Saturday, February 27, 2010

Gullin at Barton's Cove 2/27 (Turner's Falls)

I birded the Turner's Falls/Barton Cove, along the Connecticut River, late this afternoon until just after dusk. Last year on this date, I had seen a (THE) Slaty-backed Gull, that James Smith had found in 2009, and I figured...well hoped...the bird might make a return visit to see if I might be there.
I expected more ice, but that might have been washed away by the recent heavy rain.
A tagged Ring-billed Gull #242
...and # 240, I also saw #'s 239, 243, 245 and 246; a total of 6 ( I will follow up with the DCR's cature information once i receive it.)
********comments from the DRC "gull staff"*******
Thanks for getting these sightings to me. You won’t be surprised to learn that all of these gulls were captured at Unity Park, above the falls in Turner’s Falls on 2/5/10. Every time we have tagged gulls there, they never go anywhere. All the sightings we get from them are right back where we caught them. There is a gentleman there that feeds them on a pretty regular basis. I guess they don’t feel the need to go anywhere else.
The first good bird was an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull with nice bright yellow legs, later I would find another with very dull yellow legs. Two had been reported in the area and these were likely the same birds.

An Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull.
Good numbers of Herring, Ring-billed and Great Black-backed Gulls were in the area, some were on the Barton's Cove side and many others near the Turner's Falls dam. Scanning through the birds near the dam I was able to find a few Iceland Gulls and then a first year Glaucous Gull.

A fuzzy photo of a first year Iceland Gull just left of center.
A "ghostly" first year Glaucous Gull on the water and the same bird (photo'd again below) spent a good deal of time with Great Black-backs on the dam.

The same "Glauc" as above with Black-backs and Herring Gulls.
After spending more time scanning and rescanning the flocks of gulls I found another Glaucous, this time a 2nd year bird, and a few icelands totaling 4 (all 1st yr. birds). I looked carefully for a Slaty-backed and Thayer's but nothing I saw looked even close.
I had one bird I thought might be a Herring X Glaucous Hybrid and I have included a few, very poor, digi-scope shots below. To me this bird was larger and bulkier in the field than these photos show, the bird's wing projection beyond the tail looked a bit short too. Feel free to comment here of via email (
First year bird just below center, possible "nelson's gull"? (Glauc. X Herring hybrid). After reviewing "Gulls of the Americas, Howell and Dunn, I am inclined to think this is a "just" 2nd cycle Herring Gull.

Same bird another shot.

Nice full moon just after dusk, it "ducked" in and out of the clouds.

The bird list:

Canada Goose.... 84
Mute Swan ....4
Mallard.... 25
Common Goldeneye.... 5
Hooded Merganser.... 3
Common Merganser.... 4
Bald Eagle.... 2
Red-tailed Hawk.... 1
Ring-billed Gull.... 400
Herring Gull (American).... 400
Iceland Gull (Kumlien's).... 4
Lesser Black-backed Gull.... 2
Glaucous Gull.... 2
Great Black-backed Gull.... 275
Rock Pigeon.... 15
Mourning Dove.... 6
Downy Woodpecker.... 1
Blue Jay.... 1
American Crow.... 25
Black-capped Chickadee.... 3
Tufted Titmouse.... 2
White-breasted Nuthatch.... 2
Northern Mockingbird.... 1
European Starling.... 75
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored).... 5
Northern Cardinal.... 2
House Finch.... 3
American Goldfinch.... 1
House Sparrow.... 20

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mt. Watatic 2/24

While some areas of Massachusetts got mostly rain today, the hill towns of North Worcester County (and Western Mass.) received a good dump. I measured 14" of heavy wet snow on my deck early this morning and I would suspect another 3 to 4" fell before the snow changed to rain mid-afternoon. After shoveling out, late morning, I headed to Ashburnham to snowshoe up Mt. Watatic. I was very surprised the trail head parking lot, off Rte 119, was plowed out! I had expected to shovel out a space to get off the road.

One set of tracks had been laid on the trail and the two others, just getting under way, were going to snowshoe up and snowboard the old ski trails on the north side of the hill.
The cart path and trail leading to Nutting Hill and New Hampshire.

