I'm transferring over to a new site, and this one will no longer be used.
Having been two months since my last Prudence visit, I figured it was about time to scour some thickets, bird some marshes, and put together a nice November list. One of my favorite months in New England, November is renowned among the local birding community as rarity month. A time when unusual birds, some as many as several thousand miles off course, find themselves under the scrutiny of many binocular-wielding birders. I won't go much into the details of how and why some of the much rarer birds end up here as it is dependent upon many different factors, none of which I'm particularly qualified to describe.
Recently however, a couple systems of very strong southern winds pushed migrants offshore the southeast states and "slingshotted" them north to New England. Some of the birds that were seen were migrants that had left the area a month prior on their southbound migration, and some were southern species that are only seen this far north during such weather events in the fall and as "southern overshoots" in the spring.
As color drains from the landscape and browns and grays begin to dominate, it is beyond exciting to see a pop of color in a thicket in the form of the glowing breast of an elusive Yellow-breasted Chat or a late warbler. Such is the excitement of November birding. Songbird migration for the most part is slowing down as waterfowl migration ramps up, and rare birds linger in the thickets if only you are lucky enough to find them. Nomadic winter finches inject an amount of uncertainty into every morning (though we may not see more than Red Crossbills this year). It is an in-between time, when the fall and winter migrations of birds collide.
Chase Way saltmarsh on Prudence Island in winter. Likely the most reliable spot for
Little Blue Heron in the state during the spring and summer months.
I can't say Prudence is the best birding location, filled with rarities in the fall and crammed with unusual migrants. But I can say that 85% of the island is preserved land, it's a beautiful place to explore by bicycle or by foot, and it's hard to go wrong if you spend the day. It's unique in many ways, and is very underbirded. At the widest spot the island is about 1.5 miles across, but it's approximately a 7.5 mile bike ride from tip to tip, and with most of the roads unpaved it's no easy task to cover a lot of ground. Some hard choices always have to be made when deciding where to bird for a full day, since the options are endless.
The ferry (www.prudencebayislandstransport.com) is still inexpensive at $13 round trip with a bicycle and the schedule is very birder-friendly with a 5:45am option often available.
Andy and I had a fun day exploring the island together in early May, putting together a list of 100 species, so I decided to see if he was up for another trip. North winds and cooler weather forecast a decent day of late-season migration. With sunrise at 7:20am and no 5:45 ferry option on the weekend, we took the 7:30 to the island. This turned out for the better as we ended up breaking the state Double-crested Cormorant high count on the way over. Scanning the horizon in every direction we were greeted with many flocks of hundreds of cormorants, making their way south in loose skeins. Cormorants have a semblance of organization in their migrating flocks, often forming fairly neat V's, but when compared to geese they seem merely like gangs of ragtag teenagers. Some of the flocks easily totaled one thousand birds or more and by the end of the day we had estimated and counted 6,968, with 95% in the early morning. A pair of Long-tailed Ducks flew by as we approached the pier, making a quick new addition to the islands cumulative list.
With the first highlight of the day already achieved, we made our way north to the neck with hopes of a morning flight. Stopping briefly at a marshy patch we tried to entice out a Virginia Rail but soon realized the stiff Northeast breeze was putting a damper on our attempt. As soon as we came within view of Nag Pond it was evident that the full moon high tide had flooded the entire marsh and was only just beginning to recede. Several small groups of Canada Geese and American Black Ducks fed out in the saltmarsh of the pond, and as we stopped to scan the waterfowl we noticed a few songbirds in the marsh elder and bordering cedar tree. One was a surprise Blackpoll Warbler which have been very scarce this fall, and another was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet which popped out of the shrubs and into the cedar tree only a few from Andy. It started preening and put on a good show with the brilliant red crown extremely visible as it contorted its tiny body into odd positions. A harsh call alerted us to a Wilson's Snipe whizzing overhead, presumably having a hard time finding a place to land in the waterlogged marsh. One of my targets for the day was Nelson's Sparrow, and so I was eager to walk the edge of the marsh with such a high tide. I figured it would be a fairly easy species to find here even at this somewhat late date, given the healthy breeding populations of Saltmarsh Sparrows during the summer. However, upon pushing through the bordering elder, I realized the water was still too high for my not very waterproof hiking boots. Figuring I could try again later, we moved up to the neck itself. A calling Hairy Woodpecker was nice to hear and gave us a surprise as it jumped the gap northbound, not a species I see often in prolonged flight. A Yellow-rumped Warbler and a couple Blue Jays added to the flight but that was about it before we decided to hit some thickets near Chase Way. A Marsh Wren calling from some phragmites was a nice addition to the list. We pulled out some more Ruby-crowned Kinglets, White-throated Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos, but nothing unexpected or particularly exciting. We walked the back of the beach where it borders the marsh but didn't have much other than a Black-bellied Plover and some distant White-winged Scoters and Horned Grebes.
