Sunday, August 30, 2009

The shorebird education continues

Another trip to Great Meadows to observe sandpipers et al. Really, I should not be trying this myself. I should just stand next to the scope-equipped veterans and wait until they see something (more the guide/apprentice route than the autodidact route I've been taking). But some things are (kind of) falling into place.

I'm guessing lesser yellowlegs above. And solitary sandpiper below.

This one I'm taking as a juvenile short-billed dowitcher, though I think some people thought it was a snipe. [UPDATE: It's a snipe]

But this one, I don't know. Looks like a least sandpiper, but I swear it was bigger. A little decurve on the bill, but no breast band, so does that rule out Baird's (which is what I was hoping for).

By the way, is it just me or are the sandpipers generally getting really fat? (I've definitely noticed this about the swallows). Long migrations ahead, I guess.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Summer's end

Well, that's it. Time to get ready for fall. One last excursion. To Duxbury Beach. In search of Ruddy Turnstone.

The beach was very crowded for a Wednesday afternoon. Nevertheless, sanderlings and semipalmated sandpipers managed to forage in between sprawled out sun worshippers and whiffleball games.

A kind gentleman up the beach noticed my binoculars. He waved me over. "Up there in the rocks, do you see it?"

I ask you the same question, dear readers. Do you see it?

"My wife thinks it's a ruddy turnstone. What do you think?"

Indeed it was!

"She's right again!" We chatted for a while about the difficulty of shorebird and gull IDs. We parted, I tried to track down the turnstone for better photos. They are fast walkers and it's hard to get them in focus.

Great fortune. A half-eaten crab on the beach, already attracting sanderlings and sandpipers. The turnstone stopped for a bite.

A truly gorgeous bird, even when not in full breeding plumage.

So I had my target bird. There was still time to stop at Daniel Webster on the way back and sit in the blind for a while.

Hello, solitary sandpiper. (Surprisingly difficult to get a good shot of this sleepy bird).

And what was that? Oh a pie-billed grebe. Flying across the water towards me! (The pie-billed looks like a tiny bird until you see its enormous belly in flight). Best photo of this one yet.

And when I got home, who was waiting but the neighborhood turkeys. About a dozen of them. Nice way to cap off the summer.

Here comes the fall.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sandpipers at Great Meadows

Great Meadows is crawling with sandpipers and the like right now, thanks to the low water levels in the northern impoundment. And I'm completely hopeless (though I did catch lesser yellowlegs and solitary sandpipers for the first time). Folks with scopes were having more fun (if meticulous peep IDs can be called fun). Helped by a Cooper's hawk who glided over the marsh a couple of times, sending everything into the sky.

Wood ducks are more my speed, I think.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Vermont questions

Oh Vermont, with your unseen moose and black bears continually evoked by signs like "Moose Crossing Next 12 Miles" or "Trail Closed. Wildlife corridor." After my morning in the Northeast Kingdom, I came back to Smuggler's Notch to climb the relatively short but somewhat strenuous (for me, not the seven-year-olds cheerily hopping up the mountain) path up to the Long Trail. About three quarters of the way up I spotted a thrush. Alarms rang in my head--Bicknell's! The thrush flew on and I paused to listen. A song. Not a thrush, but something both utterly familiar and unplaceable. (This is a standard sophomore year birding problem--the knowledge is there but it's unretrieveable). Here's the recording. I headed down the mountain convinced of my Bicknell's (in truth, probably a hermit, who also live up in the higher elevations) and haunted by the simple but mysterious song. (I still can't figure it out).

On our last full day we took the girls to the Alpine Slide at Stowe. There, on the ski lift, could it be a pair of ravens? And what was that flying up and perching? (On the right) Definitely a falcon--a peregrine? I still can't quite figure the scale. Probably just crows and a kestrel.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Northeast Kingdom

When we finally settled on Vermont for our family vacation (Smuggler's Notch, if you must know), my thoughts immediately went to "Boreal." Vermont has the southernmost region of far-north conifer forests, home to the legendary gray jay, boreal chickadee, spruce grouse, etc. And this region is known as the "Northeast Kingdom." ("Make sure you take your magic elixir before you go," laughed my wife).

I got up early and drove the foggy and relentlessly charming two hours to the heart of the kingdom east of Island Pond. I had vague directions (referring to unmarked roads a certain number of miles from unmarked landmarks) to a particularly intriguing area named "Moose Bog." I found an unmarked road, parked the car, and took a path through the woods. Not exactly a "bog," but I thought I would walk it a bit to see where it led.

