Monday, December 19, 2011

Athol CBC

Steve and I set out to Dave's house on Friday night to begin the Athol Bird Count Saturday morning with a very early 2:30AM start for owls. Dave would already have coffee prepared which much appreciated as 2:30 was mighty early for rising, even for me!

Our first stop would be a place for a potential Long-eared Owl (Asio otus (previously: Strix otus ))which would have made me very happy as it would be a life bird for me. We'd get out of the truck out in the middle of nowhere and suddenly hear the sound of some wing fluttering and annoyed calls coming from a few American Robins (Turdus migratorius) who we must have disturbed from their roost. Steve would start with his Long-eared Owl call as we all listened carefully in hopes for a response. Next he'd do his Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus) call and that too wouldn't yield any results so off we went to a couple more spots before making out way to Quabbin.

It would still be pitch black as it wasn't even 5:00AM yet and the first thing that struck me was that Quabbin is just as beautiful in the dead of night as it is during the day. It would be somewhat erie though as we'd get out in chosen spots and Steve would start with his call in hopes for some owls and it wouldn't take us long to get a Barred Owl (Strix varia), which was very nice as it would be a FOY for me believe it or not.

Another stop we would make would be a spot I was pretty familiar with from Tom's Quabbin trips and that too would look lovely with the moon lighting the reservoir and the distant sound of coyotes that could be heard nearby making it all the more surreal. We'd drive a bit more and pick up one more Barred Owl as well as an unidentified mouse of some sort making a racket in some nearby leaves but that would be about it much to our disappointment. Not that I was overly disappointed of course as this would be my first time owling before a CBC and did pick up my FOY Barred and got to see Quabbin in the dead of night which is something I'll never forget because it was so cool.

Soon enough 6AM would come so it was off to Cinnamon's, in Athol for some much needed breakfast for fuel as well as more caffeine of course for the day.

Steve and I teamed up with Dave and Shelley to do circle 13 and we'd stay as one unit at first and hit some of the local bird feeders nearby which yielded some pretty impressive results as far as high counts for both Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata) and more American Robins as both species of birds could be seen on nearby trees as well as flying overhead.

Soon enough we'd split up and Steve and I would head out to some nearby woods to do some birding by foot. We'd do things high tech and Dave would give us one of his two way radios just in case something of interest would pop up or if we'd get lost (not that that would happen of course ;-)).

Despite it being a tad more brisk than what we've been spoiled with recently, the walk in the woods was lovely with the only sound being the crunching of leaves beneath our feet and the notable absence of any birds as we made our way along the trail.

Soon enough sleet would start to fall which seemed only fitting as what's a New England CBC especially in North County without snow, sleet or freezing rain!

We'd come to an area where we could hear some Golden-crowned Kinglets (Regulus satrapa) so Steve would do some pishing to see if we could get them in closer for a count. It wouldn't take long for other passerines to respond to the pishing with the most notable being two male Red-bellied Woodpeckers (Melanerpes carolinus), Downy Woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens) and of course the always reliable Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus).

After pishing there for a bit, we'd do some serious bush whacking in search of owls in various evergreens and while we didn't find any, we'd come to an area where were hear more chickadees which brought in quite a few Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis) as well as a couple of Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis).

Soon enough we'd meet up with Dave and Shelley again who'd tell us that not only did they pick up a Common Raven (Corvus corax), but a Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus) much to our envy as both Steve and I were hoping for a raptor while out in the woods.

We'd stop at a couple of lovely, quaint homes including one with the sign above where we would see plenty of bird activity over by the feeders so we got out of the car to investigate.

Where we would see many House Sparrows (Passer domesticus), a couple of Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura) and another Common Raven.

Soon enough Dave would head back to the house to get things in order for the tally at the end of the day so Steve, Shelley and I would hit a few other places in hopes for more birds. It wouldn't take us long to realize there weren't that many birds at all, but we made the best of things and Steve would set up his scope to scan the waters for waterfowl which we'd never find.

