Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Run, Birds and Brrrrrrrr

I woke up this morning to the sound of the heater blaring and black skies that has been getting rather old lately and thoughts of April seem to happen on a daily basis now as I put on my many layers to venture outside which is where I go for peace of mind whether it be 90 degrees or 10 degrees, but prefer a happy medium of 70 or so but I suppose beggars can't be choosers.

I dressed myself in my running layers and decided to do another trail run as the only time I can get them in is during the weekends due to work. The snow was a little tougher today for running but it suit my mood as I have been in a funk lately and chasing many demons that battle my mind and the only way I can rid myself of them it seems is outdoors where I run from them whether on the streets, the trails or snow ladden paths in snow shoes. The bitter temperatures did not opress me, but rather invigorated me as I ran up the trails almost defying the snow, the harsh wind and the inner voice that told me I was crazy for running in such an environment under such conditions, but its just the therapy that works as everytime I am done, the demons are gone and life is good again.
After the run, I met up with Alan and we headed off to Lancaster to see if we could spot the leucistic Red-tailed Hawk that folks have spotted there for the past few weeks. We looked around for a while and didnt' see anything until a local birder walking his dog had spotted him earlier and sure enough, there it was. It teased us some as it flew from branch to branch, but I was able to get a half way decent look at the hawk as well as a couple of lousy pictures like the one above. Is this a cool bird or what!!!! Wish it would have ventured closer to us, but happy I got it just the same.
A photo of the area in which the hawk seems to spend a lot of its time.
After that it was back in the car to warm up some and try and figure out where to go next so we did what was natural when in Lancaster and head over to Bolton Flats which is one of my favorite places to bird in Central Mass but of course we didn't even bother getting out of the car as there is nothing there yet, but it was nice to see it just for old times sake. ;-)
We went to another section of Bolton Flats that I had never seen before so Alan decided to show it to me and we were lucky enough to see another Red-tailed Hawk land on the ground to grab some prey and the bird proceeded to fly to a branch to eat its breakfast which was rodent mole', or rather a mole that was in the wrong place at the wrong time as you can see! I took this from the car window so it didn't come out clear, but didn't want to disturb the hawk while it was eating as he has enough problems surviving the winter without me harassing it for a better photo.
After that it was onto the Pond the Never Freezes where we saw some Mallards and Black Ducks and then onto Wachusett Reservoir, gate 6 to look for Eagles. While walking down the path, I could hear the call of a Common Raven and sure enough one came into view which was great as it wasn't on my list this year. We met up with other birders who were there for eagles too, but low and behold there weren't any. In fact, the only bird we would see while there was one lone Mute Swan (joy!). Grrrrrrrrrr, and one wonders why I think of spring so much. Oh well, on the bright side January is oficially over with and the days are getting longer. I am typing this at 5:20 PM and guess what, I can still see light! Take care all.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hitting the Icy Trails

I decided to thumb my nose at the January cold today and headed to one of my favorite local powerlines to attempt my first official trail run under snow and ice as I am getting very tired of running the streets and miss the trails. The snow we received a couple of days ago was just enough to leave a thin layer of snow and ice which could prove to be dangerous if one isn't equipped with proper traction devices for their shoes, which I had so off I went for exercise and solitude after the hectic week this week. I made my way through woods and out to the powerlines and throughout the 1/4 mile or so I didn't see or hear one bird until I got to some clearing and who is it that I see?
Why the Great Black-backed Gull of course, who did you expect? HA, of course I had to stop my run for a picture as I have never seen any gulls at the powerlines before as it just isn't their habitat really, or so I thought until now. ;-)
So up I ran through the snow and the sun shone bright as the local Red-tailed Hawk decided to fly by which was indeed a welcome site as I hadn't seen it for well over a month now so it's nice to see that its still around and will hopefully nest in the same area this year so I can keep my eye on them again.
One thing I have to say about trail running in the snow is that its a lot more challenging than regular trail running so I spent about 1/3rd of my time either hiking up hills or stopping to check out a bird or two, but all in all, it was a lot of fun and something I am looking forward to again when there isn't enough snow on the ground to snow shoe it. The best thing about this particular area is the fact that I went 3.2 miles and didn't see a soul which is nice for a change.
Oh and for those of you wondering what it is I had on my feet to avoid slipping, here they are and they are called Microspikes. One of the best winter investments I made this year as they work incredibly well and I would suggest those of you who hike or even bird outdoors to consider buying to avoid slipping on ice. I actually carry them in my bird bag should I ever need them while birding, though I have been lucky thus far and haven't had to pull them out yet, but you never know!
And of course, I did one of my favorite things to do while trail running which is birding by ear, and I could hear many American Robins like the one above who was part of a flock of at least 70.
And my ear perked up immediately when I heard the much missed call of the Northern Mockingbird which made me stop in the midst of a run to try and locate which I was able to do eventually. This was one of two I would see on my run today who was mixed in with the robins.

