Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Cutler life

Clymene Moth, originally uploaded by oehlkers.

A short jaunt to lower Cutler. The starlings are beginning to take over. Noticed a downy (unusual in a marsh) and a catbird, beaks wide open. Should have known--a hawk in the next tree which I flushed out. Good looks at the trail-side groundhog and milk snake, and a hummingbird. The cool clymene moth above was kind enough to sit for a portrait.

Backyard Bobwhite

I've never thought of the bobwhite as a backyard bird, but there it was, walking through my next door neighbor's yard yesterday...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Hawk calls at the Charles River Peninsula

Charles River Peninsula, originally uploaded by oehlkers.
I think I've figured out what has been making the resident red-tailed hawk so ornery lately. It is the presence of a young red-shouldered hawk on the premises, who sits on a large tree near the river and screeches all day long. (To the consternation of the catbirds too).

Today the red-tail was yelling his response while aloft. A second red-shoulder was also calling from across the river. I recorded a little of their discussion (a second has a sweet chaser from a nearby song sparrow). And leave it to the blue jay to add to the confusion with their somewhat feeble "it's a red-shouldered hawk" alert. [UPDATE: Here is a more impressive blue jay red-tail imitation (about 15 secs in). This one was grooming itself and sporadically would unleash the hawk call, making me think it was trying to provoke any hidden hawks into revealing themselves vocally]

Also, the deer are feeding during the day now. I scared a doe out of her hiding place (and luckily had the video camera running). Youtub'd below.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Green Heron (Broadmoor), originally uploaded by oehlkers.

Lily and I went to Broadmoor this morning to search for "Grandfather Frog," one of Peter Rabbit's friends. Lots of turtles, and an amiable green heron, but all the frogs saw us before we saw them.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Circling the Smiling Pool

Swan on the Smiling Pool, originally uploaded by oehlkers.

Literally. We took a family trip to East Sandwich today and after three delightful hours at the Sandy Neck beach, we took a walk around the Smiling Pool at the Green Briar Nature Center. The "pool" is officially named, "Boiling Springs Pond," but it has a vague U-shape, which is why it is "smiling." [Note: I would have named this blog "smilingpool" if it hadn't been claimed already]

The partial literalization of this blog [the Laughing Brook is a Mass Audubon property out west] deserves some ceremony, I suppose. And in fact, four-year-old Lily was quite entranced by the idea of Peter Rabbit and his friends. We heard a frog by the pond, which I immediately labeled "Grandfather Frog," and Lily desperately wanted to see him. We never ended up with a solid frog sighting but we did see and hear frogs jumping in the pond, so that counted. Now she wants to find Jimmy Skunk.

Charles River Peninsula

Charles River Peninsula, originally uploaded by oehlkers.

The Trustees of Reservations have been sprucing up the place, with new signage and freshly mowed trails (removing a bed of poison ivy from the trail that was growing taller by the day). I arrived this evening to the call of a red-tail, voiced strongly and regularly from a boundary tree. I wonder what was up with him. He eventually showed himself, to the dismay of the red-winged blackbirds and blue jays, swooping across the field.

I was close enough to hear his take-off.

There are sparrows all over the place now. I couldn't get close enough to get a good view and it was too dark to get a decent close up, so I don't know who they are. Basic options: song sparrow children, field sparrows, chipping sparrows. Maybe all three. (I got an interesting, if a little pixelated, view of a fat song sparrow head on).

Also, what's going on here? Sometimes I just aim and click and am confused when I get home. It is a catbird grooming itself, but I'm having a little trouble figuring out what the parts are.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

More life at Cutler

It was very overcast this morning, so I put the camera away and walked to an excellent observation spot at Cutler. (Start at lower Cutler and walk north. Then instead of taking the tunnel under the train tracks, keep walking along the tracks toward the river. I can't guarantee anything very exotic, but low overhangs create natural blinds and the birds will come right up close.) Today as I squatted and watched, a yellowthroat family and the rose-breasted grosbeaks from yesterday (this time the dad was there too) came by. Then I looked up and noticed a couple of cedar waxwings pulling fibers from the branches right above my head.

Out in the marsh, a young male whitetail lazily moved toward the river (I did pull out my camera for that one). And large family of mockingbirds (the brown thrasher was hanging with them).

Monday, July 21, 2008

Some Cutler birds

Common Yellowthroat (Cutler), originally uploaded by oehlkers.

