Sunday, September 18, 2011

Birding, Beer and Bushwacking

With the sole intent in testing out my camera again, I decided to head out bright and early and hit a couple local spots to see what would await me. Of course it had nothing to do with my "target list" I developed Friday during lunch via an Excel spreadsheet. You see, I vowed there would be no target list this year as this was the year I wouldn't "chase" birds and stick closer to the nest and be a good mamma hen, but the youngins have been suggesting I get out more as I'm driving them crazy so perhaps they are right. I would update my eBird submissions and then go to "My eBird" and there it would be, my measly number for the year and I'd blush......"But I did it for good reason", I'd think to myself. "Heck, I'm only 42 and I will have years to chase birds, so what's 1 year?", I'd think again. But being the geek that I am, I exported my bird data for the past three years and checked off the ones I had gotten so far in 2011, deleted the ones I have no chance in hell of getting, and then kept the rest and ranked by probability of high, medium, low. I then created a separate column which was best location and added that only to my highs and mediums and printed it out, just for review of course.

I'd look at is Saturday while getting ready for some birding and decide to bring it with me and hit a couple of locations to see what I could get. I'd get 4 FOY's and was happy, but decided to try it again this Sunday and the Millbury bike path usually has one that's on the list. Does anyone want to guess what it is???? Go on, I dare ya..........All right, all right, I'll fess up..........

A lousy Black Duck. That's right everyone, the curious birder doesn't even have a black duck for the year, but one must remember I don't even have a lone wild turkey this year yet, not that I'm counting of course.
Anyhow, I'd arrive before the car loads of dogs and kids and be greeted by a lone female Northern Cardinal who was kind enough to pose nicely for a photo and then make my way toward the Blackstone River, where the Black Ducks are known to be. I'd spot something headed my way and would have my camera ready this time for the Osprey above. This would be my second sighting of one this weekend and made me happy as I had this ranked as medium probability on the list, so to get two was an added bonus. But alas, there would be no Black Ducks in that spot or any of the others so off I went to find others.
I'd then head to Purgatory Chasm for two birds ranked high on the list which were Red-breasted Nuthatch and **blush** a Brown Creeper. I'd get there early and there would be no one there, which made it really nice. I listened for the Red-breasted Nuthatch as it's usually fairly close by, but it would be quiet except for a couple of Blue Jays and a Tufted Titmouse.

Off I went to find it in its general location on the Old Purgatory Trail above. Let me tell you, I had an incredible urge to try and run it, just for fun, but quickly changed my mind as my PT would kill me due to how slow my hamstring was to heal from running on it as much as I did, despite having problems...Not to mention my ankle but that's another story for another day.
Okay, does anyone find anything wrong with this picture???? Yes I know it's common to find beer in the woods as it goes with the territory, but check out the type of beer.......I can almost guarantee you this is the work of a few rowdy adults because if it were kids it would be Natural Ice or Narragansett which is what we drank as teens way back when. I would have peeked inside to see if there was an extra, but prefer the lighter ale's so quickly went on my way to find my target birds.
I'd finally come to a place where I could hear a couple of Black-capped Chickadees, a Tufted Titmouse and a Downy Woodpecker so decided to go over there to check it out. I wouldn't even have to do any pishing, as there would be birds ever where. The first one I'd see was what I thought was a Pine Warbler so I focused a lot of my attention on that as that's ranked as low, but Pine Warblers love Purgatory, so it became an instant medium while I tried to relocate it for a better look at hopefully the tail for the notch on the tip as I was looking at it from above. Like yesterday, it would be hard due to birds darting from tree to tree and would get my binoculars on this FOY Black-and-white Warbler. SCORE! I had him ranked as low so I was happy to not only get it, but get a picture of it too. I'd finally relocate some warblers and confirm the one I thought was a pine so I'd try and get my camera on it, only to have it move but then stopped as I could hear a large bird coming in and was curious on what it was.
Why it would be this lousy picture of a sharpie of course!! I guess it's true what they say about sharpies following warblers during migration because this would be the 3rd day in a row that I'd get a good look at one. The Sharp-shinned Hawk would be just as startled to see me as I him and he would only perch for a quick second before he flew away empty handed. The bird activity came to an abrupt halt but I could still hear small warning calls coming from above with the chickadee being the most vocal. I was reminded on why all small birds gather around the chickadee as they are wise little birds. It became obvious at that point I would get neither the nuthatch nor the creeper so decided to venture else where.
I would head to Brierly, with no target birds in mind and decided to stop at Brierly Pond quickly to see if I could get a Black Duck there. Let me tell you I was afraid to get out of the car after getting stung by all of those yellow jackets last time I was there, but the lure of a possible Black Duck sighting was at stake so off I went to find it. Of course no Black Ducks, but plenty of Mallards including the one above. Yes It's a lousy shot, but so funny because it looks as if it's walking on water. What is it with the goofy birds at Brierly Pond anyway?
Speaking of goofy birds, the Greylag Goose (aka Cottontail), would still be around and looking as mean as ever! I'd head to Brierly woods, but wouldn't get anything so made a quick stop to the Cross Street Powerlines for the Common Raven as I still hadn't gotten it for the year yet despite being there three times this weekend. I'd get out of my car and hear two of them which was good enough for me as this was getting ridiculous. Seriously, everytime I've gone to Cross Street I'd either heard or seen them, so I was getting a little concerned and was happy to see they are doing well.
Next would be Grafton off of Route 140 for the Savannah Sparrow which was ranked as high as it's usually a guarantee here. Now I love this place and this was one of my favorite places to bird when I first started out, so imagine my dismay when I go there and see all of that lovely scrubby land, replaced by a soccer field and playground. I saw it there last time I went, and haven't had the heart to go back because it depresses me so much, but needed that bird so tried to ignore it to find my way to the path to take me to the power lines. The problem would be the path is almost hidden due to large, neglected overgrowth as well as downed trees and limbs but I was determined just the same. I would come to some brambles but see the path nearby that I had somehow lost and try and maneuver my way out of it. There was one point I would be pissed as I was caught up in some pickers and my cellphone would ring and it would be my oldest asking me what I was doing. I'm very busy right now was all I could say as I didn't want to tell him I was stuck in some pickers and on my way to see a bird as that just wouldn't sound right, but coming from me, maybe it would...............