I'd be downright chilly at this point so a Dunkin's stop for a Dunkachino was a must!!! It would be here that we'd find our first Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis) as well our first Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) of the day much to our excitement (especially Steve's), despite it not being in our circle. Steve would be so thrilled with the discovery that he would have been happy to stay there a bit longer to look for gulls (swoon), but it was getting close to lunch so off we went.

After lunch at a local watering hole that had some real nifty beers to chose from it was off to Doane's Falls in hopes for better luck than what we had at the lake.

There would once again be no birds but the scenery here would help make up for some of that.

As you can see in the picture above.

And this picture too. Seriously, one of the nicest places I've been in a while and something I'd really like to see when the weather is nicer as it seems like the perfect place to get out and canoe in.

We'd make our way back to Dave's and stop every so often as we'd see a lot of passerine activity in nearby yards with the most notable being the MANY Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) so Steve would get out his scope in hopes of finding a Bohemian Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus) amongst the large flock. We wouldn't find one, but did manage to get some pretty respectable numbers along this route including the regulars but also two bonus Red-breasted Nuthatches ( Sitta canadensis), which was most welcoming as it would be another FOY for me.

Soon enough we'd get to Dave's, grab our stuff and follow their car so we could head to Quabbin again and along the way we'd spot an adult male Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) in the picture above which made me very happy as I didn't have much of an opportunity to get many bird pictures so this was an added bonus.

We'd finally get to Quabbin where we'd see quite a few Hooded Mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) as well as a couple of Common Loons (Gavia immer) like the one above.

One of our final stops for the day where Steve would spot a couple more Bald Eagles as well as one single Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), much to our delight as this would be a first for this bird count which was very cool.

We'd end the day by once again trying for a Saw-whet Owl, but once again it would be a "no go". This would be the first time I'd do the Athol CBC and enjoyed every minute of it so was happy we decided to attend.

Next up will be the Nantucket CBC which I am already excited about and promise plenty of pics and a blog entry so stay tuned for that and happy holidays everyone.

Take care all and I hope you enjoyed my Latin ;-).

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving Weekend Birding

Steve and I set out to do some birding this Thanksgiving weekend and headed to the great salt marshes of the South River in Marshfield to once again take advantage of the new moon tide in hopes it would bring in some rails or bitterns. The weather was completely different since we did this last time last month and the waters much calmer as we set the canoe into the water to start our journey.

All would be relatively calm as we drank in the morning and Steve would give me a refresher course on how to row which would be needed as I would soon find out!

Bird activity would be slow at this point but would see quite a few Bufflehead flying by and in the water as well as TONS of American Black Ducks and only a few Mallards which was fascinating to me considering it's just the opposite whenever I bird Central Massachusetts.

After rowing for a couple of hours we'd get into the weedier sections of the marshes as the tide continued to fill the marshes. Bird activity would pick up and we'd get a look at some Eastern Meadlowlarks which was a treat considering I never thought I'd see even one in November!

After much canoeing, Steve would find the perfect spot to settle into to see what birds would appear. It's all fairly strategic and something I'm still learning but Steve has been doing this for so long that he can tell the difference between the different types of sea grasses and which types of grasses different species of birds prefer and what time to get there in conjunction with the tide waters, etc...etc.... I took his word for it and opened up the bag of Italian cookies for fuel after all that rowing. ;-). It wouldn't take long to get some birds including a lifer for me which was a Seaside Sparrow! The bird would be too quick and hunkered down in grass for pics, but I did get a good look at it which was really nice as it's such a striking bird.

We'd also hear a Sora calling for an added bonus as well as see some Common Snipe which is always nice.

After spending a considerable amount of time out in the marshes it was time to head back and this time the wind would be on our side which was nice as we were both rather tired at this point! So all in all, we would row 7.2 miles (and in some areas where the mashes were so thick it as like rowing through mud) and would spend 6.2 hours in the canoe and while we didn't get many birds with it being November, it was a fantastic way to spend on a warm late fall day and something I'm looking forward to doing again.

