Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Feeder Birds 12/31

The recent cold weather and snow has brought good numbers of the birds to my feeding station. Yesterday and today in approximately 60 Pine Siskins and 25 American Goldfinches have been the "headliners". It took 3 photos to show the birds that were on my deck this morning.

The morning feeder crowd just after 8AM.

The back rail
Oil prices dropped, so these guys are going to help the oil man put me in the poor house.

Close up digi-bin photo

One of the siskins was very yellow, I have seen in David Sibley's guide reference to a yellow variant that is fairly unusual but more common in the southwest. I am not sure if this is of that form, but it looks pretty close. I recall seeing a similar, but even more yellow siskin in Gardner about 5 years ago. Below are a few digi-bin shots
The yellow siskin.
"yellow" siskin near a House Finch.

Another view.

A frontal view, showing a bit of yellow.

A seemly healthy looking House Finch, on 12/30

The same bird as above, but the other side tells another story.
The was an American Goldfinch a few days previous, that had conjunctivitis in both eyes. It had to flutter a good deal before landing on a perch due to its limited eyesight. I'll be keeping the feeders clean, hopefully the neighbors will too. The Cornell web site mentions these diseased birds often show at feeding stations alone, the above House Finch was indeed a loner. I did not see it today 12/31.
12/31 feeder list:

Mourning Dove...15
Red-bellied Woodpecker...1
Downy Woodpecker...2
Black-capped Chickadee...6
Tufted Titmouse...2
White-breasted Nuthatch...2
European Starling...1
American Tree Sparrow...1
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)...6
House Finch...6
Pine Siskin...60
American Goldfinch...24

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Westminster CBC 12/27

I was hestitant to start this count very early, as freezing rain was predicted for early morning changing over to rain. At 5:30AM my driveway was icy but sanding crews had taken care of the roads, so the driving was better than expected. None of this ice stuck to the trees, which was a relief after the disaster of 2 weeks ago.

The wind was calm so I decided to do a bit of owling. Just down the street, I stopped near a hemlock stand and managed to "lure" a Northern Saw Whet Owl to call out. Smith Street in Gardner, inside High Ridge WMA, was plowed so I walked in a 1/2 mile, but could not manage another owl. The same for the few stops along Kelton Street near Lake Wompanoag, though a distant pack of coyotes answered my "suspiciuous" Barred Owl calls.
Sunrise over the Smith Street marsh at high Ridge WMA, well not really, those are the prison lights!

Walking around near Mount Wachusett Community College, I started my daylight birding at 7AM. American Tree and Song Sparrows, plenty of American Robins, I heard a Common Redpoll calling over head, being a nice surprise. While Redpolls were wide spread last year, but they are very scarce this year.
Three large Cedars, at Crystal lake Cemetery, were snapped in half during the recent ice storm, this type of scene was all too common in the area
Near Crystal Lake Cemetery, I work some feeding stations, near a powerline cut and pickup my 1st Carolina Wren of the day and my only Mockingbird. I am surprised to see a good size flock of waterfowl over head which included about 50 Mallards and 2 Black Ducks, with no open water in my area, these are bonus birds!

This Carolina Wren remained quiet, but stood at attention for a digi-bin photo.
The rain stays light, for most of the morning, and the birds are responding well to my screech owl imitation, so the numbers of Downy Woodpeckers, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatche and juncos, add up nicely. I manage a few Red-breasted Nuthatches, Golden Crowned Kinglets, 2 flocks of Pine Siskins and Wild Turkeys, off Raymond Street.
I "ran" into Butch on Raymond Street, well... he was doing all the running, I had found my 1st Carolina Wren in his back yard.

By mid-morning the rain begins to pickup and feet are wet , my species list is decent at about 30, but the rain is slowing things a bit. Enough with the wet feet ,there is a nice locally owned shoe store, Dow Family Shoes, on the west side of my only takes 20 mintues, 100 bucks and I'm standing in a new pair of waterproof and warm Kamik winter boots. Now I am ready to walk some city streets!
Remains from the recent ice storm, this appears to be a vacant house. No tree removal has taken place, nor the broken bay window repaired.

