Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Ducks

My annual Christmas Day walk down to the coast of Barrington and Riverside, RI to see wintering ducks was more successful than usual. Dozens of American wigeons were taking shelter in the inlets--they would eventually be disturbed when a dog owner let his lab chase the local fox.

And out in more open water, the regular buffleheads and red-breasted mergansers were joined by gadwells and a group of scaup.

I'm going to call them greater scaup because of the head shape. I don't usually see them this close to shore.

Add a couple of common golden-eye and some hooded mergansers and it was a classic Christmas duck day. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

2013 Christmas Bird Count, Bird-Lore Style

As in previous years, I did my CBC this year the old way: I took a walk and counted the birds I saw.

Here is my 2013 entry, formatted Bird-Lore style:
Needham, Mass.--Dec. 21; 7:45 to 9:45 A.M. Cloudy; snow on ground; wind light; temp.,45°. Canada Goose, 5; Mallard, 12; Hooded Merganser, 6; Common Merganser, 14; Ring-billed Gull, 20; Herring Gull, 5; Great Black-backed Gull, 1; Mourning Dove, 22; Belted Kingfisher, 1; Downy Woodpecker, 8; Blue Jay, 15; American Crow, 4; Common Raven, 2; Black-capped Chickadee, 14; Tufted Titmouse, 5; White-breasted Nuthatch, 1; Carolina Wren, 1; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 6; American Robin, 18; European Starling, 1; American Tree Sparrow, 24; Song Sparrow, 6; White-throated Sparrow, 1; Dark-eyed Junco, 8; Northern Cardinal, 5; Red-winged Blackbird, 40; American Goldfinch, 6. Total, 27 species, 251 individuals.--PETER OEHLKERS.
 Season-appropriate counts of American tree sparrows. There were two big jingly flocks along the way.
Surprisingly big year for downy woodpeckers. And surprisingly small numbers of white-breasted nuthatches.

The bird of the day: common ravens. One glided over the meadow croaking and landed on a utility pole. Later it found a companion down the utility corridor.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Notes on taking a nine year-old birding in December

Lily, Plum Island, Lot 1 Beach
Note 1: Bundle up. It doesn't matter how warm it is where you live, it is windy near the ocean. Don't forget gloves. Their lack will make using binoculars unappealing. Wrap-around sunglasses are also a good idea for keeping ocean breezes out of sensitive eyes.
Black Ducks and Northern Pintails, Salt Pannes, Plum Island
Note 2: Keep moving. Keep duck watching to a minimum. If you do want to watch ducks, bring something for the young one to do. We ate lunch watching these ducks. Nothing interesting happened.
Poorly-seen Snowy Owl, seen from road, Plum Island
Note 3: Have modest, yet attractive goals. "Hey, want to go find some owls!" was an effective appeal, and do-able given the state of things on Plum Island this year. And we technically "found some owls," even if we didn't actually see them well. A former "Hey, want to go see a real-life Peregrine Falcon!" Plum Island appeal did not end well.
Distant Snowy Owl, seen from Stage Island, Plum Island
Note 4: Approach goals in good humor and be open to surprises. Lily thought it was hilarious that the tiny white dot on the osprey platform counted as a Snowy Owl sighting (and even more hilarious that we only found 2 of a reported 19 reported owls on Plum Island that day). And while we were looking at the osprey platform, a raptor flew in and moved swiftly across the field. I thought it was a Northern Harrier at first--binoculars up--a Peregrine! Lily was thrilled. (By the end of the day, I had also convinced her of the charms of Northern Harriers.)
Lily on Lot 7 beach, Plum Island
Note 5: Encourage fun non-birding activities. No sea ducks (surprising!) or owls at Sandy Point but Lily had fun being chased by waves and riffing on the origin of the name, "Sandy Point." We ended up walking all the way around the point in good cheer, despite the wind. And we had close encounters with a Golden-crowned Kinglet and a Northern Harrier on our walk back up the road. 
Four chickadees at once, Ipswich River 
Note 6: End with Fireworks. Ipswich River was on the way home. I had secretly packed a bag of birdseed. We had about an hour before the sun would set. The chickadees and nuthatches were ravenous. It was actually a little scary how many attacked her out-stretched hand. But Lily deemed this her best birding day ever. Video version of chickadee attack below.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sounds of the Woods in November

Muir Trail, Ridge Hill Reservation, Needham, MA
Let's all listen to the sounds of the suburban woods on a crisp November morning.