After that it would be off to the Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary with a pit stop to Dunkin Donuts for food and coffee as we were both starving and while stuck in traffic we'd get rear ended by someone much to our horror as we still had more birding to do!!!! We'd pull over in the Dunkin's parking lot to exchange papers and would be relieved to see only minor damage to Steve's car and even the canoe seemed to be okay. I don't know what it is about the canoe, but whenever we have it something weird happens. We'd get a flat tire last month and now a fender bender. Who knows what will come next. HA ;-).

We'd finally make our way to Daniel Webster and the first thing we'd see were the numerous Canada Geese that seemed to be everywhere!!!

It would be around here that we'd see a Red-shouldered Hawk fly by which is always an added bonus! Another bonus would be a "pumpkin" Northern Harrier looking as dashing as ever with all of it's pretty fall coloring which seems rather suiting this time of the year.

We'd make our way to a certain spot to just chill and enjoy the sunset and we'd be treated to seeing numerous blackbirds flying by on their way to their roosting site as well as hundreds of American Robins doing the same as the sky continued to turn pink and it felt more like a nice day in May than a day in November!

Soon enough the sun had disappeared and it was time to head back to the car. We'd be walking along the path and could hear the Canada Geese honking away and both of us would be deep in thought and just listening. Suddenly I'd hear a noise and think it was Steve's phone even though it was to the far left of us as he has a ring tone for a Barn Owl so I'd wait for him to answer but instead he looked at me and I at him and realized it wasn't the phone but the real deal which would explain why it sounded louder to me! We'd stop dead in our tracks in hopes of getting it again, but it would be around this time that some of the f*&#*@* Canada Geese would decide to take flight and all we would hear was more hoking and the sound of wing beats as they flew by. I'll go on record and say this and admit if I wasn't a birder, and heard that call, I'd be petrified as it's not at all pretty like the Great Horned or Barred.....An amazing sound just the same and the perfect way to end a perfect day.

After that it was the drive back with a stop at the grocery store as both of us were still starving. We'd grab more food than we could eat including a whole loaf of bread and a block of cheese and inhale most of it, but heck we needed it after all of that rowing! ;-)

The next day we'd head out to Lakeville for more birds, coffee, company and of course great weather! Our first stop would be the Oceanstate Cranberry corporate headquarters where we'd be treated to the most cooperative Great-blue Heron I've ever encountered! The bird would be perched on top of the bridge as we made our way near and we both expected it to fly but it didn't which caused us to stop dead in our tracks and get the cameras ready for pictures. Soon enough it would fly to the water with the Mallards and start hunting which allowed for some "killer views" and half way decent pics like the one above. We'd spend about 1/2 hour here watching it and in that time I realized, I really think heron feet are pretty cool!!

Soon enough it was off to Little Quitacus pond to scope for ducks and the first thing that struck me was just how pretty it was. We'd get quite a few birds here including quite a few Ring-necked Ducks, 5 Pied-billed Grebe and of course the always adorable Ruddy's!

And what would Thanksgiving weekend be without Santa of course!!! Seriously, this guy must have been sweating something fierce as it was already toasty outside. Wish we could have this weather all winter!

After waving to Santa it was off to Great Quittacus Pond in hopes for some Scaup which still continue to intimidate me. Steve and I would do the same thing as we did when we were sea watching which was set up our scopes on the same birds so we could discuss, compare, etc. After some scaup 101, I started getting the hang of it again and started being able to distinguish between the greater and lesser which was much appreciated as its something I really need to do every year but have been slacking lately.

Birds here:

87 Greater Scaup

14 Lesser Scaup

1 Pied-billed Grebe

6 Horned Grebe

15 Bufflehead

2 Common Goldeneye

6 Hooded Mergansers

The day would still be young so we decided to head to Assawompset Pond for hopeful loons, grebes and coot!

And it wouldn't take us long to realize we picked the perfect time to get there as there were quite a few birds and many were so close you could get killer looks at them with just the bins like the female Common Goldeneye above!! Seriously, I never realized how gorgeous these birds are until I saw them as close as I did. Even the female is striking and I love that golden eye!

