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Friday, July 30, 2010

June 8, 2010 2:10-2:30 pm sunny 64` Ten Mile River Bike Path, East Providence RI

Our mother took us on a walk to collect some wildflowers for our garden. We had some nice birds including three Indigo Buntings, two females and a male. At the end of our short walk I had seen seven bird species, all common except for the buntings (I am pretty sure that this was the first time that I have seen buntings in RI), along with having collected and seen some beautiful insects and wildflowers.

June 11, 2010 backyard

A banded Rock Pigeon has been visiting our yard recently. The band is light blue "147 AU 2010 FRBB". It probably is a racing pigeon because very few people band Rock Pigeons like they do to chickadees. The bird is very tame and I can come within five feet of it which points towards my racing pigeon theory. Does anyone know where it could have come from?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

May 29, 2010 3-4pm sunny 80' Fisherville Audubon, Exeter, RI

After an extensive detour and spending twenty minutes behind a crowd of happy (and very noisy) vehicles slowly celebrating Memorial Day we decided to turn around and try a different route to Fisherville - ten minutes later we were there.

There were many backyard birds around: Chickadees, a Mourning Dove, 2 catbirds, Tree Swallows, a Downy Woodpecker, a Towhee, a Wood Thrush, a Kingbird and maybe a House Wren. We did have some interesting species like a female Hooded Merganser. We heard a Prairie Warbler singing somewhere off in the distance and an Ovenbird serenaded us from deep in the woods with his rollicking song. He is rock and roller of the bird world.

Dragonflies skitter by on their four paper thin wings. Frogs and toads hopped about the forest floor. Wood Frogs (the cheetahs of the amphibian realm) and American Toads (toads are thick and heavy animals that are comparable to a woodland Hippopotomas. Though they're notably slower than the 30 miles an hour that the African Hippo can run, they can really move when they feel like it!).

An odd male Mallard which seemed to be part albino (or maybe just a domestic) stood on a rock in the middle of the pond watching the wildlife come and go while we watched him stay. The only species we missed out on were the Eastern Bluebirds that were almost always here.

It was an enjoyable walk all in all.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

May 28th 2010, Caratunk Audubon, Seekonk, MA 11-12:30pm overcast 74'

Today we had a small but interesting list of birds including a Blue-Winged Warbler and a Wood Duck. But by far the most amusing behavior came when we spotted an Eastern Phoebe hunting for insects in the long grass but instead of eating them the bird was bringing it to a begging Brown-Headed Cowbird! It was quite obvious what had happened, a female cowbird had followed the time honored ritual of being a nest parasite. The poor phoebe (the cowbird female had chosen) believed that this was her or his only chick which had survived.

Here is a part of a post I wrote earlier this year. "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".

We also saw a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, an American Robin, an Eastern Towhee singing his distinctive "TOW-o-EEEEEEE" (trill on the eeeee), a Yellow Warbler, a Grey Catbird, and many Barn and Tree Swallows. Carolina and House Wrens were fighting but I couldn't exactly see what they were doing so they could have been mobbing something in the trees. A Great-Blue Heron went flying over head, he had his bill open maybe he was catching flies or calling quietly as he lazily flew above.

Friday, July 9, 2010

May 27 2010, Douglas Raynor Sanctuary at Nockum Hill, Barrington, RI 11:30 to 1:30pm sunny, 75'

We watched this turtle lay her eggs from 20 feet away and then it walked right past us on its way back to the bay!

Today was one of those days when you know you are going to get an amazing bird but you don't and get depressed. Luckily for me I didn't expect to get anything great and was just going to be depressed — nah, I'm just kidding about I expected we would get something great but not anything to do with birds. As I had foreseen, we didn't see anything out of the ordinary for birds at Nockum Hill. But the real excitement lay in and on the ground: dozens of Diamondback Terrapins (endangered) drag their bodies out of the Narragensett Bay every year to nest on the sandy earth of this refugee. Volunteers mark the turtles and protect the eggs with cages and boxes or else the gnashing teeth of Raccoons and other nighttime predators would gobble them down in a wink. Sadly the volunteers cannot locate every nest and each and every year eggshells litter the ground telling the sad story of the hunters and the hunted. Most animals in peril can move themselves away from the area as a defense but these poor buried egg-bound creatures can't do much other than hope that they wouldn't be a skunks next dinner.

We didn't see much more wildlife other then terrapins though I did pish in a Common Yellowthroat.