Leaf blowers. Cannot escape them. Must learn to appreciate them. Imagine they are some natural phenomenon like singing sand dunes

Friday, November 15, 2013

New Ridge Hill Reservation Esker Trail Loop

Look for the Red Trail Markers
The Esker Trail is the longest trail in Needham's Ridge Hill Reservation, running along the top of the esker that gives Ridge Hill its name. In the past the trail ended in a set of confusing spurs, many leading to private property. 
The Esker Trail branched into spurs at Trail Marker 11
Thanks to the work of Needham Trails folk and the Conservation Commission, the Esker Trail now ends in a loop with a significant extension that comes close to the Wellesley border. 
My rendering, not intended to be cartologically  accurate.
This makes walking the whole Esker Trail much more enjoyable--less backtracking. And it provides access to the upper sections of the gas line easement, which crosses private property around Cartwright Road. 
Algonquin Gas Line Easement, looking to the south-west.
I wasn't able to participate in the blazing of the new trail segment so I was able to try it out as a naive hiker.
Ridge Hill marker on giant birch tree
The loop begins around trail marker #11, though not directly at it (as the maps above might suggest). An enormous birch tree is a suitable landmark for the loop's start. I took the path to the right. It leads up the side of a hill through some lovely wooded (and rather birdy) areas. After crossing the easement the trail continues to the Wellesley border. (If you find yourself at the Wellesley Recycling and Disposal Facility you've gone too far). Look for a trail that branches off to the left, marked by pink ribbons.
Pink ribbons mark the trail extension
The trail loops around, crosses the easement again, and then ends at the intersection of a trail leading to the left and the right. 
Go to the left
Here there is no obvious sign of which way to go, though a little logic would suggest the loop continues to the left, and that would be correct (going to the right leads to private property). Not far away you will come to the enormous birch and the end of the loop. Enjoy!
One of many late autumn dragonflies I disturbed on my walk

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Riverside Ducks

Black Ducks under Yellow Tree, Riverside, RI
Some day I'll make all the way up and down the East Bay Bike Path during duck season. For now, short walks down to some of the protected coves in Riverside will have to do.  Yesterday was good day for American Wigeons (a raft of 50-60 peeping in one inlet), plus lots of Hooded Mergansers and Black Ducks. Today's photo theme will be ducks flying away from me.

Hooded Mergansers, Riverside, RI
American Wigeon displaying its white axillaries, Riverside, RI

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Early November at the Charles River Peninsula

Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
Dawn is late these days. The mowers and leaf blowers are already filling the soundscape by the time the sun is up.
Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
Luckily robins and cedar waxwings are on the scene providing local sonic texture. 
Some sort of warbler, can't quite place it. I wish it had some sort of distinguishing feature....
We've thoroughly made the transition to juncos and white-throated sparrows. Winter flocks of goldfinches and house finches are beginning to arrive. Golden-crowned kinglets twittering in the canopy.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Goodbye, October

Foliage reflected in Charles River
One final October post, before the best month of the year leaves us for a while. 
Eastern Bluebird, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
One last bluebird photo before the meadow gets its annual mow.
Swamp Sparrow, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
One last swamp sparrow photo.

One last swamp sparrow video. (What a happy bird).

