Saturday, October 30, 2010

Great Meadows can be GREAT! -- 10/24/10

A few weeks ago Mark offered a class trip to Great Meadows in Concord. Due to a number of scheduling conflicts and missed emails, not enough people signed up to do the trip on Sunday, so it was cancelled. Fortunately though, Mark & I decided we would still go since there had been reports of a Barnacle Goose in the area and some good sparrow action at Great Meadows itself.When got to the fields on School Street across from the ballfields near the prison and rotary on Rt. 2 in West Concord, there were only a handful of Canada Geese present. But the geese started to appear overhead within minutes of our arrival. So we spent the next 20 minutes checking out flocks of geese as they came in from every direction and landed in the field.

Finally Mark spotted one flock flying in that contained the Barnacle. It was actually quite easy to spot based on it's smaller size and once it dipped below the trees, you could pick out the white head quite easily.

Once the bird landed he was obvious out among the crowds of Canada's filling the field.

After studying the bird and attempting to get somewhat close photos we left as lots of other birders began to arrive. We realized they had the joy of just pulling up and going "there it is" but we had the fun of watching it fly in and getting a chance to pick it out in flight among the Canada's. BTW, my understanding is that the bird is still hanging around in the area and has now been joined by a Greater White-fronted Goose.

Realizing that the birders showing up to see the Barnacle Goose would soon be heading off to Concord, we decided to move onto that location before the masses showed up. Of course, there were already lots of birders there as well, but that didn't stop the birds from putting on a great show.
We had some nice views of yellow Palm Warblers....and of course the ever-present (during fall) Yellow-rumped Warbler.

There were Northern Harriers passing over a few times while we were on the dike. Usually they move quite lazily through the area, but this one seemed to be on a mission.

We didn't have any late night heron species, but this Great Blue popped up, circled right over head and then dropped down again into the cattails.

But one of the highlights for me was this American Bittern flying along the back part of the reeds. It was actually one of four that we had that morning!

We also had both Virginia and Sora Rail, Green-winged Teal, Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper, Snipe, Rusty Blackbird....and a number of other, more common species.

But clearly the highlight of the morning was the sparrow show. In fact, this is the first time Mark didn't even make it halfway down the dike....since there was so much action taking place right along the road after making that first bend after leaving the parking lot.

Almost immediately, we had Song and Swamp Sparrows flying back and forth across the road, with many of them feeding on seeds right at the edges.

We also good numbers of White-crowned Sparrows skulking through the reeds and occasionally popping out on the road for better looks. Again, of the 8-10 we saw all but one were immatures.

And we had a handful of Savannah Sparrows as well. These little birds can be so sharp and crisp looking in the fall and so trim compared to Songs.

But the highlight, at least for me, was being able to photograph the Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow.
Mark and another birder had gotten a quick view of the Grasshopper Sparrow and were studying the same patch of cattails, when the sharp-tailed sparrow moved into view.
Luckily he made more than one appearance, and stayed perched long enough on one of those occasions to actually get some decent photos. At one point another colorful bird put up, and we only got a quick look. But one of the birders had noted a white crown stripe.....
My photos clearly showed the Nelson's Sharp-tailed, but later in the day other folks got a definitive look at the "2nd Nelson's" and confirmed that it was a LeConte's Sparrow!

What a spectacular morning with three unusual sparrows in one section of cattails. And how odd that they were all Ammodramus sparrows. My only regret was that the class hadn't been able to make the trip. In fact we learned that knowing they couldn't make the trip on Sunday, some had gone the day before and unfortunately missed all the key birds. Certainly glad Mark & I decided to go anyway.

