Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Quabbin Gate 40 11/25/07

A walk into Gate 40, in Petersham, Ma. on the eastern side of Quabbin Reservoir, is a very popular walk for birders, wildlife watchers and history buffs. The walk is quite flat, on an old paved road and leads to the center of Dana (a town that was abolished with the building of the reservoir). My girlfriend, Laura, and I walked to Dana center and enjoyed some views of Pottapaug Pond, with some Hooded and Common Mergansers along with 3 Bald Eagles and 2 River Otters.

A sunny shelter cove on Pottapaug Pond just outside Dana Center.

We continued another 2 miles to the eastern shore of the reservoir where we found "limited" water birds, 1 Common Loon, 1 Ring-billed Gull and a distant Bald Eagle "putting up" with a few pesky American Crows. In the back of my mind was 3 Western Grebes that were found by a New Jersey birder a few weeks ago down the south end of Quabbin. The birder carefully described these birds and seemed to clearly have a knowledge of the difference between Red-necked (not uncommon on Quabbin this time of year) and Western Grebes! Sure enough a few local birders re found the Westerns a few days later, but they were not where we were, today!

The real high light of the 8 mile walk was the pre-winter sunshine, sheltered from the wind in such a beautiful remote area along the eastern shore across from Mount Zion (now an island).
Looking north

The low water levels had exposed several old stone walls (below).

Looking west toward Mt. Zion (Mt. Zion Island).

On the return walk we had a nice look at a Fox Sparrow and had a Saw Whet Owl answer my "tooting" whistles just before we got to the car. It first responded with a cat-like mew call and began the typical toot-toot-toot... from a stand of short White Pine. Roosting Robins and Mourning Doves were "rattled" a bit and could be heard shuffling about in the dark.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Human Powered Birding 11/24/07

Beginning 11/24 I made a new list, in my ebird account, which is "Gardner Human Powered". Pam Hunt, of Concord, NH has been birding this way for several years now and there is also a human powered (HP) catagory in the New Hampshire annual birdathon. These human powered lists are quite impressive. For example, Pam Hunt's best single year list for the city of Concord, NH is 182 species! During last year's New Hampshire birdathon, my team tallied 120 species during the day-long birdathon in Monadnock region of New Hamshire, not bad, but Richard Frencette's HP team tallied 117 (or maybe 118 I can't recall) species by walking, bicycling and kayaking in the greater Peterborough, NH area.

Pam passed along a few reasonable rules for HP birding:
1) The list is based on your primary residence. In other words, you can't drive to Plum Island, rent a beach house, and proceed to bike around the refuge to pad your list. If you move within the year, the list is transferable, which would be quite the coup if you moved to the coast! (my house is for sale so this could be an issue)

2) If you use conveyance other than your feet, said conveyance (bike or boat) must be moved without a car. This means that you can't drop a boat off at a lake using a motor vehicle, walk there from home, and count birds found using the boat. However, if the boat was already there (a friend's house, rental facility, etc.) you could bird from it without any guilt.

While I'm not going to throw away the car keys or do a cross country bike trek, I will do more birding on foot or via peddle not far from home. Oddly enough I do bird close to home often, but its amzing how easy it is to rack up 40 or 50 miles birding locally.

During saturday's walk, about 4 or 5 miles, I saw another Northern Shrike (near Mount Wachusett Community College) was my 5th in two weeks:
-Templeton 11/10 in flight not aged
-Royalston 11/10 an adult
-Ayer 11/12 adult
-Westminster 11/18 grayish imm.
-Gardner 11/24 a brownish imm.

Its be an excellent autumn for Northern Shrikes!!

Imm. Northern Shrike near Mount Wachusett Community College

Here is a complete list from the walk:

Canada Goose 14
American Black Duck 6
Mallard 65
Mallard X Black Hybrid 2
Common Goldeneye 1
Hooded Merganser 12
Common Merganser 1
Common Loon 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1
Ring-billed Gull 1
Rock Pigeon 15
Mourning Dove 5
Downy Woodpecker 1
Northern Shrike 1 Juv. brown type
Blue Jay 1
American Crow 3
Black-capped Chickadee 20
Tufted Titmouse 6
White-breasted Nuthatch 6
Golden-crowned Kinglet 7
American Robin 13
Northern Mockingbird 1
European Starling 150
American Tree Sparrow 3
Dark-eyed Junco 12
Northern Cardinal 3
Pine Grosbeak 1 calling from near the court house near MWCC
House Finch 2
American Goldfinch 5
House Sparrow 30

Monday, November 19, 2007

High Ridge WMA 11/19/07

My girlfriend and I did a long walk around High Ridge Wildlife Management area, a 2,000+ acer WMA in the towns of Gardner, Westminster and Ashburnham. We were not under any time consrtaints so I had a little more time to bird..... and skip stones across the thin ice on the newly frozen marshes that makes cool "finch-like noises" as the stones bounce! About a mile into the walk I heard, then saw, 5 or 6 Pine Grosbeaks flying over head and they eventually they set down on some high tree tops. I had also heard and seen a 1/2 dozen, a few miles, away earlier in the morning in Gardner.

