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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Swan Point Cemetery, Providence RI slightly overcast April 27, 2011

Yesterday afternoon we visited Swan Point Cemetery in hopes of a spring arrival. We were in luck; just after getting out of the car we came across a life bird (though this bird species is one that I think I have seen before I have never been 100% certain). A Swainsons Thrush perched in a particular small tree that we always check for warblers and other spring migrants. It was being politely accompanied by a White-throated Sparrow. It flitted onto an exposed branch where it sat for a minute or so. Annoyingly my camera wouldn't focus on it; I don't own a DSLR or even an SLR so it can on occasions be extremely hard to focus on a bird in a tree. The bird hopped into a low group of bushes where it stayed for at least 5 minutes. There I got some much better photos!

It was about the size of a Hermit Thrush with olive brown back, tail, head and wings. It had a large brown hued white eye ring and a lightly spotted breast. It was a pleasant looking bird. It then hopped down to the ground where we watched it for a few minutes before departing. Other highlights included a Gray Catbird, a Pine Warbler and a singing Eastern Towhee.

May and the accompanying thousands of wood warblers are almost upon us!!!!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Edwin B Forsythe NWR April 17, 2011

Snow Goose

Little Blue Heron

"Blue" Snow Goose

"Blue" Snow Goose

Snow Goose

Snow Goose

Osprey and Atlantic City

Dunlin and Snowy Egret

Leucistic Canada Goose

Northern Shoveler

Red-tailed Hawk

The weather was horrible. The whole of the drive was spent with the car being lashed mercilessly by the rain. The wind was so powerful that it had blown over a huge truck on the on a highway bridge!

We saw quite a few bird species along Route 95 South highlighted by: Peregrine Falcon, American Kestrel, Bald Eagle and a quite dead Pheasant.

We found a hotel near Atlantic City and endeavored to go for a walk along the shore but our attempt was futile. The waves were so strong that they had, in some places, apparently washed away the boardwalk which we had been planning on walking on.

So we went back to the hotel very wet and tired.

We got up bright and early, packed our bags and then drove to Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.

Chipping Sparrows and Purple Martins were everywhere. The sparrows were up in the trees surrounding the parking lot while the martins perched lazily on their apartment like bird houses. The day before there had been a Tricolored Heron on the marsh. And while looking out of the visitor center window I was lucky enough to see it flying lazily by. Its back was a dark bronze color with a contrasting white belly. It was of average size for a heron (just a bit larger than a Snowy Egret). We went hurriedly in the direction it had gone. We couldn't find it (so instead we scoped the egrets, yellowlegs and Osprey) but our Grandparents, who had lagged behind, told us that as we had been scoping out the distant egrets the Tricolor had flown by in the other direction!

We then went for a walk in the woods lucking out with a few year birds such as Chimney Swift (Over a small pond - not sure how many there were), Barn Swallows, Pine Siskins (two in the evergreens by the visitor center), Prairie Warbler, House Wren and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. These were all found in the woods but the REAL birding would take place on the marsh which were now going to visit!

We got back in the car and started the slow, eight mile drive around the salt marsh. We got our first life bird a few minutes down the road; a pair of adult male Northern Shovelers way out in the middle of the marsh. They were stunning ducks with rich green heads, white breasts, rufous bellies, white, brown, black, green and blue markings on the backs and wings, golden eyes and broad spoon shaped bills. They were birds I have been searching for for a very long time.

There were quite a few Ospreys on their nests. I took a photo of one perched high atop its nesting platform with the huge towering towers of Atlantic City in the background.

A small flock of Dunlin flew in and we were treated with size comparisons between yellowlegs and Dunlin. The Dunlin being smaller.

Ben spotted a Little Blue Heron hunkered down against the powerful wind. Indeed the icy blast of the wind was so strong that it was almost impossible to open the car door when facing directly into it. No wonder (the small, purple and blue) Little Blue Heron was hunkered down.

I loved watching the Forster's Terns trying in vain to cross the wind swept road. Every time they get half way across they would be blown back to where they began. Very few made it across.

I spotted the second life bird way out in the marsh a Snow Goose! It flew in closer, we got of the car and took a few photos before it flew away. Most Snow Geese had already left NJ and this one was probably just about to leave. A bit further down the road and a lot further out on the marsh I spotted a second Snow Goose which looked more like a dot of white in the marsh grass than any goose.

