Monday, March 24, 2014

Local Signs of Spring ~ Saturday (3/22) and Sunday (3/23)

Since we went to the south coast on Friday, we decided to stay local and look for signs of spring in our own backyard on Saturday.  We decided to check for open water at the 'Boro ponds....we visited Suasco in Westborough, the Sudbury Reservoir in Southborough and then Little Chauncy and Bartlett Ponds in Northborough.
Unfortunately, a lot of the water was still frozen, or at least partially frozen.  At Bartlett Pond we did have several Mute Swans that were already paired up.  We even had one swan on a nest already.
But the big show of the morning were the numbers of Grackles that we found at Little Chauncy.  We had large flocks constantly passing over...each flock in the hundreds.
They were everywhere.  I think Mark's final estimate was more than 1,500...and all in this relatively small area.  We had them in the marsh right at the entrance to Little Chauncy and then we had large flocks feeding on the grounds of the old state hospital.  Other than that, we ran into small groups of 5 or 6 throughout the day.
It was amazing just to listen to the sound of all these birds filtering through.  I tried taping a bit with my Iphone, but it doesn't really do it justice.  The poor Red-winged Blackbirds that were trying to set up their territories in the marsh were just about frantic with all of the activity of the Grackles as they passed through.
We drove into the state hospital grounds hoping to walk in the trail to the WMA area, but there were already quite a few people running their dogs, so we checked the soccer fields for any unusual geese among the Canadas.
They were a bit skittish and took off when I started photographing them.
Since things were somewhat quiet except for the blackbirds, we decided to head out to Bolton Flats to see if there were large blackbird flocks there as well.
The fields were filled with Canada Geese coming and going, and we could hear small numbers of Grackles and Red-wings in the marsh, but there weren't anywhere near the flocks that we had at Little Chauncy.  But we did have a pair of Pintail put in....and our first-of-the-year Tree Swallow flying around.
We drove up the 117 side of Bolton Flats and were finally able to drive into the area behind the red barn.
 The Still River was just that...pretty still.  We didn't have any ducks in the immediate area.  Although just down the road in the major pond area of the flats, Mark counted numbers of waterfowl.  We had both Mergs, Green-winged Teal, swans, Ring-necked Ducks, plus the usual Blacks and Mallards.  Unfortunately, since they built those house there about 15 years ago, they're really the only people that can get good looks now.
So we had to content ourselves with the Tree Sparrows and good numbers of White-throated Sparrows that were in the area.
On our way home we checked all the back fields around Neck Road, the soccer field and the model airplane field, but it was pretty quiet. 
 We spent some time admiring the Speckled Alders that were throughout the area...
 ...and we had a Red-tailed Hawk...
...and a Killdeer fly over, but that was about it.
We checked Wachusett on the way home, but it, too, was still pretty frozen.  Although the area around River Road had definitely started to open up a bit.  We had Tundra Swans, Common and Hooded Mergansers and a lone Ring-necked Duck (male) in the open water.

Even though we didn't have any unusual early migrants, you could definitely tell spring is on the upswing just based on the song.  Everyone was singing their spring song and it was really quite nice.

On Sunday, we decided again to stay local.  We thought it would be fun to trace the Quineboag River from the Connecticut border (near Dudley, MA) to it's other end in Brimfield.  We hoped that we would find lots of waterfowl if we could get some good overlooks of the river.

We headed to Southbridge knowing there are lots of stretches we could view there, along with being able to check out the Westville Dam area before we headed west.  We had done several Southbridge blocks for the breeding bird atlas so we were quite familiar with the area.  Our first stop was to be where the Quineboag meanders through the Southbridge Industrial Park (the old American Optical complex.)  At the little parking area near the hotel and conference center, we had our first real sign of spring in Worcester County....we heard the chip of an Eastern Phoebe along the river.  We had another one later in the day in the Brookfields, but this is the only one I was able to photograph.  I'm willing to bet that this bird will be nesting under the bridge within the next few weeks.  Of course, that assumes an optimistic outcome for him with the forecast for record cold and a storm on Tuesday into Wednesday.
A very cooperative Downy Woodpecker checking out the Japanese Bamboo growing along the river.
There's a great stretch of the Quineboag in Dudley (West Dudley Road), with a rail trail that heads north to Sturbridge.  There was quite a bit of open water, and we even had people fishing from the shore...not ice fishing, regular fishing.
But we had almost no waterfowl.  We did flush a pair of Wood Duck across the pond.  It looked like they might have been checking out possibly nest holes in the trees right along the bank near the start of the rail trail.
We poked into a couple of other places and had a few Common Mergansers.  However, the river was running pretty swiftly so I think any other ducks probably headed to calmer waters.

We checked in at Westville Dam and had Mallards, a Black Duck and several Common Mergs below the dam in the water.  
We knew that the road through the lower part of the recreation area was still closed but we decided to check out along that lower part just in case.  And while we had a Tree Swallow the day before flying over Bolton Flats, we had 20+ flying along the river in the Westville recreation area. 
We followed the Quineboag up through Sturbridge, Holland and finally to Brimfield.  Again, a good number of Common Mergansers, a few Hoodies and lots of Canada Geese.  We decided to go back to Sturbridge to check on the Great Blue Heron rookery and then head home through the Brookfields.

We had checked the heron rookery the weekend before and counted about 19 nests from the previous year, but we didn't see a bird in the area.  As we were following the river, though, we did have a nice breeding-plumaged Great Blue in the river so we thought there might be one or two back this weekend.  Much to my surprise there were 11 nests with activity....
...birds either repairing the nest from the previous year, sitting on the nest already (had they laid eggs upon arrival?) and in the case of one nest, there was a lot of courting behavior going on.  What a difference a week makes at this time of year!
We headed up to Brookfield and stopped at the river crossing of the Quaboag along Rt. 148.  We had a nice flock of Ring-necked Ducks and still a few Common Mergansers.  Still no Red-winged Blackbirds on territory from the back of the Brookfield Cemetery, but we did have a pair of Mourning Doves preening each other on top of one of the larger stones.
A check-in at Coy's Brook in West Brookfield had lots of displaying Hooded Mergs... least until a tractor came rumbling down the road and scared them to the back of the marsh.  We also had another group of Tree Swallows trying to find some insects very close to the open water.
As I finish writing this blog, I'm looking out the window on this cold Monday (high temp for the day so far is 28) and hoping that the Tree Swallows and the Phoebe make it through the next few days of cold temps and possible accumulating snow.  I hear the Cape is supposed to get hammered by the storm Tuesday night, and all I can think of is how many of these early spring migrants aren't going to make it.

Of course with warmer weather in store for Friday and next weekend, I'm going to believe that any swallows or phoebes I see then are actually ones that I saw yesterday.  Now how's that for "the glass is half full" thinking?


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