Sunday, May 29, 2011

Last Class Trip to Southern Berkshires - 5/28

Our final trip of Mark's Spring Migration class for MAS Broad Meadow Brook was held on the Saturday of the long Memorial Day weekend. We travelled out to the southern Berkshires to try a route through Beartown State Forest and back through the Tyringham Valley. After meeting right off the Turnpike in Lee, we proceeded directly to the entrance of the state park off Pine Street and Beartown Mountain Road. Within 5 minutes we had our first Louisiana Waterthrush and upon entering the state park boundary we stopped to try and get looks at a fairly close singing Overnbird. This can be such a hard bird to see, until after he's flown. His song can be so ventrilocal! Amazingly, with just a little spishing, this bird flew in and perched so that everyone got good looks at him.

We stopped and checked various other singing birds and at the first brook crossing near Mt. Wilcox Road we spent some time listening to Alder Flycatchers and watching the territorial fights taking place between 2 or 3 pairs of Chestnut-sided Warblers.

We also had okay looks at Blackburnians along the road as well. They always perch rather high, so my photos tend to show the underbelly and maybe the throat.

This was a new area for everyone on the trip, and even though it was Memorial Day Weekend, we didn't run into any dirt bikes and it looked as though the park still wasn't in full swing.

So we had time and space to stop and check out even the more common birds, like this male Common Yellowthroat who was singing his little heart out.

It's hard to be in a place like Beartown and not be distracted by all the flora and fauna of the area. Even this Pinxter seemed more exotic!

Taking the Mt. Wilcox Road loop we were amazed by the numbers of dragonflies on the road. Every time we stopped to check out a singing bird there were dozens of odonates flitting around. This female Common Whitetail graciously perched on a birch log so I could get a nice contracting photo. While their normal habitat is a variety of wetlands, they are known to stray very far from water foraging for food.

The same is true for the Chalk-fronted Corporal.

And the flowers couldn't be taken for granted either. This Columbine with it's exquisite color and unique flower shape can actually be fairly easy to overlook along the roadsides.

One of the always humbling facts about spending so much time out in nature, is for me to realize how much I DON'T KNOW. The best I could do with this little bug was to get it into the metallic wood-boring beetle family.....but from there I was stumped.

Doing the loop we stopped to try to spish in the one of the numerous Black-throated Blue Warblers, and we were obviously a little too close to this Red-eyed Vireo's nest....since he (or she) came in with a vengeance to see what the heck we were doing.

After coming out of Beartown in Monterey we headed back on the Tyringham Road to check out the valley. Of course we had spent the full morning in Beartown, so we realized that Tyringham would not necessarily be at its best in terms of bird song. Driving down one the roads that crosses the valley we came across some nice patches of Ragged Robin. Even when in full bloom this flower can look a little scraggily....the blooms remind me of a pink Witch Hazel!

This Corn Speedwell always tricks me into thinking it's a Forget-Me-Not.

We also had a fairly good-sized group of Eastern Commas on the dirt road down to the Town Pond in Tyringham. I think I've finally been able to separate this from the Question least I hope so.

I find the marking on the underside to be less helpful in some individuals. If you blow up the photo of this individual it might look like a question mark....but the horizontal bar on the upperwing after the 3 dots days it's an Eastern Comma. Yikes, I'm not sure I'll ever be really good at butterfly identification.
And of course no trip to Tyringham would be complete without a visit to Jean Brown's grave in the small cemetery off Church Street. I've spoken about this before so I won't bore you with details of who and what this's enough to say it's always fun to tie birds and art together in the same trip.

This beautiful Black Swallowtail was foraging in the fields at the other end of the valley at the entrance to the WMA.

A very nice way to end our last trip with this class. It certainly will be interesting to do some of these same spots in fall migration....but I refuse to even think that far ahead at this point!


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Class Trip to Rutland State Park - 5/22

We had our fourth Migration Class trip to Rutland State Park and Barre Falls Dam and had a mostly breeders rather than migrants. We heard lots of warblers -- Black-throated Blues, Pine, BT Green, Redstarts everywhere, so some of them must have been migrants! Probably the most numerous bird of the trip though had to be Rose-breasted Grosbeak. They were EVERYWHERE! It seemed like migration was definitely on for them just based on the number we had.
We did have some Blackpoll Warblers (always a sign that migration is winding down) and we had two Parulas working the trees near the beaver marsh along Prison Camp Road.

