Sunday, February 28, 2010

Last February Weekend -- Worcester & Westport

Late as always, the following post covers two trips from the last weekend in February -- poking around Worcester for early signs of spring and a trip to the Westport Acoaxet area hoping for the same. Along the river in Acoaxet it certainly seemed like an early spring morning -- no snow and relatively mild temps. But, alas, we found no Ospreys which clearly would have signaled SPRING.
Black Ducks were in pairs...
and Canada Geese flocks were moving all over the place.
And trips up side roads looking for sparrows, larks and buntings produced this candidate for my next "Lawn Trinket" calendar. It also got us talking about the upcoming party at the Worcester Art Museum to celebrate the opening of the photography show on the history of rock and roll -- "Who Shot Rock".
We did find White-throated Sparrows in full voice...and Tufted Titmice doing their spring call (which does get old fast)
And we had a pair of Carlina Wren exploring this tangle as a possible home.
White-breasted Nuthatch were checking out their nesting sites as well.
And while the river seemed to have a concentration of Common Eider, it was nothing like the flocks that had built up in Bourne.
In this case they seemed to be totally focused on the food supply that had clearly concentrated in this area as well.
In our quest for spring signs closer to home we poked around the ponds in the Brookfields to see if ducks were on the move inland.

We had some okay numbers of Common Mergs which made us believe they were starting to push north as the ponds unfreeze.
But the Hooded Mergansers we found could be a combination of over-wintering birds and migrants. Hard to tell....but always great to look at!
Robins were still plentiful, especially in those areas where there was still a good supply of bittersweet or other fruit.
We made a couple of different visits over the weekend to Worcester Airport checking on the flocks of Snow Buntings.
As you can tell by the plumages, these birds are definitely starting to change. The male in the middle (a little to the left) has an almost fully white head.
Watching them on the dwindling mounds of snow gives me a sense of how they operate in the tundra.
Although whenever someone drove by, these birds clearly retreated to the fences...or even further out onto the strips of grass between the runways.

I wonder how much longer these little guys are going to linger.....let's face it, once they're gone we can definitely call spring!


Monday, February 22, 2010

Great Birds So Close to Home -- Sunday, 2/21

Having traveled to the southern Berkshires on Saturday, this morning we decided to stick closer to home. We thought we would do a loop around Worcester and maybe a wee bit further and see if we could turn up some of the recently-reported specialities at the airport, as well as check on a nesting Great Horned Owl. So after the traditional stop at Dunkin Donuts, we headed up to the airport. One of the first birds to greet us was this Song Sparrow singing his heart out on territory....spring is almost here. We poke around the Sullivan Middle School off Apricot Street and found nesting Starlings. Not surprising, but what was somewhat shocking were the numbers of birds going in and out of holes in this not-so-old school. I'd love to know who the shoddy contractor was on this building project! It seemed like they used some form of light plaster for the exterior walls in between the actual faux brick building. What a racket!

When we first got to the airport parking lot, we didn't have any birds. After about 15 minutes we heard (and saw) one Snow Bunting flying over calling for some friends. But no one answered. Then in about another 20 minutes a very small flock of Horned Larks flew into the parking lot and just based on size comparison we know they had a Lapland Longspur with them.

The bird was a male just starting to go into breeding could even see the little bit of chestnut starting to come out on the back of his neck.

He really was was quite striking.

The birds were their usual jittery selves and would put up and down based on a breeze, so I had to be very cautious trying to get shots. I used the car as my mobile blind. Somehow this immature lark thought he was hiding from my camera behind this sparse weed.

Soon the larks and longspur flew up and out into some hidden dip in the field along the runway. I decided to take this time to pop out of the car and grab something to eat from the cooler. As I slammed the car door, right in front of us on the other side of the fence, about 30 Snow Buntings put up. They had clearly been there all along and we never saw them -- I want to believe I was just looking too far out or that they came in when we were looking the other way. I swear they just seemed to materialize right in front us!

They, too, flew out into the parking lot and poked around for seeds stuck in the cracks and after a few minutes headed back out into the grass strips along the runway. We decided we would move off to other parts of Worcester and come back later in the afternoon hoping for more looks at all 3 species.