Some typical November thicket birds, Hermit Thrush on the left and Black-capped Chickadee on the right.
Heading north of the neck we had a Gray Catbird, and a Hermit Thrush in a birdy area before we took the first beach access road. A large flock of American Crows flushed from the trees by the beach and from the edge of a big puddle. As we walked west up the beach Andy noted the marsh ran parallel behind the dune and so we switched to the backside, hoping again for some saltmarsh birds. It was still flooded enough to make walking hard but it wasn't long before we flushed a Nelson's Sparrow from the marsh elder on the edge. The bird flushed twice showing its very pale colors and weak flight style before it relocated to some spartina alterniflora adjacent to the open water of the marsh inlet.
After this success we decided to head south along the west (sheltered) side of the island. We didn't find much until we stopped for a lunch break at Farnham Farm. Our second Yellow-bellied Sapsucker called, an Eastern Phoebe and several Eastern Bluebirds sallied out for insects, and some raptors soared overhead. Two Turkey Vultures and a Red-tailed Hawk were joined by a distant buteo that initially had us confused. It turned out to be an adult Red-shouldered Hawk, barely showing the pale crescents at the base of the outer primaries that usually make for an easy ID. In the overcast conditions it looked nearly black at the altitude it was maintaining.
We enjoyed the comical aspect of the two goats at the farm and their strange rectangular pupils, fed them our apple cores and were on our way. The thickets and fields around the NBNERR headquarters were rather devoid of birds, though picking up two very distant soaring Black Vultures was a nice find. We birded the road down to the T wharf and back finding a few more raptors, slowly made our way over to the east side of the island and hit a nice pocket of birds just before we left the south reserve boundary. Among a plethora of "feeder birds" we found two Eastern Towhees, two more Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, a Hermit Thrush, and one of the biggest surprises of the day, a late Red-eyed Vireo. Our last few stops produced some Field Sparrows, a flock of Laughing Gulls, and a last ditch attempt to get our Song Sparrow count above fifty to trip our 10th eBird filter of the day.
I'm just going to disregard the fact that this is my first post in well over a year.
Lately I've been doing my best to branch out from pencil drawing. So far this has mostly stemmed from a desire for color, as I've never been thrilled with the texture of colored pencils. Naturally watercolor was my first choice for its relative ease of use (compared to other painting techniques) and I'm happy with how my skill with the medium is progressing thus far. This post however isn't going to show any of my painting experiments and is instead going to focus on another medium I've gotten back into recently: pen. I appreciate black ink for the boldness that can be hard if not impossible to achieve with pencil.
I've tried stark black-and-white techniques with big blocks of color and slightly more subtle scratchy designs with cross-hatching for shading and nearly pencil-thin lines for details. So far I've enjoyed experimenting with these techniques and have appreciated finishing a drawing that I'm happy with within a single day, something I don't often pull off with pencil. While browsing the internet for inspiration I came across a method called stippling or dotwork where shading is done using only small dots of ink. Greater density of dots makes a darker area while sparser dots make a lighter section.
I figured I'd give the technique a go to continue my experiments and see where it got me. While I appreciate what I've made so far and I enjoy creating thousands of tiny dots more than I probably should, I haven't quite decided exactly how much I like the finished drawings. More specifically, maybe, whether it's something I'll pursue in the long-term. Also something to consider is that I've been using a Micron 01 for stippling which isn't quite as small as the 005 more commonly used to create even smaller dots. Combining several styles is also something I've not yet delved into.
Blue-headed Vireo in two different styles: quick scratchy lines and cross-hatching on the left and stippling on the right. As you can imagine, stippling is a bit more time intensive than what I'm used to with a pen.