Once passing the junction where the Wapack Trail leads to the summit, I decided to head to Nutting Hill first before going to Watatic. After breaking trail for about 1/2 mile, I crossed paths with two guys who were completing the loop I was doing, but in the opposite direction. The tree branches were under a heavy load of newly falling snow, but even with a stiff wind the heavy snow was not falling. Heavy, "sticky" snow was certainly better to look at, than shovel.
This old tree, perhaps a relic from days when the hill-side was pasture, was picturesque.

Once I reached Nutting Hill I got pelted by a "good" stiff wind and "stung" heavy snow flakes.

Looking down from Nutting Hill, usually Watatic can been seen in the background.
Between Nutting and Watatic I stopped for a drink, then realized I had left my water (also a thermos of hot tea) on the kitchen counter top. Some times "ole Tom" ain't the sharpest bulb in the shed, fortunately this was a fairly short hike.

The Wapack Trail between Nutting Hill and Mount Watatic.

The wind and stinging snow was worst on the summit of Watatic, one of my ears went numb quickly, so it was time to replace the ball cap with a fleece hoodie. I didn't linger too long before heading to the east summit.
The view toward the North West, very near the main summit.
In the saddle between the summits I saw a snow drift with nice aqua-blue color, a "play" on colors having to do with which colors are absorbed (more red) and reflected (more blue) by the snow, inside the fissure between the top of the drift and the base layer.
Aqua blue coloring inside the wind blown "snow cave".

The same looking in the other direction.
I poked around the east summit for about 15 minutes taking pictures and enjoying the solitude, now that my ear was thawed out.
I estimate 16-18" of snow had fallen but there were some deep drifts, the trekking poles above were fully extended.
Looking west from the east summit.
Rime ice forming on some stunted woody vegetation and rock.
One last photo, on the main summit, before heading down.
Needless to say there was not much bird activity under the adverse conditions, those birds consisted of 1 Golden-crowned Kinglet and 2 Black-capped Chickadees.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Hubbardston Wildlife Management Area 2/17

I had never birded this location before (Hubbardston WMA) and after only finding 10 species today, one could argue I still haven't. Though one can't expect too much while birding the Central Massachusetts forests, for the most part, in winter. The main focus was to snowshoe, rather than hard-core birding and I didn't feel like driving too far from home.

Some spiffy looking new snow along Joslin Brook.

I had a nice look at an adult Sharp-shinned Hawk from this location, it was attracted to a small group of Chickadees I had "spished" in. It moved on quickly after missing its target.

This Raven was briefly harrassed by crows, over Cunningham Pond, here its squawking away.

Greenwood Cemetery was gated off, I chose not to hop the fence to inspect, perhaps another time.
I managed to find a crossing point along this small "seep", looks like a nice spot for a Winter Wren in a few months.
A close call, as I crossed an "ice bridge" over a small stream near a beaver dam. I was enjoying the view and I felt some give in the ice and I stepped away just in time! I turned around and watched the piece of ice I had been on, about 3 feet across, sink into the water. It almost seemed I knew what I was doing, a Jacques Clouseau moment ,my snowshoe didn't even get wet! Note the snowshoe track on the snow in the water, not to fear the water was only a foot deep (it still would've stunk had I got my foot wet).

Of the total 5.75 miles traveled about 1/2 was bush wacking, with all the down trees from the Dec. 2008 ice storm, I had to do a lot of zigging and zagging.

There was still plenty of snow on the branches which makes for nice "designs", but I got "clobbered" by plenty of snow falling from hemlocks and pines.

Toward the end of the walk I start noticing plenty of springtails, a tiny insect also called snowfleas or Collembola.

