Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Shorebirds and a Surprise at Belle Isle Marsh

Black-bellied Plover
 I headed out to Belle Isle Marsh in Boston for Memorial Day morning birding. It had been a while since I had been birding away from Newton and Belle Isle Marsh offered a change of scenery and habitat with the bonus of shorebirds and terns that don't frequent our parks. The sky was gray and overcast with a light drizzle, but I figured the shorebirds wouldn’t be too deterred by a little rain. (Sorry about the pictures, these birds were way out there.

One of the first finds was a female American Redstart who was singing, which I wasn't expecting. When I got out towards the marsh, the bright white Snowy Egrets were easy to pick out, but then more movement became evident and revealed Black-bellied Plovers, Semipalmated Plovers and some peeps. When planes flew over Belle Isle for their approach to Logan, the shorebirds would startle and fly around before resettling. During one of these games of musical chairs, I was able to find a few Short-billed Dowitchers. Their burgundy breasts and long bills made them stick out from the Black-bellied Plovers (notice the black "armpit" on the plovers in flight). Another airplane and subsequent round of musical chairs revealed a couple of Willets, with large amounts of white in their wings.

One of my major reasons for coming were the terns, and both Common and Least Terns
Black-bellied Plovers and Short-billed Dowitchers
put on quite a show, hovering and plunge diving into the salt pans to catch fish. The tide was actually quite high and provided ample water near the paths so they were relatively close to watch. Unfortunately their small size and fast flight made a mockery of my photographic attempts. The terns were also joined in their fishing endeavor by an Osprey. I usually think of terns as much more elegant when fishing with their tucked-wing plunge-dives, while Ospreys are the awkward uncoordinated cousin just haphazardly splashing I to the water. But yesterday I got to see some elegant fishing from the Osprey who swooped low over the pans and snatched a fish in flight. 

While I was out on the main platform watching the march, it decided to rain in earnest, so I tucked my camera under my rain jacket and thought it might be time to head out. As I left the platform an American Kestrel tore off over my head, she was carrying prey and being mobbed by song birds, but I was still excited to have my 2nd Kestrel in MA.

Short-billed Dowitchers
I thought I’d check one last pool on my way back to the parking lot. As I went down the little path to the small cement overlook, a small bird lifted off from the reeds. All at once a couple of visual cues impinged upon my brain. Really small heron shape, buffy / caramel colored body and wings, patches of greenish-blue on back and wings. Before I had even processed all the individual pieces, the ID came to the front of my mind. Least Bittern! What kind of crazy luck was that!

The first time I had visited Belle Isle March, I had been informed that it was a good place to find Least Bitterns. But slowly through subsequent visits I’d all but given up hope of ever finding one. While they may be relatively common in suitable habitat, they are notorious for their secretive habits and are hard to find, let alone actually see. Fortunately we here in Boston have several good locations for Least Bittern with Belle Isle Marsh, Great Meadows in Concord, and of course Plum Island. But you never know, in January of 2012 there was a sighting of a Least Bittern in Newton just south of Nahanton Park.

After the Least Bittern I decided birding in the rain wasn’t so bad and tacked on a Willow Flycatcher, but my day was already made.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Houghton Gardens: The Warbler Rest Stop

Female Northern Parula
Sorry for this late post, things have been busy.

At the end of last week, I stopped by Houghton Gardens and Hammond Pond. I have always though that Houghton Gardens would be a great place for warblers, so when I read a report from Marygrace that included a Prairie Warbler, I figure this was be a great time to see Houghton Garden’s Potential.

It really was a good day for warblers. Singing Blackpolls, Black-throated Greens, and Black-throated Blues, and Black-and-whites greeted me. A Northern Parula was spotted working a spider web. I couldn't decide if she was looking for bugs caught in the web,
American Bullfrog
or if she was gathering it for nesting material, though the later seems unlikely. If you look closely in the picture you should be able to see the spider webs. High in the canopy I eventually tracked down two songsters to reveal Magnolia and Chestnut-sided Warblers. I thought I might hear a Blackburnian song, but had trouble tracking it down. If an American Redstart wasn't nearby, I would have been more confident of a heard only identification. Though while searching for the singer I startled an Ovenbird. Through in a Pine Warbler, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, and a Yellow Warbler and you get quite  a good density of warblers in the tiny Houghton Gardens.