Comparing the two techniques up close, this time with stippling on the left. I enjoy the illusion of disarray that stippling can create. If you look close enough all you see are what appear to be random dots. But as you pull away it forms a very clear and sharp image.
Dickcissel in progress using the stippling technique.
A Blue Hills outing today was productive in that it gave me my first-of-the-year Tree Swallows and some nice audio recordings of Brown Creepers and Black-capped Chickadees singing.
Attempting to think up a spot where I could find swallows, I remembered the nest boxes at the Blue Hills reservoir. I headed over there for a walk and a pair of them proved easy to find. They foraged over the grassy knob at the end of the pond, and over the water itself. It’s great to finally have some aerial insectivores back in town.
The warm weather was pleasant and relaxing to say the least. A pair of Killdeer and a pair of Bufflehead were also hanging around at the reservoir. The far end of the pond gave me a little taste of the intensifying wind although the side closer to the parking lot was sheltered and dead calm.
I decided to make a run up Buck Hill although I knew the wind would be strong up there. I had the taste of early migrants in my mouth and I wanted more. Upon entering the woods I heard the sweet song of the Brown Creeper. A short but complex jumble of high notes, and a song I don’t often hear. A winter resident, they begin to sing early and some nest secretively in the hills. Although the road sounded loud at this point and occasionally an airplane passed overhead I managed to record its song on my camera as a video. It’s easy to extract the audio from the visual on the computer and I’ve gotten into a habit of uploading more recordings into my eBird lists.
As I expected, the wind was really blustering on the summit. A Black-capped Chickadee came close and with a smidge of playback sung for me for a couple minutes. The closeness of the bird made up for the rustling of the trees in my recording and I was happy with its outcome.
No birds graced me with their presence on top; no hawks in the air and no songbirds in the scrub.
I continued down the far side of the hill and looped back around in the lower woods. I ran into more creepers singing but I couldn’t manage a better recording than the first as I could now loudly hear the highway and the wind was picking up even further. I was surprised to see the velvet wings and pale yellow trailing edge of a gorgeous Mourning Cloak. One of the earliest butterflies to appear in the spring, even this seems out of sync in addition to the abnormally early-arriving birds such as swallows and phoebes.
Check out my eBird list with audio here: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S28334218
I headed out just before noon on this relatively mild almost-spring day. Kayak mounted on the car, I drove to Ponkapoag and unloaded at the boat launch parking. I carried the kayak down to the pond, set it down at the waters edge and lifted my binoculars for a cursory scan. A scan revealed nothing as usual, but I didn't let this hamper my dreams of countless possibilities. For some reason, ducks on the water are almost impossible to see from any angle on land here, hence the kayak. For the first time I decided to follow the edge of the pond to the right instead of kayaking to the left. Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds formed a small loose flock in a swampy area and a flock of Black-capped Chickadees and Golden-crowned Kinglets cavorted in the edge of the cedar bog.
I heard an odd gurgling, growling noise and looked straight ahead to see two small heads pop out of the water. My first thought was "River Otters!" but then I looked in my binoculars and was confused. I couldn't discern any features and they started to look more like the heads of large fish. But then one turned towards me and it couldn't have been more clear that it was an otter. One of them had something dangling out of it's mouth, which upon reviewing my photos later was definitely a crayfish.
The otters made their strange grumbling noises and continued to poke their heads in and out of the water, always resurfacing in a slightly different spot until they eventually went down and did not come back up.
Continuing on, I neared the cove by the cabins and noticed a large flock of ducks near a pair of Great Black-backed Gulls. In my experience here so far, I'd never seen a large flock of anything on the water other than Canada Geese. As I suspected, they were Ring-necked Ducks and after several careful counts I figured there were 33 of them. One of the birds stood out with very white sides and zooming into some photos I was able to confirm it as a Greater Scaup.
Kayaking now towards the much larger cedar bog, the Ring-necks scattered and there wasn't anything I could do about it. They were extremely skittish. A Common Raven flew by the far side of the pond and called several times. A Red-shouldered Hawk rose up from the small bog, mobbed by some crows. Several Bufflehead dove in an area towards the center of the pond, and three female Common Mergansers sat on a rock near the edge and became alert as I passed by at a respectful distance.