Finally, after some of the worst bush whacking I have done in two years, I would find my way to the abandoned truck trailer that Beth, Paul and I found an Eastern Phoebe in which is close to the Savannah location and my heart would sink. It too would be overgrown with brush so I turned away trying to find the path again, despite how difficult it was.
You can faintly see the trail to the left of the photo. Seriously, this used to be a very well defined trail so it amazes me how much can change in only a year or so. I would finally find the spot where I normally get the Savannah, but all would be quiet. I'd see a sparrow of some sort go into hiding so I tried pishing it to see if I could ID it. The bird wanted no part of my pishing and mosquito's would start landing on me so I was losing patience so resorted to the Droid and YouTube to play its call. Of course the call would make me even more depressed because I absolutely love it and hadn't heard it this year. I remember the call as "take, take, take, take it eeeeeasy, and it works everytime. I wouldn't get a chance to either see the bird or hear its call so I'm guessing it was a Song Sparrow, even though they are usually easy to pish.
Strike four I'd think to myself as I tried to find my way to the original path. Funny I'd think, because I was striking out on all of the birds I had as high probable and picked up a couple of lows so I guess all is not lost as the highs are ranked as high because they're easy to find. This is what I'd tell myself while stuck in another set of brambles and now swearing like a sailor.
I'd finally make my way to some clear land but no location of the original trail. While finding a way out I'd get a whiff of something that would bring me back to my days as a kid in elementary school and that would be the smell of wild grapes. One of my best friends was this little Italian kid by the name of Tony and we would ride bikes, find snakes and eat which was Tony's favorite thing to do as well as mine, so we made good company. Yes Tony had some weird things about him, including licking and kissing his fingers after eating, but heck, we had some good times at Slattery's Spa drinking those old fashioned chocolate milk shakes and penny candy so who was I to say anything! Anyway, Tony's parents came to the US from Italy and were very Italian, in fact, I don't think the mother even knew English at that point.

Anyway, they had a huge patch of red grapes in the back of their yard they used for wine and he and I would sneak in there and eat them despite the stern warnings Tony would get from his parents. I remember him being a pro at popping the grape in his mouth and leaving the skin behind and then spit out the seed, and despite all of the lessons, I couldn't get it right no matter how hard I tried. The grapes were delicious though and it was one of our favorite things to do. The whole point was to do so and not get caught because if we did there would be hell to pay. We would be deep into our grape gorging frenzy when suddenly we would hear "DOENEEEE", which was the mothers way of yelling Tony. We'd stop dead in our tracks and Tony would yell out RUN which we would do as the mother ran after us with a broom and shouting in Italian. We'd run for at least two blocks before Tony would stop which is funny now because the mother never made it out of the driveway with the broom but we ran just the same. Anyhow, back to the current topic, and that would be TONS of wild grapes at the powerlines. The temptation of my youth came to light as I picked one and popped it in my mouth. Hmmmmmmmm.........Not quite what I remembered so maybe I'll try another. Blah, I'd think and stop eating them all together. I guess the fruit was better way back then as it was forbidden which made it more appealing. In the end, I decided to give up finding the trail all together and found my way onto 140 to walk back to my car.

Anyhow, despite only getting three FOY birds today, I was happy. I will never go back to the 14o place though, unless I get the urge to make grape jelly and I don't see that happening anytime soon.

Take care all.

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