There would also be one lone American Coot nearby that you could see with the naked eye which was very welcoming considering my experience with these birds have always been so so views and lousy pictures, but not this time as you can see in the picture above.

When we first got there, Steve would remark that it was odd we hadn't seen any Bald Eagles yet and I would nod in agreement but it wouldn't take us long to finally spot one and I'd be lucky in that my camera was already out as I stalked the goldeneye which allowed for this half way decent picture.

After spending a considerable amount of time here, we realized all of the birding we had done the past couple of days had tuckered us out so we plopped down right in the middle of the path to rest our legs some. Steve would be on his Blackberry doing our bird tally and I would still be stalking the goldeneye and I'd realize at that point just how lucky we were to be sitting there as comfortable as we were in late November with the temps as warm as they are. It makes for some lazy but very nice birding instead of freezing my a** off which is how I'm usually birding this late in the year!

Bird List:

3 Common Loon

7 Horned Grebe

12 Pied-billed Grebe

38 Common Goldeneye

27 American Coot

1 Double-crested Cormorant

6 Common Mergansers

8 Hooded Mergansers

1 Adust Bald Eagle

We'd make one more stop for passerines and we'd see one more Red-shouldered and Steve would roll down his sunroof for better looks and pics, but all of mine came out lousy. I still can't get over all of the Red-shouldered we had seen those two days as I usually get one or two a year tops so it was most welcoming.

Our final stop would be Cumbies which would be very quiet except for some model airplanes and a few hunters. The highlight would be another Northern Harrier perched upon a hay bale which made me happy as I'm so used to seeing these birds in flight that its not often I see them which allowed for views I normally don't see with this type of bird.

All in all a wonderful way to spend Thanksgiving weekend and better than shopping any day as far as I'm concerned!!!

Take care all.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Parking Lot Birding-Including the Fish Crow

I decided to to a little birding this morning with my first stop being Price Chopper in hopes for the Fish Crow Alan had spotted early last week. I wasn't holding out much hope as I had struck out on it earlier in the week but figured I had some time to wait for it which is what I did. There would be American Crows everywhere including the American Crow above who was in hot pursuit of a Cooper's Hawk getting ready to dive bomb it and of course, they would both fly out of view before I could get a decent shot. Funny because just last month I was talking about never seeing a crow go after an accipiter before so this was a first for me and so cool to see in the parking lot of a grocery store!
I'd get my bins on all crows hoping for the Fish Crow but I would strike out at first so watched the American Crows which never bores me. The one above was fascinated with the Honey Dew Donuts Cup above and I was curious as to why.
And this is what it would do!! It appears to be attempting to peck at the bottom in hopes of getting a taste of some of the leftover iced coffee that was hopefully left behind, now that's my kind of bird. HA. It's reasons like the picture above on why I love crows so much. So entertaining to observe.
There would be one crow in particular that caught my eye as it was by itself, smaller than the other crows and didn't fly away when I got my car close to it which was very characteristic of the Fish Crow I saw last year at the same location. Soon enough another would join but take off to join the gulls but I would continue to stalk this one in hopes for a call. After about 10 minutes it finally made the call which confirmed to me my suspicions of it being the Fish Crow I wanted, but was bummed it wasn't as cooperative as the one last year.
In the 20 minutes of so I was there, I'd see tons of gulls including this handsome guy above.
I'd also get my first ever green Quabbin Ring-billed Gull but the tag was so worn you couldn't even make out a number much to my frustration. There would also be an adult tagged Wachusett Ring-billed which was number 409 so I will be reporting that this week to find out the story behind it. Also my first ever Herring Gull at Price Chopper which I thought was pretty cool.

