Thursday, December 25, 2008

New eyes for Christmas

Grand gift of real binoculars for Christmas. Took them to the cove for a test run. Immediately started seeing things differently. For example, hooded mergansers are easy to notice with the bare eye...but what's that in the upper right?

I'm guessing female common goldeneye.

(Wouldn't have even noticed without the binoculars).

Quick scan of the opposite shore...what's that standing there?

Night herons (juve black-crowned, I'm guessing). One awake, the other asleep.

(Wouldn't have even noticed without the binoculars)
[UPDATE: Today, binoculars gave me this common merganser. Bad photo, but tremendous view.]

Thanks Mom and Dad!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Millennium Park Marsh Hawk

A bright sunny day brings out the northern harrier, hovering over the long grass waiting for its prey to appear.

The recent snow has receded just enough to force mice to race over open land between snow tunnels.

So for the moment, the harrier (in Aldo Leopold's words) is "free from want and need." Until it snows deep tomorrow and it's the mouse's turn.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The complete awesomeness of the hooded merganser

I don't get how other people fail to stop and gaze in awe when the hooded mergansers swim by.

Don't they see the awesomeness of the hood (going up, going down just like a sail on a boat)?

I'm not always sure who is more awesome, the tuxedo guy

or the punk-rock girl.

All I know is that they are both awesome

and even more awesome when they are in a big group and don't fly away as soon as they see you.

Go go hooded merganser!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Song of the Swan Wing

Something spooked the resident swan family at the CRP this morning. I don't think it was me (they've seen me lots of times before). All of a sudden they took off and circled the peninsula again and again.

The sound of five swans flying is quite uncanny--apparently the "mute" swan's two note wing song used to be taken for a human voice. These days a closer comparison is, sadly, a muted car alarm... Their strangulated distress call, on the other hand, is scarily human.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Neponset River

Dropped Lily off at a birthday party in a Norwood industrial park; I'd noticed on Google Maps that the location was close to the Neponset River. Walked through several warehouse parking lots and found an access road into the wetland. Sat by the river for a while, the lonely Mallard quacking away. Heard some noise in the brush, got the camera ready, and here comes bumbly.

Would have bumped right into me if I, a little paranoid about rabid raccoons, hadn't deliberately signaled my presence. Not rabid, it spun and swam across the river.

On into the wetland (deer droppings everywhere, though no ticks that I could find), I discovered sparrow land.

A host of juncos, white-throats, songs, incredibly raucous house sparrows, and sigh, an extroverted swamp sparrow, gratefully photographed.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


A massive congregation of crows at Forest River in Marblehead this afternoon. I watched as the crowd formed. New arrivals coming from all directions. Scuffles breaking out. Everyone talking at once.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Canada Geese, majestic birds (when they're not pooping on your baseball field), are populating Great Meadows in great numbers. Endlessly honking.

Great Meadows has, rightly, chosen the Canada Goose as its symbol.

I'd been thinking about geese recently because of something I'd read. A recent translation of Tsutomu Mizukami's Temple of the Wild Geese contains the following passage:
The panels of the fusuma had been painted in ink and gold dust. The setting was an ancient pine with enormous roots stretching its great branches out over a pond. Each of the needle-like leaves had been drawn in exquisite detail. A flock of wild geese, some perching, some flapping their wings, was pictured settling in the lower branches. As one bird was about to fly off, its white-feathered belly flashing in the evening sky, another nestled motionlessly on a branch, appearing as if it were part of a knot on the trunk of the pine.
I tried to imagine geese perching on tree branches and failed, I'm afraid. Is this even possible--could geese perch on branches if they tried? Are there actually geese native to Japan that can? Or is the writer (or translator(or artist in the story)) a little deficient in his knowledge of goose behavior/physiology? Or maybe it's a REALLY BIG pine tree.

The geese at Great Meadows are not perching on tree branches. They rest in the water and on reedy mounds. And then, as if silently signaled, they take off, sometimes in small family-sized groups, sometimes in huge honking masses.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Adventures in Color-Blind Birding #3: Swamp Sparrow

Even though I was hanging with the tree sparrows and the song sparrows, and hiding behind these branches, you saw me right away. My striking brown-almost-black cap was a quick give-away. My delicious browns and grays must be a balm for your color-stressed eyes....

[Honestly, I can't resist a swamp sparrow.]

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A day for waterfowl

So many Canada geese today. Especially flying.

Next, mallards plus a sad mallard wanna-be. Rejected. (Odd markings. A hybrid?)

Next, wigeons. Trying to make sense of the odd lump in the water.

And finally, a flotilla of brants off of Bullock's Point in Rhode Island.

So many brants. (Click on photos for a clearer image.)