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Monday, April 23, 2012

A Birding Update

The leaves have returned to the branches and with them have come the migrants. The Avian gods whoever they might be seem to have favored me these last few days. I have managed to see and photograph two or more year-birds every day. This post will be composed of a few brief summaries of the last few twenty-four hour periods, along with photos and links to my eBird checklist from each location. 

April/16/2012 RISD Beach, Barrington, RI

We had but one first of year (FOY): a flock of six Dunlin, all exceedingly tame.
Other highlights included 1 beautiful Greater Yellowlegs, 4 Tree Swallows, 2 Purple Martins and 22 Double-crested Cormorants. 
The beautiful Greater Yellowlegs, This bird was an extremely brave individual and came to within only ten feet of me, a distance that would have made an average yellowlegs tremble with fear. 
One of a small troop of Dunlin putting RISDs lovely marsh to good use.                                                                              
Another photo of a docile Dunlin. This one was less then five feet from the lens of my camera!                              

April/17/2012 Talbot's Point, East Sandwich, MA

This walks two year-birds came to us at the very end of the walk and if a flock of crows had not alerted us to the larger of the pair, both their names would be lacking from my list.

The bigger of my two FOYs, a Great Horned Owl
And the smaller of my year birds,  one of a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatch. 

April/17/2012 Sandwich Boardwalk, Sandwich, MA

Again a two year-bird walk the first species being Laughing Gulls and the second a pair of Piping

And yes, although this Laughing Gull is obviously monstrously gigantic, it is still just a Laughing Gull.

                                                       An endangered pied piper.

April/18/2012 RISD Beach, Barrington, RI

A short walk at RISD Beach yielded nothing more exciting then FOY Least Sandpiper, 1 Dunlin, 4 Killdeer and 2 Greater Yellowlegs.
The Least Sandpiper dark colors blend in perfectly with its mucky surroundings. 

April/19/2012 Swan Point Cemetery, Providence, RI

Among the trills and whistles of Chipping Sparrows and Yellow-rumped Warblers my ears picked up the buzzing of what I initially mis-ID'd as a parula but after seeing the bird my original ID was withdrawn to be replaced by a Black-throated Green Warbler. My embarrassing identification was made up for in part when from a nearby tree came the song of the parula.

"zh-zh-zh-zheeeeee-up" says the Northern Parula
       While the Black-throated Green sings "zee zee zee-zoo zee!"
My binoculars are currently in their death throes. The left eye piece will now not focus and the right eye piece has gone all funny. So, here I once again humbly beg anyone and everyone who has a spare minute to post a brief recommendation suggesting me to the Bird Watcher's Digest judges who are giving Leica binoculars to a lucky young birder. You have a few days to do this because the deadline for entries is May 18th. I have explained the steps to follow in a past post linked here.

Here's the link 

I would really appreciate it. Spring migration is here and I can't see anything!!


Monday, April 16, 2012

Napatree Point, Westerly, RI Apr/15/12

My fingers clasped the pencil tightly as I scribbled my essential notes (date, time & location) into my moleskin notebook. We were at the moment bouncing down a dirt road one side of which was lined with shops, the other a sheltered harbor. Hunched forms rested on buoys bobbing at the surface of the harbor - I would tally 150 of these Double-crested Cormorants before the walk was through. 
Hopping from the confines of our car I was greeted with the formidable task of making my way through a swarm of beach goers without jabbing anyone in the eye with the pointed feet of my tripod on which my spotting scope was kept steady. Above the moored boats which lined the edge of the harbor a lone Barn Swallow flitted, just newly arrived back from its vacation in the South, having escaped the crowd of sand covered bipeds who were enjoying the far side of the beach (the side that looked out upon the open ocean and not towards Connecticut).
A few small groups of Red-breasted Mergansers sailed through the water, their tufted heads and slim red bills giving them strange almost punk-like appearances. Black legs dangling, a Great Egret soared over the water standing out from the gray clouds which nearly blocked out the sun's golden rays. The beach was NOT lined with Black-bellied and Piping Plovers, Dunlin, Sanderlings and oystercatchers as I had hoped but instead with a few Herring Gulls and dog walkers. In fact the only shorebirds we saw were a pair of distant flyover Oystercatchers easily identified by their unique and comical "wheeps". 
Although the nest area had already been cordoned off, the Piping Plovers seemed not yet to have arrived.

Walking down the beach too, far we were forced to take an unused trail to the other side of the dunes. The trail lead us directly under an Osprey nesting platform on which rested a pile of sticks and an alarmed Osprey. This white bellied raptor was soon joined by its mate who, as we watched spell bound swooped in and landed easily upon her back, where he stood and calmly stared down his hooked beak at us, then leaping back into the air he circled the nest twice then landed on a side beam where he stayed.

