Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bohemian Waxings in Townsend, Ma. 1/31/2008

Occassionally, I like to make a few quick stops along West Meadow Road in West Townsend, during my commute to work. Over the years, I've found some nice birds such as Northern Shrike, Cackling Goose, Glaucous Gull (years ago, when there was a dump nearby), and 4 Sandhill Cranes last spring.

Cedar Waxwings and a Bohemian
Yesterday, 1/30, there was a flock of 50 Cedar Waxwings working some oriental bittersweet across the corn field to the north. I stopped again today and about 75 Cedars were "teed up" by the road about 50 yards away. While scanning the flock, I heard a Bohemian Waxwing calling and was able to find it a minute or two later. The flock moved a few hundred feet away and joined more waxwings, I heard a Bohemian call again and I finally found another. Half the birds flew off, circled and perched beside the road about 75 feet away. The digi-bin photo (below) does not do this bird, in the early morning sun, proper justice.

One of my winter favorites!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Superbowl of Birding 1/26/2008

Here is the list of birds seen and/or heard by the "Burger Kinglets" superbowl team between 5AM and 5PM in Essex County, Ma. (north of Boston) on Saturday 1/26. Our route consistied of Owling in Ipswich and Essex, then, Flax Pond in Lynn, Nahant, Lynn/Swampscott (waterfronts), Cape Ann (Gloucester/Rockport), through Essex/Ipswich, West Newbury, Plum Island concluding with a few stops along the Merrimac River to the Chain Bridge. I left the camera at home as there is little time to snap pictures during a day of fast paced birding.

Common Loon
Horned Grebe
Red-necked Grebe
Eared Grebe (Nile Beach)
Great Cormorant
Great Blue Heron (Cashman Park)
Turkey Vulture (Ipswich)
Canada Goose
Brant (Nahant)
Mute Swan
American Black Duck
Ring-necked Duck (Niles Pond)
Greater Scaup (Swampscott)
Lesser Scaup (SwampScott)
King Eider (Atlantic Drive , Elks Club stop)
Common Eider
Harlequin Duck (Andrew's Pt)
Surf Scoter
White-winged Scoter
Black Scoter
Common Goldeneye
Hooded Merganser (Flax Pond)
Red-breasted Merganser
Common Merganser
Bald Eagle (Merrimac River)
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk (Plum Island a few birds)
Merlin (Draw Bridge to plum island)
Peregrine Falcon (Gloucester)
American Coot (Flax Pond)
Black-bellied Plover (Brace Cove)
Sanderling (Brace Cove)
Purple Sandpiper
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Iceland Gull
Glaucous Gull ( a few in East Gloucester, one w/ a bad foot)
Great Black-backed Gull
Black Guillemot
Rock Dove
Mourning Dove
Eastern Screech-Owl (several in Ipswich and Essex, we had one trilling away in the early afternoon in Ipswich)
Great Horned Owl (a few in Ipswich and 1 in Essex)
Snowy Owl (Plum Island)
Long-eared Owl (Harrassed by crow near Niles Pond, 3 members of the team had good a look while it was perched before it was flushed by the crows for a second time), our only real surprise of the day.
Short-eared Owl (a few at plum Island)
Northern Saw-whet Owl (Island Road in Essex)
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Shrike (Good harbor beach, Gloucester and Plum Island)
Blue JayAmerican Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Pine on Plum Island)
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Winter Wren (Nahant Thicket, seemed like it was the only land bird in all of Nahant...guess the exterminator must missed this one!)
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
American Tree Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird (Town Farm Road Ipswich)
Brown-headed Cowbird (Town Farm Road Ipswich)
House Finch
Common Redpoll (Emery Lane small flock flew overhead)
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Here is a link to the Massachusetts Audubon Superbowl web site .

Our team, "The Burger Kinglets", was comprised of the following members:
Paul Meleski (Team captain)
Dan Berard
Chuck Caron
Rodney Jenkins
Tom Pirro

Friday, January 25, 2008

Possible Cackling Goose (Ipswich, Ma.) 1/24

Chuck Caron and I found a small white-cheeked goose along the Ipswich River yesterday 1/24/2008. It looked very good for being a Cackling Goose, small size 2/3 that of nearby Canada (but maybe just a tad larger than some other Cacklers I have seen), over all a frosty appearance, blocky looking head shape. However, the bill did not appear to be as stubby as I would expect based on previous Cacklers I have seen, field guide illustrations and Internet photos I have reviewed. Here are a few digi photos I took. So is this feature within the "range" of a "normal Cackling Goose", could it be a hybrid or another form within the Canada "clan" or am I looking too deeply into this, comments to ALURAP@VERIZON.NET are welcomed.Possible Cackling Goose
Possible Cackling Goose

