Thursday, September 15, 2011

Checking Westport & Acoaxet after Irene

A week after Hurricane Irene had finished with the MA coast we ventured down to the Westport area to see how things were recovering.  We had seen the photos on the news and having been there about 36 hours earlier we didn't know what we would find.  Traveling down Rt. 88 from 195 things seemed pretty normal....I saw more trees down in Worcester.
We first stopped at the boat launch just over the bridge and everything was calm and placid.  I got these great shots of a Green Heron just about 25 feet off the seawall.  They must have bred nearby since we've had a pair on and off several times this summer.
This Double-crested Cormorant was also in the same area, only he slipped off the rock into the water fairly quickly, while the heron just seemed to freeze and let me get off a ton of shots....he never even flew off.
Unfortunately, the causeway to Gooseberry Neck was still closed from the hurricane.  We spoke with a DCR guy and he seemed to think that the town still needed to check out the final road conditions but thought it would be open later that weekend.  I did walk about to the end of the fencing about a third of the way along the causeway and got these Surf Scoters (there were actually 4) just hanging off the rocks on the north side of the causeway.  We've occasionally had a summering scoter in this area, but I was surprised to find 4!
While I was doing that, Mark scanned the open ocean for lingering rarities blown up in luck.  Along Horseneck Beach we had small groups of shorebirds (mostly Sanderlings) feeding in the substantial rack line that the storm surge must have created.  We were unable to drive along the short road by the Westport Town Beach, since there were still work crews in the area so that road was still closed.  We did go back up Rt. 88 and cross over Drift Road to get to the eastern end of the shore road (near Allen's Pond).  Again, not much out on the ocean, although we did have a nice group of Forster's Terns feeding over the marshes beyond Allen's Pond.
We decided to back track and make our way over to Acoaxet....we were especially interested in seeing how the little pond by Gray's Grist Mill had survived the storm given that we had found the Red-bellied Turtle a week earlier.  (Pond was there; turtle was not.)

But first we had to stop and photograph this little kid (fairly new-born judging from drying umbilical cord still attached) jumping from rock to rock in a small pasture right along Adamsville Road.
No we all know I love miniature horses, but it's goats that Mark goes gaga for (and pigs).  I do admit that this little guys was pretty adorable with those long flopping ears.  They actually looked like they were made from a jersey material!
Our real excitement, though, was finding that "our" Zabulon Skipper had survived Irene.  It seemed a little worse for wear, but that could be it's getting old....Mark reminded me these guys don't really have a long life span to begin with.
Still it was nice to see him flying around and feeding and knowing that he must have ridden out a hurricane along the coast just amazed me.
Nothing special out on the ocean from this side of the Westport River either.  Although it's definitely the Forster's Terns that are putting on a show.
We had well over 20 of these birds for the day.
We headed back to Worcester early afternoon, having spent a good morning checking on fall migration (which was pretty non-existent in terms of land birds) and the results of Hurricane Irene.  Much like the people in this area, I think the wildlife is used to living along the coast and they know how to ride out a hurricane.
We'll be heading back to this area in a few weeks with Mark's birding class....nice to know everything will be accessible by then.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Mini Trip to Greylock....then back to Worcester

A few weeks back we decided to head out to the northern Berkshires, since we seem to spend a fair amount of time doing the southern Berks (my personal fave between the two!)
Driving out through Hawley we came across this fabulous Sunflower farm right on Rt. 8A.  It was almost magical in the early morning mists.
We took a back road up through Cheshire but the bird song seemed to indicate we were in for a tough day.  We did have some warblers on the actual road up Greylock, especially around this opening filled with Virgin's Bower.  We also had Ruby-throated hummers zipping in and out, but they were too fast for me.
There was, however, a young Raven flying back and forth across the road and he seemed quite happy to have his picture taken!
It's not until you see this bird's head in profile that you realize there's no way you can confuse this with an American Crow.
Unfortunately, Mark started this trip a little under the weather, so we never made it all the way up the mountain and so decided to cut our losses and head back home.  We thought we might get out later in the day locally.

