Saturday, June 30, 2012

Wachusett Reservoir Gate 28 & Other Misc

I decided to head back to Gate 28 of Wachusett Reservoir this morning in another attempt at the Orchard Oriole.  I'd get there bright and early and while there was plenty of passerine activity, it would be obvious I'd bomb again so headed toward the water in hopes for a Bald Eagle.

Sure enough I'd get toward the water and spot a Belted Kingfisher and a few seconds afterwards I'd see that Bald Eagle.  It was cruising though so didn't do me the honors of sticking around for a decent shot so I had to settle for this.

I'd decide to hit the smaller ponds of water hoping for an American Black Duck but all that would be seen were a few Mallards.  The woods were so cool and shady though I decided to just walk with no goal in particular.

There'd be quite a few birds in the woods but would do most of it by ear.  I did stop for this Red-eyed Vireo though because I could tell it was close by and knew a quick pish would get it close enough for a picture and good look at it.

Whenever I'm exploring new trails I look for ones with snow shoe potential (if it ever snows again) and thought this one looked perfect as it's flat with deciduous trees which means plenty of sunshine in the winter when you really want that warmth. 

My new best friends are the sign markers with my history of getting lost.  I take pictures of them to remember where I've been in case I should lose my way.   This one came out cooler than the others with the sun that hit it just right.

After about 5 miles or so I'd head back and check out if any new birds were near the powerline area.  The Northern Flickers were all over the place and very vocal.  I'd be happy to see them all in a tree for a family photo.

And now for probably one of the most bizarre looking fledged American Robin's I've ever seen.  I'm so used to the fledglings looking plump due to being well fed.  Even it's proportions seemed out of whack to me.  I knew it was a Robin, but couldn't stop looking at it due to how out of ordinary it seemed to my eye.

And another considering I took so many pictures. :-p.  I think it's head looks to round and too small than what I'm used to seeing.

Seriously, if I saw this bird in my first year of birding I would have ID'd it as a Fieldfare.  Who says I haven't made progress!

While I never did get the Orchard Oriole, I had a nice long walk and saw some nice birds.  I like all of Wachusett but  think this is now my new favorite gate because you can walk so many different trails and hike for miles if you want which reminds me of Quabbin.

I'd head home with my eyes on the road but that of course also means occasionally looking up at the sky and nearby trees in case you spot something and windows rolled down should you hear something of interest.  I'd be in Boylston at this point and see a fairly good sized bird glide by and knew immediately it was neither a Turkey Vulture nor Red-tailed Hawk.  The sun was in my eyes so I couldn't get any color on it, but the one thing I noticed were the white wing tips as that's what first jumped out at me.  So of course I know I have to stop right then and there and see what it is as it could be my long awaited Black Vulture!  I'd look in my rearview mirror thankful no one was behind me and pull over to the side of the road with my hazzards on as I furiously looked for it with my binnoculars while in my car.  I would then do a You Turn and find a safe place to get out to see if I could see it better.  I'd see it glide by again but still couldn't see what it was but knew it wasn't a Black Vulture as it was flying far to quick.

I'd be hot on its tail and glad to see if flew into some nearby wetlands and there'd be a parking lot so I turn into it, get out of my car and then I'd hear it.  Tee Teeeeeeee...Hmmmmmm.....Another Broad-winged Hawk I see.  But is it???  I could hear the bird perched in some trees in an area I couldn't access so tried doing some squeeking to see if I could get it closer.  Suddenly one would fly to the sky and another would follow.

While I'd be happy to see more Broad-winged Hawks, I was somewhat disappointed I couldn't turn either of them in a Red-shouldered as I need that bird for the year. ;-)

Lousy shot but I liked it none the less as it reminds me of how I first saw the bird wile driving.  It's also similar to the Sibley diagram (page 103) of a BW in flight.

And last lousy shot but loved it as it looks like a Cooper's if you were to take a quick glance at it (white band in the middle is the biggest indication that it isn't).  Yup, flying raptors are challenging and that's why I love it so much!