I did manage to see a few birds, this White-breasted nuthatch was the best bird photo I could manage. While there wasn't too much today I am certain a spring or breeding season visit would yield a good deal of diversity.
The bird list:
Species ...Number reported
Sharp-shinned Hawk.. 1
American Crow.......... 16
Common Raven........... 2
Black-capped Chickadee... 36
Tufted Titmouse.... 5
Red-breasted Nuthatch... 1
White-breasted Nuthatch... 6
Brown Creeper ...3
Golden-crowned Kinglet... 6
American Goldfinch... 17

Monday, February 8, 2010

Lowell Gulls 2/8/2010

I made a stop by the UMASS boat house, along the Merrimac River in Lowell, today where decent numbers of gulls usually congregate. Good fortune was with me, as a first year Iceland Gull and an adult Glaucous Gull were mixed within the "scrum" of gulls. Here are a few photos :

First cycle Iceland (kumlien's) Gull
Adult Glaucous Gull, 4th from left, with Ring-billed and Herring Gulls.

a closer view.
showing a short wing projection.


..nice all white primary feathers.

showing a more angular forehead.
Further down river, in Dracut, I had nice looks at a drake Barrow's Goldeneye and a nearby female appeared to be a female Barrow's. Though this female's profile did not look quite Barrow's enough to me, perhaps it was just a function of the bird's posture (having its crown "slicked down"). Back in January, I had seen a female Barrow's type at this same spot, at that time I did not feel confident to call it a true Barrow's do to the head shape, though it's bill was yellow (as today's female was). Unfortunately I had left the camera in the car when I got a good look at these birds.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Super Bowl VII 1/30/2010

The "Burger Kinglets" (Dan Berard, Chuck Caron, Rod Jenkins, Paul Meleski and myself) were at it again this year, in the Super Bowl of Birding VII. We left Westminster at 3:15 AM with the mercury at zero and the wind howling, no need to calculate the wind chill...we've got the idea!
This year's route would be similar to last year's, working from South to North (Nahant to the Newburyport area), with some tweaking based on scouting. We began owling on a back road in Essex, we managed Screech, Barred and Great-horned Owls after 70 minutes of owling. We were "riding high" not expecting to get 3 owls in these conditions. The next stop was Flax Pond, in Lynn, we got American Coot and headed for Nahant.

Early morning in Essex.

During the week I had found Gray Catbird, Winter Wren, Common Grackle and Fish Crow at the Nahant Stump Dump. Upon leaving the vehicle Dan spotted a small falcon, it turned out to be a Merlin a nice surprise. However, we "bomb" in the stump dump and get none of the previously mentioned high scoring birds.

Upon returning to the car Chuck "beams in" the I-phone and found another team has reported a Northern Shoveler, in Nahant at Forty Steps Cliff! No one knows where that is, BUT Chuck starts to google on the I-phone ....and I start thinking (it was bound to happen).... when I scouted on Wednesday I recall seeing a baby stroller...near a cliff (this can't be good)...with steps nearby leading to down the water! I guess its about....forty steps down to the water from where the stroller was. Chuck's google search "jives" with my thought and 4 minutes we are all looking at a female Northern Shoveler packed in with a 100 American Black Ducks. The sun is almost up, on Lynn Beach.

Dan, Chuck and Paul scan the water near Nahant.
Off to the Nahant Thicket (a small Mass Audubon Sanctuary), a previous scouting trip yielded a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Winter Wren, We missed both. A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Hermit Thrush were nice replacements. While we missed several key birds (seen during scouting) totaling 19 points, the surprises (not seen on the scouting trip) add up to 20 points...of course the idea is to get ALL the points.
A poor "shot" of the "Nahant" Sapsucker .
The only issue with birding Nahant, during this event, is the long trip up to Cape Ann, a MUST location.
On Cape Ann we got the Peregrine Falcon in Gloucester, from Jodrey Fish Pier, but no Iceland nor Glaucous Gulls. Sea ducks are added at Niles Beach, Black Guillemot and Gadwall are seen from Eastern Point. We see a huge mass of gulls a mile offshore, but there is no way to ID them due to the distorted visibility from the cold temps. At Niles Pond there is not a gull to be found, while there were more in Brace Cove none are "white-winged". I can't recall birding this circuit in winter and EVER missing Iceland Gull, until.................

We find similar frustration along Atlantic Drive, missing the King Eider and a likely Common Murre that slipped away before we could confirm the ID. A mixed flock of Purple Sandpipers and Sanderlings dropped in right in front of us, near the Elk's Club, a poor consolation. We left Cape Ann with 52 species, 8 lower than last year! Next stop........................

