Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Class Trip #3 to Ware River Watershed ~ Saturday, May 24th

We had a small but fun class trip to Rutland State Park on Saturday.  The weather started out so-so and that's why we decided to do a trip that could focus on migration but also keep us close to our cars just in case we had some rain.  Since it was quite overcast we met at 7 (late for Mark & me) and our first stop was the marshy end of Long Pond where we had female Hooded Mergs sitting on the ducks boxes.  We were hoping to see some ducklings pop out, but it didn't happen while we were there.

As we drive Prison Camp Road into the park we could hear Veerys and Ovenbirds at every stop.  Interestingly, though, we didn't hear a lot of Red-eyed Vireos.  We ended up with 75 species seen or heard for the morning trip.  We had some nice examples of birds gathering nesting material, like the female Rose-breasted Grosbeak below....
....while the male "stood guard" nearby.
When we got to the marsh near the old prison camp we could hear lots of Least Flycatchers, but we also had a nice look at an Alder Flycatcher calling from the top of a tree.  This was as we were listening to an American Bittern pump in the marsh.
And we got to watch several Bobolinks displaying over the fields there.
As we continued our trip we continued to hear Overbirds at almost every stop...although some of them were way too difficult to see.  And when you could get a glimpse, invariably the bird was partially hidden behind branches.
We stopped by the pond on Reuben Walker Rd. to look for Bridled Shiners.  Almost everyone got at least a fleeting glance at these little fish...which are listed as a species for special concern in MA.  And thanks to Ellen Ruell we also got this interesting invertebrate out of the water.  This insect is called a Backswimmer (Notonecta undulata) and they use their long back legs for "rowing" on their backs looking for small aquatic invertebrates to eat.  Since they overwinter as adults and lay eggs in the spring, this is likely what this Backswimmer was doing out of the water.  
Just at the junction of Rueben Walker and Coldbrook Roads we had a nice view of a Blue-winged Warbler, along with singing Indigo Bunting in the field and lots of Chestnut-sided Warblers.  We followed the road up to Barre Falls Dam, where we found a Common Raven caching a recently-caught partially-eaten bird...most likely a Robin judging from the size.
We made several stops as we traveled south on Coldbrook and finally came out to Rt. 122 in Oakham.  We decided to take one last hike before heading back to the cars so we parked and hiked into the section of the rail trail behind Muddy Pond.  Since it was getting close to noon, we knew that bird song would soon be dropping off, but we managed to get a few Blackpolls still in the area, along with the regulars (Pine Warblers, Ovenbirds, Veerys)  At the marsh we had Painted Turtles out on logs...
...and this Eastern Phoebe was still singing as well.
One of the more unusual sightings was this beaver completely out of the water and looking like he was preening.  When we got home one of Mark's friends suggested he might have been out of the water so that he could re-coat himself with some of the oils secreted to keep himself water-resistant.
At this same spot we were able to watch a Black-capped Chickadee bringing food to his/her nest hole in a broken off dead stump.  This bird was amazingly quiet as he approached the nest.
We had a nice Great Blue Heron suddenly step out from behind the beaver lodge while we were there as well.
We also got to watch a female Pine Warbler gathering nesting material.  She was do quiet and discreet while the male stayed up in the pine trees on guard.
We got everyone back to their cars just shortly after 12 and realized that we had driven less than 12 miles to do this entire trip.  It's amazing what you can see in a relatively well-defined area with great habitat....and the ears of Mark Lynch!

After the trip officially ended Mark & I decided to drive down Whitehall Road in the park and give a final look for odonates.  We were rewarded with both Hudsonian Whiteface and Chalk-front Corporals.  And I managed to get some good shots of the corporals.
We also had this little Flower Fly on a dandelion....which I could not get down to exact species.  But it had a very interesting pattern.
All in a wonderful few hours in a very nice place close to home....and it didn't pour!


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

MAS Class Trip #2 ~ Quaboag IBA, Sunday, May 18th

We had a morning-only trip with a few people from the class this past weekend.  And it was a great trip!  We met in Spencer at 6 a.m. and headed to Lake Quaboag, then down to Sturbridge to the heron rookery and a great walk in Wells State Park, then up to the Brookfields and back to Spencer.