After some lunch I'd head back out in the late afternoon and go to Martha Deering to check for a Red-shouldered which I know is pointless but still do this once a month.  I'd hike another two miles and get a couple of Veery's and Black-capped Chickadees with fledged young and that would be about it so I decided to check St Philips in Grafton for the Black-crowned Night Heron.

No BC, but the Great-blue Herons are still around and still haven't left the nest as you can see!

After a few minutes another parent would fly to the nest with food and then all hell broke lose as the juveniles all tried to get at it.

My favorite picture of them all.  So funny!

I'd also be happy to see the Green Heron nearby but not close enough for pictures like I used to get of them here.

After walking 7 miles in this heat today all I could think of were two things for dinner and that would be a cheesburger and beer so made a quick stop at Gorretti's and figured I'd give this a go considering I've tried just about everything else.  Love the name and the Rockabilly dame!

Its in the process of getting chilled as I type this but will give a full report on what I think with two being my limit of course! ;-)

Take care all.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Birding Purgatory Chasm-Sutton

I decided to take today off and and head to Purgatory Chasm in Sutton hoping for a Red-breasted Nuthatch amongst other.  Purgatory's a familiar place for me and one of my favorite local spots for hiking and trail running, but decided to hit other unfamiliar areas to get a feel for what birds were breeding within the chasm.

I'd get out of my car and soon hear a Red-breasted Nuthatch which had me very happy as it would be a FOY.  I was glad my theory paid off as I figured now would be the time to try for them figuring there'd be fledglings so the more there were- the higher the probability.  I'd get my camera ready for pictures and be reminded how hard it is to get a good look at these birds at the chasm.  I'm going to warn you now that almost all of my photos are lousy today.  Don't know what was up with it but my camera just didn't want to focus.  I'm guessing its because most of the birds were high in tree canopy's much to my frustration and was a literal pain in the neck.

And this folks would be the best picture I could get believe it or not.  I had forgotten how quick they could be but was happy that not only did I hear them, but see them as well.

My ears quickly picked up a Blue-headed Vireo in the same area so I went to find it.  I'd be happy to see it was up near the rocks which means better looks (the high rocks makes the trees closer for better viewing and pictures).

Probably the best picture of the day!

And had to share this one as I loved its expression!

The Pine Warblers would be out and vocal as well which is always welcome.

I'd be busy taking pictures when I'd see an official DCR Truck pass by.  It would turn around and head back my way slowly so I wondered what I was doing wrong. The guy   unrolled his window and asked what I was taking pictures of.  Birds, I'd reply-suddenly feeling like a dork.  I'd try and be more specific and explain to him there was a Red-breasted Nuthatch around that I wanted a picture of.  He was clueless on what a nuthatch was so out came my Sibley's Droid guide to play him the song.  "Ah, he replied, I hear that all day, I thought maybe you were taking pictures of the bear."

"The bear"??? I'd reply -thinking he meant Smokey who was too far away for a decent photo.  "Yup, a black bear..It was last spotted near the playground Sunday evening at about 5 o'clock".  I'd ponder this for a moment and totally understand why a bear would find Purgatory so appealing with all the pic-a-nic baskets and hibachi'd food smells permeating throughout the forest but was glad for the warning as I've been known to stray from trails and get lost so appreciated the heads up.  ;-)

Off he'd go searching for the bear and off I'd go to Charley's Loop to get me over to the brook and away from all the people.

I'd find a really cool rock nearby where I could hear both a Pine Warbler and Chipping Sparrow calling at the same time and be happy they'd be on the same tree for both viewing and hearing so remembered one of my favorite ways to avoid warbler neck and that is to lay flat on your back on a nice rock and enjoy the bird show the easy way.  Needless to say the photo again came out lousy.  Here's the Chipper and the Pine Warbler wouldn't be too far behind it.  Purgatory has some of the nicest pine and hemlock trees in our area hence all of the unusual birds such as the Red-breasted Nuthatch, Blue-headed Vireo, Hermit Thrush and the many Pine Warblers.

