Cold Out

It’s been too cold to do much of anything lately and what’s out there hasn’t changed much.

I have been doing some work on the site, see the new Paine Esate page.

I just finished fixing up the code for the checklist and have finally updated the Waltham checklist. If you want to see how it works, I’ve got some details up in the projects section. I do need to figure out how to tweak the formatting a bit, but it’s up and updated.

Townsend's Again

My father decided that he really should see the Townsend’s, so we went back over this morning. Although the sun made the drive over pretty rough, it was well worth it. Before we even rounded the corner, the bird was sitting on the fence at the front of the yard. It alternated between the fence and tree for a while, before dropping to the ground. Eventually, it flew to the big tree on the street and then took off. Not only did we get excellent looks, but we heard it calling this time, a very different buzzy note.

Given that it was on the fence, I got a few pictures, much better than the previous ones.

Townsend's Warbler

Townsend's Warbler

Townsend's Warbler

Townsend's Warbler


Today I finally caught up with the Townsend’s Warbler that has been hanging around in Cambridgeport for the last few weeks (at least).

After spending almost 5 hours last Sunday (with one person getting a likely sighting) and another 3 hours yesterday (seen 10 minutes before and several times after), today’s effort was almost too easy. We left the house at about 6:50 and were parking by 7:10, which was pretty good for lots of red lights and a detour at Mt. Auburn. We walked over, said hi to Phil Brown and a minute later the bird popped up and proceeded to sit in the open for probably 45 minutes.

Townsend's Warbler

I took several photos, but that’s the only one that’s good enough to show publicly.

So that’s 450 in the US now. Should have gotten to that in New Mexico, but within 3 months isn’t too bad.

Iceland in Waltham!

Today was an early release day, so school got out right about when I normally head for lunch. I waited a few extra minutes and in that time my boss came over and told me to go pick up a computer at Plympton that appears to have a virus.

That wasn’t a big deal and got me over to Prospect Hill instead of the Paine Estate for a change. Not that there was much more doing there, but I did finally get a Golden-crowned Kinglet for the year (think it’s at least 2 years running now I’ve managed Ruby-crowned first). I then headed over to Plympton, and as I walked in, noticed that although the name of the computer was for Plympton it was labeled Stanley and had a moved to ST (temp) note. A quick walk through the library and a call back to the office confirmed that, so off to Stanley.

I grabbed the computer pretty quickly and headed back out. Walking to the car, I noticed a handful of crows with something above them. They didn’t seem to be that interested in it, but I still hoped for an eagle and figured it was a Red-tail. A couple seconds later, it turned and I could see the grayish upperwing of a gull.

I got to the car and started digging the keys out (not easy with a big tower in your hands). The gull came in closer and I was rather shocked to see that there was no black in the wingtips! Very definitely an Iceland Gull although I would have been much happier with an extended view. Unfortunately, it completely disappeared while I was getting into the car, so I couldn’t find any justification to chase it while I was supposed to be heading back to work. Suddenly the wild goose chase was worth it.

Forty Twelve-Monthers

At lunch today, a Turkey Vulture flew overhead. Not only did I get a great view of it, but it was the first one I’ve seen in Massachusetts in January.

A few years ago, I started making spreadsheets of how many birds I had seen in each half of a month. The original idea was to get a sense of when birds were around. Pretty quickly, I realized that a single lingering bird ruined the yes/no aspect of that. I don’t think it’s worth adding in actual counts or number of sightings to make that more accurate (I can always make a bar graph if I really want to know). However, I soon found that adding birds to each half month was a lot of fun.

With some shoddy record-keeping I had some really obvious holes in there. For example, I didn’t have a Rock Pigeon for September. Of course, this was when I was going to school and therefore wasn’t around to see one. I debated about making a trip across the border just for that purpose, but luckily I found a slightly better reason. I’ve eliminated most of those holes now (at least at the Massachusetts and Middlesex county levels, Waltham has a ways to go), but it’s still fun to look for birds bordering on the edge. And there’s quite a few on the edge. I dug through my stack of Bird Observers and Birds of Massachusetts and think I ended up with 70% of all possible blocks checked off.

Back to today, not only was the vulture a new month bird, but January was the only month I was missing. I’ve now seen one in all 12 months, and as you can probably guess from the title, this is the 40th bird that I’ve done that with. Only 100 to go. And then it’s the halves.

2006 in Review

A few highlights from 2006.


