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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Petersham, MA - Mar/18/2012 – 11:30-1:10pm

Today is the ninth day of Spring and many migrant birds have started their Northward journeys once again. Already the phoebes have returned, quickly followed by the Tree Swallows. Killdeer can now easily be found around town and if you're lucky you may find an oystercatcher or two, maybe even a Piping Plover. Yellow-rumped and Pine Warblers are back and can already be heard warbling and trilling. Woodcocks are displaying and the migrant ducks and hawks have clearly returned. In this post I plan to recount to you my excellent birding in Petersham, Massachusetts on the 17th and 18th.

After having missed the Bohemian Waxwings at Hamilton Orchards and nearby UMass we returned home to Petersham with our heads lolling, brains twisted in disappointment. These two misses were slightly redeemed by some "upclose and personal" looks at Canada Geese, domestic and non-domestic Mallards and Ring-billed Gulls all crowding the silted waters of UMass's campus pond. Two of the gulls had wing tags, one reading 290 the other 291.

A Canada Goose

Number 291

A Ring-billed Gull

A domestic Mallard

That evening, in need of a good birds I decided to check the North Common Meadow; a location that has been ever gratifying in my search to see everything feathered. I had hopes of witnessing the amazing display flights of the American Woodcock and this time the avian gods smiled upon me for I was in luck. Their display flight consists of beeping, trilling, twittering songs and whirring wings that take the birds spiraling up into the air three hundred feet above the gently swaying grass and then sends them zig-zagging back down from on high. But it isn't easy to see; a small black speck whizzing through the evening sky, high above the meadows in which they display will be spotted and this is really all birders ever get to see of this shy species. We were lucky enough to see and hear three of these birds in the North Common Meadow that night. Their calls persisted late into the evening but we left just after dark.

The next day we spent most of the morning waiting for the fog to clear and watching TV. When the TV was accidentally turned off and the fog lifted we started our search for feathers, beaks and legs again.

Crossing the street we meandered along the tarmac until we came to the North Common Meadows, where the night before we had watched the comical forms of of Woodcocks looking bat-like in the quickly deepening darkness. The songs of a flock of goldfinches which are found from dawn to dusk in a neighbors yard assailed our ears in a jumble of burbling notes.

A handsome male Mallard

From the bottom of the meadow blackbirds cried, scarlet chevrons blazing upon black feathers, sounding like a robotic cat trying to sing while another robo-cat grooves the metallic behind of its fellow with its sharp claws. It is a metallic mix between minor pain and song and one of my favorite noises. To spice up the blackbirds shrieks came the jingling burbles of the Song Sparrow.

During the night a wave of migrants had swept through the countryside taking full advantage of this March's unseasonably warm weather, indeed it has reached the 80s in the last few days.
And no sooner then the cries of the blackbirds reached our ears then our eyes picked out the drab tail-bobbing phoebes flitting about at the bottom of the hill.

We had little time to delight over these cheerful birds for seconds after spotting them a warbler sang. The first name that popped into my head was the Yellowthroats, one of the more Northerly wintering species but then I remembered the Yellow-rumped Warbler and after listening to recordings of the two species I was certain. I felt a bit awkward scanning the trees along the side of the field for the Yellow-rump for next to the trees was a police station. A quick blur of wings was all we saw of the warbler as it flitted away.

We left the meadow and continued down the hill to the East Street Cemetery which is a small cemetery which connects three ponds; two small ones and a third larger one.

Not much stirred in the cemetery except for a few phoebes and bluebirds and the ponds contained no more then a Eastern Red-spotted Newt and a handsome trio of Hooded Mergansers.

Leaving we were stopped in our tracks by the yowling of a Red-shouldered Hawk. This call was quickly answered by another and seconds later we were watching no fewer than four Red-shoulders circling above our heads.

A calling Red-shoulder

Red-shouldered Hawks

After delighting over the hawks for a few minutes we again began to leave and again stopped in our tracks. A short burble and a flash of wings was all we saw of it before the wheeling Tree Swallow passed over head.

Birding died down after that although I was able to pick up another two Red-shoulders and a species of Accipiter (Coopers?).

Thanks to everyone who commented on the last post. I was thrilled to see that David Sibley commented saying that it looked like a “Ipswich” x Savannah Sparrow to him. I got to meet Mr. Sibley at this year's excellent Mass Birders Meeting. Sibley and Lisa White (another birder I met at the meeting) are both judges for this years “Young Birder of the Year Contest”.
The winners of this years contest will be announced on the first of April. I'm praying that I score a win. Wish me luck!

Good job to anyone who ID'd the Black-bellied Plover in the last photo quiz heres your next quiz!
This photo was taken this march in the North Common Meadow. Good luck!

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