Note: in addition to the comment below, 2 others feel this would fit a smaller form on the Canada side of the Cackling/Canada complex. Mainly, based on the lack of a stubby bill and head shape.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Barred Owl 1/20/2008

I was leaving home sunday morning, and heard 2 American Crows making a lot of noise in the back yard. They were harrassing a Barred Owl perched about 5 feet off the ground in the back corner of my yard. Soon 2 crows became 3, then 4 and the owl moved to another tree higher up and eventually moved along after the 5th crow arrived. Hopefully it found the spruce grove down the hill where it could hind from the crows.
There has been many reports of dead Barred Owls found on the road sides, in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, this winter. There has also been reports of this species from places like Cape Cod, were they are very very uncommon, so perhaps this species "irrupted" from the north adding to our normal resident population.

Barred Owl (digi-binned), was a first for me in my yard!

In Keene, NH, was a flock of over 200 Cedar Waxwings. I carefully looked through the flock for a Bohemian but could not find one. I digi-binned a few photos below. Cedar Waxwing about to swallow a crabapple.
"put the camera down, and nobody gets hurt!"

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Gardner 1/19/2008 (HP)

This afternoon's 7 mile walk was an effort to add to my human powered list for 2008, or BiGBY birding "if you will". Getting off to a nice start where 2 new birds in my yard, 2 White-throated Sparrows and a Red-breasted Nuthatch.

There was little else of note until I reached the bike path parking lot, across from Mt. Wachusett Community College, approximately 15 Pine Grosbeaks showed well. It seems nearly every time I'm out and about, in town, I see at least a few and I am not yet "sick of them". They are more widespread and abundant since I moved to Gardner in 1988! A few of today's grosbeaks were skermishing with each other and making a raspy buzzy "warning" if one approached another too closely.
Moving in for the "kill" Female type Pine GB
This male Pine Grosbeak had some "splotchy" orangey coloration
Moving past the college I noticed a few American Robins but little else. On Raymond Road I found a few more Pine Grosbeaks, these were feeding on, what appeared to be, "buds" of a Black Spruce tree. There are few houses and fewer feeding stations along this road, a few chickadees , crows and a Hairy Woodpecker was about it, late afternoon walks can be quiet.
The return walk home was uneventfull with the exception of picking up another bird for the BiGBY list, a Great Black-backed Gull. Since the closure of the landfill, in 2005, this species is no longer a "gimme bird" in the dead of winter. My human powered list now stands at 37 species, I will be lucky to crack 50 by the end of February, then things will begin change.

This afternoon's list:

Red-tailed Hawk....1
Great Black-backed Gull....1
Mourning Dove....29
Downy Woodpecker....3
Hairy Woodpecker....1
Blue Jay....1
American Crow....6
Black-capped Chickadee....15
Red-breasted Nuthatch....1
White-breasted Nuthatch....3
American Robin....9
American Tree Sparrow....3
White-throated Sparrow....2
Dark-eyed Junco....12
Northern Cardinal....2
Pine Grosbeak....19
American Goldfinch....2
House Sparrow....1

Monday, January 14, 2008

Cape Ann 1/13/2008 Thayer's Gulls

A glassy Gloucester Harbor from Jodrey Pier
Sunday 1/13, Paul Meleski, Chuck Caron and I visited Cape Ann for the typical winter "circuit", however we planned on spending extra time working on gulls. The Slaty-backed Gull, present since just before Christmas, is still being seen intermittently. With the gulls being scrutintized by a plethora of highly skilled birders, perhaps its no surprise that a Thayer's Gull was "pulled" out of the scrum. Upon arrival at Jodrey Pier, in Gloucester, we noted the calm and unseasonably mild weather, but also very low numbers of gulls. Only a single Iceland Gull was seen by another group, but the "regular" Peregrine Falcon was perched on the town hall clock tower, which seems to be leaning east a bit!

