Yard Oddball

This interesting girl showed up at the feeders over the weekend:

Oddball House Sparrow

White wings and a lot of white on the tail, not quite the usual.

Oddball House Sparrow

(Un)fortunately, it is just a House Sparrow. It appears to be partially leucistic one though. It’s actually one of two that are in the flock that hangs out in the yard. The other’s a male that’s almost normal, except a couple of the tertials are white. He’s hung around for quite some time now (she just showed up) but hasn’t been back to the feeder when I finally got the camera out.

And here’s the closest to a flight shot I got. I hope to get a better one as it’s a very striking bird with the wings spread.

Oddball House Sparrow

Update: got the male finally

Other sparrow

And for pictures of more exotic birds:

Quiz 13 Answer

Quiz 13

So we have a passerine with a brownish back and a bright yellow belly. Taking into account the bill and general shape and posture, we can say it’s a flycatcher. The brown color and yellow belly lead us to genus Myiarchus.

Among the Myiarchus, Massachusetts has Great Crested as a common breeder and Ash-throated as a rare (but basically annual late fall vagrant). Obviously, my wishful thinking comment was about Ash-throated but in this case, the belly is much too bright. The edges of the wings are also much stronger than I’d expect on an Ash-throated. And the vegetation is a bit too green for a late fall vagrant, although there is an August record at Rock Meadow in Belmont.

I took this picture of a Great Crested Flycatcher at Prospect Hill in May 2006. They are likely breeders at Prospect Hill, the Paine Estate, Met State, and probably any other wooded areas. As far as I know, Ash-throated has not yet been found in Waltham, but I’m sure one will one of these years.

Place 10 – Purgatory Cove and Forest Grove

Purgotary Cove and Forest Grove combine to be a nice part of the Charles River Walk along the Waltham-Newton line. It’s an area I have yet to explore fully, but seems to have quite a bit of potential.

To reach it, take Woerd Ave. off Crescent St. in Waltham. Follow Woerd Ave. to the end. You’ll pass the boat launch and then Purgatory Cove. You can pull over here or continue to the circle where the road ends and park there. The town line is just beyond the circle. Alternate access from the other end is off Commonwealth Ave. at Lyons Park.

Purgatory Cove is a large backwater spot along the Charles. It gets filled with vegetation in summer. Lots of waterbirds are possible here, including large numbers of Wood Ducks. Along the river on the other side of the road, you can follow a trail that winds through the wooded area and then joins the main Forest Grove trail. There’s a couple of steep spots here, so be careful.

Up on the main trail, you can walk through a wooded section that borders the river and passes through a couple parks before ending. Lots of birds are possible, including many migrants. This section is also the only place along the Charles where I’ve had Wild Turkeys.

Butterflies are not too exciting along here, but dragonflies can be interesting. The only Vesper Bluet I’ve seen so far was along the first bit of trail by Purgatory Cove. I haven’t spent enough time looking for other good ones, but I’m sure there are more out there.

This stretch of the river is also popular with boaters and kayakers. It’s very wide and slow and I’d imagine you can see quite a few different things on the water.

Well worth exploring more, there’s plenty of untapped potential here, even when the crowds are out.

Quiz 13

No point in using the week part now but I’ll still post one as I find something worth posting.

Quiz 13

Wishful thinking or not?

Like the last one, this is a reused photo so clicking on it gives it away.

Place 9 – Fresh Pond

This is the time of year to visit Fresh Pond in Cambridge. It’s by far the easiest place around to find Canvasback and there are often other interesting ducks as well. On the whole, I don’t like the place but make a trip or two each year.

I normally park along Huron Ave as it’s the closest point for me, but there is (or was, not sure about current access) some public parking at Neville Manor and you can always park at the mall and work your way over. Cambridge residents can park near the waterworks (and can also let their dogs run free unfortunately). Those entrances are much closer to where the birds tend to hang out if you want to drop in and not walk all around. Other than circling the pond, Lusitania Meadow often has good passerines.

Fresh Pond is covered well elsewhere, so start with The Friends and go from there for more information.

Week 12 Answer

Quiz 12

So we have a dragonfly. By the apparent large size, striped thorax, spotted abdomen, and vertical hanging, it’s one of the darners. We can eliminate Common Green and Comet by the lack of a solid thorax, Springtime, Harlequin, and Taper-tailed by date. Swamp and Cyrano have a more ringed appearance. Spatterdock has bright blue eyes. That leaves the genus Aeshna, of which there are quite a few in Massachusetts.

We can eliminate Mottled on thoracic pattern right away but several others are close. However, looking at the appendages we can see that they are fairly expanded and paddle-ish. Only Lance-tipped and Shadow match those. Lance-tipped is eliminated by the thoracic pattern, which would be more jagged. Shadow normally shows thin stripes with a slight triangle extending from the rear of the front one, which this one shows.

Shadow Darners are among the most common darners, especially late in the season. In fact, after the first week or two of September, I assume it’s a Shadow unless otherwise. They’re relatively darker than most others and often fly very low to the ground, which makes them much easier to observe. They can fly quite late (I just had my first November record the other day, so they may still be out there now).


Big fallout inland today. There was a very large flock on the Cambridge Reservoir and then a smaller flock on Flint’s Pond in Lincoln. How many can you count in each?

The Res flock:


View it full size to count better

Flint’s (this one was digiscoped, didn’t even realize it was possible with a 100-400 until I tried):

More Scoters

full size

I see about 130 on the Res and about 45 in the other. Both flocks were flying around for a minute or two and I got the same count on the Flint’s flock at that point. The Res flock was too big to count, especially on the water where they were constantly moving in front of each other and very tightly clumped.


These two immature White-crowned Sparrows were at Great Meadows on 10/13. Gambel’s, Eastern, or integrade? I’m not sure if I have both birds shown singly or if I ended up with 6 of the same one.

Which White-crowned?

Which White-crowned?

Which White-crowned?

Which White-crowned?

Which White-crowned?

Which White-crowned?

Which White-crowned?


White-winged Scoter and friends

Thanks to Marj for Middlesex county #259.

Other highlights on the day included a White-eyed Vireo (unfortunately the only photo I snapped was of a blog going behind branches) and some great deals on books. And Pyle Pt. 2 came in the mail, more on that soon.

Place 8 – Quabbin Overlook

The Quabbin Overlook in the center of New Salem isn’t particularly well known (I think I’ve seen exactly 1 post on Massbird mentioning it). It also probably doesn’t have a whole lot of wildlife compared to other parts of the Quabbin and the area, but the view is great.

The trail is also very short, so it’s very easy to run up, check, and run back. I’ve yet to find much along the trail, but most of my trips have been at lousy times of day so that may not mean much.

To reach the overlook, follow the road next to the fire station. It leads down to some playing fields (edges of which are worth checking) and then to a small parking area. The trail starts here and is easy enough to follow. There’s some nice blueberry patches early and then a wooded section before reaching the overlook.

Although I haven’t seen a whole lot from there, several sightings were quite memorable. One of my first good looks at a Scarlet Tanager was a bird that popped up in one of the trees just down the slope (so it was right at eye level). And another time, the loons down in the water were calling loudly enough to be heard from up above. And one day, I’m sure there will be a moose swimming through the water.