Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Westminster CBC (Gardner) 12/26

The serious weather held off for this year's Westminster CBC, it was snowing lightly when I left at 6AM, the winds were light and temperture about 30 degree F. I had no "reponses" while owling near Lake Wompanoag, then began day-time birding near Mount Wachusett Community College. A few calling robins and crows were the first birds just before dawn. While checking the fruiting trees near the buildings I heard a the call notes of a Snow Bunting, I eventually saw the loner high overhead.

This handsome Coyote was walking across Crystal Lake.
Near Crystal Lake, which was completely frozen (as expected), were a few Song Sparrows and single Herring Gull among the more common species. Gull numbers, in this section of the count circle, have decreased since the closure of the city landfill, a few years back. Small numbers of Ring-billed Gulls, that frequent fast food joints and shopping plazas, are now the most common.

Juncos were plentiful, here is 6 of about 30 that reacted nicely to spishing while I visited a residential area.

While visiting the old landfill site and found a flock of Wild Turkeys, but little else. When the landfill was operational large numbers of gulls, crows and starlings where found here. I did scan the grassy areas, of the capped dump, for ground species such as Snow Bunting or Horned Lark, I saw neither.

This flock of Wild Turkeys was at the old Gardner Landfill.
At Parker's Pond, which was frozen, where a few Canada Geese and Mallards which were also a bit of a surprise this section of the count. Near the Junction of RTE 140 and rte 101 was a nice flock of Cedar Waxwings, about 150 to add to a previous flock of 58. The larger, Bohemian Waxwings, are always hoped for but, both flocks I saw were 100% Cedars, beautiful none the less.
My girlfriend Karin joined me for the afternoon, we added numbers to the common species totals, while covering a new areas of the territory. We did manage another good look at a Cedar Waxing flock, likely some the same birds from the morning and added ravens to the tally sheet. While driving through an industrial park we were surprised to find a flock of Ring-necked Pheasants, 4 males and 3 females.

5 of 7 Ring-necked Pheasants.

A closer view of a male.
12/27/2009 Westminster
Karin and I took a stroll around the neighborhood Sunday (12/27) afternoon to stretch our legs once the rain had stopped. We heard a Tufted Titmouse scolding from a small patch of hemlocks, the bird sounded extreemly angry. After a few minutes of searching the prize was located, a beautifuul little Northern Saw-Whet Owl. I had not brought a camera but, the tame little owl sat tight until we returned later to snap several photos.

How can one not smile upon finding one of these little gems!
While this owl species was missed on count day (I think), it should go on the books, for the Westminster CBC, as a count week bird.

A digi-bin shot through the bins.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Athol CBC (Baldwinville 12/19) and the Game

Recently, I read an article about predicting bird lists before venutring into the field,compairing it to the actual list and tallying a score. For each matching species, between predicted and actual list, you get 2 points. For each species you miss, you subtract a point and for each unpredicted species, you also subtract a point. So, finding that European rarity or lingering warbler does no good in this game....the Christmas Count compiler might feel differently.
Here is a quick example:
Predicted List .......................Actual List ..............................Points
Black-capped Chickadee.........Black-capped Chickadee ...........2
Brown Creeper...................... Blue Jay.................................... -1
American Crow.................... American Crow.......................... 2
............................................Common Yellowthroat.............-1
Totals........................ 2 points out of 6 for (33.3%).

This was the 16th time I've done this section of the Athol CBC, so that expirence should be helpful, though just a few misses will bring the score down dramatically. More on this "contest" later.
I got under way at 5:30AM with the temperature being 12 f, but fortunately there was no wind. Good conditions to owl, a mile and half walk through decent habitat for Great-horned and Northern Saw Whet yielded nothing. I listened for waterfowl, which often roost on the Otter River, but the recent snow cover and fridged weather had "pushed" these species away from this portion of the count circle.
Day break.
After the failed owling attempt, I met up with Tom and Jonathan and we began our diurnal birding along the Otter River. While some of the more common species such chickadees, nuthatches, jays, crows and so forth were found an "expected" large flock of Tree Sparrows could not been found. Some years there had been 100+ present, we only found a 1/2 dozen. A few Song Sparrows, fairly uncommon up this way in winter, was nice and a calling Purple Finch was heard as it flew overhead. While Purple Finch is a nice surprise, I had not predicted for today's list...so thats a "black mark"!
Plenty of ice, even on the faster moving stretches of the river.
Once back toward the village some of the "townies , such as Rock Pigeon, House Finch and House Sparrows, were picked up. This years total of House Finches (31) was the highest in many years, perhaps this population has recovered from the conjunctivitist disease? It might be of interest to check other CBC numbers once those are compiled and posted. We looked hard for the resident mockingbird, this miss didn't help the "test score".

