Duck Hunt

My field trip to the Waltham St. Fields had a rather interesting experience today. We saw a large, immature Cooper’s Hawk sitting in the trees along the channel. Once we got up to the water, we were getting good looks at the Wood Ducks and Green-winged Teal that were mixed in with the Mallards when the hawk decided it wanted one for lunch. It dropped over the water and hovered above the ducks for several seconds. The ducks flapped but didn’t take off and the hawk had to return to the trees. This repeated several times and by the third or fourth time I remembered I had my camera. Pictures aren’t great, but they do show a bit of the action.

The hawk was clearly concentrating on the smaller ducks but the ducks were smart enough to stay on the water, so it remained empty-taloned.

Cooper's Attacking Ducks

Cooper's Attacking Ducks

Cooper's Attacking Ducks

Cooper's Attacking Ducks

Calendars and Reading Comprehension

First, if you haven’t requested one yet, the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program is taking requests for next year’s spectacular bird calendar.

If you want one, the BBC had information. You can also find that link on about 50 deal of the day sites and apparently readers of those can’t find the email given in the middle of the instructions and are sending the BBC Webmaster (me) requests. SixTen of them today.

Sep update: link’s been pulled as the deal-of-the-day sites swamped them and the calendars are now out of stock. Another 15 requests to me as well, including several that didn’t bother with a mailing address. And exactly one of them thanked me for sending them the correct instructions.



Email started flying Saturday that two Mississippi Kites were found in Newmarket, NH. I’m not sure if I’ve followed completely, but it appears that Ben Griffith and Charlie Wright were driving on their way to birding elsewhere and had one fly over. Stopping, they found a second and it went from there. Soon people were reporting that the birds were copulating and carrying sticks! For a species that hasn’t been found breeding north of Virginia, that’s beyond incredible.

I had taken today off planning to go do some atlas work, but plans changed pretty quickly. I left the house just before 8 and was in Newmarket just after 9. As I walked over, 3 birds flew overhead. Two turned out to be Broad-winged Hawks, but the other was one of the kites. Too easy for a life bird around here. Reaching the area they’ve been hanging out (which is a yard right on Main St), two birds were flying back and forth. At one point, one of the birds landed in a tree behind the house but soon took off again.

One birder was already there as I walked up and several others soon joined us. The homeowners were out doing yard work and seemed excited, although I got the impression they didn’t fully understand the significance. We soon backed up across the street as one of the birds came in with a stick and disappeared into the tree right over the road.

After quite some time, I finally found the bird hidden in the tree. It appeared to be sitting on a nest and we soon had 2 scopes on it (not that they helped much). Traffic was getting to be an issue from curious drivers, but I stayed around until the second bird made another couple passes. Of course, I get home and see that 3 birds were seen today!

And for pictures:


Flying Kite

Flying Kite

Flying Kite


Sitting Kite

Incoming with stick:

Kite with stick

And on the nest (you can see a bit of tail and some other feathers if you look closely)

Kite on Nest

Update: Christopher’s collecting links to photos.

May Highlights

Absolutely spectacular weekend.

After the Cerulean Thursday and lots of good stuff not refinding it Friday, Saturday started out cloudy. Between it being dark and with a chance of rain still, I left the camera at home. I headed to the Arlington Reservoir, hoping for good swallows and other migrants. Lots of birds around, but not necessarily what I had hoped for. Two Scarlet Tanagers were nice, as were the boatload of sandpipers, including 2 Lesser Yellowlegs, several Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers, and about 20 Least Sandpipers. I did find my first Bank Swallows of the year but couldn’t find any Cliff and numbers were on the low side. Warblers were limited with a few singing near the bridge but nothing too exciting.

After the res, I decided to walk along the Mystic Lakes. Almost immediately upon arrival, I found more warblers in the small wood lot than there were all along the res. Lots of Yellow-rumps, Yellow, Black-and-white, Parulas, and others. I spent a few minutes tracking down an odd song and got a quick look at what I thought was a Cape May. I moved for an angle with better light but lost the bird. Backtracking, I did get a nice male Black-throated Blue but still couldn’t find the singer. I circled around a bit and suddenly there was a male Cape May Warbler hopping around right at eye level! I was able to study it for a few minutes before it moved back up to the treetops.

There was another odd song in the area that I started to track down. Unfortunately I only saw it as it was chased away by another warbler. I started wandering down the path and quickly saw my first Black-crowned Night-Heron of the year. There were more warblers and a Blue-headed Vireo by the boat club but nothing unusual. Down at Sandy Beach, I added gnatcatchers, a Solitary Sandpiper, and Savannah Sparrows but couldn’t find a Pine Warbler. Continuing along the path that ends near Wellington Station, I added an American Redstart (a very nice adult male) and a first-year male Orchard Oriole. There were also lots of Yellow Warblers, some singing slightly odd songs.

