Gray Jay!

There’s been a Gray Jay at the top of Mt. Watatic for the last few weeks now. Of course,
I had a bunch of commitments and last Monday was the first day I could get up there. It
was cloudy and the mountain was covering with screaming kids and barking dogs. The bird
was seen before and after we were there, but not in the couple hours we spent at the
top. And to add insult to that, we tried taking the road down, ended up somewhere
totally wrong and then had to walk back up. The road was supposed to be easier than the
trail, but it turned out to be much steeper and was actually a good deal harder.

So today, we tried again. As we were getting out of the car, Fred Bouchard pulled up
with a few friends. We walked up together, which turned out to be good as
we kept the pace slow enough to not have any major issues. At the top, we found one
photographer who had been seeing the bird, although it wasn’t around at the moment.

We spread out a bit to look without success. The photographer found a Pine
Grosbeak, although he was the only one to see it. We did hear it well at least. After
running over for that, I returned to checking out the edge and very shortly after the
bird flew right in. Everyone else appeared to see it right at the same time. It soon
flew in to the group and grabbed food, moving off for a few minutes and then returning.

Gray Jay

Gray Jay with food

Gray Jay

Fred and his friends had to leave. We stayed around for a few minutes and not only did
the jay return, but it took peanuts directly out of my mother’s hand!

Gray Jay sampling food

The walk down was easy, at least after I stopped slipping on the ice at the top (there
was a little snow up there as well). I think only 5 species on the trip, but no

I’m guessing it will be almost impossible to make it the hill in another week or two, so
go soon if you haven’t already.

Menotomy Photo Workshop

Catching up a bit.

Last weekend, I participated in the Menotomy photo
workshop. It wasn’t the best day (rather windy) and I was a bit short on time. The birds
weren’t overly cooperative either.

One House Finch was quite cooperative, letting us get good angles to the sun.

House Finch

House Finch

The goldfinch posed as well.

American Goldfinch

And just to show the amount of cropping involved on these shots, check the original.

And a nicely posed Song Sparrow. The post was a bit ugly, overexposing it seemed to make
it look a little better.

Song Sparrow

You can see photos by other participants starting
. Under Photostream
on the right, keep clicking the bird on the right.

The Goose

Note: This page was originally up in November 2004. I’ve put it back up to solicit opinions again. Last time was inconclusive, but with 3 year’s more study, we’ll see.

Canada/Cackling Goose – Waltham, MA, 11/2004

Sibley Discussion

Marj Rines’ photos (via Wayback Machine)

Glen Tepke’s

ID Frontiers discussion #15 and related

Also James P. Smith’s sighting of a Tavener’s Cackling Goose in Amherst (2009/11/10 can’t open the page)

Goose picture 1

Goose picture 2

Goose picture 3

Goose picture 4

Goose picture 5

Goose picture 6

Goose picture 7

Goose picture 8

Goose picture 9

The first 8 pictures were taken from a pond in a private apartment complex. The last
picture is from the UMass fields on Beaver St. The bird has been seen from the baseball
field at the intersection of Beaver St. and Waverly Oaks Rd. down to the pond behind the
Bentley fields. All pictures on this page were taken with a Canon Powershot Pro 90IS and
are probably overexposed.

First Impressions

Lately, David Sibley has been talking a lot about first impressions. Normally, I find my impression to be accurate. Occasionally I’ll think I’m wrong, study for awhile, and then end up back with my first thought. But occasionally you end up way, way off.

Sunday was a great example. I was leading a Menotomy walk at the Waltham St. Fields. Working the edge of the field was pretty slow, a few decent birds but they weren’t cooperative. We were working our way to the fields beyond the creek, when Karsten Hartel spotted a slightly larger bird perched at the top of a stalk of corn. He got a scope on it, and in poor light, we both blurted out Dickcissel.

We moved over a few feet to get it in better light and noticed that it seemed rather dark for a Dickcissel. Nothing else sprang to mind though. I snapped a few pictures and everyone started pulling out field guides. Obviously not a Dickcissel. Cowbirds looked somewhat close, but that just seemed wrong.

We watched a little more and couldn’t see anything to say it wasn’t a cowbird. The bill seemed a bit longer, so we considered Shiny, but dismissed it. It still didn’t feel right for Brown-headed, so we spent a good bit of time looking after it flew.

