Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Institute Park in the Rain and fun with Bird Guides.

I decided to get out for a bit at lunch today as I just couldn't take it anymore. The rain is getting really old and I'm sick of staring at walls, so off I went to Institute Park if only to clear my mind. The rain had disappeared, but was followed by a persistent drizzle that just didn't want to ever seem to end today. The first thing I noticed was how many Common Grackles there would be today and in the front of the park vs. the way back when I was there last time which was nice to see. The weather didn't stop either them or the Red-winged Blackbirds from singing because that's all I could hear when I got out of my car.
They would see me coming and fly away toward the direction on the ONE Mute Swan that was on the pond today. Didn't see the partner but guessing perhaps she is on her nest?? The others seemed to be gone thank goodness, but they will soon be replaced with some new young I'm sure.
While making my way along the edge of the pond I could hear an Eastern Phoebe nearby. I used my ears to guide me to it and it stuck around long enough for me to get a photo before it proceeded to fly across the pond, while hawking for insects which is something I had never seen a phoebe do so it was really interesting.
Of course the Red-winged Blackbirds were out in full force which was again different from the last time I was there so I guess they arrived en mass the past week or so.
There would only be a couple of Song Sparrows on the ground and perhaps a 1/2 dozen American Robins . I would soon spot one lone robin along the water trying to dry off by preening and shaking off some.
He would be in the midst of preening and then stop abruptly to give himself a really good shake but not sure what good it did him as it was still damp everywhere.
One thing I have really picked up on since the robins who migrated came back recently is how different the male and female actually look if you take the time to look at them through your binoculars. The male will usually have a blackish head and tail and a solid deep, reddish breast vs. the female who tends to be more gray on the head and have a duller breast. I think I'm noticing it more now because I have trained myself to use my binoculars first and camera last to take in every detail of the bird before I attempt a photo. May not be doing that with the warblers though as you need to be ready with that camera finger of yours before the darn bird goes back into hiding. ;-)
And while we are on the topic of noticing detail, check out the Common Grackle above. I was looking at this bird and was impressed the color variation I would see compared to how they usually look to me which is usually darker with some purple undertones thrown in.
I decided to look at some of the bird guides I am now keeping at work to see if they would note any color variations on Common Grackles.
And this is what I would get. Here you have the Bronze Purple phase below and the Brassy Green phase above. Huh?????? Hmmmmmm....... Had never really noticed that before I thought to myself. Most likely due to the fact that I never really looked at any grackles before in my field guides as who doesn't know what a grackle looks like so there was really no need for me to look at it in detail in a book.
I then go to my 2nd field guide the old Peterson edition and this is what I would get.
No mention of the Common Grackle at all, just something called a Bronzed Grackle or Purple Grackle.........
I then go to the book below and see a paragraph on these particular grackles above. Grrrrrrrrr..... And one wonders why birding can be so confusing seriously. To make things even more bizarre is my Audubon guide has a copyright of 1949 vs the Peterson copyright of 1947. Did something happen in that two year period that I wasn't aware of, seriously!!

I would finally come across this on the Cornell All About Birds web site "The “bronzed grackle” race of the Common Grackle, breeding roughly west of the Appalachians and in New England, has the characteristic bronzy back. Birds of the Southeast, from North Carolina to Louisiana, often called the “Florida grackle,” are darker green on the back rather than bronzy, and they're purple on the belly. An intermediate race along the Eastern seaboard is sometimes called the purple grackle." .

So there you have it all, you learn something new everyday!

And speaking of the book above I wanted to show you another name for my favorite bird of all time and you all know what that is.
Allow me to introduce you to the Duck Hawk, aka Peregrine Falcon. Just when you thought you knew everything. ;-)

Take care all.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Forbush Bird Club-Lake Quaboag and vicinity & Other Misc

I attended the Forbush Bird Club's trip to Lake Quaboag and vicinity this past Sunday . The morning air was brisk to say the least and even more so on the water which is just where we all wanted to be to search for ducks now that the waters are no longer frozen.

We went many places and saw quite a few ducks including Ring-necked, Wood Ducks, American Black Ducks, Bufflehead , some Green-winged Teal and of course the usual Mallards but for the most part the waters were quiet and most of the ducks were far away so I didn't get much for pictures.