Take care all!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Lot of Snow Shoeing, A Little Birding on a Sunday

I went off in search for solitude this morning with my snow shoes, binoculars and camera to take advantage of the snow as it will most likely be gone tomorrow with all of the rain we are foretasted to get this evening into Monday. I decided to stay local with my first stop being Martha Deerling in Millbury. The first thing I heard when I got out of my car was a Hairy Woodpecker so I took it as a good sign.
There were pockets of birds here and there including a Red-bellied Woodpecker, the usual Blacked-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, Golden-crowned Kinglets and of course the Tufted Titmouse, but was very happy to get this Brown Creeper above that I crept up on which is hard to do with snow shoes believe me! ;-)
After that it was one of my favorite places for birding in town which is Brierly. The first thing I noticed was how devoid of bird song it was. Usually the area is alive with song, today the only sound that could be heard was the crunching of snow being made from my snow shoes.
The picture above is one of my favorite places of all here as it is full of warblers in the spring including Chestnut-sided, American Redstart and Common Yellowthoat, also good for various vireos and one of my favorites the Veery. Today, I was lucky to get an American Robin taking advantage of the bittersweet that is mixed in with the wild vegetation.
One of the best things about the snow is the fact that it's a lot harder to get lost which allowed me to explore various paths here that I was reluctant to do before. It was obvious others have been there recently with the snow mobile tracks and cross country tracks so took my time exploring every nook and cranny of the place. Of course these nifty new arrows the mountain bikers have put up recently did indeed help as well as my own snow shoe tracks should I lose my way.

I got a new phone a couple of weeks ago and I absolutely love it. It's the new Droid and has a lot of cool features including this device called ITracks which is a navigation device of sorts you can use while hiking, running, etc. It basically maps and tracks your route which is awesome for a data dweeb such as myself.
As you can see, I took my sweet old time wondering about and plus it's much harder to be fast when trudging through snow with snow shoes on. Hard for me though as I am used to doing a 3 mile run in a half an hour, but I keep reminding myself I am out there for nature not exercise.

Will probably not blog much this week as with work and all but be sure I will be out there next weekend. Take care all!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Alan and I decided to head to Barre Falls today but this time, not for hawk watching per say, but more for snow shoeing with hopes we would see the resident Northern Goshawk as this bird is on the top tier of my winter target list (what else is new ;-)).
Anyhow, the sky was clear blue and despite the fact that the forecast called for cold, it didn't feel that way after a few minutes of snow shoeing. The Barre Falls I know and love with memories of warblers in spring and raptors in fall has taken a different life its own and thrilled me again, but this time with ice crystals and fresh snow that was fun to walk through in search of the elusive Northern Goshawk.
The Ware River where Osprey's would hunt for fish this past September lies frozen in time with promises of spring here and there as you can see above.
And flowers from seasons past take on a life of their own with the ice crystals that continue to build upon their skeletal remains creating a different kind of beauty that was breath taking to see as you made your way upon unbroken paths while drinking in the invigorating winter air.
Next it was onto Winimusett for a little more snow shoeing and perhaps a few raptors and were far from disappointed as we saw both the Rough-legged Hawk as well as the two local Red-tailed Hawks who were all circling around the same area doing lazy circles while ascending higher up into the air. What made the whole episode even more interesting was the fact that all three were together per say, with the Rough-legged being higher than the two Red-tailed's but all seemed indifferent at each others presence, almost as if this happens often and have learned to live in peace amongst each other for the time being. Highlight of the day for sure.

