Friday, December 31, 2010

Another trip to the National Aviary in Pittsburgh

Inca terns, National Aviary, Pittsburgh, PA

Another trip to Pittsburgh, another visit to the delightful National Aviary. Quite crowded this time, with visitors pretty evenly divided between parents pushing strollers and men with high-powered cameras. I represented neither, armed with an iPhone only. I was still able to snap some reasonable images...

Wattled Curassow, self-appointed ruler of the Wetlands area

Unlike my last visit, I spent most of my time in the "Wetlands." It was a good chance to try to spot some common Costa Rican birds--blue-gray tanagers, oropendolas, trogons, and the like. The trogon can be seen below. (I'm going to Costa Rica later this week).

There have been significant renovations to the Aviary since last year. There is a new auditorium, where they stage a rather elaborate "Wings" show (macaws, vultures!, owls, bald eagles etc plus pro-environmental appeals). And a small "grasslands" room for little finches and quails (plus an incredible long-tailed paradise whydah).

Outside, the Andean Condors show off their amazing wingspans.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Beavers and Bluebirds

Beaver Dam, Millennium Park, West Roxbury, MA

Millennium Park has beavers. Their dam is off the northeast corner of the property.

There is a well-traveled but narrow path lined with bird houses that provides views of the beaver pond. (I saw a common yellowthroat (!) and a winter wren there the other day).

Recently they've become more visible, cutting down many small trees that line the lower path.

There are beavers in Needham now too, though perhaps not for much longer.

The problem of backyard beavers makes me think about passenger pigeons. After reading 19th century accounts of the depth of guano and stench associated with mass wild pigeon nesting sites, I've become convinced that as much as we mourn their extinction, there is no way they would have been tolerated in the modern world.

Bonus Charles River Peninsula bluebirds (who may just stick around the whole winter).

Spotted a purple finch for the first time at the CRP last week (only blurry photos). Usually it's been a complete house finch zone.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Christmas Bird Count 2010

Black-capped chickadee, Cutler Park, Needham, MA

Someday I'll join a Christmas Bird Count team, but for now I'm doing it old-school. Took a walk along the train tracks at Cutler and counted the birds I saw (plus some turkeys crossing the road on the way there). Here's the list, formatted Bird Lore style.
Needham, Mass.--Dec. 19; 7:00 to 9:00 A.M. Sunny; ground bare; temp., 19°. Canada Goose, 177; Wild Turkey, 16; Mallard, 9; Hooded Merganser, 6; Red-tailed Hawk, 1; Herring Gull, 1; Rock Pigeon, 4; Mourning Dove, 3; Downy Woodpecker, 2; Hairy Woodpecker, 1; Northern Flicker, 1; Blue Jay, 18; American Crow, 2; Black-capped Chickadee, 8; Tufted Titmouse, 8; White-breasted Nuthatch, 3; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 1; Eastern Bluebird, 3; American Robin, 7; American Tree Sparrow, 30; Song Sparrow, 6; White-throated Sparrow, 6; Northern Cardinal, 5; Red-winged Blackbird, 12; American Goldfinch, 30. Total, 25 species, 377 individuals.
Quite a bit more successful than last year's count!

Bonus Cutler chickadee photos below.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Cold Little Coot

Great Meadows NWR, Concord, MA

A frigid morning at Great Meadows. Almost completely iced over. This lonely coot (check out its feet!) was hanging out in the middle of the dike.

When it saw me coming, it found a protected area by a tree and nestled there.

I wonder how it got left all alone.

Also, bonus bluebirds! Apparently surviving on berries.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Spugsy, or Spurling

From Birds Britannica:
House Sparrow, Passer domesticus. VN: Spadge, Spug, Spuggy, Sprog, Sparrer, Spadgick, Squidgie, Speug, Spyug, Sparrag, Sporrow, Sparky, Spjugg, Sporra.

Centuries ago in England, householders used to put out "sparrow pots" for birds to nest in. During breeding season, their eggs (and nestlings) could be harvested as a source of protein.

In six years (1994-2000) London sparrows declined by 75%. In eastern England, the decline was 90% over thirty years.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cold Cutler Morning

Cutler Park, along the train tracks, Needham, MA

Hard to get up and out there this morning. It's getting colder and darker every day. But then the sun came out and the tree sparrows started piccolo-ing and the kinglets flew across the path right over my shoulder and I was happy to be there.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Plum Island in late November

Plum Island, Newburyport, MA

A textbook late fall Plum Island day. Snow buntings and northern harriers in the air. Ducks of all kinds feeding in the icy water. Red-breasted nuthatches in the pines. Eiders and loons riding the waves. Sandpipers on the rocks.

First, the red-breasted nuthatches, which I don't get to see nearly enough. They and the black-capped chickadees were making a commotion in the pines--so much I was sure there was a small owl about, though I failed to see one.

