Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Different Trip to Plum Island - 6/21/10

On Monday, June 21st, Mark & I headed up to Plum Island with the sole purpose of meeting Mark's cousin, Diane, who he had not seen for more than 40 years! Diane & her husband, Ted, were on vacation in Maine (from Ohio) and since Diane & Mark had gotten back in touch via Facebook, they made plans for a reunion of sorts on Plum Island. The reason for Plum Island is that this is where their families vacationed back in the late 50's so there were definite ties to the place.One of the highlights of the trip was when Mark presented Diane (seated next to him in the photo above) with a copy of this photo on the exact spot near Emerson Rocks. It was actually quite emotional. Interestingly, this is where we also scattered some of Mark's mom's ashes last year when she passed away. BTW, that's Mark's mom, Doris, all the way to the right in the picture next to Mark.
Of course, being birders, Ted & Diane expected that we would show them all the birds we could on Plum Island -- and we were more than happy to oblige. As soon as we entered the island, we started to point out the egrets flying out to the harbor as the tide lowered.
And Willets seemed to be just about everywhere that we stopped.
At Hellcat we saw a Sora rail with young and an Osprey put on a great show in the north impoundment.
In fact at one point the bird came so close to the tower, I thought that Diane, who was standing on the second level of stairs could almost reach out and touch the bird.
We even got to watch the Osprey dive for a fish, but he or she came up empty-handed.
Thanks to a local birder, we were also able to point out the nest of the Orchard Orioles in the parking lot. The immature male was quite territorial and put on a great show chasing away a male Towhee just singing in the same area. We could also see the movement of the female on the nest, but she sat pretty tight while we were there.
The island was quite busy for a Monday, but not overrun -- and that included green-heads as well. I just love this photo of the reflection of the Snowy Egret. It was a very obliging bird.
We decided to head off the island and down to Woodman's in Essex for fried clams. Diane said in Maine all they really got were lobsters, so she and Ted were looking forward to fried clams...and Woodman's is the place to go.

Leaving the island we stopped to check the pools for phalaropes (not) and we were lucky enough to be able to point out a pair of Glossy Ibis.
As we got closer to the pools in which they were feeding, they took off, but one bird only flew further north on the island and resettled in another pool.
This provided us all a chance to get some really great looks....and as Mark reminded me, my best photos to date of Glossy Ibis.

We couldn't leave Plum without stopping to point out one of it's signature birds -- Purple Martin. I'm not sure whether the construction around the buildings in Parking Lot #1 is responsible for the lower-than-usual numbers or whether they're just become scarce. I'm afraid it's the latter.
After a great lunch at Woodman's, we headed down to Gloucester, since that's where Diane & Ted were staying that night so we thought we'd poke around a little there before we needed to head back to Worcester.

At the end of Eastern Point we had lots of Common Eider and even had a small family along the shore near Niles Beach.
It was a really nice, fun day and it was great to meet one of my cousins-in-law....but what was really special was to see Mark and Diane reconnect after more than 4 decades.
Mark tried to convince Diane to come back again next year, and to bring her other siblings (Carol and Tom) along. And Diane tried to convince Mark to make a trip out to Ohio to see them and her parents before too much more time passes.

Maybe it's the age we're getting to or something, but it seems like everyone is going through the process of reconnecting with long-lost cousins and family. I don't know....but it sure is nice!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Block Busting near Greylock

On June 19th we took on some very aggressive block busting in the Berkshires -- two full blocks near the base of Mt. Greylock (Cheshire 4 & 5). We had a team of 10 very dedicated birders, some having previously atlased earlier this year as well as last year.Our crew consisted of Alan Marble, Deb & Dan Berard, John & Eileen Stencil, Pat White, Jane Lufkin and Steve Sutton. Mark & I had logged some hours in both of these blocks last year and we went out on Friday to put in some more and to get the owling done as well. We saw an immature Bald Eagle on the Cheshire Reservoir, as well as the pair of Ring-necked Ducks we had seen earlier.
The Canada Geese were certainly confirmed....many times over.
And even though they were dirt common on the reservoir, this little one looked particularly cute.
We had recently-fledged White-breasted Nuthatches, which were making the strangest calls as they were still begging food from their parents.
This female Common Yellowthroat was still in the nest-building stage....
but this Red-winged Blackbird was defending territory in Cheshire 5.
Mark does sometimes get wanderlust, so I have to keep an eye on him when he just starts walking.....especially when we get to places where there aren't lots of people.
And while he claimed to be checking our breeding Indigo Bunting, I know he was secretly looking for a bear. Luckily he didn't bump into one, since I do wonder what would happen if he came across a sow with her cubs.
We had Ovenbirds singing from lots of spots, and the Berards got great footage of a nestling Ovenbird (you really couldn't call it fledged) scooting along a mountain road.
Red-eyed Vireos were out gathering food....
And I decided to stake out a nest to see who was going to come in. I thought I knew who's nest it was based on the chipping...
and a male American Redstart was flitting around with food in its mouth.
Once he realized that I wasn't a threat, he came right into the nest and fed the young. The female was a little more cautious, so I backed off so they could gather food without having me to worry about.
There were a pair of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks in the same general area, and a little patience brought the female into view foraging as well.
This time it was the male who kept his distance, so I moved off pretty quickly so they could go about their business undisturbed.
One of the exciting finds for Mark & me was a new colony of Cliff Swallows. We came across a barn with about 15-20 active nests. It sort of makes sense when you remember that the huge colony are Ayr Hill Farm is only about 5-6 miles north of this block.
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds on territory was fairly common in both of the Cheshire blocks we did, although we never did find a nest.
An Alder Flycatcher was still singing on territory at the same brook crossing where we had it the week previously. This is where the 'S' code for singing is important, since we try to make sure that if we go out to put some early hours in we do so at least 7 days before we'll be block busting, since it's hard to get all Confirmed behavior when you have multiple teams covering the area.
However, we had lots of confirmed behavior from Purple Finch.
In fact, we've been running into fledged young in several of the Berkshire blocks in both the north and south part of the county.
Since most of the Bobolinks were on territory, it was easy to see the males singing. We had a few juvenile birds and, of course, males and females carrying food back to the nest. No matter how many times I see the males, though, their patterning always takes my breath away.
In the territory that Mark & I were covering on Saturday, our last new species was this fledged Bluebird. With all the open fields, we had not sighted any Bluebirds in our previous trips, so this was truly an 11th hour save.

