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.
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.
Let’s start with the fact that it’s a small, brown bird (not everything in these quizzes will be birds). The size and color limits us to sparrows, wrens, creepers, and that’s about it. Sparrows all have thicker bills and creepers are almost always found on tree trunks and not on little twigs (besides being thinner, having a more patterned wing, and shorter legs).
So, among the wrens, there’s 4 known from Waltham: Carolina, House, Winter, and Marsh.
Carolina’s a very differently colored bird with a big eyestripe. Marsh Wrens are paler
below and also have a prominent eyestripe. House and Winter Wrens are similar, but
Winter has a much shorter tail. It’s also much more likely to be found in Waltham in
January (according to Birds of Massachusetts, Winter Wrens are regular overwinterers
and House Wrens only very occasionally in the southeast and the Cape).
So, a Winter Wren. In Waltham, I’ve only had them at Met State, although I’ve had them
pretty regularly there. I’ve also heard about records around Prospect Hill and at least one
Since I haven’t made any announcements of this quiz, I got no responses.
Here’s a list of birds and bugs seen in Waltham in 2007 with date of first sighting and place. Italics is on the yard list and Bold is new to Waltham.
- Canada Goose (1/2, Lyman)
- Mute Swan (1/1, HP from yard)
- Wood Duck (1/21, Charles)
- American Black Duck (1/4, Charles)
- Mallard (1/2, Lyman)
- Green-winged Teal (1/21, Charles)
- Ring-necked Duck (1/18, Charles)
- Bufflehead (4/19, HP from yard)
- Common Goldeneye (2/1, Charles)
- Hooded Merganser (1/2, Lyman)
- Common Merganser (1/8, Hardy Pond)
- Ruddy Duck (4/29, Hardy Pond)
- Ring-necked Pheasant (4/26, Met State)
- Wild Turkey (6/2, Met State)
- Horned Grebe (11/10, Cambridge Res)
- Double-crested Cormorant (4/5, Hardy Pond)
- Great Blue Heron (1/4, Charles)
- Green Heron (5/14, Lyman)
- Black-crowned Night-Heron (6/11, Lot 1)
- Turkey Vulture (1/9, Paine)
- Northern Harrier (9/5, yard)
- Sharp-shinned Hawk (3/11, Charles)
- Cooper’s Hawk (1/4, Charles)
- Broad-winged Hawk (8/27, Prospect Hill)
- Red-tailed Hawk (1/3, Paine)
- American Kestrel (1/2, UMass Field Station)
- Merlin (9/14, Met State)
- Virginia Rail (3/28, Leitha)
- American Coot (2/1, Charles)
- Killdeer (3/5, UMass Field Station)
- Lesser Yellowlegs (10/3, Lyman)
- Solitary Sandpiper (4/29, Met State)
- Spotted Sandpiper (5/10, UMass Field Station)
- Least Sandpiper (8/16, Lyman)
- American Woodcock (3/30, Lot 1)
- Ring-billed Gull (1/1, HP from yard)
- Herring Gull (1/2, Lyman)
- Iceland Gull (1/31, Stanley)
- Great Black-backed Gull (1/8, Hardy Pond)
- Rock Pigeon (1/2, Main at Linden)
- Mourning Dove (1/1, yard)
- Black-billed Cuckoo (5/30, Paine)
- Yellow-billed Cuckoo (5/16, Paine)
- Eastern Screech-Owl (1/2, Lyman)
- Great Horned Owl (4/29, Met State)
- Common Nighthawk (5/20, yard)
- Chimney Swift (4/29, Hardy Pond)
- Ruby-throated Hummingbird (6/22, Paine)
- Belted Kingfisher (7/30, Hardy Pond)
- Red-bellied Woodpecker (1/7, Prospect Hill)
- Downy Woodpecker (1/1, yard)
- Hairy Woodpecker (1/19, Prospect Hill)
- Northern Flicker (2/20, Paine)
- Eastern Wood-Pewee (5/16, Paine)
- Eastern Phoebe (3/14, Prospect Hill)
- Great Crested Flycatcher (5//12, Prospect hill)
- Eastern Kingbird (5/3, Charles)
- Blue-headed Vireo (4/24, Prospect Hill)
- Warbling Vireo (5/9, Lyman Pond)
- Red-eyed Vireo (5/16, Paine)
- Blue Jay (1/1, yard)
- American Crow (1/1, yard)
- Fish Crow (1/4, Charles)
- Common Raven (5/2, Prospect Hill)
- Tree Swallow (4/11, Hardy Pond)
- Northern Rough-winged Swallow (5/3, Charles)
- Bank Swallow (5/19, Hardy Pond)
- Barn Swallow (5/10, UMass Field Station)
- Black-capped Chickadee (1/1, yard)
- Tufted Titmouse (1/1, yard)
- Red-breasted Nuthatch (8/13, Paine)
