Monday, December 24, 2012

More bird counting

Keeping count. Ridge Hill Reservation, Needham, MA
This time I took Lily with me, on a splendid morning bird count at Ridge Hill Reservation. If anyone is curious, here was our count.

Red-tailed Hawk  1
Downy Woodpecker  2
Blue Jay  2
American Crow  3
Black-capped Chickadee  13
Tufted Titmouse  2
Red-breasted Nuthatch  13
White-breasted Nuthatch  4
Golden-crowned Kinglet  2
American Robin  1
Dark-eyed Junco  2

The bird of the day was the red-breasted nuthatch, seemingly everywhere and making a lot of noise. 13 is an undercount, for sure.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Time for White-winged Crossbills

White-winged Crossbill, Salisbury Beach State Reservation
Grading done, Christmas shopping done, time to finally make the drive up to Salisbury to hang with the white-winged crossbills. They've been in the campground pine trees for weeks now. Right now it's a male crossbill show though there a still a few females about.
White-winged Crossbills, Salisbury Beach State Reservation
The campground is large so I first drove around trying to find them. When I finally parked and got out of the car I realized that was a mistake. Their twittering can be heard from quite far away and the flock is large and easy to spot (and hear) in flight.
They are very cool birds, with their distinctive customized beak and acrobatic poses. But I wasn't prepared for how pretty they were.
Perfect Christmas tree ornaments.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bird-Lore-style Christmas Bird Count 2012

As I've done for the past few years, I took a walk (Cutler this time), counted some birds, and formatted the count in the way Bird-Lore used to do it.

Needham, Mass.--Dec 16; 7:30 to 9:00 A.M. Cloudy; ground bare; temp., 30°. Canada Goose, 76; Mallard,14; Great Blue Heron, 3; Ring-billed Gull,1; Rock Pigeon, 2; Mourning Dove, 7; Downy Woodpecker, 3; Blue Jay, 7; American Crow, 1; Black-capped Chickadee, 15; Tufted Titmouse, 3; White-breasted Nuthatch, 1; Carolina Wren, 3; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 2; American Robin, 11; American Tree Sparrow, 12; Song Sparrow, 2; Dark-eyed Junco, 1; American Goldfinch, 7. Total, 19 species, 161 individuals. 

Of particular interest this year: Great Blue Herons, no White-Throated Sparrows. Did not count a flock of eight twittering birds in tight flight formation, probably snow buntings but too far to tell. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Bullock's Cove, RI. Early December ducks.

Bullock's Cove, Riverside, RI
Down in Rhode Island for a spell, I took my regular walk down to Bullock's Cove. This is reliable duck country in the winter and I was not disappointed today.
Start with old friend, the hooded merganser. There were about a dozen, male and female, diving near the bike trail. Also a large group of very active red-breasted mergansers (not pictured).
And lots and lots of wigeons. They like to rest in the inlet near Hains Park, peeping and whistling.
Along with black ducks, often asleep. Also seen during my walk: a stalking great blue heron and a rattling belted kingfisher. Hope they last the winter. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Charles River Peninsula Early December

Willow St Bridge from Charles River Peninsula
I am pleased to report that the bridge connecting South Street in Needham with Willow Street in Dover has been opened on schedule. This will make winter drives down Mill Street in search of ducks easier to integrate with visits to the Charles River Peninsula. No telling when they will move the construction trailer from the Cochrane Dam area.
Charles River Peninsula
Another gorgeously sunny day in the 50s. (I keep forgetting that exposure to direct sunlight is actually contraindicated for my anti-Lyme medication. I didn't predict this would be a problem in December...)
The fields at the Charles River Peninsula are now in their mown condition.
I couldn't help remembering that there was something important missing. At the top of this hill.
The shag-bark hickory. Now a stump. As I stood on the stump I watched a flock of bluebirds fly across the field, turning momentarily in the direction of the old tree, and then continuing on. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

December Day at Great Meadows

Great Meadows NWR, Concord, MA
A most beautiful December day, a good day to spend some time at Great Meadows. Not much in the way of aquatic bird diversity. Today it was mostly Canada geese and coots. But who could care on such a glorious day.
Canada goose sentry
The geese were feeding in large numbers all over the refuge. I am fond of the sentries. So alert.
Eastern Bluebird, Great Meadows NWR, Concord, MA
The biggest surprise: bluebirds. I don't remember seeing them in large numbers at Great Meadows before. But there they were, a half dozen at least, perching on cat-tails and singing on the wing.
American Robin, Great Meadows NWR, Concord, MA
And here's a bonus robin. I know they like baths but I never took them for aquatic birds.

