Monday, May 30, 2011

White-eyed Vireo!

Watching a white-tailed deer stroll unhurried along the path near the tip of the peninsula, I got a whiff of unusual birdsong. When the deer had left, I approached.
Clear, distinct song coming from within the foliage. Two slight variations. Unfamiliar.

Up go the binoculars. A little white, a little yellow. White eyes. Well how about that, a white-eyed vireo. I managed a low light documentary shot.
I saw one at the CRP last year, but earlier, during the peak of migration. Could this one be here to stay?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Female Bobolink photo ID at Charles River Peninsula

Female Bobolink, Charles River Penisula, Needham, MA
At long last, a female in the meadow. What a beautiful sight to finally behold. And two males, holding court and doing fluttery flight songs on separate parts of the field. And as these are bobolinks, as soon as a male approached her off she went into the tree tops. A little bit of harassment from passing red-winged blackbird patrols, but they were mostly concerned about chasing each other, not the bobolinks.

Meanwhile, not a sight or a sound from Savannah sparrows for the last week. Odd....

But yesterday morning (not this morning, regrettably) I was greeting by the utterly weird (if you aren't expecting it) song of a yellow-billed cuckoo.  There were two of them and they were doing that snake-like swaying back and forth thing. I usually don't get to see them more than once or twice a year down at the CRP.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Piping plovers fight! Laughing gulls dance! Common terns irritate!

Laughing Gulls, Long Beach, Plymouth, MA
Every year my annual walk to the tip of Long Beach gets earlier and earlier. This year I got there before the chicks arrived, meaning there were fewer birds aiming for my head, and more birds targeting each other.
Common terns and

laughing gulls were all paired up and ready for love.

While these three male piping plovers were not getting along!

The video is especially good this time. It starts with the piping plovers, a little past their active conflict but still in intimidation mode. Then an extended, surprisingly beautiful nuptial dance from a pair of laughing gulls. And then common terns, one of whom just won't shut up.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Now at the Charles River Peninsula: March flies, swarms of them

View from Hill, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
A lovely day to be out walking the Charles River Peninsula. Except for the plague of swarming March flies. Wear protective glasses and keep your mouth closed and you might be OK... (Don't worry. It's a passing thing...)
The March fly is a species of bibionidae (I don't know if these are "lovebugs" or not, but that's what they are doing--mating). If you let them they will crawl all over you. Here's a close up of a female (the males look quite different).
In other CRP news:
The blue-gills are making nests of small stones at the canoe launch.
And if you stand on the small bridge at the start of the trail you may see barn swallows circling a small pool in the swampy area to the right.
What are they doing? Collecting wet leaves and mud for their nests (presumably on a Walker School building).

Baltimore Orioles v. Chipmunk

Female Baltimore oriole stares down chipmunk
This time of year chipmunks can be seen foraging in the tree tops. This one got a little too close to a Baltimore oriole nest.

On the right, the defiant chipmunk
On the left, the protective parents.
After a couple of body blows, the chipmunk quickly made its retreat.
Good thing, too. Orioles have been known to go for the eyes of nest robbing squirrels.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Charles River Peninsula and Rocky Narrows

Great Blue Heron, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
CRP Moment 1. Woodcock displaying in the parking lot.
CRP Moment 2. Male orchard oriole circles me at eye-level with his fluttery flight song. Twice. In two different locations. (I don't think he likes me. Am I messing up his love life?)
CRP Moment 3. Female Baltimore oriole tugs and tugs at a piece of string wrapped around a branch. Is it snagged fishing line (best left unused) or is she actually getting ready to hang a nest? (We'll find out tomorrow).
Wild Geranium, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA

House Wren, Rocky Narrows, Sherborn, MA
RN Moment 1: Scarlet Tanager above, Veerys on each side, loud northern waterthrush in distance.
RN Moment 2: Near the canoe launch I hear the most ridiculous Baltimore oriole song ever. (I think he was agitated or something)
RN Moment 3: Walking the "narrows" I realize for the first time it's a hemlock forest, an utterly precious thing.
Starflower, Rocky Narrows, Sherborn, MA

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ridge Hill Reservation and Needham Community Farm

Bluets, Ridge Hill Reservation (easement), Needham, MA
Thought I might try the woodland environment this afternoon, so Ridge Hill Reservation it was. Not disappointed: typical birds were there--scarlet tanagers, ovenbirds, pine warblers, eastern wood pewees. Also tree frogs and chipmunks. And mosquitoes...

