Check Every Bird

Based on a discussion from today’s sightings, a couple points that are worth repeating every so often:

Check every bird
Walking around Hardy Pond today (after a 7:30 AM reverse-911 call warning of icy conditions), I watched a medium-sized hawk fly up and land on a pole. Almost certainly a Cooper’s, but I took a closer look. Hmm, Buteo. With a lot of streaking on the front. It flew into the yard across the road. Crows saw it and chased it off, but not before I got a good look at the tail, enough to say Red-shouldered. Waltham bird #190!

It wasn’t that nice out (raining a bit, although not icy, no idea what the call was for), so I easily could have said Coop and not taken a closer look.

Know the Common Birds
I’ll be honest and say that I did almost pass by the hawk (or at least wasn’t going to look until I was much closer, at which point it probably would have flown off). But something looked slightly off, so after a few steps I did stop and check it out. Without knowing Cooper’s and Red-tailed well, I wouldn’t have picked up the slightly different shape.

You don’t have to know every bird, but knowing the common ones means the less common ones stick out. For another example, see the Cerulean. Even though I didn’t recognize the song, I knew it wasn’t one of the common ones and chased it down. And of course, Harry is another example.

So, take a few minutes and check out the flock of House Sparrows at your feeders. They’re incredibly variable, spend some time comparing different individuals. Learn what they look like from every angle. There may not be a Chaffinch or other rarity (coincidentally posted today) there now, but one of these days there will and if you’re not careful it may slip right by.

WIR 11/10-11/16

Wednesday 11/10: BBN was quiet, juncos must have moved on.

Thursday 11/11: Started the day off at Dunback, where we had 2 Fox Sparrows and a Yellow-rump. On to Fresh Pond with 5 Canvasbacks, many Ring-necks and Ruddies, and a Lesser Scaup.

Friday 11/12: Charlesbank had tons of coots (35 or so) but not much else.

Saturday 11/13: Started at Cambridge Res with a big flock of Ring-necks and other stuff in awful light. Flint’s was pretty quiet, Great Meadows was very quiet beyond a Common Yellowthroat. In the afternoon, we went back around the res and succeeded in finding the Red-throated Loon that had been around (189 for Waltham) and then found a big flock of coots and wigeon with some Gadwall instead of the Ring-necks. Arlington Res was quiet.


Sunday 11/14: Horn Pond was on the quiet side. Highlights were a Great Blue Heron sitting at eye level, a White-throated Sparrow chasing a moth around almost at our feet, and a Great Horned Owl (in the open, yet I still walked by it repeatedly even knowing it was around).

Hold Still

Great Horned

Monday 11/15: Out doing chaperone duty at Harvard in Kenmore Square, so ran through the Victory Gardens while I waited. Probably 3 individual Blackpolls, an Orange-crowned, and a Baltimore Oriole made for a decent hour.

Tuesday 11/16: Back end of Prospect Hill. Didn’t stumble across any owls or Pileated but a raven flew over calling, first I’ve had there in quite some time. Also pretty sure a couple peepers were calling by the vernal pool.


WIR 8/17-8/23

Tuesday 8/17: Paine had a couple Red-breasted Nuthatches and not much else.

Wednesday 8/18: Dunback before work was pretty quiet. Two Brown Thrashers, 2 Warbling Vireos, 1 kingbird on the move, and a ton of flickers were about it. Prospect Hill was dead at lunch. Surprise yard bird at night when several Least Sandpipers flew over.

Thursday 8/19: Duck ponds had sandpipers finally: 4 Solitary (3 juv), 1 Spotted, 1 Least (juv), 1 Semipalmated (juv). Also two redstarts, assuming migrants but still wondering after the one in early July.

Friday 8/20: Cambridge Res before work had a good variety of shorebirds and two BC Night-Herons. BB North had an Indigo Bunting at lunch.