Nearing the bog I came upon the north corner of the pond and it's thicket-covered edge. Several chickadees and titmice called, so I stopped and pished a little to draw out the little guys. An American Tree Sparrow showed itself briefly at the back of the thicket and a kinglet popped into view closer to me. I expected a Golden-crowned but was surprised when I saw the clean and unmarked face of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. I spent some time with the bird, making sure to acquire a few useable photos for my eBird list.
As I began to traverse the edge of the bog I flushed two pairs of geese from the edge, both pairs having one obviously larger (male) and one smaller bird (female). Another flock of chickadees and Golden-crowned Kinglets greeted me. Some pishing drew in a Yellow-rumped Warbler from the cedars and he came in close to investigate. The bog held no more surprises for me and I turned back towards the boat launch. A decent-sized flock of geese loafing by the dam were the last birds of note I saw from the water.
I carried the boat back up to the car, strapped it on top, and drove to the golf course parking lot to take a short walk. I started on my favorite route up to the wood pile maintenance area at the north edge of the course. I figured I could add a few birds onto my list of 36 species and hopefully hit 40. It's often surprising after a couple hours of birding to take note of the common species you have missed. My first new bird was a Northern Flicker calling from up ahead. I soon found some House Finches, the pair of Fox Sparrows which have been frequenting the exact same spot for at least a week now, and a flock of White-throated Sparrows. The Carolina Wren began singing, and surprisingly a pair of Downy Woodpeckers were my last new birds for the day.
Please check out my eBird list for the day, I've added audio, photographs and more: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S28252117
I'll leave you with a Woodcock photo I took on the golf course several nights back. It was a juggle keeping my headlamp aimed at the bird while taking a photograph at the same time. I would have liked to get a lower angle, but with my frustrating setup I won't complain.
Talking advantage of the beautiful weather yesterday, I birded for the first time Lake Waban in Wellesley and the Medfield Charles River State Reservation.
Parking by the Wellesley College athletic field I began my walk around the west side of the lake. Open deciduous woods anchored a shrubby cattail stream flowing out from a small higher pond into the lake. A ridge-line path set higher in the woods revealed a beautiful dell of hemlocks. Continuing further, the low elevations of the woods were filled with rhododendrons that thinned out up the slopes of the hills into rocky outcrops and many young white pines. Even further the deeper woods morphed into thick white pine groves with very large trees and a dense dead understory.
Reaching the south end of the lake I looped around to the east side and found myself at the back edge of private yards with large houses. The trail hugged the edge of the lake here, framed by dense rhododendrons. Eventually it opened out back into Wellesley College property and the habitat became more manicured and open throughout the campus.
The highlight bird-wise was a Common Raven, five Ring-necked Ducks, nine American Coot, and a Turkey Vulture. I was hoping for Red-breasted Nuthatch and the habitat was excellent but I had no such luck. The Turkey Vulture here would have been a county year bird had I not had two soaring over the highway on my way to Lake Waban.
From Wellesley I drove south to Medfield and parked at a place google calls McCarthy Park although no sign displaying this name could be located in situ. The place is an open semi-defunct field complex, with stands of birches and what looked to be a dry cattail marsh. Edge habitat abounded but literally no birds could be found beside a small flock of Cedar Waxwings. Areas of concrete dotted this overgrown place, and much of it was rutted with meandering tire tracks. An open mowed hill close to the road seemed to be a popular place for people to exercise their dogs. For some reason most visitors felt the need to drive a healthy distance off-road instead of parking on the edge of the paved park road.
From McCarthy Park I walked along Hospital Rd to the Medfield Charles River State Reservation. I entered via the gravel road that parallels the train track. This road heads straight for the model airplane field and dead-ends at the Charles River. Swamp and shrubby marsh can be found on either side before it reaches the mowed grass of the airplane field. The edge of the field borders the river and the habitat is typical for the edges of the Charles River. Low shrubs and tangles of vines turn into matted grasses at the rivers edge. Birds were scarce although I ran into several American Tree Sparrows, a decent sized flock of Dark-eyed Juncos and a Sharp-shinned Hawk, which was another county year bird.
Two county year birds for the day left me at 97 species. Only three more until the 100 milestone.
Today, after much deliberation I decided to do some very local birding. I planned to check spots in Milton including Turner's Pond, the landing, and a couple other spots along the Neponset River.
