Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Petersham and New Salem ~ Friday, April 25th

We headed up to Winchendon to bird Otter River SP and, hopefully, find an early, unusual dragonfly.  What a disappointment to find the gates closed and locked!  I even saw a patch of snow!!!  Anyway, my backup plan was to head down to New Salem and Petersham and hike in Gate 33, do the Women's State Forest and Tom Swamp.  Always nice to see actual wild flowers out....this Trailing Arbutus was all along the edge of the road on the marsh side as we walked through the gate.
At Bassett Pond we had a pair of Hooded Mergansers who were definitely interested in finding a nice nesting hole.
And just before the power lines there is a path on the left that leads to a small clearing where you can find this structure from the original town of Bassettville that was located here.  Looks like some sort of root cellar, but I need to do a bit of research to find out more.  Right near this area we had fresh bobcat scat and I wondered if occasionally a bobcat would use this area
While I was expecting to run into some fishermen, I did not anticipate running into a group of high school students.  They were taking a class on "tracks" at The Winchendon School, which is a private boarding school in Winchendon....they, too, must have come to Quabbin since Otter River was closed!
One of the more numerous birds of the trip was the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker...we heard their distinctive drumming everywhere.  While we've always had these woodpeckers breeding in Quabbin, this year it seems like there are more than every...or maybe we're just out more and at the right time to hear them.
On the way out we stopped again at Bassett Pond and since it had warmed a bit we did have Painted Turtles out sunning themselves on the logs.
And we started to get butterflies as well.  While I had one Mourning Cloak fly by, there were at least 6-8 Spring Azures.  The family of butterflies is rather complex, with several known color forms and subspecies.
I think I talked about it in my last blog entry.  The color form above is 'lucia' known by it's brown splotch in the middle of the hindwing and the darker wing margin.  The form below is 'margenta' which just has the darker wing margin....but no splotch.
After leaving Gate 33, we made a quick stop in the Women's State Forest.  The road is still signed as being closed to vehicular traffic due to logging operations...but the sign also says that it is expected to re-open at the end of March so not sure it it's open and they just haven't taken the sign down or if there are just that late.  In any event we decided to move on to Tom Swamp and enter from the north since we weren't sure what condition the road leading in from the west would be in.  Surprisingly the causeway was fairly dry, although the big puddle at the eastern end looks to be problematic still.  In fact Mark got a bit stuck in the mud when he tried to cross on the northern side.  He eventually made it and wandered down the road looking for dragonflies.
While we continue to dip on those damn insects, we did have some nice salamander tracks in several of the muddy spots on the road.  Given that the area is one big boggy marsh, we were wondering if these could have been made by the Four-toed Salamander....although the tracks didn't provide us with enough detail to make that sort of call.  Still a nice photo I can add to my catalog of "tracks".....although I wonder if that class from the Winchendon School would have found these as interesting as the moose and bobcat tracks they were finding.
Rather than re-trace our route from the north, we were able to drive the road out to the east and Rt. 32 in Petersham.  Along the way we had a number of Hermit Thrushes, which were very quiet as they foraged through the understory.  It was much quieter than we had hoped, with only one Blue-headed Vireo, a few gnatchatchers and a smattering of Pine and Yellow-rumped Warblers.
We then did a small hike into Petersham's North Common Meadows, which is a wonderful place for butterflies in summer.  There's a small pond where we've had dragonflies as well....but that, too, was in late summer.  A short walk through the woods brings you to a bench overlooking this memorial stone which pretty much describes how people in Petersham feel about their home town.  And it is pretty special...
At the East Street Cemetery we had a good number of Yellow-rumped Warblers working the trees at the back of the cemetery by the pond.
We also had a small group of female Common Mergansers (below) and female Hooded Mergansers in the pond.  Seems like a good area for both these species to nest, but I doubt that all seven females would find suitable nesting habitat.  In fact it looks most appropriate for the Hoodies rather than the Commons.
We took Quaker Road back out to Rt. 122 so we could check along Brook's Woodland Preserve for dragonflies...and it was along this road that we had our first Coltsfoot of the spring.
This member of the sunflower family has a reputation of being a cure for coughs.  And an extract of fresh leaves can be used for making cough drops...who knew.
As we headed back to Worcester from this wonderful area, we found that the major gates into Rutland State Park had been opened.  Since it was already past prime birding time, we did a quick drive through to check on the roads, with a stop at a side marsh to look for Bridled Shiner (which were there.)  Depending on weather we hope to get back to the park for some serious birding soon.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

