Monday, March 31, 2014

Looking Back: 1Q2014

This past quarter seemed extra long and extra cold and not too memorable, except for the snow and the polar vortices.  I try to appreciate each season, but I must admit that I'm really happy that spring is officially here!  While the quarter got off to a slow start, things perked up and once again, I ended up with many wonderful nature experiences.


I attended my first birding rally (1st Annual Worcester County), a timed, team effort to find as many bird species in an assigned area as possible over the course of a single day.  Our team of four people came in 3rd place with 41 species found.  We had a great closeup sighting of a Ruffed Grouse (below) that was the highlight of our day!


I broke down in early March, after much slipping and sliding and fear for my ankles, and purchased my first pair of Kahtoola MICROspikes.  They really gave me back the freedom to walk where I wanted in spite of slippery trail conditions.


I also learned about one aspect of the great outdoors that I had mainly ignored:  amphibians.  I have photographed them when I've seen them (from a distance!), and learned a few species of frogs along the way.  I hope to learn how to better spot and identify salamanders, frogs and snakes....and reduce my squeamishness and fear!


I saw a beautiful Red Fox at BHCL on four different occasions.  The best sighting was in the middle of a heavy snowstorm.  It was just me and the fox moving around the meadows, and at one point it jumped up and then went nose-first into the snow, hunting.  I felt like I was watching a National Geographic episode live!

Eastern Bluebirds visited my deck to feed on breadcrumbs during a snowstorm on January 20 and came back daily until February 18, and then one more time during a snowstorm on March 13.  I've never had them at home that long, and I loved it and took tons of photos!  What lovely guests to enjoy during the winter doldrums!


It was a great winter for Snowy Owls.  I saw lots of them, sometimes in the middle of a circus-like crowd of spectators, other times when I was alone and had the owl sighting all to myself.   The quiet times were the best.  Sometimes, they were distant specks.  A couple of times, they were relatively close.  Once, one flew across the road in front of my car, and I just gaped at it in awe.  And another time, I saw one just prior to it being released at Parker River NWR (after Mass Audubon had captured it at Logan Airport).  That was the best look I had at those eyes!!!

I also finally saw the Eastern Screech Owl so many people had reported seeing in its "usual" spot at Great Meadows NWR.  I have searched every tree hole for this owl every time I visited, thinking that it was somewhere on the Edge Trail.  A woman offered to show me the owl in exchange for a ride to the train station.  She had wet feet and didn't want to miss the train.  I agreed!  How could I miss the chance to finally see it?

The final surprise of this quarter was my recent daytime sighting of an American Woodcock.  I had previously only seen these birds at dusk, when the males are doing flying displays to attract females.  The male peents on the ground, then flies up into the sky in a spiral for at least 200-350 feet.  Then, he descends in a zigzag, chirping as he comes down to land in almost the same location from where they took off (preferably in full view of a female).  He then repeats the display.   It's really amazing to see, but doesn't make for good photos (and can make you dizzy!).  

I have heard of people who have flushed woodcocks in the daytime, almost stepping on them because they are so well camouflaged, but I have never had that experience.  This was such an unexpected treat, and it showed up well against the cropped grass.  

Gray Squirrel
North American Red Squirrel
Red Fox
White-Tailed Deer

Life Birds
Barnacle Goose
Eastern Screech Owl
Greater White-Fronted Goose
Lapland Longspur
Red-Headed Woodpecker
Short Eared Owl

New Places
Bartlett Pond Conservation Area
Belle Isle Marsh Reservation
Dexter Drumlin
Doyle Community Park & Center
Maple Farm Sanctuary
Peters Reservation
Pierpont Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary
Ravenswood Park


My 2014 bird list has grown to 85 species, and my yard list is up to 23 species.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Who Cares if it Rains?

If you are dressed appropriately, you can enjoy nature in any season.  Such words have never been as important as during this long, cold winter, this winter which is reaching its long tentacles into what should be spring.  Today was only in the low 40s, and it rained hard, or at the very least misted heavily, all day long.

I bundled up, wore waterproof clothing, carried my camera "baggie" and got out the waterproof cover for my backpack.  All in all, I enjoyed several hikes, learned some more about amphibian creatures, and had some good birding experiences.

I started the afternoon at an event hosted by the Southboro Open Land Foundation at Beals Preserve.  They were training volunteers to participate in study of amphibians taking place on the preserve.  In short, SOLF wants to survey salamanders, frogs, turtles and snakes to learn more about what wildlife is living on this property.  Volunteers are needed to check the transects, take photographs, record data including temperature, humidity, and time of day, and length, weight and sex of critter.  Many volunteers are needed.  Additional training is scheduled in the future, so it's not too late to get involved!   Click here for more info.

Spotted Salamander

It was nice to see some of the trail system of this 56 acre property.  I know I will go back to check it out in better weather!