We spent a bit of time looking at the crab apple trees near the hunter saftey building, off Overlook Road, and saw and heard more Pine Grosbeaks. Perhaps another 1/2 dozen, some where flying and a few perched atop Norway Spruces a 100 yards away. A male Sharp-shinned was passing overhead, perhaps that is what put the grosbeaks in flight. A few moments later I notice an immature Northern Shrike in a nearby tree, I managed to snap a few digi-bin photos (below).
Immature Northern Shrike

We heard some howling dogs, while we visited the marsh near the East Gardner Road gate, and then saw the truck (carrying the dogs) pass by. Later we spoke with a person walking her dogs and she said there was a Fox Hunt going on, in an area we'd already passed through " jolly good!". A bit later we the saw the "hunters" returning to their cars, apparetly it was a quick hunt and missed the action....we didn't get to hear the horn blow ..not even a "tally ho". But, the sight of the 2 dozen "well heeled" hunters crossing the fields on horse back was quite a sight.

Fox Hunters

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Spofford Lake (Spofford, NH) 11/17/07

My girlfriend and I walked the around around Spofford Lake, about a 6 1/2 mile walk, in the town of Spofford just west of Keene, NH today. It wasn't really a birding trip, but one of those "power walks", where if I stop and bird I have to do a bit of running to to keep on pace! Laura was scheduled for work at 3PM, so our time limit was 2 hours. I had hoped to hear some winter finches as we walked, while that was not the case today I did manage to see some waterfowl and a Bald Eagle.

Shortly after starting an adult Bald Eagle passed directly overhead at low altitude showing very nicely, with an "optics optional" view! The first good scan of the lake I got, in the north east corner of the lake,I was able to see a lone Red-necked Grebe. We heard lots of Black-capped Chickadees and lesser numbers of Tufted Titmice, Golden-crowned Kinglets(in hemlocks) and other common woodland species, but no winter finches. Once we reached the western shore, along rte 63, I was able to spot a Common Loon, 3 Common Mergansers and 2 Red-breasted Mergansers that were close to shore. Well toward the middle of the lake was a small raft of Common Goldeneyes and a few other diving ducks that I was not able identify, do to lack of a scope and lots of "heat distortion" from the air to water temperature differential.

We finished the walk in under 2 hours and I managed to "get" a few decent birds, mainly the Red-breasted Mergs and Red-necked Grebe. Both are fairly uncommon migrants away from the coast, of coarse the close look at the eagle was exceptional.

Here is a complete list for our walk:


American Black Duck...3
Common Goldeneye...8
Common Merganser...3
Red-breasted Merganser...2
Common Loon...1
Red-necked Grebe...1
Bald Eagle...1
Ring-billed Gull...3
Mourning Dove...2
Blue Jay...3
American Crow...8
Black-capped Chickadee...30
Tufted Titmouse...5
White-breasted Nuthatch...4
Brown Creeper...1
Golden-crowned Kinglet...5
Dark-eyed Junco...5
American Goldfinch...2

Saturday, November 10, 2007

11/10/07 Northern Worcester County Birds

This morning I birded around a few towns in North Worcester County including Gardner, Templeton, Royalston and Winchendon. I had a nice stop in the "Back Bay" section of Baldwinville (a village of Templeton), which is in my section of the Athol Christmas Bird Count (CBC). A pair of Carolina Wrens, 6 Fox Sparrows and a Northern Shrike that flew past carrying its next meal were all very nice. I hadn't seen any waxwings or grosbeaks but, there is plenty of crabapples and bittersweet in the area for future visits. Fox Sparrow, one of 6 I spished in at the end of Pleastant St. in Baldwinville
I made a quick pass through the Norcross and Church Hill areas of Templeton but found little other than Canada Geese, Rock Pigeons and other common species. Royalston center was my next stop, while I missed a few target species, such as Pine Grosbeak and Bohemian Waxwing I (and another birder) did manage to see 16 Pine Siskins, a pair of Evening Grosbeaks and another Northern Shrike (an adult). I magnaged to see another small flock of Siskins and a few more Evening Grosbeaks a few miles away off a dirt road near a maple sugar house.
American Tree Sparrow

Heading on more dirt roads in Birch Hill Wildlife Management Area, I made frequent stops only managing to spish in Black-capped Chickadees, titmice and nuthatches .... the typical stuff I get during the CBC. I made note of the cone crop on the red pines and a few small spruce groves. Lake Dennison didn't have any waterfowl. This section of Birch Hill WMA is also in my CBC sector, but some years its inaccessable if we have snow.

