Monday, December 31, 2007

Uxbridge, Ma. CBC 12/30/2007

I joined my friend Paul Meleski to cover his territory for the Uxbridge, Ma. CBC, this count circle is in southern Worcester County and has a small portion in northern Rhode Island. We cover a section in the town of Douglas, Ma.. Four am came early, after staying up to watch the NE Patriots game. The owling is slow, but we manage to hear a Saw-whet Owl in Douglas State Park.

Day break

As day breaks, we start a 1/2 mile walk over crusty, noisy, icy snow to check a small area for waterfowl, miserable walking conditions and only 13 Mallards and a bunch of domestic fowl. But, on the return we get a few Golden-crowned Kinglets, which have been in short supply on the northern Worcester County CBC's. Two dozen Wild Turkeys flying down from their over night roosting sight, in White Pines, is impressive.

We continue along making numerous stops adjacent to feeding stations, playing a screech owl recording on the boom box, and seemingly vacuuming birds from the surrounding woodlots. We do well on Chickadees, Titmice, W-B Nuthatches and Juncos! Other than Juncos, sparrows are in short supply in our area and we miss Amercian Tree Sparrow and only have 1 Song Sparrow.

Mouning Dove, one of 60 during the count

Southern Worcester County is typically not a "hot-bed" for winter finches, but with this year's wide spread incursion we are hopeful. At a small field, I hear a single Common Redpoll fly overhead and a bit late we both hear a few Evening Grosbeaks (it sounds like more than 1 but less than 5, so we call it 2!).
There is a small portion of open water on Wallum Lake and there are 2 female Common Goldeneyes on the water and then 3 Common Mergansers fly over head. We do pretty well on Red-bellied Woodpeckers, a bird that was a "big deal" 20 years ago, now in southern Worcester County they out number Hairy Woodpeckers on CBC's! Eastern Bluebirds, Hermit Thrush and Purple Finch are nice additions during the afternoon.

Hemit Thrush (digi-binned)

As the day winds down we spot a single bird off Hemlock Road, tee'd up atop a tree, unfortunately just a starling. We drive another 1/4 mile to the Rhode Island border, the edge of our territory and turn around. Returning to we notice 4 birds tee'd on the tree, 3 more starlings. Paul has a better view from the passenger's seat and a better look is in order. The 3 new birds are waxwings, starling size, gray and dark undertail coverts! We enjoy these 3 Bohemian Waxwings through the scopes and get a few fuzzy digi-scope photos.

Bohemian Waxwing on Hemlock Road in Douglas, Ma. (Which was a new species for this CBC)

The list from our section (ONLY) during the Uxbridge CBC, 12/30/2007 (click on the image to enlarge)

Friday, December 28, 2007

Cape Ann 12/28/08

Common Eider
I headed toward the coast, for the first time since May, with Paul Meleski and Allan Marble, to chase some of the recently found rarities. Slaty-backed Gull, Townsend's Solitaire, Dovekie and Bohemian Waxwings.

Last Sunday David Sibley found a Slaty-backed Gull at Jodrey Pier in East Gloucester, about a 1/2 hour later Wayne Petersen and Dave Larson found another on Cape Cod about 60 miles away. First state records, but like a late night info-mercial with Billy Mays, there's more! Sibley thought the first and second looks he had of the Gloucester gull looked a bit different ... naw ... can't be! The following day Rick Heil finds the Gloucester Slaty-backed Gull(S) and "phone scopes" two different SB Gulls, here is the link :
We arrived about 10:30 and no sign of the Slaty-backed, but there are plenty of Common Eiders, a few Scaup, Red-breasted Mergs, Iceland and Glaucous Gulls. We speak with several birders and apparently there has been no sign of the gulls all morning. Eventually we do find a few of the Dovekies, a life bird for me (just never chased one down), I manage a few photos through the bins and Paul's scope.
Dovekie in Gloucester Harbor (digi-binned)
Another Dovekie in Gloucester Harbor (digi-scoped)
Be carefull near that boat little fella or maybe this Dovekie has a dark side?

We gave up on the Slaty-backs for a bit and headed off to the Rockport Golf Course, after walking the paved path ways and no Solitaire, a few things didn't add up. Oops, we're at the Bass Rocks Gold and Tennis Club, wrong place! Upon arrival at the correct golf course, we see a sign "Golf course closed and NO birdwatching", this must be the place. We bird from the street a bit, if the Solitaire is there its keeping a low profile because there is a very vocal and active Merlin carving up the sky and agitating the crows.