At Turner's Pond I just checked the water and as usual this winter I came up empty-handed. Nothing other than the Mallards, Ring-billed Gulls, and pair of Canada Geese.
Milton Landing was similarly disappointing. The lack of an eagle was made up for in a female Red-breasted Merganser. Not a species I often see this far up the river. One female Common Merganser also swam nearby.
I arrived at Riverside Ave with high hopes and was not disappointed. Upon parking the car I could see several Red-winged Blackbirds working the phragmites and plenty of sparrow action nearby. Opening the car door I heard a Common Grackle call from behind one of the houses. Geese filled the marsh and as I began to scan them for any rarities I noticed a Killdeer staring me down from the edge of a puddle. Blackbirds and Killdeer, the earliest migrants are sure signs that Spring is just around the corner!
Entering the edge of the woods I came upon a large flock of White-throated Sparrows and Tufted Titmice. It wasn't long before I heard the distinctive chip of a Yellow-rumped Warbler and saw it flitting about mid-way up the trees. Juncos began to feed into the woods from the marsh and the sound of twittering birds filled the air. Walking out into the marsh I realized how sheltered I had been from the wind as it began to nip at my ears and my hands as I, gloveless, updated my eBird totals. Song Sparrows flushed from the edge of the marsh and as I reached the river I added several more species to my growing list. One Common Goldeneye swam near a Common and Red-breasted Merganser. With these three female ducks in view I scanned further and found a larger flock of Red-breasted Mergansers that included both sexes.
A dully patterned immature Great Blue Heron stood in the marsh near a roost of Ring-billed and Herring Gulls.
Lengthening my walk to a nearby suite of industrial buildings and a small section of the Presidents Golf Course I didn't find many new birds besides a pair of Red-tailed Hawks. I made my way back to my car and headed home.
This year since I've gotten to know Norfolk County up to a point where I feel comfortable with it, I've decided to try and pull off a county big year. Since I'll be limiting myself to my home county there won't be much driving involved and it will be easy to chase anything rare that shows up. I won't be dropping anything I already have planned to chase birds, and since I've never tried this before, I don't expect much. I'm not reaching for the stars. I'm just testing this out. I want to focus on local birding and limiting the majority of my birding to one county is how I'm going to do it.
I don't know the county as well as I could but I definitely know it better than I ever have before (obviously). I feel confident in being able to find 200 species, which would be a new record for me as I've only had 183 in one year (2015) in the county before. Since I missed several peak seasons last year I figure it will be easy to do better this time around, as long as I stay in Milton.
Milton has a well positioned spot within Norfolk County. Very close to Squantum in Quincy (the biggest hotspot in Norfolk Co.), Milton also allows very easy access to the Blue Hills Reservation and several very good Spring warbler spots such as Fowl Meadow. On the north edge, Milton directly abuts Suffolk County. This is not ideal, since any birds seen over the border will not count for my big year. It often seems however, that sometimes the best birding is on county lines. The Neponset River Reservation and Cutler Park are both on the border of Suffolk County. The Neponset River, and the Charles River respectively forming the actual border.
Since it's already February, you may be wondering what I have seen this year so far. I'll break down the species list and some of the spots I've hit.
I tried to start the year off strong and I think that worked out pretty well. I started on January 1st at Webb Memorial State Park in Weymouth and did very well by picking up a Razorbill just off the point. I filled out my new year list to 24 species there with birds like Bald Eagle, both loons, and plenty of the common sea ducks.
Picked up my continuing Laughing Gull at a nearby beach and continued to Turkey Hill in Cohasset/Hingham. Birding the Norfolk side of the the hill I didn't add much to my list, having only 8 new birds. A low flying Common Raven was a nice addition however.
Making my way back north along the coast I picked up Hooded Merganser and American Oystercatcher on my way to Squantum.
Squantum treated me well with a group of Northern Shoveler and a single Brant. Horned Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, and American Tree Sparrow were a few more of the birds I added there. I managed 45 species in total for January 1st which is surprising considering I only started birding at half past 11.
On January 2nd I stayed inland and did some birding in Randolph. I picked up some good birds in Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Swamp Sparrow and Red-winged Blackbird.
