Wednesday, October 31, 2012

More Wachusett Reservoir Birding

Alan and I would head out to Wachusett Reservoir again Wednesday hoping for the same luck as Tuesday but things would be considerably different with both the cooler temps and overall lack of birds!  Our first stop would be Mile Hill Road and the Clinton Dam hoping the two Sabine's Gulls Kevin spotted from yesterday would still be around but all would be quiet with not even a Ring-billed.

Brisk winds at the dam!

And the highlight bird at this spot would be a Double-crested Cormorant pretty close to shore.

Next would be Gate 40 in Clinton which was so cold from the harsh winds, we'd do a quick scan before heading back to the car. The highlight here would be a House Finch. :-p Not the best picture in the world but note the tail which is rather long with only a very slight notch (a good way to tell it from a male Purple Finch which has a short and very notched tail).

We'd be happy to see Scar Hill Road wasn't at all windy with calm waters so decided to carefully scan the area in hopes for scoters and it wouldn't take long to see a tight flock of them flying our way from the right.

Now I've seen Scoters in flight before but near the ocean and the birds would all be going past me higher than eye level and never turning around which was just what these scoters were about to do!

They'd all turn around in sync with one another with such grace and precision I'd hold my breath waiting to see what they'd no next and hoping they'd land.

Which they'd  never do but rather fly closer to Mile Hill Road which is just where we were prior.  Doh!  I can seriously tell you though I was captivated by the flight show as I'd never seen sea ducks flying like that from below allowing me a different view than what I'm accustomed to.  This may sound corny, but when has that ever stopped me before but the one word I think sums what I saw best is beautiful.  Such harmony among all of them it reminded me of synchronized swimming or rather synchronized flying.

We'd decide to do some walking to the right of the path of Scar Hill in hopes for some White-winged Crossbills as well as getting down to the shore in an area more open in hopes of seeing the scoter flock.  We'd never get either, but the walk itself was nice and we'd be happy to see/hear a group of five American Black Ducks as well as quite a few Dark-eyed Juncos and Golden-crowned Kinglets.

Stopping again at Mile Hill Road.  Peter would already be there and Nickilas shortly there after and we'd be happy to see all three scoters close enough to get decent scope views which made for some nice comparison study.  I'll also go on record now and say I'm starting to get why people get into ducks which I've often found boring in the past as they can be rather dull in comparison to raptors, gulls, shorebirds, etc, but seeing these birds in flight and on the reservoir the past week or so has given me a new appreciation for them and will be sad to see the numbers of sea ducks dwindling as the month of November progresses.

In the afternoon, we'd head out to Sutton to check out Purgatory Chasm hoping for some White-winged Crossbills because if they're moving south, this would be the place to be with the acres of white pines.  All would be fairly quiet except for the "yank, yank" call of the many Red-breasted Nuthatches (YAY) making us very happy as this is in Alan's Uxbridge CBC circle so taking this as a good sign they'll stick around for the holidays!!  The other bird of interest would be the dozens of Dark-eyed Juncos fluttering in and out of the pines which I always find odd as I think of them as more in a sparrow habitat but they love Purgatory for some bizarre reason.  Will continue to keep an eye out for the White-winged's here as not only is it convenient but nice and quiet in the off season and can spend hours here hiking/exploring in winter so this will give me another excuse to do so!

And now a back track to yesterdays post where we went to Mile Hill Road and be happy to see Kevin already there with his scope on two Bonaparte's Gulls.  I'd get up early this morning and see Kevin sent both Alan and I an email on them letting us know the gulls we saw may not have been Bonaparte's Gulls but rather Sabine's Gulls based on two important field marks he didn't pay much attention to for a Sabine's until he got home and then it would click.

1.  Dark Gray Back

2.  Light tip to the bill

Hmmmmmmm......That's funny I'd think to myself as I thought I was the only one who noticed how dark gray the backs were on those gulls but figured it was due distance, lighting or both so didn't say anything. When I saw them in the scope I remember pausing on them for a bit as the gray was so dark (closer to Lesser Black-backed than Bonaparte's in my mind), that it caused me to catch my breath momentarily as it was striking against the white plumage of the gull and something I wasn't expecting as all of the Bonaparte's I've ever seen have been drab gray at best.

Still groggy from sleep this morning I'd take my first sip of coffee and open my Sibley's (page 175) for Sabine's Gull and have one of my Holy sh*t moments that don't happen as often as I'd like.