Pictures can not do this scene justice as they were too far away and the blue skies made focusing the camera challenging to say the least, but take my word for it that it was indeed mesmerizing. Sigh, I have come to the conclusion that my new favorite winter site of all is watching a Rough-legged Hawk soaring or hover-hunting from above. Wish there were more of them around though.
We also saw this rather gentle looking (at least to me), Cooper's Hawk, yes that's right Cooper's Hawk. Sheesh, what did you think it was...... ;-). He sat there the entire time watching the spectacular raptor show above and Alan and I were in hawk heaven at that point having three different species of hawk all within immediate view.
A shot of the open land which is frozen water. Seriously folks now my new favorite birding spot for the winter for Central Massachusetts. Would have no problem spending the entire day here so long as I had snow shoes, snacks and a lounge chair for relaxing here and there. We never did get the Northern Shrike though which was disappointing but not complaining much as I saw it last time.
Shadow play above but couldn't help it just because.
A beaver's den above which was huge. If you look behind it you will see a smaller one, which I am assuming the guest headquarters. ;-)
And last but not least the authentic "Pond that Never Freezes". Went there and saw my first of the year Ring-necked Duck and Wood Ducks which was awesome until some one in a snow mobile decided to whiz on by us and scare them all off. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr........And that's all I am going to say about the matter.

Take care all.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Birding Salisbury and Plum Island Janaury

I decided to join my buddy Alan on his trip to Salisbury Beach and Plum Island yesterday with our first stop being Salisbury Beach in hopes of getting the reported Sage Thrasher that had been reported there all week. The weather was already warm in comparison to what we've had recently and the sun was just starting to peek from the horizon which was a wonderful way to start the day.
We spent a considerable amount of time looking for the thrasher but never did find it, but did find the Iceland Gull above mixed in with a Great Black-backed Gull and a couple of Herring Gulls.
I had seen this bird before but never this close up so it was great. Had to get a digiscope of its face as its as sweet looking as a Ring-billed. Great looking gull.
We also spent some time scanning the waters and saw the usual Common Eiders and White-winged Scoters.
Next it was onto Plum Island which was rather quiet in comparison to what I am accustomed to there. One of the things we did see were three Norther Harriers including the one above. Picture is lousy but love the fact that is shows those dark hands it has which is a good fieldmark to look for on this bird when hawk watching.
And what would a trip to Plum be without me getting a lousy picture of the Snowy Owl. Grrrrrr.....Seriously, one of the most difficult birds for me to photograph due to how white it is as well as the fact that it is never close enough for a decent shot, even a digiscoped shot.
The highlight of the trip was when a birder told us they had seen a Rough-legged Hawk a few minutes ago. My interest in the snowy quickly diminished as I started scanning the skies for this magnificent hawk. It didn't take us long to find it as it was hover-hunting and then suddenly dropped to the ground with such a force that its body jerked a little upon landing. We decided to drive up to a closer location to see if I could get better pictures but the hawk was gone by then.
We were able to spot it again as it made its way to the tip top of a tree which was very interesting to observe with my own two eyes as a friend of mine told me to look out for this behavior in Rough-legged Hawks and sure enough he was right! ;-)
The dark morph Rough-legged decided to take off which allowed me my first real good look at it from above and I was far from disappointed in what I saw! Sigh, such a magnificent bird and my new favorite bird for the month of January! I could watch it all day if allowed.
Another picture of it going away to my dismay!
But that's not all folks! We were with a bunch of other birders looking out at the sea looking for sea ducks when my head decided to scan the skies near the tree line hoping I could get one more look at the Rough-legged and low and behold it flew on past and landed in a tree. The thing was that yes this was a RL hawk, but not the dark morph we had seen earlier but a light morph which was very cool to see as it really showed you the differences between the two. Highlight of my day for certain!

Take care all. I realize my blogging has been cut down some but it is winter and all and I have been distracted with life and other things. Hoping to get out tomorrow though as I have the day off. Take care all!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Birding on a Chilly Sunday

