Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring Arrives!

After almost of week of laryngitis, getting out for some "quiet time" with the birds seemed anticlimactic. Wait, what am I saying? Getting out with the birds is NEVER a disappointment.

We actually started the morning very early (left the house at 3:30 am) to check for owls and woodcock in some of the atlas blocks we're trying to help with in Hampden County. And we had a pretty good showing in Monson; although the woodcock just weren't back in numbers yet. We did have a great pair of Barred Owls "duetting" right next to the pulloff we used on a little back road. All in all a very satisfactory showing and great for adding species to a couple of blocks.On our way back home we decided to recheck some of the ponds and the Quabog River in the Brookfields. The rivers (like the Quabog above) were still quite swollen and we had good numbers of pairs of Common Goldeneye. But for me one of the all-time great signs of spring is the first foal at the Sawmill River miniature horse farm in West Brookfield.

And sure enough there she was....the first of the breeding season. Technically I'm not really sure if it was a she or he, but I'm going to use she for now because it just seems right somehow.
Even Mark (who is totally not impressed by these "mutant equines") laughed at the antics of this less-than-a-week old foal. She just pranced around like the world was hers and since she was the first, she didn't have any competition telling her differently. Of course in 2-3 weeks, she will probably have lots of company to zoom around and play with. Don't know what it is about these little horses, but I really do want one in my life on a regular basis.... Oh well, it's always fun to visit.We also had some great looks at Snipe in the WMA fields across the street from South Pond.
Wow, talk about blending into your surroundings!
Even when you know they're there, it's still hard to refind them when you change your vantage point.
We called it an early birding day, since we had been up since way before dawn and we had a birthday party to go to for our friend Scott Surner out in the Connecticut River valley. I wish I had brought my camera with me, since the photo of Scott "with hair" is priceless! I don't think I've ever laughed that hard in my life. Thank you Jan and Carlos!!!!

When we got home the "supermoon" was still visible and I couldn't resist taking just a few photos. It was pretty magnificent.
On Sunday we decided to check out another block we're doing for the atlas, just to see what the habitat was like. This one is on the southeast coast in Plymouth County, right on the border of Plymouth and Sagamore.
While it was a beautiful day, right along the ocean it was a tad cold and windy. This shot from Sagamore Beach pretty much shows the amount of coast we have going north. As you might imagine quite a bit of the area is marked private, but there are some roads you can poke down.
And we found a great public trail through a phragmites marsh which looked very promising. We had a pair of Catbirds. Although it's hard to tell if they are just overwintering or whether they'll stay in the area to breed.
And we seemed to have a ton of Song Sparrows, most doing their spring song. While I don't think the area is a rich as inland in terms of breeding birds, it will be fun to see what is breeding right along the southeastern coast.
Overall, this was just a real fun weekend....birds, friends and baby miniature horses!


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Getting Ready for Atlasing!

With the Snow Buntings dwindling at Worcester Airport, we are definitely looking ahead to checking out blocks that need some special attention this year....the FINAL year of the Breeding Bird Atlas. We headed out to check a few blocks in Hampden County which need to have the species increased. Along the way we stopped to check the ponds in the Brookfields and had this beautiful immature Bald Eagle over the Quabog River.
We were able to pull off near the Rt. 148 bridge that's being repaired and got some great looks at the bird sailed over the flooded river checking for breakfast.
With everything being so flooded in the area, we were surprised to come across this pair of beaver out of the water. I thought they would be mating in their den, not out in public!
One of the new blocks we are checking out is in Monson, and we were excited to find 2 different adult Bald Eagles hanging out in an area suitable to support a nest.
The bird above is bird #1....we know that since eagle #2 below flew into the same tree and they exchanged places. We spent at least 30 minutes in the area and the bird was definitely acting like it was on territory.
As spring progresses we will have to revisit the area several times to see if we can find any indication of nesting vs. this being a bonded pair wintering in the same area.
We did, however, have great looks at a Red-bellied Woodpecker in a definite nest hole.
There were two birds in the area and they kept calling back and forth to each other.
We just pulled the car off the road and sat for a few minutes watching the comings and goings. The male flew off once or twice but always came back to the same hole calling for the female.
This will be an exciting spot to check in a month or so to see what nesting activity actually took place. I don't think I've ever found the actual nest of a Red-bellied, so it's definitely something to look forward to.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Goodbye to Winter - Hello to Spring.....maybe

