Sunday, August 29, 2010

Trail Running/Hiking Mount Watatic to Pratt Mountain (Wapack Trail)

I decided to hit the trails yesterday and do the part of the Midstate Trail near Mount Watatic which is essentially now the Wapack Trail which would lead me to the summit of Mount Watatic and then Pratt Mountain as that was an area I had never explored before but based on some google reviews, it sounded like it would be interesting so off I went!

I would hike up to the summit for the most part with perhaps 1/4 mile of running areas that were not too steep as I knew I would need my leg strength for the remainder of the trip and I didn't mind at all because at that point no one was on the trail except for me and it was so peaceful I could have lingered there all day.
I would make my way to the summit and not a soul would be there. I looked up to the sky in search for raptors and they would be absent as well, but not for long as hawk watching is looming near I thought as I looked over at the rock where everyone goes to search for hawks.
View from the summit of Mount Watatic.
After a few minutes, I would head onto the Wapack Trail in the direction of New Hampshire, but be distracted by a gravel road that caught my interest. It reminded me of the powerline trails I love to run so much nearby, but haven't due to the fact I hear wasps like nesting there, so I gave into the temptations and just ran down that hill to see if I could still do it as running downhill is my favorite thing to do, but it can be dangerous on regular trails because of large rocks and roots which are easy to trip on. The smaller rocks are not as hazardous because you can't trip on them and the worst thing you can do is slide on them, but that makes it even more the fun as the rocks help to carry you down some. HA. The hills seemed to keep going and going I thought to myself and I thought a couple of times about stopping and going back up but then assumed I could pick up the Wapack there and all would be well.
I would look around for the wapack and would do some running around the area just to explore and would come across this rock here, but not much else except for what appeared to be a large parking lot. Hmmmm....I would think a little disappointed as it appeared as if I would have to get back up the hill.
I would start off running and and all would be well until I got to about 1/3rd up and then I would really start to feel it as my legs are no longer used to running up hill on small little rocks where you have to balance yourself because you slip and fall sometimes if you don't.
I would continue to hike it and hope to get to the top soon, but all I could see was more road. Hmmmmmm, this was probably not a wise thing to do considering I want to get all the way to Pratt and I'm already tired I thought as I took out a Cliff Bar. Oh well, I thought and continued along huffing and puffing the entire way.
I would take a sip of water near the top and turn around and this is what I would see. I looked at the view for a moment and then took out my camera and wondered how come I didn't notice it on the way down as the view was so vast and beautiful. Glad I saw it on the way up and it made that hill worth it in the end.
I would finally make my way to Wapack and after about a mile of running it, I knew I had found my new favorite trial for running. There was still not a soul to be seen and the trails were just beautiful and new to me and running them was nice because it wasn't too steep but challenging just the same because there was elevation here and there.
There would be some birds here and there including a great look at a Hermit Thrush who was bathing in a puddle but took off as soon as I went for my camera, as well as many Dark-eyed Juncos like the one above.
Another part of the Wapack Trail that caused me to stop and take out my camera. I had read that some parts of the Wapack were bare of trees due to logging and would soon see that for myself. The sun felt great after all that rain and I ran this with ease.
One of the numerous Garter Snakes I would see. In fact, I had one almost crawl over me a little further down the way so I would get paranoid because I didn't want to step on one as I have a deep fondness of these little snakes and would have been over ridden with guilt the rest of the weekend.
An abandoned shed of some sort along the way. There would be junk and what appeared to be car parts everywhere here. It was really odd to see and thought it was picture worthy.
I would finally make my way to Binney Pond in New Ipswich New Hampshire and all would be quit bird wise except for one lone Great-blue Heron who flew by as it was irritated by my arrival.
It would be around here that the trails would get really narrow and the bugs would start to come at me. I was super annoyed over the bugs, but the run would still be nice because the trail follows the pond which was nice to look at so I wasn't complaining much. Suddenly I would find myself in a part of the trail that was super narrow and rather wild and I would realize I somehow veered off the trail and was in the middle of no where as the little black bugs swarmed me. I stood there looking for yellow arrows and didn't find any so had to resort to bush whacking around until I could see blue skies which indicated to me I had found Pratt Mountain, but just not the way I had intended to that's all. :-p
I would finally make my way to the overlook and decided to sit on a rock and drink in the view. The bugs were now gone and my legs tired so decided to eat again and catch my breath. The view of Binney Pond and the surrounding area was just gorgeous as I looked around and tried to identify the mountains I could see.
Another view. All of the running, hiking bush whacking and bug swatting was well worth it I thought as I drank my water.
No summit rock for posing but figured I would get a picture just the same. Like how this one came out funky due to the sun to my right.
View from the summit of Pratt (if you can call it a summit seriously). Despite its small size it did allow from more killer views you just can't get at Wachusett unless you are 6 feet tall and can see over the trees and towers. ;-)
Mount Monadnock I believe and a much better look at it from here than Wachusett as it's closer. I would make my way back to Route 119 in Ashburnham and not get lost this time, but I had a real hard time running because my legs were spent and I'm guessing it was from running up and down so many steep inclines and declines as much as I did. It's funny in that Mount Wachusett is a steeper mountain and I am getting really good at running that, but you make your way up and then make your way down so it gives your legs a chance to regroup which is something I was never able to do here. I would be disappointed, but figured there's always next time to try it again. ;-)