It was lucky we had our short-sighted Grandmother with us or we would never have spotted the next two geese. As we drove along we scanned the distant marshes never bothering to look at the side of the road. So of course our Grandmother spotted them first for while we scanned the distance she scanned the side of the road and subsequently found them nibbling grass half heartedly only feet from the car! A Snow Goose is locally common in the East but the "Blue" Snow Goose (a morph with a blue gray body instead of white) is much less so, preferring the open plains of the midwest. Not surprisingly one goose was the common white morph but the other was a "Blue" Goose! We watched the geese for a little while more before departing. They seemed generally unconcerned with our presence. They were such interesting birds!

Here is the full list of the 56 birds species seen:
Red-winged Blackbird,
Rusty Blackbird (Y),
Eastern Bluebird,
Northern Cardinal,
Black-capped Chickadee,
Double-crested Cormorant,
Brown-headed Cowbird,
American Crow,
Fish Crow,
Mourning Dove,
American Black Duck,
Ruddy Duck,
Dunlin (Y),
Great Egret,
Snowy Egret (Y),
House Finch,
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Y),
American Goldfinch,
Canada Goose,
Snow Goose (L),
Boat-tailed Grackle (Y)
Great Black-backed Gull,
Herring Gull,
Laughing Gull,
Red-tailed Hawk (very tame),
Great Blue Heron,
Little Blue Heron (Y),
Tricolored Heron (Y),
Purple Martin,
Red-breasted Merganser,
American Robin,
Northern Shoveler (L),
Pine Siskin (Y),
Chipping Sparrow,
Song Sparrow,
Barn Swallow (Y),
Tree Swallow,
Chimney Swift (Y),
Green-winged Teal (Y),
Forster's Tern,
Turkey Vulture,
Pine Warbler (heard),
Prairie Warbler (Y),
Yellow-rumped Warbler,
Whimbrel (Y),
Downy Woodpecker,
Carolina Wren,
House Wren (Y),
Greater Yellowlegs
and Lesser Yellowlegs.

Not a bad day all in all.

Monday, April 25, 2011

RISD Beach April 25, 2011

Recently a friend sent us a picture he had taken of the owlets in the Seekonk heron rookery. His photograph depicted the owls on a branch a couple of feet above the nest. We went to the rookery today hoping to find them out of their nest. Sadly when we arrived the owlets were not showing off their tree climbing capability and instead chose to stay in the nest. We noticed after a few minutes the adult, hidden behind a limb of a tree, on the nest. I moved my scope a few yards to the right and when I peered through again one of the owlets had gotten up and was walking, as best he could, on the nest (he was having some trouble moving since he was larger than the nest and his sibling was taking up a lot of room.) I noticed then that the bird that I thought was an adult Great-horned Owl was actually the chick that was currently standing up. He was molting into his adult plumage which would explain for the barred feathers I saw which I had mistaken for an adults breast feathers.

I thought I heard a Yellow Warbler in the woods but I was not sure. It may have been a Yellow-rumped Warbler. If it was a Yellow Warbler would have been a year bird.

We then went shoe shopping at Sports Authority where I spotted a pair of Northern Rough-winged Swallows.

Next we went for a walk at RISD Beach (I spotted a Wild Turkey on the side of the road wile driving to RISD). The Purple Martins had returned to their nest boxes and were flitting about everywhere with a few Tree and Barn Swallows mixed in.

On the marsh we had Great and Snowy Egrets, Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, Killdeer and Mallards.

The best birding was on the bay (not surprisingly). Mixed in with the large flocks of Red-breasted Mergansers were Horned Grebes and four Green-winged Teal. I was surprised to find the teals on the bay as they are not big fans of salt water and tend to prefer marshes and mud flats. In fact the only other time I have ever seen teal on open water was at Sachuest!

On the beach we had Brant and Sanderling along with the usual gull species.

I will post the blog posts about Cape May as soon as possible.

I just saw a bunch of Chimney Swifts flying over our house!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Cape May Trip

My grandparents are taking us to Cape May on Saturday where we will stay for a week chasing newly arrived warblers, vireos, shorebirds and everything else. I will try to get some posting done while down there. We will be stopping at Brigantine National Wildlife Refuge (a famous marshland birding hot spot) on the way down, and Sterling Forest State Park on the way back up where we will be looking for Cerulean and Golden-winged Warblers.

It's going to be hard birding with my pair of binoculars that don't focus properly. They focus only one eye at a time. So I always have one eye unfocused and one in sharp focus. Luckily I don't notice it that much.

The birds that I am really looking for at Cape May are: any rail species and warblers from the Cardellina and Geothlipis genus though I will take any species of bird I can get!

On last years long weekend trip (in May) we bagged 87 bird species. My goal is to leave that 87 in the dust with this years list.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Young Birder of the Year Contest

The result of the ABA Young Birder of the Year Competition came in today. I won first place in (10-13 year old) the field notebook module! First place in the photography module! And second place in the writing module! YESSSSSS!!! It was worth the 7 months of note taking.

