Friday, April 30, 2010

The Bay Colony Rail Trail

In honor of the proposed Bay Colony Rail Trail, I walked a stretch of abandoned rail from Fisher St. in Needham to Haven St. in Dover. This is what I found.

1.Track running along the between the Charles River Peninsula and the Walker School.

Here's the view of the CRP shag-bark hickory hill from the track.

2. Train trestle over the Charles River

Scenic but rotting bridge. Will be occupied by teenagers when school ends.

3. View between trestle and Centre St. underpass

A little more vegetation on the tracks. Rather birdy. In fact, I found this cardinal nest right at the side of the tracks.

I normally don't bother nesting birds but this was literally right in front of me about four feet off the ground.

4. Centre Street underpass

Speaking of teenagers. Other traces below.

4. View of tracks beyond underpass.

Now completely overgrown. At some points you might stop and wonder where the tracks are.

Lots of poison ivy beginning to emerge. In another couple of weeks this might be tough going.

It is exciting to imagine a bike trail near our home. My parents live close to the East Bay Bike Path in Rhode Island and it is a real asset for the community. In addition to the Bay Colony Rail Trail website, there is a Facebook group that interested readers might consider joining.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Birds and blossoms

Palm warbler, Mount Auburn Cemetery

In order to rinse your palate of the taste of creepy bugs--birds and blossoms. Only one time a year can you see chickadees hanging like Christmas tree ornaments from crab apple blossoms. Now is the time.

Creepy fly photos [UPDATED]

Fair warning, though my intent is not to be creepy. Rather I'm trying to identify some flies that have been all over the Charles River Peninsula this week. (By all over, I mean close-your-mouth-and-eyes all over).

As you can see, not terribly distinctive. Maybe an inch long. When I peered down to investigate, I found that each had its own blade of grass to perch on. When I'd walk through the grass some, though not all, would erupt into the air.

Here was my surprise. Mingled among the fly-folk were insects with more of a beetle shape.

And, yes, they appeared to be mating, end-to-end, with the fly-folk.

I know sexual dimorphism is true among many species of insect, but this seems pretty extreme. I've gone through many online insect identification keys, but I haven't come across the answer yet. [UPDATE: March Fly]

Oh, also, as long as I've got my junior naturalist cap on--take a look at this huge egg I found trail-side. I do believe there will be one less wild turkey chick this spring. I wonder who the nest robber was.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Are these chickadees making a poor decision? [Update: Happy ending]

I'm enjoying the politics of nest box possession down at the Charles River Peninsula this spring. Parties include the house sparrows (at least two boxes claimed--not a good sign for next year...); the bluebirds (at least two boxes actively protected); and the tree swallows (all the rest). And today, it looks like a pair of chickadees think they have a shot at a box. Are they out of their minds?

Some context: Yesterday there was an eruption of what appeared to be mayflies--I had to close my mouth walking through the meadow, but the tree swallows were in heaven. This afternoon no mayflies and few tree swallows--they must have found more productive foraging somewhere else on this chilly wet day. Which means the chickadees could take a chance at a nest box while the tree swallows were away.

So here they are, working as a team. One would enter the box while the other stayed in the brush as a look-out. They would take turns, occasionally greeting each other with a beak tap (or ritual feeding--I couldn't see it well). What were they doing? Not putting things into the nest box--taking things out. (Apparently chickadees demand a clean space before adding their signature moss nest lining). I expect an angry pair of tree swallows this evening.

I would approach the nest box until they noticed me, "chickadee-deed," and flew off. Then I would pretend to leave--move off and then come back. The first few times this worked. The last time they seemed to get wise. Instead of returning to the box when I left, they followed me--both of them--"chickadee-deeing" all the while. Only when I was a significant distance away did they fly back and start their activity again.

At any rate, I'll keep checking on them. I can't imagine they'll be successful in the end. With the tree swallows (who are themselves competing five or six at a time for each box) and the increasing house sparrow pressure, I can't see how they can last. But who knows? Maybe these chickadees know what they're doing...

