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Friday, December 14, 2012

East Beach, Charlestown, RI - Nov/18/12

Through the hazy paranoia of life came the sweet burbling call of the crossbill and the noise lit a spark of excitement. The sand crunched beneath my feet and I found myself walking down a sandy path. To my left a forest of stunted Japanese Black Pines. to my right that shimmering mass a big blue wobbly thing that mermaids live in, that they call the Atlantic.  Off in the distance the hulking form of Block Island is just visible in the distance. In a dazzling wave of color and noise over my head sweep crossbills; hundreds of them. They land around us covering the trees in their radiant joy of life. Mixed in with their warbles I can hear the calls of Red-breasted Nuthatches, chickadees and the occasional siskin and redpoll.

The sky is that clear shade of springtime although in reality winter had but recently come to the beach and as I watched more and more of the handsome crossbills appeared falling from the windless skies in a bubbling and burbling cloud, sheathing the trees in yet another layer of feathers.
The snapping of cones being disassembled surrounded us.

They had come as an eruption from the North. They had arrived at East Beach by wing, a bad cone crop was all it had taken to send the two species wheeling out of control and spilling them across the country.

The spit of land that was East Beach boiled with them, the biologically diverse Red and the opposingly un-diverse White-winged Crossbill. They played a game of cat and mouse: one-day the beach would swarm with Reds the next there wouldn't be Red Crossbill in sight all replaced by their sibling species. That day was one of the latter and in total I positively ID'd a little over ten of the brick red birds. 
As we walked the Jeep trampled road the birds followed, billowing up behind us and trailing us with cheerful calls. The two species themselves could practically be summed in but one word: EFFERVESCENT.

Our shoes weighted by the pixie dust sand we eventually decided that as the Charlestown breachway, our original turn around destination was still quite distant and considering that we had been walking for at least an hour it was time to turn around. 

We slogged back down the beach for a change of scenery, watching gannets diving the azure tinted waters whose usual wavy complexion had all but vanished on this day of days.  

Closer to shore floated loons.  I could see from the beach the crossbills still cracking open cones with those most unique bills and that's when it finally sinks in what a magical day it was in this beautiful world. I don't think that in all my birding days I have ever loved birding more than at that moment!                                                       

A delicious dead gannet

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A quick video to share

This blog has been sadly lacking in posts recently. I'm sorry for this and hope to get back to writing posts soon but at the moment I don't feel particularly inclined to write so instead I've decided to share with you this birding video:

Sh*t Birders Say

Thursday, November 29, 2012


To quote the great NatGeo: "Calls are poorly known; one call reportedly a rippling tr-tr-tr and a soft whistle". I have never heard the above call, if I had I would be the proud rediscoverer of the Eskimo Curlew. Nor have I heard the rare call of the practically mute Ruff, but contrary to the curlew my experiences with this species transcend to a much higher level then just a literary knowledge.

It was a life bird when I found it. The moment is still engraved in my (always decaying) grey matter. I was standing on the mini dunes of RISD Beach when time froze. I had at first passed the bird off as a Greater Yellowlegs, a species which is as much a part of RISD Beach as the beach itself. My first squint at the bird had revealed nothing of it's heritage and my call of Greater Yellowlegs was just a guess. Thank God I gave the bird another look for as my eyes set on the bird once more I mentally trashed the idea of this bird being a yelllowlegs of any kind. I must say this was one of the most thrilling experiences that has been tossed my way yet. The sweet moment of realization, in my opinion, is one of the highlights of the birding disease which I am afflicted with. What had caused this sudden change of identification was no more than the birds back and I must admit that it didn't immediately strike me in any way vagrant like, in fact my first thought was snipe. But as the bird drew out into the open this random ID was quickly replaced by a frenzy of bafflement, confusion, puzzlement and many other types of unknowingness. This last array of thoughts lasted a mere second and after mentally flipping through the list of possible species I decided that species could not be an average one. Nataraja danced away my illusion and in a flash the ID had dawned on me; this bird was no average wader - this bird was a Ruff!!

After this the usual things happened: I got some cheap photos, ran around a little bit panicing, confirmed the identification, eBirded it and eventually reported it. We went back the next four days in a row and saw it on each. I liked seeing the beach being put to it's proper use, it is generally neglected by the birding community but now it was near certainly haunted by a flock of those elusive bird-obsessed. Each day produced new excitements and by the last of the four days I had scored a Dickcissel, two Snow Buntings, three late Least, one late Semipalmated Sandpiper and (a partridge in a pear tree) although the excitement eventually died, the birds continued to flow in.

When Sandy FINALLY hit (a storm I had been looking forward to all week) I was unable to check on the Ruff due to some rumor about the storm being a safety hazard. The next day the Ruff did not show  and I had to admit that she (she had been identified as a female, a reeve) had "flown the marsh". But this lack of reeve Ruff was made up for in full. Two days after Sandy swept through a Cory's Shearwater flew over RISD Beach.

This event was quite amazing and although not quite as extraordinary an occurrence as that of the Ruff it was still a moment which will be long lived in my rotting brain. It soared low, directly overhead from North-ish to South-ish over the neighboring country club, swept past the marsh and above the long missed salt-water. It was followed quickly by my camera lens.