Check out the full results of the competition here.

Today we went back to the Home Depot to check out the Great-horned Owl nest. The owlets were much more active today and were much more visible (last time they were hunkered down). Occasionally they would even stand up in the nest and look around and once or twice flap their wings. After a little while we discovered that the mother was also in the nest just staying further back (but she could have just flown in unnoticed). We watched (but mainly photographed her and her young) for a few minutes before departing.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Great-horned Owl nest!

A few days ago I was alerted (via the internet) of a nest of Great-horned Owls behind the Home Depot in Seekonk, Massachusetts. The owls have taken over a nest in a Great-Blue Heron rookery which we have known about for quite some time. Yesterday along with our grandparents we visited the rookery.

When we arrived we were greeted by a miniature army of binocular wielding birders and an extra large nesting flock of croaking Great Blue Herons. After many minutes of scanning nests some bird filled, some empty, we finally found the one the birders were talking about (there were tons of nests and hundreds of disobliging twigs and sticks in the way and refusing to move). The owl chicks were cute though we never got a good enough look at it to see anything other than grayish fluff. I think that there were three owlets in all. The adults were off somewhere else doing owling stuff.

On recent a bike ride down the East Bay Bike Path. We found: a drake Eurasian Wigeon, one or possibly even two Glaucous Gull (the identification was made solely on size, the coloring of the primaries and the fairly recent report of a Glaucous Gull at Watchemoket Cove only a few hundred yards away), and a year bird Great Egret which we found while taking a pleasant tour around one of the scenic neighborhoods which over looks Bullocks Cove and the East Bay Bike Path.

Yesterday while driving along Route 95 we saw four dead Turkey Vultures scattered along the side of the road. I now have my eyes peeled for a vulture fall-out like the dramatic (though not half as dramatic as a vulture fall-out) blackbird fall-out that occurred this January.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

April 5, 2011 4:00-4:30pm overcast, Bold Point, East Providence RI: In which the author has a fight with a Muskrat (and then feels bad about it), finds a pellet of unknown origin and freaks out Blackbirds, Snipe and Killdeer

We celebrated Theo our new dog's last day before being fixed with a walk at Bold Point. We found most of the common birds before even getting to the marshy meadow (or is it the meadowy marsh - it doesn't matter) seeing and hearing Blue Jay, Great Black-backed Gull, American Crow and Killdeer. When we finally came to the meadow we dashed instantly in and started rummaging through the phragmites in search of Wilson's Snipe which would be a year bird.

Soon my brother called out "Snipe" and sure enough he had flushed a snipe (flushed is the word birders use for describing in nicer terms how they completely unnerve birds to get them to fly, this can be achieved in many different ways though I usually prefer the lightest way in which I walk off the path and hope to scare something up. (Read my post on snipe from May 3, 2010 for more information). Soon after I flushed up two more snipe.who both shot from the reeds like rockets, wings whirring.

A Wilson's Snipe has a white belly which is partly covered with dark streaks, it has an ungraceful long bill,four pale vertical streaks running up the back and a rufous tipped tail. They are about the size of a Blue Jay. Other than the field marks I just listed they look like any other shorebird. The closest relative of the Wilson's Snipe in New England is the American Woodcock. In a matter of minutes we flushed two more snipe. I am guessing we saw 5 in total though I can't be positive. Along with the snipe I scared off Killdeer and Red-winged Blackbirds both of which I could see easily with out flushing them.

Then I noticed a hunched black form scampering over a sandy section, I chased after it intrigued. It finally reached the safety of the phragmites but I was just a step behind. It darted under some reeds and then froze (at this point I had identified it as Muskrat). I reached out and touched it, it remained motionless, I touched it again, it still didn't move. I cleared away the phragmites and took a photo. Then I reached and tried in vain to pick it up (which was cruel of me I know) and it darted away I followed. Then it really got upset it turned hissing and leaped at me!! I hissed back! It leaped at me again and then swam of deeper into the reeds (I was in a few inches of water luckily I was wearing rain boots). I followed it once again and we repeated this procedure a few more times (one time I think it even jumped on my boot) before I finally left it in peace. luckily I had taken a bunch of good photos and a video before leaving. It was unkind of me to scare the poor creature but it sure was an amazing experience.


Muskrat hiding

You can see a video of it here.

As we walked back through the marsh I came across a pellet containing the bones and hair of some unlucky mouse. Presumably the pellet was from a Red-tailed Hawk.