At the same beaver marsh we had great looks at a pair of Brown Creepers gathering food and flying into a nest site in a big dead tree very close to the road. Since the photo below is almost a "Where's Waldo" shot, you really need to click on the pic and see it full screen to enjoy the bird.

Deb Berard spotted this Green Heron at the river crossing near the prison camp and it spent quite a bit of time out in the open looking for food, before some fishermen launched their canoe and scared him off. We also heard Virginia Rail in the big marsh and there were Bobolinks displaying over the open fields. Everyone (except me and my camera) got great looks at an Indigo Bunting along the road as well.

As we were tracking down a singing Northern Waterthrush near the river crossing, I snapped this photo of Least Flycatcher in full song. It's always fun to see the bird doing their call so that there's no question of what empid you're looking at. However, taking a photo and filing it away is always a little flat....without the song to complete the picture.

Similar to the Quabbin area, Lily of the Valley seemed to be everywhere this year.

And the same can be said for Wild Geranium too.

We stopped to show the class the leaves of Purple Trillium (since the blooms are long past) and we found this Jack in the Pulpit in the same area.

But, of course, everyone's favorite was the Fringed Polygala....some were past prime and had lost petals due to all the rain, but we still found a few lovely blooms.
The thrush of the day seemed to be Veery...they were calling at almost every stop we made. Although we did hear Wood Thrush singing as well; just not in the same numbers.

After driving through the major roads and coming out above the dam on Rt. 62, we took the class south on Grainger Road -- which also serves as a snowmobile trail in the winter. While Mark and I have birded these roads several times, I think this was the first time we had taken a class so it was a new place to explore for everyone.

Since it was cloudy and threatening showers, we weren't surprised to hear a very close Black-billed Cuckoo calling in the canopy. We stopped and Mark did a surprisingly-good imitation and the bird immediately flew in closer and started calling. Everyone got good looks at the bird -- which isn't always easy with cuckoos. And it turned out to be a life bird for Neil in the class.

The trip ended as a morning trip as advertised and Mark wondered if folks wanted to check one little pond in Rutland since we hadn't seen Wood Duck and he thought we might be getting close to a century run for the day. Unfortunately most folks had other plans, do we stopped over ourselves. We did not add any species; however, we got great looks at Catbird nesting very close to the rail trail...

and a pair of Canada Geese with only one gosling in the pond.

It had been a fun morning and Mark had been right -- we ended the trip with exactly 100 species on the nose!


Birds & Art - Decordova Sculpture Park 5/21

We recently led our annual Spring Birding Trip to the Decordova Sculpture Park and Museum in of my favorite museums. This was the first time, however, that we had to compete with a bike race that was gathering at the same time and in the same spot. Normally that wouldn't worry me at all, but it did put a dent in that all-important time first thing in the morning when the birds are most vocal. Although I'm sure it caused some of the birds to move out of the immediate area, you certainly wouldn't haven known it by the Baltimore Orioles (like this first year male) who were singing up a storm.Right along the wetlands someone had put up a series of colorful bird houses? Our wonderful docent, Noni, wasn't quite sure where they had come from.....and there was nothing to tell us it was part of an I'm guessing they're just birdhouses!

At least the House Wren who was trying to attract a mate to the area with his song thought so.

It was great to again see one of my favorite pieces, Boaz Vaadia Ammi'el. It's always fun to see how this piece changes in the different seasons -- the backdrop of spring foliage was enchanting.

Noni was in midst of telling us about Issac Witkin's two pieces -- Jacob's Dream

and Maiden's Dream

when we heard a Scarlet Tanager fairly close (but high up) in the trees nearby. After much searching we were able to show the entire group this beautiful bird moving around in the upper canopy of trees.

Once satisfied with looks at this bird, we move on to Tom Chapin's Manna (which looked beautiful in the morning light)

and then to my favorite piece -- Jim Dine's Two Big Black Hearts. Since I know this piece is technically "on loan" to the Decordova, I'm always relieved to see it still there. For me this is one of the signature pieces of this museum, and I fear for the day when I come into the sculpture park and find another piece in its place. I just love at this art surprises me every time I look at it....first from farther away and then how it changes when you get close up.