The passerines were out there somewhere, but very quiet because what bird in their right mind would want to sing in the temps we had on Sunday!! With that said, Rodney did a great job getting some of them to pop up out of hiding with his Screech-owl imitation. We also were treated to seeing an Eastern Phoebe, which was a first of the year for quite a few folks on the trip. Another thing worthy of mention would be the scores of Common Grackles we would see at one spot. There were so many of them that the sound was deafening.
We would also have our fair share of some raptors who love the winds and had ample opportunity to play in it as the winds at the waters edge were fierce. Nice way to spend a Sunday morning and catch up with everyone and am looking forward to the Bolton Trip this upcoming Saturday when temps are supposed to be in the 70's (only in New England).
After that Alan and I stopped in Sutton to look at some trails along the Midstate Trail with one area looking promising for exploration when the weather gets nicer. On our way back toward Millbury, I spotted a male Eastern Bluebird perched on a telephone wire so we pulled over to look at it in the warmth of the car.
He was soon joined by a female and he would land on the ground in search for food. Such beautiful birds, especially this time of the year.
I decided to head to the Millbury Cemetery this morning before work, despite the dreary weather to search to see if any Chipping Sparrows have come back yet as this is one of their favorite spots. I wouldn't see that many birds, except for some American Robins, Song Sparrows, Blue Jays and one lone Red-winged Blackbird. I decided to check one more area and I spot one lone Wild Turkey walking around the grounds. I put my car in park and proceed to whip out my camera as I didn't have the turkey on my Worcester County list yet. Not too bad if I do say so myself. ;-)

Take care all.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Saturday Birding and my Nemesis no more

My nemesis bird no more!
Alan and I did some birding today, with our first stop being Bolton Flats so I could try out my nifty new hip boots I got for birding in high waters and while the water had gone down some since the last time I was there, the hip boots would be necessary to get past the T at the flats so off we went. The weather was freezing as we made our way through thigh high waters in search for birds. One of the first birds we would see would be some Northern Pintails like the one above (FOY bird).
We continued along our way when suddenly we could hear a chip-a, chipa-a, chipa call and could see a bird flee and by sound assumed it was a Wilson's Snipe. A little further down the path, we would flush another and sure enough we got our binoculars on one as it was fleeing the scene. Wonderful to see as I had forgotten what shorebirds look like when they fly so it was quite the treat (especially considering it is a lifer for me), and I haven't had one of those in months. The other shorebird we would see today would be quite a few Killdeer like the one above.

As we were making our way along the waters, I suddenly heard the call of a Great-horned Owl which caused me to stop dead in my tracks. Alan said it is odd to have that type of owl calling during the day, but I was convinced I had heard it and low and behold as we were heading back, we both heard it again and believe it was a recording being used by local crow hunters nearby trying to bring in the crows as we heard gun shots too. No wonder there were not that many ducks on the water! While there were a few Green-winged Teal here and there, it was nothing like what we saw a few days ago.
After that it was onto Sterling Peat where we would see some Mallards, a Bufflehead and many Ring-necked Ducks like the lousy photo above where these two are gazing into each others eyes!
Alan suggested we stop at Wachusett where Kevin had reported a very cooperative Ruffed Grouse last week so off we went, but I seriously thought, we would never see it due to the fact that I just don't have good luck with this bird for some reason. We made our way near the top of the hill when suddenly we could hear the ruffle of leaves which I thought was a squirrel because why the heck would a grouse purposely be headed in our direction!!! It slowly appeared and I was astounded to see that it was in fact Kevin's grouse!
The bird would continue making its way a little closer to us as it proceeded to pick up leaves with its bill in search for food. The grouse got no more than 2 feet in front of me at one point which caused me to have to use my micro photography lens because it was so close all my photos were coming out blurry.
After about 100 photos of this bird we decided to leave her alone, but I honestly think she enjoyed the company! Highlight of my day as I spent about 4 hours total this past week trying to get it and I had no idea I would get one in this way. So cool and my new favorite bird for the month of March!
On our way back closer to home we came across these Manatee's who were all decked out in the St Patrick's Day attire. I guess they didn't get the memo that Easter is next week. So funny to see though and I love the little one.
Our final spot would be a place in Sutton to check to see if the Eastern Meadowlarks had returned yet. We would not see many birds there, but did have these horses above checking us out.