Also spotted this chickadee in a natural nesting cavity.

After my Ridge Hill Walk I drove down the old Nike missile driveway to the new site of Needham Community Farm.
I'd never been down there before (There's been a strong "no trespassing" policy in recent years). Another weedy field to explore.

The bird life was distressingly thin for such a wild abandoned area. But butterflies were taking advantage. Here's a very fresh black swallowtail.

Spotted a cardinal's nest on the way out. Couldn't resist taking a photo of the eggs!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Visitors and residents

Magnolia Warbler, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
Magnolia Warbler is, alas, a visitor.

Cedar Waxwing, is, on the other hand, a resident (seen with nesting material this morning).

Ruby-throated hummingbird? Could be either.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Charles River Peninsula: Some historical information

View of Newell's Bridge (South/Willow St) before recent construction
I just finished up The Trustees of Reservations' Charles River Valley Hike of the Month at the Charles River Peninsula. The CRP is a site of some historical interest so I thought I might provide some information here for the benefit of those unable to join the hike.

Records indicate that the property was owned by the Fisher family, one of the founding families of Needham. Fisher Street and the Fisher Bridge on Central Ave over the Charles are legacies of this history. The fields were probably used as pasture for dairy cows and other agricultural purposes. There was also a saw mill on the current site of the Redwing Bay parking lot.

Significant members of the Fisher family include Alvan Fisher, the prominent landscape artist, and his brother, John Dix Fisher, physician and founder of the Perkins School for the Blind.

During the first half of the 20th century, Walker-Gordon Laboratories bought the land to use as a dairy farm (a more famous Walker-Gordon dairy, home of Borden's "Elsie the Cow," was in Plainsboro, New Jersey).  Walker-Gordon is known for their development of the "rotolactor," a rotating milking platform that supposedly made milking cleaner and more efficient. This invention was displayed at the World's Fair in 1939-40 and then moved to Needham, where it became a local tourist attraction.

The land was broken up in the 1950s. Walker-Gordon Field off of Charles River Street is a legacy of this history.  The farm buildings and barns, initially used to house convalescing children with long-term illnesses, became the Walker Home and School for special-needs children. And property that is now the Charles River Peninsula was donated to the Trustees of Reservations in 1960.

For much of its history the CRP was apparently accessible to the public by canoe only; in the 1990s additional land was acquired that allowed access from Redwing Bay (which is managed by Needham and the DCR).  In recent years TTOR has been managing the property as a grassland habitat for birds and wildlife, cutting down a large stand of trees that used to divide the land and aggressively eliminating woody growth encroaching on the meadow. TTOR mows the land annually, usually around the first week in November.

Here is the official TTOR CRP page. Here is a link to the Needham Historical Society, the source of much of this information.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Finally, a real May birding day

Magnolia Warbler, Marblehead Neck Sanctuary, Marblehead, MA

Finally a day I could get out of the house early, a day without rain, and a day with warblers.

I drove up Rte 1A just in case there was something interesting along the coast in Lynn/Swampscott. It was foggy (a splendid addition to the mood--unseen terns calling in the mist) but things fairly close were easily visible. This included:
white-winged scoters,
lots of purple sandpipers and a random ruddy turnstone.
On the beach itself--this array of gulls, showing the size differences between great black-backed, herring, and ring-billed.
(I initially mistook the ring-billed for something spectacularly small, but I think it was just a contrast effect).

Marblehead Neck was a little dark for good photos (the sun finally came out about 8) but was the perfect solution to my warbler drought this season.
Standing in one spot alone I could hear: northern parula, black-throated blue, black-throated green, American redstart, northern waterthrush, common yellowthroat, ovenbird, blackpoll, black&white, and magnolia warbler. Also got good looks at a Wilson's and a Canada (though I missed the olive-sided flycatcher that had been spotted earlier in the morning). And was that a veery lightly singing in the background?
Here's some clips of a magnolia, another magnolia (much lighter, female?), a black-throated blue, and two tiny looks at the Wilson's--slowed down so you can at least ID him.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Sunday at 1: Charles River Peninsula is Trustees of Reservations Hike of the Month

Here's the official press release (also on a page in the side-bar)
The Trustees of Reservations will hold its May Hike of the Month on May 22nd from 1pm to 3pm at Charles River Peninsula off Fisher Street in Needham. Join Trustees volunteer Peter Oehlkers for a walk through the Charles River Peninsula. Hikers will get a chance to explore the edge of the Charles River for signs of animal activity and then walk through the open field to catch a glimpse of some of the grassland birds that nest at the Peninsula. Interested individuals can also learn about our bluebird monitoring program currently active at several of our local Trustees properties. The hike will be at an easy pace and cover approximately one mile. Please bring bug spray and water if it is a hot day. This event is free. Pre-registration is helpful, but not required.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Breeding season madness

Yellow warbler on nest, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA

Things are getting a bit crazy down at the Charles River Peninsula. Lots of fighting, nest-building, and even some fledging!

