Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Highlights from the Second Half of May

This is the first time I'm doing a post with highlights from several different trips.  Part of my reasoning is that if I wait until I can absolutely identify every dragonfly from each birding trip we're taking, I will have to give up my blog.  As it is, some of these photos go back to May 17th when we were poking around on Bird-a-thon day to see what species we could turn up for our local MAS sanctuary -- Broad Meadow Brook in Worcester.  I'll try to keep the photos from each trip together so there's a sense of each place we visited and what we saw.  So let's talk about Bird-a-thon....or rather let's not since I've ranted in the past about that event.  Actually as long as we stay fairly local and don't run into people who are ridiculously competitive, it can be fun to see how many species we can get on one long day.  I was hoping we would get at least 100 and when finished tallying our list it was 118 -- not bad for a spring day in Central MA!
We started with a quick stop at Lake Quaboag and quickly moved on to Quabbin where we had this pair of Common Mergansers looking very at home just below us at the Administration Building....they're obviously going to be nesting somewhere nearby.
This Red-eyed Vireo was in full voice as we moved up the hill on the east side of Winsor Dam...
...and this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was just one of several working the trees below Enfield Lookout.
We did a walk into Gate 5 on the west side of Quabbin and had our first dragonfly, Beaverpond Baskettail.
And it was a great area for Pink Ladyslippers.
We continued up the west side and made stops at the Pelham Overlook as well as the overlook further north on Rt. 202 and watched some folks parachuting into Orange Airport.  We also stopped at a marsh on Moosehorn Road looking for other early odonates.  As we started heading east on Rt. 122 Mark spotted a Painted  Turtle just as a I drove over it!  Luckily I didn't hit him and we made a U-turn so Mark could get him off the road before someone did!  Needless to say this little turtle was very excited to get across the busy road in one piece and almost flew into the small pond when Mark released her.
We stopped in the Federated Women's State Forest in Petersham to check for more dragonflies and noticed the first Foamflower blooming.
Our final big push was to drive one of the major roads in Rutland State Park -- Whitehall Road.
We had good numbers of dragonflies, including lots of Chalk-fronted Corporals (above) and Hudsonion Whiteface (below).  While we had many of both species, we didn't have much variety in terms of kinds of odonates...but then it was mid-May and things have been slow to fly this year.
We got this great look at an Eastern Wood Pewee along Whitehall Road as well.  Normally these birds stay high up in the canopy in the forest, so getting great looks (and a photo) was a real treat.  All in all a very pleasant trip around the Quabbin Reservoir.
On Sunday we had a class trip to the Quaboag area which I've already blogged about.  But on Monday, May 19th, Mark and I headed to north Worcester County to Otter River State Park.  There are wonderful dirt roads to drive and we planned to check it out before leading a future class trip to the area.  We had been here on the 11th so we wanted to see how things were progressing.   Unfortunately we did NOT have the singing Mourning Warbler so it most likely was just a very early migrant.
But we did have some of the same species of butterflies and got better photos of both the Brown Elfin (above) and the less common Henry's Elfin (below).  Both start flying pretty early and are gone by about mid-June in our area.
We also had some nice early wildflowers as well, including this Fringed Polygala (also known as Gaywings).  It looks like it belongs in the Orchid family, but it's actually a member of the Milkwort family.
And we had lots of Painted Trillium along the elevated dirt road near the bogs before you get to Beaver Pond.  While I usually see Purple Trillium regularly every spring, I think I've only seen the Painted a few times.
And the photo below is one of the reasons this blog is so late.  I cannot identify this dragonfly!  I think it's one of the clubtail species (probably Ashy or Dusky) but I keep finding field marks that contradict my id each time I study the enlarged photos.  So for now please enjoy this close photo of a dragonfly which is driving me crazy!
Probably my best sighting of this trip was coming across a pair of HUGE Snapping Turtles just as they were about to mate.  I kept my distance but sat down to get some great close photos of these two.
It's amazing to look at the scales on the legs of this guy and see how he's attached to his shell...not the sort of close looks you usually get a snappers.
And at the Beaver Pond we got breeding Spotted Sandpipers.  It's always nice to find a breeding shorebird in northern Worcester County.
Our mid-week quick morning trip (Wednesday, May 21st) was to Oxbow NWR.  Obviously still hunting for Ringed Boghaunters...and still coming home empty handed.  We did get some nice migrant warblers, along with the local residents like this Yellow Warbler though.
And in keeping with mating animals, we found these two Banded Watersnakes facing off against each other either just before or just after mating.  I stayed quiet and watched for about 15 minutes, but neither snake moved so I decided to just let them have some privacy and moved off.
Since we had a class trip on Saturday locally, we decided to head out to the Berkshires ourselves on Sunday  (5-25) to check out Beartown State Forest in Great Barrington and Monterey.  If all the roads looked good we would try to lead a migration class trip out there the following weekend.  We did and I blogged about that separately already.  But here are some of the photos from our pre-class trip.
After entering the SP from the east in Lee along Beartown Mountain Road, we took the right fork on Benedict Pond Road and came out to the open marshes along West Brook.  There was a Broad-winged Hawk nesting nearby because we could hear it calling.  Soon it came out of the forest and sailed across our view.  Probably has young in the nest and was out searching for food.
As soon as it warmed up a bit we started to see teneral damselflies lifting out of the grasses along West Brook and just moving up into the trees.  Since young odonates (called tenerals) don't have all the color that most people use as field marks it's hard to find good photos in field guides to help with identification.  Just based on size and knowing which damsels fly this early, I'm guessing this is an Eastern Forktail...which is one of the most common damselflies in Massachusetts.
This young dragonfly, however, still needs more work until I can make a good identification, but I'm pretty sure it's another one of those pesky clubtails that have been driving me crazy all spring.
The nice thing about flowers, though, is they don't move and look pretty much the same when in bloom.  And for the most part I can identify them....this is Wild Columbine which grows abundantly along the roads in Beartown.  An absolutely gorgeous early spring flower of which I never tire.
We also had this Pickeral Frog in a small field at the top of Mt. Wilcox.  I'm always surprised to find frogs on mountaintops and wonder where the nearest pond is and how/why did he get up here?
We also came across lots of Red Efts crossing the roads...which is always disconcerting since they are so small and you don't even see them when you're driving the back dirt roads all the time.  The unusual thing about this little guy is his tail.  It was obviously torn off at some point and has started to grow back.
This Juvenal's Duskywing seemed to sit up and pose for this photo...usually they're laying flat on the dirt road and I don't get such good looks.
In contrast to the dark skipper above we had some terrific views of this West Virginia White, including capturing him moving from flower to flower.
This early spring butterfly is found only in the western parts of Massachusetts and stops flying by early June.  We've been fortunate to find them at several places in the Berkshires the past few years.  You need to get a definitive look at the pale gray veins in the underwing to clinch the id...and this guy certainly provided that.
The last trip I want to talk about in this blog was taken on Monday (5/26).  But since the day before had been a long one, we decided to keep it fairly local.  We planned to stay in the Ware River watershed and focus on the two roads that are outside of Rutland State Park.  We started in the north on Gilbert Road, but when we got to the area on Grainger Road, we found the gates closed.  So we decided to head out to Barton Cove and check out the Miller's River for dragonflies.  On the way back we checked a few places in Erving and then we stopped in Gate 33 at the north end of Quabbin.  The weather was on and off showers, but we had a good day despite the weather.
Along Gilbert Road we had some nice stands of Yellow Clintonia.  This is one of the wildflowers you can really identify both from the flowers in spring, but also from the true-blue color of the fruits later in the year.  It's from the fruit that it gets its alternative name....Bluebead Lily.

