Monday, November 30, 2009

Wachusett Mountain-Sunday

I decided to head out to Wachusett Mountain Sunday morning to test out some purchases I've bought recently from EMS for winter hiking, birding and snow shoeing. I've been reading up on some of the things you need to be prepared for trekking through trails of snow and the first thing on the list is no cotton as it doesn't wick away moisture so you get and remain colder longer . Anyhow, I ordered a bunch of stuff from EMS online as they were having another one of their sales and taunted me all day with their incoming emails telling me I only have 12 more hours to save so I fell for it and proceeded to buy a bunch of stuff including trek poles for my snow shoes that I won't even be getting til Christmas but it's good to be prepared and they were on sale so who was I to refuse!

The day I bought the stuff online, I headed up to the Millbury Mall for a triple espresso Starbucks coffee and a few buildings from it is EMS so I innocently go in as they had a big blue sale sign in front and plus I want to check out those cute little toe warmer things I had bought online earlier in the the day to see if they felt as soft as I thought they would when I bought them online. It was raining out so I had on my rain gear because I was going to bird outside and the EMS store clerk looks at me and sees dollar signs as he enthusiastically tells me everything in the store is between 20-50% off. Everything I ask as I look around.....Yes he shakes his head as I run toward the jackets as I have a huge thing for them that started at the age of 6 but that's another story for another. Anyhow, with his help, I proceeded to buy a bunch of things including base layers, middle layers and top layers with none of them being cotton. I left the store a little poorer but happy just the same as the stuff I bought was pretty nifty I do have to say!!

So off I ventured to Wachusett Mountain on Sunday. I didn't have winter clothes per say (except for hat and gloves), but did have three layers on with another one in my day bag should I need it. I also had on my honkin gortex boots I bought recently that I'm still getting used to. I've been using my trail running shoes for hiking all summer and fall and love them as they are ultra light and meant for running trails but the boots weigh you down and make you slower which takes some getting used to. I put them on with the new EMS socks as well as my running insoles from my trail running shoes and I instantly felt better as I headed out to the trail.

I decided to take Pine Hill as I knew it was well populated and had an episode last Sunday at the Cross Street power lines with a couple of weirdos who seemed to be over my shoulder everywhere I turned so between that and the hunter last weekend I have been feeling a little uneasy venturing off to the woods alone lately which frustrates me as I can be fiercely independent at times but do have to trust my gut and right now venturing off in the woods by myself is probably not wise, especially with the shorter days no less.

The trail up to the summit was muddy as you walked through thick puddles of it that sometimes would get right to your mid boot and slow you down. The rocks too were wet which made them slippery but the boots worked much better than my trail running shoes on this surface so I walked up with caution but ease as others carefully navigated the rocks in only their sneakers (glad I didn't see any flip flops or sandals though!)

A snow capped Mount Monadnock I believe?

There were no birds up the trail (expect for a flock of Black-capped Chickadees) that were passing through. One thing I noticed was how different everything looked since the last time I was there when the trees were full of leaves, now they were bare and you could catch glimpses of the land scape which was nice for a change.

I finally made it to the summit (minus a layer I had taken off hiking up the trail) and there are only a couple of people there who are getting their picture taken and then hurrying back down the trail to escape the occasional wind gusts that were downright chilly. I walked around listening and searching for Snow Buntings but didn't find any so I sat on a rock drinking my water, scanning the skies with binoculars in hopes of seeing a passing hawk nearby knowing the odds were not in my favor but it just seems a natural thing to do when on a mountain top.
I walked around for views and pictures and was once again reminded why I prefer the Watatic Summit to this one where everywhere you turn is a picture opportunity vs Wachusett where you have to work for it as the towers and trees get in the way. Ice was formed in certain spots of the summit which I stopped to look at as it was the first ice I have seen thus far this season. I had forgotten how pretty it can be all though very unforgiving at times.
I finally found a nice spot with the perfect view and look out toward the endless landscape and vast blue skies which were wonderful to see after all of the gray we have had recently.
I search again for raptors or even a Common Raven at this point but all I see is this plane going by and I know that's my cue to head on back down the mountain.
I decided to make a couple of stops at Wachusett Reservoir on my way home with one being an area I had seen a tight raft of Common Goldeneye while driving by in the AM that I couldn't stop at as some jerk was riding my tail and there was no place safe to park. I go back there on the way and see some American Crows eating berries from trees and paying no attention to me.
I know they sense my presence as they are rather smart birds, but I guess those berries were just too tasty to fly away before they got their fill as they were just too much to resist.
I didn't see the goldeneye as they were long gone by the time I returned but it still was pretty to look at. All in all the layering system worked great so if you plan of birding, hiking or any other kind of outdoor activity this winter, I strongly suggest you rid yourself of the cotton and head on over to EMS or any other outdoor store so you too can be prepared! ;-) Take care all.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Wachusett Reservior Evening Birding-Gull Roost