And then I got home and downloaded the pictures:


Suddenly it looks exactly like a Brown-headed Cowbird. Note that the upper mandible appears to be overgrown slightly and crosses, which throws the shape off slightly. At least the rest of the trip turned out well, lots of good looks at some nice birds

Cape Trip

Just back from a few days on the Cape, pretty good, relaxing time. Late afternoon arrival Thursday, just enough time to eat and walk around a bit. Laughing Gulls are always nice but otherwise nothing interesting.

Friday started out extremely foggy, so we sat around and had a leisurely breakfast. It started clearing towards 8:30, so we headed out to Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. It was probably 15 years since I was last there and I didn’t remember a thing about it.

After checking out the exhibits (I’m always amazed at how small things look up close), we started on the Silver Spring Trail. Quiet there with some common stuff but nothing of any real interest. One huge robber fly didn’t want to be photographed.

We then headed out to the bird blind and Goose Pond. A surprise along the walk over was a flock of Oystercatchers overhead. Plenty of shorebirds around the pond and a few Green Herons as well. Lots of Yellowlegs, a Short-billed Dowitcher, many Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers, and a few Semipalmated Plovers. A couple bright red dragonflies buzzed by, I assume Needham’s Skimmers but I’m not familiar enough to be sure (and they’re not exactly identifiable on the wing anyway). A hummingbird flew through. There was one interesting sandpiper, looked potentially like a Baird’s, but it was a bit more distant and there were too many screaming kids to stick around.

Semi Plover

Least Sandpiper

Green Heron with Fish

Not sure why I didn’t pull out a Semi Sandpiper.

We then walked out to the boardwalk. On the way, a Whimbrel flew over. It took a few seconds to catch on to the calls and then wait until it turned to double check the bill. I need to spend more time on the coast to make these birds more routine. At the beach were lots of Yellowlegs and a few Black-bellied Plovers.

On the way back, we checked Try Island. It was quiet, a few Eastern Kingbirds calling around and not much else. Looking out, I saw a few Great Blue Herons and another Hummer. Another one of those robbers almost posed this time.

Robber Fly, presumed Proctacanthus

It was quite hot at this point, so we headed out and looked for lunch, ending up with eggplant subs. We then headed to Nickerson State Park. Walking in the from the parking lot at the entrance, we found a couple of very close Hairy Woodpeckers. Checking a few ponds and clearings didn’t find anything good and we headed back. Almost at the car, we had a nice flock of Pine Warbers, a Red-breasted Nuthatch, a few chickadees and titmice, and some Chipping Sparrows.


With Saturday being the pelagic, I wanted some simpler food for dinne. Hearth n Kettle wasn’t too bad, steak tips were all done right and fairly tasty. After that, we took a short walk and ended up at the used book store. They had an interesting selection, mostly textbooks, but I picked up a copy of Pettengill’s eastern guide for $5. Then off to bed.

2:45 and I was wide awake just ahead of the alarm. Left for the boat at 3:10 and was at the dock by 20 past. We milled around for awhile before they let everyone on. Given the way people checked in, looks like you could sneak right on as long as you could avoid Ida for the day. On the boat, I grabbed a seat at the table by the food and got ready to nap. The boat left the dock at 4:05 and was at full engines by 4:20.

Awake again a little after 6, it wasn’t that long before we had a few birds. Several gannets flew by and then we came across a Pomarine Jaeger sitting on the water. I jumped up for the Jaeger and got moderate views as it took off.

A bit more down time as everyone got breakfast but we eventually had a few shearwaters including my first Cory’s in Massachusetts. A couple flocks of phalaropes went by, none that I saw well. That was followed with more down time. And then…

“Manx Shearwater coming in” called over the loudspeaker. I took a quick look, saw the mob at the front of the boat and decided to stay back and look for other birds. A minute later, the call over the loudspeaker was that this bird was interesting. I grabbed the camera and started attempting pictures. Glad I did, as you can see.

Fifteen minutes later, we finally lost the bird. Everyone went running for books and to compare photos. Even then, it was pretty clear that the bird was a Little (we’d learn about the split of Macaronesian later). I worked my way to the upper deck to show the leaders my photos. While doing so, we finally realized that it might be a good idea to look for more birds.

