Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Springtime (almost) in Westport, 2/23

Even though we're still a month away from "formal" spring, Sunday was absolutely spring-like in Westport -- very little remaining snow, temps topped out at 58, and we had our first Killdeer!
 Our first stop was along the marshes opposite Horseneck Beach.  When we were here a month ago, much of the area was frozen....today we had people clamming.
Although there was still a Snowy Owl using one of the Osprey platforms letting us know that winter hadn't finished with us yet.  Mark had wondered whether or not we would still find a Snowy since recent reports seem to indicate that they've started to move back north.  This one was quite dark indicating it was likely a young bird.
 Surprisingly, ducks seemed to be a little scarce in the marshes.  Where we had had hundreds of Buffleheads just a few weeks back...we seemed to have mostly Black Ducks in all the little waterways.
We drove to the end of Rt. 88 and turned out to go over the causeway to Gooseberry Neck.  Along the road we had a few Surf Scoters, some buffleheads, goldeneye and even a couple of Harlequin Ducks.
We ran into a local birder and he told us that there had been a Snowy Owl hanging out in the parking lot over the past week.  While we didn't have the owl, we did find where one had been dining recently judging by the feathers...probably a gull.
We also found the wing of another unfortunate bird...this one was most likely a duck....possibly a goldeneye based on the very black wing and the white spotting.  If a Snowy Owl set up a "buffet" in the area, this could account for the scarcity of ducks!
Luckily we also found some living birds...
 We had a nice flock of Sanderlings working the edge on both sides of the boat ramp.
 Some of the juvenile birds had already started to lose that black-and-white checkerboard on their backs.
And the winter adults had that very pale gray overall look.  Although we didn't see any evidence of molting into breeding plumage....which really wouldn't happen til late spring when they're probably on their way back north to breed.
We had a few Dunlin mixing it up with the Sanderlings as well.
I watched this one bird spend minutes picking at the slipper shell to get a meal.
 And there was certainly enough for them to eat!
The rack line along the beach was filled with all sorts of goodies.  It's amazing how colorful it actually is...and totally interesting.  The whelk egg casing in the middle of the photo is one of my favorite -- often called a mermaid's necklace.
While we didn't have the numbers of loons or grebes that we usually have in winter, there was this one Horned Grebe staying fairly close to a rock near shore.
 Won't be long until he loses that black and white winter coat for his beautiful spring rufous coloring.
After a quick stop at Allen's Pond, we headed inland to do some of the farm fields...hoping for an early Killdeer.  We did have one lone bird in the fields near Mysti Brook Farm, but unfortunately he kept ducking just over a ridge in the field and I never got a photo.  At the pig farm we had a white-winged gull which we initially thought might be a Glaucous.  However, when we got home and checked the photos, Mark decided it was an Iceland.
 And we had another Iceland Gull along some fields on Horseneck Road...where we had a second Killdeer calling.
Our only Great Blue Heron for the day was along a small pond on Horseneck Road as well.  I was a bit surprise by this since I've seen multiple birds inland.  Maybe I was just hoping for some wholesale sign that spring actually is on the way.  As hard as it's been for us humans this winter, imagine this poor heron trying to make it through when the ponds constantly freeze, unfreeze, and then re-freeze.
Land birds were a bit mixed for the area...nothing really unusual.  Along the road near Mysti Brook Farm we did have a nice flock of Savannah Sparrows.  This one little fellow just sat in the sun and seemed totally unfazed by my camera.
There were also a couple of small flocks of turkeys along Horseneck Road...definitely enjoying the lack of snow on the fields.
After checking the river near Hixbridge Road, we headed over to Acoaxet hoping to find more Killdeer along Brayton Point Road where we've had them in other early springs.  But while we had tons of Robins, there wasn't a Killdeer to be seen....or heard.  We did have a Rough-legged Hawk flying over the fields right along the border with RI.  This was our first Rough-legged in this area and I wonder whether it was a migrant starting to head back north as well.
This little American Goldfinch came in and chased a bluebird off the snow fence just as I was about to photograph it.  He was all by himself so maybe he was just looking to hang out with someone.
This pair of Greater Black-backed Gulls just seemed so photogenic sitting on the rock near the overlook at the end of Howland Avenue near Richmond Pond.  Unfortunately, the pond was totally frozen so any ducks that had been their were either on Cockeast Pond (if that was still partially open) or out in the ocean or the river.  Judging by the large scaup flock we had out a bit in the ocean, it wasn't looking good for either of the ponds.
The "cormorant rock" had its usual fare....Great Cormorants on top and Common Eider around the base.  If you click and enlarge the photo you can see that the cormorant on the right is definitely starting to show the white patch of breeding plumage.
The second beach overlook was quite empty as well....