Coyote, Ridge Hill Reservation, Needham, MA
And, uh oh, hello coyote. Make that coyotes. The youngsters seen earlier in the year are now gangly grown-ups. Out in the open in the middle of the day. This could be an interesting November. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Hello, Beaver

Millennium Park, West Roxbury, MA
It's sparrow season, so Millennium Park is a must these days. I didn't catch a glimpse of white-crowned, but song, savannah, chipping, white-throated, swamp, and even field (!) sparrows were there. Some bobolinks in the mix as well. On the mudflats were killdeer.
Charles River, looking across at Cutler Park
You get a real October-style dawn chorus too, with robins, song sparrows, and others singing and squawking. And lots of traffic noise roaring in the distance.

And, best of all, active beavers. If you are careful you can see them in the stream bordering the lower path. If they see you (or a dog or a jogger or a jogger with a dog) they may continue their swim underwater (which seems quite disturbing to ducks).
Beaver, Millennium Park, West Roxbury, MA
Beavers are truly large animals. When they stop swimming, as the case of the individual in the photo, there is a hippo-like quality to them. Below is the video version.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A special guest joins old friends for a splendid afternoon at the Charles River Peninsula

Charles River Peninsula, Needham, Ma
Leaves peaking. But I was in a gloomy work-related mood. I began my slow walk around the peninsula.
Pileated Woodpecker, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
Mid-walk I heard a loud cry and I couldn't help smiling. A pileated. Same spot I'd seen it before, months ago.
Pileated Woodpecker attracts attention
I wasn't the only one paying attention. On the near-by tree-tops, a group of bluebirds, a phoebe, and a palm warbler (?) seemed to be watching it carefully. When the woodpecker flew off, so did they.
Eastern Bluebird, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
I caught up with our friends, the bluebirds, who were investigating a cavity in an old oak tree. Something seemed to be fascinating to them about it. Ample insects to eat? A future nesting spot? At any rate they kept returning to it over and over. See video below.
The day had turned splendid. Now I was ready to appreciate the foliage.
Redwing Bay Parking Lot, Needham, MA

Monday, October 14, 2013

Birding into the Sun

Cutler Park, Needham, MA
"No real birdwatcher would ever travel eastward in the morning," asserts a solution to an Encyclopedia Brown mystery that's always bothered me. Sometimes it can't be helped. As in a Sunday morning trip to Cutler Park in Needham to walk along the train track.
Cat tail fuzz-covered burrs
The sun is what baseball cap visors are for. I'll admit that birding is a bit challenging. But not impossible.
Swamp Sparrow
Surely you know the swamp sparrow in silhouette.
Swamp Sparrow
The bird of the day. Dozens and dozens of them.
Swamp Sparrow
A multitude of browns and grays. A bird that even color-blind me can fully appreciate.
Robin resting before resuming the chase
Amidst robin insanity. Almost constant chasing, three near misses--I was evidently in the way. They were going after blue jays and mourning doves too. And then one zoomed past screaming, diving into the brush. Everything went quiet. Accipiter in the vicinity I suspect.
Tree on fire, with red-winged blackbird
Ruby-crowned kinglets sub-singing. Plovers and sandpipers on the river mudflats. On the way back the sun acted as a blind. Young common yellowthroats inches away.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Oh October

Backlit Milkweed Explosion, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
Oh October.
Black and Mallard Ducks, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
Thoughts begin to turn to ducks.
Palm Warbler, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
Palm warblers at eye level
Palm Warbler, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
Glow bright yellow in the afternoon sun.
Garter Snake, Marblehead Neck Sanctuary, Marblehead, MA
This garter snake was in the middle of the trail.
Picture 13
Garter Snake, Marblehead Neck Sanctuary, Marblehead, MA
Its attack was unprovoked.
Wild Turkeys above my car, Needham, MA
The roar of grackles in the trees across the street. Two turkeys roosting on a branch above my driveway.
Wild Turkeys above my car, Needham, MA
Safe for the night.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Autumn scenes at the Charles River Peninsula

Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
It is autumn now. The leaves are turning. Yesterday the palm warblers arrived. Not a whole lot to say. Thought I would share some images from the past couple of weeks.
Poison Ivy
Milkweed and foliage
Fog on the meadow
More foliage