Things stayed relatively slow. A couple Audubon’s Shearwaters came through, another state bird. Lots of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels around but we weren’t able to find anything better in them.

We moved through Veatch’s Canyon and headed to Hydrographer’s. Still not a lot. Somewhere along the way, a Band-rumped Storm-Petrel was found. I picked up the bird immediately, but didn’t get a good view. People around me weren’t on it, so I stopped looking and started pointing. They found it, but it disappeared pretty quickly. I saw it well enough to say not a Wilson’s, but needed more for a life bird.

We were heading back, getting a few more Greater Shearwaters and more petrels. Eventually we had 2 Sooty Shearwaters, which is shearwater species #6 on the day. I can’t find the results of the NC trip that found the Cape Verde Shearwater, but that would be the only other time this may have happened on the east coast.

On the way back, we had a few more highlights. A nice flock of Red Phalaropes was close enough to get good views before they flew. And shortly after, someone whistled and pointed. A large flock of large brown shorebirds was flying low over the water. They were announced as Hudsonian Godwits, which made a lot of sense when I thought about it. Beyond that, we didn’t have much in birds before it got dark.

I haven’t even mentioned the great mammal and fish show. We got good looks at several species of whale, including a Sperm Whale. Lots of dolphins as well. Fish included a Manta.

Some pictures below (and Macaronesian):

Sperm Whale spouting

Sperm Whale spout

Sperm Whale diving

and Dive

Audubon's Shearwater


Audubon's Shearwater

Note the dark undertail coverts.

Wilson's Storm-Petrel


Greater Shearwater with Storm-Petrels

Greater Shearwater with some company

Manx Shearwater

Manx Shearwater

After getting a good night’s sleep, it was time to head home. On the way, we stopped at Miles Standish State Forest. I was hoping to catch up with a few of those coastal plain dragonflies and anything else of interest. We started with a stop at the Torrey Pond Rd. trail. At the first pond, a spectacular Comet Darner was flying around. Unfortunately there wasn’t a big window to view, so the chance of getting a picture was pretty much none. But the Golden-winged Skimmers were cooperative:

Golden-winged Skimmer

As were some Martha’s Pennants:

Martha's Pennant

This Golden-winged was a little too friendly:

Spider with Golden-winged Skimmer

I think the spider is Araneus bicentenarius (also known as Giant Lichen Orbweaver). At least people on bugguide think so.

Also lots of spreadwings that I didn’t really try to identify and other stuff more typical of home. We checked the ponds by the road. One had lots of the things I’ve mentioned above, plus several Carolina Saddlebags, the other looked like a typical one from home.

We drove on looking for a couple other ponds. Unfortunately we couldn’t find them, so we headed to the headquarters. It was very quiet here, and since the trail was overgrown, we didn’t stay long.

Punctured Tiger Beetle

And that was the trip, which has taken me far too long to type up.


Shots of the presumed Macaronesian Shearwater (Puffinus baroli) from the BBC Pelagic trip Aug. 25, 2007. I’ll admit I barely looked at the bird. When it was first called as a Manx, I looked at the size of the crowd and decided to stay away and look for other birds. When the ‘this bird is very interesting’ call came over the loudspeaker, I fought my way in a bit and spent most of my time with the camera and not really studying the bird. I was towards the back of the crowd, not trying to push through, and frequently missed shots because someone ended up in front of the camera.

Plenty of other people were taking photos, they’re all being compiled onto one web page, which I’ll link to when it’s publicly announced.

Things to note in the photos:

  • the white face, especially around the eye
  • the small bill
  • the pale panel on the wings
  • white undertail coverts
  • very white underwing, with just a small bit of black along the edge

Note that someone started to move in front of me on the above shot, which explains the softness.

Two versions of the following two shots, the second of each has been brightened somewhat (these appeared too dark on a couple CRT’s that I checked but look good on LCD’s)

These next two shots were taken as the bird went near the sun, and are heavily backlit.

