Monday, August 27, 2012

Saturday Birding

I'd do little birding this weekend but did manage to get out on Saturday and decided to check out Bolton Flats as I still don't have a Sora, Northern Harrier or Wilson's Snipe so figured I'd head out there despite the low probability of getting the target birds.  The first birds I'd hear were the many Bobolinks in the tall grass where the shorebirds like to be during spring migration.  Sparrows would be out too in numerous numbers including many Song and Swamp Sparrows.  The picture above is of the "T" believe it or not!  Needless to say the place was pretty quiet otherwise so decided to get off at Exit 5 to see if there was anything of interest at Sterling Peat.

And the first bird to greet me would be a very graceful Great Egret.
Who would be not at all shy as I walked over to where it flew from to look at it some more and search for shorebirds.

There would be little fish everywhere all fighting for life in the small body of waters which made it a Heron Heaven and there would be one point where I'd see a juvenile Great Blue Heron, Green Heron and the Great Egret all in the same area so I could study them all in the same field of view which was nice.

The sun would be out too and a nearby Painted Turtle would be basking in the sunlight on a nice, warm rock so I decided to do the same and planted myself on a rock hoping the sandpipers would fly in close to me to get really good looks at them.  After some much patient waiting my theory would prove correct when I'd get about 9 small sandpipers nearby which allowed close study in hopes for a Semipalmated Sandpiper but all I could see where Least's.  I'd also see two small ducks nearby on the grass and something would spook them so I'd get a good look at their wings to confirm them as Green-winged Teal (there would be 4 in total).

Another highlight would be a Greater Yellowlegs who got used to me after a while so was brave enough to get closer to me for better study and pictures.

I'd spend a considerable amount of time observing it and make mental notes of its feeding habits which I've learned is a great way to ID shorebirds and this one wouldn't disappoint as it was very clumsy feeding style wise compared to the delicate and sometimes graceful Lesser Yellowlegs.

It's pictures like these that makes you realize why they are called yellowlegs!

I'd head home after that and do some light housework and then relax and watch a movie and then see a phone call from Kevin coming in and I knew that could only mean one thing.  A VERY  SOUGHT AFTER BIRD!  I'd call him back as I missed his original call and he'd casually tell me he got 7 Red-necked Phalaropes at Wachusett Reservoir!  I'd be in my jammies at this point as it was just that kind of day but got dressed really quick and called Alan as Kevin had called him too and Alan was heading out there too (he had the roof off to his shed as he was rebuilding it, but hell for a bird as awesome as this the roof could wait!) so off we went.  He'd be driving as I was looking at photos of the Phalarope on my Droid being an optimist but Alan had his doubts considering Kevin had them feeding with the gulls and then they all took off.

We'd make it to Gate 36 and be dismayed to see the entire area is now blocked off due to tree cutting (hoping its done before the Pipits come back!).  We'd take turns scanning with the scope as Alan told me some things I should know about the Phalarope in flight including the fact that the bird is roughly the size of a Robin and it would be then I'd realize why Alan was pessimistic as how the hell can you find birds the size of Robins flying over the Wachusett Reservoir when the viewing area is roped off seriously!  It's like finding a needle in a haystack when you think about it............

After realizing Gate 36 was not going to get us the bird, we headed to where Kevin had them with the gulls at Gate 8.  We'd see 4 Common Loon's nearby as well as a Spotted Sandpiper so held out hope as it was much birdier than gate 36.  After a while though we realized it was pointless as this point as the birds could be anywhere as we walked back to the car.  We'd be chitchatting and wonder if anyone else would get it and both of us would agree Bart would an needless to say he in fact did on Sunday which wouldn't surprise either of us (I should mention he also got a Common Merganser as well which is another bird I need).  Grrrrrrr....  ;-)

Oh well......This would be the first weekend in close to a month I wouldn't pick up any First of the Years but decided to lay low on Sunday as fall migration will be here soon enough and then I'll be birding like mad so took the time to just relax and chill.  Yes I'm looking forward to the ducks of course and would love to pick up a Tennessee Warbler and still need a Palm Warbler this year but the thing I'm looking forward to the most are sparrows.

With my favorite little friend the Lincoln's Sparrow being top of the list which remains one of my favorite birds of all time so am eagerly awaiting their arrival.

Take care all.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Nighthawk Watching and Potential Red-breasted Nuthatch Irruption?

After seeing all of the Common Nighthawks flying low around my yard last evening prior to hitting Sterling Peat with Alan, I decided to camp out this evening and do a little nighthawk watching in my yard with all the comforts of home.

Which included a new beer for me this year which was the Shipyard Pumpkin Ale which is really tasty.  You know summer is coming to an end when you are outside drinking pumpkin ale and searching for nighthawks vs a month ago when you're drinking summer ale and looking at the Chimney Swifts but do think Chris E would approve.