We did go out for some nighthawk watching along Rt. 56 in Leicester....overlooking the runway at Worcester Airport.
Depending on the cloud conditions and the winds, we've had great looks at birds as they fly south or southwest....sometimes coming quite close, especially if they're feeding.  This view out to the southeast shows how deadly a clear night can be.  You can see all the way to the Blackstone Tower (faint on the horizon to the right of white water tower) and the earlier clouds seemed to evaporate.
We had a handful of birds come right overhead fairly close, but with out a good cloudy sky, you can miss so many birds unless you're lucky.
We scanned whatever clouds there were, but other than a beautiful late summer evening we seemed out of luck.
We had less than 100 birds for the night....
and only a handful passed fairly close overhead.
The sky changed quite dramatically while we were there, but the big numbers never seemed to materialize.  In fact, we've gone up there several more times, and either we're just missing the birds or they're not coming by Worcester this year.
I do hope this isn't an indication that there numbers are crashing.  I think Tom Gagne in the valley has noted far less birds than usual from the Mt. Tom overlook as well.  Being the optimist, I choose to believe we were just unlucky!


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Mid-August inside Gate 40 Quabbin

Still trying to ring out birds for the breeding bird atlas, we do go into Quabbin when we can...partly because it's just a wonderful place to bird, but mostly because there is such a good variety of birds that breed there.  Warbler species on this particular day included American Redstart.....
a juvenile Black-throated Blue....
and this sharp-looking Canada Warbler.  And that's only to name a few.  We also regularly have BT Green, Black & White, Pine, Blackburnian, Magnolia, Chestnut-sided, Yellow and, of course, Common Yellowthroat.
With all the rain this summer we are starting to see fungus everywhere.  Now I'm not great with mushroom identification, so anyone who knows what I'm looking at should definitely add a comment and let me know.
" Mr. Bookman" with whom I live has just ordered 3 mushroom id guides.  I've let him know that I'll keep all shots of 'shrooms in one specific folder and he can spend the time id-ing them to his hearts' content.  My real fear is that once he starts to get good at identification, he's gonna suggest we start cooking them.  Although as he mentioned just this morning "if you get a bird id wrong, it won't kill you".....not necessarily true with mushrooms.
Now this I believe I did identify -- a tooth fungus called Stacka Hydnum.
Of course this Common Wood Nymph on a dead tree trunk could be an id challenges of it's own.
Driving along one of the roads we came across a group of Robins down on the ground, presumably eating ants.  This juvenile was with them...and I say presumably eating ants because after watching for about 5 minutes...
....we noticed the juvi Robin opening and closing his wings and he appeared to be placing his bill underneath the wing.  Could it be that we actually came across a Robin "anting"?  That's where the bird places ants strategically on it's body so that it can rid itself of mites and other pests.
We also came across these two Monarch caterpillars very much enjoying the leaf they were on.  Now this is a good area for Monarch migration (especially out over the water from Gate 35) so it would be interesting if we could be there to watch these guys hatch and take off.
And since the Monarch caterpillars taste deadly to birds, this Red-eyed Vireo won't threaten it.
Although I often wonder about juvenile birds.  Will this Red-eyed Vireo know better than to taste those caterpillars?  They do look awfully tasty....
The highlight for this trip was definitely finding a Black Racer stretched lazily across the road....lucky for both the snake and me that Mark spotted it before I ran it over.  Another great photo to add to Mark's list of "photographs of reptiles and amphibians of MA in the hand".  This guy's was definitely checking Mark out to see if he posed any real danger.  Even though he took a quick taste, Mark says the bite doesn't even hurt and he seemed even less problematic that a water snake.
Of course, I'll take Mark's word on that one....


Getting into Bugs!