Here is a good link to information about the terrapins and the volunteers.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Petersham MA May 31, 2010 All day Sunny 80`

List of birds:
- American Robins,
- Veerys (heard not seen)
- Black-Capped Chickadees,
- White-Breasted Nuthatch(es?),
- Ovenbird (singing),
- Chestnut-Sided Warbler (most common bird!),
- American Redstart (female),
- Common Yellowthroat (a pair, they were flitting about with the Chestnut-Sided Warblers),
- Blue Jay (1 with 2 Red-Eyed Vireos),
- American Crow,
- Mourning Dove (1-2),
- Red-Eyed Vireo (2-3),
- Warbling Vireo (?),
- Indigo Bunting (3 to 6. Saw one beautiful male singing from the top a pine - I got a few photos through my scope! It was a lifer for Claire),
- Chipping Sparrow (1),
- American Goldfinches,
- Bobolinks (nesting in the field),
- Red-Winged Blackbird,
- Common Grackles,
- Cedar Waxwings,
- European Starling(s?) (I can't remember exactly if I saw this),
- Downy Woodpecker (1-2-3?),
- Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers (2 but I'm not positive about the second one. Ben said it was, but who can trust him? I got the first one in the scope),
- Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (1-2 we saw a male sucking nectar from some Wild Blue Flags which were growing in the field (across the street from the house). It was on the banks of the pond),
- Eastern Kingbird (1-2 hunting by the top of the meadow),
- Tree Swallows,
- Grey Catbird (1),
- Rock Dove (1 eating at the next door bird feeder),
- Red-Tailed Hawk (1),
- Turkey Vulture (1)
(There were probably more birds that I forgot about.)
- American Toads (I got a nice photo of one),
- Grey Tree Frogs (There were hundreds calling. We thought they were woodpeckers but they called late into the night. Often we knew they were right in front of us but we couldn't see them. One time we kept hearing a Woodpecker-like call coming from a fresh looking hole every once and a while. We would check it out but we never saw any birds. We only later realized that the small grey thing that magically appeared in the hole was not a piece of wood but a Grey Tree Frog!),
- Green Frog (stuck in the pool - no matter how hard we tried we could never catch it),
- Bullfrog (?) (It's a funny story how I saw this guy. I was walking along when something went "huumph huumph" kind of like what you a imagine a Moose saying and the scary thing was that it was coming from right next to me (I was at the pond across the street from the house with Ben. At the moment I was rounding the corner and about to walk up the hill. I thought the Moose was like 16 feet away). I froze, my nose felt like it was being pinched, my heart started beating double time, I slowly looked over ... it was a ... frog! Phew!).

We saw a really cool Crab Spider devouring a Honey Bee. The spider was pure white with some light pink spots down the sides. A pity Ben and I didn't have any cameras. There were lots of Coppers species and Eastern Tiger Swallowtails about (in fact more Tiger Swallowtails than I have ever encountered in one day). We saw some mating Little Wood Satyrs, a Black or Spicebush Swallowtail and a Red Admiral in the Japanese Knot Weed.

I think I saw a bat but I am not sure as I only had a brief glimpse. On our way back home we saw a Grey Fox crossing the road.

There were lots of Eastern Chipmunks and Eastern Grey Squirrels. There were a few dead mice floating in the pool along with a young Grey Squirrel.

We found a baby Northern Water Snake on the side of the road. It was odd seeing that the snake was a good distance from the nearest pond. It moved sort of like a Sidewinder, writhing sideways instead of straight (it seemed to be trying to swim on the tarmac!). I wonder if a raptor dropped it there or if he is really good at swimming on a solid substance know locally as "the ground"?

Friday, July 2, 2010

May 23, 2010 Cloudy with a sprinkle of rain, Reeds Beach NJ

The noise hit us hard as we stepped out of the car, feasting birds were everywhere: on the beach, feasting on the mudflats, skittering about on the sandbars and standing ankle high in the water. Hundreds of Semipalmated Sandpipers darted about in what you could call herds but that doesn't really work on birds. Laughing Gulls were laughing from each and every direction. Red Knots paced about like birds with very hard decisions on their minds (they were probably contemplating if they should stay here at this beach, the second best restaurant in town or move on to be squished and shoved at one of the biggest planned events of the year (which we would be going to in a few minutes but first let me finish my list)). A Great Egret stood like a statue in the amazingly calm waters of the North Atlantic Ocean while Snowy Egrets darted after fish with their long swan-like necks and a Short-Billed Dowitcher landed for a short time, just long enough for me to get some nice shots.

Now we were off to Reeds Beach which wasn't that far from where we were birding. Reeds Beach was not much of a walk really - it only had thirty feet of trail which stretched from the gravel parking lot to the beach. We stood atop the viewing platform and watched in amazement as hundreds of knots fed on Horseshoe Crab eggs. The birds had specially planned this spot on their migration to their Arctic nesting grounds and were reaping their just rewards for a well timed vacation. Though most of the beach was empty of birds, the vast majority of them had decided on feeding right below the place where we and the other birders were standing. There were a dozen birders or so with us including a very high tech photographer who had covered his head and most of his camera with a black cloth. Birds were in some places so packed that the sand looked like it had turned red and learned how to move. There were a few knots with bands on their feet. The band rested on what would be our knees but on birds are considered their ankle. Birds walk on their toes, their ankles are where their knees should be and their knees are up by their hips which can be very confusing at times.