As it wheeled by it was hard not think of the last few, severe, starving days this beautiful bird had suffered through. It was a fit, but bedraggled, specimen and you could literally see the relief and pleasure in the birds countenance as it bathed itself in the pleasing salt water and skimmed, inches, above the gently rolling waves. The story behind this birds strange location (for it was indeed strange, this bird was as far as I know the most Northernly report of the species in the state along with being the fifth November record for the same state) was quite obvious. The bird had, near certainly, been blown helter-skelter across miles of frothing ocean and then continued on over beach, town, woods and field until Sandy, the culprit of this terrible blowing, released it from it's enveloping folds and let its fly as it will. From there a long and arduous journey back over fields, town, woods and finally beach, RISD Beach, ensued.

I think the flight of the shearwater has to be one of the most beautiful sights in nature, easily comparable  to the Aurora Borealis, a deep, dark, dank, dirty rainforest over flowing with the songs of hidden birds, or even the terrible countenance of the penguin eating Shoggoth (illustration below). The shearwater sweeps over the water riding the breeze as easily as a ball rolls down a slope or our dog chases a squirrel. The bird skims, swerves, swerves again and vanishes behind the crest of a wave, but as the wave hits the shore and gently recedes the bird is once more seen, continuing its loving waltz with the swells.

It was, I think, a near perfect lifer.
The terrible Shoggoth

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Six Golden Grosbeaks in Petersham, Massachusetts

In the beginning there was light and a quite obnoxiously loud BANG. Fast forward 13 billion years or so and you get me. You have my permission to stop at any given point between me and the beginning. Maybe you will stop by in the Jurassic to observe that peculiar creature the Archaeopteryx or maybe you will decide to see the last Dodo, perhaps you will even wish to see the Elder Things battle with the Star-Spawn of Cthulhu. But I do insist that you eventually come to pause on me and preferably on the day of October the 28th, 2012. I have two reasons to chose this great date. First off; on this date in time I was alive currently suffering through my thirteenth year of life and secondly; this was the day that I scored my first flock of Evening Grosbeaks.

I had on this date taken it into my head that I was currently the soul New England birder who had not seen the aforementioned grosbeak, though to be fair to my earlier self there must have been at least a few other New England birders who suffered from the same lackingness as I. Whatever the case I was goaded by the constant stream of infuriatingly delicious local reports of the species and I decided that a quick bike ride around town could do me little damage. I, in fact, nearly lost my left hand to frost bite later that same day but at the hour of 9 am I knew nothing of that future. My mind made up, it was in no time at all that I found myself seeing for the first time a clip to add to my birding history about three minutes long that will be forever graven into my brain (unless of course I forget it). In general it was a fairly unremarkable three minutes for the average muggle but to me these three minutes, which were more than likely just a prolonged one minute, were quite special.

In Minute Number One I take my bike out the garage and slowly wheel it down our dead-end road on which for most weekends dwell I. On reaching the base of the road the bike, for no reason whatsoever neatly topples from under me and sends me and all my geeky-ness sprawling. I not-so-neatly pick myself up, scramble back onto the seat of the bicycle and turn right heading for the center of town. My wheels complete 70 or so rotations at regular cadence before with barely a screech the bike again comes to a halt. This time although the vehicle tumbles the ground, I do not. 

Minute Number Two is played out something like this: after the bike comes to a halt I release the handle bars and extract myself from the device. I then proceed to call my younger brother back from in his position in front of me (he had, to my annoyance, insisted on accompanying me on this ride although, he bike-less, had to jog the route). I turned my attention, which at this point in time was employed through my ears, to my right and began to analyze the sound that had so rudely disrupted my revery of the still spinning bicycle wheels.

The noise in question was obviously the call note of a passerine. It was a soft purring chip resembling what you would vocally get if you bred a Great-crested Flycatcher with a House Sparrow (if such a thing were humanely possible). It was at this point that my brother reached me and we first set our eyes upon the golden form of the Evening Grosbeak. 

It's golden colors were so brilliant that I had to remind myself not to scan the surrounding trees in hopes of seeing perched in one of them Yossarian, stark naked and eating chocolate covered Egyptian cotton being handed to him by the ever hopeful Milo Minderbinder. (As an abrupt aside, might I suggest that anyone observing me now should quickly rewind at this point to the Mediterranean island of Pianosa, circa 1944, on the day of one Snowden's funeral attended by the tree-d Yossarian. For not only is it undoubtedly the strangest funeral you will ever go to it is also at the exact location that Pianosa's only endemic bird is observed for apparently the first and last time (and was described as a brilliant gold not unlike my grosbeak).

Minute Number Three runs its course in a startling 60 seconds. In this time I watch the grosbeak flutter about in a Sugar Maple where it's distinguished plumage sets off a seeming blast of flames; its colors blending with the red and yellow of the maple's last few brilliant leaves. I can almost hear the crackle of the fire.

In the last thirty second dash before my three minutes run dry I witness a flash of white as the wings of the bird open and close and send it whizzing into the air where it blends with the drifting gold of so many leaves caught and tossed in the wind. I lose the grosbeak in the falling foliage but then I see the flash of white again and this time it is joined by five similar, dancing white and gold comrades. They drift to the top a of tree where they perch. Their huge bills stand out prominently against the overcast skies. The gray light falls on them softly and it bleaches the colors out of their feathers, replacing the vibrance with a dark imitation. They blur into the background, and, for a moment, I see them as the last six leaves on a bare tree and I watch as the fall breeze plucks at these leaves and pulls them free from the grasp of the tree but the leaves float up instead of spiraling downward as any self respecting leaf should. I see flashes of white once more and realize my mistake as the six grosbeaks disappear over the treetops. 