I will be blogging about night hawk watching at some point this week as Alan and I had done some last week and got a very impressive number for our location and plan on doing it tonight too so between the two nights I should have some ok photos (hoping we hit the jackpot this evening, and double hoping for a Black Vulture!).

Take care all.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Wachusett Meadows/Mountain in the Rain

With yesterday being National Trail Running day and me not participating as birding always trumps any of my other hobbies during migration, I decided today would be the perfect day to make up for it and run one of my favorite trails which is the Mid State Trail. My original plan would be to finally attempt running the Midstate Trail that gets you up to the summit to Mount Watatic and then I was going to head into New Hampshire, but the rain made me re consider, especially because I don't know that part of the Midstate that well. I also wanted to see if I could finally get the Black-billed Cuckoo at Wachusett Meadows and figured today would be the perfect day as it hadn't started raining yet but was going to, and cuckoos are known to call more prior to rain.

Bird activity would be pretty heavy over at the feeders and there would be plenty of birds taking advantage of Dick and Peg's generous offerings including two Ruby-throated Hummingbirds like the one above.
Checking out its friend up above. Sigh, with fall nearby, I will be sad to see the magical little birds disappear for a while.
There would also be plenty of American Goldfinches nearby, quite a few Common Grackles and this very rowdy bunch of Purple Finches. They were not that shy which was nice as these are hard birds for me to get looks at sometimes. I am guessing the young are a little more trusting of people which worked to my advantage this morning.

I would head toward the end of the paved street and near the Chapman Trail because that is where the Black-billed Cuckoo has been heard the most. I stood for for about 10 minutes of so hoping for a sign of it (even played its call on my Driod), but wouldn't get it again!

Disappointed, I would decide to start my trail run right at Chapman and head to the summit of Mount Wachusett as my final destination. I would take it very slow this time around and didn't bring my Garmin as that device is both a blessing and a curse due to the fact that I look at it constantly and if it tells me my pace isn't where I want it to be, I will make up for it by running even faster which works on regular trails and streets, but not when running up hill, which I had learned last week when my legs were shot by the time I reached the top. This time, it would be almost a fast jog by the time I reached the Harrington Trail. I would decide to take a mini break at this time at one of my favorite stops and would spot for the first time the tree in the picture above which was the crafty work of some beavers.
And here is their dam I am guessing. Funny in that I ran past this last week and didn't notice. I guess there are some rewards when one slows down to see what's going on all around them.
The fog would start to pick up after a while as a light mist would take hold. I was still doing straight running at this time, so the mist would be fantastic because I was getting a little over heated so the rain felt good and helped me to keep my pace. The only downfall would be I wouldn't want to drink as much water and this time I decided to put almost a whole gallon in my hydration pack so running with that as well as my binoculars, camera, food, rain gear, etc didn't help my legs much that were starting to get a little tired.
The rocks were starting to get slick, but have no fear as the Vibrams were getting a much needed rest and had on my La Sportiva Wild Cats which are meant for mountain running because of their good reputation on rugged trails. I would not be disappointed as I didn't slip once and some of the rocks at the end were wet because the rain would now be steady and constant.
Love this part of the trail and usually by now I am exhausted but by not killing myself on the way up, I ran this with ease.
The berries are just starting to ripen as you can see. Whenever I see berries, I think of bird food, so I love seeing them while I am running/hiking the various trails where ever I go.
A picture of the road up to Wachusett as I had some questions from people on what the condition of it was. As you can see, it appears as if they haven't even started on the road yet and it's still a complete mess.
I would finally make my way to the summit and was very happy to see 4 Dark-eyed Juncos. I wold attempt pictures but it was pretty tough at this point with the rain and all, so had to settle for what I could get.
On my way to the summit for pictures. Good luck with that Kim. HA
Wild flowers along the way.