Most year's finding one Carolina Wren is good for Gardner, but today I managed to find 4, only one called, the others remained quiet. The past few years I have worked the "city" streets a bit more, that helped with the wren count today. Two Red-bellied Woodpeckers were a nice find too, another formerly rare bird in these parts, now they are regular. This count will easily break records on both Carolina Wren and Red-bellied Woodpecker this year.
The rain is off and on the rest of the day, but I am able to add common species near feeding stations. It is difficult to add new species in the afternoon, as the habitat is more less similar to what I've already covered. Late in the afternoon, while "spishing" in a flock chickadees , I thought to myself, "boy I could really use a Pileated Woodpecker right about now"! I literally turned around, and saw a crow sized bird flying past with white flashing on the underwings, BINGO....that doesn't happen too often.
I ended the day with 34 species, up from 32 last year and 1081 individuals which was EXACTLY the same 1081 as last year!
The list for the day from my territory, on the north side of Gardner:

Canada Goose...1
American Black Duck...2
Wild Turkey...27
Red-tailed Hawk...1
Ring-billed Gull...7
Rock Pigeon...97
Mourning Dove...31
Northern Saw-whet Owl...1
Red-bellied Woodpecker...2
Downy Woodpecker...14
Hairy Woodpecker...2
Pileated Woodpecker...1
Blue Jay...67
American Crow...35
Black-capped Chickadee...188
Tufted Titmouse...29
Red-breasted Nuthatch...2
White-breasted Nuthatch...21
Carolina Wren...4
Golden-crowned Kinglet...2
American Robin...159
Northern Mockingbird...1
European Starling...70
Cedar Waxwing...3
American Tree Sparrow...25
Song Sparrow...5
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)...53
Northern Cardinal...7
House Finch...2
Common Redpoll...1
Pine Siskin...23
American Goldfinch...43
House Sparrow...105

Friday, December 26, 2008

Whalom Lake 12/26

On my commute into work this morning, I stopped by Whalom lake, in Luneneburg, Ma. to check gull and waterfowl numbers. For some reason this small lake has one particular spot, on the north side near the town beach, that stays opened fairly late. There was only a few Mallards and Canada Geese but nearly 175 gulls in the following "break down":

Ring-billed Gull ~110
Herring Gull ~50
Iceland (Kumlien's type, as are nearly 100% in Massachusetts) 1 1st cycle (photo below)
Great Black-backed Gull 3

1st Cycle Iceland Gull at Whalom Lake in Lunenburg, Ma., my first Iceland Gull in Worcester County since Spring.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Baldwinville/Birch Hill WMA 12/20 (Athol CBC)

The birding was as bleak as the scene over "The Back Bay"
This would be the 15th year I cover this section of the Athol Christmas Bird Count and one of the more challenging. Weather forecasters predicted the snow would stop at before dawn, but it snowed steady and strong all day. Typically I walk the "Back Bay" section along the Otter River, and this year would be no exception. Last year I had tallied just over 20 species by the time I finished birding "The Back Bay", this year I don't think I had 20 individual birds. It took me nearly 1 1/2 hours before I "got" a chickadee, usually a large flock of American Tree Sparrows are roaming the wetland...I couldn't find them this year.
This brushy wetland is usually a reliable location for a big flock of Tree Sparrows, but not this year. Perhaps the recent ice storm pushed these birds away, perhaps I just missed them.

The walking was not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be, the tree destruction, from last week's ice storm, was not as severe as in Westminster and Gardner. On the down side, my make-shift "poor-man's Gortex" socks (aka 2 plastic grocery bags) failed to keep my feet dry during a stream crossing. Half my right foot would be numb for the remainder of the day and to add injury to insult...I lost a battle with a thicket, later on, and had to remove a few thorns from my face. New boots will be my Christmas list.

But, all was not lost, once I returned near the village I had a nice look at a Field Sparrow, my first on this CBC. A few minutes later I heard, then saw, a Swamp Sparrow along the river bank, another first for my section.
The handsome and often under appreciated Blue Jay, looking pretty sharp during the storm.

Along Memorial Street, I had a nice conversation with an older gentleman, who keeps a reliable feeding station. He mentioned he'd recently read about over-wintering hummingbirds at heated feeders, and I chimed in about the recent Broad-billed Hummingbird on Cape Cod. Maybe he'll install a heated hummingbird feeder for next year's count. I got my only Hairy Woodpecker and Pine Siskin of the day in his yard. That single siskin, mixed in with goldfinches, would be another first for me, in this section of the count. For the most part I walked the rest of the village streets and picked up the typical "feeder type" birds, but they were tough to find and fewer than normal.

Black-capped Chickadee would get top honors for numbers in my section of the count, with 61.

In the afternoon I headed up to the Birch Hill WMA/Lake Dennison area, managing to add Red-breasted Nuthatch, a few Golden-crowned Kinglets , Black-capped Chickadees and Tufted Titmice. I snowshoed for about a mile, trying to " kick-up" a Ruffed Grouse but failed. The winter scenery and failing snow was picturesque, but the nearby heavily used snowmobile trails left little silence.

