Thursday, May 30, 2013

2013 Spring Migration Grand Finale

Wilson's Warbler, Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, Marblehead, MA
I had a meeting up in Salem so I thought I might drop by Marblehead Neck for a bit after lunch. Warbler migration was dwindling (or so I thought) but I thought I might see a few flycatchers....
Chestnut-Sided Warbler, Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, Marblehead, MA
It didn't take long to realize that something special was happening. The canopy was was filled with buzzing cedar waxwings and preaching red-eyed vireos. And everywhere you looked, small colorful birds flitted from branch to branch. It was a warbler fallout of the sort you might literally dream of.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, Marblehead, MA
Flycatchers, as expected, were also everywhere. Among all the drab wing-barred birds, it took a moment to recognize the late ruby-crowned kinglet in the photo above.
Chestnut-sided Warbler preening
 I had planned to spend an hour. I ended up spending two. By the time I was ready to go (2:30) many of the cedar waxwings had flown off and the birdsong had become more subdued. It was preening time.
Magnolia Warbler sunbathing
My favorite moment of the day (besides getting a great look at a singing mourning warbler!) was a magnolia warbler suddenly going limp, lying on its side on a branch. I have to assume a sun-bath. It was soon up and searching for cut-worms again.

Many of scenes described above are captured in the video assembled below. Enjoy!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Charles River Peninsula, with Mourning Warbler

Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
Went out around 6:30 am to check on the nesting boxes. It's been a rough week and this morning the winds had subsided enough to open the box doors without risk of nest material flying off. Still pretty chilly though. And sure enough almost all the tree swallows remained on nest. Did discover some tiny new hatchlings in one box and the bluebird eggs have also hatched.

There is still one male bobolink flying over the fields, singing all day. No sign of a female for him to chase.

The biggest surprise today: the "churr-churr-churr" of a mourning warbler from deep in the vegetation. I never saw it and it stopped singing as I approached. But I did manage to capture some vocals.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Hellcat, or the Hummingbird Aviary

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Female, Hellcat Trail, Plum Island, Newburyport, MA
One of the marvelous things about Hellcat during migration season is the way its character changes day to day. I've never seen or heard so many ruby-throated hummingbirds zooming around. Right by my head.  Also in huge numbers: American redstarts. So many tail-fanning redstarts in close range. And weirdly high numbers of Wilson's warblers. I counted seven of them.

Black-throated Blue Warbler Female, Hellcat Trail, Plum Island, Newburyport, MA
And lots of mid-migration females, of all sorts.
Marsh Wren nest, Marsh Trail, Plum Island, Newburyport, MA
Another Plum Island pleasure: marsh wrens. I've never seen a marsh wren nest at Great Meadows, where they are also abundant. But off the Marsh Trail, two nests in plain sight, one actively tended to.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Oh Canada Warbler

Canada Warbler, Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary
I got at least one "it's quiet today" from a fellow middle aged white guy with binoculars this morning at Marblehead Neck and while I politely concurred ("quiet" has become a metaphor referring to activity level), inside I was going, "it is positively deafening here today!"  In addition to non-stop warbler and vireo song, not to mention assertive Baltimore oriole tune-age, there was even some Swainson's thrush in the air. But leaves are out now and warblers a bit more difficult to see.

So it is awfully nice when the lovely and under-appreciated Canada warbler blesses you with an unobstructed appearance.

Seemingly undisturbed by humans.
And even reminds you what its song sounds like.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Moose Hill in Mid-May

Kettle Trail, Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, Sharon, MA
I can't believe it's late spring already. A quick pass through the Charles River Peninsula revealed a sneezy willow flycatcher and a rattling (is that the best name for it?) yellow-billed cuckoo. A longer trip to Moose Hill revealed eastern wood-pewee, veery and red-eyed vireo. Who hasn't returned yet? I'm still waiting to hear (not just see) hermit thrush and indigo bunting.

Things were pretty birdy at Moose Hill, which was also loaded with school children and one large guided tour group (mostly avoided). The great density of ovenbirds meant open conflict and near-trail appearances. Scarlet tanager, veery, Baltimore oriole, and blue-winged warbler songs at multiple locations.

But mostly it was a day of moments. Here are three:

1. A brown creeper with a mouthful of fibers bounces up a cedar tree, followed closely by another creeper with a huge worm in its bill.

2. A veery hops across the Billings farm loop boardwalk, perches nearby and calls harshly for several minutes.

The "Chimney," Bluff Trail, Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, Sharon, MA
3. A huge turkey vulture sits on the Chimney and flies off as I approach, speeding away on a gust of wind.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Baltimore oriole nesting has begun

Baltimore oriole female collecting fibers, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA

Monday, May 13, 2013

Early Rainy Visit to Mt. Auburn

Least Flycatcher, Mt Auburn Cemetery.
After dropping my wife off at the airport at 5:30 am, I debated whether to drive up to Plum Island. Missing the exit to 93 North made the decision for me. It would be Mt Auburn Cemetery. Before 6 on a Sunday morning it took 5 minutes to get from Newton Corner to Mt Auburn. (This is less time than usual.) I got there just as they were unlocking the pedestrian gate. Game on.