At Halibut Point we just missed a few Bohemian Waxwings and decide to head back to East Gloucester for the gulls. Niles Pond, just east of Gloucester harbor has a few thousand gulls on it, Herring, Great Black-backed, Ring Billed, Iceland (6) , Glaucous (4) and a few dozen Bonepart's. While the Slatys are not to found here, the venue provides great viewing of the various species and ages of gulls. One 2nd year type Glaucous is so pale it almost appears to be albino, but the bill looks like a typical 2nd winter Glaucous's should.

Pale white 2nd year Glaucous Gull
Pale white 2nd year Glaucous Gull (note 1/4/2008....having seen better photo of this bird, taken by Phil Brown (, this may not be a Glaucous . I have asked Phil about his opinions and opinions of others).

We skipped a lot of regular stops normally made on a trip to Cape Ann, as we had some specific birds in mind and a bit of a tight time schedule. While missed some target birds, Cape Ann is always a great winter birding destination and I'll be visiting again in January.

Today's list:

Canada Goose...300
Mute Swan...2
American Black Duck...25
Ring-necked Duck...8
Greater Scaup...8
Common Eider...200
White-winged Scoter...2
Long-tailed Duck...2
Common Goldeneye...2
Red-breasted Merganser...25
Common Loon...3
Cooper's Hawk...1
Red-tailed Hawk...1
Peregrine Falcon...2
Bonaparte's Gull...40
Herring Gull...800
Iceland Gull...8
Glaucous Gull...4
Great Black-backed Gull...600
Rock Pigeon...100
Mourning Dove...2
Blue Jay...2
American Crow...5
Black-capped Chickadee...4
Tufted Titmouse...2
White-breasted Nuthatch...2
American Robin...2
Northern Mockingbird...2
European Starling...300
Cedar Waxwing...16
Dark-eyed Junco...2
Northern Cardinal...2
American Goldfinch...
House Sparrow...25

Common Flicker...1
Yellow-rumped Warbler...1

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Westminster, Ma. CBC (N. Gardner) 12/22/07

With the exception of one year, owling has been rather unproductive in my section of this Christmas Count. But, it is the "home town" count so I usually put in a few token hours of effort before dawn. After hitting a few spots from the car, I took the 1.5 mile snowshoe route I had scouted on Thursday. While my owling "luck" held true, I had a very enjoyable walk through the woods, got some exercise and saw lots of fresh deer and snowshoe hare tracks.

I was at Mount Wachusett Community College just before dawn trying to pick up the Pine Grosbeaks seen there earlier. The first bird I hear is a Mourning Dove's wings as it leaves its roost, a few American Tree Sparrows are in the marsh. Pine Grosbeaks call in the distance, but a real surprise...drum roll please.... is a lone Canada Goose flying west. CBC's are a "relative thing" when it comes to species distribution, and I did not expect any waterfowl with this year's heavy snow and ice cover. Another "good bird" is a single Snow Bunting calling as it flew overhead, it makes a few passes but I never locate this bird in the binoculars.

Female Pine Grosbeak near the college

25 Pine Grosbeaks will be the final tally in this area before moving up to the Lake Wompanoag area. I pickup a small flock of Evening Grosbeaks and 4 more Pines, in the same tree on Stone Street! Evening Grosbeaks were once very common birds, but they have been in short supply for the past several years. Wild Turkeys are seen along road sides and in trees in 3 different area, I continue add chickadees, nuthatches, Blue Jays, the stuff CBC's are made of.

Wild Turkeys on Stone Street, Gardner

I move back in town for the chore of counting House Sparrows, Rock Pigeons and European Starlings. A small flock of Common Redpolls pass overhead and then an adult Red-tailed Hawk at Crystal Lake cemetery, which I will meet up with again. The old landfill, once the "epicenter" for gulls, crows and starlings, a place to really add some "numeric heft" to the total, was essentially "null and void", an avian desert since it closed in 2005!

While walking some city streets I manage to find my, and the counts, only White-throated Sparrow with more "regulars" but a close look at an adult Sharp-shinned Hawk is nice.

Golden-crowned Kinglets are in short supply this year, but I have seen a few in recent weeks near the east side of Crystal Lake. As I got out of the car, a Red-tailed Hawk passes very low behind a snow bank, it doesn't come out the other side. I slowly move for a better angle and see it has just cut the city's squirrel population by one! It stays "put" and I get a series of 1/2 decent pictures (1 is below). The "tail" then moves to the cover of the nearby woodlot of eat in privacy. I miss the kinglets but this is the most enjoyable sighting of the day!