South Quabbin and Monson ~ Monday, April 21st

 Took last Monday off to do some birding....starting to love this semi-retirement thing.  We started our day out at South Quabbin, worked out way down to Monson and ended up at Wells SP in Sturbridge.   We had a beaver at the Rt. 9 marsh near Quabbin and boy did he give us crap for being near "his" pond.  A few good slaps of the tail and then he disappeared.
We hiked down to the water at the old artillery range next to Hank's Meadow....
we didn't have any birds, but the water was incredibly clear.  This photo was taken through at least a foot of water.
At the Enfield Lookout we had a couple of Turkey Vultures flying, but no eagles.  We did have this perky Chipping Sparrow.   It's so nice to have them back everywhere.
At the Quabbin Tower we had fours TVs put up.  They must have been roosting right near the tower since they literally flew up from the ground.  These two kept together the whole time and I'm thinking they could be a mated pair.
We also had Raven come zooming over....very quietly.  It could be one of the birds from the breeding pair near the spillway.
And even though it reminds me of winter, we did have a couple of Juncos as well.  Although I've come to really like these guys on their breeding ground out in the Berkshires.
On our way down we stopped at the orchard to see if there were any birds hanging out in there.  As soon as we got to the orchard we came across two White-tailed Deer....they were very used to humans.  They didn't run away and actually looked at us like we might have some food for them -- which we did NOT.
Of course we did have a few seeds in our pocket for the chickadees.  They are very bold and quite demanding.  Someone must have spent quite a bit of time getting them comfortable being hand fed.
While I took the photo of Mark above with my regular Canon camera, I couldn't manage that when the chickadee flew into my hand....using my I-phone I took my first chickadee "selfie".
Near the spillway we had this Eastern Phoebe checking out all the crevices in the rock formation looking either for food or a suitable nesting site.
After leaving Quabbin we followed the Swift River south towards Palmer and stopped at various points to check the river.  At one of the stops along Bondsville Road we found our first Brown Thrasher of the year.  He was going through his entire repertoire for our benefit, since there wasn't another bird around. 
In Monson we walked in one of the trails at the end of East Hill Rd. below Conant Brook Reservoir.  We had a number of dragonflies in this area last year, so we were hoping to find an early spring ode here.  While we dipped on that, we did have some nice looks at Rufous-sided Towehee and Pine Warblers all the way down the trail. 
Since we were primed for odenates, every time something that wasn't a bird flew, we were on it.  Most of them were bees or flies, but I did get a shot of this Bee Fly perched on the trail.
And we had a fair number of Mourning Cloaks.  From the side this guys looked like he was in great shape....
...but we she opened her wings, it was clear that someone had taken a chunk out of her hindwing.
We did have our first grasshopper when we got to the marshy area at the bottom, and when we got home we were able to identify it with the help of Tom Murray's wonderful book Insects of New England & New York.  Turns out that this is an Awl-shaped Pygmy Grasshopper.  It's found in damp sandy areas around marshes...which is exactly where we were.  Adults appear early in the spring and can be found every month until a hard frost!
We also had a good number of Spring Azures.  This is an interesting butterfly because it has a number of different "forms" and subspecies.  In fact the whole azure complex is still being defined.  With that said, there are 3 color forms generally accepted these days, and the photos below depict two of them.
The "lucia" form above has a dark splotch in the middle of the hindwing when seen from below and a dark brownish margin to the wings.  The "violacea" form below is much paler underneath and lack both those fieldmarks.  The third form "marginata" is similar to the "lucia" but without the splotch.  Wish I had gotten photos of all 3 to show the differences.
Just over the line from Monson there's a road that goes into the Brimfield State Forest.  Tiderman Rd. runs through some property owned by Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary and we found a vernal pool right on the road which had a number of frog eggs.  We also found a large number of Blacknose Dace in this pool...we were hoping to find some salamander eggs, but didn't see any.
We drove back through Monson and spent some time checking out a small heron rookery before heading north past the Partridge Hollow Campground, driving through the heart of the tornado damage from June '11 and taking Rt. 20 through Sturbridge to make one last stop at Wells State park.  Again, hoping to find a dragonfly but also to check on the Spotted Turtles.  We dipped on both species today.  But we did have this Field Sparrow foraging in the marsh grasses...which was a bit unusual.
We visited some great areas, hiked some great trails and saw some wonderful early spring migrants and butterflies....so not a bad day.  But the search continues for my first dragonfly sighting of 2014.


