Friday, April 29, 2011

April in Quabbin

Since I took Monday (4/25) as a holiday from work, we decided to head out to Quabbin to see how migration was progressing inland. As we entered the park from the easternmost gate, we stopped along the road to listen to some Pine Warbler song. I noticed a number of Bluejays flying in and out of one tree and then I saw something moving near a squirrel's nest. It turned out to be a Fisher looking for his morning breakfast. By the time I got my camera ready, he was already zipping down the tree trunk and making a hasty retreat into the deeper woods. Never again will I wait to get my camera ready -- all I managed was one quick shot (somewhat blurry) as he sped away. Still a nice way to start the morning though. We came across a number of deer in south Quabbin -- all looking a little worse for wear from the winter.
At the rotary near the road up to the tower, we had a flock of about 8 Flickers feeding on the ground. Most of the birds flew off, but this one bird definitely had some good food he was not prepared to he allowed me to drive around the rotary twice snapping photos from different angles.

Even after checking the tower, he was still in the rotary as we passed back down.

Near the Administration entrance we had a pair of Turkeys....with one male in full display. It was almost silly looking. I just can't understand why Fish & Wildlife allows hunting of this bird during it's breeding season. They are totally oblivious to everything around them when there's a female nearby -- it must be like shooting a pet at close range. Ridiculous!!!

Other birds focusing on their spring breeding activity included this Red-bellied Woodpecker...

this pair of Common Mergansers in the river near the Fish Hatchery....

and this female Belted Kingfisher.

Red-winged Blackbirds and Grackles are all in full display at the marsh along Rt. 9 as well. I don't know whether it was the rough winter or my advancing age, but this spring I've definitely enjoyed every moment, every song, every chance to photograph nature.

While at the Administration Building we ran into both Dave Small and Dale Monette. We were able to find out from Dave which roads were now drivable inside Quabbin and from Dale we learned that the Ravens along the powerlines in Gate 35 had young in the nest.

So we decided to head home via north Quabbin and check out Gate 35 least along the first part of the road near the water.

Sure enough when we approached the powerlines one of the adult Ravens flew off and we could see two young bobbing up and down in the nest -- another record for the Breeding Bird Atlas!

Following the old railroad bed along the water, we had 3 different adult Bald Eagles, including a pair on the nest on Hamilton Island. And we had lots of warblers moving along the trees at various points.

We could great looks at Palm Warblers foraging very low on both sides of the road.

And Yellow-rumps seemed to be everywhere, along with Pine Warblers which didn't approach close enough for a good photo opportunity. Nevertheless, I was delighted with the spring Palms.

Early spring in Quabbin can be such an amazing thing......


Westport and Acoaxet - April 24th

We spent a foggy Sunday morning in Westport and Acoaxet...hoping the fog that was hugging the shore would lift. It was fun to photograph in the fog, though. Even this Herring Gull at the boat ramp at Gooseberry Neck looked exotic shrouded in gloom. Traveling along the shore road we found two Greater Yellowlegs in the small pool across the street from Westport Town Beach. These were our first real migrant shorebirds of the year. Of course, I realize that Killdeer do migrate, but somehow when I see a migrant non-breeder at the ocean I experience shorebird migration differently.

As we pulled into the beach park right at the corner, we were greeted by a Northern Mockingbird going through a full repertoire of spring song. I actually snapped this photo as the bird was doing his Killdeer rendition!

We checked down Fisherville Lane (the side road across from Mysti Brook farm) hoping for our first Black & White warbler, but it was a bit quiet. With the morning fog still holding close, the Usnea looking especially fluffy.

While we didn't get the B&W, we did have our first Great Crested Flycatcher....although the foggy conditions didn't allow for his colorful plumage to be truly appreciated.

We decided to cut across Horseneck Road and head out towards Demarest Lloyd state park to check down some of the side roads for an early White-eyed Vireo. At the little pond at the dip in the road right after making the turn, we had this beautiful Great Egret in full breeding plumage. Just the color around his eye made the trip worthwhile!

We didn't get the vireo, but we had our first raptors of the morning, with this Red-tailed Hawk trying to get dry from the damp, foggy start to his day.

Since it seemed to be clearing a little, we headed over to Acoaxet hoping there was finally better visibility right along the coast. At the end of River Road we realized that the coast wasn't going to be our best bet for visibility still.

Although at the overlook near Richmond Pond we did get a Harlequin Duck even in the foggy conditions.
Just 1/4 mile inland, though, the clearing was happening. These Marsh Marigolds along Brayton Point Road were our first of the year.

And we had Yellow Warbler near the herring run.

The birds seemed to be feeding in the bushes all along the side roads. I was intrigued by these "pussy willows" which were in that in-between stage after their pussy willow phase.

And we finally had a singing White-crowned Sparrow as well.

As we left the area we stopped in the boat launch area near the Back Eddy restaurant and had some nice Common Eider, along with another Greater Yellowlegs -- this one more striking without the fog.
We headed back to Worcester after a lovely Easter morning in the area -- both the fog and the holiday kept a lot of people off the roads. Very relaxing....and just what we needed before heading off to an Easter visit four energetic (but totally delightful) grandchildren.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Yellow-legged Gull.....or is it?

On Friday, April 15th, we headed down to Hyannis in the hopes of finding the Yellow-legged Gull. We don't chase nearly as many rarities as we used to, but a North American bird will still get us wandering further afield than usual, especially if the bird is in Massachusetts. We arrived at the Kalmus Beach lot to get some glimpses of the gull perched fairly far out on some pilings at the end of a dock. After about 10 minutes all the gulls took off and headed somewhere for the evening roost. Oh well, we decided that we had planned to stay overnight and come back in the morning anyway. So after watching the Piping Plover for a bit we headed into Hyannis for a nice dinner and checked into a hotel.
Saturday morning back at the parking lot we were greeted by the noisy calls of the pair of Osprey who had taken up residence right at the entrance to the lot. Judging by the size of their nest this wasn't new territory to them.

