy, cold weather!
And this year's batch of White-throated Sparrows were all trying out their vocal chords it seemed. We had such weird variations on that "old Sam Peabody" call.
While we did have some minor hawk movement (although not a Broadwing to be seen) the only photo I managed to get was of this sharpie quite a ways out at the edge of a pond on Heartbreak Rd.
By 10 o'clock or so we were at Tyringham Cobble and spent about 20 minutes scanning for migrating raptors. Unfortunately we only had Turkey Vultures going up at this spot. Later on we did have an Osprey and more Sharpies and Red-tails.
We did have another crop of Palm Warblers from the Trustee's parking lot on Jerusalem Rd., along with two pugnacious Eastern Phoebes who were constantly bombing the Palm Warbler as he foraged on the ground for insects.
We weren't sure at first if they were bombing the Palm; however as the bird moved across the parking lot and perched on some fence railings, the phoebes continued to follow him.
And while Mark wanted to believe that this bird was actually levitating, I was just lucky enough to catch him "mid-jump" after the phoebe spooked him.
At one of the access points to the Appalachian Trail, we came across another crowd of Palms, E. Phoebes and Chipping Sparrows. Everyone was busy catching the insects as the sun really went to work warming up the fields.

After saying goodbye to this special place, we took a little detour up through the forests on a dirt road (George Cannon Rd.) to Goose Pond.
The woods were very quiet -- seems like most of the birds had been down in the valley. We did come across some very cool looking bracket fungus. I've tried to identify this, but it's impossible (at least for me.)
Right before getting up to Goose Pond there's a little marsh/pond on the left of the dirt road. This is where we had our first thrushes of the day (other than Robin and Bluebird). We had a small number of Hermit Thrush and this one Swainson's Thrush working through low in the brush surrounding the water. There may have been more, but it was heavy brush and this was the only bird I could photograph.
We came down Forest St. to Rt. 20 from Goose Pond and thought we'd stop and get a quick bite at Subway in Lee before jumping on the Pike and heading home. Little did we know that this was Founder's Day Weekend in Lee and we couldn't get to anything due a parade coming right down Rt. 20 from downtown Lee. We cut through a gas station, made a quick stop at McDonald's (yuk!) and turned around and high-tailed it back to the Pike entrance and got out of their quick!!!
That was a close call. I would hate to think about throngs of people wiping out the idyllic morning we had just experience in the always-magical Tryingham Valley. We had spent about 6 hours in this special place and had a great list of 61 species (including 12 species of warbler) to show for our morning's "work".


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Birds and Art -- A Trip to the DeCordova Scuplture Park

We had a totally delightful field trip this morning in one of my favorite places....the DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum. This is one of the friendliest, most enjoyable art places I know. Even though we were meeting at 7 a.m. (which for Mark means get there 30-40 minutes early) the staff had made arrangements to have the gate open and even opened the building where the gift store is so that the bathrooms would be open for everyone! And we were lucky enough to have a very knowledgeable and engaged docent, Noni Armony. As most of you know Mark is as knowledgeable about contemporary art as he is about birds....yet he and Noni partnered perfectly together. The result is that we all enjoyed the 2 hrs. we spent walking around the sculpture park.
The morning was a perfect blend of nature and art and it all worked together wonderfully. The birds were often heard rather than seen, but we ended up with a list of 29 species for the two hours. I've been to DeCordova lots of time, but wandering around looking for birds among the artwork (like these two pieces by Boaz Vaadia) almost seemed magical. It was at this spot that we heard Common Loon calling....never quite sure if it was circling high overhead or actually taking off from the pond at the edge of the park. The photo below of Vaadia's Ba'al almost looks like a B&W photo....and I just love the shadow cast on the birch trunk from the sitting figure.
There were still singing Pine Warblers in the trees right off the parking lot and as I wandered through the grove trying to get a photo of a Pine Warbler, I couldn't resist taking this shot of Nam June Paik's Requiem to the 20th Century.

We were seeing and hearing lots of robins, goldfinches and house finches, but we definitely we not in the midst of a heavy-duty fall migration. While a little disappointing, it allowed time for folks to enjoy Noni talking about Chakaia Booker's No More Milk and Cookies. You really need to go the the DeCordova website and check out the background on the various pieces of art at (if the link doesn't work, just cut and paste it into your browser.)
One of the pieces I've always loved is Listening Stone by Joseph Wheelwright. He actually carved this head from a giant boulder from an excavation on the actual grounds of the DeCordova. I remember about 5 or so years back, they had a full exhibit of his work and it was fun to just walk around all the different heads.
While I was off looking at the giant head, Mark and Noni had the group looking at Jim Dine's Two Big Black Hearts which is amazing once you really get up close to it.
As we left the "South Field" area of the park and moved to the "West Lawn" I was totally surprised to find a Great Spangled Fritillary soaking up sunshine on some nearly rocks.
The temps were still in the low 50's at this point and when she landed you could tell she had seen better days. Not only was she very worn, but you could see where she had lost pieces of her right hind wing -- probably to some enterprising flycatcher (we had phoebes still calling nearby).It the woods just behind Kitty Wales' Pine Sharks we flushed a Red-tailed Hawk who was harassing a nearby squirrel.
These sharks swimming up in the pine grove always seem special. In fact before Mark & I had our surprise wedding-vow-renewal ceremony last year, we had talked about doing a renewal ceremony right in this pine grove under Kitty's sharks. Mark has always wanted to have one of her sharks hanging in our living room, but somehow it just doesn't seem practical!!!
Wandering back to the parking lot we had lots of Chipping Sparrows, both working the birches around the parking lot and sunning themselves along the stone wall lining the lot.
We spent the last 30 minutes of the trip working the birches and managed to turn up several species of warblers, including Black-throated Green, Palm, Blackburnian and Parula. There must have been a bloom of aphids in the birches, because the birds kept coming and going from the small groves lining the steps and paths.
We ended the trip about 9:30 after a totally delightful morning. The folks on the trip were a great mixture -- some hard-core birds, some hard-core art fanatics and a handful of other folks just starting out with birds. It was a great blend and I think everyone had a good time...I know I did!
Driving out past Douglas Kornfeld's OZYMANDIAS I realized just how much I need to come back with my granddaughter, Molly. While we've taken Samantha her a few times, it's Molly who has totally fallen in love with art. So I just want her to experience contemporary art in this wonderful sculpture park rather than in a small "contemporary gallery" stuck inside a bigger, traditional art museum.