Another gorgeous day here in New England and it's hard to believe December is right around the corner with the weather we've been having. Of course I'm not complaining because there's plenty of time for winter so I'm taking advantage of the days as much as I can by being outdoors including this morning when I decided to head to Mount Wachusett which I will post about later this week. Came home and caught up on some much neglected housework and then got an email from Alan asking if I wanted to head out to Gate 22 at Wachusett Reservoir to check on the gull roost. I was in the midst of washing floor number two but that got quickly brushed aside as who was I to say refuse such an offer!!
While walking toward the island we could see small flocks of Black-capped Chickadees fluttering about to get their last meal in for the day before they settled in for shut eye.
Alan had forgotten his tape recorder to play owl calls so I continued to pish a little while he went back to his car to get it. Suddenly a little Black-capped Chickadee flew into the pine tree and got itself all settled in for the night. I sat there and watched it for a good minute as it sat there and not moving much so you could tell he was ready to call it a day. So cute as you very rarely see a chickadee sit still for a moment.
We finally get to the island and there are scores of birds everywhere and all inter mingled amongst each other. The small flock of waterfowl were to the left and the gulls to the right but all in the same row so you used your scope to scan the birds to figure out what was what.
The waterfowl was rather diverse with Common Mergansers, Hooded Mergansers, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Canada Geese and even two loan Mallards thrown in. There were also a couple of Common Loons as well as a raft of American Black Ducks whose flock was so tight they could be easily mistaken for Scoters at first glance.
It didn't take long for the sun to set and the air to chill which caused the reservoir to explode in various colors to reflect the end of a beautiful day.
The air was crisp as Canada Geese honked and various Ring-billed Gulls cried outrage in the background fighting for a spot in the ever growing tight roost.
Other Ring-billed Gulls continued to fly in in small groups usually ranging between 3 and as large as 20 as the sky grew darker and the bright moon started to reflect in the water.
The setting sun made the gulls white plumage take on a blushing pink as they flew by overhead and I was reminded again at how deceptive the sun can be when looking at birds in the sky or even in a tree for that matter.

I took my eyes away from the ever growing crowd of birds for a second and there right in front of us was one lone Horned Grebe passing by and paying no attention to us as it dove in the water and coming up every once in a while for some air. I watched it pass by and wondered where it was headed for the night as it was getting rather dark outside at this point.
And the gulls continued to fly into the roost and pass the moon.
Toward the end it would be 1 or 2 of them who were the procrastinators who were most likely taking advantage of a free meal at some nearby parking lot and forgot the time. The air was quiet as all of the birds got settled in for the evening but occasionally you could hear a scuffle form as the gulls fought for a spot in the roost.

Every once in a while something would cause them to take to the sky and do a lazy circle only to fly right back to their original spot. I lightened this photo some so you can see it but the photo came out very out of focus as I didn't use flash for this because it made the picture even worse.

An awesome end to an awesome day as I had forgotten how much I enjoyed evening birding. Take care all.

eBird List:

Location: Boylston, Wach Res Gate 22
Observation date: 11/29/09
Number of species: 11

Canada Goose 2
American Black Duck 22
Mallard 2
Bufflehead 3
Common Goldeneye 4
Hooded Merganser 7
Common Merganser 4
Common Loon 3
Horned Grebe 1
Ring-billed Gull 650
Herring Gull 50

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Two out of Three Aint Bad-Victory Gardens Boston

Alan and I headed out to the Victory Gardens in Boston this morning in hopes of getting the MacGillivray's Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat and Orange-crowned Warbler that has been reported via MassBird by many birders in the state.