We headed over to view 10 Pound Island, typically a good stop for Barrow's Goldeneye but not today. Just down the street we quickly found the Eared Grebe off Niles Beach and a Carolina Wren and Gray Catbird across the street in the thicket. This Eared Grebe, presumably the same bird, has been returning here since the winter of 1995!
Low tide is a good time view Harbor Seals hauled out.
Niles Pond, near Eastern Point has been the focus of gull study in recent weeks. There were hundreds of gulls on the pond and hundreds more on the exposed rocks in Brace Cove. At least 3 Glaucous Gulls were present but very few Iceland Gulls. We spoke with Eric Neilson who had seen 10 species (at Niles Pond) of Gulls the previous day including the Slaty-backed and Thayer's Gull! A trawler that was headed in toward Gloucester harbor had at least a 1,000 gulls "in tow", as it approached some of these birds headed to Niles Pond and Gloucester Harbor. The gulls come and go all day here, so the mix of birds would change all day.

After an hour and a half we decided to try a few other spots on the planned route and we'd return to Niles later. Off Atlantic Drive we had nice looks at a small flock of Purple Sandpipers, a Black Guillemot and a few Red-necked Grebes, but we miss the drake King Eider recently reported. We miss the Townsend's Solitaire at the Rockport golf course but managed a Yellow-rumped Warbler (a "ho-hum" consolation!).
Purple Sandpipers off Atlantic Drive

At Andrew's Point, one of the best seabird stops on Cape Ann (particularly in strong east winds) it was also slow. Harlequin Ducks are regulars here and we enjoyed these colorful sea ducks as they worked the surf and rocks. Chuck and Paul manage to find the previously reported female King Eider and we saw a few Razorbills.

Upon returning to Niles Pond, there are still hundreds of gulls on the pond, but now there are good numbers of Iceland and a few Glaucous Gulls in the mix. Scanning through a group of birds a few hundred feet away, we come up with a minimum of 28 "white-winged" gulls, 2 or 3 are Glaucous and the balance Iceland (Kumlien's ) Gulls. There is a dizzying array of ages and plumage variations. We speak with Phil Brown and he informs us of two things, one...the Slaty-backed gull has not been seen and two...he is freezing and he's headed home. Phil leaves but checks in with other birders down the road, also studying the gulls, and passes the word to us that a Thayer's gull has been found.

We "caugh up" with the birders that had it in view and we are able to get a decent look at this first year gull. Eric Neilson is in contact with James Smith , a few hundred yards away, and James and Scott Surner have TWO additional Thayer's at closer range. We quickly join James, Scott and the 2 additional Thayer's less then 100 feet away! I manage a few (poor) digi-scope images, one is below. Check out James' blog for nice photographs and commentary and links on the finer points of Thayer's Gull ID.
First Winter Thayer's Gull

Our day List:

From Rockport:
King Eider...1
Common Eider...25
Harlequin Duck...8
Surf Scoter...5
White-winged Scoter...5
Common Goldeneye...8
Red-breasted Merganser...8
Common Loon...3
Great Cormorant...15
Ring-billed Gull...5
Herring Gull...500
Great Black-backed Gull...200
Rock Pigeon...20
Blue Jay...2
American Crow...10
Black-capped Chickadee...5
Tufted Titmouse...1
White-breasted Nuthatch...1
American Robin...2
Yellow-rumped Warbler...1
Song Sparrow...1
White-throated Sparrow....2
House Sparrow.....10

From Gloucester:
Canada Goose....75
Mute Swan....2
American Black Duck....20
Ring-necked Duck....2
Greater Scaup....8
Lesser Scaup....2
Common Eider....100
Surf Scoter....20
White-winged Scoter....25
Black Scoter....1
Long-tailed Duck....15
Common Goldeneye....15
Red-breasted Merganser....100
Common Loon....8
Horned Grebe....6
Red-necked Grebe....2
Great Cormorant....12
Sharp-shinned Hawk....1
Cooper's Hawk....1
Red-tailed Hawk....1
Peregrine Falcon....2
Purple Sandpiper....12
Ring-billed Gull....20
Herring Gull....2000
Thayer's Gull....3
Iceland Gull....25
Lesser Black-backed Gull....1
Glaucous Gull....3
Great Black-backed Gull....750
Black Guillemot....1
Rock Pigeon....100
Blue Jay....3
American Crow....20
Horned Lark....12
Black-capped Chickadee....10
Tufted Titmouse....3
White-breasted Nuthatch....1
Carolina Wren....1
Gray Catbird....1
American Robin....1
Northern Mockingbird....1
European Starling....50
Song Sparrow....4
Northern Cardinal....3
House Sparrow....20

