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:

Cowbird

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

Macaronesian!

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

Early May Fun

Today was an excellent day, good birds everywhere. Starting at Arlington Res with just under 50 species, including 5 species of swallow, 6 warblers, and 5 blackbirds. A quick stop at Arlington Great Meadows was less productive (I was hoping for duskywings and elfins, but the clouds kept butterflies away), but I picked up a few more good birds including a Brown Thrasher, an Eastern Towhee, and a flyby Accipipter.

Later in the day, we headed out to Great Meadows in Concord. It was surprisingly slow, with only cormorants, mallards, geese, and swans on the water. A few Least Sandpipers made the trip worthwhile though.

Quiz: which one’s which?

This parula was singing in a bush well below eye level, wish the shot was a little better.

And this guy was singing right above (and another to the side, and 3 more further, and …)

Now you see me

Now you don’t

That got boring, so let’s sing instead.

No clue what this one was up to

Savannah posed nicely.

As did this Least Sandpiper later in the day at Great Meadows.

Red-headed Woodpecker

The big prize:

Red-headed Woodpecker

Unfortunately, he never got closer than probably a hundred yards, so I couldn’t do much with the camera. Luckily, he was distinctive enough that I didn’t have to run back for the scope.

But before he was found:

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker Excavating a Hole

Yes, that’s sawdust from him.

There were birds all over, including 6 species of woodpecker, singing Winter Wren, too many Tree Swallows to count, and this guy:

Osprey perched

Osprey with Fish

Even further than the woodpecker and after it had clouded over, but still was worth trying.

Owl Nest

Among other things, I took a walk around Lyons-Cutler Reservation today. Walking through the woods, I noticed an eggshell on the ground:

Egg

I started looking up and noticed a couple sticks in the tree right on the path. Looking carefully, a tail was visible:

Tail

At this point, I was fairly sure it was an owl, but not convinced. I took a few steps off the path and couldn’t find the bird. A few more steps however:

Ear Tufts

Guess that confirmed it. That’s Block Framingham 4. If the owner of the block wants more details I can try, although it was pretty much see the egg and look up.

Also had at least 4 Great Blue Herons on the nest.

Yard Sharpie

Yard Sharpie with Mourning Dove remains


Unfortunately the dove was just about finished when I got home. Every last bit of meat was plucked off. After the hawk left, we walked over and looked around and could barely find a trace other than the feathers.

Watching the hawk as it finished was quite interesting. Working on the last piece appeared to be difficult. The bird was having trouble holding it down to rip off the meat and kept pulling it up from under its other foot. Eventually, it moved to a branch where it was able to hold it down. After finishing, it spent quite a while wiping its bill on the branches, before shaking off a few times and taking off.

Winter List for Waltham 2006-2007

Stealing an idea from the Canadians, here’s a December-February list for Waltham. Dates and locations are the first sighting. Birds in bold are my first Dec-Feb sighting in Waltham.

  1. Canada Goose (12/1, Leitha)
  2. Mute Swan (12/2, HP from yard)
  3. Wood Duck (12/25, Lyman Pond)
  4. American Wigeon (12/9, HP from yard)
  5. American Black Duck (12/2, Charles)
  6. Mallard (12/2, HP)
  7. Green-winged Teal (1/21, Charles)
  8. Ring-necked Duck (12/8, Charles)
  9. Common Goldeneye (2/1, Charles)
  10. Hooded Merganser (12/1, HP from yard)
  11. Common Merganser (12/1, HP from yard)
  12. Ruddy Duck (12/2, HP)
  13. Great Blue Heron (12/2, HP)
  14. Turkey Vulture (12/17, Gore Estate)
  15. Cooper’s Hawk (12/17, Lexington St)
  16. Red-tailed Hawk (12/2, Prospect Hill)
  17. American Kestrel (12/28, UMass Field Station)
  18. Merlin (12/13, Hardy Pond)
  19. American Coot (12/2, HP)
  20. Ring-billed Gull (12/2, Lexington St)
  21. Herring Gull (12/1, Trapelo at Lexington)
  22. Iceland Gull (1/31, Stanley)
  23. Great Black-backed Gull (12/2, HP)
  24. Rock Pigeon (12/2, Trapelo)
  25. Mourning Dove (12/1, WHS)
  26. Eastern Screech-Owl (12/17, yard)
  27. Great Horned Owl (12/17, WHS)
  28. Belted Kingfisher (12/17, Charles)
  29. Red-bellied Woodpecker (12/20, Paine)
  30. Downy Woodpecker (12/2, yard)
  31. Hairy Woodpecker (12/2, Prospect Hill)
  32. Northern Flicker (12/17, Met State)
  33. Blue Jay (12/1, yard)
  34. American Crow (12/1, Trapelo at Lexington)
  35. Fish Crow (12/16, Charles)
  36. Black-capped Chickadee (12/1, WHS)
  37. Tufted Titmouse (12/1, WHS)
  38. White-breasted Nuthatch (12/1, yard)
  39. Brown Creeper (12/11, Paine)
  40. Carolina Wren (12/17, Lot 1)
  41. Golden-crowned Kinglet (12/2, Prospect Hill)
  42. Eastern Bluebird (12/17, Met State)
  43. Hermit Thrush (1/20, Met State)
  44. American Robin (12/1, WHS)
  45. Northern Mockingbird (12/2, yard)
  46. European Starling (12/2, Smith St.)
  47. Yellow-rumped Warbler (1/4, Charles)
  48. American Tree Sparrow (12/6, Waverly Oaks Marsh)
  49. Song Sparrow (12/2, Charles)
  50. White-throated Sparrow (12/1, Leitha)
  51. Dark-eyed Junco (12/1, Leitha)
  52. Northern Cardinal (12/2, yard)
  53. Red-winged Blackbird (12/17, Charles)
  54. Common Grackle (12/17, Hardy Pond)
  55. House Finch (12/1, yard)
  56. American Goldfinch (12/1, yard)
  57. House Sparrow (12/1, yard)

Dec: 1: 16, 2: 33, 6:34, 8:35, 9:36, 11:37, 13:38, 15: 39, 17: 49, 20: 50, 25: 51, 28: 52

Jan: 4: 53, 20: 54, 21: 55, 31: 56

Feb: 1: 57

So final total 57, which is the same as last year. Overall total is now 74, with the additions of Brown Creeper, Eastern Bluebird, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Hermit Thrush, and Iceland Gull. From my calculations, there were at least 210 on the overall Massachusetts list this year.

Early March

A few pictures from the weekend:

Green-winged Teal

American Coot

Both at the Charles. And at Lyman Pond:

Eastern Screech-Owls!

Those should be the first birds I’ll confirm for the BBA

And today I found my first Killdeer of the spring at the UMass Field Station. Too bad it’s going to be frozen to the ground tonight and the rest of the week. Things should be picking up after that.

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