Following our usual protocol, we did our tallying over a great lunch in The Cobble View Pub right on Rt. 8. It was there you could really appreciate the differences between these two adjacent blocks. Cheshire 4 (the northern block with great forested trails leading right up the slopes of Greylock) had 78 species. Cheshire 5 (with the rail trail, the reservoir and lots of marshes) had 95 species. You can always go to the Breeding Bird Atlas sight and check out the Block Results Detail for both blocks to get the details.
Before we broke up, we decided to take a side trip up to the northern part of Cheshire (near Adams) and visit the Ayr Hill colony of Cliff Swallows. If that's not something you've done, it is pretty spectacular. We arrived and almost immediately were joined by the farmer and his daughter (no pun intended) and we counted about 215 active nests. Jim's daughter claims they've have Cliff Swallows all these years because they don't use pesticides. Could be.
After a nice visit and a lot of photographs, a small but mighty group of tired, but happy, eastern birders headed back towards Worcester and beyond.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Atlasing in the Southern Berkshires

Early June brought us full force into atlasing, especially in the southern Berkshires where we have several blocks in and around the New Marlborough/Sandisfield area. We also had our second block-busting atlas to do encompassing quite a bit of Beartown State Forest. We made a couple of different trips to the area to get the night birds in our personal blocks, as well as doing some owling in the state forest. While we've been to the area several times over the years, this is the first time we were there when the Tulip Tree right near the old inn on the town common was in this was a "life" tree for me.
On East Hill Road we came across a farm next to a marsh where there were large numbers of waterfowl. There weren't a lot of species (basically Canada Geese, Mallards and Wood Ducks) but the numbers were quite impressive...we had more than 30 Wood Duck.

These blocks had a number of small ponds, so confirming breeding on Canada Goose didn't prove to be very difficult.
Although some of the larger lakes, like West Lake, seemed rather empty. There were some reeds and we found this larva dragonfly (actually there were quite a few) attached to the reeds.
There were a number of Common Whitetails nearby, but I couldn't say for sure if the larva was of that species.
The immature Whitetails were everywhere, and the above photo shows both the translucency of the wings (where you can see the texture of the wood through the wings) and yet the wings cast a shadow so that it looks like there are a double pair of wings.
Many of the fields had Bobolink still displaying....
but we really had to search to find a Savannah Sparrow in some of the blocks.
Baltimore Orioles were definitely out and about though.
After spending a good day in the field logging hours and species in the 4 blocks Mark & I are atlasing, we knew it was time to head into Beartown SF for some evening birding. We decided to enter from the south where we would drive by the campground before getting into the block.

Along the road we came across a group of feisty goats -- one of Mark's favorite domestic animals. We pulled over and watched for about 10 minutes as they played "king of the hill" on the top of a metal enclosure. Finally the black & white one literally pushed all the others off and proceeded to run around in circles on the roof. I have to admit they are entertaining.
American Toads seemed to be on the roads all over so our drive through and out of the park on the north end was quite slow.
Thrushes were signing everywhere in the early evening and this Veery even stayed up long enough for me to get a silhouette shot.
We had Barred and Saw-whet Owls in the park, where it's quite wooded, and Great Horned in the more open country of our other blocks.
And while we heard Snipe in the park, we didn't find Woodcock except along the road near Campbell Falls down by the border with CT. While the photo is dark you can see his eye picking up the light from my camera and he was flashing the white of his cocked tail in defense of is territory.
The next morning before meeting the team to do the actual block busting, we stopped in one of our favorite places in Stockbridge and were treated with great looks at a Virginia Rail.
We could hear young peeping just off the road, but none came in view with the parent.
At times it seemed like the bird was trying to draw us down the road, so it's possible the other parent was with the chicks in the reeds.
Beartown proved to be a great place to find Ruby-throated Hummingbirds perched on dead snags at almost every marsh overlook or sometimes stream crossing.
We had 4 teams doing the block (sorry, but I forgot to take a team picture) and ended up with 74 species, including this family of Turkeys which we had not seen on 3 previous visits.
Talk about being in the right place at the right time!
We did our usual tally over lunch and realized just how diverse this area can be. We had 15 species of warbler, 9 species of flycatchers (including two Acadians!) and confirmed Yellow-throated, Blue-headed and Red-eyed Vireo.
It was a fun morning and it felt really good to have another Berkshire County block finished. Next: the northern Berkshires.