ABA Bird of the Year
For anyone wishing to see more birding excitement stick around on this date for a few more hours and you will see me watching a pair of Lark Sparrows a five minute walk from my house.  

Friday, October 26, 2012

Wood Sandpiper - Marsh Meadows Wildlife Preserve, Jamestown, RI - Oct/15/2012

The sandpiper did not think he was in Africa anymore.

After the billows of winds had picked him up and carried him, his inner compass had not been quite sure what to think. He had known there was water below him, an endless expanse of sickening blue, land had appeared after days at sea, the water seemed calmer and the winds gusts were less forceful, he had put down in a marsh surrounded by roads, cars and noise, apart for some cormorants and egrets he had remained alone, with the one nagging thought that he had no clue to his whereabouts. He was quite sure he was now completely lost. 

The birders didn't think he was in Africa either. After his initial discovery, he had, in minutes, seemingly become a celebrity. 

The bird was, as with most things still in early life, unsure of what to think of this new popularity. He suspected he enjoyed the attention but wasn't certain, mainly because he didn't have a clue why he was suddenly so liked. 

The birders knew the answer to this question, to them the answer was simple, this bird did not belong here. He was in fact the first Wood Sandpiper ever in recorded history to enjoy the delights of fresh Rhode Island seafood.

Once the sandpiper was informed of the rareness of himself, he was quite willing to be enjoyed by all. 
My mothers favorite feature of chasing a rarity is not the watching of the bird, but the antics of the mass of birders.

I must admit that the beauty of this quaint little shorebird exceeded my expectations.
On the fifteenth of October, two days after it had been discovered by RI birder Carlos Pedro (the discoverer of an equally confused, first state record Little Stint earlier in the year) we finally had the time to make the 45 minute drive from our house in the center of East Providence down to Jamestown's Marsh Meadows Wildlife Preserve. 

Our arrival at first seemed ill-timed and although there were twenty or so birders along North Road, which cuts directly through the marsh, the bird had remained hidden all morning. We were now faced with three options: the first was to wait with the other birders on the road. The second was to go for a short walk along the rocks at Beavertail State Park and hope that the birders had turned up something when we passed back along the road on the way home. The third plan involved us driving to the other side of the marsh and trying our luck on the sanctuary trails that abutted the marsh and which gave great views of the wetland. 
A birder observes the first Wood Sandpiper ever discovered in New England.

This third plan was soon agreed upon by us and in no time at all we were walking down the wooded trails of the refuge. The first loop we made of the trails turned up nothing unusual, other then the terrifyingly exciting sight of all twenty birders who had just minutes before been chatting quietly with one another as they scanned the marsh with their thousand dollar optics, now dashing along the far side of the swampy terrain. Needless to say we freaked out and sprinted away as fast as we could while being weighed down by binoculars and cameras and in my case a scope. Thus began a harrowing 20 minute sprint. First we tried running down the grassy verge of highway which goes past the entrance to the trail we were on and was in the general direction the birders had been running to. When we finally decided that the marsh and highway were not in fact connected at any crossable point we turned around and sprinted equally as fast back to the trail head and circled another loop of the wooded trail. This time we tried to find away across the marsh to the birders who had now stopped running and were instead happily observing something.

The first observation platform which was more of a bench really, seemed not to have any safe route to the marsh as did the second. The third was surrounded on all sides by phragmites but here it appeared that others likewise minded had cut through the tall grasses and made it safely to the marsh. We followed this rough trail until we reached the point where the phragmites was replaced by by a lower, native grass. Here the trail seemed more defined and we had no trouble walking the short distance to the birders and the Wood Sandpiper. 

Needless to say the bird was there and it was beautiful. We watched it for at least 45 minutes while our mother (who had steadfastly refused to walk through the muck and mire) grew slowly more impatient for our return. The only disappointment of the day was the loss of my notebook which now has been laid to rest somewhere in a deep puddle in the marsh.   

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Book Review of the Birds of Europe

Birds of Europe 
text by Peter J.Grant and Lars Svensson, 
illustrations by Dan Zetterstrom and Killian Mullarney, 
Princeton Press, 1999 

A while back I attempted to compile a list of book reviews describing my top ten favorite guides. I failed this milk-run of a mission and tossed up only 8 such reviews, the last two have remained unwritten. I've decided to temporarily skip #2 (The Shorebird Guide by Michael O'Brien, Richard Crossley, and Kevin Karlson) and cut right to the last, and in my opinion, best guide. Enjoy: 

