Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Halloween Raven

Common Ravens
 This morning I was waiting for the T in Newton Centre when a strange croak made me look up from my reading. I think my brain had already figured out who was producing the low raspy throaty "kraa kraa kraa" but I almost couldn't believe it. Flying low, down the middle of the tracks came the large black corvid, thinking fast I tried to remember what else I could look for to confirm the ID and remembered the tail. American Crows tail feathers are all similar lengths, so the tail appears rounded when fanned out. But this bird's outer tail feathers were distinctly shorter than the center tail feathers, clinching the ID of Common Raven. And then he was past, heading down the line into Boston, still calling. (Audio recording can be found at All About Birds along with downloadable ID guide for Crows and Ravens). I've had a few birds at Millennium Park that I thought could be Ravens, but was just never sure enough. I later realized that today was Halloween, a fitting time to find my first Massachusetts Raven. Poe would be proud.

This picture is obviously not Newton, I took it on a mountain peak in Virginia several years ago, but thought its always nice to have picture if possible. Also, as demonstrated in the picture, Ravens will soar and glide on thermals more like hawks, which crows don't do, so observing flight patterns can help with the identification.

On a side note, I took a walk in the very light drizzle in Cold Spring Park this afternoon before the trick-or-treaters were out. The highlights were a large loose flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers, 2 Hermit Thrushes, and 2 Brown Creepers. I'll have to come back during a better season so see what the park has to offer.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Orange-crowned Warbler at Fenway

Orange-Crowned Warbler
 Last week I stopped by the Back Bay Fens and the Victory Gardens for a spot of birding. There had been a massbird post that mentioned a Chat, Orange-crowned warbler, Clay-colored sparrow and White-crowned sparrow just to mention a few. I was enticed and decided that Fenway would make a nice start to the day. I started at the Victory Gardens, initially encountering a large flock of house sparrows, which I carefully combed through hoping for something a little bit more native and fun. But no sparrows other than Song and White-throated Sparrows would turn up that morning. Several Great Blue Herons rose up from the Muddy River heading upstream and giving their loud harsh croaking calls.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers
I did manage to find two young Yellow-bellied
Sapsuckers chasing each other around the gardens. My first for the state, so they were extra exciting. Slowly some of the warblers seemed to appear, at first just a couple of Blackpolls, then a Yellow-rumped Warbler, and a Common Yellowthroat rounded out the usual suspects for warblers. At this point I ran into Mary Luo and she went in search of the sapsuckers. I carried on and several rows later a little movement caught my eye, so I focused on the bird hiding under the leaves in a raised bed of one of the garden plots. As the bird hopped about my excitement grew, the plain gray face with white eye arcs and the dusky yellow breast with faint gray streaks gave away this bird as the Orange-crowned Warbler! Fortunately it cooperated for just a minute and allowed me to take a couple of pictures and to admire some of her brighter green patches before disappearing into the foliage again.

Orange-Crowned Warbler
At this time I saw Mary Luo again who had gone to find the sapsuckers, I tried to wave her over to see the Orange-crowned too. But by this time the bird had disappeared into the undergrowth, with Chat-like skulking and stealth skills. We kept searching the gardens and found many of the usual residents. I also stopped by the area by the war memorial as that has been a good spot in the past and turned up a couple more Blackpolls. I saw later that the Chat was seen elsewhere in the Fens, not by the Victory Gardens, but the Sapsuckers and Oranger-crowned Warbler already made a great day. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Autumn at Hammond Pond

Wood Duck
 I had a little bit of time each day of this weekend in the afternoon to stop by Hammond Pond to see what might be around. Wish I had been able to make it at a better time for birds as it felt slow. I had a small list, but still had a great time enjoying the birds and autumn foliage. The highlights were getting great views of a Pied-billed Grebe and numerous Wood Ducks that cooperated. Additionally a fearless Ruby-crowned Kinglet came right up to investigate me (I wish I had my camera that day, but he was so close I wouldn't have been able to focus anyway). It was enjoyable just to admire him and not worry about taking a picture. I also found a Blackpoll and two Yellow-rumped Wablers.  The Yellow-rumps were back by the vernal pool, or at least what used to be the vernal pool. It has had so little water this year that it's turned into more of a field. I kept hearing more birds hiding in the 5 foot tall brush, but they seemed disinclined to reveal themselves. All the other birds were around the edge of the pond.

Pied-billed Grebe
Full list:

Wood Ducks
Pied-billed Grebe
Great Blue Heron
Gulls sp.
Blue Jays
White-breasted Nuthatch
Buteo sp.
Blackpoll Warbler
Yellow-rumped Wablers
House Sparrows

P.S. Ok, while not at Hammond Pond this news is still cool. This afternoon I was really surprised to find a Clay-colored Sparrow in the yard associating with the neighborhood flock of house sparrows! She was an obvious 'odd duck' in the flock being much smaller and brighter buff colored. Fortunately having seen the one at Nahanton Park recently made me confident with my identification. But it is certainly a reminder to check out those yard birds too!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Rainy Day Birds at Millennium Park

Lesser Yellowlegs
 I stopped by Millennium Park this weekend during some of the rain showers that we've been having. There had been recent reports of some good shorebird diversity that I was hoping to check out. But when I got to the boat ramp there was a boat with two fishermen right by the train bridge, and no shorebirds in sight on the mudflats. Before too long a Great Egret came flying in followed by a sandpiper! I knew quickly that it's long yellow legs were a dead giveaway for a Yellowlegs, but it took me a little longer to hone in on the shorter thinner bill to decide it was a Lesser Yellowlegs. Let me know if you think I might be in error (click on the pictures to enlarge). By the time I left the river, two Killdeer had joined the mudflats as well. Also of note were Golden- and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, as well as Yellow-rumps and a Palm Warbler (western). I only wish the Palm had chosen a more photogenic location to pause for this shot! 
Lesser Yellowlegs

 The full list is bellow: 

1 Canada Goose
3 Mallard 
1 Great Blue Heron 
1 Great Egret 
2 Killdeer 
1 Lesser Yellowlegs 
1 Belted Kingfisher 
1 Downy Woodpecker 
2 Blue Jay 
2 Black-capped Chickadee 
1 Golden-crowned Kinglet 
1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet 
1 Gray Catbird 
1 Yellow-rumped Warbler 
1 Palm Warbler (Western) 
1 Chipping Sparrow 
Palm Warbler (Western)
1 Song Sparrow 
8 sparrow sp. 
1 Northern Cardinal 
1 American Goldfinch 
6 House Sparrow