We decided to take the Green Line from Riverside to the Hynes Convention Center stop instead of dealing with traffic that Boston is always congested with. We made our way through Newton as memories filled my head of visions of my college days when a dozen or so of my fellow classmates would take the T from Newton where I attended college to Boston dressed in jeans and backpacks just as I was today. The contents were a little different though as I had my camera, binoculars, Cliff Bars, Bottled Water and my Sibley's Guide stowed away today vs. the bottles of Ruinite (known then as "Ruin Your Nightie" as one of us would always get sick from it) and we would hide it in our packs in order to ensure safe travel to our destination for the evening which was usually a party at Northeastern as they were always the most fun. While the circumstances had changed since then, I still had that feeling of anticipation in hopes of seeing the MacGillivray's Warbler vs hopes of seeing Nick or John or whoever I had a crush on that particular week. My how times have changed as the only man on my mind at that point was Mac!
Anyhow we made our way through traffic and people toward an oasis smack in the middle of a busy Kenmore. The fierce wind blew strong and the skies were gray but even the depressing weather couldn't take away from the beauty of the garden that still held a certain charm despite the fact that most of the flowers had already bloomed and all that was left were seed heads that still reminded you of the beauty they once held, a beauty you would see again, just not today.

The birds were hidden as most didn't want to battle the wind but that didn't stop the Northern Mockingbird above from perching high in a tree defending its territory which was quite the set up complete with abundant food, fresh water and even lounge furniture should he choose to entertain.
He looked at us defiantly as the fierce wind blew amongst his gray feathers letting us know this was his domain and while we could look, we could not enter.
We made our way through dirt packed rows trying to use our ears and eyes to search for signs of life which was rather difficult considering the harsh winds and overgrown brush that seemed to be everywhere we turned in this 4 acre garden. The nests that were full of life this past summer were finally revealed as the leaves had fallen and the fledglings had flown but the nests remained as a secret no more.
Of course not all of the birds sought shelter from the wind including two Red-tailed Hawks that seemed to delight in it. All throughout the garden we could hear their constant cheeeeeerrrrr as they flew by using the powerful force of the wind to guide them instead of the labor of their wings.
And not all of the flowers were corpses as some still held their beauty on this cold November day.
The sun would tease us occasionally as we had met up with other birders who were there for the same purpose. Various chip notes were heard throughout the garden as we searched for any sign of avian life including this Song Sparrow above who was hunkered down in a shrub in an attempt to escape the wind.

There seemed to be one area of the gardens that was the most active at times which were rows X and Y. Alan and I had met up with two other birders from Rhode Island and we were all in various places of this small section of earth as we had heard a different kind of chip note coming from it. I put my eyes on the tree above and see movement so I motion to the others to get their eyes on the tree.
Soon enough a warbler pops out and perches for one brief second on a branch before it dashes for cover from the wind. While this is not a good shot as you can obviously see, it was the only picture I would get of this bird today and the bird is the Orange-crowned Warbler. The weather would be too much for the bird the rest of the day and it remained out of view for us. Soon enough we heard more chip notes and I saw a colorful warbler fly by and make its way into some deep brush. The bird turns out to the the MacGillivray's Warbler and Alan manages to get a really good view but all I get is a butt shot as I was in a different section at the time. Determined to get a better view and at least a record shot, we keep going and are happy to know that it's at least in the area.
We continue to walk row to row as the Mockingbird continues to defend and the Hawks continue to play. One can't help the surreal feeling at this point as you are in the middle of this avian play land and over your shoulder is the Prudential Building to remind you that you are indeed in Boston and not the country side.
Soon enough a fellow birder motions us to row M as he had just seen the MacGillivray's. We eagerly scan the area and are soon rewarded with its chip call as we train our ears to pinpoint the location. Finally I see it fly by and am dismayed to get yet again another butt shot. Soon enough it decides to cut me a break as I see it land near a fence post low on the ground. I put my binoculars on the bird as it stares back in return as my heart skips a beat and I cannot breathe. The bird is more colorful than I thought it would be and it's eyes so pretty. I snap back to reality to try and describe the location to others so they can see it too. Finally Alan and the other two birders see it and happiness sets in as I'm only happy when both I and everyone else I am with sees a special bird as they are far too precious not to share.
The bird continues to play follow the leader with us with him being the leader as we quietly make our way through dirt paths. He decides to delight us by landing on a wooden bench and stares at us as if to say "what is it with you beings and why can't I ever get any privacy, haven't you ever seen a bird before". We pay no attention to this as we gawk at him as he flies away one more time into lower brush
The wind is too much for him so he decides to go low and slow which allows me to finally get some unobstructed views of the bird as well as a half way decent photo.
He flies from area to area and we follow. We stare at the bird and he stares back in return as he makes his way lower to the ground.
A very special bird indeed and one I hope decides to head further south soon before the really harsh weather sets in. One can certainly hope.
And finally a flower I was attracted to the moment I saw it that goes by the name Love Lies Bleeding. Very fitting name indeed for this flower which is known for it's heartiness. Take care all

