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

Duck Walked

So the Waltham Land Trust duck walk was today. Luckily it was fairly warm (although the wind made it feel a bit cool) and the path was mostly clear.

I don’t want to say unfortunately, but 50 people showing up was rather scary. Once we got to the first wooden overlook, it turned out ok. Until then it was a big clustered and crazy (the fact the the hoodie disappeared before most people got on it didn’t help much). At the overlook, we were able to get nice looks at the Hooded Mergansers and Ring-necked Ducks and spent a good bit of time getting everyone to the front to see. The ring-necked show at the second overlook was even better and the female Common Goldeneye was around for a while as well.

We lingered there for quite some time. I debated ending the walk there as there wasn’t likely to be much up further, but someone who had walked over to the start mentioned seeing a few things he didn’t know across Newton St. so we headed over. A few more mergansers and mallards were about it, although a few of us spotted 2 black ducks as we returned.

Although not the birdiest walk, people seemed very excited. Many commented on how they weren’t aware of how much could be found along the Charles (or any small bit of habitat in general). Between seeing this and corresponding with others about various places in Waltham, I’ve realized that there’s a need to document as many places publicly as possible. I’m going to start adding to the 3 site pages I already have up (both more sites and more details about the individual sites) and need to start looking at the eBird import tool to get all my old data up there.

And we saw:

  • Canada Goose – 30
  • American Black Duck – 2
  • Mallard – 100
  • Ring-necked Duck – 12
  • Hooded Merganser – 11
  • Ring-billed Gull – 40
  • Rock Pigeon – 2
  • Downy Woodpecker – 1
  • American Crow – 4
  • American Robin – 4
  • Northern Mockingbird – 2
  • European Starling – 25
  • Dark-eyed Junco – 2
  • Common Grackle – 1
  • House Sparrow – 20

Winter List 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.

The List:

  1. Canada Goose (12/1, Met State)
  2. Mute Swan (12/2, Hardy Pond)
  3. Wood Duck (1/19, Charles)
  4. American Black Duck (12/2, Cambridge Res)
  5. Mallard (12/2, Cambridge Res)
  6. Green-winged Teal (12/2, Hardy Pond)
  7. Ring-necked Duck (12/2, Charles)
  8. Common Goldeneye (12/2, Cambridge Res)
  9. Hooded Merganser (12/1, Lot 1)
  10. Common Merganser (12/2, Cambridge Res)
  11. Ruddy Duck (12/2, Cambridge Res)
  12. Great Blue Heron (12/2, Cambridge Res)
  13. Turkey Vulture (2/25, Beaver St)
  14. Sharp-shinned Hawk (12/23, Lot 1)
  15. Cooper’s Hawk (12/2, Cambridge Res)
  16. Red-tailed Hawk (12/1, Lot 1)
  17. American Kestrel (12/23, UMass Field Station)
  18. American Woodcock (12/1, Lot 1)
  19. Ring-billed Gull (12/1, yard)
  20. Herring Gull (12/1, Star Market)
  21. Great Black-backed Gull (12/2, Cambridge Res)
  22. Rock Pigeon (12/2, Hardy Pond)
  23. Mourning Dove (12/1, Lot 1)
  24. Great Horned Owl (12/1, Met State)
  25. Belted Kingfisher (12/2, Hardy Pond)
  26. Red-bellied Woodpecker (1/5, Met State)
  27. Downy Woodpecker (12/1, yard)
  28. Hairy Woodpecker (12/1, Lot 1)
  29. Northern Flicker (12/2, Charles)
  30. Blue Jay (12/1, Lot 1)
  31. American Crow (12/1, Trapelo)
  32. Fish Crow (12/22, Charles)
  33. Black-capped Chickadee (12/1, yard)
  34. Tufted Titmouse (12/1, yard)
  35. White-breasted Nuthatch (12/1, yard)
  36. Carolina Wren (12/2, yard)
  37. Winter Wren (1/5, Met State)
  38. Golden-crowned Kinglet (12/6, Paine)
  39. Ruby-crowned Kinglet (12/2, Charles)
  40. Eastern Bluebird (1/5, Met State)
  41. Hermit Thrush (2/3, Lot 1)
  42. American Robin (12/1, Lot 1)
  43. Northern Mockingbird (12/1, Lot 1)
  44. European Starling (12/2, Cambridge Res)
  45. Cedar Waxwing (12/1, Lot 1)
  46. American Tree Sparrow (12/1, Lot 1)
  47. Savannah Sparrow (12/7, UMass Field Station)
  48. Song Sparrow (12/1, Lot 1)
  49. White-throated Sparrow (12/1, Lot 1)
  50. Dark-eyed Junco (12/1, yard)
  51. Snow Bunting (12/23, UMass Field Station)
  52. Northern Cardinal (12/1, Lot 1)
  53. Red-winged Blackbird (2/15, Charles)
  54. Common Grackle (2/24, Charles)
  55. House Finch (12/1, yard)
  56. American Goldfinch (12/1, yard)
  57. House Sparrow (12/1, yard)