It was a quick walk back, only stopping for Cedar Waxwings and an Osprey. I checked for the screech-owls that had been reported along the way, but didn’t remember the directions correctly and didn’t find the spot. Back at the wood lot, I finally tracked down the oddball. I had thought it sounded vaguely like a Prairie, but it turned out to just be a Northern Parula. That proved handy to know Sunday.

So on Sunday morning, I headed to Met State to bump up the Field Sparrow to probable breeder (the one that I skipped on Thursday and found the Cerulean instead). I started going straight up the hill. Lots of song including Ovenbird, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and 3 species of woodpeckers. The warblers were loud but not cooperating at first.

At the top of the hill, I immediately found a singing Nashville and then a very nice Rose-breasted Grosbeak:


I heard the Field Sparrow pretty quickly, so that’s now probable with code S (singing for more than 7 days). However, today it was joined by a Blue-winged Warbler and two Indigo Buntings!


The warblers cooperated as I worked my way town the trail. I’m not quite sure how many as some seemed to be following me but I had Magnolia, Black-and-white, Parula, Black-throated Green, lots of Yellow-rumps, and a late Palm along the way.


BT Green

There was also a pheasant calling and when I poked along a side trail, I did hear a Prairie. A new bird for Waltham and another likely breeder at the spot. Guess I wasn’t thorough last year.

Eventually, I reached the base of the hill where a Wood Thrush dropped onto the trail to feed. It was fairly distant, but I lucked into getting a good shot as it flew off:

Flying Wood Thrush

I checked the spot just to the right with the downed utility poles. More of the same warblers with the addition of a first-year male Redstart. But the big surprise was a Purple Finch. It was female-plumaged but after seeing it I realized I may have been hearing one sing, so it could have still been a first year male (they’re not easily separable until their 2nd October according to Pyle).

Back along the cemetery, one tree was loaded with Yellow-rumps, a Parula, and a Black-and-white or two. Just before the wet spot was my first American Lady of the year.


In the wet spot I found the expected Solitary Sandpiper but there wasn’t anything above. I wandered in the direction of Rock Meadow.

Crossing the bridge, I quickly added Common Yellowthroat and Yellow Warbler and then had an Eastern Towhee. Tree Swallows were all over, often landing on piles of wood chips. Circling the garden, I had a Brown Thrasher singing and then one carrying a large stick. An Eastern Bluebird was hanging around the furthest two boxes. At first, I thought it was likely nesting in the right one, but when two Tree Swallows came towards the left, it hopped over there, so I’m not sure now.

Circling the rest of Rock Meadow didn’t add much, so back to Met State to look for owls. On the way I ran into the Bakers, who had another pair of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. I sent them in the direction of all the warblers and then worked my way towards the presumed owl nesting area. No luck with that, but more grosbeaks, ovenbirds, another wood thrush, and similar. A couple Juvenal’s Duskywings were out as well.

After wandering down to the field and back up I heard a Brown Thrasher and spent a few minutes trying to find him without any luck. Several Azures were flying around here, including one that was basking with wings open (post upcoming on these).

I worked my way back, adding even more Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and not much else. A quick stop at Beaver Brook didn’t come up with a Cerulean Warbler or White-eyed Vireo (or anything new on the day) but it was an excellent morning.


I headed out at lunchtime today planning on going to Met State and bumping Field Sparrow up to probable breeder (7 days singing) but as I started down the Access Road I remembered the work being done on Trapelo right at the end of Forest St. yesterday. It was enough of a pain that I decided to head to Beaver Brook instead. That turned out to be a very good decision.

I had a sandwich for lunch, so after parking I assembled it and got out to walk around as I ate. Almost immediately, I heard an unfamiliar warbler song. I walked a little closer and began looking for the bird. It wasn’t easy as there were a lot of birds around. I must have sifted through 10 yellow-rumps before I thought I had it located. The bird then turned slightly I saw the spectacles of a Blue-headed Vireo, so apparently not. A Northern Parula was another false alarm, but the Indigo Bunting wasn’t.

Finally, I got on another warbler. White belly with a few streaks, white throat with a very little bit of a necklace. And the song clicked. Cerulean! Although among my most-wanted birds for the county and one I was hoping to find this spring, this wasn’t when and where I expected it.

The bird moved a little and even with it singing constantly, it was not easy to see. Eventually it moved down the path into the woods a bit. I followed, almost gave up and moved on, but then waited a bit and finally got some views of the head and back. Seeing that the only other Cerulean I’ve seen was at the top of a tree at Skinner State Park, this was the first chance I’ve had to really study the bird. The light was very poor, but I won’t complain.

The bird eventually returned to the tree it started in, at which point a noisy dogwalker came through and I headed back to work. I quickly sent out a post about it and got a very nice reply from Marj in just over 3 minutes:


That said it all.

