Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"And all the beauty of the fair May morning seemed like a blotted page"

Celia Thaxter wrote a number of poems for children featuring bird life; they can be a bit moralistic (they are supposed to be instructive after all) but unlike the work of many of her contemporaries, the moral doesn't completely weigh down the lyrical. Nevertheless, they are not necessarily bright and cheerful. She includes poems about an owl eating a chickadee and a shrike devouring her pet canary, "Rupert" (the shrike, the poem ends, was donated to the Agassiz Museum!)

My favorite is "Under the Light-house," inspired by what must have been a personal experience of the disastrous consequences of lighthouses during migration (similar to the effect of night-lit skyscrapers today.) The matter-of-fact sadness is unleavened, in my opinion, by her attempt at religious consolation at poem's end. Here's the text:

Saturday, September 25, 2010

All's well in birdland--for now...

Sharp-shinned hawk, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA

I knew something was up. The robins were making the high-pitched distress call and there wasn't another bird in sight.

There--up where the resident red-tailed hawk usually presides--a Cooper's hawk (or so I thought). I'd seen crows mobbing one earlier in the week. Is this why bird activity has seemed so suppressed at the CRP recently?

Suddenly, from across the field, a little hawk. The larger hawk flew over and engaged it. They flew circles around each other and flew off together into the woods by the river. Aha. Not a Cooper's at all. A female sharp-shinned and her (much smaller) male.

And then a kingfisher comes screaming across the sky (actually, more like "rattling"). It flushes the hawks and flies off after them, careful to stay above and not below. The jays (who've been quiet up until now) finally muster the courage to show themselves and scream.

As if on cue, a flock of northern rough-winged swallows emerges and streams across the field, ending up on a single utility wire.

(I like how they look in the morning sun)

By the time I left, the bluebirds were beginning to frolic in the treetops. As they flew across the field, a passing crow diverged from its flight path, dive-bombing one of the bluebird children. Unsuccessful, it flew on, and everything was OK. For now...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Seventeen Black Skimmers

13 of 17 assembled Black Skimmers, Ipswich, MA

I arrived bright and early at Sandy Point this morning. The birders were already set up on the beach with their digiscopes and tripods. The attractions: a visiting flock of black skimmers (a rare sight up in these parts) and a wandering gull-billed tern. I wasn't so concerned with the tern (I preferred not to spend half the day standing and waiting for a glimpse) but I really wanted to see the black skimmers. Only problem: they were all the way across the water in Ipswich.

I left the beach and made the mandatory Plum Island tour. Here's the only photo of real note: a pair of juvenile black-crowned night herons at Stage Island Pool. (One is napping).

I decided to go right to Ipswich and see the skimmers at closer range. There is a path from the Crane Estate property down to the beach ("Cedar Point" they call it--I believe it is technically part of Crane Beach); I thought this would give me a shot. I immediately saw the skimmers assembled on a high-tide sandbar.

Most of them were snoozing. I have collected a few shots where they are actually awake and active. I counted 17 (this is apparently not the whole group--others have counted over 20). A nice assortment of breeding and juvenile/non-breeding plumages.

The most excitement was courtesy a juvie herring gull that would occasionally assert its power. The skimmers made way.

I like the guy on the left sneaking away.

But is flying I really wanted to see. Skimmers are exquisite group flyers. For better or worse, some fishermen crossed the sandbar, sending them up in the air.

They circled around and returned to the sandbar.

Here's a video with a little flying and a little comic action. Skimmers have tiny legs relative to the rest of their bodies. Watch the guy below walk all the way across the sandbar to harass a colleague. [please watch in HD]

Oh, and as I turned to leave--an odd looking tern. Up go the binoculars. What do you know? Gull-billed.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Charles River Peninsula at summer's end

Kettle of unknown hawks, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA

A weird and slightly frustrating morning down at the CRP. It was crowded! A steady parade of dog walkers (most seemed friendly and appreciative of the property) and and someone fishing at every available river access point (some of whom were acting rather suspiciously). And knife to the heart of summer--the first bird I spot is a white-throated sparrow.

The adjacent Walker School property was host to a massive crow roost. I thought I knew this place--I've never seen anything like it here. I counted 50 flying off at one point. And up there in the sky, a kettle of hawks, noticed too late to have a chance of IDing.

The morning was salvaged by the discovery of wood ducks--seven or eight of them. I was able to get a few low light shots, undetected.

And what is this flower? This is the first year I've noticed them at the CRP. (There are larger ones in the swampy areas in Millennium Park). The buds seem to bloom one or two at a time. Lovely at close examination. [UPDATE: Moth Mullein, it seems.]

And finally, the yellow palm warblers have arrived (a couple of weeks early in my estimation). Let's see if I can get better photos than this.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bluebirds and a Chat

Eastern Bluebird, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA

Can't resist the bluebirds these days. Not when they are so cooperative, especially.

There were three of them on the tower (I've seen as many as five at one time there).

In other news, I tracked down the yellow-breasted chat that's been lurking around the lower garden in Nahanton Park. It is so rare to see them out in the open. I fired off the camera quickly without looking and just prayed it was in the shot. Got it! Not quite focused, but definitely there!

Here's another shot (also just lucky) a little more zoomed out.

Cool bird.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Herons at play on the Charles River

Great Blue Heron, Charles River, Needham/West Roxbury, MA

Great fun the past two weekends going out on a canoe with L & L, launching from the Nahanton Park location of Charles River Canoe & Kayak. Last weekend the water level was very low so we only made it a mile or so upstream (lots of sandpipers, though); today, the water level was high enough we could get all the way to Millennium Park.

Many many great blue herons, some more approachable than others. Of particular note, a pair upstream acting a bit peculiar. What exactly are they doing? Herons are elaborate dancers around mating time. Or is this parent-child begging behavior? [UPDATE: This would appear to be rather more aggressive territory defense behavior--funny, I've seen plenty of heron squabbles but they usually resolve more quickly and decisively.]

At any rate, as we approached, they stopped (seemingly a little embarrassed)

and struck up the pose we usually see.

What other things do herons do when they don't think we're watching?

I am an absolute canoe convert (big surprise). Favorite part: sandpiper flybys--much closer than the kind you get at beaches.

Here's a bonus yellowlegs from the trip last week.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Oh Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler ("Western" variety), Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA

Every fall I look forward to seeing you again. And here you are, a little ahead of schedule, out among the goldenrod, tail a-bobbing.

The new camera is working out just fine!

In other CRP bird news: a quick glimpse of a prairie warbler (my first sighting on the property). Also, phoebes galore, some of whom were very cooperative photo subjects.

As was this kingbird, presiding over berryland.

My favorite shot of the day, simply because it was surprising--this photo of a young bluebird (one of a dozen out playing in the fields this morning). See anything else?

I swear, I didn't see the bobolink until after I had selected this photo for uploading.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Here come the Palm Warblers

Palm Warbler, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA

A lunchtime stroll through the CRP yielded the first palm warbler of the season. Just one that I could see. Soon there will be more. Meanwhile, here are some more looks.

And how do you do, Veery is it? I can see you peeking through the brush.

(This was a threading-the-needle shot--I'm proud of you, new camera).