Saturday 8/21: Plum with Menotomy. Most of the usual stuff (guess I’m too late for Purple Martin and Willet this year, oops) plus a Forster’s Tern. Unfortunately no one was looking up when a Buff-breasted Sandpiper flew over our heads and miscommunication caused us to miss a Hudsonian Godwit.

Sunday 8/22: Started with a quick check of Arlington Res. Not sure how the water is so high, but 2 Spotted Sandpipers were out in the vegetation. On to Horn Pond, where there’s been a terrific shorebird show lately. Tons of Semipalmated (both plover and sandpiper) and a Snowy Egret were highlights. Beaver Brook ponds were quiet on the return. Thought it was too rainy to go out again but I made one more trip.

Monday 8/23: Rained all day so didn’t expect much. Transformer outside work caught fire and they had to cut power to fix it, so everyone was sent home at 11. We were supposed to check in around 12:30 to see if things were back but I called every few minutes and never got an answer. At 2, I decided to run over and see. No lights and no staff cars, so I headed to Hardy Pond. Almost immediately, I found a bunch of Black Terns in with the swallows. Unfortunately it was raining heavily and blowing right in from the pond so it wasn’t pleasant to view. I ran home and we walked over from the other side (so on the nonmotorized list but couldn’t get them from the house).

That was good enough, but John Hines stopped by again. This time he had a Sterna tern on the Cambridge Res and wanted some help (and a scope) to confirm it. We ran over and immediately found three. We were fairly sure they were Commons but it took quite some time to get good enough views to feel confident. Yet another county bird!


Took a few tries (midday heat and checking 20 yards over) but finally found the Yellow-throated Vireo this morning.


Parking lot is in Waltham, so standing there until he sang got me #185.


Finally, a 2010 tick.


Olive-sided Flycatcher, Metropolitan Parkway South, #184 in Waltham (thanks Paul)

Into the afternoon sun at a good distance so this is the best out of 15 or so shots.

Waltham Eagles!

I took yesterday and today off to scout for the CBC. Yesterday was too cold and windy to go out (and I had other things to do that I’ll talk about eventually) but today was somewhat better. However, as I was getting ready to go I got a phone call saying check my email about an eagle on the Charles. It was in a spot that’s outside the count circle but I headed over (luckily while I was reading the email my father called to say he was heading home, so I was able to wait for him).

After looping around a bit due to road construction, we reached Woerd Ave. The observer lives on Riverview Ave, although I’m not sure where exactly, so we pulled in at the boat ramp for a quick scan and then headed to Purgatory Cove. Crossing the bridge, I saw two(!) huge lumps on the ice. After almost swerving off the road, I managed to park and we jumped out. There were two adult Bald Eagles sitting next to what appeared to have been a cormorant.




I set up the scope and attempted to digiscope a picture or two as well (not any better than these, so not uploading them). While doing so, a car screeched to a halt and someone got out. She came over and completely ignored the eagles, instead asking me to check on the swans that were way off to the side and see how many young ones there were. Not going to question, but I don’t understand.

After a few more shots, the cold and wind off the river got to be too much, so we turned around and headed home. A very overdue bird for Waltham (#183, 107 along the Charles).

Crows, Eagles, Most of a Cormorant

Crows had enough


I had a sandwich for lunch today, so decided to do something I haven’t done for a few months and check the back end of Prospect Hill (it’s a bit too far if I can’t eat as I walk). The walk in was pretty dull with just a couple titmice and a junco or two. I took the steep stairs up and headed to Little Prospect. It was equally quiet there and a bit hazy so scanning the sky didn’t reveal anything.

I started back downhill and figured I’d have time to check the wet areas way in the back. But passing the Summer House, I heard a couple screeching jays and saw a flash of something bigger. Moving closer, I quickly got on the bird and had a great look at a Barred Owl!

Watching for a couple minutes, the jays chased it back a couple trees deeper into the woods, but still a completely unobstructed view. I spent a couple minutes watching it (and it was clearly watching me) as several people passed by completely ignoring it (and me). I started to head out but decided that I should probably give my parents a call. They decided to run right over and I decided it was easier to wait by the bird than explain where it was.

