Sunday, May 31, 2009

Fowl Meadow Feast of Song

(Above: cottonwood snow in red maple swamp)

Perfect weather for a walk down the Burma Road in Fowl Meadow. I got up very early (I was the only human on the property, it seemed, for my first two hours) to eat up the late May birdsong. Here's an extended taste of what I experienced. Quite a variety of singers, including one of my favorites (veery).

Here's the veery in combination with a blue-winged warbler. (Long distance photos of the blue-wing below). [In most of these recordings the "wickety wickety" of the common yellowthroat is actually the loudest voice.]

Oh, and the great-crested flycatcher. He's in there too, squawking away. He ended up chasing off the blue-wing. Boo!

A very vocal eastern towhee was doing perfect "drink your teas" trailside. I caught him in combination with the veery, and then in combination with a wood thrush and an eastern wood-pewee. (No photo of him, but how about this rose-breasted grosbeak--perfectly posed?)

And if you hear a little high-pitched zee-zee-ing, that's our friends, the cedar waxwings.

When I first heard a veery (in Peterson's Birding By Ear) I was incredulous. How could or why would a bird sing this way. Many real life veery encounters later, I'm still in awe, though they never sing as loud in real life as they seem to in professional recordings. At any rate, the best way to hear veerys is in surround sound, with multiple singers in close proximity. Here is the closest I got this morning.

There is also a mystery singer in there. It sounds like a common yellowthroat singing double-time. Maybe it is.

Another mystery singer--a warbler, no doubt, but I couldn't place it by memory. I'll try to look it up (probably embarrassingly easy). Simple, repetitive, and loud song along with a wood thrush. [I'll go out on a limb--prothonotary (wrong environment) or Kentucky (right environment, slightly wrong song).]

And finally, a recording from a walk I took in Wrentham yesterday (while the family shopped in the outlet mall). Cool upward trill, followed by a choppier upward song--Blackburnian Prairie Warbler. Hear the crackling? That's from the high voltage power lines (I was walking through an easement).

Needham High School Killdeer

My son phoned. "Dad," he said, "there's a really cool bird at the high school."
(I've now become the bird guy.)
"I'll be right there," I said, abandoning my afternoon IKEA shelf-building project.
Sure enough, at the base of recent maple tree planting, there sat said "cool bird," a mother killdeer.

Some kind Needhamites have set up a little barricade around the nest area. But Mom is still a little stressed out, and lets people know about it. And with three or so more weeks of school, will be super stressed when the eggs hatch. Killdeer chicks are, like piping plover chicks, little walking balls of fluff. I can't imagine they will be left alone.

Meanwhile, here are the lovely eggs.

I like the Smithsonian Field Guide's commentary on the killdeer's nesting habits.
"Has struck an uneasy truce with humans; flourishes at golf courses and construction sites, but constantly annoyed by joggers and dog-walkers."

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Meanwhile, on the home front...

Mister Wren has been trying SO HARD to get the Missus to move into the window nest box.

Hear his appeal.

[JUNE 9 UPDATE: She's been spending a lot of time in the house lately.]

Meanwhile, the first wave of warblers has moved on. But a black-throated green has been singing from our neighbor's tree for the last week or so.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I can't tell you where I was today

I'll tell you why in a second.
More piping plover encounters.

This time I saw two breeding pairs. Wire cages have been placed over their nests.

But, do you see something a little extra in this photo? (You'll probably have to click on it to see it).

Look in the bottom right corner.

How about this one?

Look in the top left corner.

How about this one?

Yes, piping plover chicks. I counted two. Honestly, piping plovers are hard enough to spot on the beach. Tiny walking balls of fluff? Impossible.

But never fear, the parents are on the ball. They are fiercely protective (yes, piping plovers can be fierce.)
See this unwitting sandpiper?

Here comes mom and dad rushing down the beach. Plover attack!

I saw them chase this sandpiper several times, and later a purple grackle (a serious threat).

Why can't I reveal the location? That seems to be the convention when dealing with piping plover chicks. They are so cute, rare, and sensitive to human intrusion that publicity can be dangerous to them.

Monday, May 25, 2009


Had a hard time mustering enthusiasm during today's early morning walk through lower Cutler. The mosquitoes were swarming and the trails were flooded.

The morning was salvaged by the abundant swamp sparrows, buzzing loudly, particularly along the boardwalk.

And this glimpse of mute swan aggression.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Wilson Mountain Wood Thrush (plus very special guest)

I walked through Wilson Mountain in Dedham this morning, a place that is rather un-birdy but good for a little exercise. I was happy to hear a wood thrush lazily holding court and I was even able to find one (see blurry photo above) while it was singing. (He was moving around a lot, fitting in songs while foraging).

But the most astonishing thing happened when I started recording. Almost immediately someone else jumped in with series of amazing piccolo-like speed runs. A winter wren (#193)! A late migrant, probably, as winter wrens really don't breed in these parts--though we can always hope!

At any rate here's the recording (longer than usual--I got six winter wren runs in total).

And below, a view of the lady slippers (a kind of orchid) that are in bloom all over the park these days.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Dawn Chorus: Newton Edition

Popped over to Cold Spring Park in Newton this morning (Eurasian Teal, #192), bathed in the birdsong, which was presided over by a loud wood thrush.