Have you ever ID'd a scoter by the way it dives? Or a Red-throated Loon by how it's neck moves in flight? Or distinguished the offspring of a Pochard male and a Tufted Duck female from the young of a Pochard female and a Tufted Duck male? No? Well that's probably because you haven't read this guide. This Princeton Press field guide is the ultimate bird guide: 400 sturdy pages of birding knowledge. Complete with amazing illustrations, 4-color range maps and comparatively long species texts, it covers everything from the Red-throated Loon to the Indian Silverbill. What other book fits illustrations of 20 Common Buzzards, 18 Honey Buzzards and 1 Marsh Harrier into one average sized page while still being completely visible? On top of the amazing quantity of the illustrations each picture is surrounded by field identification notes. Every description gives size, habitat, scientific name, the scarcity of the species in England, identification details and voice. The book include 848 species, 23 of which are introduced and 103 of which are vagrants. Indeed every species recorded in Europe before 1999 is covered. Nearly every species has a illustration of a certain behavior, gives a side-by-side comparison with another similar species, or merely shows a habitat preference. Whatever the case, in the way of illustrations, this book is not lacking! One feature I particularly like are the family introductions. Most of these are just a paragraph long but a few, like the intro for the gulls, are excessively long (but not in a bad way). The gull introduction contains 7 paragraphs on IDing gulls, their food preferences, their molt cycle and general observation tips. Along with these 7 paragraphs 30 individual gulls of numerous different species are illustrated.      
  The back of the book has a partially illustrated chapter on vagrants, a list of accidentals (rarer then vagrants), and partially illustrated chapter on introduced breeders. In short I have nothing wrong to say about this book. It really is the perfect field guide. All field guides at least attempt to set themselves at the top, but so far all but this one have succeeded in nothing more then failing when compared with this pinnacle of birding knowhow. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

August 16, 2012 - North Common Meadow, Petersham, MA - Sunny, cool - 7:36 am-8:46am

First off, I have to apologize for my attempted poetics in this post. I have to confess that I've been reading way to much Ray Bradbury of late. I think all the Bradbury fans out there will sympathize with my current effusive writing syndrome. 

The pipits skipped over the turf, tails wagging to the rhythm stepped out by their dainty, pink feet. Their cheerful faces breached the emerald tufts of newly mowed grass, only to sink, smartly, back down into grassy depths. The day was cool, skies forgiving, the grass still glistening with a thousand dew-drop jewels, and at that moment I was enjoying one of the worlds most exhilaratingly peaceful pastimes: birding!

At first the distant brown blobs were mistaken for shorebirds. Still suffering from the shorebird deliriums of late summer, my first guess to their identity liberally encompassed a wide group of meadow stocking species; the Buff-breasted, White-rumped, Baird's and Pectoral Sandpipers plus maybe a few smaller peeps. It was with dejection that I watched this first beautiful thought shatter, only to see the shards, so recently a mixed flock of shorebirds, morph into the crisp forms of three, sprightly pipits.

They bustled back and forth over the waves of grass, occasionally snatching up an insect, seemingly unaware of their bipedal watcher. They were, I am happy to inform, my second, third and fourth pipits seen since time began, an eternity ago, and more recently: me.

The brittle scent of fall was in the air as were the vocalized chips of dull-plumaged warblers. My legs started chugging and again I was moving. Passed my face in a swiftly flowing river of green, gold, blue and a VanGogh-ian rainbow of other colors, swept on life. A Chestnut-sided Warbler ... now a yellowthroat ... fades into a the gray of phoebe ... no more phoebe but now a flock of grackles holds my gaze, their cackling, bends and twists until ... no longer harsh but the ringing call of the Red-shouldered Hawk, that mingles until indistinguishable from the cries of the Pileated Woodpecker. 

I stop, take photo of a tree, and see a chickadee. Next a nuthatch and the whisper of a waxwing. Above me floats a sleeping swan, a billowing leviathan, below the scudding white, go crows and goldfinches their voices playing with the silence of the cloud in clear, sharp, beautiful contrast.

The cloud coats the world in a cool, gentle shadow. It swallows the meadow, engulfs the birds, the insects vanish with the coming of the adumbration.

The cloud is gone, back to its fairy realm it drifts, with it die the avian voices and I find myself back at the steps of our house, hearing not the woodpecker but the family behind the doors. Just in time for breakfast!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Plum Island, Newbury, MA _ June 13, 2012 _ 11:48-4:50pm _ Raining

The sun shone down lovingly on the gray clouds above but its brilliance did not warm us. It was raining that cool soft drizzle, that beastly destroyer of expensive optical devices. It was in no way a pleasant rain but nor was it unpleasant. It was there and nothing anyone could do would change it.

It was the type of day that fell into line with Charles Dickens opening lines to Bleak House "London. [...] Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets, as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill." After that the two wet days slid out of sync, Dickens describing a murky, creeping fog, while we were at that present moment experiencing damp that fell into the category of rain. Oh well, at least quoting Dickens sounds cool.

The depressing drizzle did not deter the hardy avifauna of Plum Island, and in mere minutes we had picked up our lifer Wilson's Phalarope. It was a stunning bird - long, black, dainty bill, gray body and rusty neck giving it a fashionable appearance. It was small, barely larger then a White-rumped Sandpiper, dwarfed by its feathered alarm system, a pair of Greater Yellowlegs. Both were double its size, and although both were handsomer then the phalarope they were no competition to the regal appearance of this long-legged wader. After pleasing our eyes on this rain-soaked lifer we continued our slow and extremely enjoyable drive down the road which would take us the length of the island. 

In a blur of black-and-white along with a little gray the Willets trapped the eye, the ear and the imagination. Their wild yodeled whistles resounded throughout the refuge's long, birder-covered, road. 