I immediately noticed two things: first, an extraordinary silence, punctuated periodically by passing truck explosions; second, warblers. In my excitement over the prospect of boreal birds, I had completely forgotten that this is where many warblers breed. Soon I would enter the most active bird area I have ever experienced. In less than an acre, I counted off black-throated blues and greens (just about everywhere in Vermont), northern parulas, common yellowthroats, hermit thrushes, blue-headed vireos, black-capped chickadees, red-breasted nuthatches, brown creepers, yellow-rumped warblers, black and white warblers, ruby-throated hummingbirds, and others I'm sure I've forgotten. I got some (poor) photos and some sound recordings.

Almost pure exhilaration, only one small problem--no boreals. I had flushed a unseen boomer earlier--a grouse, but what kind? And try as I might, I couldn't make out any brown caps or hear any odd calls from the chickadees. (I never thought I would consider black-throated blues to be clutter birds).

Turns out that I had in fact taken the wrong unmarked road. This was Notch Pond road, a kind Silvio Conte NWR ranger pointed out. The next one over was South American Pond road, which leads to Moose Bog.

Sure enough, a genuine spruce bog. Sphagnum moss covered the floor,

cool lichens hung from the conifers,

and I pledged I wouldn't leave until I found at least one boreal.

It took a while to figure out which path led into the bog proper (meanwhile, I walked right through a flock of chattering golden-crowned kinglets) but it was worth it. They've recently completed a boardwalk to the lake in the center so it was easy going and I could concentrate on boreals amidst the awesome bogginess.

What was that? Thank you, palm warbler, for my only decent bird photo of the day.

Still no boreals.

I sat at the end of the boardwalk and soaked it all in (click on the above photo for a better view). Moose Bog is reminiscent of Ponkapoag Bog in Canton (cotton grass and pitcher plants)

with the delightful addition of spruce-covered mountains and circling ospreys (who sound more impressive in an echo-conducive environment than they do in less resonant shorescapes).

As I turned to leave, I spotted a large white-chested bird perched on the top of a tree. The binoculars confirmed it--a gray jay! "Don't fly away," I pleaded as I pulled out the camera. I captured a glimpse as it flew down.

My first and only boreal. I was now free to drive the relentlessly charming two hours back to Smuggler's Notch.

The most significant bird I saw? Not the gray jay. The palm warbler. They are extremely rare breeders in Vermont and Moose Bog is one of their only known nesting areas.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sandy Neck

I took the morning to walk part of Sandy Neck in Barnstable. I walked the beach up to trail 1 and then walked the marsh until trail 2 and then back down the beach. It was brutally hot.

On special display today, sanderlings

and least sandpipers.

In fact a predictable pattern emerged: look for the gulls,

see the sanderlings nearby,

and watch out that you don't step on the least sandpipers hidden up the beach among the seaweed.

The marsh trail was lovely but rather barren of activity (except for our lone walker risking heat stroke, and swallows swarming overhead) until I reached a little oasis of woods and all of a sudden kingbirds, phoebes,house finches, towhees, and yellowthroats appeared. I liked the way the kingbirds and house finches arranged themselves on this tree.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


I haven't walked lower Cutler in a long while. Right now it is dense with birds, especially swamp sparrows, which seem to outnumber song sparrows.

Perching hummingbird (almost directly into the sun, unfortunately)

And what is this fluttery thing?

A female grosbeak, it would seem.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Turkeys and Tanagers

A small band of turkeys strolls through my yard every day. I enjoy the way they snip off the heads of the long unmowed grass stalks as they pass. But sometimes they feel a little anxious and do interesting things, such as strolling along the top of my neighbor's fence.

In other wild turkey news, the sad story of Freddy, Easton resident, who was killed by police this week for being a nuisance.

Here's Freddy during happier times.

Here's one of the behaviors that got Freddy in trouble.

And here is the memorial.

As for tanagers, I was at Broadmoor early this morning, on the old orchard trail.[Use this as the soundtrack]. I heard a loud chipping. Hmmm, I thought. That sounds signficant. Let's see what this is. So I waited, and even before I could get a good look--"Chip Burr." Aha! A female scarlet tanager, it turned out. She was joined by a male (he was pestering her--I'm assuming juvie) for a short time, so I got to see a bit of actual scarlet. But she's awfully charming, no?