Note: Photos hosted by a new service: Fotki. Testing them out. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Ridge Hill Reservation after Sandy

Garage near the picnic area, Ridge Hill Reservation. A nice new hole in the roof.
I walked "my" (trail steward) trails at Ridge Hill Reservation on Saturday to see what sort of damage Sandy caused. Initially I thought we had gotten off pretty well. Then I tried the Chestnut and North Trails. Three enormous trees had fallen completely blocking passage (OK I climbed my way through...)

Here are a couple from the North Trail.

Obviously removing these is not a high priority for the town right now. So for the near future you might want to steer clear of this area. [UPDATE: The trees have not been entirely cleared but chainsaws have cleared path-ways through these obstacles.]

Saturday, October 13, 2012

First Frost

Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
A perfect October morning. Bright sun. Crisp air. Brilliant foliage. A nice fall-out of migrant birds. First frost.
Frozen asters
Everything in the shade was frozen. At least temporarily.

Frozen buckthorn 
As the sun moved across the field, the frost lifted off.

It's been a while since I've seen deer at the CRP. I think I woke them up. Three. A doe and two maturing children. One by one they got up, looked in my direction for a while, and then leaped off through the brush.
Still keeping an eye on me.
It took me a while to realize that they were having trouble seeing me, as I was directly in front of the rising sun. And it wasn't very breezy so my scent took a while to travel.

The Peninsula was stuffed with yellow-rumped warblers, a grand finale to a fine 2012 fall warbler migration. Lots of palm warblers and bluebirds too. And about 30 northern rough-winged swallows, still staging on the wires over the river.

The (second) most surprising bird of the day: Purple finches! These, believe it or not, are pretty scare birds around these parts. I've seen a couple at the Peninsula, but only in the winter, and in small numbers. Here was a whole flock, feeding on berries. Part of the 2012 irruption I'm guessing.
(The most surprising bird was a female orchard oriole. )

Sparrows are also present in large numbers, white-throats still mostly singing out of tune yet. I kind of like this swamp sparrow pose,
Swamp Sparrow on Mullein, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
Oh October.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Window strike Downy Woodpecker is OK

Downy Woodpecker on the roof of my Mazda
This one was scary. I was in my office and I heard a loud clang on the window. Oh no, another bird strike (on a different window than last time). I rushed downstairs and opened the basement door. A downy woodpecker lay on its side in the wet leaves, feet curled up. I was sure it was dead....No, it was still breathing.

I lifted it onto my hand to keep it warm and dry and it resisted a little, beak wide open. OK, good, it still had some energy. And in a little while it had flown a short distance onto the roof of my car. And there it stayed.
It was frankly acting a little strange, turning its head to the side. Was it falling asleep?
And then just like that it snapped out of it. Back on alert, it fluttered up to the branch of a nearby oak tree. Where it was promptly chased by another downy (probably the cause of the window strike to begin with).

I've got to do something about these windows. Here's a resource.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Fall migration at Plum Island

Yellow-legs, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, Newburyport, MA
I decided this morning that this was the day I was finally going experience fall migration this year. It was a perfect October day, crisp and sunny and not very breezy.
Eastern Phoebe, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, Newburyport, MA
The star of the last couple of days has been an out-of-place Say's Phoebe. Lots of folks staked out at "The Wardens." Many positive reports. I was there to experience migration, not to check off a life bird, so I took a photo of our constant friend, the Eastern Phoebe, and drove down to Hellcat.
Eastern Towhee, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, Newburyport, MA
I was greeted at the entrance by a friendly towhee (hey, I saw your west-coast relatives last month!)
Red-breasted Nuthatch, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, Newburyport, MA
And the ubiquitous red-breasted nuthatch, doing quite a bit of fly catching (as were most of the birds, from warblers to waxwings).

