Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Season of Block Busting.....

This blog will cover a number of different atlasing trips during June and July to a variety of places. One of the things I've loved about doing the breeding bird atlas for the last 5 years is visiting such varied places across the state and getting familiar with the bird life....and other things.In early June a group of us did block busting in two of the Onset blocks in Plymouth County. Both Plymouth and Bristol counties have needed to recruit birders from other parts of the state to get as much of the atlas done as possible. Give some of the great birding areas I have no idea why more south shore birders haven't ventured into some of these wonderful areas, like Onset 1 and Onset 2, where you get fabulous views of Bird Island and many of the breeding terns.Like this Common Tern above and the Roseate Tern below. And the Ospreys out gathering food for their nestlings.... One of our best sightings was of this Mockingbird near the Kittansett Country Club bringing in food to a recent fledgling. Both parents made several trips and each time were greeted with the squawking of the baby bird begging for food like it was starving! We also had nice looks at non-breeding birds as well...... like these Ruddy Turnstones and very clear examples of active breeding behavior like these copulating Killdeer. In the Marion block we busted our team "found" nesting Purple Martins, which is always a delight.And we had great views of Eastern Kingbirds flycatching above a field. Not that it's unusual to see a species of flycatcher "flycatching" but the way they hovered over the field made them look more like hummingbirds. In our Monson block we observed some great interactions between a parent Crow and her recently-fledged young.....certainly big enough to fend for themselves but definitely preferring mom and dad do the hard work. We also had a family of young Bluebirds catching their fair share of insects as well! Driving around some of the wonderful country roads we came across a persistently-singing Blue-winged Warbler which showed definite signs of being the offspring of a hybrid. The bird had blackish markings around the face letting you know that somewhere in his ancestry was a Golden-wing.Some of the unfortunate findings included young Cowbirds. It was always important to try to figure out who the parents were. The bird below was still being attended by a pair of Chipping Sparrows. In 2 of our Berkshire blocks we had Barn Swallows still feeding young in July, definitely causing us to question some of the early safe dates marking the end of their breeding season.And try as we might, none of our teams could turn up a young Cedar Waxwing. They seem to be very late least in our western blocks. And it was in the Berkshire blocks that we turn up some of the more unusual breeding birds in the Snipe.One of the great parts of atlasing (and birding in general) is getting attuned to the many other species in these same areas. We had great butterfly this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail or even more impressive was this Giant Swallowtail that Mark & I had late in July when re-checking some of our Berkshire blocks. We also had Eyed Brown in the Great Barrington block. And this unusual moth (Virginia Ctenucha) in the Pittsfield block our teams covered.Other unusual critters we came across included Scottish Highland Cattle in Tyringham and Turkeytails in the Brimfield State Forest.

And wildflowers were fun to id as well....although I know we ran into some species that had "escaped" from cultivation somewhere long ago and were now growing wild. We had Field Scabious in Marion....a wonderful blue flower that just seemed to cover some of the fields we birded. Here's one of the garden escapes I have yet to identify....anyone have any ideas? Or this one? This I know is Blue Flax! But this daily-like flower I've researched and I think found the name....and have lost it!!! But this (I think) is Tickseed or lance-leaved Coreopsis. Next year I am definitely going to spend more time on wildflowers!

Some of the teams we had helping us bust these blocks will look familiar to you if you were reading my blog last year. We've been lucky to have a very dedicated group of folks who are willing to traipse around the state with us on this atlas project.In Marion 1 we had Bill Rasku, Danny Berard, crazy Mark Lynch, Kathy Mills and Dan and Debbie Berard. On the Pittsfield West 8 block we had John and Eileen Stencil, Wendy Howe, Kathy Mills, Simon Hennin and Bill Rasku helping us. And on a different trip to the Berks to do Great Barrington 11 we were joined by Simon, the Berards and the Stencils I said a very dedicated crew.

Even though Mark and I are still doing "mop up" on some of our blocks, the atlasing season is coming to a close. And since this is the last year of the project many of us are wondering how we'll keep ourselves busy next year. I guess time will tell......


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