A very cute yellowthroat, all puffed up and wiggling. I assume a young male, though I understand most juveniles lack the mask.

Also ran across a family of rose-breasted grosbeaks, a puffed up female (darn you, autofocus)

and a young male, very striking in his transitional outfit.

And just this week I was pondering that it had been years since I'd spotted a brown thrasher...Ta dah!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Cutler hawk commotion

Common Yellowthroat (Cutler), originally uploaded by oehlkers.

My walk in lower Cutler this afternoon started oddly. I heard a steady high-pitched chirp (a baby bird?) and finally spotted the source--a male robin, pinned to its branch, unmoving.
American Robin (Cutler)
A short walk down the trail--a hawk comes crashing through the trees (and then is scared off when it notices me). Out on the boardwalk, things are also tense, as the hawk flew off in that direction. A gang of goldfinches are protesting, and as I approach, the hawk is scared off again and flies back towards the woods. The common yellowthroat above flies out of the brush after the hawk and perches on the top of a tree, chirping and watching.

I've not known the yellowthroat to have this heroic side.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Ipswich River Wildlife Santuary

Ipswich River Wildlife Santuary, originally uploaded by oehlkers.

Mass Audubon's Ipswich River sanctuary is largely set up for children but has some nice wild areas as well. I recommend staying out of the woods (too many biting flies this time of year) and heading straight for Hassocky Meadow, where it seemed like every step I took I scared something else into flight--a wood duck, a great blue heron, a flock of wood ducks, another great blue heron, a muskrat, a great horned owl (!). [Add the great crested flycatcher I spotted by the stone bridge, and I saw three "greats" in one trip.] Funniest sight--a kingbird chasing a great blue heron (who seemed to be taking it amiably). For your listening pleasure, the melodious (not!) sounds of the great crested flycatcher. Gaze at its yellow belly below.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary

Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary, originally uploaded by oehlkers.

A lovely afternoon traipse through the grounds of Broadmoor. Today a northern water thrush made an appearance by the Glacier Hill. Was enjoying watching a phoebe as it caught bugs off the boardwalk. And then it did this:Eastern Phoebe (Broadmoor)
(I'd never seen this scary side of phoebes before!) Rest assured the bird was fine and resumed its bug catching as if nothing had happened. I assume it was just drying its wings out. It was just sunbathing.
The best photo of the day is one I missed. By the marsh trail bridge I spotted a large turtle statue. How appropriate, I thought. You can always rely on Broadmoor for turtle sightings. As I approached to take a picture, the "statue" suddenly slid into the water. A giant snapping turtle.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary

Explored the lower soggier parts of Moose Hill this afternoon, including a walk around Hobbs Hill. Caught a full "drink your tea" courtesy of a trailside eastern towhee. And my bonus for getting lost (the online trail map does not reflect the current configuration) was another (more distant) encounter with a hermit thrush.

Wood Thrush redux

Charles River (Cutler), originally uploaded by oehlkers.

They're all wood thrushes at Cutler, no hermit thrushes at all. After my experience with the hermit song a couple of days ago, I went back to Cutler and found quite clearly that what I had taken for hermits were all wood thrushes. And what had been somewhat rare were all over the place, singing loudly all day long. So I got the cleanest recording yet (still lots of traffic noise) and even took a short video of the environment (no actual bird in sight).

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Charles River Peninsula

Charles River Peninsula, originally uploaded by oehlkers.

Lovely if windy morning at the the CRP. There are now large Baltimore oriole families brightening up the place and lots of tiny blue-gray gnatcatchers in the brush. The song sparrows were dueting and I'm slowing being convinced of some innate musicality. The recording is really not suitable for listening (too much wind noise) but documents two birds finishing each others' passages.
Song Sparrow

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Wachusett Meadow

Wachusett Meadow, originally uploaded by oehlkers.

Nearly perfect outing to an expansive MassAudubon sanctuary in central Mass. today. Walked nearly all the trails they offered (10 miles or so) and saw and heard some remarkable things. The main attraction was an immense heron rookery, which left me awestruck, as if I'd stumbled upon the sacred birthing grounds of some sort of god bird. I could tell the herons were watching me too.
Heron Rookery
Heron Rookery

The trail system at Wachusett Meadow is divided into woody lowlands and the side of a nice thousand-foot hill. Milkweed meadows dot the lower half; a huge overgrown pasture can be found on the upper. I started with the buggy lowlands and found myself, almost immediately, in the company of scarlet tanagers. (I used the superear to record the bird's signature chip-burr call). And then moved on to the "Fern Forest Trail" where I had my second quasi-religious experience of the day. I know that earlier in the week I was extolling the virtues of the veery, but now I must say, the hermit thrush wins hands down. I had never heard them quite like this and squatted for some time, recorder in hand (mosquitoes in nose). As always the recordings don't do the experience justice--the sound fills the air as if the forest were a cathedral--but I got two decent takes. The first is by a babbling brook; the second louder, but dominated by airplane noise.