After raking and bagging some leaves I stopped up the street, at Crystal Lake, to view the gull roost. Herring (~350), Ring-billed (~30) and Great Black-backed Gulls were "it" for gulls. One gull stood a bit from the rest, I studied it for a while but finnally settled for it being a Herring Gull with essentially no dark gray streaks on the head. The lack of streaking appears to give it a more gentle "profile", similar to an Iceland Gull. Of course the black wing tips immediately ruled out an Iceland "Kumliean's", but this bird appeared a bit smaller than the nearby Herrings...perhaps a small female with delayed head molt?
I have included a few images below.

Light headed Herring Gull?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Winter is coming 11/8/07

Frosted Thistle and MWCC Campus Pond

Temperatures got down to 25f last night, even lingering bird species such as Yellow-rumped Warblers, Gray Catbirds and Blue Headed Vireos have left northern Worcester County. American Robins are still around and usually stay through the winter in limited numbers. The good news has been the recent incusion of irruptive winter bird species are making this winter looking pretty good (aside from $3 a gallon heating oil). I checked a few places , near Mount Wachusett Community College, where I have encountered Pine Grosbeaks and Bohemian Waxwings during previous winters but, found none

Now the colder weather has brought frost, gull numbers have dropped on the athletic fields at Gardner High School. I suspect the frost has driven the earth worms out of reach of the gulls and fall sports are about done so there is little excess "snackage" left behind by the students. I checked Crystal Lake and there were no gulls present, they still are roosting but they move out at day break most of the time. I did see a flock of 13 Common Goldeneyes on the lake and in flight as they flew a "laps" or two around the lake before settling back in.

Crystal Lake Cemetery view from the east side of the lake

Sunday, November 4, 2007

North Quabbin Gate 35 11/4/07

9 Members of the Forbush Bird Club walked in Gate 35 in New Salem for 2 1/2 ,miles into Petersham concentrating on eagles and watefowl.

We had nice looks at Bald Eagles (4 adults 1 juv.), perched in trees, soaring on high winds and one that dramatically swam for approx. 200 meters in the water to drag a large fish onshore. One member noted an eagle bathing, but it turned to be an adult Bald doing "the -not quite like Mark Spitz in "72"- butterfly" stroke in the choppy water. I had read accounts of Bald Eagles capturing large prey, in a few cases fish and one of a Common Loon, and unable to regain flight would swim it into shore rather than releasing the catch. I had expected the fish, once the eagle reached shore, to be larger (like a tuna) but it appeared to be perhaps 2 feet ish. Once reaching shore it was quickly joined a few more Bald Eagles, an adult and Juv.

I have included a few distant and very fuzzy images below:

Bald Eagle "on the down stroke" lifting its body from the water.

"keeping its head above water"
"reaching forward"

After "suffering" thorugh my distant grainy photos, here is a link to some better swimming eagle photos, I found on the internet, from Alaska. This Alaskan bird's fish was similar in size to the fish the above quabbin eagle hauled in:

Other hilights included a Ruddy Duck, 2 Bufflehead, 12 Common Loons, 4 Horned Grebes, 5 Red-necked Grebes and a Black Bellied Plover.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Mount Watatic Gray Jay 11/01/07

Gray Jay at the summit of Mount Watatic in Ashburnham, Ma.

I was able to hike up to mount Watatic today to try for the Gray Jay that has been present since at least the 21st of Oct. During the 1.1 mile hike from up the Wapck/Midstate Trail there were many Golden-crowned Kinglets and a few Ruby Crowned as well as lots of Black-capped Chickadees. I spished and imitated a Screech Owl to call in the song birds, hoping for a Boreal Chickadee but had no luck. I ran into a few birders hiking down and they reported the Jay was present and taking handouts. They also reported a Red Crossbill flew past.

Upon arriving near the summit I noticed a guy (Randy) looking in a spruce tree and I asked if he had the Jay. "Is that what this thing is?", he was hiking and while fairly knowledgeable on the common birds of our area, he was unfamiliar with Gray Jays. Notice Randy got a little more familiar with the species (below)!

I came baring food for the bird, peanuts, I also brought M+Ms...but those were for me! I held out a few peanuts for the Jay, it didn't come at first. Foolishly, I placed the open can of nut beside me and we all know corvids are fairly smart....I turned around and the bird was eating from the can of nuts. This tame behavior is very typical of the species, as they are seemingly very trusting and known as the "camp robber".
Why take a measley nut when I can have the whole can!
I capped the can, the Jay came to my boot!
Then my hand!

Time for a drink of bottled water!

I also did some other birding today, I saw my first Iceland Gulls of the adult at Gardner High School this morning and a 1st year Iceland at the Crystal Lake roost in the evening. Gull numbers at the the evening roost on Crystal Lake continue to be high, last night there was approx. 2,250 birds on the lake, this evening just over 1,000....gulls continue to arrive after dark so this evening apparent decline may just be the birds arriving later. There was also an adult and 1st year Lesser Black-backed Gull tonight! The bulk of the gulls have been Herring (80%), Ring-billed(10%) , Great Black-backed (5%) and just a few rarer species. Though, GBBG may increase to occasionally 400-500.