Finally I would reach the summit and all of those awful towers I rant about every time I see them, actually looked kind of cool with the thick fog that was all over the summit by this point. I would eat a Lara Bar (banana bread this time which is so good!) and then head back down the Midstate. By this time, it was a downpour rain and my legs still felt great so was able to make up for all of my dilly dallying on the way up. The rain felt invigorating as I ran from Harrington to the Wachusett Meadow boundary line and the last 3 miles from the summit were easy going with no stops to catch my breath and no hiking. I would finally make it back to my car with my runners high and would be drenched at this point, but very happy. I would see a car approach as I took out my binoculars to look at the birds at the feeders again and out would come a birder dressed in full birding rain gear. We would cross paths and he yelled out to me "Don't get wet now".
Who me???? Tee Hee. All in all a great way to spend a Sunday morning. A little rain never bothered anyone and it takes the boredom out of the everyday, especially since it's been so dry this summer. I would try one more time for the Black-billed despite the downpour and would strike out again of course.
On my way home I decided to hit Sterling Peat thinking perhaps the rain brought in something new. At this point, my camera would be dead again (not sure what's going on with my batteries but they were completely drained), and a hint of panic would sink in because what if I got a fantastic bird and no way to document it with no camera. Seriously, this is what one thinks of when one is still fairly new because newbies make mistakes and my camera helps with that. I would be driving to Sterling Peat and wonder what I would do if there was a Ruddy Turnstone or better yet a Marbled Godwit (hey a girl can dream can't she!) if I didn't have photos for documentation or more experienced birders nearby to confirm. Oh the agony of being a newb! Well someone will be sure to be there I think to myself. After all, it is Sunday and Sterling Peat has been very generous to us this year. I would pull into the deserted parking area (I wonder why!) and make my way to the mud banks to see what was around. My binoculars were so fogged up at this time that I couldn't even get good looks at the Killdeer nearby even though I knew that's what they were because I could hear them and see them with my eyes, but the bins just wanted to be put away and out of the rain. I wouldn't stay for long due to lack of optics and a camera, but did see a Solitary Sandpiper, 3 Least Sandpipers and 4 Killdeer and there probably isn't much else around as Alan and I were just there yesterday and gave that place a really good scanning. Who knows though, Bart will probably report into Rick's site a Marbled Godwit or something as he just seems to have that kind of luck!

Take care all.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Birding Quabbin-Gate 35

Alan and I decided to head to Quabbin, Gate 35 today and meet up with Donna and Bart hoping that the lucky streak we have had with first of the year birds lately would continue and with water levels as low as they are around the reservoir, it was the most logical place to be, second to Sterling Peat, but we will get to that later. ;-). Anyhow, we set off fairly early with a definite chill in the air and we could actually see our own breaths (thank God I wore a light jacket). The first birds we would see as we made our way toward the Worcester County portion of the Quabbin would be a bunch of Wild Turkeys directly ahead of us that Bart would first spot.