For most of the hike I had the regulars including the always vocal Red-eyed Vireos, quite a few Ovenbirds which was surprising, a couple of Chipping Sparrows and a very vocal Veery .  I'd make my way toward the intersection of the loop and Little Purgatory and would be happy to hear another Eastern Wood-Pewee and one of two Hermit Thrush's which is always nice on the ears considering I never hear these thrushes this far south and have to travel to Northern Worcester county to get my fix.

I'd stop at this point to take a look at the trail map to get me to Purgatory Brook and be lost in concentration so not paying attention much.  I'd suddenly hear people coming my way including a young girl whining to mom that it was hot and she wanted to go home (been there, done that, and happy I'm done with that!)- but be thankful for the interruption  as my ears would pick up on a Cuckoo and could tell immediately it was the real deal due to the echo.  I'd follow the sound and backtrack where I came from and fumble with my Droid which would go right to Black-billed considering the heavily forested habitat I was in.  The bird sounded closer this time and I'd hear. Ka-Ka-Ka-Ka- CoW-CoW-CoW!  My brain would register this and the first thing I'd think was "Holy shit I've got a Yellow-billed Cuckoo"!  This would confuse me given the habitat but if there's one call I know it's the Yellow-billed as I downloaded everyone of their calls via Xeno Canto and listened to them on my Droid with headphones no less to get it to sink deep in the brain.

I'd fumble for my camera, put it on video and pray it would call again and after 45 seconds of video with no calling I'd turn it back off.  I'd then use my binoculars to try and scan the area and I'd hear it again, but this time it sounded further away.  The camera would come back on and by the time it registered this is all I could get.  In order to hear the call you're going to have to put the volume up high and even then it may not register as a Yellow-billed due to its abnormal call, but listen closely and you'll hear it.

You can hear it most during the beginning of the video and then after that a Tufted Titmouse and Hermit Thrush drowns it out more.  Totally bummed I couldn't get any clear audio of its kowlp outburst as it was doing it before I started recording.  Needless to say the call I got on video had me stumped so I went to Xeno Canto and was able to get a call similar to it.

If the diagram above does not work-try here Yellow-billed Cuckoo-Xeno Canto

So there you have it folks, I finally got the Yellow-billed, but in a place I would have never imagined.  Let me tell you, it was a treat to hear its primary call 2 years ago, but to hear its kowlp outburst call was literally music to my ears.  I can't tell you how many times I've listened to it via headphones because it was just too cool not to (like I said, I'm a dork).  I've been down on my ears the past few days after the Broad-winged/Red-tailed fiasco where I did a big mis-ID and the reason I did it is because my ears told me Broad-winged so I overrode what I saw despite it clearly being a Red-tailed.   Because my ears told me Broad-winged and I never heard the Red-tailed I ignored the obvious so am trying to get a better balance on my reliance on my ears over eyes again.  I'd be very happy today my ears were working though as this is a bird I've been trying to get since late May.

After all the excitement, I'd hear an influx of people and make my way toward the brook to escape them.  It would be here that I'd find a small clearing and some milk weed a Hummingbird Moth was feeding from which would be another added bonus for the day.

Seriously, one of my favorite insects and the reason why I grow so much phlox in my yard as they love the stuff.

I'd finally make my way to the bridge and have to admit I was greatly disappointed with the brook so after a picture of the bridge and quick bird count (2 Great-crested Flycatchers, 1 Northern Cardinal and an Eastern Phoebe) off I went.

I'd head back and could hear scores of happy excited children everywhere which totally blew my chance of re-hearing the YBC so I'd go down the other part of Charlie's Loop to try and avoid the influx.  The screams would get louder and I could hear exasperated adults shouting "Over here Megan, and "Keep your hands to yourself Josh!" as I skirted up the path while noting the absence of birds I'd heard only 20 minutes before hand (must have been as scared as I!).

I'd finally make my way back to the car and this is what I'd see.

Like I said, get there early believe me!

I'd finally get home and decide to pinpoint on the trail map where I got the cuckoo in case others are interested.  (note if you want more info, send me an email and I'll give you more,but don't want to put detailed specifics on the Internet to give the bird some peace (don't know how much it can get at Purgatory though!)