Sunday, January 6, 2008

"Chair City" Birding 1/6/08

Gardner "The Chair City" from an alternate vantage point
As a conscious effort to do more local birding, on foot or bicycle, this year I started from home today and walked 9 miles of city streets. While many of the birds encountered today are typical feeder type/city birds, I got to build a winter base to my human powered bird list for 2008 and added a few species I didn't expect until the March/April time frame.
Plenty of these "guys" today
A nice flock of Pine Grosbeaks were near the Gardner veterans ice rink, this species continues to "show strong" in the area. A Northern Flicker, very uncommon in this area during the winter months, was an early addition to the local year list at Crystal Lake Cemetery.
Near Wickman Drive 25 Blue Jays appeared to be "stirred up" and "concerned", after walking a few more streets I saw the instigator, a Cooper's Hawk (below), perched in a Maple Tree. The other two "expected" city raptors put in appearances, a Sharp-shinned Hawk soaring over Rte 2A and a Red-tailed Hawk in the same general area.
Cooper's Hawk on Wasa Street
On my way toward the Gardner Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP), in hopes of some waterfowl, was a single female type Purple Finch (a fairly uncommon winter species), mixed in with House Finches. I was hoping the large flock of Common Redpolls, present on 12/23, would still be near the (WWTP), they were not. The warm effluent from the WWTP keeps this section of the Otter River open through the winter, but there was no waterfowl present, but a Belted Kingfisher was a nice replacement for expected Mallards.
I did manage to walk a few streets I had never been on, in 20 years of living in Gardner. After stopping in "Jumping Juice and Java" coffee shop, I returned home and found 2 White-breasted Nuthatches "Frozen still" in my yard. I took a few digi-bin photos then looked around for a raptor, but never found one. When I returned near the feeders, the two nuthatchs still hadn't moved, these birds held their "frozen" posture for over 5 minutes!

A "Frozen Nut"

Today's list:
Sharp-shinned Hawk...1
Cooper's Hawk...1
Red-tailed Hawk...2
Ring-billed Gull...4
Herring Gull...2
Rock Pigeon...125
Mourning Dove...61
Belted Kingfisher...1
Downy Woodpecker...8
Hairy Woodpecker...2
Northern Flicker...1
Blue Jay...38
American Crow...10
Common Raven...1
Black-capped Chickadee...37
Tufted Titmouse...13
White-breasted Nuthatch...13
Brown Creeper...1
American Robin...1
Northern Mockingbird...1
European Starling...78
American Tree Sparrow...8
Dark-eyed Junco...21
Northern Cardinal...8
Pine Grosbeak...20
Purple Finch...1
House Finch...11
American Goldfinch...37
House Sparrow...166

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year's Day Grouse 1/1/08

My girlfriend Laura and I had a nice snowshoe hike at Pisgah State Park, in SW New Hampshire on New Year's Day. We started out about 10:30AM and planned to hike the 5.5 mile Kilburn Loop, which is 99% forested. Other snowshoers had broken a trail for about a mile until we headed south on the "loop portion" of the Kilburn trail and the next 4+ miles were through virgin snow.

Wintery Scene along the Kilburn Loop, in Pisgah State Park

About 1/2 way through the hike, I noticed a line in the snow about 8 feet long and 6 inches wide. I stopped about 10 feet from the mark and pointed out to Laura, "it looks like something tunneled under the snow". I took another step, still a bit away from the marking in the snow, and a Ruffed Grouse exploded from under the snow about 6 inches from the toe of my snowshoe, just missing my knee as it shot through the woods. I had read about grouse roosting in the snow, and had hoped to see it one day and yesterday was it!

Laura negotiates a stream crossing near the end of our hike

The last 2 miles of the hike were up hill and we, me in particular, were pretty tired. The "low-light" for me was crossing one of those narrow hiking bridges over a muddy seep. These work quite well for hiking shoes but entirely different for snowshoeing, I managed to fall into the only stinken mud hole in southern NH, fortunately feet first! But, now my snowshoes were carrying about 10 lbs of snow each as the wet muddy "shoes" acted as a snow magnet, we scraped off the mud and trudged on out! The fall was a minor inconvenience and this was a very nice start to the New Year.
This was not a birding trip and only 4 species were seen or heard, but little diversity would be expected out here in winter: Ruffed Grouse 1, Hairy Woodpecker 1, Black-capped Chickadee 5 and Golden-crowned Kinglet 15.