Swans seemed to be in every open seep within the city....Curtis Pond, Beaver Brook stream....and they were all paired up ready to go.

At Notre Dame Cemetery we had some good ducks, including a pair of Pintail, Hooded Mergs, Common Mergs, Blacks and Mallards.

At All Faith's Cemetery we had much larger groups of Common Mergansers, and the males were definitely testy with one another whenever a female got too close.

We also had Hooded Mergs there as well, but they were yet paired up.

Down along the railroad tracks in Auburn (behind the Brady Sunroom plant) we had some nice close looks at Common Mergs again.

And we wondered whether these birds were starting to follow the streams opening up and slowly moving northward.

This female just swam up and under the bridge before taking off, affording a really close view.

As I was shooting the mergs, a shadow passed overhead and I aimed my camera skyward and caught this Red-tailed Hawk soaring out from the nearby trees and trying to catch a morning thermal. Another Red tail was nearby and we wondered if they were setting up territory.

We did head off to check out the nesting Great Horned Owl (sorry, no location) and even though she was hunkered down you could get fairly good looks, especially at her little tufts blowing in the breeze. Click on the photo to enlarge it and you'll see what I mean.

We decided to visit the tower in Blackstone where the Ravens had bred for the last several years, and while we did see the nest (which looks in good repair) we didn't have any birds displaying in the area yet. The day started to really warm up so we even checked some nearby farm fields for an early luck.

But I did have to stop on Rt. 16 at the Willow Brook Dairy and Restaurant and capture this "tree" for my growing selection of oddities. While it doesn't technically qualify as a "lawn trinket" it's still worth a photo. I particularly liked the Fish 'n Chips at the top!

We found this Red-tail in almost the same tree 2 years ago when we were doing this area for the atlas, but other than lots of song sparrows, things did seem a wee bit quiet still.

So we headed back to Worcester, checking on the Peregrine at the nest box along the way. For a great way to stay tuned to the Worcester Peregrines make sure to check out Kim Allen's blog, The Curious Birder, at Kim keeps us all totally up-to-date on the comings and goings of this pair and their offspring.
Later in the afternoon we headed up to the airport again to check out the birds there and we were pleased to find several large flocks using the parking lot again.
We checked out the flocks for Lapland Longspur, but we didn't luck out as we had earlier in the morning. Just lots of nicely plumaged Snow Buntings. With the DirectAir flight coming in all the birds flew way out, so we decided to circle the airport and see what was happening on Mulberry Street.
We had a nice Crow flock coming into roost.
And as we watched they just seemed to keep coming -- we did hear a Fish Crow somewhere in the flock. We estimated close to 1000 birds in this roost.
We left the crows and headed back up to the main terminal and one last check on the parking lot. No Snow Buntings, Horned Larks or Lapland Longspur put in an appearance. And even though the lighting was right we saw no sign of a Short-eared Owl.

Just as we were about to leave a Killdeer called for above and came into the airport. WOW, now that's a sign of spring!


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Barnacle Goose and Black Vultures - 2/20/10

