Sunday, December 11, 2011

Manomet & Plymouth ~ Saturday, 12/10

This past Saturday we decided to take a trip to Plymouth, partly to look for some of the recent rarities (Western Kingbird and Chats) and partly to just spend an enjoyable day birding before the onslaught of the Christmas bird counts.
We decided to work from south to north, so our first stop was Great Herring Pond to see if the large flocks of coot were still there...we still had several hundred, including one quite close eating vegetation from the bottom on the lake.
After thoroughly checking the pond we moved up 3A towards Manomet.  This is a road we've rarely taken, especially south of Manomet, so it was interesting to stop at new areas.  Right near the entrance to Ellisville Harbor State Park we found these 3 strange-looking goats.  And of course Mark made me stop and take pictures.  He would like nothing more than to live somewhere where he could have a goat!
It was rather quiet at Manomet Point.  We had Great Cormorants, White-winged and Black Scoters, a couple of loons, some Common Eiders and only one seal out on the rocks.  Not even Goldeneye were around, and certainly no alcids. 
However, our major reason for stopping in Manomet was to look for landbirds.  We didn't see much at the point, so we decided to head back along the road after checking Mass Bird for the location where the kingbird had been seem.  We pulled into a little dirt pulloff near the entrance to Holmes Farm and checked the thickets near the car.  We had lots of White-throated Sparrows, Cardinals and Yellow-rumped Warblers.  And there were two Caroline Wren singing across the field.  But no sign of Chat or the kingbird.  
We did have a new mushroom pushing up through the leaf litter....a tribute to just how warm it's been lately.  I don't think I've ever noticed fungi in December!
After a few minutes, we noticed 3 birders coming down the long road from the barn at the top of the rise and realized one was Erik Nielsen.  We've haven't Erik in ages, so it was quite nice to catch up....and he had seen the Western Kingbird earlier, but it had flown off after being seconds away from being breakfast for a Sharpie!  Erik told us we could drive up to the barn and park, so that's what we did and began searching every treetop and bush for the bird.
After about 15 minutes Erik spotted the bird flying back in on the far side of the hill to the east.  So for the next 20 minutes or so, Erik and I inched closer to the bird to try to get some close photographs.  I was at a far greater disadvantage than Erik, since he was using a small camera to digiscope the bird.  Other than having to lugged the scope around, this is the first time I was really intrigued with digiscope photography.
At one point the kingbird flew down and caught something to eat literally 15 feet from where I was standing, but he didn't stay long enough for me to I had to settle for a shot of him perched on one of the bluebird boxes.
He then flew into the thickets that were down in the lowest part of the field, and we all heard him calling pretty consistently.  This was extremely interesting, because I know I've never had a Western Kingbird in Massachusetts who had done that before.
Pretty actively hunting for food, the kingbird put up again, this time on a post at the far end of that low spot and both Erik and I were able to get great shots.  Eventually I went back to where Mark was waiting by the car and after chatting a bit with George and Judy Gove, we decided it was time to head up to Plymouth.  All in all a very satisfying time spent with this Western Kingbird.
We made all our usual stops, including near Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower, but things seemed a bit least as far as ducks were concerned.
At Plymouth Beach we had a nice mixed flock of about 60 Dunlin and Sanderlings.
But these were the only shorebirds we lingering December surprises.
In the parking lot near the breakwater (where the Ivory Gull had been seen a few years back) we had this nice 2nd winter Iceland Gull.  He posed quite nicely for my camera, until someone pulled up in a car and began feeding the gulls.  I'm actually quite surprised at the number of people who enjoy throwing bread out for the gulls.  This was the second person we saw in about 15 minutes -- these most be some of the best-fed gulls in the area.
When we got to the Nelson Street Playground, we noticed what a nice job they've done upgrading the parking lot and walking paths in the area.  There were large numbers of Black Ducks in this area, but again, not much else in the way of ducks.
We did have a nice flock of Brant, including at least two birds wearing silver bands on both legs.  I'm trying to see if I can match the bands to anything I can find regarding recent branding of Atlantic Brant.
After spending time scouring the area for any unusual ducks, and scoping out the tip of Plymouth Beach for Snowy Owl, we decided to run up 3A and check Spooner Pond where we had Redhead a few years ago.
Again, with so much open water things weren't concentrated in any one spot, so we had no real rarities in the pond.  We did have this beautiful male Hooded Merganser rather close, and a handful of Coot, including one who kept chasing all the others.  Of course, there were almost 30 Mallards close by and a few Gadwall way in the back.
A family of Mute Swans came right over to be fed and I was able to get really close shots (looking down) on the adult swans.  It isn't until you get a close-up of the face pattern that you realize what strange-looking things these guys are.
Before heading back to Worcester, we decided to make one more stop -- Jenney's Pond.  Sure enough the "resident" Lesser Black-backed Gull was still hanging around.  I think Mark said someone is trying to trace how long this bird has been seen here.
There's no doubt that if this is the same bird, he's definitely become a fixture....usually perching on the bridge railing.  I wish someone had banded this bird when it first showed up.
We had a few Hooded Mergs, the usual Mallards and joke ducks.  But we also had several Gadwall at the wilder end of the pond, including this female who came quite close.
Followed by this male Gadwall in absolutely beautiful plumage.
All in all it was a beautiful trip to the area, as it can be at this time of the year, so we headed back to Worcester grateful for another wonderful day birding in Massachusetts.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Class Trips from the Fall

