Sunday, December 13, 2015

Eversource Tree Removal comes to Charles River Peninsula

Mature trees cut on slope above parking lot
It could have been much worse. Three years ago, when the Eversource (then NStar) tree destruction threat first emerged, I had great worries about Charles River Peninsula and previewed some possible results.

Shrubs removed around crab apple tree
Much to my relief, most of the key fruiting trees were untouched and most of the trees lining the rail-trail slope are intact (with the exception of the parking lot area).
Shrubs removed along river bank
But much of the dense shrubbery (much of which, to be honest, was probably glossy buckthorn...) that sheltered birds in the winter is gone now in the power line easement.

Shagbark hickory still standing but missing limbs
And key elements enabling some of my favorite CRP bird sightings are gone. The blue-winged warbler's favorite shagbark hickory branch, for example. Or the shrubbery around the crab apple tree where the white-eyed vireo would skulk.

Shrubbery removed along property edge
But habitats change. CRP is just more of a grassland now.

Across the river, December 2015
The most dramatic change was actually just across the river. Check out the vegetation three years ago below (granted, mid-summer not late fall).

Across the river, July 2012

Figures this would happen at the same time I extolled the shrubby virtues of Charles River Peninsula in December's Bird Observer.... 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Mid-October Charles River Peninsula is Green

Charles River from CRP access path, Needham, MA
Perfect mid-October afternoon. Cool air, warm sun, glowing foliage. Took a walk at Charles River Peninsula.
Meadow, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, Ma
The TTOR's invasives management program (herbicides and early mowing) has changed the CRP scene this year. No palm warblers, or monarch butterflies, or bluebirds. But I've never seen it this green in October.
Oriental Bittersweet on Nesting Box
Here's one invasive they missed. I'll come down again and clip it off. Meanwhile, I like the look.
And right near by, a fresh hole. Groundhog? Something to keep an eye on.

I've been thinking a lot about the CRP lately. We've been assured by the folks at Eversource that the CRP is one of the places in Needham that will be relatively unscathed by their aggressive vegetation management program. I fear, though, that much of the brushy undergrowth near the power lines is at risk, even if the tall line of oaks and hickories lining the train-tracks is safe. We'll have to wait and see. The upside is that the cutting will be done outside of breeding season. The downside is that many of my neighbors will still be losing majestic trees currently lining their backyards. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Bluebirds of Powisset Farm

Eastern Bluebird, Powisset Farm, Dover, MA
Invasives management at Charles River Peninsula (herbicide and very early mow) have made for a poor bluebird habitat this fall, so I've had to get my fill elsewhere. Powisset Farm to the rescue.
Eastern Bluebirds (imm.), Powisset Farm, Dover, MA
Lots of adults and a nice crop of youngsters.
Eastern Bluebirds (imm.), Powisset Farm, Dover, MA
Mostly gathered around the garden area.
Pine Warbler, Powisset Farm, Dover, MA
Plus that fall specialty, the ground Pine Warbler.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Late summer yellows

American Goldfinch, Great Meadows, Concord, MA
A celebration of late summer yellows.
Lotus blossom, Great Meadows, Concord, MA
Some yellow-to-come.
Yellow-crowned Night-heron, Hellcat Trail, Plum Island
And some yellow as can be.
Sunflower field, Colby Farms, Newbury, MA

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Late summer lushness

Cutler Park, Needham, MA
Late summer lushness.
Cutler Park, Needham, MA
Berries ripening.
Concord Grapes, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA

Attracting birds.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Cutler Park, Needham, MA
Some stalk the water.
Great Egret, Cutler Park, Needham, MA
Amidst the blossoms.
Great Blue Heron, Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary, Natick, MA
Groundnuts are blooming.
American Groundnut, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
You can eat them.
Unidentified cricket?, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
If you get there quickly enough.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Bluebirds! Season 5. Episode 9. Finale.

Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
And so the season ends. Actually, there are two boxes with birds still in them but they'll be fledged and empty by next week. So my job is done. Until later in the summer when I go out with a scrubber and disinfectant to prepare the boxes for next year. But unless I find a mouse (or a very late wren's nest) that will go unreported.
Dive-bombing Tree Swallow, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
There weren't a lot of swallows out on the meadow but the ones that were there quickly found me as I approached one of tree swallow boxes. The season's last dive-bombs.
Dive-bombing Tree Swallow, Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
One would think they might be a little more appreciative. As for the bluebirds, they successfully left the box but I've not seen them since. The father bluebird spends the day singing and fly-catching. I'm assuming he's got them hidden somewhere.

I'm going to pretend he's singing in appreciation of the sparrow banishment that made his family possible.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Bluebirds! Season 5. Episode 8. Life (and death) continues.