From Southboro, I decided to drive over to Concord to see if I could find the Greater White-Fronted Goose that has been seen there the last few days.  On the way, I stopped at Hager Pond in Marlboro.  I was going to drive on past, but I saw two Mute Swans forming a perfect heart shape between them, and I just had to stop.  Mute Swans display what could be perceived as romantic behavior during mating season.  They touch bill to bill, breast to breast and intertwine their necks.  I suppose I should have given them some privacy, but I chose to take photos instead so that you could all share in the experience!

Yes, they are both in this photo.

I stopped next at the pond near the Grist Mill in Sudbury.  The property was still closed for the winter (until April 1, no trespassing sign), so I just took a quick look through my binoculars from the roadside.  I saw 16 Ring-Necked Ducks and 4 Hooded Mergansers here.  On to Concord!

As I drove past Moore's Swamp on Route 62, I noticed Great Blue Herons were occupying quite a few of the 30+ nests that tower over the swamp.  On countless visits to Great Meadows NWR, I am constantly pulled to photograph these nests but there just isn't a good place to pull over or a good place to even stand at the side of the road.  This time, I pulled into a cemetery beyond the swamp that abuts one side of it.  I was able to capture at least 3 of the nests in a photo. They really are awesome to see.  It's not as impressive as the view from the street.  Also flushed a pair of Wood Ducks at this location.

Last year, I photographed a colony of Great Blue Heron nesting at Rocky Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, but at that time, the Great Blue Herons were incubating eggs and were low in the nests.  The birds I saw today were males, who arrive first and select nest sites.  From the nest, they court passing females.  Seems a little like a typical bar scene.  Colonies can consist of 500+ nests with multiple nests on a single tree.  That would be a sight!  Moore's Swamp is such an important habitat.  I hope it is preserved.  Read here if you want to learn more about Concord's plans for the swamp.

Great Blue Herons

Now, it was time to get over to Great Meadows NWR before it rained any harder or got any darker and try to find that goose.  But wait!  As I drove the loop road through the cemetery, I spotted Canada geese behind the cemetery office.  I pulled into a parking spot, grabbed the binoculars and lo and behold, there was the Greater White-Fronted Goose!  Granted, it was foggy and misty and it was distant, but I saw it!  Record shot follows.  If I had only looked at Great Meadows, I would have been skunked.

Greater White-Fronted Goose (a life bird)

Imagine my surprise when I looked this bird up on All About Birds and discovered that in North America, the Greater White-Fronted Goose range is west of the Mississippi River.  However, the subspecies of this goose that breeds in Greenland occasionally turns up on the East Coast.   Aha!   It must be lonely!  And how will it get back to its normal range?

I did eventually get to Great Meadows and walked across the dike to the river and back.  It was misting hard by then, and the wind had picked up.  It wasn't very pleasant and after having put up with it most of the day, I was getting tired.  I did see the following species:  Red Winged Blackbird, Song Sparrow, Common Goldeneye, Ring-Necked Duck, Hooded Merganser, Bufflehead, Wood Duck, Great Blue Heron.

Not bad.  Not bad at all for a cold, rainy day in New England.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Great Birding Morning

Since rain was predicted for later in the day, I got an early start and headed to Dexter Drumlin first.  I had heard of a large number of Snow Geese sighted here last night and hoped they might still be there this morning.  No such luck.  Still, it was nice to see and walk a new place, and I can only imagine how great it would be in the summer for butterflies.

These are the species I saw while at Dexter Drumlin:  Wild Turkey (one male displaying his tail feathers to several females), Canada Geese, Song Sparrows, Northern Mockingbird, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Northern Cardinal pair, European Starling (dozen), and American Robin (many).

This drumlin had an appearance similar to a capped landfill, but in reality, it was formed by a glacier receding across Massachusetts.  This ridge, sort of egg-shaped, is a record of the final direction that the ice moved.  Drumlin Farm, a Mass Audubon sanctuary that I recently visited, is another example of a glacial drumlin in the state.

While I was in the area, I decided to check out Doyle Community Park and Center in Leominster.

As I was on my way, I noticed a conservation area sign on the side of the road, so I pulled in.  I was at the Robert Frommer Conservation Land at Bartlett Pond.  It was here that I unexpectedly saw an American Woodcock in the daytime!  Fun!  Here's a short video of the nervous American Woodcock.  That song just popped into my head when I watched its bobbing moves!

I then continued on to and walked at Doyle Community Park, but I didn't see too many birds other than American Robins and Red-Winged Blackbirds.  There were some parts of the meadow trails here that had standing water which seeped into my shoes.  Note to self:  buy waterproofing spray soon!

On the way home, I stopped at Bolton Orchards and Country Store for some fresh cider doughnuts to share with my son.  If you've never had them, try one!  Delicious.  Coated with cinnamon sugar.  Still warm.  YUM.

