Sunday, October 9, 2011

Summerlike Birding and Analysis Paralysis

I set on Sunday to do some birding and take advantage of the warm weather we've been blessed with. My main target bird for the day would be the Rusty Blackbird so headed to Bolton Flats where I thought I'd have the best chance of getting one. I'd get there early in hopes the various blackbirds would still be staged before they set off for the day.

Bird chatter would be quiet compared to the past two days which I found odd, but I could see quite a few sparrows when I first entered including my new pals the Swamp Sparrows and of course the many Song Sparrows that seem to be everywhere. I could see many sparrows on the path and one would catch my attention over the others so got my bins on it and it stumped me at first glance.

Out would come the camera for a lousy shot given the fact I was so far away from it in fear of scaring it off and after a few pictures and a few more looks with the binoculars I confirmed it as another immature White-crowned Sparrow. I tried to get a little closer to it for better pictures but some guy was leaving with his dog and baby in one of those baby slings which caused the bird to flee. I'd continue along the path and wonder what the heck that was all about as it was still early and the baby was wrapped in a blanket and conked out. I'm guessing walks around Bolton Flats calms the baby and induces relaxation and sleep and that's what the father wanted. Another potential Worcester County birder in the midst is my guess.

I'd make my way to where all the blackbirds were centered and attempt a quick scan with the binoculars which would be a challenge with many being hidden by leaf cover. I'd also use my ears which was also challenging because I had to distinguish between the many Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles in hopes for a Rusty and soon enough I thought I had it and was happy to see the bird was on a leafless snag.

Now this looks promising, I'd think as I took out my camera for a record shot. I'd switch back to the binoculars to get a better look at the iris and soon enough it would turn around and this is what I'd see.

A bird that I thought was a cross between a Red-winged Blackbird and Common Grackle. The tail had me all thrown off due to how large it was compared to the Red-winged as well as its overall shape.

Then came careful examination of the bill which appeared to be thicker at the base and longer than a Red-winged yet slightly de curved like a Common Grackle. The bird I had just identified as a Rusty was slowly turning into a Grackle so I searched around for other grackles for comparison and tried to remember how long the juvenile Grackles held onto their brown coloring as that's what it was starting to remind me of and would be kicking myself for not putting my Sibley's in my pocket for quick study.

After spending about 15 minutes getting my binoculars on every blackbird I could see to make comparisons I wasn't confident enough to ID it again as a Rusty Blackbird so dismissed it as wishful thinking and went on my way to my next destination.

I'd then get home and look at my pictures and started to re-ID the re-ID I did at Bolton and whip out all of my field guides to do some blackbird 101 and here is some of what I'd find:

"A compact blackbird with a somewhat gracklelike bill" "slightly larger than a Red-winged Blackbird (and considerably smaller that Common Grackle), with a longish, slightly downturned gracklelike bill and a shortish tail". Source: Peter Dunne's Field Guide Companion.

"More slender than Red-winged Blackbird with longer tail and thinner bill" Source: Sibley's Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America.

So there you have it folks!!! Funny because I've only seen Rusty Blackbirds once besides this and that was at St Philips when I did a quick stop to catch the train. I didn't have much time and could hear their call as soon as I got out of my car so out came the bins for a quick look and then quick pictures which came out great so I didn't 2nd guess that call at all. This time though analysis paralysis took over so I found it difficult. I do consider it progress though as I've always taught myself that a Rusty looks like a Red-winged Blackbird with a pale iris but would be taught otherwise as I had picked up on the differences between the two so I'm paying more attention to other traits of the bird besides the obvious which is what I said I wanted to do when I mid ID'd the Savannah Sparrow in September.

So I guess you can say mission accomplished!!

I do have to say Bolton Flats is lovely when the sun first starts coming out. So much to see but I had other places to go so off I went.

I'd get back on 190 and get off at exit 5 and head for Wachusett Mountain in a desperate attempt for a FOY Winter Wren and as soon as I entered the reservation I dreaded that decision. The place would be packed with bus loads of happy and excited children eager to make their way up the summit. I'd only last about 15 minutes before I headed back down the mountain and to the safety of my car. I think I burnt rubber leaving the main entrance I wanted out of there so bad. No Winter Wren of course, in fact, no nothing. I'm guessing the birds were all as traumatized as I was. Note to self, don't go back to Wachusett until mid November if at all possible.

Disappointed and traumatized, I decided to head to Sterling Peat to check for anything interesting that may have dropped in since I was there last.

And this is what I'd find. Now I'm terrible with IDing hen Mergs but fairly confident in calling them both Hoodies, I do want to know the story of the one on the right though as I've never seen a hair do like that one What happened to the Marge Simpson look?

Soon enough the Mergs would meet up with the Pied-billed Grebe who was actually moving around a little this time. The poor little grebe looked relieved to have some company and even followed them around for a bit. So sad to see him out there all by himself but happy to see he's moving as I was concerned about him this past Friday when I thought he could be a tree stump.

Since I was in the area, and didn't feel like heading home just yet, I figured I'd hit Kristoff Pig Farm in hopes for another look at a Lincoln's (swoon). The place would be much quieter than Friday and a lot warmer but I still held out hope for a few sparrows.

I'd get a notification on my cell phone that I had an incoming text message so was fumbling in my pocket to grab my phone when suddenly a rather large sized bird flies directly past me and lands rather clumsily deep into a bush. I instinctively drop my phone to get my bins on the bird and all I can see is a large bird with brown and some white plumage. Hmmmm....A juve coops perhaps I think as I try and get a better look. It's still unaware I'm there and making this soft coo like noise and I'm mystified as I'd never heard a hawk make that before. We finally make eye contact and I have to stifle a giggle because it wasn't what I expected. I can't hold back anymore and out comes the laugh which scares the hell out of the bird and it darts out of the bush like a bullet.....That bird would be a Ruffed Grouse!

I compose myself and continue walking while taking in what I just saw and the cooing had me all curious because I'd never heard a grouse make any kind of noise (besides drumming) before so this intrigued me. I'd continue along the way and come across a pocket of sparrows and get a few more Swamps, Song and another immature White-crowned and then suddenly remember I didn't have my phone. CRAP, I'd think. Panic would set in as I tried to remember where I was when I dropped it. I was so hoping one of the kids would call to make it easier but wouldn't be so lucky.

I'd finally make my way to the area above when suddenly "Whhooooosh", out would come the poor, startled Ruffed Grouse again!!! I would find my phone only 15 feet or so away from it. The little bird saved me with that one and I happily grabbed my phone and headed for the car. I was very happy with the grouse as they are usually a lucky "get" and I wasn't expecting it this year so I left Kristoff very happy with another FOY bird and my phone.

Take care all

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