Thursday, June 27, 2013

Early summer at the Charles River Peninsula

Great-crested Flycatcher, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
A couple of pleasant surprises this morning at the CRP. First, I heard the song of a male bobolink in the field--this is the farthest into June I've ever encountered one at this property. Second, while all but one box of tree swallows has fledged, the swallows at box 2 have started another nest! Super late tree swallow nests are not unheard of (and tend to be less productive) but this is the first in my experience.
Yellow Warbler nestlings, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
The chief joy today, however, was had in watching a nest of young yellow warblers and their doting parents. Video below.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Angry Birds of Early Summer

Fowl Meadow flooded
Thursday I took a long walk down the Burma Road that runs the length of Fowl Meadow. It was quite flooded but passable with muck boots. On three separate occasions, large birds exploded from the trail in front of me. I suspect woodcocks (I only saw them from behind), possibly driven from their cover in the woods, or maybe just out collecting worms.
Fowl Meadow, Canton, MA
After a certain point, the Burma Road becomes quite wild and birdlife becomes abundant and, during breeding season, irritated at passers-by. At one point, joining the easily distressed red-winged blackbirds, robins, and grackles, I had common yellowthroats, yellow warblers, Baltimore orioles, blue-gray gnatcatchers, and even a sweet little warbling vireo, chipping their anger at me.
The woods at Chestnut Hill Farm, Southborough, MA.
Friday morning I was out counting bobolinks at Chestnut Hill Farm. A healthy population: at least nine males, six females. Lots of singing and still some chasing.
Bobolink, Chestnut Hill Farm, Southborough, MA
They were also angry when I passed by.
Cutler Park, Needham, MA
This morning it was Cutler Park in Needham. I was surprised to find a pair of indigo buntings near the train tracks and yet another trail explosion in front of me (maybe woodcock again, though it looked a little snipe-like from behind).

An incessantly calling first-year male orchard oriole was my reward for making it to the river at the end of the trail.

But this time of year Cutler belongs to the common yellowthroats and the yellow warblers.  Some yellow warblers have already fledged, hiding their yellow-gray mottled selves in the brush off of the boardwalk.

Here is the video version once again too big to watch in its embedded form (it's in HD so you can watch it full-size if you please). And I apologize for the cheesy edit, but I wanted to incorporate footage of a raccoon traveling the Cutler boardwalk, completely oblivious to the possibility that I might be at the other end.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Encounters at Ridge Hill Reservation

Green Frog, Ridge Hill Reservation, Needham, MA
This morning I traipsed through Ridge Hill, intending to count birds (and I did). Lots of fledglings on display, including eastern phoebe, chipping sparrow, brown-headed cowbirds (victimizing chipping sparrows), even eastern bluebirds. I was particularly delighted to hear veery song from the Chestnut Trail.
Today's chief excitement, however, was provided by quadrupeds--a pair of coyote cubs on the easement near the spot of some recent gas-line maintenance. They didn't seem bothered by me until they caught a whiff of my scent. Then off they ran.

The images above are stills from the video below:

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Great Meadows Flood

Dike Trail, Great Meadows NWR, Concord, MA
Great Meadows is flooded. The photo above gives you some sense of the depth of the water on the trail.

It came almost all the way up to the tops of my muck-boots.
 Great Blue Herons stalked the edges of the path
dodging the dives of protective red-winged blackbirds.

Muskrats and mink swam the stream in front of me. And near the overlook, a fledgling barn swallow posed for photos.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The sweetest time of year

Yellow Warbler female, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
June is the sweetest month at the CRP, when it's not pouring rain. The (invasive) multiflora rose is blooming and chicks of all sorts are cheeping and fledging. The mother yellow warbler above was hanging out in the relative open waiting for food deliveries from her partner while keeping an eye on the nest. At times she would even sit.
The tree swallows are fledging fiercely, testing the wind under their wings and invading the nest boxes of their cousins.
Meanwhile, some chicks are exhausting their parents, as in the fat cowbird below, gratefully taking what its gaunt song sparrow foster parent could offer.

And for me a special delight--a new patch bird: pileated woodpecker, crying loudly from the upper branches of a riverside dead tree.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


New shagbark hickory, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
Someone, officially or unofficially I don't know, planted a new shagbark hickory atop the hill at the Charles River Peninsula.  And the male bobolink is back. June 12 is about as late as I've had them at the CRP. Maybe there's some mystery breeding that I don't know about....
Tree swallow nest with single unhatched egg
Tree swallows are beginning to fledge. Two boxes so far. I saw one young fledging, to the distress of parent birds, causing trouble at other boxes.
And as expected, the bluebirds are nesting again, in a box they've loved in the past (that had a house sparrow in it for a while this spring). The nest is again made of pine needles, but given the weather recently, it is very damp and apparently hastily constructed. We'll have to wait and see on this one.

Finally, the blackbirds have become extremely protective as their young fledge into the meadow. The resident red-tailed hawk can get no peace. Watch as the red-winged blackbirds and a common grackle attack it. (I've included a slow-motion clip so you can see in detail the real feather-pulling damage being done).

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The joys and sorrows of breeding season

Tree swallow, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
The excitement of migration season behind us, it is time to console ourselves with the thought that breeding season is somehow more deeply satisfying. And it has its own excitements--will this brood survive and fledge, will that tree swallow actually land a blow on the back of your head? At the CRP, one particular source of suspense--the lingering bobolink--is still developing.
Tree swallow nestlings, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
All the eggs, with the exception of one late nest, have hatched. Dozens of new tree swallows will be ready in a couple of weeks to fill the meadow with their unsteady wings. As for bluebirds, the present moment is not encouraging.
Eastern bluebird nestlings, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
Last week when I took the above photo nothing was out of the ordinary. Five healthy chicks and a doting mother. Today when I checked all but one had died. I pulled the tiny dried bodies from the nest, leaving one long-legged chick with more room (and fresher air) but with no parents in sight I wonder if it will make it.

All is not lost. Bluebirds will nest again after the tree swallows are gone, maybe more than one pair next time. But right now it is a reminder that the joys of breeding season are balanced with sorrows.

[June 8 UPDATE: Both the last bluebird chick and the bobolink are missing.]

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Early Morning Visit to Hancock Hill

Hancock Hill, Blue Hills Reservation, Milton, MA
I have to make it up Hancock Hill at least once a year. It is a bit of a climb but absolutely worth it. This time of year you are pretty much guaranteed to encounter prairie warblers, indigo buntings, and field sparrows, not to mention eastern towhee, which breed there. It is also a good opportunity to see great-crested flycatchers from above not below.
Field Sparrow
It was windy so ambient recording was out and the birds had some difficulty maintaining their perches on high branches so were a little less visible than my last visit. The indigo buntings in particular seemed very sensitive to my presence. The towhees, on the other hand, could have cared less.

Here is the video version. I couldn't catch the field sparrow singing (just chipping) but its ringing song is audible in the background throughout.