While Mark walked in to check the Great Blue Heron rookery along the Mid-State Trail I stayed near a beaver pond to check for some dragonflies.  While I didn't get one single ode I did have a pair of beaver busily working on their lodge and their multiple dams.  I stayed rather quiet and they didn't seem to mind my being there.  Although at one point 3 people came by on horses and one of the beavers took to some very loud tail slapping which frightened one of the horses.
An exciting find on Grainger Road was this Springtime Darner -- my first of the year.  Now I'm sure you're looking at the photo and saying "really?" but it's a fairly large dragonfly and the pattern on the abdomen is quite complex with lots of blue against a brown background and the two white stripes on the thorax set it off nicely.  You probably need to click on the photo to enlarge it and see the details.  Of course after doing all that you might still say "really?".
Just before we got to the closed gate on Grainger we came across this female Ruffed Grouse making all sorts of little noises...so it probably had some young grouse nearby, but we never saw them.
As I said earlier, it was on-and-off showers but the radar map looked clearer to the west so we decided to head out to Barton Cove in Gill/Montague and see if there were any odonates along the Miller River.  As we were driving on Rt. 2 in Gill right near the boat launch for Barton Cove I spotted this Pileated Woodpecker on the ground digging for grubs around an old tree trunk.  Normally I would have thought this was a once-in-a-lifetime sighting, except that about 4 years ago in Tyingham in the Berkshires I watched one doing the exact same thing in someones' front yard along a well-traveled road.
We made a U-turn and pulled off and watched the bird for about 15 minutes.  Notice the dirt he (it is an adult male) was throwing up in the air as he dug.  And in the photo below you can see he was being quite successful.  We left the bird with cars zooming past on Rt. 2!
In Erving we stopped by the Miller's River WMA but it was starting to drizzle again so no dragonflies....but we did have this group of Turkey Vultures on the road.  We wanted to see what they were congregating around and when we drove by there was an old fish that someone had left that had attracted the vultures.
As we headed back Rt. 122 towards Worcester we decided to take a short hike in Gate 33, since the rain had stopped.  We had Towhees calling all along the grassy marsh and finally this male put up right in front of us and sang.
And we had dragonflies....like this adult Four-spotted Skimmer.  This is the same species that I yelled at that Yellow Warbler to drop several weeks ago in Rutland SP.  Since that was a teneral, it was nice to see the adult so I could really notice all the field marks.  A fun way to end the day's trip.
So that's it...5 little trips (some not so little) to 5 different areas.  Other than the Beartown trip, all were within Central MA too.  It continues to amaze me with what can be found not too far at all from Worcester!


1 comment:

  1. Hi, there. Those would be northern water snakes, Nerodia sipedon sipedon, as opposed to bandeds. N. fasciata isn't native to MA; they are mostly in the SE US.

    I've seen pickerel frogs pretty far from water; I think they do spend a lot of time on land but breed in the water. The Biology section of this link talks about it: http://www.arkive.org/pickerel-frog/lithobates-palustris/ I still see plenty in the water, but am never surprised to see them far from it.