Sunday, October 18, 2009

Northern Berkshires in September & October

Okay so the first big, white snowflakes are falling and I feel the need to look back at warblers and fall foliage....of course it was only a few weeks ago! Anyway, this blog is actually the result of two different trips to the northern Berks -- one on Labor Day and one a few weeks later when we were on vacation a few weeks later (10/1 to be exact). In the first trip we spent most of our time in Florida and Monroe right up on the Vermont border....We visited the Bakke Mountain Trust area and had great views to the north. Hopefully, this area will be spared the proposed windfarm that's been in the courts for several years.
This area had a good showing of Kestrals on the day we visited, and I do wonder if they would breed there if someone erected a kestral box. Of course, if this place does go the way of the windfarm developers, we can say goodbye to that possibility.
Between this area and the dirt road in Monroe up to Raycroft Tower, we had a great showing of landbirds. It's sorta hard to tell who's a migrant and who's a permanent resident in this neck of the this Blue-headed Vireo.
Black and White Warbler
Immature Common Yellowthroat, along some powerline cut-throughs.
We also had a good number of female Blackburnians.
And both male and female Black-throated Blue Warblers.
And this immature Magnolia warbler.
We even managed to spish in an Ovenbird who acted quite territorial.
The dirt road to and from Bakke Mountain proved to be quite interesting as well. One of the odder sightings are these road signs, since you're clearly in the middle of no-where.
And while I know it's a necessity, it's always disconcerting to see the dead ground cover and plantings along the power lines once the electric company has been in there with their herbicides. It really makes you wonder about the damage it's doing to the environment. I'd love to know the cancer rates in the areas close to this sort of spraying.
Two highlights of the trip were this Red-backed Salamander Mark found after turning over ten's of rocks along the road.....
and most impressively this Spring Salamander along the side of this same wet dirt road.
The opportunity to photograph these two little guys was very exciting. Although I must say that Gyrinophilus porphyriticus is quite hefty. Being a lungless salamander we quickly got this guy back into a nearby fast-moving mountain stream. I'm not sure he would have made it under the rock where we found him.
And we had quite a few woodpeckers as well.
We found Bottle Gentian at the higher elevation as we approached the open area near the Bakke Mountain property....
and we found Nodding Ladies' Tresses in the lower parts of Monroe along the brook leading down to Dunbar Reservoir and the Deerfield River.
In fact I actually found this petite member of the orchid family as I was trying to get a good close photo of this Common Ringlet.
Our 2nd trip to the northern Berkshires a few weeks ago allowed us to enjoy the area in her most colorful fall wardrobe.
Even the goldenrod and asters seemed to be brilliant.
We spent most of this trip doing the areas in Cheshire that we had down for the BBA, only now we were looking for migrants and not just breeding birds. In areas where the corn had been harvested already, we found good numbers of American Pipit. I put this photo in so you could experience the same frustration as I did trying to find the darn birds when they were down on the ground. Believe me, there is a pipit in the photo below!
Once I got home and was able to enlarge the photos I could actually see the least in most of the photos.
The scenery was just as impressive as the fall birding...
We spent some time at the WMA on Stafford Hill and were able to get great looks at Black-throated Greens feeding on the goldenrod and ragweed.
This towhee actually seemed to be wagging his tail....
And, of course, everywhere we stopped (in the right habitat) we had tons of Palm Warblers.
They really are a smart-looking bird -- even in fall plumage.
The fall colors were amazing....and I probably took more than my fair share of photos -- partly because I promised my niece in California that I would "share" fall foliage with her and partly because I'm just a sucker for the colors!
We actually spent the night in Great Barrington, so now I have to dig out those photos and do a southern Berkshires blog within the next few days.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Nostalgia of Chasing a Rarity

On Columbus Day after birding the Westport/Acoaxet area, we returned to Worcester to find that a Brown-chested Martin had been found at Cumberland Farms in the Middleboro area. We sort of kicked ourselves for not checking MassBird on my Blackberry, but there wasn't much we could do. We agreed that if it was still being seen on Tuesday we would try for it in the afternoon. However, the weather was not great and we made the decision not to go for it. So after hearing Tuesday night it was seen several times we decided to go for it Wednesday a.m. We don't usually chase birds the way we did 25 years ago, but even though this wasn't a "life" bird, it was a North American bird (and a Massachusetts bird to boot!) I have to admit that I have a soft spot for Massachusetts list birds. After all it was our sighting of the Jackdaw on Martha's Vineyard in the early 80's that was responsible Mark and I deciding to get married....but that's a story for another time.We made the decision Wednesday a.m. to take the morning off work and make a run for the Martin. I decided that I would be able to catch up on work this weekend with the rain forecast for tomorrow (Sunday). We got to Cumbies just before 10 and the bird had flown over just 5 minutes earlier....but was currently nowhere to be seen. The numbers of White-crowned Sparrow were pretty spectacular though, so I contented myself with shots of sparrows darting back and forth across the main dirt road and let the 40 or so other birders keep looking for the Martin.
A juvenile Red-tail allowed quite a close approach and didn't even fly off as I passed him.

As expected, there were numbers of Harriers in the area. After about 10 minutes Mark spotted the Martin coming in high over the trees to our east.
Suddenly there it was -- Progne tapera. This bird didn't spend a ton of time with other swallows; we had trees, a barn and a rough-wing all fly over. But the Martin seemed more solitary; however, it did get bombed by the Rough-winged Swallow once while we were watching it.
So let me apologize for some of the less-than-clear shots -- catching flying swallows in my camera is one of the many things I still need to master. I did want to include a couple of different shots so that you could see different aspects of the bird. For example, the one below gives you a good idea of just how broad that wing can look. While somewhat larger than most of our "regular" swallows, the bird is not nearly as large as our Purple Martins.
Also (as anyone who mentions this in Mark's presence knows) you really can't judge size against a clear sky -- there aren't any reference points, so how do you know it's not just closer or further away? Of course, it was interesting to overhear some of the birders at Cumbies doing just that.

To me the most notable field marks were the coloration, the size (when you saw it with the Trees or the No. Rough-winged) and the breast band somewhat similar to the Bank Swallow. Also the brownish sides when it passed close enough to get a good look. The question I have is could I pick this out in one of the really large flocks of swallows or would I just overlook it in the chaos and "noise" of all the other swallows.
Like I said, this wasn't a life bird -- we had this species at Iguazu Falls in Argentina. And even though the Cumberland Field farms aren't as exotic, this was still an exciting bird to get on our Massachusetts state list.

We were back in Worcester before noon, and I was able to get into work for the full afternoon. I really like it when things work out like that....sorta makes up for all the times when you just miss the bird by 5 minutes and it doesn't show up again! And of course I have a long list of those as well.