At Great Pond I had Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Greater and Lesser Scaup, Common Merganser, Belted Kingfisher, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet among other birds.
With the first big sections of birds done, I'll recap the rest of the year so far with any new birds I had after the first two days.
At Ponkapoag Pond on the 6th of January I added Merlin, Brown Creeper, Winter Wren, Carolina Wren, and Orange-crowned Warbler.
On January 7th I added Eastern Screech Owl in the Blue Hills, and at Shea Naval Air Field (Southfield) I added Northern Harrier, Red-shouldered Hawk, Rock Pigeon, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, and Purple Finch.
I added Gadwall from Souther Tide Mill, Common Yellowthroat from Broad Meadows Marsh, and Canvasback, Sanderling, and Snow Bunting from Wollaston Beach.
On January 8th I added American Wigeon and American Coot from Lake Massapoag.
On January 10th I added Wood Duck from Leverett Pond.
On January 27th at Great Pond I added Northern Pintail, Ruddy Duck, and Fox Sparrow. I also added Ruddy Turnstone from Wollaston Beach and Savannah Sparrow from Squantum.
On January 30th along the Cohasset coast I added Black Scoter, Barrow's Goldeneye, Red-necked Grebe, Great Cormorant, and Purple Sandpiper.
On January 31st I added Common Grackle from Cutler Park.
On February 2nd I added King Eider, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Lark Sparrow (photo below) from Webb Memorial State Park.
And finally on February 7th I added Horned Lark while kayaking from Milton Landing.
This concludes my very boring recap! The following posts should undoubtedly be much more entertaining!
On April 25 the Massachusetts Young Birders Club had our first trip to Wompatuck State Park in Hingham. I planned this trip hoping for Louisiana Waterthrush and any other early migrants we could stir up. We had a good turnout with approximately 13 participants.
It was a gorgeous day and cold in the morning. By midday it had warmed considerably into t-shirt weather. We covered a fair amount of area in the park and found one Louisiana Waterthrush at Picture Pond which was seen by about 50% of us and only heard by the other half. We also flushed a Ruffed Grouse from the side of a trail, again only seen by those in the front of the group.
Other birds of note were Black-and-white Warblers, one Northern Waterthrush, a Broad-winged Hawk, a Blue-headed Vireo, a Winter Wren, Pine Siskins and some other great early season birds. We ended the day with a total of 53 species (eBird checklist).
This morning, I headed out early (5:50am) over to Turner's Pond to see what I could stir up (eBird checklist). Overnight rains meant few birds had likely migrated but I hadn't been to the pond for a while and I was sure to see something interesting. As I expected, it was a slow start once I got there. A single Yellow-rumped Warbler was the only unusual bird to be seen until I reached the far side. A couple White-throated Sparrows were singing from the thickets as per usual.
The song of a Yellow Warbler reached my ears from across the pond and I made my way over to the apparently productive side. A singing Ruby-crowned Kinglet was also soon audible, a high-pitched noise that reached a crescendo and tumbled back downwards in a jumble of frenetic warbling notes. Several tiny kinglets seemed high on caffeine as they sang and jumped about from branch to branch. With my camera in hand, the bird would no longer be in my sights by the time I had it raised for a photo.
Two Black-capped Chickadees were busy excavating a cavity at eye level and flew back and forth between a flock of American Goldfinches feeding on last years birch catkins. Several more Yellow-rumps joined in, one of them hopping about on the ground at the waters edge. Crisp black, blue-gray, and yellow patches made the Yellow-rumps easily stand out from the nearby chickadees and kinglets.
One tree, party fallen over the water seemed to be a favorite perching spot for the days swallows and I counted a total of 17! Northern Rough-winged Swallows perched at one time mixed in with several Tree and Barn Swallows. In total I counted 20 Rough-wings making it my all time high count for this species and the new high count for the pond (previous was 11).
Although I have never found the nesting spot of the Rough-winged Swallows that feed over the pond, Tree Swallows breed in several tree cavities and all three species are common throughout spring and summer. This time of year migrant numbers peak with as many as 75 swallows feeding over the small pond.
I am often surprised by the diversity of certain species (such as these swallows) at such a small location.
Continuing my walk, I heard a House Wren singing from behind the woods by the main parking lot. Carolina Wren numbers are almost certainly down after the harsh winter. I usually have two pairs around the pond and have had a hard time even hearing one calling this spring.