It would be then I'd realize the reason why the brook looked so pathetic is because I never made it to the brook as I totally bypassed the Little Purgatory trail which leads you right to it (yes, I still get lost frequently).  Oh well, maybe next time as you can be certain I'll be back soon as I now have a true Yellow-billed to search for.

And finally a copy of my list.  I share it not because of the large number of species but to show the species themselves as it looks more like a list for Northern Worcester County vs. more Southern Worcester County.    I was happy to see all of the birds common at Purgatory Chasm plus more.

Purgatory Chasm, Worcester, US-MA
Jun 28, 2012 8:30 AM - 10:30 AM
Protocol: Traveling
4.0 mile(s)
29 species

Mourning Dove  2
Yellow-billed Cuckoo   1
Downy Woodpecker  2
Eastern Wood-Pewee  3
Eastern Phoebe  1
Great Crested Flycatcher  2
Blue-headed Vireo  2
Red-eyed Vireo  5
Blue Jay  3
American Crow  2
Black-capped Chickadee  3
Tufted Titmouse  12
Red-breasted Nuthatch  4
White-breasted Nuthatch  9
Brown Creeper  1
Veery  3
Hermit Thrush  2
American Robin  4
Gray Catbird  1
Cedar Waxwing  5
Ovenbird  8
Pine Warbler  4
Eastern Towhee  1
Chipping Sparrow  3
Scarlet Tanager  2
Northern Cardinal  1
Brown-headed Cowbird  2
Baltimore Oriole  1
American Goldfinch  2

Take care all.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Birding & Preserving

I had the day off today and got up early to make the best of it with a bit of morning birding before heading home to finally tackle a batch of blackberry jam.  I'd do some local powerline birding and make my way along the trail and hear the Electric Company cutting down trees much to my dismay and was about to turn around when I flushed a large bird out of tree cover.  Based on the quick glance I got of it, I was pretty sure it was a Barred Owl but decided to stick around to see if it would return.  After a couple minutes with no luck I bush whacked deeper into the canopy and would finally get it again and it would take one quick look at me and fly off which frustrated me due to the mini second look I was able to get.

I'd decide to head back home after an hour as it was obvious the owl didn't want to be seen and really couldn't explore with the power company there so figured I'd get an early start on my jam and head back over there when I was done.

Because this is what awaited me.  This is only a portion of the wild blackberries I have in my yard which is more than enough for me and the birds so instead of wasting them, I preserve them.  I freeze many for winter baking but my favorite thing to do is canning.

The birds would be knee deep in berries too, but preferred the mullberries just as they always do including the Gray Catbird above.

And the Baltimore Oriole's along with their begging fledglings who can't get enough of these sweet juicy berries.  They know how to get the berries themselves but they would rather the parents do it for them which they happily do.

And of course the Cedar Waxwings who will continue to inhale these things when overly ripe and fermented and get a little tipsy.

I'd be busy with my own berries and finally gather enough for one batch of jam.

Let me tell you the work is tedious as these are the wild ones so you are basically trying to get berries blocked by many pickers.  Long pants and boots are a must because if you have any ankle available, the red ants will find a way to get at them and bite.  The mosquitoes also seem to like the area but I was okay on that front as I had sprayed myself in the morning for birding.  In fact, these brambles are so notorious for  mosquitoes that malaria outbreaks were a common worry amongst pioneering housewives who would brave the threat as they knew how delicious the blackberries were for pies and jams so took the chance to keep their pantry's stocked for the winter.

 After doing the worst part of the job, I'd be happy to put it all together and start cooking.  My blackberry jam recipe is actually simple and I don't like adding too many fancy ingredients so it's basically 7 cups of blackberries, 4 cups of sugar, 1 lemon (with the zest) and a 1/2 packet of pectin.

While that was thickening I'd start working on making some scones to accompany them because the two go well together.

And this would be the end result which I'd pair with a cup of Earl Grey tea to give lunch a little English flair.