  • 272 birds, 243 in MA, 184 in Middlesex county, 129 in Waltham, 60 in the yard
  • 16 lifers, 12 state birds, 9 Middlesex county birds, 11 for Waltham, 4 yard
  • Favorite birds:
    • Overall:
      1. Black-tailed Godwit
      2. Black Rosy-Finch
      3. King Rail
    • Mass:
      1. Black-tailed Godwit
      2. Marbled Godwit
      3. Dovekie
    • Middlesex:
      1. King Rail
      2. Le Conte’s Sparrow
      3. Ruffed Grouse
    • Waltham:
      1. Northern Saw-whet Owl
      2. Eastern Bluebird
      3. Fox Sparrow
    • Yard:
      1. Eastern Screech-Owl
      2. Fox Sparrow
      3. Yellow Warbler
  • Big Misses:
    • Mass:
      1. Baird’s Sandpiper
      2. Alder Flycatcher
      3. Philadelphia Vireo
    • Middlesex:
      1. Orange-crowned Warbler
      2. Glossy Ibis
      3. Olive-sided Flycatcher
  • Favorite Trips:
    • Jan: 1/21 Plum with MBC (4 Snowies)
    • Feb: 2/19 Waltham/Lexington (3 owls 45 minutes, 5 miles)
    • Mar: 3/11 NAC, GMNWR (fun early spring day)
    • Apr: 4/2 Belle Isle and more (Stilt, Oystercatchers, late Snowy)
    • May: 5/17 GMNWR (King Rail)
    • Jun: 6/21 Minuteman Survey
    • Jul: 7/15 Stellwagen (huge shearwater show)
    • Aug: 8/26 South Beach with MBC
    • Sep: 9/2 Dunback/Waltham St. with MBC (8 hummingbirds, Dickcissel and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher later)
    • Oct: 10/1 Rock Meadow with MBC (Blue Grosbeak)
    • Nov: 11/9 Bosque del Apache
    • Dec: 12/17 Greater Boston CBC


  • 68 dragonflies, 66 Mass, 28 new
  • 65 butterflies, 60 Mass, 20 new
  • Favorite Odes:
    1. Ski-tipped Emerald
    2. American Rubyspot
    3. Citrine Forktail
  • Favorite Butterflies:
    1. Harvester
    2. Common Buckeye
    3. Mulberry Wing

Concord CBC

Yesterday I joined the Concord CBC for the first time. After some initial discussions about being in either Wayland, Weston, or Lincoln, I was assigned to cover section 7 in Sudbury. Section 7 is bordered by Wayland to the east, Rt. 20 to the north, Brimstone Lane to the west, and Framingham to the south. Other than at the Wild Birds Unlimited feeders, I don’t think I’ve ever birded in the area. Luckily, I was given a list of 3 places to try and some directions.

We had gone to scout Lyons-Cutler Reservation last weekend, finding 4 Brown Creepers and not much else. Otherwise it was all completely new to us. Driving there, we did see a field or two that were part of Great Meadows. However, today was the last day of hunting season and that area was labelled “Hunter Parking Only” so we weren’t about to stop.

Today, we left the house at about 7:15. Just before we got to Wayland center, a Great Blue Heron flew by. Not in the territory, but likely to be missed by whoever, so I marked it down. We turned down Pelham Island Road to see if there was anything obvious in the fields once we crossed the town line. Before we got there, a Belted Kingfisher flew over Heard Pond. Also marked down in case it wasn’t seen later.

There was nothing on Pelham Island Road, so we headed over to Lyons-Cutler. Since the way in from Raymond Rd. had some tough walking, we went to the other entrance, near the Israel Loring School. Unfortunately the directions were wrong (the last turn was left and not right) but we did see a few crows while sidetracked. A mockingbird and starling were both calling at the school and several juncos were on the grass.

We started down the road and heard a White-throated Sparrow and Carolina Wren. The actual entrance to Lyons-Cutler is through a private easement that runs on the edge of a rather expensive property. We reached the trail quickly and almost immediately had the bird of the day. A Ruffed Grouse flushed and gave us a brief but good view of it as it flew. A county bird and only the 3rd I’ve seen, although it was in the top 5 of the birds I should have seen in the county by now.

We continued down the trail and headed to the right. A whole bunch of crows flew in nearby and started screaming, but we couldn’t see anything and kept going. We reached the water, where I thought I heard a creeper and there were lots of Mallards and Black Ducks as well as a Mute Swan and a Red-tailed Hawk. The crows were getting louder, so we went down the side path to see if we could get a better view. No luck with that, but we did find a Cardinal and several White-throated Sparrows.

The crows were still screeching when we returned, so I decided that we really should check them out. Unfortunately, they stopped as we got closer (the pines they were in weren’t near any trail anyway). We continued on and tried another side path without finding much.