At the rookery in Sturbridge we had 26 active nests...most in the early stages.  You can just see the little bit of fluff in the nest that is one of the baby Great Blue Herons.  We also had the Osprey fly off of the nest atop the microwave tower there.  And lots of swallows and Yellow Warblers zipping around.
Our next stop was hiking the trail along the pond to the power lines in Wells SP, then up the power lines to check on the heron rookery there (we only saw 1 active nest) and then back through the wooded trail to the main road in the park and after a quick check for the Black Rat Snakes (we dipped) we headed back to the cars.  It was a great walk and took us through some varied habitat.  On the power lines we had our first Ruby-throated Hummingbird zip by and then perch up...
 ...plus a singing male Indigo Bunting.  Notice how dark (almost black) the bird looks even when you click to enlarge the photo.  That's because the amount of blue you see is directly related to how the sun hits the bird's feathers.  I'm always amazed when Mark talks about if you were to take this bird in under artificial light that all you would see is a small black bird...no blue at all!
However, there were lots of other colorful birds to occupy us -- like this female Baltimore Oriole who was out gathering nesting material to weave her nest.
And this Prairie Warbler perched up and sang right in front of us.
Taking the trail back through the woods brought us lots of singing Ovenbirds, a Magnolia Warbler and some interesting plants....like this Nodding Trillium.  This was the first time I can remember finding this species of plant...and it's beautiful.
We also had Jack-in-the pulpit which is always an interesting plant to study.
And while we looked for dragonflies, it was still a bit cool so we didn't have any.  Now most of you know that any time I bird the Brookfields, especially in spring, I have to stop by the corrals at the miniature horse farm and see how many foals have been born and how the little ones are getting one.  It's become a standing joke about how much Mark hates their cuteness, so I'm happy that Bobolinks are nesting in the field down the road, because I can always use that excuse....especially when leading a class trip!

However, I did promise to use only one shot from the frolicking foals, but it was really the little one on the left that was causing all the trouble until the older foal essentially told him to back off.  In some of the subsequent photos we saw both of them trot off together....friends again.
Back on the birding trail, we drove to one of the entrances to Richardson's Wildlife Management Area -- this one on Devil's Elbow Road (love the name).  The trail takes you through a great forest of white pines where we had Black-throated Green Warbler and a singing Winter Wren.  The trail eventually comes out in some overgrown fields bordered by a marsh.  It was a little quiet in the marsh, but we had tons of grasshoppers in the field.  Every step seemed to put up 3 or 4.  Finally on the way back I was able to track one down for a photograph.  When I got home I identified it as a Northern Green-striped Grasshopper....thanks to Tom Murray's great guide to Insects of New England & New York.  Since these guys overwinter as nymphs, they're out early in the spring and usually gone by mid-summer which is when you start to see other grasshoppers.
 We also had a nice view of a singing Black & White Warbler....
...and the Ovenbirds were very territorial on the way back.
As we crossed the little stream in the woods, I finally spotted by first dragonfly of the day and was able to get everyone on the trip on it.  It was another Hudsonian Whiteface.  This side view lets you actually see the white face!
Our final stop for the day was a drive-through of the MAS property at Elm Hill where we had this Yellow Warbler building her nest.  She flew in and out several times while we were watching, working very diligently on the nest construction.  Since it was rather in a visible spot, it'll be interesting to check back in a couple of weeks and see how she's making out.
We were back at the cars in Spencer just after noon....so this truly was a morning-only trip.  I think the 5 of us who went were all still recuperating from having done bird-a-thon the day before.  But more about that in another post.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Warbler Fest at Hope Cemetery ~ Wednesday, May 14th

Since I had a late-morning appointment, we decided to check out the Worcester cemeteries to see how migration was going.  We spent a great 2 hours in Hope Cemetery in the southwest corner of Worcester.  We had big movements of warblers, with numbers of Magnolias and Northern Parula leading the pack.  But we also had a Wilson's, Northern Waterthrush, a number of Blackpolls and lots of Redstarts as well.  Plus Mark thought he heard a Hooded Warbler but didn't count it since he wasn't 100% positive.  Oh, and the Killdeer had 3 babies running around and Baltimore Orioles were calling all over.

But before we even left the house, we noticed a beautiful Indigo Bunting in our backyard.  We had just been commenting that we still hadn't seen an Indigo Bunting in all our travels...and there he is in a small backyard in the city of Worcester.
We had Baltimore Orioles calling high up in the canopy, but this beautiful male was actually flying around fairly low and sat still long enough for me to get a shot.
With the foliage coming out more every day, I was lucky that this Magnolia Warbler was in one of the oaks; otherwise, I'm not sure I would have gotten a decent shot...they just constantly keep moving at this time of the year.
And finally a nicely-plumaged spring Blackpoll Warbler.  Mark was pointing out that most of my photographs of Blackpolls are in fall plumage which is so drab and different from their spring pattern.  I thought I was going to have to go out to Mount Greylock where they breed to find a spring bird to photograph.  But with a little patience and luck this guy stopped feeding long enough for me to get a couple of shots.
And the female warblers were definitely migrating in Wednesday morning...although I think the Yellow Warblers are actually gathering their nesting material already since they've been back for weeks.
And one of our later spring migrants -- this nice male Wilson's Warbler.
Really, how can anyone look at warblers and not be impressed with them.  All you have to do is look at a Northern Parula with his blue-gray colors and that bright yellow throat with just a little orange going down the breast and you go "WOW"....or at least I do.
I've been very lucky this spring -- I think I've gotten some of my best photographs of spring warblers this year.  Of course this means that when it comes to picking just one photograph for my calendar for next May I'm going to have a very hard time.....