From this point on the photos got bad but the experience got heart-meltingly good. Warblers of all sorts, including a strikingly beautiful fall-plumaged magnolia and a black and white so unconcerned about me that it practically landed on my arm. The photo below is not focused but it does offer a classic head-on view.
Black and White Warbler, head on
Kinglets and vireos were also present in close-up abundance. But the most fun was a couple of yellow-bellied sapsuckers (bad photo below).
They were chasing each other up and down the boardwalk, "mewing" loudly. Many times they didn't seem to realize there were humans around and practically took our heads off.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Window Strike Pine Warbler is OK

Pine Warbler in my hand
I hear the impact, the dull ringing of the window of the sliding glass door. Lily yells, "bird down! bird down!" I rush over and see a stunned little warbler lying in a puddle on the deck. I lift in onto my hand.
I let Lily gently stroke its back. She keeps count of the birds she has touched. This is number 7.
I know from bird banding that songbirds aren't too freaked out by human hands. But it is curious to me how sometimes they seem to wait for permission to fly off again. This piney flew over to a nearby table to rest before leaving at apparent full strength.

Second window strike this year, neither fatal. I'm a little worried what's going to happen when the juncos arrive in the next month or so...

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Horrors on the Field View Trail

Accipiters, Ridge Hill Reservation, Needham, MA
Something was wrong. I had just started through the grass towards Field View Trail and all the birdsong I could hear was condensed in a single scrubby tree--what sounded like a dozen chickadees chattering at once.

About midway down the trail I hear the piercing "Kee-ah!" of a red-shouldered hawk. Then a horrible squeal and a rustle of grackles, a river of them streaming overhead. Aha, I thought.

As I stepped out onto the easement by the swamp I discovered I had underestimated the horror. Two accipiters (I'm guessing Cooper's but I couldn't get a clean look), three accipiters, no FIVE accipiters, all cruising the wetlands. At one point a stupid-brave blue jay acting alone came out to harass one of them, and was doing fine until others showed up (I think it got away). At any rate, one tiny sharp-shinned hawk is usually enough to put the wetland in panic mode. Five at once--that's just excessive.

A parallel horror--gas line easement clear-cutting. Actually, that part's fine--it took care of all the invasive buckthorn that's been crowding the trail. Whoever did the work, though, apparently didn't know there was a wetland on the easement and made a significant cut into the wet area before turning back.
Wetland north of Field View Trail, Ridge Hill Reservation, Needham, MA
To make matters worse, instead of trying to find an alternative path to the northern easement section (The Beard Trail is nice and wide and is easily accessed from the road) the clear-cutters drove their bobcat (I'm guessing from the tread-marks) back and forth through the very narrow Field View Trail.
Tread-marks on Field View Trail
The trail, not in terribly good shape to begin with, is now significantly ripped up (and quite wider in parts now!)

Horror-chaser: A singing brown creeper (they are now migrating through in big numbers).

Friday, September 21, 2012

Good-bye, Shagbark Hickory

Shagbark Hickory, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
 The windstorm on Tuesday night proved too strong for the Shagbark Hickory on the hill at the Charles River Peninsula.

The trunk was hollow and the tree was leaning ever since it lost a huge limb during Irene last year. It was just a matter of time.

But I will miss it dearly.

Apparently I'm not alone...

Here's a post about the tree in happier times

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Ridge Hill sounds

Pine warbler, Ridge Hill Reservation, Needham, MA
First, let's start with the pine warblers, whose trills are so loose this time of year. And add in the delightful red-breasted nuthatches who are beeping up and down trees everywhere. And some chipping chippies.

The blue jay gangs are large and vigilant this time of year. I couldn't figure out exactly what they were monitoring but it was getting them riled up. Here is the pre-attack chorus, half-a dozen blue jays in the same tree top (plus an alarmed robin). I really like the musical patterns here.

And a daylight hooting great horned owl, someplace in the woods (I tried to triangulate but I couldn't catch sight of it).

And this evening while Lily and I were leaving the community garden, a howling coyote.