Other than a single Sharp-shinned hawk, this was our only other "raptor" of the day.
Once Baldwinville was canvased, we headed up to Lake Dennison. It had been very cold the past 10 days, but previously it had been a mild late fall. Warning signs of unsafe ice were posted all along the lake, so we were surprised to see 2 guys pull ice skates from their car. The birding had been dull for the previous few hours, so we stuck around hoping for some non-avian excitement... No dice. What little sense these guys had, kept them close to shore and out of the "drink". Being half dissappointed we moved on and found our first Golden-crowned Kinglets for the count.

Some one has to be the first skaters of the season or last swimmers.
The roads to the north of Lake Dennsion were gated off for the winter, we did a one mile walk and then returned to Baldwinville in the hopes of adding a few new species or two. Eariler in the morning we'd seen a Ringed-necked Pheasant, ripped to pieces on the river ice. Upon our return, to our original starting point, we found 2 live pheasants, while we counted them (and a male found later) is beyond me why this species is countable as the state releases 40,000+ each year across the state. None the less it costs me a point on the test!

An over-exposed digi-bin shot of one of 3 pheasants in our area.
Our last "new" species of the day was Sharp-shinned Hawk, another "unpredicted" species and another minus one for the test.
Typically the Athol CBC is a good one for winter finches, but its been a very lean season for these northern "irruptives". The birder, below, had waited a long time for a grosbeak or redpoll or crossbill...and not even a siskin.

Waiting for irruptive finches? Its gonna be a lean winter for northern finches and "they stole my Bins"!
The below spreadsheet has results from all years I have done this section of the CBC, the species names HILIGHTED were my predictions (actually I had predicted 30 and missed hilighting Canada Goose, Mallard, Pileated Woodpecker and Ruffed Grouse on my speadsheet), the actual number seen is in the 2009 column. I had predicted 30 species, our team got 26, but 7 species were missed and 3 unprediected species were. So the score was 36 of a total of 60 pts for a precentage of 60%.
Predicted species.......23 X 2= 46
Missed Species.............7 X -1= -7
Unpredicted Species ...3 X -1= -3
Total Points.............................36
Percentage.......................36/60= 60%

Monday, November 30, 2009

North East Quabbin 11/29

Sunday morning, I was in a quandary of whether to head into Boston's Victory Garden or stay closer to home and visit the Quabbin Reservoir Watershead. The Boston trip would mean an almost certain life bird, a MacGillivray's Warbler (a western species that came east instead of south), while the Quabbin bird list would consist chickadees, nuthatches and perhaps an eagle or two. However, I was in the mood for solitude and a more wilderness like expirience, so I traveled west.

Its tough to "beat" the sight of Hooded Mergansers cruising across a secluded beaver pond.

My walk started out in Women's Federated State Forest in Petersham, where I walked West Road (or what once was West Rd.) toward Monson Turnpike Road. I did a little bush Whacking to a beaver pond where I found a few Canada Geese.

This one's ready to go!

Along the roads my spishing sounds were attracting juncos in good numbers, in a few spots the sound seemed to be sucking them out of the woods like a vaccum cleaner. Black-capped Chickadees, White and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Brown Creepers and Golden-crowned Kinglets were also well represented.

At the end of Monson Turpike Rd. I followed Old North Dana Road south to East Fever Brook, and the site of the former Doubleday Village. I don't know a whole lot about this former village, but this fine link tells a better story of this area than I ever could.