I decided to begin the loop again since I saw a Yellow Warbler flying to an area of the shore I have never before seen them utilize. I am sure glad I did since I quickly flushed my first Green Heron of the year as I approached the water for a closer look at where the warbler went. Upon re-finding the flushed heron, I soon found a second perched nearby. Both were in superb breeding colors with bright orange legs and long and sharp blue back plumes.
Just near the second heron was a Great Blue Heron and it was quite a shock to see both birds side by side, the Green Heron the size of a chicken, and the Great Blue the size of a.........chair..?
It turned out to be a beautiful morning despite the cloudiness and persistent wind.
A couple days ago, my mom and I woke early to go kayaking. I set my alarm for 5:15 and we were out the door an hour later. We pulled into Milton Landing just after sunrise to the song of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Mist still clung to the surface of the water as the sun had yet to rise high enough to burn it off.
We slid into the river across the gelatinous mud and began to padde downriver. The mudflats of the low tide shined blue in the early morning light and Ring-billed Gulls patrolled the banks and the sky. A Great Blue Heron stood sentry far ahead, a sillhouette against the rising sun.
We paddled the first stretch and rounded the bend to see several Bufflehead but still no egrets as I had hoped. A Red-throated Loon surfaced ahead of me and quickly went back under. Scanning in every direction for almost a minute, I failed to see where it had resurfaced. Turning around, I finally spotted him far behind me.
Around the next bend and again no egrets in the spot I had them the day before. Several pairs of Canada Geese in the distance honked their annoyance for some unknown reason. At least fifty Double-crested Cormorants worked the waters as a group in front of the bridge. As we approched they began to flush, flying towards us and past, brilliantly lit by the sun. Several flew at the right height to pass in front of a willow in full bloom and made for a beautiful photograph.
Double-crested Cormorant | Canon 7D | Canon 400mm f5.6
1/1600 | f/6.3 | ISO 800
Continuing on, we passed the park on the left and went under the Rt 93 bridge. Another Red-throated Loon surfaced nearby and there on the right was finally an egret. A lone Great Egret stood by the edge of the river with two Greater Yellowlegs by its side. As I began my approach, a Snowy Egret came gliding in and landed with the three other birds. Perfect! This is exactly what I wanted. Now all the birds had to do was stay there as I made my careful way towards them. The first step was getting the sun at my back and with that set I let the tide take me slowly towards them so the raising of my paddles would not scare them off.
The birds stood their ground and made no sign of flushing. I was at the perfect distance and began to fire off shots of both egrets. The yellowlegs, being more wary, made their way farther down the muddy bank away from me.
Both egrets were still for a while and I managed some very nice shots of them against the calm water in the early morning light. Eventually the Snowy Egret began to move about and I took a few shots of it striding through the water with yellow feet slightly exposed. The Great Egret began to hunt and to my surprise I nailed the classic shot of it striking into the water and coming up with a tiny fish. The breeding colors and plumes of these birds were spectacular to see so close. The lacey back plumes and orange-red lores of the Snowy Egret and the lime green lores of the Great were something I had wanted to see for a while but had never managed until now.
Snowy Egret | Canon 7D | Canon 400mm f5.6
1/1600 | f/6.3 | ISO 200
Great Egret | Canon 7D | Canon 400mm f5.6
1/1600 | f/6.3 | ISO 200
After this most successful endeavor, a male American Kestrel flying over the river was an added bonus. I picked it out from afar and a dive-bombing Red-winged Blackbird confirmed it as a small raptor before I was able to see the details. A Mute Swan back at the landing proved to be my first of that species there and a nice finish to the morning. The numerous Northern Rough-winged Swallows were building nests and the Black-crowned Night-Herons continue to be numerous in the gorge.
Header image (above):
Wilson's Snipe in Boston
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" I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn."
- Henry David Thoreau
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Weird things I've seen squirrels eating in my backyard:
• whole donut
• whole bagel
• snickers bar out of the wrapper
• whole potato
• Mass Audubon
• Friends of the Blue Hills
• Massachusetts Birding Listserv
• Maine Birding Listserv
• Rhode Island Birding Listserv
• Audubon Society of Rhode Island
• Massachusetts Young Birders Club