Monday, November 30, 2009

Berkshire Lakes - Sunday, November 29th

Okay, you're right -- Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg isn't one of the Berkshire Lakes. It's really Webster Lake and we visited it Saturday to check on ducks. We did the ponds of southern Worcester County and there wasn't much going on. We had a Gadwall on nearby Wallis Pond in Webster.....
and an immature Brant -- which really is a great bird in Worcester County. But that was about it.
So on Sunday we headed out to the Berkshires to see if we could get more waterfowl action. Mark had tried to pull the trip together as a sort of "class reunion" trip with former students and friends from previous birding classes. But it was the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and most people had commitments. So we headed off bright and early with Kevin & Rebecca Bourinot and made a day of it.
Finding SNOW on Mt. Greylock was a not-so-pleasant surprise. I guess I knew it would happen, but I'm not sure I actually was really to see it in the flesh!
You really need to click on this photo and the next to see the Long-tailed Duck (in both) and Red-breasted Merganser (above) on Lake Pontoosuc. Both are great birds inland -- although not totally unexpected. And, of course, lots of Common Mergansers were present.
The sign below made it into my "unusual signs" collection. I've seen this "Witness Post" one other place, but for the life of me I can't remember where.
This gorgeous male Wood Duck at the north end of Lake Onota was looking like he might settle in for the winter. We've had a paid in the dead of winter in this same area several times.
However, landbirds were pretty scarce.....Juncos being the most common.
With all the water still open, we had a couple of different Belted Kingfisher.
And we definitely didn't expect this fellow as we headed to the Stockbridge Bowl. How does one decide to paint a roadside boulder like this. And on both sides so you could see it coming and going....and a little back road with not really any pulloffs.
And another carousel horse for my collection of lawn trinkets.
Unfortunately, the Stockbridge Bowl had a good number of waterfowl. And I can only assume that they didn't read this sign before they decided to spend some time on the lake.
Clearly, Canada Geese were the predominant species of waterfowl for the day.
Eastern Bluebirds were found in several areas....
And Chickadees were starting to build up their noisy winter flocks.
And I can remember when we would have never found a Red-bellied Woodpecker in the Berkshires!
We had worked out way north to south all day, with the Stockbridge Bowl and Richmond Pond being our last two "lake" stops. We ended the day with a total of 12 species of waterfowl; although we had a lot of onesies and twosies, including Green-winged Teal, Lesser Scaup and Goldeneye.
Since this was Kevin's and Rebecca's first birding trip to the Berkshires, we had to stop in the Tyringham Valley before getting the Mass Turnpike in Lee.

Even thought there weren't many birds to be found, we did get a chance to show them some of the better spots to bird, with a promise to come back again in the spring so they could see it in full birding splendor.

We did take a detour to show them the unusual graves we had found in the Tyringham Cemetery earlier this year. The following three pictures are from a trip earlier this fall, but I wanted to include them since I haven't previously published them on my blog.
The detail on the "gravestone" above is fantastic....from the carving of the ferns at the base to the detail on the tree trunk and the rope. It's truly impressive. I've tried to find out more about the family buried here, hoping that would lead me to the artist who did the gravestone, but I wasn't too successful. That's probably a good job for later this winter when I'm stuck inside in a snowstorm and looking for things to research on the web.
The other remarkable gravesite we found is for Jean Brown. Now when you look at the obelisk you might just think it's rather plain. Even carving of the name and date is rather simple......
but a close-up view of the top shows just how unusual it really is. And I did find alot of information when I researched this one. The brief version is that she and her husband were collectors of many of the work papers of some of the most prominent 20th century avant-garde artists -- very involved in the Fluxus art movement, Dadaism and Surrealism. The top of her gravestone is a metronome. Given Mark's love of contemporary art, he knew immediately that this was an homage to Dadaist, Man Ray's Indestructible Object. In fact Man Ray, along with Marcel Duchamp and others, spent time at Jean Brown's cottage in Tyringham, and her collection of work papers was bought several years ago by the Getty Museum in LA. Here's a link for those of you who want to learn more

All in all a wonderful day in the Berkshires, with good friends and a great mixture of birds, craziness and unusual stuff!