Friday, April 25, 2014

Ware River IBA ~ Sunday, April 20th

Still searching for dragonflies (and early spring migrants) we poked all around Rutland State Park and Barre Falls Dam on Sunday.  The main roads through the park are still closed, so we could only do the periphery.  We did take a nice hike along a bit of the rail trail right off Rt. 122 and another into a hidden marsh with a small Great Blue Heron rookery and had two occupied nests.  And we also tried to do a bit of hawk watching from the dam.  Since it was Easter there weren't quite as many people playing disc golf as usual....which was definitely a plus.
Walking along the rail trail behind Muddy Pond we had a a nice chorus of Pine Warblers, with quite a few Pines and some Yellow-rumps thrown in for good measure.
We also had the too-be-expected breeding ducks, include a few pairs of Canada Geese already on the nest along with both Hooded Mergansers and Wood Ducks still looking like there were searching for an appropriate hole in a tree in which to set up housekeeping.  Hopefully these two pairs will settle in different parts of the ponds and marshes so that we don't have to worry about the Wood Ducks egg-dumping in the nests of the Hoodeds.
We also had a nice pair of Ring-necked Ducks, although they don't breed in this area.
The Swamp Sparrows were all back on territory as well, and this little fellow was signing his heart out in his little portion of the marsh.
We stopped by the Barre landfill to see if there were any vultures in the area.  A few years back we had quite a few Black Vultures hanging around with an even larger number of Turkey Vultures.  But today all we had was a few TVs.....and these 3 seemed to be enjoying warming up to the early spring sun.  We also had a pair of Ravens in the area, but I couldn't get a photograph of either bird.
Off of Rt. 62 that runs along the northern edge of RSP, there are two dirt roads that are open seasonally (especially Gilbert road to the north).  They run parallel to a snowmobile trail and eventually both lead through the park.  However, there are houses along the southern road (Grainger) so we knew we could do some birding along the road before you get to any gates.  We had lots of Pine Warblers calling and a few Phoebes near the houses.

Just past the last house (there are only 3 right on the road) there's a rough road down to a river crossing. This is a great area for fishing and we often run into people some of whom have kayaked up from Rt. 122. As you cross the snowmobile trail there is an old cemetery on your right called Riverview Cemetery.  Last year we ran into someone who told us a story about a woman who murdered her 6 children in the early 1900s and they were buried in this cemetery.  So we decided to stop and check out this gravestone which seemed to have a long story to tell, as well as lots of toys piled all around.
Sure enough it was the grave site of the Naramore children....and you have to enlarge the photo to read the full story.  Whether it's the actual grave site or not I don't know, since the stone was erected by the town in 2002 as a memorial.
The front side of the stone just lists the names and ages of the six children.  Very eerie....
A much more pleasant sighting along this dirt road was finding more Mourning Cloaks.  Just as the temps start to approach 50 degrees, these butterflies seem to pop up as long as we're in the right habitat.
On Gilbert Road we talked for a bit and found some nice Palm Warblers moving through.
And we visited the rookery and got some nice shots of the two Great Blues that were nesting there.  Last year we had 4 of the 5 nests filled, so it may be there's more to come.  We certainly had a number of Great Blues flying overhead at various points in the morning, so there might be another small rookery in the actual park itself.
We didn't have much of a hawk show at Barre Falls Dam, but we did hear a Raven so I'm making the assumption that the birds are back nesting under the bridge where they have nested each year for the past 7 or so years.

Oh, just to be clear.....still no dragonflies!


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Westport and Acoaxet ~ Saturday, April 19th

We did a wonderful trip to Westport again to check on migration.  We had Greater Yellowlegs in the marshes across from Horseneck Beach
And the few Horned Grebes we saw were pretty much going into breeding plumage.
Luckily on this visit to the south shore I didn't run into any people trespassing in the Piping Plover area.  Unfortunately, I didn't see any of the nesting plovers either.
When you look at the area which is roped off you can there are so many places where these little birds can hide though.  Once the chicks hatch and start running around, the parents will become a bit more obvious.
We explored the Herb Haddad Conversation Area on Cornell Road and found a number of Mourning Cloak butterflies.  This one certainly looked worse for wear.
We searched in vain for early dragonflies and didn't find any.  We did, however, find this nice early Mayfly.  When you study the structure of this insect you can see why fishermen use them as lures.
In checking some of the brooks I found this pair of mating water striders.
As we explored the Westport farms we came across several fields literally covered with these purple flowers among the cut-down corn stalks.  When I did some research I narrowed them down to either Henbit or Purple Deadnettle...both considered to be weeds.  I settled on the Deadnettle.  But it was everywhere and the color was just amazing.
We also had lots of Tree Swallows starting to set up nesting territory....
...and the highlight was finding this Great Horned Owl nestling.  Now to be honest someone told us where to look, so we didn't really "find" the nest.  But we were very careful not to let anyone see us photographing the bird...and we were literally standing next to the car when we took the photo.  I've come across young Barred Owls before, but not Great Horneds very often.
Also the Ospreys were everywhere along both branches of the Westport River.  In fact, it looked like there were more birds than there were nesting platforms.  It was totally surprising to find this pair roosting on an island with gulls.  Normally other birds do not tolerate raptors nearby, let alone sitting among them.
This pair (further north on River Road in Acoaxet) were perched in a tree overlooking a nesting platform...almost like they were trying to decide whether or not to rebuild the nest.
On the way home we stopped again in Rehoboth to check on the Purple Martin colony at the Crestwood Country Club.  Sure enough, we had about 5 or 6 birds flying around the middle martin house.

Delightful birding....just still anticipating those dragonflies though.