[4/29 UPDATE: I know nothing. Day three, the chickadees are still at it. Clearly I overestimated the ire of the tree swallows. In fact, I don't know what's going on with the tree swallows--today the bluebirds were moving between four different nest boxes, unchallenged. Also, the flies were back today and are definitely NOT mayflies (see next post).]

[4/30 UPDATE: Warm weather returns. Tree swallows become aggressive again. Chickadees nowhere to be seen. Yellow warblers and orchard orioles singing]

[5/1 UPDATE: Chickadees are back waiting for the tree swallow to leave. Tree swallow is aggressively defending nest box--FROM ME! Perfect circles around me three times.]

[5/15 UPDATE: Unbeknown to me, the chickadees found a different box around the corner (less desirable to tree swallows) and now appear to have chicks. Check out the photos below. I'm pretty sure that's a fecal sac in the chickadee's beak.]

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lots to see at the Charles River Peninsula

Black-capped Chickadee and blossoms, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA

Frozen dandelions.

Tree swallows.

Lots of yellow-rumps. Hear them sing.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hermit Thrush Madness at Marblehead Neck

Hermit Thrush, Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, Marblehead, MA

A huge fallout of hermit thrushes at Marblehead Neck. Dozens of them. Everywhere I looked, another hermit thrush scratching in the leaf litter or bouncing across the trail.

And, spring migration is ON! We've got yellow rumps!

And palmies!

Now, to get some better photos of these guys...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Birding Florida Theme Parks: Sea World

Snowy Egret, SeaWorld, Orlando, FL

At SeaWorld you get egret conflict. They will steal your $5 trays of fish in a flash. And if your fish toss misses the sea lion's mouth, into the mouth of an egret it will go.

Notoriously, Shamu has taken at least one unwary competitor (a pelican) into his mouth.

The fringe benefit, during breeding season, anyway, is regular aigrette displays as snowy egrets try to show each other who's the boss.

I believe the feathers in the bill of the egret up top have been plucked from a fellow egret.

Florida Theme Park Birding: Disney

Great Egret, Magic Kingdom, Orlando, FLA

Disney's relationship with wild bird-life is rather more strained than Gatorland's. (The company was sued in the early 1990s for killing black vultures that were causing trouble on Discovery Island). Nevertheless, one can see many great and snowy egrets at the Magic Kingdom during the evening. (And while we were there--a northern parula in the garden outside of Mickey's House).

Animal Kingdom has a couple of aviaries and some nice species-specific exhibits. Roseate spoonbill chicks, for example, right near the park entrance.

But there are quite a few interlopers. Mallards, in all their weird hybrid varieties, are ubiquitous and fearless.

Lily was thrilled to see ducklings. (Maybe the highlight of the day).

Quite a few red-shouldered hawks as well, in both Kingdoms, often being chased by grackles.

And most unexpected, a sizable Animal Kingdom roost (mixed: mostly ibis, but some egrets and herons as well) that can be viewed on the way to Camp Minnie Mickey.

Finally, neither wild nor a bird, but really cool when the sun is going down--the translucent wings of the flying fox.

Florida Theme Park Birding: Gatorland

Snowy and Great Egrets, Gatorland, Orlando, FLA

This year there would be no special Florida birding excursions, just theme parks, so I thought I would make the best of it. Lily and I stopped at Gatorland ("Orlando's best half-day attraction") on the way to the hotel. Not to see gators (though Lily was thrilled) but to check out the rookeries that are increasingly part of Gatorland's sales pitch.

Open air attractions will inevitably attract interlopers, leading to some interesting combinations, such as this flamingo-black vulture group below.

It also means you can get super close-ups of what are technically wild birds:
Black Vulture

Wood Stork

Boat-tailed Grackle

Little Blue Heron and Cattle Egret

Gatorland promotes rookeries, not just roosts, so you can also see some interesting behavior, such as these cormorants greeting each other.

Or this egret caring for a clutch of eggs.