Friday, November 27, 2009

My Neighbor-The Cooper's Hawk

Cooper's Hawk watching a Ring-billed Gull glide by

Today was another lousy, raw and rainy day which makes birding pretty tough on the optics and the toes so I decided to get outside for a run instead and bring my camera with me under my rain gear should I see anything that would catch my eye. No sooner was I at a slow jog, that I saw my new neighbor Mrs. Cooper across the street a few houses down from my own dwelling. I take out my Blackberry and note the time as her usual pattern is to perch on this tree between the hour of 7 and 8 AM and it's close to 10 which I noted and then took out my camera for a couple of quick pictures of course as the rain was pretty steady at this point and I now know what rain can do to a camera so use extreme caution as I don't want a repeat of what happened to me at Salisbury Beach.

I used my old take 6 steps and stop approach with each stop meaning another picture and I was able to get fairly close to her without causing much alarm so I paused to observe. There were other birds in the area which I will get to further down this post and she would swivel her head to look at all of them including a Ring-billed Gull who glided past her as it was on its way to Windel Field for handouts I'm sure.

Anyhow, I used this as an opportunity to get a really good look at the Cooper's as I have been calling her a female for the past couple of weeks based solely on size which is always a good indicator but by no means always accurate, especially for a newbie such as myself. Another way to distinguish a male from a female is by the color of their cheeks. A male Coops will have a gray nape and cheeks whereas the females will generally be rufous colored as shown above. I also wondered about the general age of the hawk and whether or not she was the one that used to terrorize my feeders this past winter.
A photo of the female in question. She and her male friend were in my yard late last winter and the male had killed a Rock Pigeon for her and then stood guard in a tree while she woofed down his offerings. This whole situation still leaves me perplexed because it was obvious these two were a pair of some sort but the female above was obviously rather young (appears to be a first adult plumage) and most Cooper's Hawks will not breed until at least their second year. Anyhow, if you go back to the first photo you can see this female looks darker overall so perhaps this is the same hawk from last year or perhaps it is just wishful thinking on my part.
Another interesting thing about the whole situation was the fact there there were other birds around and they weren't hiding despite the fact that the Coop's looked a little hungry. If you enlarge the photo above you will see a bird perched in a tree at the immediate upper left hand side of the picture. Go to the last tree on the right of the picture and there is the Cooper's Hawk.

The bird on the left was an American Crow who was attempting to dry off its feathers some as well as serve as a sentry as a couple of crows were nearby on the ground eating. There were also a few Blue-jays in the area that I never did see but heard as they were causing quite the racket with their alarm calls. I stood there for a few minutes waiting for a good old fashioned Blue Jay mobbing a Hawk photo opportunity and it never happened as the bravado the jays get around Red-tailed Hawks didn't seem to want to appear when dealing with a Cooper's Hawk which is even more interesting as the Coops is by far more of a threat to a Blue Jay than a Red-tailed Hawk is solely by their preference in prey.
The Blue Jays take every opportunity they can to harass a Red-tailed Hawk and in fact, seem to delight in it in so why not the same with a Cooper's Hawk? I looked at the Conrell site and they do mention Cooper's being victims of Blue Jay mobbings (especially in flight while carrying prey), but my observations tell me the Blue Jays are rather smart and were hidden when the Cooper's was around and knew if they tried to mob it they may have become breakfast.
Instead they prefer to pick on the poor old Red-tailed Hawks like the photo above taken this past summer. As you can see Mrs. Red-tailed is not at all happy about this as she was trying to feast on woodchuck and take care of her two young in the nest nearby. The funny thing about this whole situation was the Blue Jays never did once attempt to take a swipe at either of the two young hawks. Perhaps it was because they didn't perceive them as a threat or perhaps they knew if they took a swipe at the youngins then mamma may step in and death would be most certain. Whatever the reason it just goes to show you that Blue Jays are very smart birds and opportunistic dive bombers with the Red-tailed Hawk being the preferred target.