Take care all.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Birding in February? Well that's kind of what if felt like

I had the day off again today and didn't want to waste it indoors, so off I went with Alan to brave the elements to do some light birding and hit some trails via hiking as I am still having pain behind the knee so have been hesitant to attempt putting on any miles via my running shoes, until the pain subsides a little more. Anyhow, one of the first places we hit was Martha Deering in Millbury, to check to see if the Winter Wren or Pine Warblers were back yet, even though we knew it was a long shot, it was a good excuse to head out there. The place was very quiet and after walking about a mile or so, we were lucky to hear an occasional Black-capped Chickadee or Blue Jay.

Alan wanted to check out a brushy area and I was looking in another direction when suddenly I could see a large bird that I thought was a Red-tailed Hawk at first, take flight and fly a short distance to a nearby tree where it was covered by branches, I was lucky enough to see where it landed to put my binoculars on it and was thrilled to see a Barred Owl staring back at me. Now I had gotten a Barred Owl a couple of weeks ago, but Alan had yet to see one this year, so I attempted to explain its location and there it was staring back at him. I took out my camera to attempt a photo despite the challenges and off it flew to get away from us, even though we were rather far away. The thrill of the experience would be I had never seen a Barred Owl fly before. The wing beats were heavy and labored, yet very powerful as those lovely wings of his bent heavily down to navigate through the trees and far away from view. Awesome sight and so glad we were in the right place at the right time! While we were lucky enough to get the owl, we didn't fare so well in getting either the Winter Wren or a Pine Warbler, but that was to be expected anyhow.
After that, I wanted to show Alan a couple of places I have discovered locally while running trails as he has shown me so many cool spots I wanted to attempt to return the favor. The next stop would be Rayburn and the adjoining power lines that actually criss cross with the other powerlines the local Red-tailed Hawks nested at last year. There were not that many birds there, but you can definitely see the potential with the scrubby over brush and adjoining woods with ample water nearby. Can't wait to get back there to search for Towhees and other various warblers who find that habitat to their liking. One thing we did see though was the nest above which was rather large, messy and made of moss. Will have to investigate further to see what it is as it was twice the size of a Robin's nest.
We made our way to the area where the two power lines meet, and could hear the usual racket of the various backyard birds as they were making their way through their turf. One lone Black-capped Chickadee decided to pay us a visit as it perched nearby to check us out, while I took a few photos of it.
There would also be scores of pussy willows that were well past their prime except for a couple here and there like the one above.
After a while I could hear the lovely call of the White-throated Sparrow and sure enough, one popped out to see what we were up to. Seriously, I cannot get a decent photo of this bird for the life of me no matter what I do. Very frustrating.
I can't say the same for the Northern Mockingbird who is always a ham for my camera. We were driving along when I spotted it so we decided to pull over and low and behold this mocker was crooning away and singing, which was indeed music to the ears on this cold day. Despite the temperatures, all you had to do was hear him sing and you knew warmer weather is very nearby. This bird had a very impressive set of pipes as well as calls as he was spot on doing a Blue Jay and White-breasted Nuthatch imitation which got me thinking that perhaps the mockingbirds songs are somewhat related to the birds they hear most. Example: Both the Blue Jay and nuthatch are year round birds so he has probably heard it most the past few months vs. the Catbird and other birds you would hear it imitate in the summer. Food for thought I guess.

Take care all.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pied-billed Grebe and other birds

I had the day off today so did some birding with Alan with our 1st stop being Brierly where I got lost last week as it appears as if I need a guardian of sorts whenever I go out there alone as I have a tendency to get myself lost in those woods, and plus, Alan knows those woods like the back of his hand, including where the Ruffed Grouse usually reside, so off we went to see if we could get it. As we made our way to the beginning of the path, we would see a small group of Cedar Waxwings on a nearby crab apple tree like the one above.

Alan showed me a section I had never seen before and it was nice and peaceful which is just what I craved, but we never did manage to find a grouse. I swear, I have no luck with that bird it seems so now I really want it of course. Will get it this year I know, but want it now as its personal. ;-)
After that we decided to head to Barre Falls to meet up with Donna, Bart and Dave and do some hawk watching. While we didn't see many migrating raptors we did see many Tree Swallows like the ones above. Donna had told us there were Eastern Bluebirds in these boxes earlier in the day, but not anymore as in the breeding world, it's the survival of the fittest or most brazen and the Tree Swallow will usually trump the bluebird hands down as you can see above.
They would flutter about and mess me up some at first as I had forgotten how falcon like these birds can be high up in the sky at first glance. I didn't complain too much though because it allowed me to practice some of my aerial photography which is one of my favorite ways to capture birds because to me, there is nothing more free symbolically, than a bird in flight.
In between flights, one would land on the box again, just to remind others that it is no longer vacant like the one above who appears to be preening.
And giving me the "hairy eyeball" as I take a couple of steps closer to it for a better photo.
After that it was onto Coachlace to see if we could finally get the Pied-billed Grebe again that Bart had spotted yesterday. While it was still very windy the sun would be in our favor and we were able to spot the bird in less than one minute of getting there! There were also quite a few Greater Scaup in the water as well as a couple of Mallards. Very happy to get the grebe so early in the year.

