Sunday, July 29, 2012

Barre Landfill and Sterling Peat

Alan and I decided to head to the Barre Landfill this morning after hearing of Mark and Sheila's multiple success with Black Vultures there so was hoping we'd have the same luck ourselves!

And this would be the first bird we'd see!!!  Seriously, neither of us have even seen a Great Blue Heron on the telephone wire before so of course we stopped as who wouldn't!  Based on the streaked throat and chest I'm guessing this is a juvenile who doesn't know yet that heron's are not phone line birds.  ;-)

We'd make our way to the area where Mark and Sheila see them most and be very happy to see over 3 dozen vultures all in the same location.

They'd be on the fencing and we'd see some pop out from the bins (what they found appealing in there I don't know)

They'd be perched on dead trees

Soon enough we'd hear the thunder of their wing beat and many would take to the air.

But wouldn't you know we couldn't identify any of them as Black Vultures no matter how hard we tried (we did get close to 60 TVs though).  Despite this it was still an incredible experience as I've never seen so many Turkey Vultures in one general location.  We're guessing we got out there too late in the day so will have to get back out there earlier to try it again which will be no problem as it was a lot of fun to observe them.

We'd make a stop at the place where Alan had the Golden-winged Warbler to check for berries and birds and there'd be plenty of wild blueberries as well as the berries above.  I'd ask Alan what they were and he'd grab and handful and tell me huckleberries I think.  Nom, nom, nom......I'd be hesitant at first but Alan looked as if he was enjoying them so grabbed some myself hoping Alan was right!  Nom, nom, nom....Pretty darn tasty but not as good as blueberries.  If I had the energy and time I would have started picking right then and there for some huckleberry jam, but think I'm jammed out until cranberry season seriously!

I'd come home and decide to lay down for a bit and would wake up at 1 and realize I slept for close to two hours which I probably needed as I've been dealing with some awful insomnia all summer that has gotten worse the past couple of weeks.  Between the birding and hiking I never nap anymore which is unfortunate because when I woke up I felt great so headed out to Sterling Peat to check on the water levels and shorebirds of course!

And this is what I'd see which made me very happy as it reminds me of the conditions a couple years back when Sterling Peat was a shorebird haven!!

The usuals would be there including a lone Solitary Sandpiper, 2 Spotted Sandpipers, 7 Killdeer and at least 12 Least Sandpipers like the one above.

As well as three Semipalmated Plovers like the one above.

I absolutely love these birds because they are so interesting to observe.  I really enjoy their argumentive chatter and their squabbles amongst one another.

Lousy shot of the plover near a Killdeer but figured I'd include it because it's easy to confuse the two so really like this as it shows now only size comparison but just how different the two are in body composition.

Another squabble about to take place!

Lousy shot of a Killdeer taking a bath which goes to prove, birds don't bathe to get clean, but because it feels good as who could be clean after bathing in stagnant pond water.  ;-).  Also want to know what the deal is w/ the 2nd band on the bird as it appears to be almost gone expect for one spot.  Molting?

There'd be other birds out including the Great Blue Heron above.

And some Canada Geese who annoyed me as they flew in close which drove all the shorebirds away  of course.

Another picture to show the low water levels.  

There'd be pockets of water that were like little rivers that a Least Sandpiper really seemed to enjoy.  ETA:  I was just reading my Dunne guide and came across a tidbit I thought interesting and true which is Least Sandpipers usually tend to stay to the side of mud flats as they don't like to get their feet wet which makes this picture even more interesting.

Especially this one as it's entire leg is almost covered in water.  Fascinating stuff I tell ya!

A picture of me I believe in the pond!!  I guess the word Muddy Pond is quite fitting now.  Word of advise, bring boots for sure. This is a good sign indeed as it reminded me a lot of the year we had all of those fabulous shorebirds and many were seen very well without a scope so let's cross our fingers we have the same luck this year!