- White-breasted Nuthatch (1/1, yard)
- Carolina Wren (1/21, Charles)
- House Wren (6/11, Lot 1)
- Golden-crowned Kinglet (1/31, Prospect Hill)
- Ruby-crowned Kinglet (11/23, Charles)
- Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (4/29, Met State)
- Veery (5/12, Prospect Hill)
- Hermit Thrush (1/20, Met State)
- Wood Thrush (5/10, Leitha)
- American Robin (1/3, WHS)
- Gray Catbird (5/3, yard)
- Northern Mockingbird (1/1, yard)
- Brown Thrasher (8/30, Met State)
- European Starling (1/1, yard)
- Cedar Waxwing (3/27, Leitha)
- Blue-winged Warbler (6/23, Lot 1)
- Tennessee Warbler (5/16, Paine)
- Nashville Warbler (5/12, Prospect Hill)
- Northern Parula (5/7, Paine)
- Yellow Warbler (5/3, Charles)
- Chestnut-sided Warbler (5/16, Beaver Brook)
- Magnolia Warbler (5/12, Prospect Hill)
- Black-throated Blue Warbler (5/12, Prospect Hill)
- Yellow-rumped Warbler (1/4, Charles)
- Black-throated Green Warbler (5/12, Prospect Hill)
- Pine Warbler (4/23, Paine)
- Palm Warbler (4/21, Met State)
- Blackpoll Warbler (5/10, UMass Field Station)
- Black-and-white Warbler (5/12, Prospect Hill)
- American Redstart (5/12, Prospect Hill)
- Ovenbird (5/12, Prospect Hill)
- Common Yellowthroat (5/12, Prospect Hill)
- Canada Warbler (5/12, Prospect Hill)
- Scarlet Tanager (5/19, Prospect Hill)
- Eastern Towhee (5/1, Met State)
- American Tree Sparrow (2/23, Paine)
- Chipping Sparrow (4/11, WHS)
- Field Sparrow (10/16, Waverly Oaks)
- Savannah Sparrow (5/3, Charles)
- Fox Sparrow (3/17, yard)
- Lincoln’s Sparrow (10/16, Waverly Oaks)
- Song Sparrow (1/8, Hardy Pond)
- Swamp Sparrow (4/26, Met State)
- White-throated Sparrow (1/1, yard)
- White-crowned Sparrow (5/5, yard)
- Dark-eyed Junco (1/3, Paine)
- Snow Bunting (12/23, UMass)
- Northern Cardinal (1/1, yard)
- Rose-breasted Grosbeak (5/8, Prospect Hill)
- Indigo Bunting (5/7, Paine Estate)
- Red-winged Blackbird (2/18, Charles)
- Eastern Meadowlark (9/27, UMass)
- Common Grackle (2/25, Miriam)
- Brown-headed Cowbird (3/21, Miriam)
- Orchard Oriole (5/29, Charles)
- Baltimore Oriole (5/4, Leitha)
- House Finch (1/1, yard)
- American Goldfinch (1/1, yard)
- House Sparrow (1/1, yard)
- Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata) (5/30, Paine)
- Slender Spreadwing (Lestes rectangularis) (6/16, Met State)
- Blue-fronted Dancer (Argia apicalis) (6/24, Charles)
- Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis) (8/1, Charles)
- Familiar Bluet (Enallagma civile) (6/10, yard)
- Stream Bluet (Enallagma exsulans) (5/29, Charles)
- Skimming Bluet (Enallagma geminatum) (6/25, Lyman Pond)
- Orange Bluet (Enallagma signatum) (6/24, Charles)
- Fragile Forktail (Ischnura posita) (5/29, Charles)
- Eastern Forktail (Ischnura verticalis) (5/10, yard)
- Sedge Sprite (Nehalennia irene) (6/8, yard)
- Lance-tipped Darner (Aeshna constricta) (7/29, Prospect Hill)
- Black-tipped Darner (Aeshna tuberculifera) (7/26, Paine)
- Shadow Darner (Aeshna umbrosa) (9/12, WHS)
- Common Green Darner (Anax junius) (5/9, Lyman Pond)
- Common Baskettail (Epitheca cynosura) (5/29, yard)
- Prince Baskettail (Epitheca princeps) (6/15, UMass)
- Clamp-tipped Emerald (Somatochlora tenebrosa) (9/1, Met State)
- Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa) (6/24, Met State)
- Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) (6/22, Paine)
- Common Whitetail (Plathemis lydia) (5/12, Prospect Hill)
- Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta) (7/14, Charles)
- Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) (8/2, Paine)
- Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella) (6/24, Met State)
- Painted Skimmer (Libellula semifasciata) (6/21, Paine)
- Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) (6/18, Lyman Pond)
- Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera) (6/27, Hardy Pond)
- Ruby Meadowhawk (Sympetrum rubicundulum) (6/16, Met State)
