Sunday, August 29, 2010

A grebe and a green heron at Millennium Park

Green Heron, Millennium Park, West Roxbury, MA

I really enjoy early mornings at Millennium Park, especially in this weather--cold at dawn, bright and warming up by 8. (Despite the chattering joggers and the occasionally irresponsible dog walker). Right out of the car, I immediately spotted a Cooper's hawk, heard a great blue heron bark, and watched a rattling kingfisher fly across the path. And robins everywhere--in the air, on the ground, in the trees.

This little green heron was by the bridge and was not terribly pleased to see me. Is this its way of showing displeasure?

The most pleasant surprise, a pie-billed grebe just floating along, easily seen through a gap in the stream-side brush. Unlike most of the grebes I've encountered, it didn't dive or fly right off but just kept calmly swimming on. This is apparently an uncommon sight this time of year at Millennium Park.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bird numbers building at the Charles River Peninsula

Great Blue Heron in a tree, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA

The Charles River Peninsula was extremely birdy this morning, most notably mourning doves, robins, goldfinch, catbirds, phoebes, and bluebirds (hooray!). A sign of the abundance--not one but two yellow-throated vireos singing away.

Here's a cute (if grainy) phoebe sample.

It was nice to see a gnatcatcher (relatively uncommon sight here).

And the kingfisher continues to rule the powerlines over the river.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pockets of DC nature

Bartholdi Park, US Botanic Garden, Washington, DC

In DC for a couple of days finishing up my sabbatical research (success!), I had a few moments to stroll through some natural settings. Bartholdi Park, across the street from the US Botanic Garden building, is a beautifully landscaped oasis. I witnessed a song sparrow try to catch a sphinx moth (I broke it up, unintentionally, trying to get a photo; quite a meal for a bird if successful!)

There is a fuller garden featuring native US flora adjacent to the Botanic Garden building. Here is the "wetland."

Nearby, there is a larger wetland that is part of the Museum of Native American History.

I was staying in Rosslyn, so I had a chance to stroll through Theodore Roosevelt Island one morning. Very birdy, with Carolina chickadees and wrens, robins, cardinals, and red-eyed vireos galore. Except for the joggers, dog-walkers, and traffic noise, a pleasant escape from the city.

Coolest moment: bizarre red-eyed vireo behavior. I tried very hard to get video footage but all I had was my iPhone camera. I looked it up--it is documented in Bent. I'll let him describe it:
Several times in the course of the past 30 years or so, I have seen a red-eyed vireo acting in a very odd manner. It has occurred when an adult is feeding a full-grown young. The old bird suddenly departs, for a moment, from its normal behavior; it draws its feathers tight to its body and sways slowly from side to side through a wide arc, certainly as great as 90 o. If the two birds are facing each other, as they usually are, the bill of the adult points successively far to each side of the young bird, over and over. The old bird gives the impression of being in a sort of trance, or as if it were trying to influence the other bird in some strange way, although the action probably has a more prosaic explanation. Behavior of a similar nature is described under "Courtship." I have never seen any other species of vireo act in this manner.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Lower Cutler Park with new camera

Plastic chair, Charles River, Needham/West Roxbury line

Reports of a rare Baird's sandpiper sent me on a Sunday morning walk along the train tracks at Cutler Park. The train doesn't run on Sundays so I was able to use the trestle as a vantage point to look over the mudflats between Cutler and Millennium Park.

I don't know why I bother. Anyone want to play the "one of these things is not like the other" game? I'm seeing leasts (little ones) and semi-palmateds (larger ones).

In camera news, lots of blurry yellowthroats, but I did manage a better-than-normal up-the-tree view of a Baltimore Oriole (who had a brilliant flight song).

And, most happily, the camera was able to focus on a tiny, distant, low-light, crescent butterfly.