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Rutland State Park ~ Monday, May 12th

Spent a great morning birding somewhat close to home....Rutland State Park which is part of the Ware River Watershed.  Our route was pretty simple:  we drove in Prison Camp Road, did Reuben Walker Road, then up to Barre Falls Dam, including the loop below the dam, and then back down Coldbrook Road to Rt. 122.  We then checked a section of the rail trail behind Muddy Pond and finished up with the dirt road that goes in by Muddy Pond and comes out in the park near the beach.

The first bird we heard was an Ovenbird, but there were so many of them we actually started an experiment to see if there was anywhere we would go where we were out of earshot of one.  We also had some great looks.  We ended up with a total of 138 Ovenbirds seen or heard Monday morning!  Since we there quite early we also had some thrushes calling -- just as we entered the park we had a singing Swainson's Thrush...very nice and we had our first Wood Pewee.
Near the big marsh at the prison camp site we heard the American Bittern pumping again.  It's nice to know this bird is back on breeding territory, as are the Bobolinks.  I snapped this photo of two male Bobolinks using this poor Tree Swallow's nest box as their perch for calling and displaying.  I can imagine that the Tree Swallow inside was not happy.
This area was also covered with both Yellow and Chestnut-sided Warblers.  And there were good numbers of Least Flycatchers there as well.
As we drove down Reuben Walker we came across 4 Bluejays in the road.  After a few seconds one of the birds flew off with nesting material, then another and the two remaining birds appeared to be gathering nesting material as well.  Since these guys don't usually build communal nests, Mark thought it may have been an example of the previous year's young acting as "helpers" around this year's nest.  They are so secretive, though, we've never actually seen them at the nest.
I thought this little Chipmunk just looked cute checking us out as we drove by.
And the big stand of Purple Trillium on Coldbrook Road was in full bloom when we passed it as well.
After getting back on Rt. 122 we decided to hike on the rail trail a bit, mainly to check on some of the ponds and bogs looking for dragonflies.  We had this very cooperative Gray-cheeked Thrush out catching insects.  He would work along the low bushes bordering the ponds and then fly out onto the path to pick up insects and then fly back into the bushes.  There was a Common Yellowthroat doing the exact same thing along the trail too.  Both birds eventually flew off when some bicyclists came by.
We also had a number of Pine Elfins along the trail....
...and another Brown Elfin.
All the time I'm keeping my eyes peeled for odes.  Mark was a bit ahead of me since I was photographing the elfins when he yelled that a dragonfly was coming down the rail trail right towards me.  Sure enough this this dragonfly zipped past and kept going.  Judging from the shimmery wings it appeared to be a young odonate (teneral) and even though I started running after him, it didn't look like I would see him if he landed.

Suddenly out of nowhere a Yellow Warbler flew out of the side of the trail and snatched the dragonfly from the air and all I could do was keep running and yell at the warbler to "drop it".  Actually I think I added some unprintable expletive in my state of distress.  Whatever I did it worked!  The startled Yellow Warbler dropped the ode and took off back into the trees from whence he came.  Now to see if the odonate was still alive and, hopefully, identify it.
I took a couple of photographs as some bicyclists were approaching and then we decided that we should try to move him to a safe place off the rail trail so he could recover without getting run over....or having that Gray-cheeked Thrush come out and pick him off.
Since this was a newly-emerged ode I knew I would have to wait to get home to attempt any id, so I just focused on taking lots of photographs quickly and of as many angles as I could get.  We placed the insect on a deciduous tree, hoped for the best and left.  And I think I muttered something like "damn warblers" as we walked away.  Thanks to my friend, and odonate expert Dave Small, turns out that this little guy is a Four-spotted Skimmer....and my first photograph of this species.
Feeling quite exhilarated we decided to check one more good boggy pond in hopes of finding more odes so we drove down Whitehall Road back into the park.  Within a few minutes of walking the road there Mark found another dragonfly and we were able to get it perched.
As I photographed it from the side I noticed the white face and hoped it was the Hudsonian Whiteface we had been searching for....flies early in the spring and I don't have a record of having seen one yet.
Suddenly there was a second one flying but that one perched for only a few seconds before flying off and we lost it.  After checking the guides at home I decided it was the Hudsonian Whiteface and I posted the pics on the Northeast Odonata webpage on Facebook and got it confirmed.