They came fairly quickly but while waiting a bunch of other birds found the owl. The ones that came the closest to it were nuthatches but there were plenty of chickadees and titmice as well. The owl pretty much ignored these (as it had ignored the jays except for when a jay buzzed right at its head). More people walked by and no one bothered to look. Once my parents arrived, I pointed, made sure they followed where I was pointing and raced back down the hill and back to work (surprisingly only about 15 minutes longer than I normally take).

Not that it was unexpected, but it was a new one for me in Waltham (#180!) and I’m not aware of any other records at Prospect Hill.

Another Townbird Day

I spent most of yesterday morning exploring the Beaver Brook North reservation (former Met State property). Things got off to a good start with several Ruby-crowned Kinglets at the car and several more with a few Palm Warblers not too far away.

Reaching the path to the new boardwalk, I spent a couple minutes making sure the calling Hairy Woodpecker was actually a Hairy. Moving down the path, a Yellowthroat popped up and several Swamp Sparrows were calling. Walking across the boardwalk, sparrows flushed constantly (about 6 Swamp for 2 Song for 1 Savannah) and a few Red-winged Blackbirds popped up and down. At the far end, a big flock of Yellow-rumps were bouncing around.

Retracing my steps, I started down the path around the Avalon apartments. Partway through the wooded section, something tiny dove into some brush and made a few chup-chup calls. I never got a good view, but it was my first Winter Wren of the fall (and my earliest fall record).

The trail (still actually being built) ends at the Metropolitan Parkway South. I started back up the hill to pick up the trails on the other side. A few feet up the road I heard an odd chip and got a quick look at a Magnolia Warbler. Not a great view (mostly tail) but at least enough to ID it.

Entering the reservation again, I worked my way down into the big field (actually circled the edge and then dropped in). It was fairly quiet, but a couple sparrows popped up in a sumac. I was quite surprised when they both turned out to be Lincoln’s. Photos were taken, but one had them slightly hidden and I blew the focus on the other, so they’re not getting published. Moving past them, a Hermit Thrush popped up in the same group of plants. The vegetation got too thick beyond them, so I started back.

Entering the woods, I accidentally took the longer loop. That worked out as I found a couple Palm Warblers and were able to confirm them as my first Western (whiter ones) of the fall. The Great Horned didn’t appear to be in the usual spot although it was rather leafy still.

Passing the marsh, a couple more Swamp Sparrows popped up. The woods beyond were fairly quiet most of the way around (other than a kingfisher rattling overhead), but just before the clearing near the cemetery I started seeing lots of birds. Mostly Yellow-rumps but a Red-bellied Woodpecker was moving around in the back and I heard a few juncos. While sifting through the Yellow-rumps hoping for something better, I didn’t find the warbler I wanted but a juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker passed by. That was #179 for Waltham and was a bit overdue.

Passing the cemetery added a few more Yellow-rumps and the middle area added a couple more Swamp and Song Sparrows and another Palm Warbler. Continuing on past the marsh, I did a quick count and was approaching 40 species. I figured that there would be Chipping Sparrows up ahead but wasn’t sure what else I could get.

Reaching the cleared field on the hillside, several Chipping Sparrows popped up. I gave a scan to make sure that there were no Clay-coloreds among them and found none. But a loud croak came from up above and after scanning for a few seconds, a Raven soared by! And this spot is basically on the Lexington/Belmont line, so I was able to get a new bird for both towns (with a lot of checking maps online after). It continued on and presumably passed into Waltham as well.

After that excitement, I worked up the hill and followed the parkway back to the car. On the way, the raven called again and a Palm Warbler and couple sparrows were in the brush along the way. Approaching the car, a Red-tail took off, species #41.

Not only did I have the two big townbirds, but the Savannah, Lincoln’s, Kingfisher, and Turkey Vulture were new for the property, which puts me at 110 for BBN.