although we had this entertaining Song Sparrow come in to take a bath at one of the mud puddles.
He was quite vigorous and bathed for a good 5 minutes all by himself right in front of us.
And, yes, Cockeast Pond was frozen....but there were hundreds of Canada Geese on the ice.  We were trying to figure out why they were all sitting or standing on the ice and I speculated that they were waiting for the winter golfers to leave so they could enjoy the snow-free greens of the golf course behind them!
The was a very small open patch just at the outflow of the pond.  And this area held about a dozen Gadwall and one lone female Hooded Merganser.
At the stream outflow we walked out to check a very large flock of eider that were hanging around the sand bar out in the river, and we finally had a Common Loon.  In fact there were several loons in the river instead of the usual places we find them on the ocean, and we wondered whether the recent storms had just pushed them all into the mouth of the river.
As we headed back out River Road to begin the trip back to Worcester, we stopped at various overlooks of the river....most of it was frozen, but there were several large groups of gulls and we found that there some Pintail and Hooded Mergansers sprinkled throughout as well.
All in all a totally pleasant day in Westport, and it really did start to feel like spring was just around the corner.  In fact it was a wee bit depressing as we drove up 146 to see the snow levels increase with each mile we took.  By the time we got home and drove down our messy street and saw our totally snow-covered yard it sunk in....this is still February and we probably still have a bit of winter to get through.

Although it was now still light at 5:30 p.m......and it had been light at 6:30 a.m. when we left....so I can definitely see light at the end of the tunnel!


Monday, February 17, 2014

Quabbin deja vu - Monday, 2/17

Since the coast got dumped on in this last storm, we decided to return to Quabbin and see if the road through south Quabbin was open and if there were any birds to be seen.  I would also be interesting to see if there were any changes to the birds we did see on Saturday pre-storm.  We were delighted to find the gates open and we headed in from the eastern-most gate on Rt. 9.  (the Old Ware - Enfield Rd.)  On the left side of the first powerline cut through we found this Red-tailed Hawk just sunning himself.
And further along we had a large group of chickadees and Golden-crowned Kinglets, along with a few Red- -breasted Nuthatches.  We even heard a Hermit Thrush...but never saw it.
We spent some time at the Enfield Lookout searching for the Golden Eagle (nada) and we struck out on any other raptors which was a bit surprising.  In fact I don't think we had a bird from this overlook at all....
We next stopped at the pull off by the rotary (below the road up to Quabbin Tower) and realized we had yet again forgotten to put any bird seed in the car for the chickadees.  Just inside the gate there was a large flock and they seemed insistent on being hand fed.  Since Mark was eating a turkey and cheese sandwich, he offered them a bite!  At first they seemed a little confused.....
And I'm not sure what they thought we were trying to pass off on them, so Mark took a few bites and they kept buzzing him.
The birds became a bit bolder as the sandwich got a bit smaller...
 ....and finally several birds came in and took pieces of the bread...
and one even tried to take a fairly large piece of lettuce!
Next time we DEFINITELY need to remember the seed.  In addition to the Black-capped Chickadees, we also had several Bluejays and a very curious White-breasted Nuthatch...although he wasn't brave enough to land on Mark's hand.
After that we did a quick tour of the parking lot up at Quabbin Tower, but there was nothing so we moved on to the area in front of the Administration Building.
While we didn't have a Bald Eagle flying anywhere today, we did have an adult sitting on the nest tree out from the Administration Building.  And we had a coyote crossing the ice again -- but only 1.  
We were able to get both the eagle and coyote in the scope and show them to these 2 women from the Boston area...one of which was a visiting teacher in the U.S. for six months from Beijing.  They were both very excited!  We still had robins in the fruit trees, but no Cedar Waxwings today.
Before heading back to Worcester we decided to check the trout hatchery and do the loop from East Street down to Cold Spring Rd. and back up River Road.
Things hadn't changed much at the hatchery; although we didn't have a Bald Eagle this morning.
 We had a larger number of Hooded Mergansers on River Rd., today vs. Saturday and the big surprise was finding a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers.  They were a bit up the river from the Mallards, Blacks and Hoodies, but we were able to get them in the scope and get some good looks.  Sorry but these are about the best I could do given the distance.  And you can definitely see the wispy crest and even some of the breast on the male.
We had a great morning trip with many of the same ducks as Saturday and just hope that the next storm (Tuesday afternoon) won't cause any further freezing of the river in this point....it definitely seems to be a favorite gathering spot.