We spotted both birds in the marsh across the street and managed to get some close shots.

As we pulled into the parking lot, Mark spotted a group of birders already there at the far end of the lot, so we zipped right down -- not realizing that they were looking in our direction at the Yellow-legged Gull right next to my car! As soon as I stopped the bird flew off to the beach and all I could think about was that the birders at the far end were probably using every name in the book to describe what we had just done. Luckily as soon as we stepped out onto the beach it was clear that the bird hadn't flown very far and we all got a chance to study the bird in our scopes.

Luckily we knew some of the birders so I was able to apologize for my car flushing the bird and we all joked about what would have happened if it had flown off for good.

To make up we tried to thrown some of the previous evening's dinner out to bring the bird closer, but for some reason none of the gulls seemed very interested in our leftovers.

The bird was quite cooperative and we managed to get good looks and really notice not only the legs but the bill color and construction as well. It should be noted that there have been subsequent questions about whether this bird is truly a Yellow-legged Gull or actually a hybrid between a Lesser Black-back and Herring Gull. I guess we'll have to wait for the "powers that be" to decide.
We did have the bird flying around and settling out on the water. After about 30 minutes we decided to head off cape where we planned to check out one of the blocks we planned to do for the atlas this year.

We did stop to check some of the Herring Gulls at the far end of the parking lot. There was a pair definitely courting each other.
One of the Herring Gulls in the lot seemed to have a bad foot, so Mark decided to pull over and go to the edge of the lot and dump out the remaining leftovers from the night before. We thought that this bird might enjoy not having to fight with other gulls for a handout since he was injured.

Within 5 seconds of dumping the chicken, every gull in the area seemed to converge. Now realize these are the same gulls that wouldn't take out handout on the beach. This time, however, they were interested.

Sure enough Mark spotted the Yellow-legged Gull flying in and a got one quick shot of the bird as he gulped down a piece of Chicken Marsala and headed off to digest the good-sized piece of chicken.
I'm sure the birders who had been watching this bird on the beach were less than thrilled....again. So we decided to beat a hasty retreat before we had a third instance of causing havoc with birders. We did check and found out that the bird did reappear after a few hours and many other birders arrived and had a chance to see this handsome gull.

It'll be funny if all this havoc turns out to be over a hybrid gull!


Monday, April 11, 2011

All the Signs of Spring -- April 9th & 10th

While the April showers have opened up many small ponds, we were totally surprised to find this group of what looks like GOLDFISH in a small pond in a cemetery in Rutland. They were literally everywhere..... As we arrived in Westport on Saturday morning, we were concerned with the huge fire out on one of the Elizabeth Islands; hopefully, it was an early spring controlled burn.

And we got our first Great Egrets of the season along the river in Acoaxet.

At the overlook we didn't have much, but this Horseshoe Crab shell up in a hedge row tells a lot about the winds, water and spring weather right along the coast. This was certainly a long-lived guy judging by the size of the shell.

We didn't have a lot of landbird migrants right along the coast, but we did have good numbers of Red-necked Grebes right offshore.

Driving back up to Worcester along Rt. 146 we saw our first hawks of the day -- this pair of Sharp-shins spent about 15 minutes doing a very showy flight right over the road in Sutton. We had to pull of so we could get the full effect.

They were acting more like a mated pair on territory than true migrants. It was fascinating to watch how their flight profile changed in the windy. At times they didn't even look like the same species!
One of the birds actually zipped quite close after a dive and we got some fairly good looks.

On Sunday morning we decided to get up very, very early (even for us) and head out to do some owning inside Quabbin. We were excited since we had found a Screech Owl in the fall in one of our atlas blocks and wanted to see if we could get the species in "safe dates". Alas we were denied. In fact when we got to Quabbin, we found a sign on the gate saying we couldn't drive in. So after checking several gates (same sign) and even trying Rutland State Park (gates closed!) we head back to Worcester and decided to go out again around 6:30 or 7.

Glad we made that choice, since as we pulled in the driveway we saw the "neighborhood" fox trotting through our yard. Now realize, we live right in the city, so seeing a fox in our backyard is always exciting. We've even started to leave little morsels of food for her so she doesn't have to cross too many streets to get food for her young.

We also found that a pair of Red-tailed Hawks had set up their nest in the same tree as last year across the street in our neighbor's backyard. Wow, animals are certainly getting good at adapting to urban environments.

With these two sightings erasing our earlier disappointment with owling, we decided to head out to the Spencer-Brookfield area and see what other signs of early spring we could find.

The Song Sparrows were in full spring song as we left...

At Ceramic Pond in Spencer we found a lovely pair of Wood Duck checking out suitable nesting habitat.

And an incredibly cooperative Pine Warbler singing his little heart out.

We decided to swing down to Sturbridge and check on the Great Blue Heron rookery right along Rt. 20 (which had about 11-12 nest in various stages of occupancy).

And the pair of Osprey were definitely nest-building as well.

Finding Killdeer on the nest already was a wonderful bonus; although I do worry about the nest location in the gravel on an access road to the microwave tower.

Swinging back up through the Brookfields, we found a distant Red-necked Grebe on Wickabog. And, of course, any stop at Wickabog means a drive-by my favorite horse farm to check on the progress of the new foals.

My check on the miniature horses means Mark must check on the pigs down the road. And in the early spring sun, this one certainly seemed contented!

So we headed back to Worcester content ourselves that spring had finally arrived!