Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Butterflies (and some birds) in the southern Berks

Late July or early August can be wonderful in the southern Berkshires, especially if you can avoid the tourists who come from NY, VT and all parts of MA. We, of course, don't consider ourselves tourists in the same sense....although I'm not exactly sure why that is. The above shot is of that extensive marsh (with the Great Blue Heron rookery)....part of which you can see just by pulling off the road along Rt. 7 south of Stockbridge.

And the photo below is from a barn in Tyringham where we still had Barn Swallows being fed! This Rose-breasted Grosbeak certainly took her time posing for my camera. And this immature Red-winged Blackbird was an easy guy to spish in for a photo as well. Luckily when I'm shooting plants and flowers, I don't need to worry about their flying off. This Arrowhead was in the marsh in Stockbridge along Rt. 7 too. Part of the Konkapot IBA we documented several years ago follows along Monument Valley Road off of Rt. 7 between Stockbridge and Great Barrington. We often check out the water right off of Stony Brook Road. This trip we were rewarded with lots of interesting skippers in the reeds where the brook crosses under the road.

We had several Broad-winged and Mulberry Wing Skippers in this area.And it's always interesting to find Bull Thistle....I forget it's a biennial. And down in Sheffield we found our first Common Buckeye of the season! And while looking for Hackberry Emperor I spotted this Galium Sphinx Moth and managed to get this one, slightly blurry shot before it disappeared.But our real reason from coming to the southern Berks this particular weekend was to see if we could find a Giant Swallowtail. Since there had been several reported in the area just days before, we were cautiously hopeful. And sure enough we had at least 7....all of which Mark spotted from the car. They really are a BIG butterfly! Just look at the size comparison to the Monarch in the Butterfly Bush below....And this Halloween Pennant also put in an appearance for the camera as well.One of the more interesting invertebrates of the day was this Hickory Tussock Moth caterpillar. They were all over this one area near October Mountain.In Tyringham we had more than a dozen Pearl Crescents trying to get some salts from a drying mud puddle.Queen Anne's Lace (aka Wild Carrot) is another biennial plant. Although I have to admit I see it everywhere so I really did think it was an annual. Pretty though....In New Marlborough we went to check to see if the Giant Swallowtails had made their way east along the CT border -- but we didn't have any. There were good numbers of Question Marks though. I finally learned how to identify this from the Comma from above....it's that black horizontal bar just at the end of the dots. Comma's don't have that! I always tried to get an underwing shot so I could see whether it was a Question Mark or Comma. But I learned that the Comma can also have a separate dot....so now I go for the upperwing shot. However one skipper I never get confused it the Silver-spotted Skipper. It's a big dark skipper and the white patch is unmistakable. We followed this Spicebush Swallowtail all over a dirt road to try to get a decent shot. Back up in Tyringham we checked along Breakneck Road and found lots of Spotted Knapweed. Looks superficially like a Bull Thistle (also in the Sunflower family) but has a definite "pineapple" look to it. Along the road we also had large numbers of Viceroy's.... To end our foray we stopped and visited at Rawson Brook Farm to get some GREAT fresh goat cheese....and of course to see how the young goats were doing. It was hot and they just seemed to want to sit it out either under or on top of the little platform.You can beat a day like this....even though there weren't a lot of birds....the butterflies and other bits of nature certainly made up for that.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Westport & Acoaxet in mid-summer

A late July trip to this area in mid-summer can be a joy. Off of Gooseberry Neck we usually find "teenage" Common Eiders. These were closer to adult plumage, but you could still see some of the lighter juvenile feathers. It's always fun to see a Double-crested Cormorant drying his wings....they always remind me of a kid's kite just before it takes off. And while they don't breed in the area, per se, this is the time to start getting good numbers of Great Egrets...from late July to early September. We've had several trips this year to the area, and we are consistently finding Green Heron near the Back Eddy restaurant just over the bridge on Rt. 88. This fellow was preening and I was able to catch him just after he plucked a feather! Semipalmated Plovers are working the beach..... along with Sanderlings -- some just coming out of breeding plumage. We also had some "battling" Semipalmated Sandpipers along the beach by the boat ramp on Gooseberry Neck. I was lucky enough to catch almost the whole interaction with my camera.These two birds definitely did not like each other. Even as other birds moved past them, they kept the focus on each other.One of these guys must have really done something to the other one....they fought for about 10 minutes until finally one just moved further up the beach and the whole incident ended.Common Terns feeding off the rocks at Acoaxet is always a delightful summer experience. And you can start to spot some of the juvenile birds as well. And Laughing Gulls too. This trip, though, I was surprised (and delighted) to find Least Tern...especially when one is being fed by the other! The bird seems to have become less common over the years....or maybe it's just that we're not going to the same places. So finding one in Acoaxet is truly special! We didn't have much in the way of landbirds; although finding this newly-fledged Savannah Sparrow was a treat. And, of course, the obligatory Osprey..... If you poke around Acoaxet you can also find odonates... and a Sweat Bee coming to a Turk's Cap Lily!This section of state continues to be one of my favorite coastal trips. Soon it'll be time to look for migrating warblers at Gooseberry Neck....but for today I'll just enjoy the summer.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ruffed Grouse Encounter

For some reason this year, I am running into Ruffed Grouse more often than in previous years. I'm not sure why that is....although Worcester County has had a good representation in the Breeding Bird Atlas. This species has been found in 117 of the 179 Worcester County blocks.My blog today is going to focus on just one encounter with a grouse family in the Spencer area. Driving down one of the roads connecting Lake Quabog with Sturbridge, we came across an adult crossing the road. Since he/she didn't immediately dive into the woods we figured there were young nearby. So we turned off the car (as did another car coming in the opposite direction) and proceeded to watch the bird call the young to cross the road as well. Sure enough within about 10 seconds two little heads popped out of the bushes on the right and cautiously followed the parent across the street. About a third of the way across they realized they were very exposed and decided to bolt for the other side. At the halfway point they panicked and one of the young decided to take to the air....with the other one quickly following. We were delighted to have caught this little outing rather than just hear the usual drumming off in the woods. With the two young off the road we thought the parent would hightail it into the bushes as well. But instead it paced back and forth a bit making little clucking sounds and turning back towards the side of the road the family had just left. Sure enough within a minute or so, another little head peeked out..... This juvi was definitely more cautious about venturing out onto the road. The bird stretched itself out until it looked ridiculously long-necked, inching further and further out onto the road. Even more cautious than the previous two youngsters, this bird would take a step and wait, then another and so on. At one point I was concerned that more traffic would come along and the bird would flee back to the safety from which it came. Finally the parent bird seemed to lose patience and called the bird more insistently, and sure enough this little one picked up the pace and ran across the rest of the road like it's life depended on it. The whole encounter probably lasted only about 5 minutes, but watching the behavior of the parent and the different juvenile birds was totally enjoyable and reinforced, yet again, just how fascinating it can be to watch individual behavior in birds.

I kept wondering if they all talked about the encounter once they got back to the safety of the woods!