After work, I ran back over to show it off to my parents. It wasn’t cooperating, staying silent (although others had it before and after we were there). We did have some consolation with a gnatcatcher, Red-breasted Nuthatch(!), a few other warblers, and more orioles than we could keep track of.

So I’ve finally gotten all the regular warblers in Middlesex County. Without figuring out an exact count, I’d also say it’s now less than 20 birds that occur yearly that I have yet to find. Come on goshawk!


Fork-tailed Flycatcher

So a Fork-tailed Flycatcher showed up at Chandler Pond in Brighton yesterday or the day before. Fortunately, I had worked late one day last week and had a few extra minutes to get over there first thing today. As you’ve already seen, the bird was still present and cooperative.

It was bouncing around between several trees. I spent most of my time trying for flight shots. Unfortunately, the camera’s rather heavy and most times when I put it down for a second and started seeing who else was around were the times when the bird flew.

But not every time:
Fork-tailed Flycatcher

Note that the 3 outermost primaries have notches, making this the southern savana subspecies, which is expected.

A few more of my better shots:

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

Note the yellow crown patch visible in that last one.

And one very close to excellent shot:

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

The primaries are more visible here.

Too bad the bird didn’t move the hundred yards or so down the road to the Newton and Middlesex county line.

Waxwing on a stick

Waxwing on a stick

Took a ride out to Groton this morning. Even though there have been in the hundreds of Bohemians up in Newburyport and elsewhere, I wanted them more for the county. Nothing in the trees as we arrived, but after grabbing a muffin and waiting in the car for a few minutes, four waxwings flew over. I jumped out and went back to check the trees and this single bird was sitting way up at the top. The light was awful but I was still plenty happy (although if you want a good picture, look at Anne’s from downtown Boston).

County bird #256!

Pine Grosbeaks finally

So it’s an irruption year for Pine Grosbeaks and they’ve done all they can to avoid me. A calling bird that we never found at the top of Mt. Watatic last year did get it onto my year list. This year, we tried in Royalston on a freezing cold day that had all the birds hiding for the short time we were able to stand being out. While out at Ethan’s for a weekend, I did get a very brief fly-by view at the Athol McDonald’s, but that’s not very satisfying.

I was beginning to think I wasn’t going to get any photo ops and wasn’t going to be able to get them on my Middlesex County list (kicking myself for not going out to Groton early in the winter when they appeared to be pretty regular). Fortunately, on Thursday, Paul Peterson reported several at the train station in Lincoln and Marj Rines found them again Friday. Although it was supposed to be nasty all day Saturday, it wasn’t raining when I got up, so we took a quick ride out. The train station trees were just about stripped bare (although a few of the waxwings that had been around showed up along with a bluebird). We wandered down through the community gardens looking for other fruit trees and found some in front of the police station. Unfortunately, there were no birds in them. Continuing on to the Codman Estate, we were rewarded with a fairly good view of a Pileated Woodpecker. The rain picked up, so we headed out.

Today, I started by not doing much of anything ad finally decided to try again around 9:30. The train station looked empty, so I drove past the police station (also empty) and headed to Nine Acre Corner. I attempted to enjoy my first Green-winged Teal and Northern Pintails of the year, but the freezing wind made it difficult. There had been a White-fronted Goose around, but the majority of the geese were behind vegetation or in horrible light. Barbara Volkle and Steve Moore drove up, agreed on the difficulty with the geese and we all headed back to the other side to try from there. No luck with the geese and the Killdeer that Barbara and Steve had seen had also gone into hiding, so I headed back to the train station.

On the way back, I cut down 126 to Codman Rd. to check for the Pileated again (Marj had mentioned that it appeared to have been working on a hole for quite awhile last year). At the stop sign, the car in front of me was being slow, so I looked to the police station and noticed a brighter spot in the trees. The car was still sitting there and there was no one behind me, so I grabbed my binocs and had a Pine Grosbeak. I went back to the train station to park and ran over and found at least 4 birds feeding in the trees right in front of the station, including one gorgeous adult male.

And since I’m sure no one read all that, here’s the pictures:

Pine Grosbeak

Male Pine Grosbeak

Male Pine Grosbeak

Male Pine Grosbeak

Note how many berries he started eating and didn’t finish.

(Update: in the comments, Norm Levey points out that they eat the pips and not the fruit itself)

Male Pine Grosbeak

Male Pine Grosbeak

A couple waxwings joined them as well.

Cedar Waxwing

I headed off to other things but caught Barbara and Steve as they drove up and was able to point them to the police station.

After my parents got home in the afternoon, they decided to take a run over and see them themselves. We got to the police station with empty trees. There was an odd call from across the street and we looked up and all saw a grosbeak. After a few seconds, we realized we were all looking at different birds. They flew back into the fruit trees, giving much better views. Unfortunately no adult male this time, but still good for everyone to get them.

Pine Grosbeaks

Second bird almost visible there.

Pine Grosbeak