Friday, August 24, 2012

The Owl and the Nuthatch

These were certainly an odd pair of birds for accidental sightings within 12 hours.

Last night I was relaxing beside an open window enjoying our current cool night air when the insect chorus was joined by a new songster. This was a rolling whistle and it took me a minute to recognize it for the "whinny" song of an Eastern screech owl. His song was soft and blended in with he other nights sounds. Some night I'll have to I find him, if I hear him again. Just as I started to make an audio recording, his song became softer and I'm not sure that it's good enough to share. Earlier in the spring I heard the "bounce" song of a screech owl in Newton as well, they apparently are doing well in our suburban environment. If you would like to listen to the different screech owl songs, Owl Pages has great recordings, though they refer to the whinny as the B-song and the bounce as the A-song.

Then this morning walking Newton Centre, I was startled by the call of a red-breasted nuthatch! My first in Massachusetts. While the song of the more familiar white-breasted nuthatch is similar, the red-breasted sounds more like a kid playing a toy trumpet: "yang-yang-yang."

All in all two great surprises to find, let alone within 12 hours.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Fieldnotes from the Midwest

 While I haven't been exploring locally recently, I thought I'd make up for it by sharing some of my finds from the Midwest.  I find it slightly ironic that many of my new life-birds (and 5 of the 6 species shown here) can also be found in Massachusetts, though with much less frequency.

Upland Sandpiper
One of my target birds was the Upland Sandpiper and now after encountering a few families of these birds, they have become a favorite. I was lucky enough to have a few pose for photographs and was able to hear its distinctive wolf-whistle song. These sandpipers were heavily hunted for game and is still targeted in the West Indies during migration. The past and present hunting combined with decreases in suitable habitat means that the upland is showing alarming population declines. In the northeast, the upland sandpiper lives almost exclusively at airports and in MA they can be found at Hanscom AFB in Concord, Plymouth Airport, and Otis Air Field on the Cape. I am determined now that I will have to search for a upland sandpiper in MA.

The dickcissel's coloration is similar to that of the meadowlark, with a black V across his yellow chest. While quite sparrow-like the dickcissel is actually more related to cardinals. While they prefer extensive grasslands and fields of the midwest, they travel widely and some may be moving East. Dickcissels are also regular vagrants in MA, and there are even two ebird records in Newton (one of which is at Nahanton Park), while they are found more often at Millennium Park in the fall.

Gray Partridge
The when I first spotted a pair of gray partridge, I was hoping to find a bobwhite, grouse, or other native bird, but the partridge was introduced from Eurasia for hunting, much like the ring-necked pheasant. Even though they aren't native, they were an excellent find.

While not found in MA, the closest location to find them is up around Montreal.

Spotted Towhee
This spotted towhee is the western cousin of our more familiar eastern towhee except with white spots on his back. Their songs also share many similarities.

While very rare in MA, just at the beginning of this year one was found in Rockport.

Red-headed Woodpecker
I don't think I am at risk of offending anyone by saying that I think the red-headed woodpecker is the most stunning woodpecker in the states. Apparently a quite aggressive bird in maintaining territory and will also destroy nests of other species.

While the red-headed woodpecker is most common in the south and midwest and uncommon in MA, there is currently an individual that many have seen at New England Biolabs in Ipswich.

Lark Sparrow
The lark sparrow's distinctive facial pattern sets it apart from other sparrows and makes it easily identified.

Along with the dickcissel, the lark sparrow is a rare but regular vagrant in MA, with a number of sightings each fall, with the nearest ebird sightings at Millennium Park.