We would continue with our walk and come across a very good looking Canada Warbler and it was around that time that I discovered my camera wasn't working (batteries dead!), so once again it would be birding with no camera, which is something I am getting used to, but it makes blogging a little more difficult. While I was a little bummed, it wouldn't take me long to get over my misfortune when we heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo (score for Alan as he didn't have one this year yet!). The sound gave me the same chill I got when I got the bird a couple of weeks ago as I think of Chris whenever I hear one and to get one at Quabbin no less!! Anyhow, not only would we hear it, but see it eventually as this bird wasn't shy.

My heart would stop as I looked at its handsome face and that beautiful yellow bill. I was so blown away that I couldn't help but to gasp "what a frickin gorgeous bird", as I was so caught up in the moment that I forgot my manners but didn't say the full blown F word, but that's what a good bird does to you sometimes, especially when you see one for the first time. ;-) All of the cuckoos I have gotten so far in my short time birding has been by ear, but nothing could prepare me for actually seeing it. Sigh, one of the highlights of the day, especially with it being seen in Worcester County!
We would finally make our way to the place where you can best see the tiny island, and I had to resort to desperate measures which was to take pictures with my Driod and I was convinced I had the camera pointed to the island, just so you can get an idea of what the island looked like, but as you can see there is no island. :-p. It was around this time that I was really missing my camera. We would all be hoping for a tern of some sort (or better yet a Ruddy Turnstone as Bart had gotten one at Wachusett on Friday), but we were not that lucky. We did get some Least Sandpipers, Spotted Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers though.
Eventually we were at the end of the trail where all of the phragmites are and that glorious, warm sun started to finally warm us as it was still a little chilly. The water levels here would be very low which allowed us to access parts we normally wouldn't be able to get to. The drainage must have been very recent as there were shorebirds EVERYWHERE here (taking advantage of a fresh and new food source) so between that and that beautiful sun, we all decided this was the place to be for the remainder of our stay as not only could we look at all of the shorebirds nearby, but we could also see the island with the scope so it was a win/win situation.

The first set of birds we would see nearby would be a Semipalmated Plover, some Greater Yellowlegs as well as scores of Least Sandpipers, all of which were not the least bit shy and very close and I would once again kick myself for having a camera that wasn't functioning as the pictures would have been really sharp and nice. So you will all just have to settle for the one above as I can't zoom with my driod for some reason (probably has to be because I'm over 40 and don't have that gene when it comes to cell phones).
But being the optimist that I am, I figured I could still manage a couple of cool shots here and there and saw Alan's and Bart's scopes nearby and thought that may look pretty cool and then realized somehow my finger got in the picture. It wouldn't take long after this for more peeps to make their appearance and it was there that I would finally get my nemesis Semipalmated Sandpiper! SCORE-FOY. These birds were so close that I could finally see the differences between them and the Least Sandpipers (very dark bill and very dark legs and not as warm in color as a Least) so it was quite the treat and a better view than I would have probably ever gotten at Sterling Peat so it would be another highlight of the day. Bart and Alan would be on scope duty as Donna and I looked at all of the nearby shorebirds and soon enough they would discover a Black-bellied Plover which was a 1st of the year in Worcester County for both Donna and Bart, so all in all it was a very productive morning for all of us and we all got some FOY birds!
Basking in the sun with my Vibram Treks my newest pair and I LOVE them. They have a thicker sole for trail running which means I no longer have to suffer with bruised feet when out on the trails like I had with my KSO's. I ran 4 miles with them yesterday on some pretty rough trails and they worked perfectly and hiked 5 miles with them today so they are all broken in so I can really start putting the miles on them now. Are they not cool looking or what!
Alan and I decided to leave early and make one quick stop to Sterling Peat just in case of course as there have been quite a few just in cases lately and I was shocked to see even more drainage there compared to last Wednesday when I got the Wilson's Phalarope. We would bump into Gary and Anne as we scanned the flats and were disappointed to see that the Glossy Ibis must have taken off along with the Wilson's or course. There would only be one Great Egret and that would be the one who favors the other side, so there appears to have been a mass exodus of the really good birds over the past couple of days. The regulars would be there and one cool thing we would see is one Greater Yellowlegs in the midst of some Lesser Yellowlegs which really showed the size difference in these birds and also allowed me to differentiate on how they feed and if you look at them long enough, they both do it differently. It will be interesting to see if I can figure it out on my own next time I see them as I normally go on bill size as well as the overall shape of the bird, now I have more clues and hope it stays in my brain.