This blog represents four different trips we took as part of Mark's birding class at Mass Audubon at Broad Meadow Brook in Worcester.  The class was focused on fall migration and, like many birding trips, sometimes you hit good days and sometimes not-so-good days.  But it's always fun to be out birding and showing folks new places that they can go back to on their own.  There were two inland trips and two to the coast (not the north shore though.....)

Our first trip was to Quabbin in late September, followed by doing a "Big Sit" at Gooseberry Neck on 10/9, then Wachusett Reservoir on 10/16 and finally a beautiful trip to the outer Cape on 10/22.  So here are some of the highlights....and lowlights.
Our trip to Quabbin on September 25th was definitely a mixed bag.  The weather was overcast and cool and the reservoir had very little to show except its usual stunning scenery.  Of course the faux coyote in front of the Administration Building gave everyone pause...for about a nano second.  I have yet to hear of any success stories where fake coyotes or owls keep the birds away.  Of course our friend Dale Monett did tell us a story about a father sending his 7-year old son down to check on the animal thinking it might be hurt or something.  I think that guy could be a definite contender for the "stupidest parent of the year" award.
You know it's a slow day when you start taking pictures of interesting car decals...Cthulhu is a fictional character created by H. P. Lovecraft in the 1920's and has become a central figure in many of Lovecraft's stories.  Of course, this is my first Cthulhu decal so it was rather unique.
Interestingly, the same car had a decal from the Pioneer Valley Roller Derby -- the first roller derby association in the country to have both a men's and women's team!
Since things were very quiet at Quabbin we ended up taking people to the East Meadows in Northampton, hoping to find late Golden Plover or other shorebirds.
However, chickens were the closest we could come.
And this mockingbird was braving both the windy weather and.....
the Peregrine Falcon who was obviously keeping everything in hiding.  Traveling back to Quabbin to pick up cars, we came across a roost of Turkey Vultures hanging out on the roof of an business right along Rt. 9.  Interest, but not quite enough to make the day a resounding success.  Oh well, maybe our next trip will be better.
Two weeks later we took the class to Gooseberry Neck in Westport to do a "big sit".  It was fantastic.  The concepts is to set up a 17-foot diameter circle from which you count any specie of bird you see or hear during a 24-hour period.  Now since this was a class trip we decided to limit out "sit" to morning only.
We started before dawn and actually have 7-8 species moving through in the early light....some of which were on the bushes right in the parking lot. 
While we waited for the class to arrive, I could to enjoy one of those absolutely gorgeous sunrises you get in the early fall in Massachusetts.
As everyone started to arrive and set up we outlined the perimeter of the circle and the rules we needed to follow to qualify as an official Big Sit.
Arriving so early we were surprised to find the parking lot full of fishermen, some of whom had been there all night!  It seems that there were stripers running.
We had good numbers of Song Sparrow, White-crowneds and even a Dickcissel seen or hear from within the circle.
And, of course, the Yellow-rumped Warblers were still putting through.  And we had at least 1 Orange-crowned.
An Eastern Phoebe was still making the most of insects in the dunes.
And Monarchs were definitely migrating.  It was a little frustrating to be confined to the circle, since we usually walk out to the end, and that's where you often find some unusual birds in the more remote areas.
Probably one of the more numerous species were the Golden-crowned Kinglets.  These little guys kept passing right through the parking lot and working the bushes right in front of us.  Then they just seemed to head inland.
All in all, it was a fun day.  There were 206 circles (196 in the US and 10 international) that participated in this year's Big Sit (organized by Bird Watcher's Digest and the results were really exciting.  We tied for 8th place overall and tied for 7th in the US -- beating out the other Massachusetts teams with 80 species......not bad for a first try and only a half day at that!

