Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Athol CBC (Baldwinville/Birch Hill) 12/17

Coverage of the Baldwinville/ Winchendon section of the Athol Christmas Bird Count began at 5am on Saturday with a clear sky and "dead calm". The weather was cold enough so the dirt roads of Otter River State Forest and Birch Hill Wildlife Managment Area were firm enough for 2-wheele drive travel. The first 3 stops got no responses for Saw-whet Owl, but one answered my calls from a stand of young White Pine a few stops later, another returned a call. Nothing else responded before dawn, but this was a fine start.
The back roads of Birch hill WMA
Gail and Jay joined me for the morning portion of the count and we walked the edge of the "back bay" marsh and several village streets in our section. We did well on Canada Geese and a few Mallards along the river, unfortunately the number of sparrows were "off" along the marsh's edge this year. Slowly, we began to gather a decent list of the regulars, and also added new species for this portion of the count (an over due one that), Red-bellied Woodpecker. Purple Finches (5) were also a nice addition. Most years there is a Northern Mockingbird in the neighborhood and some years I have to nearly go "door to door" to find it, about 9am one perched atop a large spruce tree, later another was found. "Mockers" are not common up this way, so it was good to get these tallied early in the day.

The "mocker" dropping from its perch.
Of course a some of the so called "undesirables" were added to the list, a 150+ European Starlings, a small flock of Rock Pigeons, House Finches and House them the "filthy four", actually this year it was the "filthy five" as 4 Ring-necked Pheasants were tallied late in the day.
While scouting a few days before I had found a Chipping Sparrow in the area, we tried 2 times in the morning, after Gail and Jay departed I tried twice more...nothing.... ditto for a few Carolina Wren spots. Finally at 3:30, on the 5th visit, the "little chippy" popped out of the thicket. Of course these 4 re-visits to score the "chippy", cost addition stops at additonal survey areas....always a delema whether to try for an uncommon scouted species or just run the route.

A handsome male Red-breasted Nuthatch, 14 for the day.

Not even photo documentation got this guy on the list!

Every one knows where these came from....but they go on the list.
"I say...I say... boy you help get us outta here and we're as listable as those clowns above".
One of two Common Mergansers found on the back side of birch hill dam.
When it was all said and done the total species count was 33 (yes...including the Ring-necked Pheasants) which was above the average of 30 species for this area as was the 876 individuals over an average of 724. The number of introduced individuals was 260 vs. an avg of 212, but was the highest since 1998. When I began covering this section of the count in 1993 there was a higher number of Rock Pigeons and European Starlings, perhaps the dismantling of the Temple-Stuart manufacturing complex provides less roosting "habitat" for these two species.

Canada Goose209
Common Merganser2
Ring-necked Pheasant4
Sharp-shinned Hawk1
Rock Pigeon14
Mourning Dove9
Northern Saw-whet Owl2
Red-bellied Woodpecker3
Downy Woodpecker10
Hairy Woodpecker6
Blue Jay63
American Crow6
Black-capped Chickadee64
Tufted Titmouse11
Red-breasted Nuthatch14
White-breasted Nuthatch16
Brown Creeper2
American Robin44
Northern Mockingbird2
European Starling160
Cedar Waxwing11
American Tree Sparrow13
Chipping Sparrow1
Song Sparrow3
White-throated Sparrow13
Dark-eyed Junco53
Northern Cardinal12
Purple Finch5
House Finch13
American Goldfinch28
House Sparrow73
Golden-crowned Kinglet             7

Monday, December 5, 2011

Essex County 12/3

 Karin and I drove up to West Newbury, Salisbury and Rowely on Saturday 12/3. The first stop was the Cherry Hill Reservoir area. The Cassin's Kingbird, that has been frequenting the reservoir area, was the first target. Upon arrival five birders were seen across the wet field, each busy looking through their optics in the same direction. A certain sign the target bird was currently in view, after a quick dash across the field I was afforded nice views of the bird.

Best of the Cassin's Kingbird, it was about 100 meters away, note the gray breast and white throat/chin area.
On the water was a drake Canvasback, which showed nicely along with several Ruddy Ducks, Common Mergansers, a few Buffleheads and Common Goldeneye.
A handsome Canvasback, it seems this species' numbers in Massachusetts, have declined in recent years.
On the way home we "swung" through Rowely and were fortunate the previously reported Sandhill Cranes were in view. The pair stayed in close proximety to each other, strutting through shallow water of a wetland right off rte 1A.
Sandhill Crane sightings have increased in recent years, with a pair recently breeding in western Massachusett and more than one pair breeding in Maine, seems I recall of breedig season reports from New Hampshire or Vermont (or both).