Then to Nahanton Park, though the recording got off to a slow start due to the early morning mowing of the adjacent golf course. Got a tip about a bluebird nest in a box in the upper garden, which as you can see above, proved fruitful.

Then a very skillful mockingbird started blasting away. (I regret I didn't capture his phoebe imitation, which was dead on). This appeared to draw a robin, an oriole, and a rose-breasted grosbeak to a nearby tree. The agitated robin chased the others off, and the grosbeak flew up to another tree to add its voice to the mix. Hear them, mockingbird on the left, grosbeak (singing choppily) on the right.

The robins were chasing everything in sight this morning, especially orioles and bluebirds. I think I know why (that's quite a mouthful of hay).

Friday, May 22, 2009

A most warbly day at Marblehead Neck

I joined a merry band of warbler searchers at Marblehead Neck this morning. And it was the mourning warbler that we kept hearing but not seeing. But, finally I saw me a Canada warbler (they were all over), a blackburnian (which I had been hearing but not seeing all week), and a blackpoll (which I tracked down through its song--memorized during an early morning cram session). 189,190,191. Lots of sounds too. Here's a sample with a blackburnian in the middle--its the one whose song rises up to the limits of human hearing. (There's so much warbler singing generally it's kind of disorienting).
Above, our friend the magnolia warbler again. Below, no eye ring, must be a willow flycatcher.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Warbling Vireo

One of the most reliable all-day-long singers. Here's a recording (with an oriole at the end).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tree Swallows versus Bobolink

It's a regular bobolink party at the Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary in Marshfield--everywhere you look, everywhere you go, a bobolink doing its fluttery flight and singing its zany song. Also, the females have arrived, so things are definitely heating up. (also a gazillion common yellowthroats, but they don't figure in this story...)

Meanwhile, the tree swallows are in breeding mode. Check out what seems to be a bit of ritual feeding action. (She actually did feed him prior to this).

(She's quite a stunner herself, no?)

At any rate, the bobolinks are competing for high places from which to sing. The guy at the top owns the high tension wire. Here he is.

[Interesting aside. At one point a mockingbird flew up to the wire and started singing. The bobolink looked right at him (I swear) and uttered two simple notes twice in a row, as if to say, "you can use this--I've wrapped it neatly in a couplet for you." (I read somewhere, it might have been John Burroughs, that the bobolink's song is the only one the mockingbird can't handle).]

This guy has taken to singing from the top of tree swallow houses. So what do you think will happen?

Indeed. They chased him off of two other boxes. He landed here, oops.

Off he goes. (To make matters worse, in his retreat he landed too close too another male bobolink and some fisticuffs ensued). [Here's the soundtrack. You can hear commotion at the end.]

In the spirit of bobolink-ness, two other weird ones.
First, the collective utterances of purple martins.
Second, some frogs, recorded from one of the sanctuary blinds.

Donut stealing kites

From Japan Probe,
A Japanese TV news story about black kites that have learned to steal food from people at a highway rest stop.

Plum Island Pilgrimage Part 2: Piping Plover against the World

It is easy to overlook the piping plover. They are so small and blend in so well with the beach sand. This, of course, is one of the reasons they are threatened with extinction--beach-goers with their eyes on some distant horizon unknowingly trod on their nests and eggs. So as any summer visitor to Plum Island knows, vast stretches of beach are closed to help these birds survive as a species.

On Plum Island piping plovers are not particularly rare, though you need look to notice them. I've intentionally kept the photos below unzoomed to give you a sense of scale (you can click on the photos to get the full-size versions).

Of course, there are few birds cuter than the piping plover, so we need zoomed-in photos as well...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Plum Island Pilgrimage Part 1 (of two)

A perfect day for a Plum Island pilgrimage. Cool but sunny. The green flies and beach traffic haven't come yet. I feel like a kid seeing the signs for Disney World-- my heart races as I cruise down the Plum Island Highway towards the Parker River NWR entrance. I'm a little list-oriented today and I know I'll be able to hit some easy ones (here my novice status makes things less potentially frustrating).

So hello, purple martins.

how ya doing, mr. gadwall?

love your singing, black-throated green warbler.

just hanging out, huh, black-bellied plover?

So, adding willet, semi-palmated sandpiper, salt marsh sharptail sparrow (not pictured), I end the day at 188. Twelve to go (and then I'll stop counting for a while).

Surely, says the mockingbird on my car, you didn't come to Plum Island just to check off some boxes on a list?

OK, you've got me. Not unlike Mt. Auburn, Plum Island offers quantity AND quality. Birds (and mammals--last time I saw an otter, this time a weasel popped its head up from under the boardwalk on the Hell Cat trail) that you've only seen through binoculars from a distance suddenly appear at arm's length. Such as the northern parula (you may remember my great FAIL photo from Florida).

This guy nearly landed on my hand. It was so close my camera was having trouble focusing with the zoom on. So after some mostly-hidden-by-honeysuckle shots, I was able to get some photos that I hope express both the beauty and the attitude of this charming creature.

Part 2 tomorrow: Piping Plover against the world