Based on Massbird (and other lists) postings and eBird reports, there were at least 215 species in state this season.

So 57 again, same as last year. Not too bad. Did miss ravens repeatedly and probably some other stuff.

Cumulative total: 78

Last Year

Quiz 5

Not quite “of the Week” but whatever right now.

This one’s easy and you can probably figure it out from other pages on the site.


Taken Feb. 24 along the Charles.

Week 4 Answer

Quiz 4

We have a perching bird that appears to be brown above, whitish below with some spots. The head is blocked by a branch, as is most of the tail. There’s still plenty to see.

Among the brown birds, we have sparrows, wrens, thrushes, Brown Creeper, a flycatcher or two, Horned Lark, some swallows, Brown Thrasher, and Ovenbird. Clearly it’s not a lark, creeper, swallow or flycatcher. No wren has spotting like this bird, so we’re down to sparrows, thrushes, and Brown Thrasher.

The bird looks a bit big and long for most sparrows. Fox Sparrow is a possibility, but that should be redder and is more streaked than spotted. Song Sparrows would show a more patterned face.

Brown Thrasher is bigger and redder. The tail is huge, which would be noticeable, even mostly hidden here. So we’re down to thrushes. Wood Thrush would be more heavily spotted. Although the Catharus species are very difficult, we have a shortcut here. This is a winter photo, and Hermit Thrush is the only thrush that wouldn’t be extraordinary in midwinter.

Here’s another view, which shows the face much better.

Week 4 alternate view

I actually did have a guess this week. It wasn’t Hermit Thrush, but it’s a start. One of these weeks (although I’m skipping another week now as I was away over the weekend and didn’t get anything together).

Week 3 Answer

Quiz 3

As I said, this one wasn’t really fair. Here’s a more typical example:

(Found with creativecommons search)

It’s one of the invasive honeysuckles (Lonicera sp). It had grown completely out of control in the yard and ended up taking over the entire back yard before we finally had it cut down. The birds did like it, but there’s plenty of native plants they like as well.

Week 3

Quiz 3

This one’s probably a bit unfair. A couple hints: it’s invasive and almost never grows to be this big. Taken after being cut down in November 2004, although the stump is still there.

Week 2 Answer

Quiz 2

This one’s a fairly small bird, perched on a peanut feeder. That should eliminate a lot of things, although I have seen just about every yard bird of that size on that feeder at one time or another.

The underside is a bright reddish brown, the tail is long, thin, and spotted, and the throat appears to be paler. There’s not much that matches that. Like last week, this is a wren. This time, however, it’s a Carolina Wren.

Carolina Wrens are easily found all over Waltham. Although I haven’t confirmed breeding yet, there’s absolutely no doubt that they are. Although in previous years, they would drop down in harsh winters, I’ve noticed no such reduction lately (in fact, there’s been two in the yard for the first time recently).

Again, I haven’t publicized at all and there were no responses. Now that I’m on wordpress, comments should be possible so it might pick up a bit.