Monday, November 28, 2011

Tully Trail Epic 11/21

On Monday I decided hike, sight-see and bird (a little) along the Tully Trail in the North Quabbin Region, the complete loop would travel through portions of Royalston, Warwick and Orange. While there are no large hills or mountains, there would prove to be plenty of up and down to go with the milage. At the Tully Lake Trustees parking lot, there was some finch activity American Goldfinch, a few Purple Finches and Pine Sisikins passing overhead. After birding a few minutes, I headed off in a counter clockwise direction.

The path began on a cart road, flat and level.

Nice water scenes on the water way between Tully Lake and Long Pond
Looking north on Long Pond
Soon after reaching Long Pond the trail follows the north side of Spirt Falls and to the ridge line leading to
Jacob's Hill and a nice vista over Long Pond, viewing west toward Tully Mountain and Mt. Grace.
There was good water flow at Spirit Falls

Looking toward Tully Mountain over Long Pond .
The north end of Long Pond and Mount Grace in the distance, I scanned hard in hopes of seeing a moose at the water's edge, none was found.

 Once leaving Jacob's Hill, the trail lead down a power line cut where the first Evening Grosbeak of the day flew high overhead calling loudly. Also of note were 2 Northern Ravens and Red-tailed Hawks. One of the Northern Ravens harrassed a Red-tail, clearing showing the larger size of the raven over the "tail".  
Another nice view of the north end of Long Pond.
For the next several miles the tail had easy grades with stream crossings aided by some nice bridge work, there was a  brief walk along Warwick Road and the easy grades continued until reaching the Royalston Falls Reservation. Here began some modest climbing but there were plenty of pretty views into the ravine of Falls Brook and interesting rock formations.

This bridge work made the stream crossing easy, not far from this point I'd spish in a flock of 10 Pine Siskins.

I left the trail a few times to explore the ravine, before reaching the Royalston Falls.
An alternate view of the falls.
A "classic" view of Royalston Falls
This pool with a small waterfall inlet was a few hundred yards upstream from the main falls. Looked like a good summer swimming hole.
Soon above the pool the trail joins the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail (aka the M-M Trail) and there is a nice shelter, for hikers, overlooking the brook and trail bridge. It was well constructed and appeared fairly clean. Within a 1/2 mile of the shelter is Newton Cemetery, where I stopped for a lunch break and tea.
The shelter
Newton Cemetery.

After lunch I realized I'd done way too much sight-seeing, birding and goofing around and had many miles to go and a limited amount of daylight. The Massachusetts AMC guide claims the Tully Trail is 18.4 miles, while the Trustees of Reservations claims it is 22. Either way it was going to be a long afternoon and I would have to pickup the pace. In some places the trail was a bit difficult to follow as it appeared lightly traveled and had a new "coat" of freshly fallen a close eye had to kept on the yellow flashes. Eventually the trail follows Bliss Hill Road then bears west on a nice cart road for a few miles. I heard a small flock of Evening Grosbeaks pass overhead along this road.
This cart road on the west side of Bliss Hill Road made for good traveling.
After a few miles on the road I noticed the yellow flashes dissappeared, but there was some yellow ribbon along the cart road. I was a bit uneasy about this, but yellow ribbon had been used for trail marking along the powerline cut several miles back. I kept pace along the road but soon realized, on the GPS map,  I was heading to the wrong side Sheomet Lake. I headed back and after about 3/4 mile (1.5 Miles RT) I found the clearly marked turn that I'd walked past. 
Once I got back on track I noticed this neat foundation.
Once back on track I eventually passed over Bliss Hill then onto Fish Brook Wildlife Management Area and Butterworth Ridge, afterwards the trail follows Butterworth and Tully-Warwick Roads for a good distance before turning back off road and onto the trail leading to the Tully Mountain Summit.
There were patches where the trail was tough to follow, but for the most part it was well marked if not well traveled.