Some of you may be aware of Price Choppers new grand opening in conjunction with their major renovations, but how many of you noticed this?? HA, there are two of them on the roof and I do have to say, they are some of the most deformed owls I have ever seen! Speaking of owls, I'm happy to report I finally got my FOY Great Horned Owl Wednesday night with Steve. It would be on the dead snag in his yard calling away but it was light enough out to watch which was so cool to see as I'd never seen it before so it was a very special treat.
After that it would be a quick stop to Broad Meadow Brook in Worcester in hopes for the Fox Sparrow I am longing to see. I'd hit the powerline trail first as that's where I'd seen it before, but all would be bare except for the largest Dark-eyed Junco flock I have ever seen with my guesstimate ranging in the low 40's! All would be on the ground and feeding on something but I could never figure out what it was.

I did get my FOS American Tree Sparrow though which was nice but wish I could have gotten a better picture.

Take care all

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

New Feeder from Wild Birds Unlimited

Winner of the Feeder Giveaway is Beachgrl!!! Please email me your email address at so I can forward it onto Wild Birds Unlimited. Congratulations!

Wild Birds Unlimited contacted me regarding an exciting opportunity to review some of their top of the line products and with winter bird feeding well underway I figured who was I to refuse such a generous offer. After spending a lot of time on their site and looking at all of their fabulous products I decided to try out on of their EcoClean bird feeders whose "products feature a patented technology that inhibits the surface growth of damaging bacteria, mold and other microbes. This protection won’t wash or wear away, and it uses environmentally friendly technology", which was a big win/win as far as I was concerned.

The final product I would chose was the EcoClean Medium Seed Tube Feeder

Let me tell you I was impressed by the feeder the moment I took it out of the box due to how heavy it is. I can't tell you how many feeders I've gone through during winter due to cheap plastic which doesn't do well in New England winters and can tell right away this feeder will be with me for years to come as it appears as if it can take a harsh winter beating which is what we've been having lately so another big plus for the feeder.

Another HUGE plus is the fact that the feeder opens from both the bottom and top. After having that horrible finch eye disease epidemic at my feeders two years ago, I am neurotic about making sure my bird stations are clean during winter feeding as I don't want a repeat of it, but sometimes the feeders can be hard to clean which won't happen to this feeder due to this key feature.

And the other added protection of course which is the patented antimicrobial product protection which was a big selling point for me.

So was I happy with the product. While I can't speak for the birds just yet ;-), I can tell you the product exceeded my expectations as far as overall quality and how nice looking it is.

In fact, I was so impressed I decided to start my winter feeding an entire month before I normally do. The feeder is filled with the Wild Birds Unlimited Choice Blend Wild Bird Seed so we'll see how the birds like it and pray the squirrels don't find it anytime soon. ;-).

And just when you think it can't get any better it does. That's right folks, you too can have the chance to have this feeder or any other product of your choosing (valued at $50.00 or under) as part of a giveaway I'm doing on my blog in conjunction with Wild Birds Unlimited.

Here is how you enter (mandatory)

Go to the Wild Birds Unlimited Website and look at their fabulous products and come back to my blog and comment on the one(s) you liked most. I will even make it easy for you and post some of the links I liked the most:

You can also increase your chances of winning by doing the following:

Become a fan of Wild Birds Unlimited on Facebook and/or Twitter

Subscribe to their monthly newsletter (the yellow box on the right hand side of your monitor)

Drawing will next Friday, November 18th and I will announce the winner on my blog then.

Even if you don't win, visit for great holiday gifts!

Take care all!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Owling Cumberland Farms

Steve and I decided to hit Cumberland Farms in Middleboro Saturday night in hopes for some owls with the Short-eared Owl being at the top of our list. We'd get there a little before five and still see a hand full of hunters as well as two people flying their model airplanes much to our dismay as it can be a little distracting, but do have to admit those airplanes are nothing like the ones I used to buy for the kids at Radio Shack as they are top notch toys so was kind of fun to see.

We'd set up shop at the sh*t pit and it wouldn't take us long to see one of the many Northern Harriers around the place. There would even be two hunting together which was rather cool to see as I'd never seen them hunt in pairs before.