And now for my Sunday doozy which will be the 2nd Sunday in a row that I have one.  I'd be oohing and aahing over the plovers when suddenly I could hear some Killdeer sqaabble and hide and the plovers would flee too so I looked around to see what was causing the ruckus.  I'd see a fairly good sized bird land on a tall weed and the first thing I think of before even getting the bins on it is a juvenile Merlin.  Out comes the bins and I could see what I believe was a banded tail.  Realizing its too early in the year for one, I put my camera on for a lousy record shot and this is what I'd get.

I'd take another picture and this is what I'd get.

The little bugger would be gone as quickly and quietly as it arrived.  My calm demeaner now gone as I scanned for the bird in all of the usual visible Merlin spots from this location and I couldn't re locate it.  I'd review my photo and realize it sucked so would spend about 30 minutes trying to re find it but never did.

I'd get home and do some research and based on what I saw, observed and have read it's a juvenile Merlin that's earlier than normal according to eBird (there have been no reports in MA except the coast this season that I can see either).  Now my notes, observations, etc.

1.  Medium sized raptor about the size of a Rock Pigeon

2.  All brown back and cap with a white throat and chest (chest appears to have some streaking if you blow up the picture)

3.  I saw what appeared to be some banding in the tail but the photo doesn't do a good job demonstrating this.

4.  Long, pointed wings-and the wing tips do NOT reach the tail tip

5.  Pale, buffy undertail coverts

Now for behavioral observations in the quick seconds (literally), that I saw it.  I will be using the Peter Dunne Field Guide Companion to support what I saw which you will see in the photo.

1.  "A perch-hunting raptor that commonly takes a sturdy (often low) perch looking out on a large, open area".  Yes we have a low, (not sturdy) perch looking out on a large, open area.

2.  "Particularly fond of flocking species, like shorebirds and Horned Larks".  Shorebirds for sure, but no Horned Larks that I could see ;-).

3."Merlin is less timid than American Kestrel and often allows close approach".  May be a coincidence but the bird landed right over the mud bank from me and I'm guessing saw me while it was flying in so it didn't appear that shy.  The only other bird I had on my possibility list was a Cooper's Hawk but it looks nothing like one that I saw and my experience with accipiters is they are very weary of humans and with good reason because many back yard bird watchers and farmers don't like them!

So there you have it.  Another mystery bird that I'm fairly confident of the ID, but hesitant to post it on eBird just yet hoping for comments.  In the past it's these types of birding encounters that get me frustrated and then I cut back on my birding but refuse to let that happen this year so taking a new approach and putting myself on the line and will no longer beat myself up when I ask for feedback.  I've found it's made birding so much more enjoyable and makes me really learn  about birds which is my number one bird goal this year.  Feel free to post or email if you have any feedback.  Thanks

Take care all.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Walk Along Wachusett Reservoir

After the lousy week I've had the only thing that was keeping me sane was knowing the weekend would come soon enough so fantasized about how I was going to enjoy it and the first thought was the last leg of the Wapack trail which would be about 18 miles total (there and back) and with the rain and thunder in the afternoon, I knew that would be a "no go" as I had budgeted 8 to 9 hours and the rain was forecasted to start after noon so I had to think of a plan B real quick.  I'd go onto Rick's Site and do one of my favorite hobbies which is go through the archives over the years to see who got what bird wise at the end of July.  Suddenly thoughts of Great Egrets, Bonaparte's Gulls, Red-necked Phaloropes and Common Terns would dance before my eyes and knew Plan B would be Wachusett Reservoir just in case!

I'd start off at Gate 36 and knew I wanted to do it by foot as it's my favorite way to bird so off I went under still cloudy skies with a fog that made looking at anything in or over the water next to impossible.

Soon enough the skies would clear and the sun would be in a position to make both views and pictures half way decent including the Double-crested Cormorant above.

Getting read for take off to join the rest of the crew in Clinton.

