Saturday, October 29, 2011

Waterfowl at Quabbin park before the storm

Common Loon in flight, Quabbin Park, MA, Oct 29, 2011

Brant, bird was flying with Common Loon, Quabbin Park, MA, Oct 29, 2011

Brant, bird was flying with Common Loon, Quabbin Park, MA, Oct 29, 2011

Brant, bird was flying with Common Loon, Quabbin Park, MA, Oct 29, 2011
Black Scoter (cropped photo), Quabbin Park, MA, Oct 29, 2011

I started off the morning at dawn at Quabbin Park to see what waterfowl and other birds I could find here before the predicted snow storm hits later today.  The sun shone through the few cloud free parts of the sky at dawn but these open spots quickly filled in and the sky became overcast.  Some fog lingered at Winsor Dam at first light so I decided to make a trip through Quabbin Park and then come back to the dam later in the morning.  The marsh on route 9 held a few Canada Geese, seventeen vocal Wood Ducks and a handful of Hooded Mergansers.  I then made various stops around the park to view the water and had a few birds of note including a group of six Common Loons in a tight group, five Horned Grebes and a female type Black Scoter.  Landbirds were few and far between with a few Hermit Thrushes and a fair number of junco's being the highlights.  The wind also began to pick up which made finding some birds quite difficult.  I decided to try back at Winsor Dam before the waves kicked up too much.  The initial scans of the water were empty but there were a few Bald Eagle around.  I eventually picked up a bird coming in that ended up being a Red-necked Grebe.  The bird landed on the water and immediately started fishing.  I then noticed two birds coming in well above the water and the first bird was a Common Loon and the other was a Brant!  A very strange combo of birds to be sure!  The loon called a few times and both birds stayed together as they came in from the north, flew overhead and then went back north.  In addition to that loon I had three more here as well as a flyby group of scaup that I was unable to ID to being Greater or Lesser Scaup.  I managed a few photos from the day but with the poor light the quality was not great but they are identifiable.
The skies continued to darken and look more and more like it could snow anytime.  I wanted to make sure I got a walk in with Wilson and clean up around the yard before that happened so I headed home.  Wilson and I then took a walk along the Jabish Canal.  I managed to find a Winter Wren, Cooper's Hawk and four Yellow-rumped Warblers here plus other typical sparrows and junco's.  When I arrived at home there was a large feeding group of junco's and White Throated Sparrows moving through with about 40 junco's and 20+ white throats plus a few Song Sparrows and Golden crowned Kinglets.  I will keep my fingers crossed that we don't lose power with all the heavy, wet snow falling on trees still filled with leaves and I will try to post some photos of the snow tomorrow.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A wild goose chase

Brant, Barton's Cove, Turner's Falls, MA, Oct 28, 2011

Brant, Barton's Cove, Turner's Falls, MA, Oct 28, 2011

Brant, Barton's Cove, Turner's Falls, MA, Oct 28, 2011

Brant, Barton's Cove, Turner's Falls, MA, Oct 28, 2011

I decided to try my luck at the reported Pink-footed Goose that has been seen at the power canal in Turner's Falls late this afternoon.  As this was only the fourth state record and the first in western Massachusetts for this species I figured I would try.  Upon stopping at the power canal there were over 350 Canada Geese but no Pink-footed.  I scanned through several times but could not make it materialize.  I next went just down the road to Barton's Cove and ran into Ian Davies and Evan Dalton who mentioned a Brant just a bit further upriver as well as a Cackling Goose at the UMASS pond but no Pink-footed.  I parked my car and walked a short distance to a large group of geese on shore.  I also ran into James Smith (who first found the Pink-footed) on my walk toward the geese and also got negative reports on the Pink-footed. I did find the Brant and would have gotten some really good shots of the bird but the geese were all put up into flight by someone walking by.  I did manage a few shots and was certainly happy to have at least found one odd goose.  Brant can be quite hard to find away from the coast but I have had good luck this year with a group at Quabbin last week and one here today.  The only other sighting of note at Barton's Cove was a female Greater Scaup.  I joined Ian, James and others back at the power canal but still no luck with the Pink-footed.  I needed to get going so left with the knowledge that if the bird did come back before dark they would give my cell a call.  I headed for home and made a quick stop at the UMASS campus pond and found the Cackling Goose.  I had a very brief view before it took off with a group of Canada Geese to destinations unknown.  Although I struck out on the Pink-footed a three goose day is quite nice in western Massachusetts. 

I would love to try for the bird again tomorrow but the forecast of 6-12" of snow is quite a deterrent!  A dusting of snow yesterday, an icy drive this morning, temperatures in the low 40's today and the forecast of a large snow storm certainly does not bode well for the next several months.  It could be a long winter!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Video of Sooty Shearwaters -Monterey Bay Sept 22, 2011

A quick video clip of the large feeding group of Sooty Shearwaters in Monterey Bay on September 22 during an all day pelagic trip with Shearwater Journey's.  The large numbers of these birds right next to the ship feeding and making lots of noise was truly a highlight of the day.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Quabbin Park

Black Scoters with one Surf Scoter (2nd from left), Quabbin Park, MA, Oct 23, 2011

Black Scoters with one Surf Scoter (2nd from left), Quabbin Park, MA, Oct 23, 2011