What do you photograph when there aren't any birds around?  I guess it's time to start on bugs.  Now this is not something I really thought I could get into, but once you start looking, it's totally fascinating.  The goldenrod seems to attract a pretty good invertebrate this Ambush Bug.  I swear I looked at it for the longest time before I saw it's antenna and determined it was actually a living organism. 
 And then you get to the flower this Banded Longhorn Flower Beetle (Typocerus veluntinus).  We were seeing lots of this guys flying all over once we started looking for them.

Of course odonates fall into the insect category as well.  Most of the time in Gate 35 I find the big dragonflies like the Calico or Halloween Pennants, but if you spend time looking for insects on flowers, you'll also find these tiny this male Familiar Bluet.  Again thank god for Blair's book on these little creatures!
One of our best sightings for early August was of this Goldenrod Crab Spider.  Yes, technically I know this is not an insect, but if you're photographing little crawlie things, I count spiders in the same broad grouping.

As the name suggests, you usually find this little guy on goldenrod, so finding it on a bright pink rose growing along the old railroad bed of Gate 35 was a special treat.  He was very aware as I tried to get shots of him, he would always move to the other side of the petal when I got too close with my macro lens.  After a while he moved to the goldenrod where he blended in much more appropriately.

The great thing about Quabbin is there's always something to see....if you take the time to look.


Westport & Acoaxet -- 2 days before "Irene"

 We decided to head down to check out the preparations for Hurricane Irene on the Friday before she was schedule to hit.  Sure enough, they were flying Hurricane warning flags as we entered the causeway by Gooseberry Neck!
At the entrance to the causeway we came across a little group of English Sparrows bathing in a depression in a piece of granite.
Once on Gooseberry Neck we could smell all the Japanese Honeysuckle in bloom....
And there were flocks and flocks of Tree Swallows just milling around the phragmites.
Some were just resting, and all I could think about was what would happen to these hundreds of little birds if the hurricane made a direct hit in this area.
There was not much going on in the way of's like everyone knew the storm was coming and had already moved to safer ground.  In the parking lot at the entrance to Horseneck Beach we had a family of Turkeys looking for a safe haven.  It's not often than you see Turkeys and gulls in the same parking lot.
Judging by the size and plumage of these birds, it was still a family group and probably bred in the another record for the atlas.
Heading into Acoaxet we pulled the car over to check out a rather large turtle basking in the sunshine at that little pond near Gray's Grist Mill.  Mark thought it might be a Red-eared Slider (the turtle they sold in every pet store in the 50's and 60's) which had been released years earlier.  However, you can image our excitement when it turned out to be the endangered Red-bellied Turtle!!!  These turtles are known in MA from a few ponds in the Plymouth and Carver areas and are not usually kept in captivity.  So we don't know if this is an indication of a separate population or what.  Needless to say we submit the paperwork, with photos, to Natural Heritage.  Definitely our best find of the day....possible the year.
We had a nice Red-tail hunting the fields right on the border between MA and RI along Widgeon Lane off Pequaw-Honk Road (love that name) which is off Brayton Point Rd. across the country club in Acoaxet.
Also along Brayton Point there was a beautiful blooming Mimosa Tree.  This may be the first time I've noticed it....and, yes, I know it's an invasive, but it was certainly distinctive looking.
As I mentioned earlier, birds seemed to be rather scare, although we did have a few shorebirds at the ocean overlook near Richmond Pond.  This Black-bellied Plover was nice enough to stay for a few shots before flying off down the beach.
And at the fish run on River Rd. where Cockeast Pond runs out into the Westport River, we had large schools of Mummichogs (and some Sticklebacks). 
Our second best sighting of day after the Red-bellied Turtle was sighting two Zabulon Skippers in a little clearing where we had them two years ago.  We must have hit their flying time exactly right, since they were on the same blooming bushes as in 2009.
Of course, the big worry is how will they do in the upcoming hurricane?
We made a stop at the boat launch near the bridge over the Westport River and amid the preparations all the boat-owners where undertaking to secure or remove their boats, we found this poor little lamb...obviously lost as some family hurried to get their boat to safety.
We had a good morning, so we decided to head back to Worcester and finish our hurricane preparations...after all I still needed to get batteries and candles....YIKES!