- Band-winged Meadowhawk (Sympetrum semicinctum) (7/29, Prospect Hill)
- Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum) (8/15, Prospect Hill)
- Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata) (8/1, Stanley)
- Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) (6/2, UMass Field Station)
- Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) (5/21, Paine) (first Tiger sp. 5/8 Lincoln St)
- Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) (6/28, Prospect Hill)
- Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) (4/23, Paine)
- Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice) (5/8, Prospect Hill)
- Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme) (6/15, UMass)
- Harvester (Feniseca tarquinius) (9/18, Lyman)
- American Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) (6/11, Lot 1)
- Banded Hairstreak (Satyrium calanus) (6/21, Paine)
- Striped Hairstreak (Satyrium liparops) (7/31, Prospect Hill)
- Eastern Pine Elfin (Callophrys niphon) (5/8, Prospect Hill)
- Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus) (7/29, Prospect Hill)
- Eastern Tailed-Blue (Everes comyntas) (6/11, Lot 1)
- Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon) (5/1, Met State)
- Summer Azure (Celastrina neglecta) (7/5, Paine)
- Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) (6/11, Lot 1)
- Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma) (6/21, Paine)
- Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) (3/27, Paine)
- American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) (5/29, yard)
- Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) (6/15, WHS)
- Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis) (6/24, Met State) this one had a mild white band, so Hybrid Admiral is more accurate
- Little Wood Satyr (Megisto cymela) (5/30, Paine)
- Common Ringlet (Coenonympha tullia/inornata) (5/30, Paine)
- Common Wood-Nymph (Cercyonis pegala) (7/29, Prospect Hill)
- Monarch (Danaus plexippus) (6/21, Paine)
- Silver-spotted Skipper* (Epagyreus clarus) (6/11, Lot 1)
- Hoary Edge (Achalarus lyciades) (6/19, Prospect Hill)
- Southern Cloudywing (Thorybes bathyllus) (6/22, Paine)
- Northern Cloudywing (Thorybes pylades) (6/19, Prospect Hill)
- Dreamy Duskywing (Erynnis icelus) (6/11, Lot 1)
- Juvenal’s Duskywing (Erynnis juvenalis) (5/7, Paine)
- Wild Indigo Duskywing (Erynnis baptise) (7/16, Prospect Hill)
- Common Sootywing (Pholisora catullus) (6/7, Waverly Oaks)
- Least Skipper (Ancyloxypha numitor) (6/11, Lot 1)
- European Skipper (Thymelicus lineola) (6/16, Paine)
- Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus) (8/31, UMass)
- Peck’s Skipper (Polites peckius) (5/29, yard)
- Tawny-edged Skipper (Polites themistocles) (6/19, Prospect Hill)
- Long Dash (Polites mystic) (6/11, Lot 1)
- Northern Broken-Dash (Wallengrenia egeremet) (7/29, Prospect Hill)
- Hobomok Skipper (Poanes hobomok) (6/6, Paine)
- Whitetail Deer (6/30, Lot 1)
- Raccoon (4/2, Lexington St.)
- Gray Squirrel (1/1, yard)
- Eastern Chipmunk (2/28, yard)
- Eastern Cottontail (2/18, Charles)
- Woodchuck (7/2, Kennedy)
- Red Fox (11/??, Trapelo)
- First yellowjacket 3/3 (Lyman Pond)
- Wood Frog (4/1)
- Spring Peeper (4/8)
- Painted Turtle (4/9)
- Snapping Turtle (5/3)
- Garter Snake (4/21)
- Grasshopper (5/7)
- Bat (late date 11/29)
For 2008, I’m going to start a weekly quiz. It’ll be the Waltham Taxon of the Week and may include just about anything. I’ll attempt to post a picture once a week and the following week post some information about it and a new picture. I’ll attempt to actually take the picture during the week, in Waltham, although I may use some old ones if necessary. All will be from the right time frame at least.
No prizes and I doubt anyone will actually participate, but email me if you think you know an answer or have any other commentary. I may try to set up some form of comment system for this.