Class Trip to Westport - 10/17/10

In mid-October we had a wonderful class trip to the Westport area. We met at Gooseberry Neck and were immediately impressed with the huge cormorant flocks on the move over the point. We hadn't even gotten out of the parking lot when we began to see incredible numbers of Yellow-rumps and White-crowned sparrows -- we didn't know where to look first!
We had over 800 Yellow-rumped Warblers for the day....most at Gooseberry Neck, but certainly flying over or at almost every stop we made for the morning. I know when I'm seeing large numbers like this it really is fall, but they are just sooooo perky you can't help but snap a photo.
While nowhere near the numbers, immature White-crowned Sparrows seemed to be everywhere as well. We had more than 50 (all immatures) within 25 yards of the parking lot at Gooseberry Neck. Unless there is a real fall-out, I don't get 25 of these birds a season, let alone in one spot at one time. Really quite impressive.
We had numbers of seaducks starting to build up as well. These female-plumaged White-winged Scoters were just a few of the 100+ flocks we had right off the Neck. In fact we had decent numbers of Common Eider, Red-breasted Merganser and Black and Surf Scoters as well.
And then there were more White-crowns....which you really can't ignore, since they are such a sharp-looking little bird.
One of the highlights for me was being able to get a non-blurry shot of Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Now I know these birds aren't terrible rare, but trying to focus on a constantly-moving little pipsqueak like this has always been a challenge.
In fact I've thought about doing a blog of what I label "test" photos -- those shots that I've gotten which capture just a piece of the bird. Some of them have enough to be identifiable, but some of them are truly laughable. And, for me, kinglets loom large in that category. Actually when I think about it, they would fit better in the category of "this is where the Ruby-crowned Kinglet was" category, since I have some great shots of bushes where these birds were!
After finishing Gooseberry Neck we move along the shore to check out the overlook of Allen's Pond. And Double-crested Cormorants were a predominant feature in this area as well.
Also what was nice were the American Copper butterflies we found right along the path from the beach. I love finding butterflies as the season pushes on,,,but American Coppers are a special little butterfly wherever I find it.
We had two in this area -- one very bright, crisp one. And one definitely much more worn and tattered.
We also had some Monarchs still moving, and this Clouded Sulphur as well.
There were Laughing Gulls still in good numbers, but we didn't have any lingering terns in this area.
Having promoted this as a "morning-only" trip we started to head back up Rt. 88 and stopped at the boat launch just south of the bridge. Our misses in this area had been Osprey (surprised we didn't have a late one) and a lingering Tree Swallow -- although we all knew that Mark was constantly searching for a Cave Swallow (denied).
In the boat launch parking lot we watched a Greater Black-backed Gull trying to swallow an eel. At first we were all excited, until someone noticed the fishing hook attached to the eel. Then we all freaked and tried to scare the gull away from what was surely going to be a disastrous lunch choice. Luckily the fishing line attached to the eel was entangled with the rocks and the gull was unable to free the eel and swallow it. Finally the gull did give up on his own, but it's unrealistic to think that another gull didn't come along after we left and try to do the same thing -- only successfully.
Saying goodbye to some of the class that really believed us when we said "morning only", we proceeded to Acoaxet to briefly check in on some of the hot spots. Along River Road we had some nice views of Great Egret fishing in the shallows.
And we finally had that lingering Osprey -- but it was the only one we had for the trip.
At the herring run we hit our only late terns as well. We still had a shrinking sandbar from this point with lots of gulls getting squeezed into a smaller and smaller place as the tides came in. Suddenly Mark spotted 1 or 2 terns put up which he thought were Forster's Terns. After trying to get them in and among the larger gulls, they took to the air and came closer. We found that we had 1 Common Tern and 3 Forster's. As they came a little closer you could clearly see the dark mask of these adult winter-plumaged birds.
While not as numerous we still did have White-crowned Sparrows, and this one came out to bathe in front of us in a mud puddle with House Sparrows, a House Finch and even a Yellow-rumped Warbler at one point.
We had some nice, close looks at Semipalmated Sandpipers on the rocks, along with Sanderling.
It was a great study of the two species side-by-side so you could do some good comparisons on size and other characteristics.
One of the "highlights" of the trip for Mark was having me photograph a dead swan in Acoaxet. Now not to make him sound too ghoulish (he really doesn't like dead birds in general), but everyone in his class (and probably far beyond) knows that Mark can't stand swans. He's right in that this introduced species can run out native breeding waterfowl whenever they arrive....and they are spreading like purple loosestrife inland. So while I did document this bird's demise, I have drawn the line against using this photo on our holiday cards this year! (BTW, it's likely this bird hit the powerlines which were nearby and it's probably just as well that it's DNA didn't survive.)
And there are still plenty of Mute Swans in the area.
A real highlight at the end of our trip was Mark's finding and rescuing an eel in the herring run. The eel was on dry land and we were able to get him back into the water where he could recover.
It was unclear whether the local Great Blues had dropped him or whether the high tides had left him high and dry.
In any event our presence did encourage the nearby Great Blue to temporarily leave the area, and hopefully that will give the eel enough time to rehydrate and make it back to deeper waters.
We ended our morning-only trip about 2:30 having seen 76 different species in this discrete area. While not as flashy as Plum Island and other north shore hotspots, the Westport/Acoaxet area continues to be my destination of choice whenever I get a hankering to visit the shore. I find this area to be wonderful in every season, and it's especially nice when you have a small group of fun people along with you.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Class Trip to The Quabog IBA - 10/10/10

We had a nice morning class trip to the Brookfields as part of Mark's IBA class. We started at Lake Quabog hoping for waterfowl.And although it was quite chilly, we did have a small group of Ruddy Duck (11), along with a Pied-billed Grebe and 2 immature Bald Eagles. The foliage was definitely getting close to "peak" and that, along with an Osprey, made for a beautiful fall morning stop.
We then headed to South Pond (aka Lake Quacumquasit) and had a number of blackbird flocks putting up in the trees along the road bordering the WMA. Our total of Red-wings for the day was above 3,500!
The corn was still standing so it was next to impossible to hike in the area, although there were numbers of sparrows and Yellow-rumped Warblers flitting through the area. We only had 3 species of warblers for the trip....with Yellow-rumped Warbler coming in just north of 250. This one decided to come in for a close look at me....
....that was until the adult Bald Eagle flew right over the area, and then everything ducked for cover!
We moved onto the WMA which was mowed and walked in to find lots of sparrows there as well. The Chipping, Swamp, White-throated, Lincoln and Song Sparrows made up the variety. And we did have a few Rusty Blackbirds moving through as well.
We hit all the various ponds in the Brookfields, but we didn't come upon any flocks of ducks to speak of . Our best bird was probably an American Bittern at Coy's Brook.....although only the taller members of the class got any looks at all, since the scopes were all set at heights that made it challenging for us wee folk to get a good look.
We continued our loop and finally hit the Mass Audubon property at Elm Hill where we again had great numbers of the common sparrows. The Song Sparrow (above) and Swamp Sparrow (below) were especially responsive to my spishing!
It was a classic fall day in Worcester County.....and we ended with 72 species.
We had 9 species of waterfowl (counting Mute Swan), 9 species of hawks (not counting Turkey Vulture) and 8 species of sparrows.....a nice variety of other common birds rounded out our list.