Hellcat held its usual wonders today, a few Short-billed Dowitchers, White-rumped Sandpipers, Black-bellied Plovers, Green-winged Teal etc. The highlight here was unquestionably the pair of Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, 2/3s of this species that have been recently reported at this most admirable location. Other pleasantries seen included my year bird Bank Swallow, numerous Marsh Wrens and a Black-crowned Night-Heron. I was surprised to see the nests of those dainty creatures, Marsh Wrens, lined the sides of the boardwalk that wound through Hellcats phragmites marsh. They were at the current peak of avian architecture in the western hemisphere, creating a strongly woven ball, hollow in the center, one passageway leading into the warm, dry, interior of the nest, the same portal leading out - back doors seem not yet to have crossed the mind of the wren.

Our next stop was Stage Island Pool Overlook where we scored a few Mallards, Gadwalls, American Black-Ducks and Green-winged Teal.

A day is never capped of better then with a few endangered species. We were able to find Piping Plovers, Least Tern, which abounds on the island, and a lifer Roseate Tern, mixed in with a few Common Tern. All three of these awesome species were lazing on the beach at Sandy Point.
What an awesome way to end a day. Three threatened birds all on the same beach. Sadly with the storm which blew through recently, came the destruction of many of these birds nests, which were unmercifully swept away by the crashing waves. Luckily the birds have started building their nests again. Apparently, before the storm it was the biggest year for Piping Plovers on the island yet recorded - I believe that 32 nesting pairs were counted. I am unsure what the number is at now, after the storm, I can only pray that the figure has not fallen.

Thanks is in order to my grandmother who was kind enough to take us to this most beautiful of places, despite the possibility of coming face to face with a Megalosaurus!  

Friday, August 10, 2012

Parker River NWR, Newburyport, MA - April, 21, 2012

Here's another belated post for anyone interested. Hopefully this blog will pick up some steam as the deadline for the 2013 Young Birder of the Year Contest chugs ever closer and I become increasingly worried with how little work I've done. By request of Jennie Duberstien (editor of the ABA Young Birders Blog) I need to tell you that this post is currently posted on the aforementioned blog (aka "The Eyrie").

Peering through our binos we silently waved our optics over the mudflats that confronted us and on which sat hundreds upon hundreds of birds. We were standing on the side of Water Street in Newburyport Massachusetts, five miles from the New Hampshire border. Before us was the mouth of the Merrimac River, currently experiencing that well known happening caused by the moon: low tide. 

Screaming gulls wheeled pellmell over the mud. Below them paced dainty tarsused Greater Yellowlegs which dwarfed the Dunlin that scuttled shyly below them. Behind them in the open water floated Gadwalls and at least 500 Long-tailed Ducks decked out in their summer plumages, the males in a black and brown which made for a sharp contrast next to the white cheeks and belly, while the females were plain and unadorned. It was 7:30am and in the 19 minutes we spent scanning the water we scored 19 species. 

I had been waiting for this day for weeks, our grandparents, the Goodchilds, had kindly volunteered to take us to that famed marsh Plum Island, and now we were only five minutes from its main entrance. But we had one more quick stop to make before passing over the golden bridge (which is not literally golden). 

The birds called and we had to obey. Pulling up into the parking lot of Joppa Flats Audubon Sanctuary the aforementioned calling birds were clearly visible on the preserves namesake mudflats.

Joppa Flats is comprised of a parking lot, an Osprey nesting platform (currently unoccupied and up for rent), 40 or so square feet of land and a whale sized visitor center. It is a well known attraction for birders, drawing them in like hummingbirds to a blossoming grove of scarlet blooms. Like the birds the birders love the mudflats which rise up from the mouth of the Merrimac when low tide comes around again. Of course the water is the substance rising and falling - the mud just gives the appearance of doing so.

The aerial gulls floated overhead dwarfing the Tree Swallows that flitted here and there. The Long-tailed Ducks, which I will hitherto refer to them as Oldsquaw as I prefer this older, not politically correct name because it sounds cooler, were still clearly visible in the open water further out. Closer at hand the Dunlin and Greater Yellowlegs scuttled. Seeing that the view from here was pretty much the same view our eyes received while scanning from Water Street, we started the car’s engine up and as the rubber tires whirred over the tarmac we passed over the salt marsh that cuts Plum off from the mainland by way of a bridge and entered Newbury, the town which contains most of Plum Island and almost all the birds staying or living on it.

The next few hours passed in a blur of feathers and binoculars. Singing Savannah Sparrows and a flock of Dunlin at the main entrance were quickly followed by a pair of Brown Thrashers by the salt pannes, next a pair of Fish Crows and a flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers whizzed passed our creeping car.

Towhees sang from the side of the road, outnumbered by the jousting Song Sparrows, who, in their turn, were outnumbered by the Grackles, who flew hither and thither in chaotic disorder. 

We picked up the Snowy Owl at Hellcat Swamp mere yards from where we had seen the same bird along with another of these omnipotent aves last December. It was quite amusing, considering the birds namesake, to look at this beautiful creature, resting proudly on a pole in the marsh, then looking past its brilliantly white feathers we saw heat waves writhing and twisting in the distance, giving the far side of the marsh and the few dilapidated shacks that rested there, a watery and opaque semblance. 

We were awakened from our reverie of the feathered snow king by the cluck of a gobbler. A female Turkey had, as we watched the owl, snuck up behind us and was now peacefully feeding in the grass on the dike’s eastern side. She was a beautiful creature and although she didn’t get the wild-eyed audience of the birders full attention that the owl claimed, it was with a fascinated gaze that we watched as the big tame bird in her wanderings along the dike, and, where the grass had been worn away, take a dust bath, sending particles of loam free-wheeling into the air. 