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Victory Gardens and Warblers -- Sunday, 11/22

When we were on Cape Ann looking for the King Eider, Eric Nielsen shared with us the fun he had photographing the MacGillivray's and Orange-crowned Warblers at the Victory Garden in the Fenway section of Boston that morning. He said the bird was relatively easy to locate by its distinctive chip which could be heard quite a distance away. So on Sunday morning we decided to drive into Boston and see if we had the same luck as Eric. After searching for a parking spot anywhere near the area, Mark & I arrived at the Victory Garden shortly before 8 a.m. We hoped that beating the crowds would help us find the bird early and we could get in and out relatively quickly. We ran into Kevin & Rebecca Bourinot as we arrived and learned that they had just had a Chat. Since both Orange-crowned and MacGillivray's were life birds for them, we decided to concentrate on listening for the distinctive chipping Eric had told us about the day before. Within minutes of arriving, however, workers from the Parks Department began some heavy-duty machinery for yard work and it was almost impossible to hear any chips right along the river. We suddenly had movement in the phragmites and an Orange-crowned popped out and began working the phrags and tangles right in front of us.
This bird darts in and out almost as quickly as a Chat and trying to get a good clean shot was almost impossible.
The bird continued to pop in and out of the bushes for the next 10-15 minutes and we were able to point it out to a number of birders as they arrived.
Since people were starting to show up and we had had good views of the Orange-crowned, we decided to look elsewhere for both the Chat and the MacGillivray's. Mark heard the Chat chip several times within one of the garden plots and I circled around from the other side. It was at this point that Kevin came down the path and said he had just had the MacGillivray's near the back fence on the west side and we all headed in that direction.
People were lining up and down the westernmost path and "the" warbler was spotted several times darting in and out of the heavy shrubbery.
Suddenly the MacGillivray's moved forward into one of the garden plots and started to work a small Japanese elm.
The bright yellow of the bird, along with the shocking white eye crescents, made the bird stand out from the duller Orange-crowneds that were also working the area.
The numbers of people continued to grow, so we decided to head back west and leave the bird alone. We were thrilled that we had gotten great looks at both the Orange-crowned and MacGillivray's warblers. Neither were a life bird for us....not even a state bird....but still an exciting way to spend a few hours on a Sunday morning.

We headed back to Worcester, checking in at Wachusett Reservoir and the Waushacums. All the ponds seemed very quiet given the time of year, so we called it a morning and headed home for lunch.

I've heard the MacGillivray's is still putting on show throughout this week!