Remnants of the Doubleday Mill.
I "skirted" the beaver pond on East Fever Brook and found a modest assortment of waterfowl including handsome Hooded Mergansers , Black Ducks and a few Mallards. I spooked up a Ruffed Grouse along the pond's edge, and shortly after a Sharp-shinned Hawk came crashing in the woods, scattering the song birds I had just spished in.
Once passing the beaver dam I came across a nice log, where I sat for lunch while overlooking another, but very shallow, beaver pond. There were more Black Ducks and a few crows started squawking and an adult Bald Eagle flushed off a snag and headed toward the reservoir.

The view while eating lunch, would've been good shorebird habitat...two months ago.
Adjacent to the shallow pond was a wet meadow, likely from a long since "filled in" beaver pond, pictured below.
I found not a bird in these grasses.
Most of the bird activity was coming from areas of sappling white pines and nearly all the birds were Dark-eyed Juncos and a few White-throated Sparrows. In this thick cover I was likely only seeing a fraction of the birds present.

One of 9 Brown Creepers seen during the walk.
After returning to Old North Dana Road I headed back north, toward West Fever Brook, eventually I wanted to make it to the edge of the reservoir.

Looking onto Quabbin Reservoir from West Fever Brook.

Old North Dana Road

Despite the late season, there is still some green!

A Golden-crowned Kinglet flicking its wings.
Once I reached the main body of water I was able to find some Common Loons, Horned Grebes, Ring-billed Gulls and a single Common Goldeneye.

Looking north toward New Salem.

A Crayfish's exo-skeleton along the shore.
While scanning I noticed a distant adult Bald Eagle perched along the far shore (it may have been eating prey), and another perched atop a nearby tree. A immature Bald Eagle flew into to join the bird along the shoreline, the adult, perched in the tree, chased off the young bird and actually knocked it into the water. The youngster managed to pull itself off the water and made a hasty retreat, I watched it continuously flap low over the water for several minutes.

Looking south from Old North Dana Road.

The sun was down, but I still had another mile and a half to travel....unfortunately I did not have a light with me...fortunately the moon was 3/4 full....unfortunately the side road I took lead me into a beaver swamp....fortunately my GPS "said" I was close West Road. I "tip-toed" across the top of the beaver dam and managed bush whack my way to West Road which lead back to the car.
Despite not finding any "fancy" birds, this was the trip that I wanted for this day .... perhaps that MacGillivray's Warbler will stick around another week or two....if not...no regrets.
The Bird List:
Canada Goose....7
American Black Duck....29
Common Goldeneye....1
Hooded Merganser....11
Ruffed Grouse....2
Common Loon....5
Horned Grebe....5
Bald Eagle....5
Sharp-shinned Hawk....1
Ring-billed Gull....12
Herring Gull....2
Downy Woodpecker....1
Hairy Woodpecker....1
Pileated Woodpecker....1
Blue Jay....12
American Crow....4
Black-capped Chickadee....31
Tufted Titmouse....2
Red-breasted Nuthatch....12
White-breasted Nuthatch....11
Brown Creeper....9
Golden-crowned Kinglet....17
White-throated Sparrow....28
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)....212
American Goldfinch....1

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Crystal Lake (Gardner) 11/28

I stopped by Crystal Lake this evening to check numbers of roosting gulls. The totals were well off from last month's high count on October 20th. A compartive between that peak and tonight's:

Species..............................10/20/2009...... 11/28/2009
Ring-billed Gull....................125...................... 62
Herring Gull..........................650..................... 24
Great Black-backed Gull......95...................... 10

There were also 2 wing tagged Ring-billed Gulls present, an adult #353 and a 2nd year bird with an obscurred tag (on the right wing) that I was unable to read. This bird was missing the tag on its left wing, I did get good looks at both sides of the bird. Yesterday, I saw an adult Ring-billed Gull on the athletic field of Monty Tech High School, in Westminster, sporting tag# 354. I will post capture information of these tagged birds, once I hear back from the DCR folks running the project.

#353 an adult Ring-billed with Adult Herring Gull in front, 2nd yr Herring Gull to back right and Ad. Ringer in front right.

Other species present included Black Duck 3, Mallard 3 , Mallard X Black Duck hybrid 1, Common Goldeneye 8 and Common Merganser 7.

