Saturday, March 28, 2009

Handfeeding Chickadees

At Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield.

Presenting the Dawn Chorus, now with robins!

This morning's sunrise recording visit to the CRP features a new singer, the American Robin. They were singing tentatively last week, but no longer. In fact, if you poke your head outside today you will surely hear one (here's a nice clear robin, right outside my kitchen door). Also witnessed: more counter-singing chickadees--this time with a little aggression (in fact, this one provoked a chase).

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Song Sparrows, and now, Tree Swallows (and now with song samples)

The song sparrows have center stage right now. If you go down to sparrow central (Millennium Park in West Roxbury) at mid-day, you can hear a rich variety of songs as you walk along the edge. Add the migrating groups and you have song sparrows everywhere you look--running mouse-like through the brush, feeding pathside, singing from the outer limbs of what seems like every available tree.

Here's a sampling. #1: Conventional song. #2 Nice trill at end. #3 I honestly don't know what this is. I recorded it because it sounded like a bad chickadee (you can hear the similarity when the chickadee starts singing later in the recording). I'd like to think it's a song sparrow trying out a chickadee song...

There are flying insects again. I was walking through a swarm of gnats by the bridge and I was wondering when the flycatchers would be back when I heard a familiar bubbly call--a couple of tree swallow checking out what I hope are potential homes.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Discover Fowl Meadow

I spent a couple of hours on Saturday on a tour of Fowl Meadows in Milton (part of the Blue Hills Reservation). I've walked the area many times before, but it was nice to get an interpretive frame to put over things. Ultimately, the issue of invasive species trumped everything else--particularly purple loosestrife, phragmites, and the latest scourge, "mile-a-minute."

Following the tour was a training session for those who wanted to raise beetles as part of the purple loosestrife management project. The white poles below help to mark out different areas.

But there were interesting notes about the past (Paul's Bridge and the abortive attempt to run a Rte. 95 connector to Boston--which would have decimated the area) and the future (the creation of new trails, including one connecting to Westwood Station as part of the add-a-lane construction project). Also, I knew that Ponkapoag Bog was an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) but I didn't know Fowl Meadow was part of the area designated. A special place.

Slightly warmer Sunday morning dawn chorus

Lots of activity down at the Charles River Peninsula early in the morning (including someone camping in a tent by the riverbank and loose, misbehaving, lab puppies).

On the way of the house, I caught one of my favorite spring sounds--counter-singing chickadees. My understanding is that "high quality" black-cap songs start at the proper frequency (around a B on the piano) and then move down around an A for the last two notes (this is the song lady chickadees like best). But during this counter-singing, there seems to be a lot of play in the starting note and I can't ever tell whether it is intentional or just a young fellow who can't quite get the pitch right. Note: robins can be heard singing in the background but they seem quite tentative still.

The fox sparrow is still singing down at the CRP. I have two excerpts. One song sounds like "hey kitty kitty." And near the end you can hear hawkish sounds--I don't know if this was a bluejay or the love coos of the red-tails (who were making out).

The second fox sparrow excerpt, punctuated at the end by a flicker (who was singing from atop a bluebird house), features a different song (competing with song sparrow and red-winged blackbird songs).

Finally, the early spring chorus wouldn't be complete without a sample of blackbird cacophony. Huge flocks are still passing through (I saw one Cooper's Hawk in direct pursuit).

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Frosty Saturday morning dawn chorus

I'm trying to get out there early, at least on weekends, to document some of the dawn music we don't otherwise get to hear. Here's a minute of bliss: song sparrows, red-winged blackbirds, grackles, goldfinches, cardinals,chickadees, Canada geese and what sounds like juncos trilling. Later caught a bit of fox sparrow (It sounds like a song sparrow with the melodicism of an oriole, repeats twice--I would have had more but my batteries went dead).

It was very cold but you have to get out there early if you want to see the ice dragons (below).

Friday, March 20, 2009

Wait. It's spring? Today?

The bluebirds at the CRP are actively looking for nesting spots. The boxes might win, though some tree holes look promising as well.

And the song sparrows are singing.

And the great cormorants are sitting in trees.

(Barrington, RI. Thanks, Mom.)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Spring is hurtling toward us

Crocuses at Fork Factory Brook in Medfield.

A butterfly (looks question mark-ish).

And a woodcock (if you can find it).

There it is!

Also, I heard frogs singing for the first time this year. Hold onto your hats. Here we go!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Plum Island (Parker River NWR)

It's not a terribly glamorous time of the year to visit Plum Island but this is when my spring break is, so it had to do. And I'm not exactly in the "I-need-an-obscure-warbler" stage of my birding career, so regular old seasonals are fine by me. A good day, ultimately, in fact even better than I expected.

Start with the northern pintails. I saw one at Great Meadows the other day but didn't get nearly close enough for a photo. So I was happy to see a whole pond full of them upon entering the sanctuary (at the Salt Pannes observation area). It was surprisingly hard to get a decent photo--they spend most of their time tipped over, head in the water.

I then traveled all the way to the end of the island, walking the beach at Sandy Point. The normal brants and eiders were out on the water. I spotted some bird movement in the grassy dunes. Killdeers, I thought at first. Horned larks, it turned out (you can just barely make out the horns in the bottom left).

It was low tide and the clammers were out. I watched through my binoculars as a dingy passed and did a double take. Wait, were those harbor seals out on that rock? Sure enough. First wild seal sighting (though I'm sure the people who live in the area take them for granted).

So why are you taking my picture, asks the chickadee, when there are more interesting subjects out there?

Such as this snowy owl sitting on a post. (It had been sitting there all morning, apparently, near the Hellcat trail observation tower.) I almost missed it. From a distance it blended in with the post and closer up it was hard to tell if it was real or not. Real it was!

And then for my final walk I went down the marsh trail to the blind at the end (though honestly I doubted I'd see anything--shore birds haven't returned yet. There was much evidence of beaver and muskrat activity, though I didn't happen to spot the animals themselves). I stood for a moment and then heard a familiar huffing sound. Sure enough, a river otter, right up close, looking me straight in the eye, acting as if it was disgusted with my scent.

I left completely satisfied. It took me less time to get there and back than I expected. I fear this may become an addiction.

Monday, March 16, 2009

OK, now the wood ducks are making it too easy

This is one of at least a dozen pairs down at Great Meadows this morning.

While I was standing still watching the ducks, a muskrat emerged on the other side of the trail.

The ring-necked ducks that I saw yesterday were still there today. A little closer.

Also, green-winged teals and at least one northern pintail. No goldeneyes but many mergansers and buffleheads.

Friday, March 13, 2009

For once I see the wood ducks before the wood ducks see me

Oh wood ducks, always flying away screaming before I even know you are there...

But at Great Meadows NWR in Concord (where there are so many wood ducks these days that the flying away screaming business gets truly comical after a while) I finally got good views. And then they saw me and flew away screaming.

Also at Great Meadows, dozens of noisy great black-backed gulls, common goldeneyes, green-winged teals. [UPDATE: Back (with the family) on Saturday--dozens of ring-necked ducks and a young bald eagle.]

Sunday, March 8, 2009


Just noticed them this afternoon.
[UPDATE] Arghhh.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Heron is back

Gracing the CRP for another year, the great blue heron.

And a muskrat.

Oh, and teenagers. Three cars worth. I don't think they were nature walking.