Anyhow, I'd get myself all situated and get ready for the killer views and would finally get 2 of them flying very high overhead.  I'd waste about 10 minutes waiting for the next wave which would never happen so I had to resort to looking at the Rock Pigeons across the street near the factory. :-p

Another would fly by about 15 minutes after that and headed in the direction of the local Red-tailed Hawk who was perched on the Chimney the Chimney Swifts were roosting in just one short month ago.

After about 45 minutes or so I'd have 4 Common Nighthawks  total, 6 Mallards flying overhead, a LARGE flock of Chimney Swifts flying high overhead (21 in total), 2 Double-crested Cormorants and a European Starling and juvenile Norther Mockingbird who were hanging out with each other across the street which struck me as odd, especially because they were like that for 10 minutes total so I'm guessing they were enjoying each others company!  I'd call it a night at about 7 or so as migration was light so I'll be curious to see who's reporting what number wise this evening.

And speaking of reports, I'd notice a continuing trend on the New England listserv's for the number of Red-breasted Nuthatches being recorded recently.  It's something I've notice myself the past two weeks as I've gotten this bird at both Sterling Peat and Notre Dame during that time so was wondering if others were having the same success and based on what I'm seeing, they are.

And not only on the Massachusetts Listserve, but the New Hampshire one as well.

And CT which I thought was an interesting post.  I'm especially interested in watching reports of Red Crossbills as I've been seeing more reports of it being seen so hoping to get this life bird in Worcester County this year.  I've attached a link to a PDF documents that talks about Northern Irruption boreal birds and thought the correlation between Red-breasted Nuthatches and White-winged Crossbills was interesting.
Winter Finch's

And here is PA.  BTW:  I'm loving the listserv's all on the ABA now as you can get all the feeds at once to see what's going on in other parts of the country which is pretty nifty.

So being curious and all I decided to do some analysis via eBird to see if it could tell me anything.
And the first thing I'd pull was total New England and look at five years worth of data using frequency as my measure (frequency=the % total of the bird on eBird checklists) and as you can see the numbers have jumped since the third week in July.

And now for total count where you will notice 2012 numbers being higher than any of the other years (2010 ranking second overall but with a lot more noise.)

And now Massachusetts only based again on frequency where the trend continues with the chart starting to climb the 3rd week in July and peeks the end of the 1st week of August.

And looking at total number of nuthatches being reported it still is higher than the 2010 numbers.  I should note you will see a drop in all data for 2012 for 8/22 so I'm guessing that's due to data lag for eBird and that number will increase once its updated and I'll be curious to see where it is in relation to 2010 once it does.

And finally Worcester County which makes no sense to me so I won't even attempt to explain it but note that perhaps there isn't enough checklists submitted overall to make this data explainable.

So to make a long story short, keep your eyes and ears out for Red-breasted Nuthatches this fall and winter, especially your feeders.  It will also be interesting to see the numbers for the CBC's as Red-breasted Nuthatch's are always welcome birds during them considering how sporadic they can be count wise.

Take care all.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

First of the Year Common Nighthawks

I'd head off to Sterling Peat with Alan this evening in an attempt to see the Cliff Swallows Bart and Dave had the evening prior as well as seeing a FOY Common Nighthawk.  Alan would be picking me up and it would be then we'd see about 10 in my yard and fairly low so I'd get my FOY at home and now know where I'll be tomorrow evening with my Pumkin Ale hoping for views just as good.  The photo above is one I got at Sterling Peat today.

We'd get there and run into Jean and her husband Donald and one of the first birds we'd hear was a Greater Yellowlegs flying above which was nice as I'd never see a yellowlegs flying so high in the air before so it was a treat to see them with their honking yellowlegs behind them and couldn't get over how large they appear in the sky with a pair of binoculars on them.  Peter Dunne refers to their flight as "overall angular and gangly with a long pointed bill and (usually) long trailing legs", which was exactly how it appeared.

We'd make our way to the area the Cliff Swallows were last reported and see two Solitary Sandpipers fly in close which was nice to get a good look at them with just the bins.

Digiscoped photo that shows off that gorgeous white eye ring as well as those pretty white spots on the back.

And soon enough we'd be treated to quite a few Common Nighthawks flying above and it would be then I'd be reminded just how difficult it is to photograph the little buggers.  Seriously, I thought taking photos of raptors in flight during hawkwatch season was challenging but it pales in comparison to these birds as their flight is zig zagged and choppy which makes for some challenging photo taking!

And my best photo of them all (same as my cover photo) but wanted to post it again as I loved how I got all of it's field marks in the shot including the white that can be found as the base of the primaries, the throat and end of the  tail.