Red-tailed Hawk with Gray Squirrel (digi-binned)

The list from my section (only) of the count:
Canada Goose...1
Wild Turkey...13
Sharp-shinned Hawk...1
Red-tailed Hawk...1
Ring-billed Gull...1
Rock Pigeon...113
Mourning Dove...80
Downy Woodpecker...9
Hairy Woodpecker...3
Pileated Woodpecker...1
Blue Jay...43
American Crow...28
Common Raven...1
Black-capped Chickadee...154
Tufted Titmouse...18
Red-breasted Nuthatch...2
White-breasted Nuthatch...15
Brown Creeper...2
American Robin...8
European Starling...281
Cedar Waxwing...26
American Tree Sparrow...20
White-throated Sparrow...1
Dark-eyed Junco...43
Snow Bunting...1
Northern Cardinal...12
Pine Grosbeak...30
House Finch...9
Common Redpoll...10
American Goldfinch...40
Evening Grosbeak...12
House Sparrow....102

Friday, December 21, 2007

Wompanoag Sanctuary, Gardner, Ma. 12/20/07

The trail map of the sanctuary
Yesterday I took the opportunity to snowshoe, in some pristine conditions, at the Massachusetts Audubon Wompanoag Sanctuary at the end of Raymond Street in Gardner. I have the "brilliant" idea of doing some owling out there for the Westminster Christmas Count (on 12/22/07) and figure if (a big if) I decide to give this night time hike a shot, I'd better break a trail ahead of time. Traveling the edge of the fields would be easy enough in the dark, but the woodland section of the Moosewood Trail is narrow, lightly used (as is the whole sanctuary) and tough to follow.

A typical scene along the wooded portions of my hike

As I was strapping on the "shoes" I could hear a Pine Grosbeak calling in the distance, once I'm underway I find this female and its all alone and feeding in a small vine of oriental bittersweet. The snow is absolutely perfect, but as expected there are not be too many birds. Once I reach the forest I hear and see a Ruffed Grouse flush, during the Breeding Bird Atlas project I confirmed breeding of this species in two different areas of this sanctuary.

Pileated Woodpecker work

The remainder of the walk is very uneventful, bird wise, a few Black-capped Chickadees and an Evening Grosbeak heard calling as it passed over the tree tops. While I am still "up in air" on this idea, there is good habitat for Northern Saw Whet Owl and I have had Barred and Great Horned in here before. It turned out the Moosewood loop is a very nice snowshoeing route, not too long (1.5 miles), fairly level and a nice variety of open fields and thick mixed forest.

My tracks upon completing the Moosewood Loop

Bird list from the hike

Ruffed Grouse....1
Blue Jay....1
American Crow....2
Black-capped Chickadee....4
Cedar Waxwing....3
Pine Grosbeak....1
Evening Grosbeak....1

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Baldwinville/ Birch Hill WMA 12/15/2007 (Athol CBC)

Today's conditions were very fitting for a Christmas Count, cold 12f at dawn, a foot of new snow, beautiful winter scenery and winter finches!
My favorite place to begin this count is a small bluff that over looks a weedy marsh along the Otter River, that locals call the "back bay". Some years Canada Geese , Mallards and Black Ducks roost here, but with little open water there will be nothing with webbed feet in my area today! The first birds of the day, before dawn, are a few Song and dozens of American Tree Sparrows calling from the marsh. This area usually has a large flock of Tree Sparrows, being able to count or even estimate is difficult if they stay hunkerd down, but after sunrise I did see a large number flying just over the weeds, moving across the marsh, approx. 175!

The "back bay" at sunrise

Very little open water on the river

While keeping track of the sparrows, I heard a small flock of Common Redpolls and a few Evening Grosbeaks pass overhead..two distant Ravens are croaking. This is good! After bush-whacking along the edge of the marsh for an hour, I hear a few voices.... a few "hard core" duck hunters are out on the marsh. A few minutes later I hear more Redpolls then a big flock, a blizzard of birds, rises from the marsh over the trees and out of sight, I estimate approx. 250 birds by "blocking out" groups of 20, the largest group I've seen in over 10 years! This marsh contains a lot of seed bearing "weedy" plants to attract the usual sparrows and the Redpolls had joined in.

Some of the "back bay's" natural food

The next "good" bird is a Northern Shrike flying over the marsh and then perching atop a maple tree on the far side of the marsh. A few hours later I'll this (presumably the same) bird again, its an immature. The next good birds will be a small flock of 5 Eastern Bluebirds, not a common winter bird in this area, and a first (for this sector) since I began covering this area in 1993. I am unable to flush a grouse, in a usually reliable area and continue back to where I parked, but seeing I will be birding on foot nearly the whole day there is still hope. one of 5 Eastern Bluebirds, catching some early sunshine!