Red Knots were lifers for me. What a great way to end a vacation!

Ahead of us was a long six hour drive though torrential rain home.

(Thanks Lala and Da!)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

May 22, 2010 Cloudy with a sprinkling of rain Cape May Point State Park, Cape May NJ

A view from the lighthouse

A view from the lighthouse

A male Purple Martin

A Mute Swan with young

As we pulled into the parking lot of the Cape May Point State Park, I was instantly enthralled by the flitting shadows known as Purple Martins. Both fast and agile, Martins have caught the eye of humanity for a millennium. Martins used to live in trees and cliff cavities, but we Homo sapiens changed that by setting up martin houses. It was successful and pretty soon everyone was setting up houses-finally this structure is the preferred nesting habit for all Purple Martins. An excerpt from the National Geographic Society Song and Garden Birds of North America claims that Purple Martins have been nesting in nest boxes since the time of the Native Americans. They were useful for protecting their chickens and crops by driving crows and hawks away. This is what it says

In colonial days Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians used to attract
martins to their village by hanging up hollowed out gourds and
Calabashes for the birds to nest in. They welcomed these birds
because the martins fearlessly drove hawks and crows away
from their crops and chickens. The custom spread to southern plantations,
and before long people everywhere were erecting all kinds of
Martin houses in their backyards. The birds are not fussy.
They'll accept structures with accommodations for one pair or
two hundred. One company makes a 90-room martin hotel
trimmed in green and white with ventilated attic and adjustable
height. Many towns are proud of their martins and put up boxes
for them in their parks or even in their business areas.
Martins have been nesting in boxes in Greencastle, Pennsylvania
since 1840 except for one mysterious gap of 15 years after
The Civil War, when they did not return.

But most of our walk was not made up of martin watching, though they were with us for most of the time. Cape May Point State Park is one of the premier hawk watching spots on the East coast - but seeing that the hawk migration was not yet underway, there was not much point in keeping your eyes to the sky when birding marshes, ponds and beaches. There were tons of Red-Winged Blackbirds about and many robins foraging on the marsh. We found a Great-Crested Flycatcher or two along with an Orchard Oriole, which was spotted by one of the birding groups from the Cape May Bird Observatory. We saw a few warblers that I can't think of right now, though I think it was Magnolia and Common Yellowthroat. A man and a woman pointed out a few goldfinches feeding on the thistles close to the path.

A majestic pair of Mute Swans lumbered off of their nest with a group of cygnets in tow. They were beautiful in the water but on land they were clumsy and slow. We saw a Great and probably a Snowy Egret on the pond next to the parking lot, and a Great Blue on the pond with the Mute Swans. Further down the path we came across some Mallards and a Gadwall. One of the Mallards looked suspiciously similar to a duck I had seen a couple of years ago in a pond in MA, but that one was a domestic duck and this one was undoubtedly wild - but both were white with a light brown wash over most of the head.

There were many Semipalmated Sandpipers about, along with many other small shorebirds such as Piping Plover, for which the ponds were constructed for (these were the other two plover ponds, the first was at The Meadows). We could see both a Belted and an Unbelted Piping Plover. We turned the last corner and were back in the parking lot. Luckily our grandmother insisted that we climb the light house which towered above us - we had some amazing views from the top.

We were going to stop at the famous Cape May Bird Observatory before we went back to the hotel. The Cape May Bird Observatory had the most birder friendly store that I have been to. They had: hundreds of books, stacks of clothes with birds on them, a case full of binoculars, and a bunch of scopes for you try out through the windows. They also had a view of a pond across the road, a few bird feeders and a tiny pond (my grandparents got me a nice shirt with a Cape May Warbler on it).

The night before we had gone to see Pete Dunne, one of the most famous birders in the US, talk about the art of pishing. Using what he told us I pished in a beautiful female Black-Throated Blue Warbler! Dunne is a very funny man and it was hilarious listening to the audience practicing pishing in unison. He showed us a variety of calls including a Screech Owl whinney, the classic "Shhhhp -shhhhhp - shhhhhp", and the kissing call of the oven bird. He uses kiss one when all the birds have lost interest and it brings them back because the birds just want to see what he is pishing about now. The pishing attracts the birds and the owl call gives them something to pish at. After their daily feeding frenzy is complete they don't have much to do and so irritating the owls passes the time.