There'd be quite a few other birds along the way including the Belted Kingfisher above.  It would be on a fence pole and really close which left me frozen once I realized what it is because I've NEVER been this close to a kingfisher before considering how shy they are.  Wouldn't you know by the time I turned my camera on the little bugger would flee the scene and all I could manage was a lousy photo in flight.  This has been a nemesis photo bird of mine since early 2009 so I take this personally!  ;-)

There'd also be a couple shorebirds around including some vocal Killdeer and two Spotted Sandpipers including the one above.

I'd be happy to see the nest boxes along the walk were being utilized and one being vacated by a very vocal House Wren.

And the other some Eastern Bluebirds who appeared to be feeding young.

Very funny looking bird plumage wise at this angle.

I'd again be reminded just how tame the wild life is along the Wachusett Reservoir as I was treated to one of the best looks I've ever gotten of Wild Turkey's (besides Quabbin in Belchertown) as you can see above.

Another photo.  Yes they have a face only a mother could love, but their plumage more than makes up for it.

And speaking of tame birds, the Canada Geese would also be out in full force taking a walk and enjoying the morning themselves.

I'd see a runner approaching so kept my camera on just in case I could get a decent flight shot.  The geese of course wouldn't budge until she started yelling "I"M APPROACHING....MOVE", the geese didn't move so she'd scream louder and finally they'd slowly veer to the side.

I'd give them a nicer reception and would even smile at them while taking their picture which they seemed to appreciate!

There'd be various passerines along the fence post including some Tree Swallows, Chipping Sparrows and the always handsome and photogenic Cedar Waxwings.

Even in flight these birds are stunners!

I'd finally make it to the Clinton Dam, look for Kevin's Mallards and head back toward gate 36.

Where I'd be treated to one of the highlights of the day which would be this doe above.

Along with her fawn not far behind.

Love this picture because it looks like its smiling.  So cute!

Another action shot and want to point out its still smiling!

And away they go!  The tamest deer I've ever encountered.  They'd be running near the rail trail and be passing runners and walkers who didn't seem at all phased by this so I'm guessing they're regulars as well as the people who use the rail trail for exercise and recreation.

On my walk I could hear two Common Loon's but was disappointed I didn't see any so was thrilled to see a close up juvenile nearby.

Let me tell you the size of the juve threw me off some considering how small they were during the Forbush trip just two short weeks ago.

I'd stop here for a bit to take advantage of the close view as I really wanted to get a feel for its overall behavior and really wanted to see it dive.  What would be funny is the bird at first seemed hesitant to do a complete dive.  In fact, it would dunk its head under water similar to how a young child first learns how to swim which was funny to see.

 It would also take some time to do some preening  and just loafing around.  Soon enough a flock of Canada Geese would land by and the loon would head toward them, why I don't know.  Finally the bird decided to get brave enough for a dive so I watched to see where it would end up.

Which would be the same area it dove from!  This would be the other highlight of the day for me besides the deer of course.

I'd finally make me way toward gate 36 and hear a chip note I'd never head before so decided to investigate and this is what I'd see.

A drab, brownish bird so the 1st thing that comes to mind is American Pipit but I doubted it due to the time of year.  The second thought was a juvenile Eastern Meadowlark, but wouldn't find any adults nearby to confirm this as I don't know the juves of this type of bird.  It would finally take to flight and the first thing I'd notice was the white sides of the tail which I found interesting and made sure to note it as it was something I'd never really paid much attention to in an Eastern Meadowlark.  I'd get home and get my picture up on my screen along side my Sibley's and sure enough this is a juve meadowlark.  I'm really loving seeing the juveniles this year as it's really helping me learn as they often look nothing like their parents which I learned today.  I also had no idea what their chip note sounded like and found it interesting considering how beautiful and complex their song is.

Example of the call I heard

So all in all I'd get in about a 5 mile leisurely walk and see many birds and other signs of wild life which was the perfect way to end the week.  Seriously if your'e looking for a nice walk to do that's not too difficult I suggest giving it a try.  This would be the first time I'd walk this entire section and will be something I'll be doing again because it was very relaxing and enjoyable which is just what I needed today.

Take care all


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