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

#450!

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.

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.

Dovekies!

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).

Greater Boston CBC

The Greater Boston Christmas Bird Count was last Sunday, December 17th. The Waltham section had a great day, tallying 49 species and helping to add Turkey Vulture to the cumulative count total (Newton had a few more than us).

I started at 5:30 by heading out for owling with my mother. Two steps out the door, she said “is that a screech-owl I’m hearing?” Only the second one we’ve heard from the yard. I debated about trying to call it in, but decided to try later and go for more now.

We headed to the Paine Estate and walked in from the high school side. Stopping every few feet to play recordings, we had no luck. Getting close to the house, we finally turned back. A few feet back and we were able to hear a distant screech-owl.

Back at the car, we first walked down the hill a bit to check the pines between the high school and middle school and were rewarded with a Great Horned calling from the other side of the high school. Quite the start, although we had no luck at our next two stops and the yard one had shut up by the time we got back.

We picked up my father and then headed to Dunkin’ Donuts to meet up with the rest of our group. It took a few minutes to get everyone there, but we were ready to go by a little after 7. And we had some birds as there were plenty of gulls, crows, pigeons, and starlings around. Eric pointed off in the other direction and said “Raptor!” A Cooper’s Hawk had stopped on a dead tree. A very good start for everyone.

We headed over to Dunback, with targets of Long-eared Owl, Baltimore Oriole, and Blue-headed Vireo. I found the Long-eared pretty quickly but we couldn’t find the other targets (the Lexington group that covers the other half of Dunback did though) and didn’t have any other owls or much else. After checking the pines and gardens, we started back and got a very quick flash of a small hawk. Nothing other than Sharpie was really possible, but it wasn’t quite enough to count.

My parents and Barbara Howell headed off to look for Turkeys and to work Beaver St. The remaining group (me, Eric, Christine King, and Lew Bushnell) worked our way out a bit more slowly. We ran into Paul Roberts, who had a sharpie, so that did get added in. Reaching the parking lot, we heard crows making a racket beside the school and wandered over. At first we didn’t see what they were squawking at, but did find the Hairy Woodpecker that was calling. Moving around to get a better view, we noticed a Red-tail perched quietly. The crows did have something after all.

We moved on to Hardy Pond, where we found several good birds including 3 coots, many Common and Hooded Mergansers, and 2 Great Blue Herons. The best bird was a grackle, only the second I’ve had on the count (almost too bad that the count total was over 600 this year).

Our next stop was the Lot 1 area. Church was just getting out, which made getting in a bit tough. It had also clouded up and there was very little activity in the field. We did have a Great Blue Heron fly over, presumably off the pond nearby. Lots of robins and starlings were taking off and a few jays started screeching at the pines. We circled around to the trail to go over to the pines, getting slightly distracted by a bunch of white-throats and a Carolina Wren. At the pines, we didn’t find anything the jays would be on, but did flush 2 rabbits.

We then went to the back field, where a red-tail flushed from just beyond the pines. A second one joined it almost immediately, so the jays weren’t just fooling around. We then went over to the pond, finding close to 10 cardinals on the way. Three more Hooded Mergansers on the pond, but no heron.

Running a bit behind schedule, we headed over to the new section of Beaver Brook, on the former Met State property. A few feet into the woods, Christine spotted a “small red-streaked bird.” That description had me a bit baffled, but it made more sense once bird was replaced with hawk. It was a fairly distant view and the bird faced us the whole time, so we struggled a bit with the id before finally settling on another Cooper’s.

For me, the highlights of the day came came next. We reached the main trail and Eric said, “boy that’s a funny looking robin.” A few seconds later and we realized that it wasn’t a robin, but an Eastern Bluebird. In fact, there were two, a male and a female. My first for Waltham, and definitely a bird that I’ve been trying to find for quite a while now.

Male Bluebird

Female Bluebird

We continued around and made the short loop. Two flickers and a minimum of 50 Mourning Doves were good. Although we were supposed to meet the rest of the group at noon for lunch, we were back at the bluebird spot at 11:50. Our first flock of juncos was working through. I looked down at the marsh and saw a good-sized mammal and said “Muskrat down there.”

The rest of the group got on it and we quickly realized that it was no muskrat. We initially thought otter and quickly moved on to fisher, although still not sure. It started grappling with something and we could see that it was locked onto what did appear to be a muskrat! It soon noticed us and stopped moving as much. I got a little closer for a couple marginal pictures:

Fisher

Fisher

Fisher

A life mammal and quite the way to see one. Well late for lunch, but that was not a problem.

