Monday, July 26, 2010

Rambling Around Inside Quabbin

One of the advantages of four years of working on the Breeding Bird Atlas has been the opportunity to bird the east side of Quabbin in-depth. We've had a number of the blocks from Ware to Petersham and that has allowed us to obtain keys for the gates and cover a lot of area in a morning. Of course sometimes we're dealing with hordes of black flies, deer flies and noisy boaters -- but other times it's so quiet and peaceful it feels like we're in some remote part of Maine. We often start at Gate 35 since it's one of the quickest routes to the "big water" which is especially important later in summer when there's a chance for unusual gulls, terns and shorebirds. Even though they don't count for more than "observed" in the atlas, spending time in the area allows us to turn up other birds missed on previous trips. Just this past weekend we found probable Yellow-billed Cuckoo in the area.
There's always song as you start through the gate -- thrushes, warblers and Scarlet Tanagers.
One of our blocks (Shutesbury 10) actually starts at the power lines, and this is a great area for Prairie Warbler, Field Sparrow and Rufous-sided Towhee.
A recent stop in this area found this juvenile towhee responding to spishing -- you can definitely see the relationship to sparrows when you're looking at a juvenile.

And the different plumages of young Common Yellowthroat are always a good study as well!
Within about 1/2 mile you hit the major part of Quabbin, and it can be totally gorgeous.
Even with the mist rising first thing in the morning, you can usually find loons and eagles along the old railroad bed road.
With the low water, you can wander in and out of the tree-lined shore and find something of interest. I have to admit, I was totally enchanted with the patterns in this large piece of driftwood.
On one of our recent trips we came across this adult loon which clearly had spent several years at the Quabbin (notice the multiple leg bands).
Turns out this bird was one of a pair and they stayed very close to the shore. We looked for chicks and were glad these birds were close -- otherwise we might have mistaken the leg of the bird on the left as a chick.
One of the birds appeared to have a lump under it's right wing so there may have been a chick being kept warm. Since we never saw either bird dive for food or move off (we watched for over an hour) we had to leave the sighting inconclusive.
Getting about 2-2.5 miles in we come across what we call the "phragmites" island. This is usually a great place for the more uncommon birds to hang out. This past Sunday we had 3 Great Egrets fly in and work the shore of the island where we left them after about an hour. (Returning past this same area a few hours later, the birds were gone.)
Also a good area for gulls to congregate, this Ring-billed Gull put in a close appearance as he was out hunting for breakfast.
And we've been fortunate have had several Bonaparte's Gulls for the past two weekends. They are small and stay pretty far out, so unfortunately I couldn't get shots like the gull above. But since some of the birds were still in their summer plumage (with black head) it was pretty easy to pick out based on the small size and summer plumage.
This area has also provided us with sightings of Caspian, Common and Black Tern over the last 3-4 weeks as well!
This sandy-soil area is also home to lots of other "wildlife" -- normally I don't get close enough to photograph White-faced Hornets, but this one had a damaged wing and all she could do was walk along the road foraging. If you enlarge the photo you'll see the damaged wing.
This first-year Bald Eagle also flew right down the road (well actually the shoreline). I hoped it would put on a show and dive for a fish right in front of us, but also he just kept moving through the area.
Just as the road turn left and heads off into the forest, there's a path that goes straight and ends in the water. Early in the season the road is flooded at this point, but later in the year all these little yellow flowers appear at the edges of the phrags in the sandy soil. I haven't definitively identified the plant, but I think it might be a species of Yellow Saxifrage.

This is also a great area for this Bluet....
and these Calico Pennants.
This teneral Calico Pennant was one of 100's in this area in mid-June.
And this Viceroy was flying just about 10 days ago.
Turkey Vultures breed out on some of the more rugged islands, and they seem to like this end of the road just before it turns into the woods.
As we move inland, we've find breeding Broad-wings, lots of wood warblers and Ruffed Grouse families.
This Black-throated Blue Warbler had what looks like a partial "necklace" and we wondered whether there have been records of this species hybridizing with Cerulean Warbler. We've certainly heard the BTBlue give a Cerulean call.......
It's always strange to come across Mourning Doves deep in the forests at Quabbin. I'm so used to seeing them under my feeders or sitting on a phone line somewhere -- they seem almost out-of-place in the woods (although this was near an area that had been logged several years ago.)
And as the morning slips away, we start to explore some of the marshes and brooks that also hold Quabbin Treasures. We've cruised down to Grave's Landing in another block to upgrade species and gone over to Gate 22 to check the water from the west side. All this in the name of upgrading or adding new species to the atlas. But sometimes the birds get quiet and we have to enjoy whatever we can find. This crossing of the East Branch Fever has been the sight of breeding Wood Duck and Hooded Mergs, along with Barred Owl sightings. One of the rangers recently told us he had a bear at this exact spot within the past month.
We, of course, have lots of photos of Mark helping turtles back into the water after egg laying.
This American Lady seemed a little worse for wear too.
Breeding Pearl Crescents near Grave's landing.
Along the shore on the Gate 22 side of our block we found fish in some of the quieter pools near shore -- Bluegills and young bass maybe?
And this absolutely gorgeous young Northern Banded Water Snake.
One of Mark's most exciting non-bird finds over the past few weeks was this Stinkpot turtle hiding in the murky waters waiting for a fish to come poking along. You can just see his head at the end of a rotting log.
After much patience (and a little prodding) he started to show more of his body. This is not a turtle we've seen a lot....and judging by his behavior of laying in wait in some murky water at the bottom I can understand why.
I guess for me the lesson learned is that no matter what there's always something interesting to see. And Quabbin has provided a great opportunity to sample the different habitats we have right here in Central Massachusetts.