This past Saturday proved to be one of the early spring days when you know birding is picking up and the really nasty weather will be gone -- even if you have one or two more snowstorms to rattle your optimism. We decided to head out to the southern Berkshires -- Stockbridge, Great Barrington, Egremont and Sheffield. Our target bird was Black any odd waterfowl or goose hanging around the southern Housatonic River. Our first stop in Stockbridge brought on several territorial Red-winged Blackbirds calling away. This to me is truly a sign of spring...some people think Robins area, but the territorial Red-wings mean there's no turning back.
Couldn't resist this sign along someone's driveway in Great Barrington; even though the floppy disk dates it a little. Not exactly a "lawn trinket" but definitely worth a shot. Our best bird in Great Barrington was an immature Northern Shrike perched in a bush right along Rt. 7 before you get into the hotel section. We made a u-turn to try to go back for a photo, but the bird took off and we could not refind him.
Not much was along the river in Great Barrington so we headed straight to Mill Pond in South Egremont where there's always some open water. And we weren't disappointed!
Right at the junction of Rts. 23 and 41 the bridge was under repair so the first thing we did was to pull off and get the scope out. There appeared to be several distinct groupings of Canada Geese and Mark was determined to find either a White-fronted or Cackling Goose. We spent about 20 minutes going over every goose that we could see -- knowing there were some that were out of sight around the bend to the right of the closest pile. So we moved around to the pulloff on Mt. Washington Rd.
Within a few minutes I spotted a Barnacle Goose moving across the ice towards us!. This was really exciting, and after shooting a half dozen shots, I jumped back in the car and called Tom Collins. Luckily I had his cellphone from the previous weekend when he was leading a trip to Cape Ann. Tom promised to get the word out to western Mass birders and we then called Tom Gagnon and Val Miller to get the message out to the valley birders.
Whe the goose was swimming in the water among the Canada's, it was really easy to notice the smaller size and rounded head. And we got to hear it call several times!
Once the bird came out on the ice closer to us, we could see the jet black legs and the dark barring on the back feathers.
In the 25 minutes we watched this goose, it wandered through 3 different groupings of Canada's and we wondered whether it was looking for another Barnacle.
We didn't want to watch the bird fly out with the other geese, so about 10:25 we decided to leave (after almost 30 minutes) and head down to check out Sheffield for Black Vultures. After all, Barnacle Goose was not one of our targeted birds. We did, however, stop back several hours later (close to 1) and the bird had moved back to the far side of the pond and was sleeping among the Canada Geese. It was still relatively easy to pick out because of the dramatic patterning on the back and with the sun out it was so much lighter than the other geese nearby.
In Sheffield, we got to the pulloff just south of Bartholomew's Cobble on Rannapo Rd. just as a large group of vultures could be seen going up in the distance. Mark jumped out to see if we could find a Black Vulture in the group and was amazed to find that the entire kettle was made up of Black Vultures. There wasn't a TV among them!
Since they were quite a ways off, we jumped back in the car, drove through the little village of Ashley Falls and pulled down Valley View Rd. just to the CT border. This is the area where we had 14 Black Vultures a few winters back coming to a gut pile out in the farm field.
Just as we pulled into the school bus turnaround right at the MA/CT line we had a group of vultures come low over the road.
They were moving pretty quickly in the wind, and I probably got as many blurry shots as I did decent ones.
The more I see these birds -- even at a distance -- the easier it is for me to tell the difference between a BV and a TV. The tail is so short that jizz alone makes it relatively easy to tell them apart.
Sure enough the birds put down in some trees out in the field where we had had the gut pile, and my guess is that the nearby farm is still using the same place. Even at a distance the white patches at the tips of the wings and the white legs were pretty noticeable. We left the area having had at least 32 birds -- and we never saw even one Turkey Vulture.

Since some of the birds we had seen go up in the kettle peeled off and seemed to be heading north, we spent some time checking the surrounding farmlands looking for more vultures. While we didn't see any outside of the Ashley Falls area, we did turn up an adult Bald Eagle further north along a bend in the river.
We also had a Cooper's Hawk nearby and several Red-tails.
While landbirds weren't in abundance, we did come across several groups of Robins, including this one feeding on sumac. We had a small group of Tree Sparrows in the same area.
As I mentioned earlier we stopped back at Mill Pond on our way out to check on the Barnacle, and then we headed back up Rt. 7 towards Stockbridge and the Mass Pike.

Since it was only about 1:30 I suggested we stop in one of my favorite places in Great Barrington -- Asia Barong.
Now with the giant statue of Garuda out front, it's likely you won't miss it. But the inside is just as fascinating. You name it and they seem to have, scarves and clothing, jewelry, erotic art -- whatever you're looking for! Somehow I know my neighbors would run me out of town on a rail if I tried to put this statue up in my backyard.
We've gotten some nice small pieces of furniture here and baskets as well. But today we had to settle for a small statue of Kali, the goddess of death -- but it's the death of the ego she's associated with, not with killing humans. Just wanted to clear up any misconceptions you might have had regarding Kali.
Oh well, back home to Worcester and the cats....