We quickly hurried over to Wendy’s, where we met up with the rest of the group and Judy Marino, who had spent the morning at Prospect Hill with Nancy Hammond. They hadn’t had a great morning, but did find our only Creeper and Red-bellied Woodpecker, so it was well worth it.

The Beaver St. crew had fewer birds than us, but some equally good sightings. At the Paine Estate, they wandered around with almost nothing for a while and then heard a large group of crows. Running over, they found a Great Horned Owl. They had one there last year too. I walk through between one and three lunch breaks a week and still haven’t seen one there.

They then moved on to the UMass Field Station. Checking the community gardens, they found a male American Kestrel sitting on one of the posts. Moving on to Lyman Pond, they found lots of geese and mallards but no Wood Ducks. Checking the spot where we had a Great Blue Heron scouting the day before, there were several jays making another ruckus. At first it appeared to be over nothing, but my father kept looking and eventually noticed a screech-owl

After lunch, we went over to the Charles River where Chrstine immediately found this Red-tailed Hawk feasting on a squirrel:

Red-tail with sqirrel

At the bridge, a Belted Kingfisher made several passes. There were a few good birds along the river, but it wasn’t great. A Red-winged Blackbird at the first bench was a nice surprise (my first CBC record). One Great Blue was in a usual spot and there were more mockingbirds than expected. We found the 3 Ring-necked Ducks that had been around, along with 5 Hooded Mergansers. On our way back, 7 Common Mergansers flew overhead. We couldn’t find a Fish Crow at all though (of course, when I went to lunch at the Asian restaurant there on Thursday there were at least 10).

We continued on to the Gore Estate. There were plenty of juncos near the house. Walking along the edge of the farm field, a large raptor appeared. A very nice Turkey Vulture passed right overhead, working straight to the north. Although we knew this was a good bird, we didn’t realize until the tally that today was the first time it had been recorded on the count.

At the far end, there were geese all over. I eventually counted 141 before noticing another raptor standing just beyond the edge of the flock. It looked fairly big but wasn’t a Red-tail. I started to move closer when a Red-tail buzzed in and chased it into the trees. CLearly an Accipiter, but I had to get quite close to assure myself it was just a Cooper’s and not a Goshawk.

It was getting a bit late, so we didn’t have that much time to go to that many more places. I decided that Hardy Pond was probably worth a second look and my parents went off to check for turkeys and another staked out screech-owl (no luck, but we found a message on the answering machine from the homeowners who did have the owl after).

On the way, we had another Great Blue Heron flying over the Beaver St. rotary. At Hardy Pond, there were Great Blue Herons everywhere! We confirmed at least 6 and I’m fairly sure that there were 7. All the other birds were still there, although we didn’t check the counts that carefully.

It was a great day. The Fish Crows or Wild Turkeys would have been nice (especially since that would have pushed us to 50 on the day) but we can’t complain too much. The team was great to bird with, everyone contributed a lot. It was especially nice to have enough people to split up and really cover a few more areas.

For those interested, I’ve put my tally sheet up.

Merlin at Hardy Pond

Posted to ArlingtonBirds:

I stopped by Hardy Pond for my lunch break today to scout out a bit for the CBC. It’s almost entirely open still (apparently the only
partially frozen spot is the sliver visible from my house). Started
with 2 Great Blue Herons. Lots of mergansers still around (about 10
Common and 20 Hooded). Didn’t notice any other ducks (beyond
mallards), although there have been Ruddies, Ring-necks, and Wigeon
around the last week or so. There were two coots and at least 5
swans fairly close (2 of which were up on land, heading straight for
one of the houses) and lots of gulls on the rocks in the far corner.

I walked away from the scope to check the close corners and
immediately noticed something splashing away at the edge of the boat
ramp. It was fairly dark and Green Heron popped into my head, but I
quickly realized it was a falcon. I grabbed the scope and was able
to confirm it as a Merlin and then watched it splash around. I was
able to watch for a few minutes (no idea how long it had been there
before I noticed it) and got to see it dunk its head and wings and
turn around several times. The most interesting part was that there
were 4-5 mallards right there. They were paying attention, but in a
curious way. One female swam to within a couple feet of the bird. I
wish I had a good camera with me, but I did manage to get my
cameraphone up to the scope. I’ve yet to get an acceptable picture
out of that, but this one may have worked. I’ll see tonight and with
any luck will have something to show.

The Merlin eventually took off directly from the water, made a very
short circle over the water, and then headed off over the baseball
fields. I had to take off, but that was a very good lunch break.


And the cameraphone did work somewhat:
Merlin