Forty five minutes and 1 Hermit Thrush later, we reached Stage Island, arguably the highlight of this trip. Floating in the salty waters of the Stage Island Pool were 4 Northern Shovelers, always good birds in New England, and a knob of Green-winged Teal, a flush of Gadwall, a team of American Black-Ducks and a daggle of Mallards. We couldn’t find the Redheads reported that day in the mass of waterfowl.

We reached Sandy Point all to soon for my liking but here we took a short walk down to investigate the beach. We didn’t see the nesting Pipers, but we did have some more Oldsquaw and a few Common Eider.

Returning back down the road we picked up a brace of Ruddy Duck hiding in the reeds of Stage Island Pool and only visible from Cross Farm Hill. 

It was a memorable trip and one that in many years will still be fresh in my mind.
To cap off the wonderful day we stopped by the Parker River Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. After looking at the displays and watching a long, boring video on the ecosystem of Plum Island (during which not one but both of my grandparents fell asleep), we regarded the checklist of birds occurring on the NWR and were shocked to learn that such birds as Wild Turkey, Ruddy Duck and Tufted Titmouse, all species we had seen that day, were as supposedly as rare as Gyrfalcon on the island. How mind-bogglingly peculiar!

The days lists: 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Swan Point Cemetery, Providence, RI _ May/15/2012 _ 6:55-10:00am _ Sunny - 50`

I know I'm pathetic: here I am posting stories that should have been up on your screen in mid May and now when I finally get around to it in late July! We've had a great time recently.  Earlier in the month we were up in Stowe, Vermont and we just got back from Cape Anne, Massachusetts. Our next expedition will bring us through the northern mountains of New Hampshire and will continue along down east Maine.  Anyway, here's a stale post for anyone interested.


May 15, 2012 - Swan Point Cemetery, Providence, Rhode Island, USA - 6:55-9:58am

We took the usual route through the cemetery today. Starting at the North Woods where quiet reigned supreme. From there we made our way down to the water where some of us were called away to chase a Yellow-throated Vireo and never actually reached the river (although others in our birding party did and came up empty handed). 

Our galavanting after the vireo was at first fruitless despite the directive song of the bird: "Here I am _ where are you? _ over here...". 

When we again met up with the main group of binocular wearers we (aided by the number and skill of these bird watching machines) were able finally locate the vireo. We would locate the bird by its song but then not be able to see it hidden among the fresh green leaves. Then all would then fall silent from up in the tree where the golden throated bird had just spruiked from only to hear it give away its new location now another fifty feet down the road. We finally decided that there were at least two birds Yellow Throated Vireos singing and there could have been as many as five. We finally found one in the end.

Other highlights near the river included Northern Waterthrush and Rose-breasted Grosbeak neither of which I saw but both of which I heard.
We then made our way back up to the Blackstone Boulevard side of the cemetery. One birder thought she heard an Alder Flycatcher which caused a brief stampede of shuffle-running birders. We shuffle-run as opposed to gracefully dash due to the groups average age of over fifty and the extremely expensive optics that coat us. The Alder was not heard again although the Alders identical twin, the Willow Flycatcher, was easily visible on a sapling by the mulch piles. To add to the year bird Willow we were gifted a brief look at a black-capped Wilson's Warbler. 
After that we spent thirty minutes listening to a bird which everyone hoped and thought was a Worm-eating Warbler (and which everybody wanted even more to be a Prothonotary Warbler which sings a song nothing like a Worm-eating Warbler but would be way cooler). It turned out to be no more then a slightly deranged Chipping Sparrow.   
This waste of precious birding time was made up for by another Wilson's Warbler and a Canada Warbler which was identified by it's distinctive chip before each bout of song.
After that most of the birders left the cemetery for Miantonomi Park in Newport with hopes of seeing the Summer Tanagers and Blue Grosbeak along with a load of other great species. We had just seen our first Summer Tanagers a few days before on the cemetery grounds.  Miantonomi is a place my mother has vowed to burn to the ground when next  the opportunity appears; her dislike of it's dumpiness and it's distance from our disheveled abode
We were left to fend for our selves and chase the high pitched voices of Blackpoll Warblers around, praying that one of them might turn out to be a much needed Bay-breasted Warbler which none of the Blackpolls sounded anything like.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Petersham, MA - May/26-28/2012

This weekend, being a day longer then usual, we were able to spend an extra night with our grandparents up in Petersham, Mass. This vacation may have been the most exciting one - nature wise - that I have taken in this peaceful little town. We arrived on Saturday afternoon and in less then two hours I scored both a Black-billed Cuckoo and a year bird Alder Flycatcher. Both of these handsome birds I found in the North Common Meadow across the street from our house. I believe that both are nesting there. I know that the flycatcher nested there last year.

The next day my brother and I were up at 4:30am planning to walk down East Street at least as far as Maple Lane. Having not calculated the distance I was unprepaired for the long walk. It turned out that it was (only) a 5.2 mile stroll.

The first robin's cheery song filled the still dark air at 4:15am. I had awoken at four to start our walk as early as possible but considering the dark I decided it would be better to wait for the sun to rise and the birds to wake. In the fifteen minutes that I spent waiting on the porch I heard at least four Barred Owls calling and a Tree Swallow flying over head.

