Monday, April 26, 2010
Swan Point Cemetery is not as fabulous as Higbee Beach or Plum Island, but for local Rhode Islanders it is an oasis for migrating songsters. And in late April when the first wave of warblers hits Rhode Island the birders start arriving hoping for an early migrant. But when the migration really gets going birders and birds will be swarming over the grounds, in fact so many birders came knocking on the gates that the cemetery now opens the gate early especially for birders but that system doesn't start until May.
We got out of the car at around ten fifteen am and headed for the woods where most of the action takes place. The first find for the day was a Downy Woodpecker flitting from trunk to trunk, every once in a while sneaking a backwards look at us while trying not to look suspicious of our presence. Blue Jay's shrieks echoed through the woods. A Turkey Vulture soared directly overhead trying in vane to impress the smaller birds with his glorious wings, at least he impressed me! Hundreds of birds trilled from all sides mostly Chipping Sparrows (I think) with probably a few wood warblers mixed in. But by far the most amazing birds we got were three Brown-Headed Cowbirds, two males, one female. Our first view of them were three dark silhouettes flying into a tall pine chattering like mad. There seemed to be a dispute going on over the female or nesting territory. Half a minute later we re-found them in a bush still fighting. We slowly walked up to them until we were standing three or four feet from them. What beautiful birds they were! The males with chestnut heads and a glossy black bodies, the female a light brown. They were the size and shape of a Towhee with beady black eyes and their sparrow like bills made them look like they had something wicked in mind which they often do. The Brown-Headed Cowbird, like the Common Cuckoo, is famous for being a nest parasite which means that they go around removing an egg from a nest (mostly Warblers I think) laying their eggs in the other eggs place. But that is not the worst of it. They lay their eggs just at the right time so that their chick will hatch a little while before the nest owner's eggs (at least I think that is the case) so that the mother bird will feed it first making the Cowbird bigger and stronger than his newly hatched nest mates. The mother's instincts tell her to feed the strongest nestling which ends up being the Cowbird. The other birds won't get enough to survive and will slowly starve to death. This is one of the main threats to the Kirtlands Warbler, one of the most endangered warblers in America. Some people kill Cowbirds for this reason. Luckily some birds will remove the strange egg from the nest while others will build a nest on top of the Cowbird's egg. Some birds will even desert the nest. What a harsh world birds live in.
Other than that there was nothing much more to note except for a 22 Mute Swans on the Seekonk river, 3 Yellow- Rumped Warblers, a Hermit Thrush and a hole in a tree which was supposedly once a home to Screech-Owl.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
If you ask most any RI birder their favorite place to bird in Rhode Island they would probably say Trustom Pond. The large salt water pond attracts huge numbers of migrating waterfowl: Scaup, Goldeneye, nesting Mute Swans and so on. As well as being an excellent place to see waterfowl, Trustom is also a host to nesting osprey and many other raptor species will migrate through this area. And when spring migration gets going it really gets exciting. Warblers hang around the woods while Tree Swallows, the most common swallows in April, fly over the pond and the many meadows making people stop and watch with delight and think how beautiful birds are. Today was one of the best days that I have ever had while birding at Trustom and in a matter of a few hours we had a list of eighteen or so species. Here are the highlights: Field Sparrow, this beautifully proportioned bird was flitting through the bushes making sure not to let us get a good look at him - too bad. A few minutes after seeing the Field Sparrow we found a beautiful American Kestrel who came soaring in at around one thirty and landed on an island. Though we enjoyed watching him the Tree Swallows did not and promptly attacked the poor bird. The Kestrel was a year bird for us. WOO HOO! There was a winter plumage Red-Throated Loon relentlesly diving out in the pond. This bird was also a year bird. YAY! (I should mention that I am not recording these birds in the order that I saw them.) In a little cove I discovered a Mallard Black-Duck hybrid drake, my second of the year. Another year bird were two Eastern Towhees who both found that a moss covered stone wall was the best place to sit and muse. One of the very last birds we glimpsed was a Brown Thrasher (not thrashing) by the bird feeders (which is one of the best set ups of bird feeders that I have ever seen). But by far the best birds we observed was a group of a dozen Glossy Ibis enjoying their flight through the fresh sea breeze watching the gulls and cormorants on the pond far below them. Another pair flew over just a few minutes after. The best year bird of the day. Sadly we didn't have time to visit Moonstone Beach, another birding hotspot just down the street which offers great views of Trustom as well as the Atlantic Ocean.
Friday, April 23, 2010
Today was probably the best day or one of the best days in my life for seeing mammals considering that we go out in the woods almost everyday. Today was something special. One of the first creatures we noticed was a distant Coyote, a skinny dog like creature with a distinct loping gate crossing the barren cornfield. This was the first time I've seen one in the wild. Tree Swallows flitted through the maze of bird houses until miraculously finding their way to their own chosen nesting site. A female Wild Turkey perched on a log not five feet away from the trail. Red-Tailed Hawks soared over head as we watched two Ospreys enjoy life (or maybe hate it - I'm not sure) from their nest way out in the marsh and think again of those good old days with no cars, office buildings and coffee beans. But by far the most exciting thing to muse about was a cute baby White-Footed Mouse scuttling through the marsh grass and paddling out into brakish bay and then loosing his nerve and turning back to home turf. He seemed very interested in the human race (maybe he was reading the wrong human guide book because he seemed not to realize that humans are big, smelly, mean, gross things which should be feared not nibbled) (not that I minded being nibbled it is just not a good idea on his part but hopefully he will learn). The only other thing to note was a beautiful Mourning Cloak Butterfly and a Great Egret hanging around the marsh. No year birds sadly but a good day all in all!
Thursday, April 22, 2010
RISD Beach is not at all a top notch birding site-in fact I have never even seen other birders there. But it suits me just fine from birding to swimming. The best birds I have ever seen at RISD are Saltmarsh Sharp-Tailed Sparrows and Glossy Ibis, neither being that rare around here but worth noting. Today nothing special. My goal for today was to add Snowy Egret and Green Heron to my year list. I think I was looking a bit too early for the Green Heron but you never know what you might get around now. Of course we didn't see either. We (me, my brother, my two sisters and my mother) did get an amazing view of an immature Coopers Hawk as it took a dive at what we thought was a bare stretch of marsh. The Coopers proved us wrong. A Mourning Dove burst from the grass at the last second saving himself from an almost certain bloody fate. The Coopers veered away at the same moment the Dove left the ground. It then decided a chase was pointless and instead went off in hopes that there may be a dumber dove down the street. Other than that failed dramatic attack there was not much to note except for a Killdeer or two (first of the year for me).