After a brief break at home, I drove over to Waseeka and grabbed the last few hours before the rains walking there.

I created separate posts for the American Woodcock and my hike at Waseeka.  If you continue scrolling down the blog, you will find those.

Osprey Back at Waseeka

I wanted to walk at Waseeka to see whether the Ospreys were back yet.  It was still icy in many spots on the trails.  I took Sassafrass Trail, because on weekdays I do not have enough time to walk it.  I was thrilled to see a Pileated Woodpecker close to the trail!


Eastern Bluebird

I stopped on the trail because I heard a bluebird singing.  I saw two fly into a low tree and pulled up the camera to focus on them.  Immediately beyond them was a quiet Pileated Woodpecker, hitching its way up the tree!  I would have completely missed it had the bluebirds not called me!

Pileated Woodpecker

Brown Creeper

American Woodcock

This is the first time I have seen an American Woodcock during the day.  My instinct told me it was an American Woodcock when I first spotted it, but it was so still that it fooled me into thinking maybe a chunk of fungus had fallen off the tree.  

There was also a pair of Northern Pintails in the pond, among Canada geese and mallards.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Red Fox at Breakneck Hill Conservation Land

I started the day at Wildwood Cemetery, seeing Wood Ducks again, but only one pair this time.  On the other side of the water is a car wash.  An employee was using a leaf blower to blow all the sand out of the bays.  The wood ducks were escaping from that "danger", so they came over to the quiet side of the water where I was.  I am in awe of their ability to live in such close proximity to human noise and pollution.  I hope they stay.  I guess they don't have much choice.

 Wood Duck

Wood Duck pair

As I continued on through the cemetery, I stopped briefly when I heard a woodpecker drumming.  It took me a few minutes to locate it, a Downy.  When I returned to the car, I noticed a Red-Tailed Hawk perched on a sunny branch.  Smart choice, Mr. Hawk.  It was only 19 degrees.  I bet that sun felt good!

Red-Tailed Hawk

There's a little brook that empties into the river next to the cemetery.  I took some photos of the ice formations, because I think they are interesting and cool (and hopefully not going to be around much longer)!

I walked my lunch hour at Breakneck Hill Conservation Land.  It had warmed up considerably since this morning and was holding at about 39 degrees.  Nice bright sunshine, too.  There were several dog walkers just starting out, so I took off in a different direction.  Song sparrows were singing all through the area between the parking lot and the community garden.  It made me wonder how closely together they are willing to live.  After a little searching, I found that average territory of a song sparrow is less than one acre, and that in spring, a male is known to sing 6-8 songs per minute, at dawn, to maintain its territory.  They're working hard!  I heard them after 1PM, and they were still frequently singing, but it is the time of year that they are trying to attract a female, too.

Click here if you want to read about some research done at University of Washington to determine territorial defense warnings given by Song Sparrows.  Pretty interesting, and the video is amazing!

Besides the Song Sparrows, I saw one Red-Tailed Hawk, several House Finches, an Eastern Bluebird, half dozen House Sparrows, Black-Capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and a Mourning Dove.  The best sight, though, was as I was coming back through the center meadows.  I spotted the Red Fox running across the meadows.  Not two seconds later, two dog walkers came over the hilltop.  Again, I am in awe of these wild creatures that can live so close to us and our domestic pets.  I really thought that fox was long gone.  Amazing that it can successfully live in an area so often visited by dogs.

 Red Fox

It won't be long before these meadows and trees start greening up and filling in.  And then the butterflies will be back!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Woods and Hoods

It was a ducky day today.

First, at Wildwood Cemetery this morning, there were 4 pairs of Wood Ducks!  These were the first I've seen in 2014, and they are such a favorite of mine!  Unfortunately, there is no way to get close to them, and they were nervous anyway, so the photos are far views.

Then, along the Sudbury Reservoir Trail at lunchtime, I saw 8 Hooded Mergansers, about 60 Canada Geese, two pairs of Mallards, 1 pair of Common Goldeneyes, two pairs of Wood Ducks, and two Mute Swans.  This was in the channel near the entrance to the Beals Preserve (through the gate at the intersection of Chestnut Hill Road and Route 30).

Before I even left the car, I noticed a small falcon-like bird in the tree above where I parked.  I guessed it to be a Merlin.  Thanks to Alan M. for confirmation of this ID.


 Common Goldeneye pair

Hooded Merganser pair
(what an awesome looking couple!)

Mute Swan

East view of the water from the bridge

More Hooded Mergansers to the West of the bridge

More males

One hood up; one down

nervous Wood Ducks

Northern Flicker
(1 of 2 seen)

Northern Mockingbird

American Robin

Meanwhile, back at home, I had two interesting visitors in the yard.

poss. Coopers Hawk

Carolina Wren