After being properly fueled I decided to head back out in attempt to get a really good look at the Barred Owl.  Yes, I was 99.9% sure what I saw was the owl, but didn't like the quick glance I got of it and for all I knew it was another Red-tailed Hawk screwing with my head as part of a joint conspiracy to get back at me for my stalking and pictures ;-).  I'd get to the exact location I flushed it before and have a bunch of green flies flying around me and got so annoyed I clapped my hands and sure enough that flushed the bird.  CRAP! I'd think what a boneheaded thing to do.  I'd walk around a bit and then try a really lousy imitation of one as I knew it would be louder than my Droid.

Suddenly the woods would be filled with a pathetic mimic of "Who Cooks for You, Who Cooks for youuuuu.." I'd feel really funny doing this considering the Electric Company's truck was still in view so figured they were taking a break from the chainsaw for lunch and was wondering if they could hear me.  I'd get a little deeper into the canopy and try it again.  Still nothing, I started thinking perhaps the bird would prefer a duet and was trying to grasp how I could loudly mimic the second part of the duet which I remember as "biscuits and graaa-veee (hey! it works and makes sense when you put the two together! ;-))  Luckily the owl would spare us both the agony of such an attempt and fly in close by to check me out.

HA!  I knew it!, I thought.  I'd take a picture of it and thank it for not being a Red-tailed and hoped it would stick around some for more gawking.

But the owl wanted no part of me and turned around and flew off as quietly as it flew in.  Sigh, what a gorgeous bird to get especially with the eye.  Yes I'll check any kind of owl off my yearly list by just the call, but to get one in view is a lot more special in my opinion.

The day wouldn't end there though.  Around 5 or so, I'd see it cloud up with the potential for rain so off I went to my usual spot to check for a Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  Of course by now I know the task is pointless but I do it none the less as I find birding in the light rain to be rather peaceful with the sound of raindrops hitting your jacket and the smell of the wet earth beneath your feet.  Everyone else is indoors to escape the weather so that means I'll have the place to myself and sometimes that's just what I want so off I went.

I'd get there and see my pal the hare run off which I thought was odd as it usually doesn't do so unless I'm close enough for a good photo but I shrugged it off and went on my way.

                        Pardon the lousy shot but he's the main subject of the story so had to include him

I'd then hear a scolding call and realize it was a Baltimore Oriole.  Now I've heard these birds scold before, but it's usually short term so was taken aback by the length of its scold as it would be right up there with the Tufted Titmouse.  It would fly from branch to branch and continue with the scold which caught the attention of a nearby Gray Catbird who would also be giving its alarm call and following the oriole.

This in turn would catch the attention of both the male and female Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Which in turn would catch the attention of the Prairie Warbler

Who was in the same area as the Eastern Towhee so out he popped to see what all the fuss was about

All the excitement drew the Tufted Titmouse from across the path and now it too was scolding

 And the Black-capped Chickadee wouldn't be far behind him.

And neither would this bizarre looking Song Sparrow

Who was being followed by this juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird (Facepalm)

The scolding and bird activity would be so heavy that even I at that point was getting alarmed.  Could it be a cat??  No, not here, there's no houses around.  A Fox?,  good possibility but I don't see it.  A hawk?  Perhaps but I've never seen birds act like this over a buteo and if it were an accipiter they wouldn't be perched up and hollering.  Hmmmmmm.......Could it be me??  Nah, I come here all the time and they all know me by now I'd think......Still.....I'd feel self conscience at this point as I was being polite and quiet so couldn't understand what all the panic was about.  I'd suddenly hear the call of a Blue Jay.  Aha, I'd think....Nest Robbers.  Makes perfect sense as the birds all band together as one whenever a corvid comes hunting for eggs.  The thing is the Blue Jay would fly by and a few seconds after that I'd see a Cooper's Hawk coming from the same area and go past the tree line.  I don't believe there's anyway the birds could have sensed the Coops from as far away as it was and it didn't appear in hunting mode so considered it a coincidence. I'd continue along my way still mystified by the whole experience and could still hear them all as I made my way up the hill.  Have no idea what it was all about but it was interesting to say the least.  I guess birds are like people and when one neighbor's in trouble everyone acts neighborly.

Take care all


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