We reached the spot where we had the creepers and other birds last weekend but it was totally silent today. Continuing on however, we soon heard several chickadees. Stopping to check them out, we found quite a few birds. Mostly chickadees, but a few nuthatches, titmice, and a Downy or two mixed in. We moved to get a better view and a larger bird popped up in the lower trees to the side. Very reddish brown. A Fox Sparrow! It was joined by a junco and started to preen facing away from us. But then a second one popped up and stared in our direction. Very nice birds. And it got even better as a Red-breasted Nuthatch made a brief appearance (the first one I’ve seen in Eastern Mass since May).

We took one more side trail, trying to get another view of these birds but it didn’t quite work. A second Carolina Wren started calling though. Returning to the main loop, we started around and back. Not too far up, a large brown bird took off from a tree on the side of the path. It couldn’t have been anything but a Great Horned Owl. Another excellent bird.

We continued along and this time definitely heard a Creeper at the same spot as the possible one earlier, but never found it. Two Hairy Woodpeckers called as well. A Kingfisher was sitting out in the open over the brook. On our way back to the trail out, we heard another creeper.

Back at the car, we returned the way we came. I hopped out at the Raymond Rd. entrance to walk back up the road and see if there was anything around. A single crow and jay, along with a Tree Sparrow were it, although a Muskrat was in the brook and sat for a few seconds.

We decided that the best course of action from here would be to head to Nobscot Reservation and get directions to the railroad trail at lunch. Although there are several entrances, we ended up at the main one on Nobscot Rd. There were a few of the basic forest birds around the parking lot and by the feeders but not much else. We took the Legion Trail for a few minutes, but since we saw and heard nothing, we headed back. On the way, we picked up a Blue Jay and heard a Hermit Thrush chucking.

Deciding to move on, we went back to Landham Rd. and walked along the edge near the brook. It was very quiet, but we did find a Golden-crowned Kinglet and a Kingfisher put in an appearance as we got back to the car. I called it a second one and think it was likely, although it may have been the one at Lyons-Cutler.

It was lunchtime so we headed to Wolbach Farm to meet with the other Sudbury people. Although we expected several, there were only 4 others. The chili was very good and it felt real good to relax out of the cold for a while. Ron showed me where to go for the railroad, although he wasn’t sure of how easy it would be.

We headed out again around 1 in moderate snow. Parking at Mill Village, we started down the trail. It was a bit overgrown in places and hard to see with the snow picking up a bit. We finally found 2 Mourning Doves and soon came across one good pocket, with many White-throats, Juncos, Titmice, Cardinals, Chickadees, a Carolina Wren, and a Golden-crowned Kinglet. We soon reached the bridge. It was slippery and we couldn’t judge the condition that well, so we turned around. Before doing so, a Song Sparrow called, the first one of the day.

Back at the car, we decided to drive around and look for feeders. We tried for 45 minutes but didn’t find any active ones. We did find plenty of Rock Pigeons and 2 Ring-billed Gulls to get the day’s list up to 33.

At 2:20, we gave up and went to Dunkin’ Donuts to get a hot chocolate and add up the totals. We sat around until about 2:50 then went to Wolbach to turn everything in. I didn’t hear much from the other groups, but one did have 4 screech-owls and another had a catbird, so it sounds like everyone had a fairly decent day at least.

We could have stopped after the first bird and had a great day, but the morning as a whole was excellent. The snow hindered the afternoon. Hopefully next year, I’ll find a few more areas to cover and be able to fill out the day.


Just getting around to the post now, but Sunday we went up to Plum Island to look for the Dovekies that had been reported. We got to the island a little before 9. They had been reported at both parking lots 1 and 7, but since the birds were just flying past 1 we headed straight down to 7.

We did pause briefly at the Salt Pannes for 2 Northern Harriers and a single Snow Goose and then slowed again for 9 more Snow Geese dropping in to the Forward pool near the New Blind.

At 7, we took a brief scan from the platform and then moved down to the beach. There were a couple birders down by the rocks but otherwise no one around. Scanning through the water, I quickly found plenty of Common Eider and a few Red-breasted Mergansers but little else.

Not too long after commenting on how little was out in front of us, a Dovekie popped up! We all got good looks in the scope as it just sat on the water. After a minute or two of watching, Paul Roberts arrived on the platform and I quickly waved him in the general direction. My father took a turn at the scope and both said ‘there’s two!’ I jumped back on but only saw the one (whether it was the first or second is an open question).