The path up the mountain wasn't as hard as I thought it might be. Unlike many other summits, the top of Brown Hill is full of vegetation and bird-life. I immediately heard a towhee and pushed record;, but as the recording progressed another voice joined the chorus--with a stunning plink-whistle that I can't (yet) identifythe song sounds a little disjointed [drink your..., without the tea] but I'm pretty sure it was the towhee. (Sorry for all the wind noise).

Nice views of an ovenbird, rose-breasted grosbeak, ruby-crowned kinglet, and a scarlet tanager pair who were messing with a family of titmice, plus zillions of dragonflies, amphibian life, and butterflies (I actually heard a butterfly for the first time, startling it as I walked past its blueberry bush). Didn't see any beavers, but their lodge is most impressive.
Beaver Lodge

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Noon Hill

Noon Hill, originally uploaded by oehlkers.

Visited another Trustees of Reservations property this morning--Noon Hill and Shattuck Reservation in Medfield. Very buggy and some troublesome map/trail marking discrepancies. Got to test out an early birthday present from my brilliant wife (a "SuperEar" attachment for my Edirol). It turns out the woods are bursting with scarlet tanagers! Wood thrushes too.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Rocky Narrows

Rocky Narrows, originally uploaded by oehlkers.

Visited yet another fine Trustees of Reservations property, this time in Sherborn. Despite some trail mark-related problems, I had a glorious time. There is an exceptionally narrow and scary ridge-side trail with a steep drop (I wouldn't want to bring little kids here). Veerys were singing there, filling the air with shimmering curtains of sound (this description may seem overheated, but this is really how it felt.) Unfortunately, the recording is a little weak. I also recorded a charming but yet unidentified singer--will have to wade through the warbler records to find it, probably black-throated green warbler. And on my way out, a scarlet tanager flies by. Good day.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Cutler Park

Question Mark Caterpillar, originally uploaded by oehlkers.
Took a long walk in lower Cutler this afternoon following the train tracks down to the River. Spotted the very awesome Question Mark caterpillar on the boardwalk (I've posted a photo of the adult on our tree below). Swamp sparrows trilling on the tops of cat-tails (along with a very vocal goldfinch). Got a long distance shot of a sparrow singing. And saw some tiny stub-tail house wrens by the river--Winter Wrens, I believe. Almost stepped on a healthy-sized milk snake on my way out.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

More mushrooms

Mushroom, originally uploaded by oehlkers.

Mushroom hunting in our backyard this morning turned up some beauties. This enormous toadstool, for instance. A number of Indian Pipes too (should I be embarrassed that my backyard resembles a forest floor?)

Indian Pipe

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Dragonflies at the Charles River Peninsula

Dragonfly (Widow Skimmer female), originally uploaded by oehlkers.

A warm but very breezy day at the CRP. Many different kinds of dragonflies, including this pretty female Widow Skimmer (particularly attractive in flight).

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

House Sparrows and House Finches

House Sparrows, originally uploaded by oehlkers.

I don't hate house sparrows, despite the fact that they eat a lot of seed and cost me money and chase away other birds and really don't belong here. They have their charms, their relatively quiet moments and their bursts of exciting pugilism. (Unlike other wiser birds, who seem content to threaten and chase, house sparrows are very physical brawlers.) I've also warmed to (the equally alien) house finches. To me house finches are one of the more reptilian birds, not always that pleasant to watch close up. But now that they are in their ripe summer reds and are singing a bit I'm happy to have them around.

House Finch

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


Mushroom, originally uploaded by oehlkers.

Lots of backyard action these days between popping mushrooms and new bird families. The miracle of multiplication, from two chickadees to five, from two titmice to four, from two nuthatches to four (!). And everyone is very hungry. And the kids don't know exactly how feeders work, though they're figuring it out, noisily.

[UPDATE: The giant mushroom exploded. And last night, a squirrel(?) ripped it apart.]

[SUPER UPDATE: The giant mushroom returns to sporedome.]