Starting down the road we took a short cut through the North Common Meadow. Here we picked up a few singing Bobolinks, a peenting woodcock and the Alder Flycatcher from the day before.

The trail joins up with East Street, no bush-wacking required, and we continued down the street. Our next stop was the East Street Cemetery. It is a small cemetery protected on the eastern side by thick pine woodlands and on the northern side by a beaver filled pond.
Here the only animals present other then the nesting Tree Swallows were four large beavers returning home to the lodge after a hard nights chewing.

Continuing down the strip of pavement, listening to the singing Ovenbirds and Veery we were confronted by a large stallion who followed us in a trot as far as his pasture stretched down the road. Occasionally he would stop to stare at us, quite menacingly if you ask me. I was thanking God for the fence between us.

We turned right at Browns Pond, a fairly large, mud, snake and Snapping Turtle infested swimming pond, and started up the hill. Having mounted the steep hill's summit we started down the other side passing a few houses and lots of woodlands. At Maple Lane and it's large farm fields we took a right but feeling kind of uncomfartable about walking down this road which we knew dead-ended in a private residence, we soon decided to turn around. It was with lucky chance that we did for among the numerous Bobolinks that flew over those fields, spilling out their rapturous burbles, up went a small sparrow who whizzed across the road and briefly landed deep in the bushes on the right hand side of the street. It was all but hidden from view and then it winged away again to land in the small trees surrounding a house where it was instantly swallowed by greenery. But in that flash of time we were able to pick out a few details; mainly the bird's long tail, apparent greenish tinge to the back, yellowish sides and rapid wing-beat. Although half of these field marks, the greenish and yellow ones specifically, can be placed on no sparrow, the other two can. Seeing that one of our goal birds for the walk was a Grasshopper Sparrow, and ignoring it's longish tail, we decided that the only option was a Grasshopper (a life bird). No matter how weak our identification I was amazed to find that, in the thirty seconds the bird had spent hidden in the bush, my brother had managed to take an awful but ID-able photo of the ave. Indeed it was a bird - past that nothing could be certified! I decided not to count it on my life list.

We continued on down the road, turning down Quakers Lane for a brief and failed search for Louisiana Waterthrush along a fast flowing stream. We did however bag a modestly plumed Swamp Sparrow.

In the end we hiking all the way down to Glasheen Road where one of our numerous pairs of aunts and uncles reside. Across from this street and justly barely visible was a marsh which swarmed with Red-winged Blackbirds. Closer to hand sang a few redstarts, Yellow and Chestnut-sided Wablers, a Baltimore Oriole, yet more Bobolinks and a couple of Least Flycatchers.

On our way back up East Street our only highlights were a few Wood Ducks.

The next day we took a similar walk at a similar time but this hike turned it into a slightly longer loop by going up Quakers Lane which meets up with Rt. 122. We walked up hill a little way until we came to South Street which we followed back to Petersham center.

The birds were pretty much the same as before, but we had a few nice species including Louisiana and Northern Waterthrush, probable Ruffed Grouse (a whir of wings from the branches of a pine where all we got from this bird), possible (although unlikely) Worm-eating Warbler singing on South Street, and a bird that sounded kind of like an Orchard Oriole on South Main Street.
Other interesting finds included two nesting Snapping Turtles; one on the bridge over the fast flowing stream on Quakers Lane and another by Browns Pond.

It was a extremely enjoyable weekend and one that I hope can soon be repeated.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

RISD Beach, Barrington, RI _ June/01/2012 _ 2:05-3:13pm _ Sunny 83'

The sand crunched beneath our feet as we made our way down the beach. Today was the first of June and I was desperately trying to bring my eBird month list up to the month of May's numbers (141 submitted checllists of at least 150 species).
I had already found a few nice birds including the usual “Semi's” of both families: Sandpipers and Plovers, a few Least Sandpipers, a Black-bellied Plover, a couple o' Killdeer and a year bird White-rumped Sandpiper (the first one I have seen in breeding plumage!).
A Green Heron
I spotted a Killdeer perched on the bank of a stream that flowed from the bay into the marsh with the incoming tide. I tried to snap of a few photos of it but my shutter-pressing finger was outpaced by the bird's wings which eased it into the air. 

We continued down the beach scanning the water of the Narragansett waiting for a Common Tern to whiz by. Our scanning of the waves was quite rudely interrupted by screams only feet from our feet. “Killdeer-killdeer” said the black-necklaced bird eying us from below. It was the same Killdeer whom we had seen on the bank of the stream. It was quite obvious that this bird was nesting somewhere quite close by. Photographic interests possessed me and I hunkered down and was able to take some eye-level shots of the bird. I didn't even need to zoom in (although I did so anyway). After taking a few amazing shots (if I do say so myself) I backed off a little way as did the bird    who retreated back a few birdy-paces to it's nest on the barely discernible mini-dunes. 
Peering at the bird from a more reasonable distance, taking a good long squint at this beautiful creation, I was able to make out four rock colored eggs sandwiched in between her grey legs.

The Killdeer

See her four eggs?