We were now on the ocean side of the beach and could see small distant flocks of Northern Gannets passing off shore. Closer to land scooted a large rolling mass of black feathers which with a quick scan through my scope transformed into White-winged Scoter. Bobbing just past the surf floated Horned Grebes, one of which, after close inspection, my overly imaginative mind turned into an Eared. The bird was the size and shape of a Horned Grebe, lacking the rounded head of an Eared - really the only thing that was at all Eared-like were the golden tufts on the sides of the black head. These tufts appeared smaller and more loosely feathered, the bird was probably just developing its summer plumage. At first I was almost certain of my preposterous identification but by the end of the walk I was losing hope fast, and by the time we had arrived back home I had lost all confidence and was now almost certain I was wrong. I put the photo I had taken up on Flickr and it was confirmed as a Horned almost instantly.

Above top a flock of Horned Grebe and above below my "Eared Grebe"

The walk ended with a total of 24 species. A full list is below:
2 Brant 
30 Whit-winged Scoter
15 Red-breasted Merganser
1 Red-throated Loon
2 Common Loon
17 Horned Grebe
0 Eared Grebe
21 Northern Gannet
1 Great Egret
2 Osprey
2 American Oystercatcher
80 Herring Gull
11 Great Black-backed Gull
3 Fish Crow
2 Northern Rough-winged Swallow
1 Barn Swallow
1 Carolina Wren
1 American Robin
5 Song Sparrow
1 Northern Cardinal
2 Red-winged Blackbird
1 Common Grackle
6 Brown-headed Cowbird
12 House Sparrow

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

04/03/12 - RISD Beach, Barrington, RI - 11:45-12:50pm

I was overjoyed yesterday to see, while submitting a list to eBird, that the list of likely birds in the area at this time of year now includes at least 8 warbler species, 2 vireos, 3 flycatchers, 1 swift, 1 whippoorwill  and a hummingbird along with a number of shorebirds. My brain is now filled with dreams of Swan Point and warblers. I can hardly wait for May but in the meantime I am appeased with some more early migrants.

Today we took yet another trip to RISD Beach and were delighted when the walk turned out to be even more successful then the last. Although the walk started out slowly we and it soon picked up speed after reaching the bottom of the hill. It sped up because at the bottom of the hill was the salt marsh and we, as a result of the force of gravity pushing us down the slope.

As the marsh came into view I was both taken aback and delighted to see not one, not two but four Snowy Egrets in full breeding regalia wandering about the marsh on golden shod feet. Accompanying the egret was a dirty white Mute Swan and a flock of Mallards and American Black Ducks (including one hybrid of the two species). Song Sparrows jingled merrily from all sides occasionally joined by the melodious warblings of a House Finch.

             The young Mute Swan and three of the Snowy Egrets.

Overhead the shabby black forms of Double-crested Cormorants went over in small flocks breezing northwards. Below them flitted a few newly arrived Tree Swallows many of them checking out the houses put up for them.

From the golf course, which is adjacent to the beach, came ringing forth the clear cries of Killdeer. Moving down the beach while watching gulls and Brant passing by offshore a Killdeer's call came from directly in front of me. The plover hopped out from behind a small sand dune and landed on the golf course among the littered golf balls, any one of which might actually be the egg of the Duffer Shank (reference: Another Field Guide to Little Known & Seldom Seen Birds of North America). The Killdeer continued calling even after hitting the green grass of the golf course.

Hoping to get a good photo I snuck closer and was excited to see not one but two Killdeer. The birds standing only a foot apart. They were suspicious of me and my camera and after carefully studying the wild-eyed, greasy-haired teen peering through a thin curtain of brittle Phragmites they began to wander off. They did not, however, go far and after walking a mere ten feet one of the pair plopped itself down onto the grass while the other bird moved to stand protectively over it's mate.

Presumably the sitting bird had below her a nest but I kept a respectful distance and couldn't determine the status of the nest positively.  I watched the pair for a few minutes before having to run back through the marsh to the beach to catch up to my quickly escaping family.

                        One of the Killdeer shows off its striking tail.

                      One of the Killdeer deciding if I can be classified as just smelly or smelly and dangerous.

                                                    The Killdeer on the nest.

After that the walk was pretty slow and nothing more of interest showed its beak, not even a Kentucky Fried Warbler damn it. Yeah, that was a really lame joke.

Here is a full list of all 22 bird species seen:
Brant 50
Mute Swan 1
American Black Duck 8
American Black Duck x Mallard 1
Mallard 9
Double-crested Cormorant 12
Snowy Egret 4
Killdeer 5
Herring Gull 40
Great Black-backed Gull 2
Mourning Dove 2
Blue Jay 1
American Crow 4
Tree Swallow 5
Black-capped Chickadee 2
Carolina Wren 2
American Robin 12
European Starling 8
Song Sparrow 8
Red-winged Blackbird 2
House Finch 4
American Goldfinch 1
House Sparrow 4

Good job to anyone who ID'd the Turkey Vulture in the last quiz. Here is your next puzzle.
This photo was taken this April at Blackstone Park in Providence, RI. Good Luck.

The results for the Young Birder of the Year Contest came in on the first and I am delighted to say that I have now won a place in this contest three years in a row. I was the first place winner for the field notebook module in my age group and second place winner in the writing. Both these places I won last year too.  Last year I won first place in photography module, oh well, we can't have everything.
Check out the results for the contest here