Whew...we are now cooking in this ode season and I couldn't be happier.  It'll only get better from here on out as more and more species start flying.  Plus I get to enter two new species from Monday into the new Access database I created for keeping track of odonate sightings...Life Is Good!  Oh and we had 81 bird species on this morning trip, including 19 species of beautiful (although potential dragonfly-eating) warblers.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Otter River State Forest ~ Sunday, May 11th

Spent a great morning in northern Worcester County at Otter River SF and then came home via Petersham where we made stops at Tom Swamp and the Women's State Forest.  Obviously hoping for early odonates, but just as satisfied with some great bird and butterfly sightings. We got to Otter River just before 7 and after driving through the empty parking lot took the left down one of the dead-end dirt roads.  We passed the old cemetery and stopped at the two ponds just before the gated road ends.
Besides a pair of Eastern Kingbirds and our first-of-the-year sighting of Snapping Turtle, we had a nice showing of shorebirds.  We had about a dozen Least Sandpipers, several breeding Spotted Sandpipers and quite a few Solitary Sandpipers.
We then started driving our "normal route" of dirt roads and heard this Mourning Warbler singing.  Interestingly, it was exactly in the same spot that we had one last year, but that bird was found in early June not May 11th.  This definitely seems to be an early sighting...at least for us.  
It was interesting to note how little the vegetation was out compared to southern Worcester County.
And this female Tree Swallow (there was a male nearby) wasn't even on the nest yet.
We had a huge showing of butterflies.  Besides the Spring Azures and a few Mourning Cloaks, we had our first Juvenal's Duskywing....
...and lots of Pine Elfins.  In fact this year I seem to be seeing this little guys in many more places than I remember for previous years.  Although when I got home and checked previous photos, Otter River and Rutland State Park certainly had them in good numbers.
But this was my first photo (at least with digital) of Brown Elfin...and we had quite a few.
Although this Henry's Elfin was a "life" butterfly for us.  We only saw one and I didn't get the greatest of shots, but the wing pattern with the white at either end of the margin is a definitive field mark.
Mark was in his element having the opportunity to rescue at least 3 different snakes.  Since it was a little cool to start the day we found them out sunning on the dirt roads and it warmed up.  Unfortunately, that makes me a total wreck driving, since I'm afraid I will run one over...which I have in the past.  Luckily, for both me and the snake, Mark has an uncanny ability to spot these things quite a ways off.
This young Ribbon Snake was particularly troublesome.  When we first came across him, he was sunning himself in the road, and as soon as Mark tried to pick him up he moved off quickly.  Since we were on a dead-end side road in the state forest, we came back about 20 minutes later and he was out in almost the exact same spot.  This time Mark was able to pick him up so that I could photograph the two of them for Mark's project -- wants to be photographed holding every reptile and amphibian in New England.  So this was a new add for that project!
While we had lots of Painted Turtles, and this nice Bullfrog, at the Beaver Pond, we did not have any of the early odonates.  Great habitat for Ringed Boghaunter though.
We did have this nice Six-spotted Tiger Beetle near the pond and searched for other invertebrates...but no luck,
After stopping below Birch Hill Dam and getting more Pine Elfins and an Osprey, we headed south to make a stop at Tom Swamp in Petersham...again hoping for butterflies and dragonflies.
We had several Pine Elfins and lots of Spring Azures.  Most of the azures we were seeing were the violacea form.  We also had this little moth called the Bluish Spring Moth everywhere.  At first we thought we were seeing a really tiny azure, but it was actually a moth.  I'm so used to thinking of most moths as being nocturnal, rather than out flying around during the day.
Even though it was getting towards mid-afternoon, there were still warblers calling.  This Common Yellowthroat was definitely on territory, while we still had Ovenbirds, Pine and a Nashville all in the area.
We decided to check out the Women's Federated State Forest nearby and found this little Ovenbird walking down the road.
I hear far more than I ever see of this bird, so to find one on the road (acting more like a thrush) was a treat.  You sometimes see them walking quietly on the forest floor, but not usually so out in the open.
We did have a good number of thrushes in the SF as well, including this nice Swainson's Thrush.  In fact, we also had a Gray-checked Thrush, but I wasn't able to get a good shot of him.  We surmised that there must have been a little thrush movement overnight, since we had 5 species in this one parcel.
We got home just after 4, having been out since before 6 a.m......it was a long and fun day in a beautiful part of Central Mass.  Oh, and when I got home there had been a flower delivery sitting on the front porch (for who knows how long)  It was a lovely tulip bouquet from my grandchildren for Mother's Day and they're still making me smile.  Really who could ask for more....