Another first for my area is a Hermit Thrush that responded well to my screech owl imitation, and it cooperates for a photo!

A cooperative Hermit Thrush

I am able to track down a few distant calls of Pine Grosbeaks to a crab apple tree on Memorial Street, this group of 20+ birds has a few adult males (see below). Some leave the tree and begin to gather grit at the end of the street and eventually 18 fly off and 12 stay behind in the tree. Male Pine Grosbeak working the fruit

Not to be completely out done, 45 minutes later, I find "the other" grosbeak, 2 dozen Evening Grosbeaks (a few streets over) in a maple tree and working a few nearby feeding stations. I got a few photos below.
A nice male Evening Grosbeak in a maple tree

Male and 2 female Evening grosbeaks

I finished birding the Baldwinville village area , 6 miles in 5 1/2 hours on foot, about noon and then hit a few spots from the car before heading up to the Birch hill area to snowshoe. I had 32 species on the "books", which is quite good for this area considering a complete lack of waterfowl! Adding new species in the afternoon will prove difficult, most of the roads in the WMA are now gated off and become snowmobile highways for the winter. I do "spish" in pods of Black-capped Chickadees, Red and White-breasted Nuthatches, an occasional Brown Creeper a few more Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers. The high lights from this area are 2 Ruffed Grouse and having a nice look a flock of 22 Common Redpolls eating birch catkins.

Hey, some one's gotta test the ice! (Lake Dennison)

Today's list:
Ruffed Grouse...2
Red-tailed Hawk...1
Rock Pigeon...14
Mourning Dove...3
Downy Woodpecker...12
Hairy Woodpecker...4
Northern Shrike...1
Blue Jay...58
American Crow...17
Common Raven...2
Black-capped Chickadee...127
Tufted Titmouse...11
Red-breasted Nuthatch...9
White-breasted Nuthatch...17
Brown Creeper...4
Carolina Wren...1
Eastern Bluebird...5
Hermit Thrush...1
American Robin...19
Northern Mockingbird...3
European Starling...2
Cedar Waxwing...120
American Tree Sparrow...193
Song Sparrow...15
White-throated Sparrow...2
Dark-eyed Junco...44
Northern Cardinal...13
Pine Grosbeak...30
House Finch...15
Common Redpoll...272
American Goldfinch...53
Evening Grosbeak...29
House Sparrow...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Tis the CBC Season

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count season starts today and tomorrow I will cover the village of Baldwinville, Ma. and the Birch Hill Wildlife Management Area(WMA)in Winchedon, for the Athol CBC. Yesterday a foot of snow fell, which will restrict my coverage of Birch Hill, as the dirt roads in the area are not maintained during the winter months. Snowmobiles, cross country skiers and the occasional dog sled team will rule this area during the snowy months. I will probably spend at least a few hours snowshoeing the area tomorrow.

The Baldwinville village area is where I will spend the morning, birding along the Otter River, thickets off Pleasant Street and all the streets of the village. Most of the species will come from this area, while the Birch Hill WMA is an exercise in counting Black-capped Chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers and the occasional Raven or Northern Shrike. I have provided a table (below) of the species counts from this section of the Athol CBC since I started in 1993.

Note 1994 I spent covering another "territory" within count circle.
With a nor'easter predicted for Sunday, some counts have already rescheduled from Sunday to Saturday. This is always a tough call for compilers, while it might be better weather to bird, these counts will loose some participants to other commitments. I had planned to cover the Groton area for their CBC on Sunday, but with heavy snow and high winds predicted, this count had be conducted on Saturday 12/15. In this case I choose to cover the count that is closest to my home, plus Athol count was the first CBC I ever participated in and despite an always modest species list, is my favorite!

Below is a digi-binned photo of a young Sharp-shinned Hawk from Fitch's Bridge Road, in Groton Ma. As I walked the road I wondered why a typically productive area for sparrow was completely void of any birds. I look up this guy was carefully surveying the area!

A back view of an immature Sharp-shinned hawk
...and the front

This bird was looking over it's should as there was some sparrow activity a few hundred feet behind it, one of those birds was a Vesper Sparrow! A "good" bird in this area any time of year, especially during Christmas Count time. Hopefully some one will get this bird on the CBC.

This year's flight of irruptive species such as crossbills, grosbeaks, siskins, redpolls, and Northern Shrikes should help "spice up" CBC's! Especially the counts in some of the higher elevations with little open water and lower species diversity.