I'd be scanning the area with my bins and Steve would be scoping out the place and he'd come across a raptor in a far away tree who seemed the perfect candidate for a dark morph Rough-legged Hawk due to its overall shape , some white that could vaguely be seen at the base of its tail as well as how it was perched which was close to the tips as Peter Dunne (pronounced Dun ;-)) describes in his Field Guide Companion Page 172 as "When perched the bird very often sits on the springy tips of tree and shrubs", which this bird was doing so this would be a FOY for me and very nice to see as I don't see them often enough

Passerine activity would be somewhat light as the birds were getting prepared to roost and we would be near the roosting spot of the various sparrows which was entertaining to listen to as scores of sparrows could be heard doing their one note calls all at once to allow some comparison between the species and there would even be some birds attempting to break out into song and messing up the notes so it was most likely the juves getting in more practice before calling it an evening.

There would be more Northern Harriers coming and going with the most interesting of them being one I'd spot that had me confused as I could see some gray on the bird, but it wouldn't be nearly as striking as the "gray ghost" so it had me stumped. Steve would ID it as a subadult (basic 1) male which was very cool as I'd never seen it before. Not the gray ghost I longed to see but a very good substitute!

Soon enough the sun would start to set and the temps would drop but there would be no wind which made for perfect owling weather. Steve would finally spot one of the the Great Horned Owls we had heard earlier as well as a Short-eared Owl but of course the little bugger would disappear before I could get my bins on it.

Despite the dark skies we'd see a lone Great-blue Heron fly by as well as a small flock of American Black Ducks and a single Wilson's Snipe which was probably part of the larger flock we'd hear earlier calling over head.

Soon enough we'd be back on the road but would make one more stop along the way in hopes for an Eastern Screech-Owl. We'd come along an abandoned road, park the car and that's when things got a little weird. Steve would notice a car nearby and suddenly some dude comes out of no where with a flashlight looking at us and wondering what we were doing. To the right of this guy was another with a bunch of plastic bottles in the back of a pick up truck which he appeared to be doing something with. There would also be a half dozen or so dogs barking in the nearby yard to add to the weirdness factor. We exchanged cautious greetings as Steve explained to them we were looking for a screech and one of them mumbled his disbelief as the other told us he had one a few days ago so off we went as quickly as we could. We'd make our way along the road and Steve would tell me if we heard banjo music we should make a run for it and there would be crap everywhere. Abandoned trucks, tires, small children's tables and more tires that never seemed to end. To my relief we'd finally come to a nice quiet spot near water and Steve would attempt to call in a screech. After a while one would start calling back which was so cool to hear and well worth the short walk and the weirdos.

We'd make our way back and another dude was now there and he had on this big honkin white cowboy hat so we'd exchange small talk again and they explained to us they were adding some kind of metal to their truck which I still don't understand as they had no lighting except for a single flashlight and it was frickin cold out. Sheesh, and I thought I was odd....Sometimes it's nice to come across folks like that as it suddenly makes you realize just how normal you are when compared to others seriously.

We'd make our way back to 495 with a Dunkin's stop in between for cocoa and we would see deer everywhere making for an eerie drive as Steve would have his high beams on but you could see their forms and glowing eyes along the sides of the road. Caution would be in order at this point as we saw one hit on the drive to Cumbies and didn't want to add to the list, but these deer were smart enough not to get too close so it was nice to see.

So all in all, a great way to spend a Saturday night. I don't do much owling so it was fun to head out to somewhere different and with such great company. I had always been curious about Cumbies and am still in awe over how vast and beautiful it is and am looking forward to seeing it again.

Our official list for the evening

Northern Harrier - 6 including one sub-adult male 
Rough-legged Hawk - 1 Dark individual  
Black-bellied Plover - 1 calling overhead at dusk 
Killdeer - 3 calling over head at dusk 
Wilson's Snipe - 5 calling overhead at dusk 
Great-blue Heron - 1  
Great-horned Owl - 2 
Short-eared Owl - 1 
Red-winged Blackbird - 60  
Summer Street:1 Eastern Screech Owl. 
Precinct Street: we had 22 Wild Turkeys.

Take care all


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