All and all a really good day with perfect weather, good company and of course more adorable shorebirds!
And with the end of August nearby there are other things to look forward to like nighthawk watching for example! Call me a dork, but I have thought about this since the end of June and how much I couldn't wait for it again this year. There is nothing better than looking at nighthawks after a long days work or even on the weekends. I am convinced looking for birds in the sky uses parts of your brain you don't use when regular birding because they are so far away, you need to look at size, flight behaviour, etc and it is such a challenge that it puts you in a different zone, you just can't get when birding normally (do get it with gulls though and hoping ducks this year). Anyhow, we would get 19 Common Nighthawks last night including 3 that would be flying fairly low, but my camera (which was working by the way), just couldn't focus on it quick enough.
And last but not least, this very cool photo I got of a cicada Friday afternoon when I went to go fill up the Hummingbird Feeder. Here it is gazing into my camera as my camera gazes back at it in return. Is that not cool or what!!!

Take care all.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Wilson's Phalarope-Sterling Peat

Sterling Peat appears to be the place to be this August as "you never know what you're gonna get" and yesterday would be a doozy (think chocolate caramel) when I checked my driod to see an email coming in from Fran letting me know that Tom had spotted a Wilson's Phalarope at Sterling Peat so of course I had to try and see it as they are not all that common here in Worcester County so I decided to once again put off my housework and head off to Sterling Peat !

When I got there, Fran would already be on the bird but just as I arrived it decided to take off to the other side with various other shorebirds. It wouldn't take long for it to make a re appearance and I was happy I was able to ID it rather quickly amongst the Lesser Yellowlegs, but it wouldn't be hard to pick out as it clearly had a lot more white than the yellowlegs and the bill shape also made you do a double take.
The bird appeared to feel most comfortable amongst the Lesser Yellowlegs and Least Sandpipers and all would be fairly quiet most of the time as they all foraged for food and so absorbed in their task, they didn't pay any attention to us as we moved around trying to see them at a better angle. The Lesser Yellowlegs in the photo above, looks so docile and gentle don't you think?
Hanging out with the others. WHY couldn't there be a Semipalmated Sandpiper in this group, why????
But the gentle and docile Lesser Yellowlegs would not remain that way for long as it took great pleasure in bullying the Phalarope, which made for a good show, but would drive the it over to the other side much to our dismay. Check out the Solitary Sandpiper on the right who appears to be annoyed by the disturbance. So funny!
Taking flight just over to the other side. We waited a while and after realizing it wasn't coming back anytime soon we decided to go to the other side to see if we could see it again. While there we would see Bart come along hoping to get the bird and Bart would re spot it on the side we had just came from of course. The Glossy Ibis is still there as well as all of the Least Sandpipers and even a Greater Yellowlegs and Pectoral Sandpiper thrown in for good measure.
And of course the Great Egret who doesn't look as if it has any intention of leaving anytime soon. I was very happy that the Wilson's decided to stick around as it's a fantastic bird to get. Seriously, Sterling Peat has turned into a gold mine this year and today would be another day I would get another LIFER so it was a good way to end the day.
Photo by Edd Cote

Speaking of Great Egrets, check out the photo of one taken by Edd Cote. He sent me an email with the title "Have you been looking for this" and it would be the infamous Great Egret of Millbury on Brierly Pond. Have I been looking for this??? HA, sit down Edd and let me tell you all about it. This is the egret I was looking for when I got attacked by all of those awful yellow jackets and I hadn't been back since, so it was nice to see such fabulous photos of it.
Photo by Edd Cote

Another picture. Very happy to be oohing and aahing over the bird in the comfort of my computer chair instead of attempting another try at the bird where I may get mauled by a bear or something. ;-)
Photo by Edd Cote

And last but not least, here it is hanging out with the goofy Peking Duck who is there all the time. Just another day at Brierly Pond!

Take care all.


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