Early March can bring such mixed messages. Sometimes it seems like winter is never going to leave. You have all the big dirty piles of snow that have been plowed onto the sides of the parking lot and then when the warming sun starts to melt them, you watch them slowly (very slowly) melt and get even dirtier. But you also start to get excited about the upcoming season....SPRING!!!! The Snow Buntings at Worcester Airport are definitely thinking about heading back to the tundra. Early in the season we were seeing flocks of hundreds....on March 6th we had a flock of about 40. And they seemed like they were definitely staging for migration.
Very few were feeding in the parking lot; most were moving the the grasses along the runway.
And some of the birds have started to molt into their summer plumage. We had quite a few males that were starting to get their to lose their rusty coloring and develop the solid black back.

After a quick check of the flocks, we decided to head off to Quabbin to see how spring was progressing there.
Even the lichen along the rocks near the spillway had a spring-time look to it. And we had our first chipmunks of the season!

We stopped at the fish hatchery in Belchertown and even the salmon looked more ready for springtime.
But the real sign for me was the return of the Killdeer.
In the last 2 weeks these birds have started to pop up in just about every flooded field I've seen.
I know everyone talks about the Robin as such a sign of spring, but I'll take Red-winged Blackbirds, Grackles and Killdeer as the true sign that spring is almost here!


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Westport & Acoaxet - March 5, 2011

Having spent a fair amount of time inland these past few weekends, we decided to head to the coast...not the North Shore but the South Shore. We planned to check out the area around the Cole and Lee Rivers in Swansea and also Ocean Grove. Boy, there was next to nothing to be found. Usually we get large groups of Gadwall, Scaup off Ocean Grove beach, and this is a hotspot for Eurasian Wigeon. We must have just missed the end of the winter buildup. We did have lots of Brant and nice close views of Horned Grebe down Gardiner's Neck Road.
So with not much to hold us we decided to run down to Acoaxet and Westport to see what what a little further southeast.

I just had to stop to take this picture in Acoaxet. I really wonder about the people living in this area -- first the Spite House, and the chicken monument and now this. These are my kind of folk....they have a silly sense of humor and they pay homage to the strangest things!
We took the lower fork and wandered along the river....hoping for a very early Osprey. We didn't get that bird, but did get nice looks at several Pintail. This is usually a stronghold for over wintering Black Ducks, but we've often found good numbers of Pintail here.
There were also large groups of gulls in the river, and we had been tipped off by Erik Nielsen's report on Massbird to look for a Lesser Black-backed Gull in with the Herrings and Ring-billeds. Sure enough, Mark spotted the bird at the left end of a large flock. You really need to click and enlarge the photo to see it clearly.
The ponds in Acoaxet were just starting to open up and we didn't have any unusual ducks, so we headed off to see what was further down the coast at Gooseberry Neck.

Along the way we stopped at the boat launch just over the bridge on Rt. 88 and found both Surf Scoter and Common Eiders in good numbers.
At this time of year, the Common Eider male is at the peak of breeding plumage and the subtlety of the green on his head is amazing.
Right at the end of Rt. 88 we were greeted by a large flock of Redpoll feeding on the grasses at the rotary. They were very skitterish and we spent about 30 minutes trying to follow the group as it flew along the dune grasses. It's always a little windy at this spot, so that just seemed to add to the nervousness of these little birds.
The next few shots were culled from a much larger group of mostly blurry birds flying away from me. Thank you Steve Sasson for digital cameras!!!

When these little birds sit still for a few seconds you get a real appreciation for their markings.

We also had flocks out on Gooseberry Neck, so there must have been a migratory movement of these birds today.

We also checked out Allen's Pond and some of the back roads before heading back up to Worcester. While we found a large group of Horned Larks in the Mysti Brook Farm fields along with hundreds of Canada Geese, we did not find any American Pipits.

We did check out the usual spots where we've had them before, but all we came up with this time with our first Skunk Cabbage of the season....which is always cheery.
We checked all the various blackbird and starlings flocks in the hopes of finding a Yellow-headed Blackbird, but we didn't.
So we headed home having spent a wonderful early spring day in Westport.