While Tully Mountain is modest in height (~1165') it was still going to be a 550-600 foot climb which looked imposing after 20 miles. While the sun had set, following the trail markings was nearly "doable" without the head lamp. After a brief  rest at the ledges I looked over the map and decided on the shortest route down, ~1/2 mile to Mountain Road.
A 1 second time exposure from Tully Mountain, looking toward Athol.
Once reaching Mountian Road I took the last 3miles to the car by road instead trying to negotiate the dark and unknown trail. Other than sore feet that was uneventful.
The GPS read 24.2 miles when I reached the Parking lot.
I would suspect the 18.4 miles listed in the Mass. AMC guide to be short, perhaps some changes have been made to the trail since that publication. The Trustees milage of 22 miles makes sense as I had the 1.5 mile additional when I missed the a turn and had a few other short errors and some early goofing around. The road milage, I finished with, was very close to the distance staying on the trail would have covered.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Quabbin 11/8

A recent hike into the North East watershed of Quabbin reservoir was very rewarding. Beginning at gate 35 and I traveled south along the east shore on what was known as North Main Street. After about 3 miles I bush whacked off road along the shoreline (the North Dana area) and back toward Soapstone Hill on to gate 36 then traveling west back to the shoreline and traveled back to gate 35.
Under a powerline cut was a stand of Winter Berry, which attracted a dozen American Robins, also in this area was a Red-bellied Woodpecker, Dark-eyed Juncos and an assorment of Tufted Titmice, Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches and Golden-crowned Kinglets.
Abundant Winter Berry
Along the road was a good deal tree damage from the recent blizzard, I imagine the DCR crews will be busy clearing off the roads over the next few weeks. While walking the road I flushed a Bald Eagle from the tree tops a few times. As typical for this area, I would see at least five of this species over the course of the day.
Just a few downed branches early on.
Some areas had more extensive damage than others.
Weight must have been evenly distributied on this tree and the trunk split down the middle!

Weather predictions had called for a calm day,  I could not recall the water ever being this calm at the Quabbin. The glassy conditions made for nice scenery and photos. Below are just a sampling of the remarkable calmness.

While I would see no mergansers of any species all day there were at least 21 Common Loons, several Ring-billed Gulls, 2 Red-necked Grebes, a single Long-tailed Duck (formerly known as Oldsquaw) and the 34 Horned Grebes I counted was the highest inland total I've ever counted. There was one raft of 9, two of five and and assorted groups of 2 and 3. While on a remote point in the North Dana section of the hike I could hear a few Horned Grebes calling back and forth, something I had never heard before!

A small raft of 5 Horned Grebes
I had heard these two birds calling along the North Dana shore!
This single Long-tailed Duck dove frequently, apparently feeding.

While bush whacking the shoreline I had to cut into the woods in places, as the water level was high, I flushed two American Woodcock and a Ruffed Grouse. Near the shoreline I came across a Snapping Turtle shell and skull, saw 2 White Tailed Deer along the NE shore of Mt. "L" and heard a pack of Coyotes howling from the south end!
Almost made it to shore!
A handsome "Chippy" along a stone wall.
In the North Dana area I found, and left unmolested, various artifacts from "days past". One appeared to be the remnants of an old vehicle, some pails, broken stoneware (below) and the base of an old observation tower. I understand there was a tower in this area that was used during WW II when the military used the area to drop "dummy" bomb, for practice.

Broken Stoneware
Square pail.
A nice stop for lunch!

All was calm, and no boats made the trip all the more special.
The view looking South East.
The view from atop Soapstone Hill.

A digi-bin shot of a Bald Eagle in the distance.

Toward the day's end, looking South West.

Bird list and count
Canada Goose 12
Long-tailed Duck 1
Common Loon 21
Horned Grebe 34
Red-necked Grebe 2
Bald Eagle 5
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1
American Woodcock 2
Ring-billed Gull 30
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Downy Woodpecker 3
Pileated Woodpecker 4
Blue Jay 11
Raven 1
American Crow 9
Black-capped Chickadee 22
Tufted Titmouse 18
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2
White-breasted Nuthatch 9
Brown Creeper 4
Winter Wren 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet 21
American Robin 14
Yellow-rumped Warbler 1
American Tree Sparrow 2
Dark-eyed Junco 12
American Goldfinch 9

Other Wildlife included White-tailed Deer (including several scraps), Fisher, Beaver, Coyotes (Howling), River Otter, Gray and Red Squirrels, Eastern Chipmunk and blooming Witch hazel.