Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter at Millenium Park

Female Downy Woodpecker
 I got a late start this morning but wanted to swing by Millenium Park as it has been quite a while since I last visited. I started down by the boat ramp and was instantly assaulted by the sounds of blackbirds, song sparrows, and chickadees. It was quite the welcome. I enjoyed seeing the goldfinches back in their summer plumage and noted a few new spring arrivals, like the brown-headed cowbird and tree swallows.

I was trying to stay away from large groups of dog walkers when this beautiful female downy flew into a tree right in front of me. I had time to raise my camera and get off three shots before she decided that it was time to find another tree. I like to think maybe it was the dogs that scared her, but my proximity probably didn't help. It was great to see her so close, even if for a moment. I had a similar encounter with a pair of white-breasted nuthatches, though that time it was only my presence that they were uncomfortable with.

Male Robins fighting
Down in the Saw Mill Brook, a pair of Mallards were mating and by the bridge over the brook two male robins were having a turf war trying to decide who got the best real estate. It is always nice to remember that Robins aren't native to lawns. Also present were starlings, blue jays, pigeons, a mockingbird, a tufted titmouse, anda singing Carolina wren. I was able to find a few fly over Canada geese, a couple of red-tailed hawks, and what could only have been a calling killdeer.

Walking further along the path, the beaver work becomes quite striking. Most of the trees that once lined the walk have since been felled. The good thing though is that the beaver pond is now a waterfowl favorite with its woody wetlands. This pool today had mallards, black ducks, green-winged teals (American), and my best find of the day, a pair of American Wigeons! Wigeons have remained elusive for me in the Bay State, so it was fun to watch them feed and preen. I had thought that I saw a wigeon at Chestnut Hill Reservoir, but after looking back at pictures it was a hybrid mallard x black duck that had a similar green head patch (the same patch is also evident on green-winged teals).

American Wigeons
The increased birdsong in and of itself was a lot of fun too. I kept my eyes and years on alert for pine warblers and phoebes which should be returning soon as well. By far the most common song (if not most common bird too...) was that of the song sparrow, who has earned its name. It was interesting to observe the plumage variation, some with crisp breast streaks, and a bird had such broad smudgy streaks that I had to look twice to make sure it wasn't a fox sparrow. But having so many singing song sparrows made me decide to try to make an actual movie, not just pair an audio recording and pictures. The song sparrow starts with three introductory notes followed by a more variable section that include many other notes and trills. The variety of song from one individual to the next is striking. In this video there is still a fair amount of background noise from the running water of Saw Mill Brook that make it sound a little underwater. While I love birdsong for the pure auditory joy of it, watching a bird sing gives the song some extra gravitas by showing how much effort they pour into their songs.

Monday, March 18, 2013

First Crocuses and Some Readings

First Crocuses of Spring
 Saturday morning I noticed the first crocus buds in the garden and by Sunday morning there were a handful of fully opened flowers. Even though the air had a chill and there is snow in the forecast again, I can’t help but feel the inexorable march towards Spring. Earlier this week I had to stop my walk to work just to watch three downy woodpeckers chasing each other around a tree. I couldn’t help wonder if they were males arguing over territory if one of them was a female who had two fine suitors.

As I was unable to get out birding this weekend I enjoyed the crocuses and incidental birds, but my most vicarious birding came through two readings. My first reading was from the Newton Conservators Newsletter and I enjoyed reading Pete’s article on the rare birds around Massachusetts this winter (including a LeConte’s Sparrow that Pete found himself). There was also news of the newest Newton park, the rail trail that will go from Newton Highlands to Newton Upper Falls. There was also lists of upcoming nature walks for the spring, so I'll do a separate post for upcoming events soon.