Information on the above Gull #353, and #354 I had seen at Monty Tech on Friday 11/27 from K. MacKenzie:

Thanks again for the sighting and photo.
Here is some specific information on A353:
Captured 11/18/09 at the Upper Blackstone Water Treatment Facility, Millbury, MA
Map of capture sight: 42.21231, - 71.78614
Captured using a rocket net baited with crackers
Adult ring-billed gull
Florescent orange wing-tags: A353
federal band: 0994-03461
released on site

This is the first sighting of this gull. Thanks.

And info on R-B Gull #354

Here is some specific information on A354:
Captured 11/18/09 at the Upper Blackstone Water Treatment Facility, Millbury, MA
Map of capture sight: 42.21231, - 71.78614
Captured using a rocket net baited with crackers
Sub-adult ring-billed gull
Florescent orange wing-tags: A354
federal band: 0994-03463
released on site
This is the first sighting of this gull. Thanks.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Dana 11/15

My friend Karin and I took a walk to Dana center, from gate 40, on Sunday afternoon, the temperature was very mild, warm, almost hot! ... well for November. I don't hear Fox Sparrows singing too often, occasionally during the spring. I was surprised to hear a strange song soon after we were under way, which sounded like a Fox Sparrow. I bush-whacked a hundred feet in through heavy White Pine saplings and made a spishing sound. Up Popped a "boat load" of Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows and 3 Fox Sparrows. While heading toward the center I heard 2 more Fox Sparrows sing a different spots, they must have been fairly wide spread in this area.

A poor and blurry digi-bin shot of a Fox Sparrow.

I scanned Pattapoag Pond, through the trees, and saw an assortment of waterfowl, which included Canada Geese, Black Ducks (no Mallards that I saw) and Ring-necked Ducks.

We inspected the old foundation (at Dana Center), made from smallish round stones, one would think were "harvested" from the Swift River. While most of the dramatic New England fall colors have passed, there are still some to be seen, you just have to look a little harder.

This "guy" was crossing the road, when placed the camera on the pavement, it looked up.

Some subtle colors near the road.

Christmas Count Season is coming!
On the walk out Karin noticed the marker on this old tree, about 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile from Gate 40.

The Tree

The Marker

Any of you "Quabbineers" know the significance of the tree and marker? Answer is below:

Good day Tom,
That is part of a UMass Arborist study on tree cavity use by birds in managed and unmanaged street trees. Looking to see the effect of pruning dead branches out of live trees has on nesting cavity production... I haven't heard the findings yet...

Dave Small

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Middleboro 11/8

.....and the manure pit wins, by a nose. The Cumberland Farm Fields in Middleboro, Ma. has attracted some "awfully" nice birds this fall (acutally most years great stuff shows up there). First the "head spinning" Brown-chested Martin, then a LeConte's Sparrow and latest a Lark Bunting (today's target). I never had the chance to "get" the Martin, but made the trek last weekend for the LeConte's and got nice, yet brief, looks at it.

Not as picturesque as New Hampshire's White Mountains, but Lark Buntings are in short supply up north, in the "Whites".
There were many Song Sparrows along the walk in, but I didn't drive to Middleboro to see Song Sparrows. With the mild conditions many Song Sparrows were singing, poorly but singing.
The Cumberland Farm fields (aka Cumbies) encompasses a large area, I had a rough idea where it had been seen but knew little of this particular bird's habits. Upon arrival, at 9 AM, there were may cars, all with bird club stickers, so there would be plenty of help. While walking in I passed a few birders that had not seen the Lark Bunting, not great news. One contrast between "this" and hiking are the mountains are non-migratory and Lark Buntings are.
I took my time along the road, but kept "one eye" on the other birders' habits. As I approached what looked to be THE spot, I noticed Linda Pivecek and 3 other birders' attention was focused in the same direction...a good sign. I picked up the pace a bit and sure enough, they "had" the bird and a moment later so did I.

By the time the Lark Bunting settled to a perch (just above dead center) it was fairly distant, but I managed a few snap shots through the bins.
A bit closer but partially hidden.
After the bird "dove" back into the thicket, I walked around the manure pit area and was able get nice looks at a few White-crowned Sparrows, my first American Tree Sparrows of the fall and also many Savanah Sparrows, including one "Ipswich" . A subspecies which is very uncommon away from coastal sand dunes. Upon returning to the Lark Bunting spot, it perched up nicely allowing for better photos.
Lark Bunting with ts crown "slicked" back.