And in between looking at the nighthawks, shorebirds and herons, we'd keep our eyes to the skies and snags for swallows where we'd see plenty of Barn Swallows, a handful of Tree Swallows but no Cliff Swallows.

Despite not finding any Cliff Swallows it was still nice to watch the sunset at Sterling Peat as it remains one of my favorite places to watch it in Years Past.  I'd also be bummed about not being able to get out there to try for the American Golden Plover as I was out straight with work this morning so couldn't get out of the office to try for it so was hoping Alan would get it in the afternoon when I could have taken a late lunch to try for it as it's a bird I just have to see but sadly it wasn't around of visible when Alan tried for it.  I often look through my bird guide the way many women look at shoe catalogs and ooh and ahh, but I do it with birds instead of shoes and everytime I see this bird my heart skips a beat and my breath pauses to take in its beauty so it's another bird I've been dying to see since I got my first Peterson guide in late 2008, but alas not this time I'm afraid so hoping for a storm to increase the probability! ;-)

Take care all.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Other Weekend Birding

I'd do more birding this weekend and set off to Notre Dame Cemetery in Worcester for another attempt for a Black-crowned Night-Heron.  I'd get there about an hour or so before dusk so had time to kill so did some birding as well as keeping my eyes on the sky for a hopeful Common Nighthawk.  The regulars would be around including the Mallards, two American Black Ducks, the Great Blue Heron and the always vocal Green Herons.

I'd also spend some time looking at some of the tomb stones which I often do when at a cemetery which really helps to put things into perspective whenever I find myself on the "pity pot".  It also serves as a reminder that life is short and precious so be sure to get out there and do things you enjoy and live life as much as you can.

The sun would start to set so so I went to the area the BCNH has been seen most and I'd have the two Mute Swans keeping me company.  Let me tell you, the Mute Swans are as big of a hit here as they are at Institute Park as I'd have two walkers asking me if I'd seen them as both were searching.  I'd point to them and they would smile with the same glint in the eye I get when I see I bird I love.  While I know the damage these invasive birds do to our native waterfowl, it's still nice to see non-birders search for birds as a way to connect to nature and one can hope it opens their minds to want to learn and see others.

I'd be at that spot for a full 40 minutes before I could hear one and be happy to get my bins on it for confirmation as it was getting pretty dark by then so didn't even bother taking a picture.  Seriously the hardest BCNH I've ever gotten considering I tried a few times this past week and the view I got of it wasn't nearly as good as what I'm used to so hoping they still show up at Institute Park for some much wanted photos.

On Sunday Alan and I would decide to bird some local spots with Brierly Pond being stop number one.

And all the birds would be out in the parking lot waiting for breakfast from the woman who lives across the street who loves these birds as if they were family.

Including Cottontail the Graylag Goose and its offspring the Graylag x Canada Goose (three in total).

There would also be Mallards nearby where one looked as if they had some American Black Duck in it as well so it looks as if Brierly continues to be a swinging place for waterfowl with an anything goes attitude and some very interesting looking birds. ;-)

We'd head out to Auburn after that to do some exploring at the spot Forbush goes to on the January 1st trip for ducks.  This is also the place a Least Bittern was reported a couple years back so we decided to walk along the path of the waters edge to see if we could find some prime bittern habitat.  While we never did see a Least, we did see a Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, the usual Mallards and quite a few Wood Duck's like the one above.

After that it would be a quick stop along Wachusett Reservoir hoping for a Black Tern or Bonaparte's Gull (I'm searching for a FOY Worcester County Herring Gull too believe it or not).  Sadly all would be quiet and the only gulls we'd get yet again were the Ring-billed Gulls right along side the Double-crested Cormorants.

After that it would be off to Sterling Peat to check on water levels and hopeful shorebirds and the first bird we'd see would be an Osprey soaring overhead.

And we'd also see water levels MUCH HIGHER than the last time.  In fact, the little stream has now turned into a little river as you can see in the photo above!

Sigh, well it was nice while it lasted.  We still have time for shorebird migration so lets hope some of it dries up again as all doesn't appear lost with plenty of mud banks still around but nowhere like before!

Shorebird activity would again be light with a few Least Sandpipers, Killdeer and a couple of Spotted Sandpipers.  Also check out the Least Sandpiper to the left.  I don't know what it is about Sunday's but this would be the 4th one in row where I get a bird that caused me to say hmmmmmmmm.....Alan and I would be studying this one for a while as we knew it was a Least, but it looked "off" to us.  From what we could gather it's probably a juvenile considering it's larger than the one on the right and also has a whiter throat, more gray than brown as well as the larger bill.  It made for a nice comparison between the two considering they were so close by we could see them well with just the bins.