Let's begin with this weird robin scene. I've seen robins freeze and go squeaky high when there is a predator about but this one seems to be challenging another male on a branch above. (Earlier I saw the two get into a severe take-down fight).

And that's a beautiful nest you are building, yellow warbler. I think you'll find a certain lack of privacy, however....

Also seen with nesting material today: mourning doves, eastern kingbirds, orchard orioles, Baltimore orioles.

And there is already some fledging happening. Check out this one.
Grackle? Starling? [Definitely grackle] All I know is that I love the top-knot!

Finally, this is not directly breeding oriented but I thought it was an interesting scene. See the resident red-tailed hawk go all cormorant.
It's been wet for nearly a week. Poor thing is just trying to get its wings dry.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

First CRP Indigo Bunting!

Indigo Bunting, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
I've been waiting for this one to show up at the Charles River Peninsula for three whole years ever since I read that the CRP was being managed as a grassland habitat to attract bobolinks, indigo buntings and the like. And there it was, singing, right as I pulled my car into the Redwing Bay parking lot.
Got a video though the indigo bunting ID is not clear until the end, when it sings.

It ended up in the trees at the top of the parking lot, headed for the train tracks, not towards the carefully prepared CRP grassland habitat. A song sparrow(!) chased it off.

[UPDATE: Two males spotted ON PROPERTY this morning. They weren't singing but they were chasing each other. A better photo than yesterday below]

In other CRP news, female Baltimore orioles can be seen collecting string for their nests. The one in this video is carefully pulling long filaments from vines.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bobolinks, eleven days and counting...

Bobolink, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA

The bobolinks came in eleven days ago. Like last year, they remained up in the highest branches of the trees in the grove by the river and sang all at once.
(There is a lighter bird in the group above. Do you suppose it is a female?)

In the past couple of days they've been coming down lower and even exploring the meadow a bit.

I've been able to get pretty close.

Soon we will find out if they are going to stick around and actually breed this year.

Meanwhile, here is a short video of a bobolink just sitting around, while his neighbor keeps starting but never really going full-bobolink. The clip in the middle is another bobolink who has just managed to intimidate a couple of house sparrows.

For those of you desiring a taste of "full bobolink" here is a recording.

[UPDATE: There are two separate groups of bobolinks. One is one the east side of the property, the other is on the northwest (near the boundary of the Walker School).]

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Yellow-throated vireo bonanza

Yellow-throated Vireo, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
I'm going to keep trying to get a decent photo of the CRP YT-vireo(s). Most of them turn out like those below (at least you get a good look at the yellow throat!)

I did manage a video (in poor, rainy conditions). A couple of notes: one clip features the vireo singing (with the vireo only spottily in sight), another gets a little closer--with a surprise at the end!, and the final clip features the best view and the vireo's little squeaky call note (I added a slow motion version at the end with the contrast turned down and the saturation turned up)

The surprise--two vireos. It looks like our lonely male has found a partner (one was doing a little quivering, though it may have just been trying to shake the rain off its feathers...) And, while I was listening to this one sing, I heard another one across the property. So we now have (at least) three yellow-throated vireos on the property. I wonder if the "other" one is in fact the one who has been here since the end of April, and the couple are newly arrived.

Meanwhile on the home front...

Wild Turkey in neighbor's tree, Needham, MA
Saw this turkey fly from the street over my neighbor's roof, high up into a tree behind their house. Quite a display of power.

Warbler action has been better in the trees above my house than just about anywhere I've visited this spring. Constant yellow-rump, and for the past week or so parula and black-throated green. This morning added blackpoll and magnolia(!).

And look at this little raccoon peeking out from a squirrel's nest in our white pine on Saturday morning.
[UPDATE: May 16 Scarlet Tanager singing outside window]