We had a great group on the tour and they seemed as interested as we were in both the birds and the art -- and enjoyed the banter that always take place between Mark and Noni on one of these trips -- this time in front of Douglas Kornfeld's Ozymandias. Last fall when we did this trip, we had a chipmunk who had taken up residence underneath the sculpture, but we didn't see him this year.

One of the new pieces we saw was Roy Lichtenstein's Five Brushstrokes. I do admit that it wasn't one of my favorites -- it seemed sort of flat for a sculpture. But I'm sure the name recognition alone will be good for the park.

Since the trip was scheduled for just two hours (to coincide with morning bird song) we only did the lower level of pieces and ended up near Ilan Averbuch Skirts and Pants (after Duchamp).

On the way back to the cars some of us wandered through Ron Rudnicki's Rain Gates and came upon a pair of Catbirds bathing.

After most folks dispersed, Mark & I moved around Sandy Pond Road to the water department building parking lot and found this Eastern Kingbird sitting on the bow of a boat waiting either taking a break from nest building or watching guard over a nearby nest. We also had a Spotted Sandpiper which obviously nests along one of the rocky pieces of shoreline on the pond.

We had a great trip and ended up with 44 species for the morning. While it wasn't a stellar trip from a birding viewpoint, it's always enjoyable to combine birding with the spectacular art on view at the Decordova.

Even if you can't make one of our birding/art trips to this place, you should get out there on your'll love it!


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Quabbin Highlights

A couple of misty May trips to Quabbin recently produced some nice sightings of migrants.

At the Administration Building we got to watch a Chipping Sparrow collecting Dandelion seeds to feed his/her young.

And without much notice, a Pileated Woodpecker came bombing out of the woods and flew right over my head -- definitely the strangest shot I've ever gotten of a Pileated!

This Blue-winged Warbler was singing his heart out trying to attract a mate.
As was this Black-throated Blue Warbler. I have yet to see one female BT Blue this season!

And I finally had my first Indigo Bunting of the year at the Enfield Overlook, which is always a great place to hear these guys.

Near the marsh on Rt. 9 this Yellow-throated Vireo was one of a pair out foraging.

An early morning trip into Gate 35 is always calming for me.

And the Chestnut-sided Warblers along the powerlines cut-through were particularly noticeable.

Down where the road cuts off to the campground in the Women's State Forest, both sides of the road were blanketed with Lily of the Valley.

Definitely a flower I associate with my childhood, so I probably have an absurd amount of photos of this flower.

And the Starflowers were mixed in with the Canada Mayflower and the Lily of the Valley.

But the most colorful were the Fringed Polygala that pop up along the roadside in May. Much like the trillium, they only last a few short days and with all this rain, it was hard to find any blooms that hadn't already lost their "wings".

From the end of 35 the different greens were particularly amazing this morning. No matter how I hope, the camera can never really capture all the nuance of the original colors -- which is probably why nature continues to amaze us.

We were quite excited to find two species of tern though...inside Quabbin! We had this Common Tern, which flew around for about 15 minutes. And we had an adult Black Tern which really just zipped through passing over the phragmites island and made a bee-line south.

And a Savannah Sparrow at the end of the road in a wet brushy area, was clearly a migrant as well.

As we were leaving we watched this ripple of water from almost at the phragmites island coming towards us. Whatever it was it was swimming a long way. As it got closer we realized it was a River Otter who had been out hunting and was obviously bringing home food for the young somewhere near where we were standing. So we decided to move on.
On our way out we came across this Turkey Vulture hanging with a friend on the powerlines and definitely trying to dry out.After leaving Gate 35 and heading back to Worcester via Barre Falls Dam we heard the phone click in so we knew we had a message. However, we waited until we pulled into the driveway to check. BIG MISTAKE! It had been Dave Small telling us that there was a Red Phalarope at the boat launch right in front of the Administration Building at South Quabbin.
So being the crazy birders that we are, we jumped back in the car and raced out to South Quabbin. When we arrived we were greeted with the phrase no birder ever wants to hear -- "it just flew off less than 2 minutes ago".

Dale Monette, who works in the visitor center, had stayed to wait for us. So after it flew he got permission to check around the cove where the other birders had seen it fly and sure enough it was still there. We ended up getting awesome looks at the bird which made the second trip to Quabbin that day all worthwhile.It's good to have friends....