I did some birding Sunday morning with Alan in an attempt to increase my January numbers up some as I've been slacking this month thus far due to work, cold weather, etc, so it was nice to get out there despite the frigid air. We had some target birds in mind including the Common Goldeneye that was seen at the Irish Dam in Shrewsbury (no picture though). Next it was onto the Worcester Airport in search for Snow Buntings and Horned Larks. A very impressive flock of buntings were seen and were nice enough to stick around briefly for me for a record shot before venturing off somewhere out of view.
Not that many Horned Larks to speak of, but did manage to spot these two by themselves. No idea where the others ventured off to as the last time I was there I saw about a half dozen or so.
Next it was onto Winnaumusett to search for both the Northern Shrike and Rough-legged Hawk. Within a few minutes of being there, we did manage to get the Northern Shrike as it flew into a tree. A few minutes later we saw it go by again and this time with what appeared to be a mouse in its bill. Couldn't find it after that due to the fact most likely that it was eating its breakfast under heavy cover.
Sadly no Rough-legged Hawk which was a bummer as it was my primary target bird for the day but there's always next time! I did manage to get a shot of what appears to be bird tracks and a bird impression on the snow which I thought was pretty cool though!

Take care all!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

40 Species so far for January

Just a quick post showing the species I have gotten this month thus far as I am participating in the January bird count along with other bloggers. Hoping to get the numbers up some this weekend but will only have Sunday to do so as Saturday I have non birding plans so it will be interesting to see how I do!

Will post again on Sunday as I am taking a mini-blogging break of sorts which I like doing occasionally when I get distracted by other things. :-) Take care all!

Canada Goose
Mute Swan
American Black Duck
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Great Blue Heron
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Peregrine Falcon
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon
White-winged Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
American Tree Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Uxbridge CBC-January 2nd

I did the last of the CBC's yesterday, this time with Fran and Alan and this time the Uxbridge count. We started off early on slippery roads as the snow started falling before dawn which meant many layers and cold feet which is something I have gotten used to lately with all of the CBCs. We saw many of the regulars like the White-breasted Nuthatches shown above. The great thing about doing multiple CBC's is that it gives you the opportunity to observe trends between them all and one interesting thing with the nuthatches this time around is that they were not always necessarily in pairs of two like they were in most of the other counts. Funny how you could have 13 Black-capped Chickadees, 3 Tufted Titmice, 1 Downy Wookpecker, but always 2 White-breasted Nuthatches whenever you called out the birds with the chickadee tape.
We also got some birds we were hoping for like the Carolina Wren which was a site to behold and motivated you some to continue which was tough at times with the weather and what it was doing to your optics and wil. Loved getting the Carolina Wrens in the CBCs as it gave me the opportunity to hear many of their various calls (and boy are there a lot of them), that I am just learning.
And of course hundreds of Black-capped Chickadees like the one above. The chickadee is always the leader of the pack and wherever they go, the others follow and its always so cheerful that one can't help but smile when you see one land on a branch with the others not far behind.
A big highlight of our day was seeing this Brown Creeper above which was very well camouflaged by the tree trunk. I could hear the call of some Golden-crowned Kinglets high up in the tree branches which were covered by snow, but I could also hear something that sounded like one, mid tree, and low and behold crept the creeper! We also had two Red-breasted Nuthatches here which was the highlight of the count. Their call is one of my favorites and I honestly didn't think I would hear it until spring. Awesome!
Another highlight was seeing a large flock of about 75 Red-winged Blackbirds that I spotted while using my binoculars to attempt to follow a Cooper's Hawk who flew below the tree line. I could see various blackbirds in a pine tree and couldn't tell what they were exactly but they looked too black to be European Starlings so Alan got his scope out and was able to confirm Red-winged Blackbirds. How cool is that!
And speaking of low visibility, an example above of the conditions. The picture is of a Red-tailed hawk perched in a tree.
We would see 4 of these hawks in total yesterday and based upon all of the numbers I have seen in all of the counts its obvious these numbers are not declining any and many are year round residents and not migrating. Of course these could be visitors from further up north, but I can't see the nesting Red-tailed Hawks tolerating that for long which leads me to believe they are year round but could be wrong. Kind of disappointed in the accipiter numbers and will be comparing their numbers to past CBC's once the numbers are loaded into the CBC site. Should be interesting to analyze.
We also had other large flocks like this large flock of Cedar Waxwings as well as large flocks of American Robins.
And I end the CBC series with some shots of winter, frozen in time like this Northern Cardinal who popped with color against the white landscape.
Bittersweet that will help many birds survive the winter.
Snow clinging to flowers from seasons past providing a different kind of foliage.
And rose hips covered in snow.

All in all, I really enjoyed all of the CBC's I did. I learned a lot about our winter birds and got to bird with some really cool people. It can't get much better than that and look forward to next year. Take care all!


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