I can only pray that an unsuspecting beachcomber doesn't turn this vunerable scratch in the sand into a pan for sun frying squished eggs.
White-rumped Sandpiper

A Saltmarsh Sparrow
Upon returning back down the beach it was with amazement that I saw the small flock of shorebirds fly-in. It was the largest gathering of White-rumped Sandpipers I had ever seen, in addition to the WRSA who continued its wild poking of the marsh, they evened out to a smart "time-step" (look it up) of ten. Adding to that they were extremely tame, as many shorebirds in a flock often are. I was able to get to within 6-feet (more or less) to the handsome birds. What an awesome way to end a walk - ten White-rumps; any one of which I would have been quite pleased to find on any given day!

I ended the walk with 33 species although I did miss some quite common species like Common Tern, it seems to me that my average number for a list is ever rising. Last year at this time I would have been quite proud of myself for hitting this number in a single walk as usually at that time my list would tended to hover around 23 species. Now 33 is common. I believe it is mainly due to my new and improved ear birding skills.
I think that spending the month of May walking with the mighty experienced ones at Swan Point really helped me learn the songs. They are able to pick out a Waterthrush a mile away despite their constant moaning about their collective deafness. I am still trying to hear the Black-throated Blue which can call from the bushes an arms length away.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

May 6 in Petersham

The grass was damp from the early morning dew. From down the grass covered hillside blackbirds, warblers, and sparrows screeched, whistled and jingled. Bobolinks' black and yellow heads peeked up from the green depths of the meadow. It was May and I was loving it!

I was standing on the top of a slope, below me was a meadow behind which was a three tree apple orchard, a small lily pad covered pond and a thick woodlands filled to overflowing with Ovenbirds and Pine Warblers. I was accompanied only by Theo (the dog of the family).

As I started down the hill my mind flipped through the photos I had recently captured. Most were of Blackburnian Warblers (of which I had seen at least ten in the last couple of days) but other species were featured in my mental playlist, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Wood Thrushes, Chipping Sparrows and scores of other species.

I was distracted from my internal photo album by the burbling of a House Wren which was joined by a Gray Catbird and a pair of Black-and-white Warblers. None of the birds showed themselves but I didn't mind - their songs were enough for me. I looked up as a pair of Scarlet Tanagers flew over calling. The male in a vibrant red suit, the female a dull olive yellow.

A Chestnut-sided Warbler sang from my left "very pleased to meet cha" and was answered by a Common Yellowthroat "witchity-witchity-witchity witch" (I thought that was rather unfair to the friendly Chestnut-sided who's never deserved such a harsh label).

A Wood Duck flew up from the pond and whizzed overhead wings whirring, vocal cords vibrating to form the classic squawk of the woodland dwelling duck.

I momentarily stopped scanning the skies, although I kept my ears peeled, to photograph my beautiful surroundings. The pond, the grass and the flowers that surrounded me.

I was unable to find some of the main species we had seen the day before, mainly Least Flycatcher and Eastern Meadowlark, so I decided it was time to try a different spot. 

Here's a full list from the North Common Meadow

I returned to headquarters (my grandparents house, but headquarters sounds way cooler) after about an hour of birding. It was now 6:30 am. I entered headquarters only briefly to return the pup then I started out into the back woods.

I didn't get far before stopping to listen to the roar of birdsongs; Ovenbirds, B.T.Green Warblers and American Goldfinches were everywhere. With them I could hear catbirds, robins, crows, jays, sapsuckers, woodpeckers, Blackburnians, Black-and-whites and Chestnut-sided Warblers. The woods echoed with their songs.

Finding a pair of Ovenbirds by the path that leads deep into the Harvard Forest I stopped and decided to try to call them in close using recordings. My ploy was successful and I was instantly confronted by the male bird, hackles raised he flitted by my head chipping and then landed in a tree where he sang his informative song "teacher teacher teacher".  He flew to another tree where he sang again. Around and around the handsome bird went. Determined to best this unseen rival aka my ipod. Twice he flew to within five feet of me only to fly from his perch seconds before I had my camera focused.

The male Ovenbird protecting his territory fearlessly 
I spotted the female meandering under the fallen trees and over the fallen leaves. Sneaking after her, careful as to not get too close I was able to snap off a few shots of this shy little bird.

The female Ovenbird watches the camera warily as her mate sings
I was happy to hear a Great-crested Flycatcher calling in the distance, along with the Blackburnians this was a new yard bird.
A male Blackburnian Warbler
I spent two and a half hours out in the woods watching and photographing the feathered ones before returning back tick coated and starved to headquarters for lunch. 

Here's a link to my eBird checklist from the walk

Later that day on a run through the Harvard Forest I picked up a Northern Waterthrush singing somewhere in the midst of a small beaver city. 

Da Mink on da log!
On the return trip back to Providence in the afternoon we stopped by Wells State Park in Sturbridge where we found yet another Northern Waterthrush (also in a small beaver city), a Prairie Warbler and a Blue-headed Vireo along with a Mink!

Petersham is not the only place that has given us some awesome Spring species, with our daily, early morning forays to Swan Point Cemetery we have picked up such species as Wilson's, Tennessee, & Canada Warblers, Swainson's Thrush, both species of Cuckoo, Eastern Screech-Owls, Least Flycatchers and a bunch of other great birds such as Blackburnian Warbler and Northern Waterthrush. Disappointingly we've missed a Kentucky Warbler and an Olive-sided Flycatcher and I managed to miss (though my brother got them) a pair of probable Mississippi Kites.

Well done to anyone that ID'd the Wood Duck in the last photo quiz. Here's your next quiz:

This one was taken this April at RISD Beach. It should be easy but good luck anyway.