There before my eyes would be a gull that looked a lot closer to the gulls in question yesterday than the Bonaparte's and would then realize Kevin was right as not only did the gray match but so did the black smudging on the head that I vividly remembered seeing (and would even comment out loud while viewing it at Mile Hill Road), but once again dismissed it due to plumage changes associated with molting.  I'd also take a look at the bill in the scope as Kevin had already dismissed it as Laughing Gull due to size and bill so wanted to make sure I could see that as well and sure enough I did notice it was smaller than a Laughing Gull and the bill itself appeared small and seemed tern like to me, but I'd never be lucky enough to see the yellow at the end which isn't surprising given my 43 year old declining eyes at such a distance!

Laughing Gull to the left, Sabine's Gull to the right.  The Sabine's to the right looked very similar to the gulls we saw Tuesday at Wachusett Reservoir including the charcoal grayish smudged head, dark gray back, small tern like bill and that contrasting white I had noticed when I was observing the bird

Fast forward again to this morning when Alan picked me up and we'd be discussing yesterdays gulls and he too said he'd noticed that dark gray back, smudgy head, etc but dismissed it for the same reasons I did.  So this would make three of us who all noticed the same things on those gulls but wouldn't think much of it at the time, but now wish that we had in hind sight.  But in hind sight yes we were all hoping for some out of the ordinary birds but not extraordinary which is the level one would clearly put a Sabine's Gull into so it's another lesson learned and a reminder that even the extraordinary is possible both before, during or after a hurricane as The Chickadee records can attest to.

Take care all.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Post Sandy Birding

Alan and I set out to do some Post Sandy birding today with the first stop being South Bay at Wachusett Reservoir.  It wouldn't take long to see a lone Horned Grebe nearby as well as a small raft of White-winged Scoters  making me very happy as it's the only scoter I needed for the year so took it as a good sign of what was yet to come.

We'd then head to Scar Hill for another look of the reservoir and would get better looks at some White-winged Scoters here too which was most welcome as it allowed me to not only see the white wings, but the tear drop near the eye.

Next was Mile Hill Road and we'd see Kevin already there and be thrilled that he'd already have his scope on two Bonaparte's (ETA:  Now in discussion-more later) Gulls as they'd be FOY's for both Alan and I.  This would also be the place I'd get my FOY Bufflehead so all in all a pretty productive spot!

Our last stop along Wachusett Reservoir would be Gate 39 where we'd both get another FOY which would be the often difficult to get Red-breasted Merganser for an added bonus!

We'd then head out to gate 43 at Quabbin Reservoir hoping for some shorebirds with Black-bellied Plover being top of the list.

We'd see a few Greater Yellowlegs including the one above who was gorging on what appeared to be insects.


We'd also see two Pectoral Sandpipers including the one above and I'd be very happy with the view considering no scope would be needed as they appeared rather tame.

Another score!  What it is I don't know but he/she seems to be enjoying it!

We never did find a Black-bellied Plover mixed in with the other shorebirds, but I'd be happy non the less as it was a very serene spot and the sun would feel nice after the last couple days of gray, windy weather.

The other highlight would be finding these moose tracks which were enormous and freshly made.

Alan's car keys to the side for a size comparison.  We'd never see any moose though and we'd never see the flock of crossbills who passed overhead as they were against a gray sky and quick but they sounded a lot more like White-winged Crossbills than Red so if you are in the Quabbin area keep both your ears and eyes out for them as they're around!!

A great day to do some post Sandy birding.  My heart does go out to all who have suffered damage due to this monster of a storm.  When I think of all the people, property, pets, wildlife and birds who were impacted  by Sandy, I can't help but have a heavy feeling in my heart.

Take care all.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Birding Sutton and Millbury

Alan and I would do some pre-storm morning birding today with our first stop being a place I'd never been to in Millbury with the cleanest body of running water in town which was nice to see, especially compared to the Blackstone River!

The picture above is of the dam itself which was all done by non expert labor which is pretty remarkable when you look at the stone work above.  The area would be quiet but looks as if it has potential for many birds including Eastern Screech-owl, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Louisianna Waterthrush, etc so it will be a nice area to explore when the birds come back next year.

We'd then make our way toward Sutton and stop at a pond on the way which would have some Ring-necked Ducks in it.  We'd be watching them when suddenly a goofy duck landed smack dab in the middle  with no grace what so ever and that bird would turn out to be a drake Wood Duck.  Nervous by us and the clumsy duck, the Ring-necked's would take off leaving the goofy wood all by itself.  Alan would remember something he read by Peter Dunne when looking at sparrows which says a flushed group of sparrows will all take off at the same time if they are of the same breed leaving the stray behind so we'd wonder if the same rings true for waterfowl!