Besides the plumage characteristics, I’m struck by the shape of the head. Here’s a comparison of a Manx, an Audubon’s, and the above bird. The Manx was sitting on the water and does have its head turned slightly. The Audubon’s and Macaronesian are both in flight (Macaronesian has been blown up to 200%). The angle of the head meeting the bill seems to be tighter on the Macaronesian and the head has a very different peak. Is this a real difference or just an artifact of these few photos?

Shearwater heads


Been way too long since I’ve updated this thing. I keep meaning to, but between the BBA and other surveys and things I haven’t gotten around to it. Today I uploaded the NC Trip Report finally. I’ve got a bunch of updates on the Waltham-related stuff to get online sooner or later and plenty of other pictures that I need to go through and deal with as well. Also need to add the trip reports to the nav bar and stuff. One of these days.

North Carolina Trip

I spent May 23-28, 2007 in North Carolina on a Don Wilkinson Birding Tour. Four of us (me, Don, Nancy Eaton, and Lynn Abbey) participated. We all flew in to Norfolk, Virginia on the 23rd and immediately drove to New Bern, North Carlina, where we went to the Croatan National Forest for Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. We spent the night there, found Bachman’s Sparrow back at the Croatan the next day and then headed to Manteo with a stop at the VOA site to try for Henslow’s Sparrow. We spent the next morning at Alligator River NWR, looking for Swainson’s Warbler and then spent the afternoon on the shore at Bodie Light and Pea Island NWR. We then had two lackluster days offshore. The last day was spent getting Swainson’s Warbler and then working our way back to Norfolk.

Overall, we had 135 species (I had 129+) and everyone got at least one life bird. Detailed daily notes are on the individual pages, a trip list is below.

Day 3

Today we started by trying for Swainson’s Warbler and then birded the coast a bit. We were at McDonald’s at 6, although they didn’t get around to opening the door for another couple minutes and had no one to work the counter. Eventually the help arrived, although without her reading glasses. Don loaned her his pair and we were able to get breakfast. She handed them back and proceeded to make other customers wait, even as Don offered them back.

We went to several spots at Alligator River NWRfor the warbler (Milltail Road and others), all without any sign. Overall it was pretty quiet, with lots of Prothonotaries and what I think were Mantled Baskettails (dragonflies) and not much else. We eventually hit on the idea of calling the refuge headquarters and asking about access and for any recent sightings. They weren’t able to help with any sightings, but did call us back to say that the “Superspot” that had been closed for the last few years was now open. We quickly worked our way over, but still had no sign of Swainson’s. Acadian Flycatcher was nice and there were Pileated Woodpeckers everywhere, but otherwise it wasn’t too exciting.

It was close to noon now, so we started to head towards the coast and find lunch. On the way out, we had one of the big surprises of the trip with an Alligator in the marsh. We ignored the no stopping signs and watched and photographed for a few minutes.


We headed towards the coast and found lunch at Sam & Omie’s in Nags Head. It was fairly empty when we walked in, but was full shortly after. One of the specials was fried Spot. The waitress described it as a whitefish, so Don and I tried it. Nancy had steamers and Lynn had crab. They failed to tell us that preparation consisted almost entirely of cutting the head off and throwing it in the fryer. Don called for help and the owner came over and explained how to eat it: work from the back and the fins and tail were like potato chips. I found it to be pretty good once I learned how to avoid the bones, Don seemed to be a bit turned off. Lynn and Nancy both found their food very good.

After lunch, we headed down the Outer Banks. Our first stop was at Bodie Light, where we had the big surprise of the trip. There was one person on the platform as we walked up. He immediately turned to us and said “I’ve been staring at this bird for an hour and I’m almost convinced that it’s a Curlew Sandpiper.” We all jumped and got on the bird in question. It was rather distant and we only had 2 scopes between us, but we all got acceptable views. The bird still appeared to be in basic plumage. It was limping slightly, which proved useful in refinding it. We watched for probably close to an hour, during which it lifted its wings a couple times and flew twice. Somehow, we all lost it as it flew. After the first time it flew, I found a limping bird fairly quickly but the second time it disappeared. Overall similar to the Dunlin, but a bit slimmer, longer, and with a longer bill. Of course we had no references, but Nancy thumbed through The Shorebird Guide in the gift shop and found a similar picture. At home, I dug through several books and will say it looks like the first-winter bird on page 115 of the Facts on File guide. Even though we lost the bird in flight, we were all but convinced that the rump was pure white. There was no sign of any other color when it lifted its wings, although the angle wasn’t straight on. I did attempt a few pictures, but they were way too distant to be any good.