I ended the day by driving back to Baldwinville, on the way to the compilation, with 25 species one short of my all-time low species count. The 8 European Starlings perched near the center would bring me to 26 species, the 334 individual birds would be my lowest total by over a 100.
The day's list:

Rock Pigeon...28
Mourning Dove...16
Downy Woodpecker...6
Hairy Woodpecker...1
Blue Jay...26
American Crow...4
Black-capped Chickadee...61
Tufted Titmouse...11
Red-breasted Nuthatch...5
White-breasted Nuthatch...7
Golden-crowned Kinglet...8
American Robin...9
Northern Mockingbird...1
European Starling...8
Cedar Waxwing...8
American Tree Sparrow...24
Field Sparrow...1
Song Sparrow...6
Swamp Sparrow...1
White-throated Sparrow...3
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)...42
Northern Cardinal...8
House Finch...14
Pine Siskin...1
American Goldfinch...18
House Sparrow...17

Thursday, December 18, 2008


The following are photos from the recent ice storm, of December 11 and 12th, that effected Central New England. These photos are from Newcomb Road area of Westminster, Massachusetts. Pictures really don't do justice to what things looked and sounded like Friday morning. Early Friday morning I was driving home from Keene, NH, but it wasn't until I reached Westminster untill I realized just how bad things were.
Rte 2A in Westminster

I got past this leaning tree, but a dead end was just a little further down the road, actually..several dead ends. I couldn't get home, after trying four different routes, so I stopped by my cousin's house at the end of the street. She'd been up since mid-night listening to trees (not branches) breaking. Fortunately none hit her home.

Driving was a bit like playing a "real live' video game...a branch here, a tree there and wires wires everywhere.

Near downtown Westminster

Near Westminster Center
Apparently the undertaker was not using his hammock, seriously this is an undertakers yard.

A typical scene, tree limbs on wires.

The traffic lights (the last working traffic light I'd seen was in Keene, NH) were not working and signs were obstructed, most drivers on the road were patient and curtious....except for a few people, when one moron cut another off, at the only opened gas station in Fitchburg. But, Dunkin Dounuts was more crowed than the gas station.

A Holly Shrub

My cousin Susan and I began to walk Newcomb Road toward my place and her brother's house, to assess the damage. An earlier try sent us back as branches (and tree tops) were still falling, so we took a drive through Leominster, Fitchburg, a bit of Lunenburg (there was similar destruction everwhere we traveled). At this point (above photo) her nephew had already done some chainsaw work (on Newcomb Road), while wearing a snowmobile helmet, until he "hit the big wood".
Susan moves branches farther along Newcomb Road, while Tom takes photos, "don't miss the ones behind you"! The over turned trees were pushed aside Saturday night with heavy machinery.

This was the scene on Barthrick Road, that is a road?

More of the same on Barthrick. There was a sighting of a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher back in May 1970 (Worcester County Bird list, Robert C. Bradbury 1991) seen on the adjacent property. One of VERY few (perhaps 2) ever reported in Worcester County.
This crew was only clearing "power lines". Helecopters would fly over the wires, noting where damage or leaning trees where, radio a flat bed truck which would haul in a log skidder (this with a 70' boom) to make repairs or remove trees and/or branches. These guys had worked 19 hours on Friday, more of the same Saturday...Sunday...etc...etc. They were making good overtime pay, and EARNING every penny of it! This crew was from Orange and Belchertown, areas just missed by this storms wrath. Crews from across the country have been brought in to assist local crews.

Unfortunately, many businesses were, and still are, shut down due to power if the economy is bad enough now something like this!
The cutting crew removes a "leaner" from the nearby power line.

Late Friday morning I snapped this photo and I kid you not, 30 seconds later I spotted an adult Bald Eagle, moving north, just over the tree tops. One would imagine it was a restless night for forest dwelling birds.
Another icey eagle

This ornamental held up nicely, and look great in the sun.

The branches supporting the crown of this tree colapsed, makes you wonder how the apple orchards faired?

If you look carefully you can see "hardly" a tree escaped damage in this area, those spruces did ok. Spruces did much better than White Pines in holding up the heavy ice.

The night scenery was spectacular, these photos were from out the french door, my point and shoot camera does not nearly capture the night-time beauty.... here they are any way.

Sunday night the temps warmed and the ice fell.

Nice scenery at Round Meadow Pond.

These Cedar Waxwings (part of a flock of 65), and a few robins, found some Winter Berry near the above spillway.

American Goldfinches "hit" the black oil sunflower seed hard.

This Hairy Woodpecker takes a "wack" at the ice covered suet feeder and made it to pay-dirt!.
Upper left hand coner of the feeder shows the work of the hairy Woodpecker (above).
This Downy Woodpecker waited until I broke the ice coating off the suet to show.
Its December 18th today and I just got power back a few hours ago, many homes and businesses still do not have power restored and may not for several more days.