After that it would be off to some local powerlines in hopes for an early Fox or American Tree Sparrow.  While we'd see neither, birds would be very active with the regulars like Black-capped Chickadees, White-throated and Song Sparrows and one lone Carolina Wren singing up a storm.

And speaking of storms, we'd get an idea of what's headed our way when we went to Town Farm Road in Sutton where we'd hear HUNDREDS of blackbirds mixed in with the brisk winds and light drizzle.  An idea of what it was like in the video above.  While they all sounded and looked to be Red-winged Blackbirds, we did hear and/or see a stray Common Grackle and Rusty Blackbird mixed in here and there.

And away they go!  The picture doesn't do the scene justice considering there were a lot more directly behind these ones.  I should note we'd also see a large group of American Crows nearby too which lead me to wonder if these migrating birds can sense the storm further south and are landing for a couple of days to wait it out before heading to their destination?

We'd continue along our way and wouldn't take long to see we'd flushed a flock of birds feeding on the ground and would be happy to see they landed nearby which allowed us a better look.  Not only would we see a small group of American Pipits but an even more impressive flock of Horned Larks which was most welcome as it was an FOY.  We'd continue along our way in hopes for some Snow Buntings when we'd flush a rather good sized bird from the ground and we'd immediately see it was a shorebird.  The bird would do a lazy circle of sorts and I'd be struck at how plain it looked overall which frustrated me as I had no field marks to go by.  Luckily enough it would land in the same general area it came from which allowed Alan and I to carefully get closer to the bird without scaring it again.  We'd follow the same pattern where we'd walk 4 or so steps and then stop until we were able to see the bird rather well with just the eye and this is what it would turn out to be.

An American Golden Plover!!!  This is hands down my favorite picture of them all as it shows that pale plumage under and somewhat behind the eye these plovers sometimes  show.


Last one!  This would be one of the those birding experiences that's so cool and rare,  it will be forever imprinted in my memory.  Not only are these birds uncommon, but the views one gets are not always ideal so guessing this will be the closest I'll ever get to one of these extraordinary birds.  We'd continue to walk toward it to flush it one more time just to double check making sure there wasn't any black at the wing pits and soon enough it would flee and do a larger circle this time and I'd be happy to see it landed in the same general area again.  This would give me instant relief as I didn't want it to leave the area all together and head down the stormy east coast as I'd grown rather attached to the bird so hope it sticks around to wait out the storm (as well as all the others for that matter).

We'd make two more stops in Worcester at All Faith's and Notre Dame cemetery in hopes for some American Wigeon or Northern Pintails and except for three Green-winged Teal and a Pied-billed Grebe the place would be quiet.  Don't know what's going on this year but the wigeon are no where to be found.

Take care all.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

What else on the weekend but more birding!

I did some morning birding with Alan this AM with the 1st stop being Lake Quaboag in hopes for another FOY scoter and anything else of interest especially a Red-breasted Merganser and neither Alan nor I have that this year.  We'd get to the parking lot and see quite a few Ring-billed Gulls like the ones above who were being very tame and dare I say cute!

Another photo of all adults with the one to the right being most interesting with that charcoal smudged looking plumage it has going on.  A nice comparison shot with two of them going into non breeding plumage and the one in the middle not even starting yet.


Loafing (based on all the gull sh*t I'm guessing this is prime real estate in the gull community!)

And eating.  Of course we didn't come all this way just to look at RBG's as we could do that closer to home, so we'd be very happy to see a group of Ruddy Ducks, 2 Pied-billed Grebes and one lone female Black Scoter (FOY) which was nice as we weren't holing out much hope at Wachusett Reservoir but still went there anyway.

We'd start out at Scar hill (where we'd see SCORES of Dark-eyed Junco's) but not much else in terms of water birds so went the Mile Hill Road where we'd have the same fate.

So then it was off to South Bay in hopes the White-winged Crossbill's Kevin had Thursday would still be around.  Passerine activity would be heavy in areas with at least 6 Red-breasted Nuthatches (YAY) and many Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice (is that a word), and Golden-crowned Kinglets, but wouldn't you know, no WWC's!

But the 2nd year Glaucous Gull we had at Sunday's Forbush Field Trip would be.  This would be the best look I'd gotten of this bird and would also be the first time I'd realize the bird had some color on it instead of the ghost white I'd seen Sunday where the view wasn't the best.