Then the sandpipers. The target bird of the day, judging from overheard plans among birder types, was the purple sandpiper. The tide was low so I was able to walk out onto the rocks. I saw a group of small round white and gray things assembled near the end. There they are! Snapped the photos, confident I'd succeeded getting the bird of the day. And when I got home--hey these look like DUNLIN! What the heck? Oh well, charming anyway. They just kept standing on those rocks until their platforms finally disappeared under the water.

Finally a mystery duck (though I stupidly labeled it a redhead and told at least one other person. Boo! At least I didn't post it to ebird...) This one was hanging with the pintails. You can see it in the back. Dark head and wings, body a little lighter.

Isolated below, you can see a yellow bill and yellow eyes.

The head, except for the eyes is rather mallardish (yellow bill, a greenish tinge). So I was thinking maybe mallard x black duck. But that doesn't account for the eyes... (BTW, color-blind me had to have my daughter help with the colors, so I'm not terribly reliable here). [UPDATE: pretty sure it's mallard x black duck (I saw another one close up recently.]

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wild Turkey, Drumlin Farm, Lincoln, MA

What better way of saying Happy Thanksgiving than with a collection of wild turkey photos and videos collected during the past year. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

November Places

Charles River Peninsula (mown), Needham, MA

Cutler Park (looking over at Millennium Park), Needham, MA

Fowl Meadow, Milton, MA

Rocky Woods (Echo Lake), Medfield, MA

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Squantum Point Fail (or not)

Squantum Point Park, Quincy, MA

It's been a while since I've dropped by Squantum Point Park. Today I was drawn by the prospect of a boreal chickadee, a rare vagrant to these parts. Ugh. Remind me not to chase any more rare vagrants.

You may recall my dismal failure at finding a boreal chickadee in a certified boreal zone, where they are common. I don't know what made me think I would be able to find a single individual in a large scrubby property on a cold, blustery day with merlins in the air. Not that there weren't plenty of eyeballs on the scene--lots of prominent birder types at every corner.

I thought I had it. I turned a corner where the chickadee had been reported, saw a small gray bird plunge into the brush. I waited and a few moments later heard a weird "chicka-dee-dee." That's it! But I was unable to see it again.

And it turns out that the weird "chicka-dee-dee" might very well have come from a fellow birder on the other side of the brush playing recorded chickadee sounds off of his iPhone. In fact, he wasn't the only one creating a virtual chickadee soundscape. Elsewhere a tape player hung from a tree branch simulating an angry chickadee mob. These attempts at drawing the boreal chickadee out from the brush (it was definitely there today) seemed to be in vain. They did succeed in driving me from the park, though. I am very much an ear-oriented birder; that kind of thing just drives me crazy.

Here's the consolation, though. I got the chance to explore Squantum Point more thoroughly than I've had in the past. One thing that stands out--an extraordinary density of bird nests, all low down on the stunted cherry trees. I was finding three and four nests on single trees.

And it's an interesting place to take photos--juxtapositions of urban concrete and scrubby bird habitat. Hello, mockingbird.

Also, a tree sparrow (first decent photo of the season)

And a nice yellow-chinned goldfinch.

And I got my life bird anyway--an American pipit that pipped loudly and flew off overhead. (Thanks, prominent birder types!)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Salisbury Beach State Reservation

Scoters, Salisbury Beach State Reservation, Salisbury, MA

I had a taste for snow bunting, so I headed up north to Salisbury Beach, where they are very reliable this time of year. I spotted them immediately in Parking Lot 2, drove in and watched as they flew away. Yes, they are reliable at Salisbury Beach--in the air, flying from spot to spot....

But Salisbury Beach on a chilly November morning, right after sunrise--there are few more beautiful spots. (Please excuse my landscape indulgence below. These will fill your screen if you click on them).

The bird of great abundance today was the scoter--white-winged and black, no surf scoter that I could see. Lots of females and youngsters. And a bufflehead for good measure.

I like the elegance of the jet black scoter in the lower right corner.

Other sightings, in addition to our common loon below--long-tailed ducks, red-breasted mergansers, common eider. The winter seascape has arrived.

I've embedded the video account of my visit below.

The skunk-eating crow footage is probably in bad taste, but Lily thought it was very funny that anything would eat a skunk.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Disturbing the ducks (and kinglet capture)

Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary, Natick MA

Mallards can be skittish this time of year, but wood ducks never want to see people. I arrived at Broadmoor bright and early and had the privilege of seeing dozens of wood ducks assembled near the boardwalk; I also had the regret of scaring every last one of them away. Among the other ducks I disturbed this morning--a sizeable contingent of American wigeon (top left below).

Golden-crowned kinglets were abundant. I know I should never attempt photographs, especially in low light. But video--today I was going to make a concerted effort. The embedded clip below, in addition to showing wood ducks (and wood ducks in flight) also documents my attempt to capture the kinglet on video. If you make to the end, you'll see it paid off.