Our last stop would be St Philips in hopes for a few of those Green Herons reported at Ricks site the day before.  We'd run into Dawn (be sure to check out her blog!) and explore various spots along the water and be very happy to count at least five Green Heron's which is a record number for me as the most I've ever gotten here were two I believe.  There would also be the regulars including the family of Mute Swan's, the Great Blue Herons and the Mallards and Wood Ducks of course.

Take care all.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Barre Birding.....Kind of....

I'd get up early this morning and head out to the Barre Landfill yet again, in hopes for the Black Vultures that continue to be my nemesis ( believe on purpose ;-) ).   Of course it doesn't help when Alan sends me one of his emails while I'm at at work a couple of weeks ago and not only gets one, but also pretty decent pictures of it no less.  I'd be at work all happy for him but frustrated considering we were there the day prior and struck out.   We'd be at Sterling Peat last weekend and I'd have Alan's scope on a Lesser Yellowlegs watching it feed while listening to Bart talk about some of his recent birding finds and of course my ears would perk up once I heard the Barre BV's and he'd happily tell us not only did he get one, but really good looks of it no less as it was in the same spot Alan had his!!  So off I went to the "lucky spot" to see if either of their luck would rub off on me and I'd finally get my long anticipated life bird the Black Vulture.

I'd drive up to the spot and be very happy to see quite a few vultures perched up in the dead trees and really thought today would be my lucky day!  I'd open my bag, grab my camera for records shots and then my binoculars and be mortified to realize the bins weren't in the bag.  I'd look under car seats and the glove compartment in a frenzy realizing I forgot them at home which is a nightmare to birders, especially when one is birding for a bird one has never seen before!  I'd get out of my car and reassure myself that all was not lost because I still had my camera which wasn't so bad considering I spent almost the first year birding binocular free using only my camera so it would be just like old times!  :-p

Of course the cloudy skies would make it even more challenging and add the recent rain which always makes plumage on birds look darker so knew I was in for some serious "holistic birding".

So the first thing I'd do is take a quick scan of the vultures hoping for an odd ball with a dark face and smaller, stockier body compared to the very familiar Turkey Vultures.  I'd see one vulture with a dark face and spend some time looking at it but it didn't give me the Black Vulture vibe but still kept my eyes on it as what did I know considering I've never seen a BV before so what ever vibes I'd have were based purely on pictures.  Soon enough the bird would fly to another tree and confirm my suspicion which would be a juvenile Turkey Vulture.

I'd continue along the line and laugh at a couple of them as they'd open their wings when I got to them in an attempt to make it easier for me I believe. ;-)

Lousy picture of what I believe is another juvenile Turkey Vulture due to the lack of a vivid red head.

So once again I'd strike out on the BV's but for all I know they could have been nearby and I was unable to see them considering I didn't have my bins!

So then it was onto Plan B which was the Mid State Trail in Barre (the one off Coldbrook road), that leads to Rutland to get in a little much needed hiking and my hopeful Northern Goshawk as I had one about 2 miles into the Midstate a couple years back and was hoping for the same luck again.

I'd do the customary thing whenever one goes down Coldbrook Road which is to roll down all windows and drive slow in hopes of seeing or hearing something and I'd be struck at the lack of bird song, especially compared to a couple of months ago.  I was fortunate enough to come across a couple of deer though!

I'd also realize just how long of a road Coldbrook is and don't think I ever noticed it before because I'm always making so many stops in between for warblers and other passerines which breaks up the length of the trip.  I'd finally make it to Midstate and realize my trail shoes were back at home with the bins and all I had were a pair of rain boots on my feet.  It would start raining again at this point and the thought of hiking 4 miles (round trip) in rain boots didn't sound at all appealing to me so decided to head back home considering luck wasn't at all on my side with not only no binoculars but no appropriate shoes.

So off I went home to download my photos onto the computer to see how they came out.  It would be then I'd remember Alan sent me some of his pictures of his BV's. so figured I'd get those out to and do some of my own "holistic birding" in the comforts of home with a hot cup of tea!

Picture by Alan Marble

First my favorite photo as not only is the photo a closeup to allow you to see the color differences between the TV on the left and the BV on the right, but also the difference in tail size as well.  Also notice the white in the wingtips of the BV that are usually not visible on one that is perched which makes this picture even  cooler!

Picture by Alan Marble

Another nice shot which allows you to see the difference in the shapes of the two birds as well.  Notice how much more compact and stocky the BV (on the right) is to the TV (to the left).  Also notice the almost triangle tail of the BV.

Photo by Alan Marble

So while I didn't get my nemesis yet again, I at least got in some Vulture 101 which will better prepare me for the next time and I'll be sure to bring my binoculars too which would help!

Take care all.


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