And then, almost immediately, I was overwhelmed. I don't know what it is about the Mt. Auburn soundscape during the height of warbler migration. Maybe it is the dense fiber of yellow-rump songs that you have to listen through. Maybe it is the prospect of some unusual, less familiar song (Cape May or bay-breasted) that you don't want to miss. All I know is that I am still intimidated by it. See what you can make of the soundscape below.

At Mt. Auburn I usually find myself withdrawing to some quieter zone away from the blast of warbler song (and the assemblies of birders "on" something good). In search of moments. I had a couple.

1. I watched a lone northern rough-winged swallow as it flew back and forth skimming the surface of Willow Pond. Somehow the plainness of the bird accentuates the beauty of its flight.

2. I listened as a lone wood thrush (reportedly the first this year) sang at the Dell, the holiest of Mt. Auburn sites.

By 7:30 I was ready to leave. As I drove off the rain started coming down in torrents.

Friday, May 10, 2013


Yellow Warbler, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
Warblers outside my window at 6 am: yellow-rumped, palm, ovenbird (!), black and white, northern parula, magnolia, black-throated green, black-throated blue (!). Hear them below:
Down at the Charles River Peninsula at 8 am I added yellow, Wilson's, American redstart, common yellowthroat.

Ridge Hill at 10 am: I had pine, blackpoll, and chestnut-sided.

A northern waterthrush at Broadmoor in the afternoon brought the total to 16. That's not Mount Auburn, or Hellcat, or Marblehead Neck. That's in Needham/Natick. Without trying very hard...

Other singing arrivals included scarlet tanager, bobolink, winter wren, eastern kingbird, and all the rest of the Baltimore orioles.  It was the greatest day ever.

All of this underscored by non-bird singers. At Ridge Hill the gray tree frogs are going nuts. At a distance their songs may be confused with screams. If you happen to be in their midst when they chorus, well hear for yourself...
And cicadas are beginning to set a dramatic tone. (I'm disappointed that the brood 2 is not expected to appear this far north...). I was recording an interesting Baltimore oriole song at Broadmoor when this happened:
Could tomorrow be this good? I look forward to finding out. [UPDATE: Sad trombone...]

Monday, May 6, 2013

Les Oiseaux du Mont-Royal

View from Parc du Mont-Royal, Montreal, QC.
Up before 6, I slowly climbed the hill across Rue Sherbrooke up to Mont-Royal. Things were pretty quiet at first but soon I was tracking down a Pic maculé as it flew from tree to tree, stopping to sip from its carefully arranged sap-holes, and admiring the Mésange à tête noire chorus.

There was a Roitelet à couronne rubis singing from every thicket, as well the occasional Grimpereau Brun song, making it feel as if I had gone back in time a couple of weeks. At one point I even had a Raton-laveur join the soundscape (documented below).

I didn't expect much warbler activity, but the sight of Paruline à croupion jaune was pretty common and I even had a Viréo à tête bleue, which I had missed at home this year.
The best sighting was a lively Paruline flamboyante (which flitted around a bit much to get a satisfying photo).

I sat for a while in the picnic area behind the chalet overlook, while a Corneille d'Amérique collected sticks for a nest, enjoying the birdsong supplied by Cardinal rougeMerle d'AmériqueBruant Familier, and Roitelet à couronne rubis. (I was hoping to catch a song by that most Canadian of singers, Bruant à gorge blanche, but had no luck). A five minute sample of the soundscape is embedded below.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge

Lookout Point, Black Creek/Maquam Creek Trail, Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge, Swanton, VT.
Montreal-bound, I stopped at Missisquoi for a couple of hours.  I walked the whole Black Creek/Maquam Creek loop, which was almost completely silent except for peeping ospreys. A good meditation spot.
Old Railroad Passage Trail, Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge, Swanton, VT.
Then on to the trails off of Tabor Road, past the Visitor's Center. I spent about an hour on the Old Railroad Passage Trail. Also very quiet. At one point, a rusty blackbird flew overhead, vocalizing on the wing.  We rarely see the rusty anymore down south. It was a pleasure to hang out with this one for a moment. I recorded a few phrases, accented by leaves rustling in the breeze.

View of area around Marsh Trail, Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge, Swanton, VT
The other prominent singer was the eastern meadowlark, calling and singing in the adjacent fields. I recorded a sequence of meadowlark calls and a couple versions of meadowlark song. At the beginning of the third clip you can hear a fragment of an American bittern call from the marsh across the street.