Digiscoped photo Alan took.  You'll notice that barrel chest, bubble gum pink bill with the dark tip and that pale iris which are all things to look for when looking at a 2nd year gull like this to make sure your'e not dealing with a leucistic (which I learned all about this week!).  Sigh, such a fabulous bird and hoping it's healthy and likes the area so much it sticks around until January for an easy FOY.  I had forgotten how much I love gulls until this find and its resparked my fascination with them all over again.  For such predictable birds, they sure are hard to figure out from an identity and age perspective sometimes!

We'd also get three Horned Grebe's fairly close including another digiscoped photo Alan took and I really like this photo as it shows just how short this birds bill is.

I'd head home for lunch and then off I'd go to Big Chauncey in Westborough for my much wanted Rusty Blackbird.  Every year there are birds I realize I'm not going to get for the year and I can come to terms with most of them, but a rusty is out of the question so off I went and told myself I wasn't leaving until I had one as it would drive me crazy the rest of the year.

I'd be making my way toward the corn fields when I stopped to scrape dog crap off my shoe (#*@&) when suddenly I'd hear something headed my way and that something would be some guy on a mountain bike which would remind me I haven't been on mine since Coldbrook Road.  He'd be going rather fast and it would be then I'd see about 40 blackbirds getting flushed from the cornfields and after thanking him off I went to follow!  The little buggers would be hidden by trees and in some scrubby brush but about 12 of them would be in view and I'd get my bins on one and be shocked to see it was indeed my Rusty Blackbird. A picture wouldn't even cross my mind until it was too late and off they flew as they were once again nervous (wondering if it's the hunting that's making them like that).  I'd then spend my time looking again as I really wanted a photo and I'd relocate them by ear this time and they'd be in some distant fields which I wouldn't even try to get to considering I heard gunshots here and there so made sure to stay on the main path at all times.  The Rusty would do me the honors though of doing its "Candy" call so I was happy with both my view and the call.

I'd be kind of bummed I got it less than 10 minutes I arrived considering I was planning on spending the day there so continued to bird and would see a lot of the regulars including a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, many Swamp and Song Sparrows and a couple of Purple Finches which is always nice.

Lake Chauncey would be devoid of ducks due to the boats with the exception of one lone drake Mallard above.

And the biggest highlight (besides the Rusty), would be seeing a juvenile White-crowned Sparrow who'd never do me the honors of posing out of the brush for a better photo.  Sigh, what a fabulous bird and the place I'm going to go next fall in early migration as it's a true gem and  also see myself getting in some hiking and snow shoeing here this winter as the area is large and birdy.

Take care all.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Looking at the Numbers-Wachusett Reservoir

I've now collected data from Recent Central Mass Bird Sightings from October to February into the database and figured now would be a good time to look at Worcester County IBA's with Wachusett Reservoir being top of the list as it's the place to be for fall migration when it comes to water fowl so figured I'd share it on my blog.  The data chart above shows TOTALS for Oct to Dec 1998 to 2011 and Jan 1999 to 2012.  Looking at it this way is very interesting and shows November as the best month numbers wise for ducks with Black Scoter and Bufflehead in particular.  It also shows me I need to get my White-winged Scoter in quick as the number of them dwindles in November.  What I found most interesting doing this analysis was the month of January where you see an impressive number of ducks on Wachusett and they are  the typical "pond ducks" who have moved away from the frozen ponds and into waters at the reservoir that still remain open.

 Next are a "hodge podge" of birds I wanted to look at and you'll see the Great Cormorant numbers high in October and pick back up in January (and Feb too, but I didn't include those numbers in this as I just finished getting them in and haven't audited them yet)  Gull numbers are sure to catch the eye but note, Ring-billed Gull's in December are undereported because a lot of people in their reports to Rick will say "a lot of Ring-billed Gulls and 50 Herring or something like that so I left it blank in those cases as I didn't want to guess what a lot was.

Pretty cool huh??  I sometimes forget just how lucky we are to have Wachusett Reservoir as close as it is and seeing it from a numbers standpoint, reminds me how fortunate I am to live less than a half and hour (drive time) away from it.

Last are my lists in alphabetical order of birds of interest by date to be on the lookout for as past sightings happened around this time.  While Wachusset is the place to be for waterfowl, Quabbin remains the place to be if you're hoping for shorebirds it seems.

The second portion of the list, and everyone of them would be a county bird for me except the Rough-legged Hawk.  Hey a girl can dream can't she. ;-)

Take care all.


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