off to Texas

With perfect timing, ahead of the next storm and during a week that will have high temperatures reaching 30 at most (and probably not even 20 one day).


  • Birds: reach 500 (30 away, should be possible)
  • Texas list: multiply by 125x (I saw a Great-tailed Grackle and nothing else while being diverted through the Dallas/Fort Worth airport while heading to Arizona 10 years ago)
  • Butterflies: reach 100 (14 away, should be easy, maybe even 125-150)
  • Dragonflies: reach 100 (1 away, can’t fail but 125 may be out of reach)

I have a netbook and should have internet (which is good since I’m doing the Eastern Mass RBA for BirdEast this week), so I may sneak a picture or two up while I’m there, but don’t expect much.

Goldeneye Again

I stopped by the Charles today and spent some time watching the odd goldeneye again. Fortunately, today there were a total of 5 goldeneye along the river, including another female that would occasionally be close enough to get a photo of both in the same frame.

Here’s three more photos of the bird, twice with the male and once with the female for comparison:




Note on the last one that I cut most of the water between them out and then made a bit of a mess with the clone stamp fixing my quick cutting and pasting, but that’s one photo.

Also remember that these are all hosted on Flickr and clicking on any of them and then All Sizes will blow them up to the original size.

I’m not seeing much of a difference in bill structure, so I’m leaning towards Common. And since every shot shows a slightly different head shape, I’m not sure that the one with the strong peak is actually the normal shape.

Then again, I just took a look at Ted Floyd’s new field guide and the Barrow’s there looks pretty close. Via Amazon, search for goldeneye and then go to page 53.

Update: I heard from Jim McCoy who was quite sure it’s a Barrow’s. And just now I came across Sean McMahon’s series, which seem to show the bill and head shape quite definitively.

Last update: Simon Perkins agrees on Barrow’s, so I’m done questioning.


Everyone else is doing a year in review, so I will too.

Winter highlights included my first Pine Grosbeaks and Bohemian Waxwing in Middlesex County (winter birds at least, the waxwing was in April).

Spring included a Fork-tailed Flycatcher, a Prothonotary Warbler, and finding my own Cerulean.

Summer began with Mississippi Kites and a pelagic. There were also lots of cool bugs. Summer continued with a hard-to-find Moorhen.

Fall had lots of nice things including a Connecticut Warbler, several Fiery Skippers, and scoters inland (both White-winged and Black).

Winter’s been slow so far, but the roost was cool and the goldeneye may still prove to be.

It was a slow year for life birds (only Thayer’s Gull, Mississippi Kite, and Leach’s Storm-Petrel), but I did have 5 county birds (Pine Grosbeak, Bohemian Waxwing, Prothonotary and Cerulean Warblers, and White-winged Scoter). I also added quite a few birds in Waltham (Cerulean, Prairie, and Connecticut Warblers, and a two week stretch where I had American Pipit, Black Scoter, Dickcissel, and Blue-winged Teal).

I only added two new butterflies (Hessel’s Hairstreak and Frosted Elfin and 4 new ones in Waltham (Henry’s Elfin, Pepper-and-salt Skipper, Appalachian Brown, and Common Buckeye). New dragonflies included Arrowhead Spiketail and Illinois River Cruiser (also new for Waltham).

Year totals were on the low side, only 231 (229 in MA, about 15 below my average). Middlesex county was 181. I did raise my Waltham record again, reaching 131 (after 129 and 130 the last couple years, so 132 next year). I had 63 butterflies, which was a record but right about my average for the last couple years (43 in Waltham, also 1 or 2 above the last couple years). Dragonflies numbered 58 (34 Waltham), which was down from the last two years, probably because I didn’t go on any group trips for them.

I can say with certainty that 2009 will be a better year. Texas in under 2 weeks alone guarantees that (I should be hitting 500 birds, 100 butterflies, and 100 dragonflies while there) but with any luck we won’t get the ridiculous rains again this summer and I can get shorebirds in the county.

One last statistic: 12722 records added to AviSys (I try to track everything, every day at least to city).

Yellow-billed Goldeneyes

Today, after doing some scouting for the Concord CBC (which is now on hold after finding my territory all ice and deep water), I headed over to the Charles for a few minutes. It was on the quiet side (no mergansers, only 1 ring-neck) but the first goldeneye of the winter had arrived. Interestingly, the female had an entirely pale bill. With a bunch of Barrow’s reported lately (including one at Fresh Pond), I got excited for a couple seconds, but it was shaped more like a Common.

