Friday, February 17, 2012

Open Water at Hammond Pond

Red-Tailed Hawk
I was able to stop by Hammond Pond for a few minutes and was able to catch the pond open with just a little ice clinging to the edges. While I've been missing a good New England snow this winter, it certainly has made for some good birding at the local ponds. With 150 Canada geese to go through there were a number of mallards, common mergansers, and hooded mergansers. I was lucky that a couple of hooded mergansers and ring-necked ducks were quite close to the overlook close to City Sports and offered some great views before they became too shy. My best find of the day was a black-backed gull floating out in the middle of the pond. Normally the gulls here are all ring-billed and herring gulls, so this one was certainly a surprise. Right as I left, a red-tailed hawk came soaring in over the parking lot and spooking some starlings before settling on a branch overlooking Star Market.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Chilly Houghton Gardens

Houghton's Pond
I managed to stop by Houghton Gardens a few days ago for just a couple of minutes and while I barely had enough time to walk around this small gem, I thought I heard a brown creeper. So in a quest to see my first creeper of MA, I headed back to Houghton Gardens this weekend.

I had a late start at 11am and arrived just as a few dog walkers were leaving. I made my way around the gardens slowly as there isn't much distance to cover in this tucked away corner of Chestnut Hill. My first find of the day was a song sparrow lurking in the brush piles that appear to be deliberately placed. I heard more rustling in the leaves in the rhododendrons, but couldn't find anyone. But as I headed down the dead end trail in the peninsula, a cardinal pair were disturbed and took up "chink" calls from the saplings. I could faintly make out the calls of mourning doves and a nuthatch, while the chickadees were not so subtle in their scolding. Back by the T tracks I managed to find a shy hermit thrush who was noisily turning the leaf litter from the forest floor.
Hermit Thrush
And either there were two, or I ran into the same one again because I got two great views of this thrush before some joggers spooked it. I made my way up to the overlook, which is where I heard the creeper before, but today I only stirred up a family of juncos who flew twittering across the pond. I later found them foraging on the edge of the ice, though I can't imagine there was too much there to find. Just before I left, I thought I caught a glimpse of a blue jay, but was unable to find it again to be sure. I am very much looking forward to visiting again for spring migration, I can imagine that warblers would love it here.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

8 Miles Continued....

Please visit the Nahanton Park Blog for the beginning of this trek.

Even though I was bundled up I was loosing feeling in my fingers so I stopped to break out a hand warmer set to stick between my gloves and over-mitts. Then I managed to look upstream on the Charles into the heart of the largest stretch of fresh water marsh on the Charles. Some distant dark smudges promised some water foul and I kept my hopes up for mergansers as I continued down the street into Needham and Cutler Park.

As soon as Kendrick Pond (aka Culter Pond) came into view I found some common mergansers working the edges of the pond along with some gulls sleepily floating in near the center. But what really caught my eye was the swan. Now I am used to Mute Swans having an orange bill, but this swan definitely did NOT have an orange bill and almost looked black. Could this be a Tundra Swan? I circled the pond, and circled back, trying to track close enough to the swan to get a really good, definitive view with my binoculars.
Mute Swan
I was almost dismissing the song sparrows and robins out of hand. Our paths finally managed to converge enough that my binoculars could resolve the details and this bird had a pale ivory bill, a young mute swan. While not what I was hoping for, still some good birds for the pond. I headed further south in the woods of Cutler and the path narrowed between I95 and the wetlands. With the proximity to I95, I feel even luckier that this great marsh wasn't covered over when the highway was built. While the noise of the traffic is a distraction, the park is still quite large and offers great habitat. I continued to follow as the path dipped and raised, while chickadees and juncos called marking my passage.

Cutler Park wetlands
Just as I reached the boardwalk across the marsh to Powell's Island- there I heard it! That high pitched thin trembling whistle of the brown creeper! I searched and searched the woods and yet all I could see was a passing glimpse of a bird in flight. Eventually I realized that I had completely lost the creeper (I have yet to see one in MA) only when the bird I was tracking resolved into a American Tree Sparrow. I carried on to the canoe landing at Powell's Island always feeling as though there was a bird hiding behind the next tree. I was hoping for some more mergansers and ducks at the canoe landing, but as I approached, I heard a different high thin whistle "see see see" of the Golden-crowned Kinglet. And indeed a small group of them were in the shrubs occasionally stopping to flash their yellow crowns at me. I carried on and was finally rewarded with hooded mergansers on the Charles. When I reached the train tracks I turned onto the trail that parallel to the tracks hoping to use the bridge to cross into Millennium Park. On this path only birds were a flyby crow and a close encounter with a Downy.

Upon reaching the bridge I looked both ways for trains before heading across. Unfortunately I thought that there was going to be a pedestrian partition, but there was none, so this is not a recommended route. Millennium Park was remarkably un-birdy this day, or maybe I was just starting to move quicker as I realized that my allotted hiking time was dwindling.  Millennium is an old dump, now capped off and offering great views of downtown and lots of grassland habitat. This park is probably one of the best birding spots in Boston, particularly as one of eBird's team members, Marshall Iliff, lives close by and frequents the park and reports his sightings. Now out on the open paths around the park the sun was working its fullest, so I paused to stick my coat and over-mitts into my backpack. I did manage to score a new bird for the day with a white-throated sparrow before taking the foot bridge across Sawmill Brook and into Brook's Farm and heading up the Helen Heyn Riverway back into Newton. By now I was mostly hiking, but still managed a Hairy Woodpecker and  next to one of the parking lots that the H.H. Riverway crosses I found a muskrat. I was half hoping to see a heron or bittern, particularly after a recent report of a Least Bittern in this section of Newton. But it was not to be. This was my first visit to the Helen Heyn Riverway, and was hoping for a little less parking lot, but I will have to return when I have time to explore a little more.

To hear the very end of this adventure head back over to the Nahanton Park Blog. Stay tuned to future posts about Hammond Pond, Houghton Gardens, and a tentatively named idea for a post "A tale of two owls."