Thursday, April 22, 2010

Rusty Blackbirds in Grafton and other stuff

I had to work in Boston today and decided to make a quick stop at St Philips in Grafton as it is on the way to the train station. I would get out of the car and hear the usual birds including the very vocal various blackbirds like the Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds, but then I heard a call coming from that immediate area that sounded different to me so I immediately zoned into it and was thrilled to hear that of a Rusty Blackbird. I would listen intently for a moment as I have never really heard a Rusty sing before, but have heard it through one of my birding field guide CD's and have been able to pick up on it fairly well because it is an easy one to remember. The field guide says it sounds like a squeeky door, but I prefer it to the sound of a bird saying candy and that's exactly what this bird was saying so off I went to try and find it.
I would use my ears as my guide while I put my binoculars on the various blackbirds. There were now a couple of them singing their song so it made it easier for me as I came to a tree where I would see five birds in another part of the tree and somewhat separate from the Red-winged Blackbirds. I was at a compete disadvantage due to lack of daylight still and the fact that they were perched high up in the trees, but wanted to get some pictures as record shots.

Now of course the funny thing would be that I was dressed in my "smart clothes" as I call them as I was headed to Boston for the day so try and dress up some so here I was in my freshly pressed Ann Taylor trousers that are beige by the way and I was now in the bushes directly underneath the blackbirds in an attempt to get a better angle of them so I could document that pale iris of theres. Finally the misses (I believe) above was kind enough to pose for a moment as I got my first picture of her that would show all of the classic field marks.
And then finally a male would grant me the same honors. A very cool bird to get and one I never thought would be as easy as it was because looking for different blackbirds out of flocks really intimidates me because it can be so overwhelming, but this small flock here made it very easy with their singing. Once again folks, learn those bird songs! If I didn't know that call, I would have most likely over looked them as I was stretched for time to get to Boston.
As I would leave I would also hear the song of a Savannah Sparrow in some shrubs so I pished it out and it posed momentarily for a photo.
I decided to get to Boston a little earlier than normal because I wanted to see if there were any interesting migrators overnight at Post Office Square. I would only have about 10 minutes or so and couldn't do a thorough job and the only birds of note would be the very many White-throated Sparrows that seemed to all be in one concentrated area (I would count 10 in total). Thought this photo was interesting in that I had never noticed yellow flanks on a white throat before so figured I would share the picture.
I would end the day at South Station and had a few minutes before the train so decided to wait outside and just look up at the gulls as there were not only the usual Ring-billed Gulls flying overhead today, but the Herring Gulls as well and being the total dork that I am, I figured it would be fun to distinguish between the two different species while waiting for my train :-p.

Anyhow, I didn't want to appear to be a total dork so would only have my camera and binoculars would be in my bag but then I would see a gull mixed in with the others that caught my eye and I would kick myself for not having the bins handy. I turn my camera on and manage one shot and then off it flies past a tall building that would block my view. I came home, blew the photo up on my screen and this is what I would see. Now obviously the first thing you will most likely notice which was the 1st thing I noticed was the lack of any prominent black wing tips that always sets off a red flag to me. It was smaller than a Herring Gull (at least to my naked eye) and the shape of the head is round like a Ring-billed Gulls so I decide to look in my various field guides for pictures of Iceland Gulls. I am not liking what I see when I compare it to my photo because the gull in the photo above appears to have too much charcoaly gray in the leading edge of its wings but that may be due to my picture and lighting. The tail looks a little too dark for me (and according to Sibley, page 184, the juvenile Iceland "always lacks contrasting markings", which is what I believe I see here), so am not really sure what I have and it doesn't help matters much that I can't see the color of the legs or even the bill for that matter. I have spent the past two hours since I got home pouring over my field guides and still don't have an answer I am comfortable with. It's times like these where I wonder why I didn't pick up an easier hobby like knitting or checkers or something like that as birding still continues to be tough for me at times. Any ideas?y Don't worry, I won't be embarassed if you tell me it's a Ring-billed or Herring Gull, I will just wonder why I didn't see any black wingtips that's all! ;-)

Edited to Add: On hour number three of checking out this bird and decided to blow it up more and can see the dark upperside of the bird. Now thinking this is a very funky looking Ring-billed Gull that is not showing its wingtips that well due to the position of the sun. Officially stopping now as it was driving me crazy but figured I would keep the photo and my ramblings above just so you can see how challenging birds can be with certain lighting conditions. I could be wrong again obviously and will most likely spend another two hours tomorrow morning pouring over other field guides. ;-)

Take care all.


Kay said...

What an interesting post! I just got an i-phone and am really using the birding app that plays bird songs. I wish I had something you could just hold up in the direction of the bird song and it would tell you what you are hearing. Yesterday I was hearing a strange song and started looking up the songs of warblers I'd seen in the trees--sure enough, it was the cerulean warbler! Now I'll know its song.

Hilke Breder said...

Lucky you, to have seen a rusty blackbird! I haven't seen one for several years. On your photos I could just make out the yellowish iris after I lighted the photos up a bit more. Can't help you with the gull. has a great ID forum; you can upload photos and get responses within a couple of hours usually.


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