Monday, November 23, 2009

Cape Ann -- Saturday, November 21st

Anyone who has read my blog for a while knows that going to the North Shore is not my favorite thing anymore. Maybe it comes from dealing with hordes of birders on Plum Island or counting thousands of gulls on the Cape Ann CBC....not quite sure. Occasionally, though, Mark will convince me of the merits of photographing seabirds at the ocean. And that was the case last weekend with absolutely beautiful fall weather in store. We headed north on Rt. 127 from the rotary just after the bridge and I must admit I did enjoy being back on Cape Ann. In fact at one point we thought it would be great to live there; although now I know it's a little too far out of the way for me. We spent about 15 minutes looking for the Western Kingbird on Colburn St. near the Mass Marine facility -- but no luck, other than running into Peter and Fay Vale.We kept moving along 127 and made a quick stop at Folly Cove. Since there was a lobster boat in the cove, there wasn't much in the way of ducks, so we quickly moved on to Andrew's Point.
We found our first Harlequin Ducks in Hoop Pole Cove just west of Andrew's Point and they were having a grand time riding the waves to the top of the rock and then scurrying along looking for food. In fact, we were up over 60 birds, but many were flying in and out of the cove so it was hard to get an accurate count.
As we moved all around the Andrew's Point area, we kept coming across groups of Harlequin. I think our final count was close to a hundred for the day. Whether I see one bird or 50, I never get tired of this little duck...the intricate pattern and coloration always delights me.
We had our first Iceland Gull for the season (definitely a sign of things to come.)
And Mark spent time checking out the Common and Red-throated Loons in the area, looking for the "reported" Pacific Loon. We bumped into Peter and Fay again and were able to confirm that the small-billed loon they were studying was, in fact, a Common Loon -- as they thought. Just not enough field marks to say Pacific other than size and small bill. In fact we left the area wondering whether or not this bird was the one reported as a Pacific Loon.
We stopped behind Emerson Inn (at Cathedral Rocks) but with divers in the area there really wasn't much going on -- except of course the occasional Harlequin flying by.
Although the weather was perfect and it was very tempting to stay and just watch the ocean. But we decided to head back to Andrew's for one last check on the loon situation.
Couldn't resist looking for Dickcissel among the House Sparrows that were darting in and out of the lobster traps.
As we were driving back (right after the road splits between Phillips Ave. and Pt. de Chene) Mark spotted a warbler dash across the road into a thicket. It was a Yellow-breasted Chat! Peter and Fay were coming up the road in the opposite direction and we signaled them to stop and spent the next 20 minutes or so getting glimpses of the bird as it perched out for a second or two or dashed between one dense part of the thicket and the next. This was my best shot, although as I was checking down the road the two NY birders who had stopped got killer looks as the bird perched out on a tree branch for almost a minute. I told them that if I left with my camera they would get great looks, and since it was a life bird for one of them, they were glad I proved to be correct.
We left the area and headed over to Good Harbor Beach to see if the King Eider that had been putting on a show in the creek was around. Since the tide was still on the low side we didn't walk all the way to join the other birders scanning for the duck.
We decided to drive down the little one-way road the goes around the houses on the actual Bass Rocks point. This is where we had the King Eider on last year's Christmas Count. As we pulled over to the scan the area, the bird flew in....almost on cue.
We thought he might stay close to this side of the area, since not only were there tons of people (and dogs and kids) on the beach, itself, but for some reason there were groups of surfers also in the same area.
Now I had to include these photos of the "surfers" since I thought my friends in California would get a kick out of what passes for surfing in Massachusetts -- barely enough surf to get yourself up on your board before you hit the beach.
Having had great looks at the King Eider, we decided to quickly check out Eastern Point before heading home. There were both Great and Double-crested Cormorants in the area and around the fish factory in downtown Gloucester as well.
And in the little cove at the end of Eastern Point Avenue near the Coast Guard Station, we found this beautifully-plumaged male Black Scoter.
He kept moving into the cove and finally hauled out on the beach at the far side. At this point I thought there must be something wrong with him -- maybe winged by a hunter or something. And I tried to figure out how we could catch him and get him to Tufts.
As we drove back along the road, we got fairly close, but there was nothing visible and we realized we would only chase him back into the we left him alone.
With such good weather and so much open water, we didn't think there would be any great numbers of birds at Niles Pond yet, but we did stop and scan the gulls that were coming into feed. We did have Mallards, a spattering of Ring-necks and, of course, Swans.
This family group is obviously used to being fed, since they made a beeline for us when we stopped. But once they realized we were not going to be providing them with anything, they sailed off.
Before leaving the area, I wanted to go back and get one last look to see if the King Eider had come into the creek area, despite the people and the surfers.

Sure enough, he had come into the beginning of the creek right below Bass Rocks Rd. and was out on a rock preening and acting very photographic. Now if only he'll stay for the Christmas Count in 4 weeks.
So, despite my reluctance to head to the North Shore very often, I was totally glad we had made the trip and that I was able to get some great shots.