Donald and Lillian Stokes have a nice write up on the Christmas Bird Counts on their blog:

Friday, December 7, 2007

Abberant Song Sparrow (Groton, Ma. 12/7)

I did a little lunch time birding today and found a nice flock of 150+ Cedar Waxwings off Rte 111 in Groton, at a horse farm. As I walked up to a nearby thicket, I immediately noticed a smallish bird with a bright white forehead, giving the initial impression of a sparrow type bird. Closer inspection revealed it was a Song Sparrow with a white head, but otherwise normally plumaged and gave the typical Song Sparrow "chip" note. I quickly got the camera and binoculars lined up in an attempt for a photo or 2 and managed a few obstructed shots of the bird (below). It perch up nicely a few times, but I have yet to perfect hand-held digi-binning and missed. Sometimes a less than perfect shot will have to do.

A seemingly headless sparrow
A better look at the normal-bodied white-headed Song Sparrow

This is the 3rd white-headed species I have seen this year, an American Robin (see my 4/8/07) entry, a Common Grackle during the spring and today's Song Sparrow.

I saw Pine Grosbeaks in 4 different locations; 3 near Gardner High School (which has 16 crab apple trees LOADED with fruit), at least 3 more at the golf course feeding, 1 in Ashburnham and another 5 or 6 in flight over South Ashburnham. Perhaps we can upgrade this year's flight up to an infestation. The upcoming Christmas counts should be a lot of fun.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Today's commute Gardner/Groton, MA. 12/06/2007

A handsome male Pine Grosbeak "digi-binned" from work today in Groton, Ma.

I have been looking for Pine Grosbeaks and Bohemian Waxwings during my commute to work each day, basically glancing in areas with concertrations of crab apple and other fruiting trees. While it appears the bulk of the Bohemians are still north of MAssachusetts, I've been doing ok with the "Pines". There were a 8 grosbeaks yesterday and one today along with a Snow Bunting (seen in flight) near Mount Wachusett Community College (Gardner). On monday 12/3 , during the snow storm, there were 7 working on fruit in a front yard near Ashburnham center.
Today, when I drove into work, in Groton, Ma., there were about a dozen "Pines" perched and feeding in one of several berry trees near the building. I stopped and took a few photos of a handsome male (above).
I recall a large incursion of this species back in the winter of 1993/1994 of which there seemed to be very few males, I'd venture to say about 1 in 50. This year there seems to be a decent percentage of adult males, perhaps 20%. Today's Groton "Pines" were the first I'd seen in Groton since 1998. There are wide spread reports coming from Essex county, northern Worcester County, the Quabbin region, Western Mass., southern New Hampshire and limited reports from Conn. and Rhode Island. Rather than chase across the state to see these grosbeaks it might be best to look locally, in crab apple and other fruiting trees.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Pine Grosebeaks at Gardner golf course

Today I took 4 1/2 mile walk from home to Crystal Lake cemetery, walking around the lake on the golf course, by Green Street across from Mount Wachusett Community College. There was few waterfowl on Crystal Lake, come Mallards, a Common Goldeneye and a few Canada Geese. Toward the north west side of the gold course I heard my first Pine Grosbeaks of the walk, about 15 in flight headed south . A few minutes later 7 were flying west and then moving south west. I've seen my fair of this species so far this fall, but had yet to see any up close.

I headed toward some crabapple trees I had previous seen from Green Street and finnally saw some feeding. I aproached and they remained busy "chewing" up fruit to get at the seeds, the 16 "Pine's" showed nicely all together in a small crab apple (below).

A tree full of Pine Grosbeaks

I was unable to get a digi scope photo, as I had made a slight mis-calculation when I left the house. The temp. "read" 28 f on my thermometer, so I dressed with just a light fleece top, figuring that would keep me moving. The themometer was actually on yesterday's high temp, the temp durning my walk was in the mid-teens, so my hands and wrists were rather numb...with essentially no dexterity.

Another highlite,was 3 Common Redpolls in flight and calling. These were my first redpolls of the year for me.

A couple of other non-bird observations on the walk were a few guys getting their last? golf round in of the year. At 15 f, the fairways felt like cement as I walked the course, the greens must have been just a little fast!

Romeo....the most popular guy in town...??? The list for today's walk:

Canada Goose...2
Common Goldeneye...1
Red-tailed Hawk...1
Rock Pigeon...15
Mourning Dove...4
Red-bellied Woodpecker...1
Downy Woodpecker...1
Blue Jay...8
American Crow...3
Black-capped Chickadee...25
Tufted Titmouse...6
Red-breasted Nuthatch...1
White-breasted Nuthatch...4
Brown Creeper...2
American Robin...6
American Tree Sparrow...3
Dark-eyed Junco...8
Northern Cardinal...6
Pine Grosbeak...26
Common Redpoll...3
American Goldfinch...4
House Sparrow...40