...with its crown feathers raised.

...another shot.
I took an indirect route home, stopping by state forest property, in Dracut, for previously reported Red-headed Woodpeckers. The directions were good and the woodpeckers were active, noisey and easy to find. A Belted Kingfisher was near by too.

A Male Belted Kingfisher.

An adult Red-headed Woodpecker in flight.

A distant shot, through the scope, of an adult.
I saw a least one adult and one immature (with a brown head), however other reporters have been of 2 adults and 1 immature. They mixed it up with near by Blue Jays and worked caching acorns into the dead snags in the wetland area. Perhaps they had bred in the area, which would be very good news. From this spot I heard and/or saw Pileated, Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers as well as a Flicker.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Hancock Mountain (North and South Peaks) 11/7

Saturday's weather looked fairly decent, so I squoze in a White Mountain hike, before the "real" winter arrives. The trail head , for the "Hancocks",is located at the hair-pin turn on the Kancamagus Highway, just outside of Lincoln, NH. The "game plan" was to follow the Hancock Notch Trail for 1.8 miles to the Cedar Cedar Brook Trail for 0.7 miles then join the Hancock Loop Trail. Its 1.1 miles on the "loop trail" until you actually get to the loop...the actual loop portion is 2.6 miles to cover both summits. I went counter clock-wise reaching the north peak first.

This maple posed nicely near the parking lot.
An excellent view of the Oceolas, the East Peak is to the far left (in the birches)..I was fortunate to find a pair of Black-backed Woodpeckers there in August.
The first 3 miles are fairly level and easy going, but there are five stream crossings along the Cedar Brook Trail ( key word "Brook Trail"). Fortunately, the water levels are low, otherwise this could be tricky during spring, but the temps were cold and there was some ice on the rocks.

The trail skirts the side of this slide (But I'm not sure which side).
Of course with all that easy flat walking early on, means you have a gain the elevation in a short but very steep distance.

A litte "break" on the steep climb to the north peak, looking back towards South Hancock.

Upon reaching the summit (treed in without a view) I followed a short path to a wonderful vista, with a view of the Sandwich Range. The sunshine was warm, the breeze light and it was very comfortable, 4 hikers were enjoying the view and sunshine but along came another large group....I moved on away from the crowd. I later found out a Gray Jay had been present here, but with that many people (a dozenish) it would have been a circus.
The hike between the two summits was uneventful with no views, as the trail is hemmed in by thick Balsam Firs. One brief view, and very obstructed, of the Presidential Range was spectacular, but no photo "op" was possible through the thick evergreens.
South Hancock is also "treed in" but there is a limited vista about 30 yards from the summit, which I enjoyed (alone) for about 10 minutes. Then along came a two guys and we got to talking a bit, I mentioned Mount Watatic and one chimed in "I live near by, in Westminster", the two had graduated from high school (Oakmont) together...actually we'd graduated the same year but I was in Leominster...a town away.
Looking east from the S. Hancock Vista, Mt. Chorcura is the little "tooth" sticking up on the horizon.
I stayed at the vista a good long while to make up for the short visit at the previous one. Once under way there was a view to the west toward the Franconia Ridge, Mounts Lincoln and Lafayette. It was worth and short break to peek out through the firs.

Franconia Ridge.
Another shot of Franconia Ridge in the background and Hancock to the right.
Another..."Owl's Head Mountain" is the lower flat topped mtn below the frosty ridge.
Here is a "spy glass" look.
The next 3/4 mile was very steep along with the previous dusting of snow and cold temperatures made for a very slow and careful descent. Once at the lower elevation the footing was fine and the hike out went quickly. I bumped into my "neighbors" again and we chatted about north Central Mass., both had skiied at Mount Watatic back when there was a ski area on the north side of the hill.
As expected the bird life was very scarce and consisted of Brown Creeper(1), Golden-crowned Kinglet (2), Back-capped Chickadee (5-10), Boreal Chickadee (3) and Raven.

An end of day shot of the Osceolas, from near the parking lot.
Once back to the car, I contemplated finding a room and hiking more on Sunday............or..............visit a large manure-pit in south eastern Massachusetts. So...what will it be? Mountains or Manure Pit...Mountains or Manure....stay tuned!