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Quabbin and The Brookfields

Desperate to get some birding in before the next snow storm hit, we headed out to Quabbin this morning.  Now he didn't say it, but I know Mark was hoping we would be lucky enough to find the Golden Eagle that Tom Gagnon and others had seen perched on Ram earlier in the week.  Since we were traveling out Rt. 9 we decided to check the various overlooks of the Quaboag.  We had both Common and Hooded Mergansers at a number of spots.  And at the section of the river in West Brookfield near the outflow from Wickabog Lake, we found a Great Blue Heron.  This is probably the same bird we had two weeks ago since it was basically in the same area.  Hopefully he can hang on through the next two storms and make it to the warmer temps they're forecasting for next weekend.
 We also had a nice flock of Robins eating some left over crab apples in the parking lot.
When we arrived at Quabbin we were surprised to find the gates closed.  I guess the roads were still a little icy or maybe they were concerned about letting people in only to have to kick them out if the snow came in a bit early.  Anyway, since we weren't able to drive through south Quabbin this put an end to any hopes of seeing the Golden Eagle from Enfield Lookout.

As soon as we pulled into the parking area by Winsor Dam, though, we saw a pack of coyotes out towards Gate 8.  Some crossed the frozen landscape and headed into the woods much closer -- probably more like the Gate 5 area.  Great looks at these guys in the scope! 

 Mark was concerned since one of the coyotes further out seemed to be limping....but the two closest to us looked quite healthy.
Again, robins seemed to be the predominant landbird in the area...we had a good-sized flock flying back and forth between the bushes right below us and the crab apple trees across from the parking lot.  We also had a number of Ceder Waxwings as well.
As we were standing on the sidewalk 3 Bald Eagles flew over looking like they were heading out of Quabbin...probably in search of some open water.  This sub-adult bird flew right overhead and disappeared behind the pine trees just before the dam.
Thinking they might go the fish hatchery we headed over ourselves.  We had one immature eagle and 2 Ring-billed Gulls. There was also a small flock of Juncos and, of course, lots of Rainbow Trout!

After leaving the hatchery we drove south on East Street and came upon this Red-tailed Hawk perched along a field near the WMA....probably waiting for a meal. 
 Unfortunately, he/she noticed us pretty quickly and flew over to find a less disturbed perch.
Our reason for taking this little drive is to check out any open water along the Swift River...and right along River Road there's a broadening of the river and we've had good luck this winter with Hooded Mergs in this area.  And today was no exception.  We had a nice selection of hoodies with some of the males displaying to the females as well as other males nearby.
After completing the circuit we headed back to the administration building to check out the status of both the coyotes and re-check the robins in the hopes of finding something more unusual (like a Varied Thrush maybe).  The coyotes were still out on the ice; however, the snow was starting to fly and it made visibility a bit of a problems.  I did have the same sub-adult Bald Eagle fly over again though so it wasn't a total loss.
Since it was starting to snow and we needed to get to Sturbridge to pick up bird seed, we left Quabbin and headed down to Bill & Nancy Cormier's store (The Bird Store & More).  After a short visit with them we headed back to Worcester stopping at Orlando's in Charlton to see if there was any open water for the ducks.  Sure enough there was a small opening and we had close to 300 Mallards....
 ...along with a handful of Canada Geese....
 ...and about 30 Black Ducks.  It always amazes me to find this many ducks in such a small area.  However, having watched the farmer drop lots of bread near the pond, I guess I'm not really THAT surprised.
We made it back to Worcester just before 1, filled the feeders (and unfortunately the snowblower) and settled in for the next February snow storm headed our way tonight.  I keep telling myself "just 2 more weeks until March 1st"