We moved back up to the platform to talk to Paul and the growing crowd. Paul immediately started congratulating me on the [fisher][/nature/GBCBC2006.html]. He was really excited about it and proceeded to tell me every story he had about fishers in Massachusetts. The dovekies had disappeared in the meantime, and the crowd kept growing to probably 15 people.

Eventually a single dovekie reappeared closer to the rocks. For a while, it was diving continuously but eventually sat again, giving everyone more good looks. Paul told his story about almost having to clean one off his windshield in a storm in the 70’s. People started leaving, and we decided to move on as well.

It had been nice and sunny, but had clouded over just before we moved on. It started to feel fairly nasty, so we didn’t feel like checking everywhere. We did stop at Hellcat for a bathroom break. I took a quick look for the Snow Geese without luck but did have lots of pintails and some Canada Geese that appeared small to me, but I couldn’t make them into anything.

We moved on to scan from lot 1. There were good numbers of scoters and Long-tailed Duck fairly far out. Two Common Loons were right up close and there were multiple Horned Grebes around. At one point an Alcid flew over the horizon. I followed it for a while but had a hard time getting any details. I didn’t get much of any color on the wings other than dark, so on review at home decided that Dovekie was most likely. So two on the day for me as well.

A couple of people who had been at 7 earlier came by. They didn’t have much different, just Bonaparte’s Gulls. I took a quick scan for those, but nothing jumped and I wasn’t that interested in sorting gulls at the moment. The other people had failed to find a gannet. Of course a minute after they left, a nice adult cruised by.

We then packed up and headed out. On the way home, we stopped for the Blue Goose that has been hanging around Spy Pond in Arlington. Even across the large pond, it was quite obvious. I need to check, but 12 Snow Geese is probably my high total in Massachusetts (or not as I see 70 at Joppa and 30 at Plum in 2000 and 2003 respectively).

Another very nice day in the field (of course when you check off a top most wanted bird, it could be hideous weather and no other birds at all and still be a great day).

Work Fun

Saw several quite interesting problems at work the last few days. One of the typing/business labs has a bunch of old Dells (L866r and L1000r). I got a support ticket that several machines were down, so I went up to investigate and found 5 that wouldn’t boot.

I grabbed a cart and brought all five back down to the office. Two were easy fixes: one just started working again and one just needed the CMOS cleared. The last three were good puzzles.

The first one would not turn on at all. Obviously the power supply, so I got a new one and put it in. And again it didn’t turn on. Apparently a bad motherboard, so find a spare machine, put in the hard drive, and that one’s ready to go.

The second one turned on but didn’t boot, even to the first loading screen. I was suspecting a bad motherboard here as well. Just before I went looking for a spare, I hit the button to open the CD-ROM and nothing happened. I found that interesting, grabbed the power supply I had just pulled out of the other one and swapped it in, and everything started working fine. Apparently there was power to turn on, but not enough for anything else.

The final one was the most interesting. It would start to boot and then give and invalid boot disk, insert floppy message. Clearly a bad hard drive, so I swapped in another, reimaged it, and brought it back. Plug it in, turn it on, and get the same message. Bring it back down, take the drive out and scan it, reconnect it and it works. Put it back on the mount and it stops working. Reimage it again and the same. I went back and forth multiple times between it not booting in the proper spot and booting perfectly hanging out the side. Bob took a look and agreed that there must be a short, although we couldn’t find anywhere there would be extra contact. He put a piece of paper in front of the drive (the L series mounts vertically along the front of the case) and it worked fine.

And that’s why I really don’t like old hardware.

Much Later Update: It turns out that one of the pins on the power connector was slightly opened, creating a loose connection, so whenever the pc moved slightly the drive lost power.

About The Name

The name comes from a probably Redpoll X Siskin hybrid that was collected in Waltham in 1870 and has not been reported since. I seem to remember reading about it in Griscom’s Birds of Concord (I think, can’t find it at the library any more), but here’s an interesting old newsgroup post on it and other mystery birds.

Last year, Bob Stymeist emailed me to tell me that he was cleaning up the collections at the MCZ and found the actual specimen. I found some free time in February and was able to go in and see it. A bit disappointing in a way, it was a very washed out bird that looked a lot like a redpoll without some of the face pattern. I took a few pictures, several of which didn’t quite come out (I’m not the only one to manage to do that with a specimen at least). I’ll get one up on here eventually (assuming I figure out the MCZ rules).

2009 update: Better than my lousy photo, Google Books now has Brewster’s Birds of the Cambridge Region available. It includes a description and a plate, which I’ve exported and put here:

Brewster's Linnet