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.

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