Note that the head is slicked down a bit in the first photo.

Yellow-billed Common Goldeneye

Yellow-billed Common Goldeneye

Update: John Crookes found this bird independently and has a much better photo of it (with the male). Anyone want to go over the ID again?

Another update: I’ve posted 3 more photos, with a second bird for comparison.

Interestingly, I had a very similar bird here a couple years ago (January 2005). Two photos of that one are below.

Previous Goldeneye

Previous Goldeneye

The previous one seems a bit more intermediate in shape, although I’m not sure whether that means anything. If you have any feedback on these birds, I’d like to hear it.

More photos:

Place 12 – Gore Estate

The Gore Estate is another place in Waltham that’s worth a stop for the birds and history. The majority of the estate is open fields, but there’s a wooded section with a small stream that attracts a good number of birds.

As the home of an early 19th century governor, the estate is kept very nicely. That makes it a nice spot for special events, so beware in the warmer months, there may be a wedding or high school graduation going on. Most of the time, however, you’ll have the grounds to yourself. I’ve yet to make it into the house, but they offer tours, so make the time to check it out.

My typical walk is to follow the road up to the house and then towards the farm.There’s often something of interest in the trees along the edge, but things pick up as you pass the farm. Continue straight out to the small wooded section. The first of many bluebird houses are here (although I’ve yet to see a bluebird). Check among the sheep, goats, and llama in the fenced area of the farm for birds and then work around the trees. In spring, there can be lots of migrants, and winter brings good numbers of juncos and sparrows.

Circle to the other side of the trees and check the field. I’ve had Bobolink in the past and there’s often sparrows working along the edge. Finches really like to hang out in the bushes towards the middle and there’s often a large flock of geese to check through. It does get muddy here (and occasionally icy), so have good footwear. Walk down to the end and then head back. About halfway is a path that runs along the stream through the trees. Carolina Wrens and woodpeckers really like it in there and there’s often something else different.

At times, you can hop across the stream and come out right near the farm fence, but that can be a bit tough, so continue to the end of the trees. There are two choices here: go to the back of the estate behind the house or work along the edge and back to the car. If you go along the edge, there’s some fruit trees along the way that occasionally have interesting things The tall trees along the wall seem to attract raptors (that goes for the ones all the way in the back as well). If you instead want to go to the back of the house, retrace your steps along the farm and then go left and behind. There’s more trees and bluebird boxes to check and the geese often congregate here as well.

Depending on the activity, it can take half an hour to an hour or more to cover the estate. Although there’s often not much, there’s almost always something of interest and it’s right near the Charles, which is an ideal combination.

I haven’t spent much time investigating the insect life, but I expect that there’s a few good things in the field.

Starling Roost

A belated couple of photos from the Menotomy trip to the Alewife Reservation robin and starling roost.

I estimated 1200 in the tree, but was probably way off.

Starling Roost

Starling Roost

You’re on your own counting those.

The robins were coming in in small groups, so no impressive photos of them. And the Cooper’s Hawk(s) didn’t cooperate for a photo either. I do wish I got a shot of the hawk chasing the robin that decided the next branch over was a good perch (one on the other side of the tree only got glanced at and then ignored).

More cool bird photos:

With any luck on the CBC, I’ll have something better for next week.

Top 5 Wanted Bird Meme

The latest meme for the birdblogs seems to be top 5 most wanted. I’m not going to go with lifers, as most of that list would be Texas birds and either I’ll be getting them in a month or jinxing myself now, so here’s top 5 Middlesex county and Massachusetts birds:


  1. Upland Sandpiper
  2. Clapper Rail
  3. Cattle Egret
  4. Lark Sparrow
  5. Parasitic Jaeger

I really need to bird along the coast more.

Middlesex County

  1. Northern Goshawk
  2. Lapland Longspur
  3. Surf Scoter
  4. Long-billed Dowitcher
  5. Bonaparte’s Gull

I decided not to have any overlap, even though I’ve now chased and missed multiple Lark Sparrows within 15 minutes of home and should have the sandpiper and egret as well in the county.

I took this from Christopher, but there’s a bunch of other people doing it as well.