I mentioned earlier that you should go the website to see the background on the artwork. FORGET out to Lincoln and go to the DeCordova to experience the artwork yourself. You won't be sorry.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Rescue Attempt

Today started just like any other Sunday morning birding trip. We stopped at DD so that Mark could get his shot of caffeine..... and then we headed out Rt. 122 to check on shorebirds in the Valley and hopefully hook up with Val & Scott for late lunch/early dinner. It promised to be a beautiful day (especially to the west) and as we rode through Paxton, Rutland and Barre we could see the early morning fog lifting and the beginnings of a blue sky start to peak through the fog as it lifted. We also noticed our first signs of trees starting to get their early fall color.

We were on a stretch of road between Barre and Petersham, when we noticed a car pulled over up ahead and it appeared to be something in the road. As we passed the "something" we recognized it immediately as a Barred Owl -- one that obviously was dazed and we assumed had been hit by a car.

We immediately pulled to the side and put our flashers on, and almost before the car had stopped Mark jumped out and ran back to shield the owl from another car that was fast approaching and clearly would have dealt a fatal blow to the bird had Mark not waved him off. The car which had stopped in front of us said that the bird had been sitting there when they came by moments earlier (they hadn't hit it) and they knew something was wrong were trying to figure out who to call. Mark immediately told them that we would take the bird to Tufts Wildlife Clinic (where they care for any and all wild creatures if you bring it in.
As Mark approached the bird he or she fell backward and Mark scooped her up to get her back to the car before she was injured further. It was at this point that Mark became intensely aware of why these birds are called "birds of prey". The owl immediately grabbed hold of Mark's left arm and dug her talons in. It was pretty clear that she was acting instinctively....but she still had enough strength to attempt to defend herself by holding onto her "prey" (in this case Mark's forearm). Once we were able to transfer her from Mark's arm to a cloth grocery bag she seemed to settle down. It was warm and dark, which is what you're supposed to do with a bird in shock.
Of course, we realized that those sharp not-so-little talons had caused some damage to Mark as well and we knew that besides hitting Tufts emergency care, we would also be visiting Fallon's urgent care unit on the way back from Grafton.
Once we stopped the bleeding, Mark's arm (while extremely painful) didn't look too bad, and we were both extremely grateful that the owl hadn't hit a major vein. Still we knew that since these were puncture wounds we knew that a tetanus shot was the minimum we had to get.

Now if only the owl would survive the 50+ minute trip back through Worcester to Tufts...which he did. We arrived at the Wildlife Clinic just after 8:30 and there was a vet on duty who immediately took the information and the bird and promised to let us know if he survived and can be released back into the wild.

We left, hoping for the best, but knowing that the bird now had at least a chance....where before he had zero. We had to leave since we still had to make a visit at Fallon to make sure Mark's arm was treated as well.

After about 45 minutes there, we went on our way with Mark having an updated tetanus shot and instructions on how to keep his arm clean and what to look for in terms of infection.
The chance of early-morning migrants had passed up by, so we decided to head to south Quabbin and then on to Amherst to have lunch with Val & Scott. Unfortunately, when we arrived home there was a message on the answering machine saying that the owl had died.

It seems he did get badly hit by a car and had several bad breaks in both of his wings and they had euthanized him after studying the x-rays and determining there was 0% chance of his survival in the wild.

I know this doesn't have the happily-ever-after ending you were hoping for, but I still have to commend the Tufts Wildlife Clinic for their efforts. Let's face it, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Tufts (because of how wonderful they were with Gremlin, plus other cats we've had to take there) but their Wildlife Clinic is another thing. They will take any wild animal and attempt to "fix it". I have a friend whose husband found a badly injured chipmunk in their backyard and took it to Tufts. They accepted the little guy and followed up with Jeff two days later to let him know that he didn't make it and gave him as much detail as they could.

So the next time you're thinking about a worthy place to make a charitable donation, think about the Tufts Wildlife Clinic. They do all their work for free and really care about the animals brought to them....not because they're someone's beloved pet...but because they try to help any and every animal in need.
Thanks for reading this.....Sheila