Monday, October 22, 2012

Forbush Bird Club Field Trip: Wachusett Reservoir-Oct 2012

I attended the Forbush Bird Club field trip this past Sunday which was led by Kevin and we'd already have a good list of birds before leaving the parking lot including the flock of Canada Geese above.

Our first stop would be Sterling Peat where we'd get quite a few birds including a couple nice looks at some Palm Warblers' but no ducks so off we went to our next spot.

Which would we West Lake Washacum (I believe).

Soon enough a raft of birds would be spotted so birders set up scopes to get better looks and they'd turn out to be Greater Scaup with a couple of Ring-necked Ducks which was welcome as the Ring-neck's were FOY's for me.

We'd get to the bridge and the side of the pond that usually has the most birds (note Mount Wachusett in the far distance) and see a couple of Double-crested Cormorants among others.  We'd also see two shorebirds across the pond withone being an immediate confirmed Killdeer. The other was a sandpiper but the bird was so far out- with winds so strong the scopes were shaking making it hard to get a good view -but it looked very interesting (including looking a little Baird's-esque at times so after spending close to 20 minutes trying to ID it under impossible conditions we'd do what any respectable birder would do for the sake of citizen science!

And that is bush whack a little closer to the area it was spotted to get a better estimate on size and hopeful field marks that couldn't be seen at the bridge considering the bird was across the pond!

As you can see Kevin takes his job as trip leader very seriously as he bravely led the small group of fellow trip members who were crazy enough to join him (other stayed behind), to the spot where we'd finally get a look at the bird to confirm it was a Pectoral Sandpiper which was a real treat to see this late in the year.

We'd head to the other side of the rail trail in hopes for Blackbirds with Rusty being most preferred but all that would be seen were the Red-winged Blackbirds and one lone Common Grackle.  The winds would keep most of them low but three brave females were kind enough to pose for a photo.

Puddle ducks would be at their usual spots including Mallards' Wood Ducks and one lone Green-winged Teal.

Next would be East Lake Washacum which would be wonderful with no wind and full sunshine so we'd linger here a bit and be glad that we did as I'd pick up my FOY Common Mergansers which was nice.

We'd also get the weirdest looking Mallard I think I've ever seen which is the one to the right with that white chest and lack of white at the wing tips.  Sorry for the lousy photo but it was the best I could get!

We'd also get our share of raptors with one of the highlights being the juvenile Northern Harrier above.

And an Osprey who'd be actively searching for a late lunch.



Trip members would be thrilled to see the raptor carry the prey to a nearby snag for consumption which allowed nice views and discussion.

We'd then head to Gate 36 to start the Wachusett Reservoir portion of the trip.

I was seriously not holding out much hope of getting many birds considering the luck Alan and I had the day prior but would soon be proven wrong when Alan would spot a Scoter out in the far distance- back lit by the sun which made for some challenging ID.  Members would get looks at it and chime in and the first thing I thought was Surf because the silhouette view once again worked for me and I'd pick up on was the fact that it had that "doorstop shaped bill" that appeared rather swollen, Peter Dunne refers to in his Field Guide Companion.  After a while the bird would move into better sun which allowed Kevin, Rick, Scott and others better views to confirm it as indeed a Surf Scoter making me very happy because it means progress for me with my scoters (ducks are one of the major bird types that continue to intimidate me) so that would make for a very sweet FOY.  FOY number two would be a Horned Grebe who'd be bobbing along like a toy duck in the choppy waves making long views close to impossible with the white caps and constant diving!

Our next stop was Gate 39 (I believe) where the waves would once again be choppy but it wouldn't stop Kevin and others from finding birds including a Red-necked Grebe and Long-tailed Duck and those too would be FOYs for me.  I should add that despite the distance I got my best scope view of the Red-necked ever and was able to see and appreciate its heavy yellow bill which made a good imprint in my mind.  It would also be here we'd get more questions from regular folks wondering just what the hell we all found so absorbing in the water.  It's something I don't think about much as I  know what a spotting scope is and just about every bird I see excites me to some degree but I can see why the "average Joe" would be curious to see the site above.  A bunch of people with scopes getting all excited as they ramble on about a Yellow bill or projected primaries and they look out the water and see nothing but well......water.  I find it's a hobby that perplexes many people who just don't get what the appeal is, but they'll still stick around to ask questions and talk about birds they've seen or heard so at least we generate interest and awareness when out there.

We'd head back to the cars to our next destination and Alan and I along with Donna and Dave would wind up  at Mile Hill Road while the rest of the trip members were at Coachlace so after calling Kevin and telling him he didn't lose half his trip we all agreed to meet up again at South Bay.  Alan and I would be on our way there when Kevin would call  as the others spotted a very large, white looking gull of interest who would turn out to be a 2nd winter Glaucous Gull!

Rick already on the gull as Alan "sets up shop"

Lousy shot but note the proportion of the bird as well as the fleshy looking legs compared to the yellow legs and size of the Ring-billed Gulls to the left and right of the bird.  Despite the low quality of the photo, it still shows the  proportion of the bird where you'll see its "overall robust and awkwardly front heavy-too big and heavy in front,too cropped in the rear"-as Peter Dunne perfectly describes in on page 270 of his Field Guide Companion

Also note:  -page 247-Photo34.17 of Petersons' Gulls of the Americas also shows this nicely as well as the short wing projection you will see above as well).

Another lousy record shot but wanted to get it out there for size comparison of the DC cormorant to the right.  Members who got there before us got better looks at the bird face on before it started preening and turn the other way and they'd see the pink bill with black base which is the best way (besides body composition) to differentiate it from a leusistic Great Black-backed Gull.

Our final stop would be Gate 25 just as the sun was starting to set and the birds settling down.

All would be quiet except for one Common Loon nearby peering into the water and flapping its wings as we watched from the shore.  We'd have lost half the trip members at this point as we were on hour number 6  but it was well worth it.  This would be day number two for me of just about all day birding and I'd forget how much I enjoy it and wish I'd get into it more than during migration as it clears my mind and gives me peace.  Soon enough many of these birds will be gone as winter nears and then boredom will set in as the long, gray winter drags.

Take care all.

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