Purple Sandpipers and Sanderlings from Atlantic Drive.
....Comono Point, Essex, we headed right to our previously scouted Brown Thrasher...a Sharp-shinned Hawk dove into the thicket nearby upon our arrival...are we too late. Paul had spotted the thrasher last week and found it again, a few Yellow-rumped Warblers are also nearby. Our luck has changed, futher up Comono Pt. we found a Bald Eagle, Dunlin and Red-throated Loon.

Eastern Bluebirds, Red-bellied Woodpecker and Common Flicker were along Gardner Road, but we have not seen any Turkey Vultures in the area (a key bird for us). In Rowley at the end of Stackyard Road added Rough-legged hawk to the list, but we missed Snowy Owl and Northern Shrike. As we continued toward Plum Island we desperately looked for Turkey Vultures but all we can find are more pesky Bald Eagles!

Rough-legged Hawk from Stack Yard Road in Rowley.
At Plum Island, we checked the ocean from the Lot 1 area, we'd had great birds on Thursday, but today the ocean is choked with ice from the Merrimac River, No Razorbills, Kittywakes, Bonepart's or Iceland Gulls. Further down the island at "the warden's" we finnally get a long distance view of a Snowy Owl but no Northern Harrier or Shrike. We leave the Parker River Refuge with 73 species and with an hour to go it is evident we'll not be close to last year's total of 83 species.

A Snowy Owl off Plum Island.

Working our way up the Merrimac River toward the Chain Bridge, in Amesbury, we spotted a Northern Harrier high over the Salisbury side of the river. More Bald Eagles were seen from Cashman Park and we added Common Merganser to our list here. We spend 30 minutes near the Chain Bridge, our final stop, looking for a Great Blue Heron, that often is in the area. Similar to last year we looked up, down and across the river, even under the bridges, but no heron. The last bird of the day was a Peregrine Falcon that cruised low over the river and then under the Rte 95 bridge, where is frightened a group of roosting pigeons, not a bad end to a good effort.

We tallied a total 148 points and 75 species.
Red-throated Loon ....2
Common Loon....1
Horned Grebe....1
Red-necked Grebe....2
Great Cormorant....1
Canada Goose....1
Brant ....3
Mute Swan ....1
Gadwall ....2
American Black Duck....1
Northern Shoveler....5
Greater Scaup....2
Common Eider ....1
Harlequin Duck ....2
Surf Scoter....1
White-winged ....1
Black Scoter....2
Oldsquaw ....1
Bufflehead ....1
Common Goldeneye ....1
Hooded Merganser ....2
Red-breasted Merganser ....1
Common Merganser ....1
Bald Eagle ....2
Northern Harrier ....1
Sharp-shinned Hawk ....3
Cooper's Hawk ....3
Red-tailed Hawk ....1
Rough-legged Hawk ....3
American Kestrel ....3
Merlin Falco....4
Peregrine Falcon....3
American Coot ....4
Sanderling ....3
Purple Sandpiper ....2
Dunlin Calidris ....3
Ring-billed Gull ....1
Herring Gull ....1
Great Black-backed Gull ....1
Black-legged Kittiwake ....3
Black Guillemot ....2
Rock Dove (I) ....1
Mourning Dove ....1
Eastern Screech-Owl ....2
Great Horned Owl ....3
Snowy Owl....3
Barred Owl ....3
Red-bellied Woodpecker ....3
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker ....8
Downy Woodpecker....1
Hairy Woodpecker....2
Northern Flicker....3
Blue Jay....1
American Crow....1
Black-capped Chickadee ....1
Tufted Titmouse....1
White-breasted Nuthatch....1
Carolina Wren ....2
Eastern Bluebird ....3
Hermit Thrush ....3
American Robin ....1
Northern Mockingbird ....1
Brown Thrasher ....8
European Starling ....1
Yellow-rumped Warbler ....3
American Tree Sparrow .... 1
Song Sparrow ....1
White-throated Sparrow ....1
Dark-eyed Junco....1
Northern Cardinal ....1
Red-winged Blackbird ....3
House Finch ....1
American Goldfinch ....1
House Sparrow....1