Curlew Sandpiper with foot raised

There were plenty of other good birds around including many Dunlin, a Whimbrel, several Glossy Ibis, flyover Royal Terns and many herons and egrets.

Eventually, we moved on. The guy who found the bird was waiting for some friends he had called in, although we would later find that they didn’t relocate the bird. We moved on to the boat ramp and heard several Clapper Rails but were unable to see them.

The next stop was Pea Island NWR. The heat was pretty bad at this point, but we walked out most of the boardwalk anyway. I found a Spotted Sandpiper while people were in the gift shop. Out on the boardwalk, we had many Seaside Sparrows, a good number of sandpipers, many more herons, egrets, ibis, and some coots. There were a few terns around and we had good looks at a perched Gull-billed and Forster’s. Also all along the edge were many Rambur’s Forktails (damselflies).

The turtles at the start of the walk were big to gigantic:


And this towhee was incredibly cooperative:



We took a drive through downtown Manteo before dinner and then ended up at the Country Kitchen just down the road from the hotel. It looked like a dump, but the food was very good and extremely cheap. A few locals started talking to us and had lots of things to say about the area.

After dinner, we took a quick ride to the Black Rail spot, which was now posted No Trespassing. A short distance down the road was a parking lot, so we took a quick walk out and found we could get out into the marsh in theory, but it was a long, buggy walk. We returned to the hotel and ran into Ken. Luckily for him, he had a nice close, breeding plumaged Curlew Sandpiper up in Cape May and some decent seabirds on his first trip.

Day 5

Day 2 on the boat made Day 1 look good. We started out the same, missing the terns again. Once out into the ocean, we had a few jaegers and started seeing shearwaters and storm-petrels.

A bit of excitement came as 3 Pomarine Jaegers buzzed by several times. There were more Cory’s Shearwaters around (one was called a Scopoli’s by Todd McGrath although I couldn’t say anything other than it looked slightly different). A Manx buzzed through, but I didn’t see anything more than just a dark blob moving.

At one point, a Bridled Tern made a distant appearance. This was a bird Nancy really wanted and I started to find her. Someone else shouted “No, Long-tailed Jaeger.” That didn’t make any sense to me and I stopped to take another look. Of course, the bird kept going and Nancy didn’t get on it. I’d say I saw it enough to count, but not great for a life bird.

Somewhere along the way we found a large sack of drugs floating on the water and had to sit around waiting for the Coast Guard to pick it up. Interesting, but not enough birds to be thrilled. The fishing was dull as well, with only one caught today.

We did have a few Black-capped Petrels, one of which was cooperative. Again, we had a leader only Band-rumped Storm-Petrel. The jaegers made another appearance and came almost within touching distance before sitting on the water for a few minutes.

The leaders gave up pretty early today and most of the time was very birdless. We ended up getting back in so early that the captain was able to pull off to the side just before going under the bridge and let us watch the terns for several minutes. I finally got a decent look at the Sandwich (thanks Christine for thinking to ask) and took some nice photos of a Royal as well (good enough to see that it was banded). No one even offered a tally for today.

Just to show how Pileateds were everywhere this trip, I saw one flying down a side street as we returned to the hotel. After a quick stop, we went out looking for a nicer dinner. Ken and someone else from the boat joined us (I should have noted names, Julie I think). All were fairly disgusted by the leaders and it doesn’t sound like anyone wants to go out of Manteo again. We ended up at The Full Moon Cafe, which turned out to be very nice. I had shrimp and grits, which was quite good and different. Everyone else’s food looked as good. The service was incredibly nice, splitting our checks even though they have a no splitting for parties of more than 5 policy.

We went back to the hotel, said good-bye to Ken and Julie and started packing to get ready to leave tomorrow.

Today’s photos:

The Jaeger Show:

Light Morph

Dark Morph

Light again

Dark again

Rather close to the boat

Dark on Water

Dark on Water

Dark taking off

On the water with a Greater Shearwater

The Drugs:



Black-capped Petrel

Black-capped Petrel


Cory's Shearwater



Banded Royal