Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Plovers, Sandpipers, and Herons at Hammond Pond

White-breasted Nuthatch
 I've already mentioned the spotted sandpipers that frequent Hammond Pond, but I wanted to head back and see if I could find more shorebirds. One of the effects of the eutrophication of Hammond Pond is that there are some very shallow mud banks where silt and run off are beginning to fill in the pond. When the water level is low, has happens frequently in late summer, the mud flats are exposed, making this a great stopping point for migrating shorebirds. While eutrophication may not be good for the health of the pond, it does have a nice side effect for birders.

On my recent visit to Hammond pond I caught a number of Canada geese and a few mallards before I could faintly make out a green heron across the pond. In the parking lot I made out some white breasted nuthatches, chickadees, and a goldfinch.  At the  overlook on the North side of the pond, I could make out no fewer than three green herons and a great blue. On the mudflats to the east there were several killdeer making a ruckus. My pictures of the shorebirds all turned out horrible due to the glaring sun and distance. A few spotted sandpipers were working the lily pads and mud flats and occasionally flew around the pond in search of a new foraging area. But then I noticed maybe five small sandpipers that were dwarfed by the killdeer. I think they were least sandpipers, but I have trouble identifying peeps (and other shorebirds for that matter). In a previous summer I even caught a semipalmated plover which was quite a surprise. For me these shorebirds may be some of the best in Newton (though I haven't fully explored the purgatory cove area much...) making Hammond Pond fun birding spot in the late summer and early fall.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Black-bellied Whistling-duck of Great Meadows

Black-bellied Whistling-duck
 It has been too long since I got out for some serious birding. I decided that my first trip out on Sept 1st should be to Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Concord Unit. (There is also a really great blog about Great Meadows with useful information.) While not in Newton, Great Meadows is about a 30 minute drive from Newton and is one of the closest major birding spots in our area with lots of waterfowl and other water loving birds.

In July a couple of black-bellied whistling-ducks showed up at great meadows and drew a lot of attention. The northern edge of this whistling-ducks' range is the very southern tip of Texas, so having one show up in MA was quite a treat. I had seen a few weeks ago that the whistling-duck was still hanging around and thought I'd make Great Meadows my destination and see if the whistling-duck wasn't hanging around.

Great Egret in the American Lotus
Upon arriving at at the Great Meadows parking lot, I instantly heard cedar waxwings, catbirds, a Carolina wren, and robins. Then as I made my way down the dike path between the two pools I could start to make out some herons. When I was finally able to see between the cattails I could make out great blue herons, great egrets, a snowy egret, and a whole mess of canada geese. (The snowy egret is rather unusual for this location.) While I was watching the herons another birder said that there was a really rare duck just further up the path, and so I headed that way thinking of the black-bellied whistling-duck. 

Carpenter Bee and Evening Primrose
I was in luck, the whistling-duck was up on a muskrat lodge in easy viewing distance from the trail. I tried to catch some pictures and got some that were good enough to show him off. But I soon realized that the other photographers were getting far better shots with their better equipment (if you would like to see some better pictures check them out at this blog).  I was still excited to take what pictures I could and to have such great views of the bright red-orange bill and white eye-ring. At first he was sleeping, then he stood up for a little while before flying into the water next to a pair of black ducks, probably foraging time. While watching the whistling-duck, I also spotted some wood ducks and mallards. The water was quite low in the pools so there didn't seem to be as much activity as there could have been.

Common Whitetail Dragonfly
Further along the dike, there was a painted turtle sitting on a leaf of an American Lotus and a large variety of dragonflies hovering over the path. I heard a pair of warbling vireos in the trees by the river while there was a large flock of red-wing blackbirds over the cattails of the upper pool. My last two good finds of the day were an osprey flying over the pines to the east and an accipiter who flew about 10 feet away from my head as I stood in wonder watching as she headed into the trees.