Bird notes: blue-gray gnatcatcher (my first on the property), brown thrasher.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Charles River Peninsula with a new camera

Ducks on a log, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA

A new camera, an up-grade from my little point and click to a larger, bulkier point and click (Canon SX20 IS). The little Canon, which has served me well, has started to have lens error problems, which will be fatal at some point (right now it can only be resurrected by smashing it on a hard surface). The new camera has a longer zoom (20x) and a viewfinder(!).

So now I can take pictures of far away orioles


Not that they are particularly good photos... Now I have the ability to take poor photos of flickers, blue herons and bluebirds from farther away!

I was happy to get a decent shot of the common yellowthroat below--in fact I was surprised it turned out to be a yellowthroat. It's taking me a little bit of time to get used to the viewfinder...

The problem with the viewfinder is that it is relatively low resolution, which makes it difficult to actually see what you're shooting. Especially if that thing is a hummingbird perched on a branch with foliage in the background. I may have to wean myself from AUTO mode--brightness in particular seems to change from moment for no particular reason.

As for the CRP, itself--a bounty of birds this morning, many singing sporadically--orchard and baltimore orioles, yellow-throated vireo, flickers, bluebirds, house finches, cedar waxwings, yellow warblers, titmice, house wrens, goldfinches, robins, catbirds, phoebes, kingbirds, but no red-winged blackbirds (!) and very few tree swallows.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Wingaersheek Swallows

Tree Swallows, Wingaersheek Beach, Gloucester, MA

This is tree swallow swarming season. The swallow assembly at Wingaersheek is particularly impressive. Here's a taste.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Needham Night-herons

Echo Bridge, Hemlock Gorge, Needham, MA

Swimming with friends yesterday at Rosemary Pool in Needham--all of a sudden a juvenile black-crowned night-heron flew up and perched on a pool railing. It sat for a couple of minutes and then flew away to parts unknown.

I remembered having seen a group of juveniles down at Hemlock Gorge a few years ago so there I went early this morning, hungry for night-heron. An immediate success--right across the river from the banks near the parking lot.

Low light, so I tried to get closer but ended up scaring it off. I was unable to find it again.

The river is exceedingly low right now, the usual roaring waterfalls reduced to a trickle.

Of other interest, a downy woodpecker on the side of the old mill building.

And belted kingfishers. I saw them at Rosemary Pool yesterday as well. Early mornings when the pool is closed they can be seen perched on the pool railings.

Also seen at Hemlock Gorge (unpictured): a wood duck couple.

Friday, August 13, 2010

New Window Feeder

My last two window feeders failed to survive the cleaning process (the suction cups no longer stick), but here's number 3, a birthday present from my folks (thanks Mom and Dad!)

Visitors today include: chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, goldfinch, house finch, house sparrows, cardinals, downy woodpeckers, and (just checking things out), a ruby-throated hummingbird male.

The last two window feeders have failed to attract cardinals. Not this one!

My favorite visitor is an awkward young nuthatch, who still hasn't quite figured out how to elegantly swoop onto the edge of the bowl (either landing on the slippery roof or missing the feeder entirely). Second is the downy, who pounds on the vinyl window frame while waiting her turn.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sunday Morning on Sandy Point

Terns, Sandy Point, Newburyport, MA

What would make someone get up at 5:30 and drive an hour to a beach on a Sunday morning? Perhaps the prospect of seeing a swallow-tailed flycatcher (unseen, though spotted by someone else later in the morning...). Or perhaps the sudden realization that summer shorebird watching time was slipping away.

So what was happening at Sandy Point? Swallows, mostly. In fact, Plum Island was saturated with them, some primordial numbers in roadside trees, would lift up in black clouds and then fall down again.

These tree swallows chose to rest at the beach, along with hundreds of others.

Their shorebird brethren were also there in huge numbers. Sandpipers,


and a few turnstones (flipping seaweed).

The terns discovered a food source while I was there and were diving and diving.

Meanwhile, on shore, kingbirds.

and a sweet young yellowthroat.