Last Sunday was the Greater Boston CBC. Scheduled for 12/16, we were snowed out. Somehow, my team was able to have better attendance on the rescheduled day, unlike most teams. Unfortunately, we were snowed out of several areas and had to replan most of the day.
We started with the usual owling, which turned out to be a waste as we heard nothing. Meeting up with the full team at 7:00, we had a Red-tail replacing last year’s Cooper’s in the same tree. We quickly headed to Dunback, where I found the Great Horned Owl with a little help from the crows. We wandered around the rest of the pines and down to the gardens without much of anything and were ready to move on by 8:45.
Our next stop was Brookhaven, where the nature trail was too snowy. Walking around the parking lot to make sure the pond was frozen, 16 Cedar Waxwings flew by, being chased by a Sharp-shinned Hawk.
We moved on to Falzone Field, which was also too snowy. There were big numbers of robins and mourning doves and what was presumably the same Sharp-shinned landed across the field. Willy the screech owl was out, so we headed over, although he decided to go back into hiding before we got there.
We took a quick detour to check Met State for redpolls and then went to Beaver Brook. There, we found out why we never covered it before. It’s in Belmont’s territory, so we left and went to the UMass Field Station. There was an Accipiter perched that looked like a Cooper’s, but before we could get closer two small white birds flew in. Snow Buntings! My first for Waltham, and only the second record that I know of (also here).
As we started into the field, someone asked about the kestrel the group had here last year. A couple seconds later, we turned around and there was a kestrel sitting on one of the trees behind the building! I headed for the pines to check for owls, while the rest of the group went for a better look for the buntings or to the community gardens. The kestrel flew right overhead. The pines were empty (as always) but the far back corner of the field had a lot of common birds. Walking was rather tough here, sinking in with almost every step.
We moved on to Lyman Pond. Most of the group went to see if the Screech-Owls were back, but I decided to check the pond itself for any open water. There was a small strip, which had a Great Blue Heron and a Mallard. I was about to gloat over the heron, but it flew to the other end and everyone saw it.
Next up was the Paine Estate, which was completely dead. It was close to lunch time, so we headed to the high school and Kennedy. There wasn’t much around, but it put us in a good place for the people that had to leave. We headed to Wendy’s.
While eating lunch, we pretended to count gulls and starlings. Much better was the kestrel that perched briefly in the McDonald’s lot across the street and the flyover Great Blue Heron.
After finishing lunch, we headed to the Charles. We quickly found all the good ducks (23 Ring-necks, 8 Hooded Mergansers, 18 Commons, 3 Goldeneye) and another couple herons. We split up at the 2nd overlook and I continued on to the baseball field. A few more of those ducks were around, but the big highlight was a pair of kestrels. They were very active, flying around and landing on the light towers and vocalized quite often. They were joined on the tower by a Herring Gull and a Cooper’s Hawk flew through as well.
There was also a very cooperative Red-tail right by Newton St.:
We returned and found the group that had gone to check the waterfall back at the parking lot, looking at a Fish Crow. We moved on to the Gore Estate, which was too snowy to walk around, although I took a quick run to the fenced-in field.
Pretty much out of accessible places, we went to drop the rest of the group off before heading home to count feeder birds for the rest of the day. On the way, we made a brief stop at Hardy Pond, which had surprisingly large numbers of Mallards considering that it was totally frozen.
Definitely a better day than I expected. Thanks to Judy, Joyce, Christine, Eric, Lew, Barbara, and my parents for helping.
This is work in progress. I’m adding photos as I get them and working on the text as I think of improvements. If you have something to add, use the contact page and email me.
Here’s a secret for fall birding in the east: Sparrows aren’t particularly difficult. Don’t focus on details of plumage and they sort themselves out pretty easily.
Before going into details, I will say that my experience is almost entirely on the east coast and that western birds may pose more challenges, but this advice should be fairly useful to everyone. I’ll also say that a lot of this essay is based on the Sparrows: The Generic Approach chapter of Kenn Kaufman’s Advanced Birding.
So how do you go about breezing through a flock of sparrows? You focus on the shape and general color pattern. Yes, the same holistic approach that’s so big with hawks and shorebirds now. Chances are 90% will sort out easily, leaving just a few to focus more carefully on.
Start with Song Sparrows obviously. Not only are they the most common, almost year-round, but they also are somewhat intermediate in shape, so you can easily compare them to almost every other sparrow. There’s probably one within 5 minutes of you right this second, so as long as it’s light out, take a 15 minute walk and study one.