After that it was onto Wachusett, Gate 37 to see if there were any early arrivals such as Pine Warblers or Eastern Meadlowlarks. We set up shop in a path laden with pine trees and listened for any sign of bird sound when suddenly I glanced up to the sky and saw an accipiter that at first glance, resembled a very large Cooper's Hawk to me. I put my bins on it and although the tail was long, overall the bird appeared very buteo like but could tell right away it wasn't a Red-tailed so naturally a Northern Goshawk next comes to mind. Alan gets on the bird as well and we were able to confirm it as in fact, a Northern Goshawk. I tried to get photos but didn't get anything remotely clear, due to the fact that we were literally in the middle of a path of pine trees so getting pictures was tough because my camera wanted to focus on the pine branches instead of the sky. Plus, I was so transfixed with what I was seeing, I actually forgot about my camera which doesn't happen that often!

Awesome to see though and even more so because I was really able to pick up on the key characteristics (wing shape, width and size of tail, head, etc) of the gos myself from what I had learned from last year. It just goes to show the more you bird, the more you learn and I am starting to get what they say about the "experienced birder" because all of that birding does add up and what seemed impossible to me last fall, is now starting to click and I like it!
After the gos flew by we turned our attention back to the pine trees but I just couldn't help looking back to the sky a few more times because I really wanted a picture of the gos still when suddenly we get more raptors in our very narrow path of view! Out come the bins again and low and behold we have three Bald Eagles flying overhead including with the most prominent being the very handsome adult (most likely the male of the nesting pair due to the fact that the nest is somewhat nearby this gate and we saw the female in the nest incubating her eggs). Check out those long plank like wings and that unmistakable white head and tail.
The other two were juveniles including the one above. Funny in that these eagles were up higher than the adult but they were all headed in the same direction. Very interesting to see. Perhaps the juveniles from last year or the juveniles were migrating and the adult Bald Eagle was keeping his eye on them making sure they were not going to set up shop on his turf? What ever it was, it was awesome to see and really nice to get 4 really good raptors in the period of 7 or so minutes!!
When I got home, I decided to head to St Philips in Grafton real quick because I wanted to see if the Tree Swallows had returned yet so I could record it in eBird so I have in on record for next year. The place was very "birdy" as I drove in and could hear the Red-winged Blackbirds, American Robins, Dark-eyed Juncos and Common Grackles. The grackles proceeded to land fairly close to me and they were engrossed in consuming something that resembled a small acorn to me (check out the one in the photo above!). So funny to watch them trying to eat them.
The American Robins were nearby too, but eating something a little different or at least searching for something a little different.
And just a few feet away from this was a Northern Flicker busy at getting in its last meal for the day.
Before it flew off to get away from the others, including me probably. Lousy picture but wanted to include it because I really like the color you can see under its wings and I hadn't really noticed it before.
Finally a Blue Jay would join in on the buffet and proceed to check me out as he munched away.
Over at the wetlands, I would see about 15 Tree Swallows or so and they were busy scanning the waters edge as they chattered amongst themselves flying in their usual hyper manner. The Great-blue Heron would be there too and on their old nest that looks even more pathetic now, than ever. :-(. I sat there and watched the heron on the nest and was very surprised to see it open its bill and regurgitate inside directly into the nest. I have no idea if it was intentional or not, but something I had never seen before so figured I would throw it out there to see if this is common practice or maybe it had some bad shell fish or something. ;-) After a while it decided to take off and fly by which allowed me to get a pretty decent shot of it.
And then finally, no other than my nemesis Belted Kingfisher, Wouldn't you know the little bugger wasn't making a sound!! I only noticed him because I was checking out some Wood Ducks near by and happened to find him by luck!

Another great day for birding. I had forgotten how much fun it could be with the winter doldrums that had set in, so it makes it even more special now. Bring on spring!

Take care all.


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