Common Yellowthroat
The diversity of plants and dense brush must make Houghton an ideal road-side rest stop on their northward migration. Just across the tracks into Webster Woods behind Hammond Pond and the spacing between trees is great, the understory is more open, and a veritable desert to the warblers. They all seem to have decided that Houghton Gardens was the place to be. Though I was able to add Cedar Waxwing, Common Yellowthroat, and a Wilson's Warbler to the morning, just so that Hammond Pond could redeem itself.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Black-billed Cuckoo in Newton Center ....

Before today Black-billed Cuckoo had not been reported this year in eastern Massachusetts; today so far four have been reported to ebird. This bird started in the tiny wetland behind our house in Newton Center, and moved around the neighborhood.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Reservoir Redux: For the Warblers and Swallows

Prairie Warbler
 After having a great day on Saturday with the Caspian Tern at Chestnut Hill Reservoir (blog post), there were a number of reports on Massbird of Prairie Warblers (in the morning from Peter), then reports added Yellow-throated Warbler, and all five of the likely Swallows for New England: Barn Swallow, Tree Swallow, Rough-winged Swallow, Bank Swallow, and Cliff Swallow (reported in the afternoon by a number of the Ryans, Sam, and others). Needless to say, this morning I had to check it out.

The Prairie Warbler was fortunately found relatively quickly, though I had trouble picking out his song from all the other warblers present. The Yellow-throated Warbler took a lot more work and I was aided by other birders. While slightly less exciting since I had already found the Yellow-throated Warbler at Nahanton Park, this time I had better views, which was much appreciated. Beyond the rare Yellow-throated and uncommon Prairie, all around the number of warblers was astonishing.

Yellow-throated Warbler
After finding many of the warbler on the hill, I headed over to the peninsula where a number of swallows could be seen flying around. Luck was with me this day, after a couple of Barn Swallows, the next bird I started tracking was a Cliff Swallow, the light patches on the rump and forehead were giveaways. I was eventually able to add the other three Swallows for a full Swallow sweep. Unfortunately I wasn't able to get any pictures of the Swallows (I didn't even try), but Ryan did yesterday (link). The Northern Rough-winged Swallows, Cliff Swallow, and Prairie Warbler, were all new birds for me in the state.

I'll keep the text short today and let the pictures do the work . There is also a short video of the Prairie Wabler below, it doesn't do his song justice though. Here is a link to the full checklist and a big thanks to the other birders I met today and to all who reported their findings.

Black-throated Green Warbler

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Caspian Tern and Warblers at the Reservoir

Caspian Tern
  Yesterday morning I took a short walk at Chestnut Hill Reservoir with the little one. As soon as I opened the car door, I could hear lots or warblers up on the hill and Yellow-rumped Warblers were in the trees all around the parking lot. On the grass, several Savanah Sparrows were foraging.

But before checking out the warblers, I went to scan the water as there had been reports over the last few days of a Caspian Tern, though I didn't think it was likely I'd find one. Just when I was satisfied that all the birds on the water were gulls and there wasn't a Tern present, I saw a large white bird dive into the reservoir. Gulls don't usually do that! It was quickly  obvious that this was the Caspian Tern when I spotted that thick bright orange bill and dark underwing primary feathers. The bird circled for the next 10 minutes as we watched before I lost sight of him. 

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Next I set my sights on the hill and the influx of warblers that it contained. I could hear songs of a Black-throated Green Warbler and a Northern Parula but try as I might all I could find were yellow-rumps, there were just that many up in the trees. Down lower in the under story Palm Warblers flitted about. I would have been impressed by the number of Palm Warblers, but the Yellow-rumps had already taken that prize. Additionally there was a singing Ruby-crowned Kinglet and I thought I heard the song of a Dark-eyed Junco, but had a hard time believing it until I was able to see it, it is getting late for juncos to still be here. Especially now that the warblers are arriving. I'm very much looking forward to seeing them again.