Our next class trip was a local one to Wachusett Res....and we picked that since it was a cold, windy day and we figured there wouldn't be much migration taking place along the coast with gale-force winds.
Unfortunately, there wasn't much going on inland either.
Ducks on the reservoir were rather scare and when checking a side marsh on Rt. 62 we came across these two domestic ducks using a kid's swimming pool instead of the marsh....very sad state.  Although I'm sure the folks who live there are delighted since they obviously put the pools out for the ducks.
We also checked the Waushacums.  We had a few Ruddy Ducks, a handful of Mallards, and DC Cormorants and Common Mergs...but not much else.  At The Quag near West Waushacum we had this late Solitary Sandpiper.  We got excited thinking it might be a European sandpiper...but it was just a late juvi.
On River Road we had this late Clouded Sulphur feeding on whatever little flowers it could still find.  We also had a nice Sharp-shinned Hawk migrating over and a few other raptors, but the day was rather on the quiet side.
Our last class trip was to the Outer Cape and it was anything but quiet.
We met at the Head of the Meadow beach at dawn and immediately noticed the numbers of Gannets offshore.
While it was a chilly October day, we had some nice looks at the show right off shore.
Not only were there more Gannets than you could count, we also had a good showing of Greater Shearwaters and even a Cory's.  And the jaeger show wasn't bad either.
Some of the Gannets were far out, but others were moving rather close to shore....
and we had the pleasure of watching them dive for their breakfast and then take off again.
You could look in any direction out to sea and find Gannets moving in all directions.
Some dove right in front of us...and there was a good mixture of adult and immature birds as well.
Of course we had nice lines of White-winged, Black and Surf Scoters, along with Eider and Long-tailed Duck moving back and it was a great day to be at the coast.
We had both Common and Forster's terns and they were the ones being plagued by the Parasitic Jaegers.
Throughout all the hoopla this Gray Seal just leisurely swam by...probably relieved that it was getting too cold for the sharks that seemed to haunt them all summer.
We took the class up to High Head since that's often a good place (especially during the Christmas Count) to find some lingering birds.
But things seemed a bit slow on the land bird side.  And this poor American Lady seemed to be on her last legs as she tried to catch a few rays of sun.
At Herring Cove the Gannet show continued...but much farther out.  We did have more terns and, therefore, more jaegers.  Unfortunately I was never able to get any good shots close enough to include in this blog.
I think the windy weather was keeping the crowds down, so this little Sandering had most of the beach to himself.
We did make a try for the Brown Booby at MacMillan Wharf, but the bird was present when we were there.  And since it's still being reported I think we'll have to try again.  Although we did have this Peregrine Falcon perched on the Provincetown Tower...and he never moved the entire time we were there.
On the way off the Cape we checked the stump dump in Easton but it was pretty dead so we decided to stop at the Marston Mill's Airport on Rt. 149 to see if we could find the Western Kingbird which had been reported...but alas we couldn't find much there either.
We headed off the Cape and cheered ourselves up by remembering the awesome show at Head of the Meadow where we started and just what a beautiful, late fall day we had.