Frankly, I'm torn about doing a blog like this....and by that I mean writing about some of the places in Central Mass, Quabbin or even the Berkshires. You see, I want people to appreciate the wildness and diversity of a place like Quabbin....but then secretly (if I'm being honest) I hope most of you will head off to Plum Island or some place like that!


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Another Sandisfield/New Marlborough Trip

I've come to realize that I'm totally in love with the southern Berkshires. I've always felt it was a wondrous place at the "far ends" of the state, but I think it my love affair with the area started seriously several years ago with the magical Tyringham valley. Maybe that's why every year Mark & I have chosen to atlas multiple blocks in the Berks.So this post combines a couple of different trips from late June and early July when we were putting in some atlas time in our 4 blocks mostly in the towns of New Marlborough and Sandisfield. If you go to the Breeding Bird Atlas website, you can check out all the actual results for these blocks, as well as any other block in the state. If you're not familiar with the BBA website you can find you're way there fairly easily from the main Mass Audubon website.
The Mountain Laurel just seems to be more vibrant along this one little pond tucked down a dirt road in one of our blocks. While the pond itself seemed a little light on birds, the woods around the area held all sorts of avian this nest of Broad-winged Hawks who were almost ready to fledge.
Even though it's only July I'm already dreading the silence that fall brings when the Ovenbirds are no longer in full song. It seems they get really quite for a few weeks in mid-summer and I start to think "oh no it's over" and then song comes back for the final weeks before you start to hear them overhead at night as they're heading south.
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are always a treat to find nesting. They're so noisy and even the young in the nest can be quite evident. We passed this nest hole on two separate trips to the area at least two weeks apart and each time you could hear the young birds squabbling in the nest. I was lucky enough to catch Dad coming in to feed these guys on one of those occasions.
This male Scarlet Tanager was starting to show some early signs of molting into his fall plumage. The scarlet was less brilliant and with close observation you could see some orange flecks starting to appear.
There were juvenile Purple Finch in lots of places. In fact we've found them throughout our blocks in both the northern and southern Berkshires this year. In most instances, though, we seem to come across them down on the road "gritting".
One of the spots we keep visiting is an Alpaca farm in our Otis 6 block. Judging by the shear marks on this one's coat, he's freshly shorn.
In addition to producing Alpaca, we've found Bobolink, Killdeer and Cliff Swallows all breeding at this same farm -- a treasure trove of birds!
You really can't ignore the other natural treasures when your this Great Spangled Fritillary....
or this species of fungus -- which looks like some form of coral growing on a tree.
And sometimes it's what I've been able to capture on film that tickles me. Lots of American Goldfinch around now, but this one looked like a wind-up toy being propelled up from the road.
Another one of our later nesters, Cedar Waxwing were all over. Since we haven't yet seen those streaky-breasted young ones, I'm assuming they're still on the nest in many of our breeding blocks.
While young Turkeys are clearly in all stages of growth at this point.
I recently saw a posting from Fish & Wildlife about a "citizen science" project where they were asking people to report sightings of young turkeys so that they could gain insight into their reproduction success. Being the cynic that I am, I wondered if that was just a ruse to determine how expansive they become with hunting season. In any event, I've decided NOT to submit any sightings to them.
Our two blocks seemed to be full of Wood Thrush this breeding season. While I've often been able to get both Hermit Thrush and Veery perching up for a photo, I don't have a lot of luck with Wood I was delighted to get one quick shot of this before he flew off.

And as I mentioned earlier, Sapsuckers were abundant. This juvenile bird was quite close to the car when we stopped on a dirt road and seemed very obliging when I pulled out my camera. In fact it was so close that I didn't even need to crop this photo.
And being the southern Berkshires you can always count on something just a little bit out of the ordinary....