Ok, so what did you notice? Overall it was reddish or brownish, with a round head, relatively typical body, and long rounded tail. Lots of somewhat thick streaks, a big eyestripe, and some other markings.
Now go find a Savannah Sparrow, which is fairly similar in markings. But it’s also much trimmer, slightly flatter on top of the head, and more of a yellowish-brown. With those observations, they’re two very different birds. Most other sparrows are similarly distinct when you consider more than just plumage. Let’s try to describe some.
- Chipping Sparrow
Chipping Sparrows are small and appropriately tightly proportioned. In summer, the bright chestnut cap makes them obvious. In fall, they show a moderately patterned face and when flying a gray rump. They outnumber any similar-shaped bird by several orders of magnitude, so they’re pretty easy.
- Clay-colored Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrows are basically the same as Chipping Sparrows. They’re much, much rarer. I’ve only seen a few, but they did stick out with a much stronger face pattern. Stronger lines along the cheeks and pale between the eye and bill creates a reasonably different impression. Then get the bird to fly and look for the brown rump, which doesn’t contrast with the rest of the backside like a Chipping Sparrow does.
- Field Sparrow
Field Sparrows are quite distinct. Pretty much shaped like a Chipping, but the face is utterly blank. The bill is pink and the head in general seems to have a pinkish cast. Nothing is really similar, Grasshopper Sparrows can be similarly blank-faced but have huge heads.
- American Tree Sparrow
Slightly bigger than a Chipping but fairly similar. They stick around in winter in Massachusetts and outnumber the smaller sparrows in in late fall into early spring. The bicolored bill (black on top, yellow below) is a good mark, as is the black spot on the breast. The head is fairly plain with an obvious cap.
- Brewer’s Sparrow
An exceptional vagrant that I haven’t seen. Check every Clay-colored, but probably outnumbered by them by at least the same amount that Clay-colored is outnumbered by Chipping.
- Vesper Sparrow
This one gives me trouble. I think it’s because the Peterson illustration was of a totally plain bird, when they’re actually much more like a Savannah Sparrow from the side. The white outer tail sticks out, as does the eyering and less of an eyebrow.
- Lark Sparrow
I keep missing these in the east, but they’re very distinct from my memories in Arizona. On the large size, with a very different facial pattern. You won’t overlook one.
- Lark Bunting
Another vagrant I don’t have any experience with, but they don’t appear to be similar to any other sparrow. The white in the wings looks like it’s obvious.
- Savannah Sparrow
Already talked about. A trimmer, paler Song Sparrow with a short tail.
- Grasshopper Sparrow
Plain-faced and large-headed. An obvious eye-ring and a very flat head.
- Henslow’s Sparrow
Very rare, but a greener Grasshopper with an even larger head.
- Le Conte’s Sparrow
Another rarity. Yellow-orange on the face, with a fairly flat head. You’ll need a good look to eliminate Sharp-tailed.
- Sharp-tailed Sparrows
I’m considering these two together. Orange-faced, with a huge bill. Not easy to separate the two however. If you’re not in a salt marsh, it’s almost certainly a Nelson’s, but good luck on the coast.
- Seaside Sparrow
Another one I don’t have a lot of experience with, but another one with a huge bill. Unlike Sharp-tails, Seaside is very dark overall. Quite distinct.
- Fox Sparrow
Large and red in the east. Take a Song Sparrow, make it bigger, make the streaks more heavy, and add red and turn down the brown and you have a Fox Sparrow.
- Song Sparrow
Already discussed and the basic reference sparrow. On the large side, fairly rounded, with a long, rounded tail. Fairly dark, with heavy streaking on the belly and face.
- Lincoln’s Sparrow
A tighter Song Sparrow. Slightly trimmer, with flatter angles. Overall less patterned, both in heaviness and in amount. Combination of gray head and buffy throat and upper breast give it a fairly distinct appearance.
- Swamp Sparrow
Somewhat like the cross of a Song and White-throated Sparrows (depending on angle, can easily look much more like a White-throat than anything else). Brighter back than a Song with a grayer head. No streaking on the front.
- White-throated Sparrow
Big and bulky with an obvious facial pattern. Almost as good a reference as Song Sparrow.
- Harris’s Sparrow
Another one I don’t have experience with, but cross a White-throat with a House Sparrow and you’re probably reasonably close.
- White-crowned Sparrow
Very flat backed. Shape is quite unique, almost more so than the head pattern. Crown very pointed.
- Golden-crowned Sparrow
I don’t remember much about the one I’ve seen, but fairly similar to White-throat in shape with a different head pattern.
- Dark-eyed Junco