Friday, December 25, 2009

A density of ducks

Mallards, Haines Park, East Providence, RI

Lots of ice in the cove. The waterfowl crowded the small areas of open water. Mostly mallards and Canada geese,

plus American wigeons and

some gadwalls (the first I've seen down at this cove) and

black ducks and, finally,

a great blue heron (see it in the corner below?).

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Winter at Great Meadows

Great Meadows NWR, Concord.

Some days you have to fight for every single bird you see. Hello, robin. A little windy, isn't it?

There was only one spot of open water and the mute swans claimed it. They shared it, grudgingly, with the coots.

The Canada geese, the official symbol of Great Meadows, were forced onto the river. I only saw seven of them while I was there.

The song sparrows were the only birds flying about. This one posed for a nice winter portrait.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas Bird Count, Needham

The Christmas Bird Count is now a very structured (if even a bit exclusive) activity. A hundred years ago it was a much more informal affair. You'd go for a walk on a date near Christmas, send your list to Bird Lore magazine, and wait for the February issue to see it in print. Obviously some people took it more seriously than others--compare Archie Hagar's 12 hour session in Marshfield (with a second birding jaunt to Newtonville) to the skimpy list Charles E. Heil was able to muster for Needham.

Well, in the spirit of Charles E. Heil (about whom we'll have more to say in a moment), I went for a walk (Cutler) and counted some birds. Here is my list, formatted Bird Lore Christmas Bird Census style.

Needham, Mass.--Dec. 19; 7 to 8:30 A.M. Cloudy; ground bare; temp.,15°. Ring-billed Gull,3;Rock Pigeon,1;Mourning Dove,6;Downy Woodpecker,2;Blue Jay,4;American Crow,6;Black-capped Chickadee,2;Tufted Titmouse,5;White-breasted Nuthatch,2;American Robin,1;Northern Mockingbird,1;American Tree Sparrow,1;White-throated Sparrow,1;Dark-eyed Junco,12;American Goldfinch,2. Total, 15 species, 49 individuals.

(Actually, I also observed a huge continuous stream of blackbirds--unidentified--which would boost the "individual" tally into the 500s.)

The most striking differences between the Needham lists are the Northern Shrike, which you could apparently see 100 years ago just taking a walk (if only, now...) and the Tufted Titmouse/Northern Mockingbird, which were still considered southern birds back then. I'm pretty sure Heil and I explored approximately the same territory--in future issues of Bird Lore he would list West Roxbury as his search location--just across the river.

Here's the thing about Charles E. Heil. He was a distinguished artist, best known for his bird drawings--a bird-lovin' Needhamite, who I had never heard of before. He's even got some work in the National Gallery.

Here's an example from the Cleveland Museum of Art.

So in the spirit of Charles E. Heil, my own artistic contribution:

Thanks, Photoshop!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Harlequin Ducks at Halibut Point State Park

The Quarry at Halibut Point State Park, Rockport, MA

I had to go up north for a meeting anyway, so why not take a little excursion to Rockport?

Harlequin ducks are pretty reliable off the rocks of Halibut Point, but I was excited to see them anyway. The black and white head pattern is pretty cool, but it is the red that blows you away.

I also like the way they stick their tails up.

The females are duller, but still striking. Particularly from a distance.

They were doing a lot of diving but when the sun came out there was a lot of preening. Creating curious patterns.

This is my favorite shot: harlequin ducks surf riding.

Lots of scoters too, of all three common local varieties. And eiders. And a very short glimpse of a pair of razorbills--man they can stay under for a long time!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

December at the Charles River Peninsula

It's snow season again.

The white-throated sparrows don't seem to mind.

And the hooded mergansers are back (check out the full hood female-style above).

Meanwhile, back at home. This lovely thing was sitting on the window ledge eating sunflower seeds. My thoughts immediately went to snow bunting, but I think it's just a leucistic goldfinch.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Urban Birding

Pie-billed Grebe, The Fenway

Intrigued by reports of unusual birds, including barred owls (which I never ended up seeing), I headed into Boston.

Heard a familiar "zizz" on my way across the bridge at the Public Garden. Sure enough, cedar waxwings in the berries. (When I came back later in the morning, they had been supplanted by starlings).

I headed down to Victory Gardens in the The Fenway. Very birdy, mostly sparrows.

The place was clearly run, though, by a gang of mockingbirds.

Here is the bird of the day. The subject of much excitement on the rare bird lists. Common on the west coast but not around here: MacGillivray's Warbler!

It came way out in the open, but I just couldn't find it in my camera in time. So I had to be satisfied with partially obscured blurriness. It is stunning to see so much yellow on a bird in December.

Here's the best look at its bright yellow belly.

Oh, and as I was watching the MacGillvray's, an orange-crowned warbler flew up. They were clearly interacting, calling back and forth. Here they are below, a few feet apart.

(You'll have to take my word for it...)