My second reading this week came from the Bird Observer. They are trying to determine if birders would be interested in an electronic version of the publication, so they made the February issue freely available online. I think that one of the most popular features every month is an article on Massachusetts birding spots, including all the details you would need to bird the selected location. But I was fascinated, instead, by the article about the Bicknell's Thrush. Actually, the article was equal parts about the biology of the Bicknell's Thrush and a history of  studying the thrush. Maybe I just like my birds, science and history rolled into one, but I thought it was a great read and if you haven't already seen it, definitely download the February issue of the Bird Observer and read it!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Redheads Return with Spring to Hammond Pond

Redhead Ducks
 Sunday afternoon I stopped by Hammond Pond to check out the birds while running errands, which also meant I didn't have my big camera. I didn't have high expectations as I didn't even know if the pond would be clear of ice. Fortunately it was. Upon pulling up I quickly made out an American black duck and a mallard pair, which were followed by numerous common and hooded mergansers. But I was totally surprised by three redhead ducks! One male and two females (at least I thought they were female redheads, though my duck ID is lacking). While redheads are rare here, Hammond Pond hosted five redheads in the fall before the pond froze. Also there have been a few redheads hanging around greater Boston all winter. While I don't know if these three were some of the same ones here in the fall, it is fun to think so anyway. I do hope they will stay with us for a little longer!

American Black Duck.
Red-winged blackbirds sang "conklaree"as the males tried to claim territory before the breeding season starts. I also noted a grackle, song sparrow, some starlings, and gulls. While I was watching the pond five Canada geese flew in to land and most of the common mergansers flew off to the southwest, they were truly a sight to see.  But my second treat of the day was a pair of wood ducks that flew in to the pond calling "jeet jeet jeet". Spring must really be here.

Update 3/11/2013 I just saw on eBird that the redheads were seen again this morning, so seeing that they spend the night, maybe they'll stick around for a little while

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Winter Birds of the Emerald Necklace

Yellow-Breasted Chat
 With March here and our snow melting, I thought I'd better quickly share some winter  birding experiences and pictures from around the Emerald Necklace before spring gets to far underway.

This winter was quite good for warblers at the Fenway Victory Gardens. I was finally able to catch up with a yellow-breasted chat after many others have so narrowly eluded me! I'm talking about at least 3 chats within 20 feet of me and seen by several other birders. This includes one chat at Nahanton Park back in 2010. But the big warbler news from Fenway was a MacGillivray's warbler. For some odd reason a few MacGillivray's have now turned up at the Victory Gardens in various winters, now making this one of the best spots east of the Rockies to find one! While I was lucky enough to see this wind-blown vagrant, I didn't get a picture. Fortunately another birder was able to (picture here). The Victory Gardens also yielded a great view of a barred owl hunkered down in a tree, while further up the Fens there was a young red-headed woodpecker! I have seen quite a number out in the midwest, but finding one here was quite a treat. I wonder if this bird survived our big storm and if she will have the full vibrant red-head this spring?
Barred Owl
Juvenil Red-headed Woodpecker 

Silvery Mallard
Travelling further down the Emerald Necklace, I made a few stops at Riverway to try and see if any redpolls would show in the many birches that line the Muddy River. While I didn't find redpolls, I did find quite an odd duck. This silver or blond mallard female is probably the result of hybridization with domestic stock, though this duck could also just be a leucistic wild mallard. Regardless she is beautiful! In other Muddy River news, the section of river that flows underground by the Landmark Center is currently being restored to its original design. So it will be nice to have this expanded habitat!

White-winged Crossbill
My last birding stop in the Emerald Necklace was Arnold Arboretum. I had read report on massbird of some white-winged crossbills. After enjoy the crossbills at the JFK library in December, I was excited to get a chance to see them again. Of course the possibility of findig and recording a red crossbill again added to the sense of adventure. But it was still wonderful to spend time with the small flock of white-winged crossbills. I initially found them by listening for a cracking sound from the pines, something I've learned is an indication to there presence when they crack open pinecone scales to get at the seed. I wonder if I'll be able to find any more of our irruptive finches before they all head back to their normal ranges.