Charles River Peninsula, Needham, MA
The tree swallow second brood attempts have been a mixed bag. Box 1 is moving right along.
Tree Swallow nestlings, Box 1
But box 7 never got going and the one chick in box 14 was dead.
Cracked eggs in shallow nest, Box 7
So it was with some trepidation that I opened the bluebird box.
Eastern Bluebird nestlings, Box 16
Hooray! Ready to fledge within the week. I hope.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Colorado, Day 3: Wetlands and Grasslands

Walden Ponds Wildlife Habitat, Boulder, CO
Eager to explore as many different Colorado habitats as I could before leaving, I checked the online records of a local birding club and decided that nearby Walden Ponds Wildlife Habitat, a natural area reclaimed from a gravel pit, was my best shot at wetland birdlife.
Very birdy indeed, and also very flooded, perhaps limiting the opportunities to see some species that prefer a slightly marshier environment. It was a good reminder that this part of Colorado is actually a transition zone between east and west, so it felt, in many ways like an east coast wetland. Red-winged blackbirds dominated, and there were yellow warblers, common yellow-throats, warbling vireos, even a black-capped chickadee. Plus magpies and pelicans to remind me exactly where I was.
Start of Pawnee Grasslands Birding Tour
After my conference duties were finished in the afternoon, I headed out to my final stop: Pawnee National Grasslands, rightly deemed "legendary" in some guides. The Folzenlogen guide describes an extensive tour that incorporates the eastern and western areas. I stuck with the shorter and more convenient "Birding Tour" designed by the local Audubon chapter and very well organized and marked.
Lark Bunting
There are some pretty cool birds (longspurs, mountain plovers) supposedly inhabiting these grasslands but lark buntings dominated to such an extent that it was hard to see much else.
Lark Buntings
Not that I minded. The echo-like flight songs of a community of lark buntings is one of birdsong's great musics. Particularly when there are western meadowlarks to provide a little melody. And some distant gunshots (target practice is a popular local activity) for percussion.

The other dominant bird was the horned lark, the young of which littered the gravel road and were a constant concern flying ahead of my car. They were evidently enjoying the great supply of large locusts that also flew ahead of the car and sometimes into the window.
Horned Lark
And western meadowlarks are truly abundant still in this area of the world.
Western Meadowlark
I enjoyed my casual encounters with road-side prairie dogs
Prairie Dog
and the burrowing owls they hang out with.
Burrowing Owl
And, after a long wait, I finally stumbled upon a genuine Swainson's hawk, just sitting on a post, as if on display.
Swainson's Hawk (immature)
I will admit the highlight of the visit was not a bird encounter.
Pronghorn Antelopes
Rather, it was the pronghorn antelopes that would appear in the distance (some with tiny running children)
Pronghorn Antelope
and sometimes rather closely, that made the trip truly exciting.
I left the grasslands heading directly for the airport and quickly found that the recent flooding had left several north-south roads and bridges unusable. After some garmin/iphone map coordination, I was finally able to design a route around the disaster, but I got some glimpses of the terrible wreckage. On the way to airport I saw the most spectacular sunset over the mountains I've ever seen in my life. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Colorado, Day 2: Into the mountains

Elk Meadow,  Jefferson County, CO
Both Pettingill (1953) and Robert Folzenlogen's Birding the Front Range (1995) describe Mt Evans Road as an essential birding trip, so I left before 5 am to make the drive south, with the goal of beating the weekend crowds. First stop was Elk Meadow, in hopes of spotting actual elk
Elk, Elk Meadow
(check). And mountain bluebirds.
Mountain Bluebird, Elk Meadow
(check). Then it was off towards Mt Evans on Squaw (really, Colorado?) Pass Road. "Spectacular" doesn't do justice to the views, particularly on a sunny June morning. You are really in the mountains.
View from Squaw Pass Road
But, as fate would have it, Mt. Evans road was closed (too much snow in May) and all the parking around the gate and nearby Echo Lake was full because of an early morning road race. Turns out I didn't leave nearly early enough...

So it was off to Genesee Park, one of the Denver area mountain parks, described in Pettingill as a superior birding location. Wow, was he right! Immediately, right off the parking lot, a red crossbill, singing from a tree top.

And more spectacular front range views. And I saw a bobcat. 
View from Genesee Park
Favorite bird sight: a pair of long slender Townsend's solitaires flycatching near the bison (unseen) enclosure. 
Townsend's Solitaire pair, Genesee Park
Second favorite sight: a bluebird (Western) and a swallow (Violet-green) fighting over a tree cavity. Sound familiar?
Western Bluebird vs. Violet-green Swallow, Genesee Park
Broad-tailed Hummingbirds were everywhere and impossible to ignore. I was charmed by their flight sounds as they zoomed straight up and down through the air. 
Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Genesee Park
On my way out, I encountered a group of local birders, who told me about a Williamson's sapsucker at a location they called the "condo tree." I tracked down the tree but only got a brief glimpse of the sapsucker as it chased off another bird. Which happened to be one of two pygmy nuthatches, apparently nesting in a cavity.
Pygmy Nuthatch, Genesee Park
One final location, also highlighted in Pettingill: Red Rock Park, a very popular, as it turned out, hiking, jogging, dog-walking, and mountain biking location.
Red Rock Park
In retrospect I regretted starting out at the relatively unfruitful path to Mt Evans. A cooler, less crowded Red Rock Park would have been quite welcome. That said, it was still quite birdy in the late morning, with meadowlarks and towhees in the meadow, and genuine feral rock doves and canyon wrens in the scrubbier parts. There's enough water to satisfy Bullock's orioles
Bullock's Oriole, Red Rock Park
and lazuli buntings. 
Lazuli Bunting, Red Rock Park
And yellow chat listening sessions are readily available. An extremely satisfying morning of birding. The next day would be even more ambitious.