Take care all.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Morning Birding

I started my Thanksgiving up bright and early with my usual pre-dawn run which I have actually started looking forward to again now that I have changed the route to make it more challenging. I had been slacking off some since daylight savings time and really need to stay on track in order to remain conditioned for the winter. Plus, it really does wonders for my mind which often gets in a funk this time of the year due to lack of daylight, the holidays and everyday life that all combine to make me rather blue so if I am not hitting the trails in search of birds, I am hitting the pavement in the black of night in search of peace of mind as fresh air does it to me every time.

Anyhow, Alan had some time for light birding this AM and was gracious enough to partner with me in my new endeavor which is doing some scouting for a Winter Raptor Survey I will be doing this winter. Today was the day to look for the already known raptors like the Cooper's Hawk near the park and the Red-tailed Hawks in Millbury and Grafton but also want to expand it some and include not only Millbury and Grafton but Sutton as well with a goal of setting a defined route through main roads, back roads and diverse habitats that will be done at least monthly through the months of December to March. I figured this was right up my alley due to my extreme fondness for anything raptor as well as keep me a little more focused this season which is something I need with winter birding as it tends to get rather dull if you don't mix things up a little so this will help (along with the Gulls of course ;-)).

We headed toward Sutton via Route 146 and didn't feel too positive about finding much given the time of day and the fog that didn't seem to want to lift but low and behold we did see 2 Red-tailed Hawks on our way to Oakhurst. One was 1 mile away from the Oakhurt exit perched on a fixture of sorts off the highway and another was about .9 miles from that one also on 146 which is most likely the Red-tailed Hawk that is commonly seen at the old Oakhurst Horse Farm. The picture above will give you a general idea of what visibility was like this morning which doesn't make for good hawk spotting so we made the best of it and decided to look for sparrows since we were there anyway. While there were plenty of birds there like Dark-eyed Juncos, Song Sparrows, and both House Finches and Goldfinches, there was not much else so we headed back toward Millbury and Lake Singletary.

I have seen a Cooper's Hawk here once or twice so it will be included on my monthly route which is convenient as this is also a hot spot for gulls and sometimes even rare waterfowl if we are lucky enough to spot it.
While driving around West Millbury Road in Sutton, I spotted another Red-tailed Hawk perched in another tree and this time it was safe enough to stop for observation and pictures including the one above.
We were soon about to find out that the hawk wasn't alone as a couple of Blue Jays flew into the tree to practice some of their dive bomb techniques on the passive adult hawk.
After that it was onto a small pond in Sutton and while there were no notable ducks in the area, the passerine activity was in full swing with many birds including the usuals as well as this Brown Creeper above. Wish it would have stuck around longer so I could have gotten closer for a better picture but was happy just to spot it as they appear to be rather difficult to come by.
There were also a couple of Downy Woodpeckers and this Red-bellied Woodpecker above.
With visibility continuing to be to poor for good hawk spotting, we set off to Oxford to search for sparrows as well as a potential Cooper's Hawk that Alan had seen there before. This place too was filled with passerines engrossed in gorging themselves on their own Thanksgiving bounty including this gorgeous Northern Cardinal above.
And of course flocks of White-throated Sparrows like this first winter bird perched amongst some branches mixed in with the others who were all practicing their song and failing at times.
There were also scores of Dark-eyed Juncos including this very attractive female above. Now usually I find the male species of bird to be prettier than the females but juncos are an exception to my eye. I just love that soft brown color of theirs and finds it suits them perfectly.
Last it was onto Fisherville Pond in Grafton where we did see one Red-tailed Hawk that I have seen in that area just about every time I go. We were also fortunate enough to come across this Field Sparrow above which is the 2nd one this week for me.
And of course the American Tree Sparrows which I was thrilled to see. Some of you may recall Fisherville being the area where they put in that new soccer field which was once an area that had a lot of these sparrows. I figured there would be enough suitable habitat for them to stick around, but it was still nice to see with my own two eyes.

Take care all.


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