Black Scoters with one Surf Scoter (2nd from left), Quabbin Park, MA, Oct 23, 2011

I took a trip to Quabbin Park on this frosty morning.  I first stopped at Winsor Dam around dawn but the fog was thick over the water so I decided to instead make a trip around the administration road to see what I could find.  I came across a few Hermit Thrush along the road at first light as well as a nice influx of Dark-eyed Junco's.  Overall the park was fairly quiet with the most active section being some of my tried and true areas.  After about and hour and a half in the park I decided to try my luck back at Winsor Dam to see if the fog had burned off enough to view the water.  When I arrived at 8:15 Scott Surner was already there and the fog was indeed starting to slowly lift.  We spent the next hour plus watching the various birds come by.  As the fog lifted I noticed a group of birds on the water that we got onto right away before they flew out.  It was a group of five scoters with four Black Scoters (three males) and a Surf Scoter (female).  The scoters lifted off and flew around for quite some time well out toward the fishing area.  They eventually flew in somewhat close and then settled on the water fairly far out.  A distant loon rounded out the waterfowl on the water.  Raptors added some excitement as we had a Merlin buzz right over our heads, a Red shouldered hawk that acted a lot like an accipter, an American Kestrel, a distant Cooper's Hawk and an adult Bald Eagle.  There was also a large group of sparrows feeding along the edge of the field and the crab apple trees in front of the HQ building including numbers of juncos and Song Sparrows as well as a few Chipping, White-throated and Swamp Sparrows.  A few flyby Purple Finch's and American Pipits among others added to the list.  A total of 32 species without moving in just over an hour was fairly respectable as far as we were concerned.

I arrived back home and picked up Wilson and we went for a walk along the Jabish Canal.  The highlight here was a Rusty Blackbird.  The amount of winterberry here was impressive and added much to the scene with all those bright red berries.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The wind continues...and delivers Brants

The winds have continued with a short let up yesterday to allow some heavy rain to fall.  I managed to make brief stop at Winsor Dam in Quabbin Park on my to and home from work today to make a quick check for waterfowl.  This morning there was a single Common Loon as well as a group of five White-winged Scoters and a single Surf Scoter.  My evening stop found three White-winged Scoter still out on the water and just as I was packing up the scope I noticed the surprise of the day...a group of eight Brant moving south fighting the strong winds.  They disappeared over the dam not to be seen again.  I have only seen Brant here on one other occasion several years ago.  Timing is everything!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

California Part 4 -Big Sur

Black Oystercatcher, Pfeiffer Beach, CA, Sept 23, 2011

Red-shouldered Hawk, Andrew Molera SP, Sept 23, 2011

cropped photo of Chestnut-sided Warbler, Julia Pfeiffer Burns SP, CA, Sep 23, 2011

Andrew Molera SP, Sep 23, 2011

Julia Pfeiffer Burns SP, CA, Sep 23, 2011
Following my very productive day in Monterey we continued our California trip by heading down the coast a bit more to the Big Sur area.  We rented a house near Pfeiffer Beach and spent a few days here from September 23-25.  We visited a few parks around the area including Andrew Molera SP, Julia Pfeiffer Burns SP and Pfeiffer Big Sur SP as well as Point Lobos State Reserve on the final day of our visit.  The weather was a bit overcast at times but overall was quite satisfactory.  The area is known for its released California Condors but I missed out on seeing any.  Despite that miss I had some great birds from Black Oystercatchers to Red-throated Loons to various raptors and migrant warblers including a rare warbler for California...a Chestnut-sided Warbler.  The scenery alone is worth the trip there and the great birds just make it that much better.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Quabbin gates and other spots

White tailed Deer, three of five seen, Quabbin Gate 45, Hardwick, MA, Oct 17,2011

A final day out and about before a busy week at work.  I had the intention to head over toward Hadley to check some of the farm fields for sparrows but got a bit of a later start so I headed to Quabbin instead and made it over to Gate 45 and walked down to a couple of isolated ponds that usually hold some waterfowl and this was indeed the case today.  I had my first of season Ring-necked Ducks (21 of them) as well as Pied billed Grebe, Hooded Mergansers, Black Duck and Wood Duck plus a Double crested Cormorant fishing in a small beaver pond.  There was only a couple small mixed species flocks around in this area today but I had some decent birds with them including Common Yellowthroat, Blue headed Vireos as well as several Yellow rumped Warblers.  A couple of Winter Wrens popped up into view briefly at various locations and a Ruffed Grouse exploded from the undergrowth as I walked by.  I also had a total of five deer cross my path and (unfortunately) noticed a major increase in deer ticks.  I picked off a lucky 13 on me this morning alone while in this area of Quabbin. 

After leaving here I stopped briefly at Winsor Dam and found more Horned and Red-necked Grebes well out in the reservoir.  They appeared to be closer to gate 5 so I headed over to that location to try and get a better view.  I found a total of 21 (!) Horned Grebes there as well as a group of Mallards, three Gadwall and three American Coots out together.  A close Common Loon rounded out the birds of note here.
Wilson after his walk...finally tired out

I next came home and got Wilson and we headed to the Belchertown Land Trust trail to burn up some of his energy and hope my remaining energy held out for the walk.  The best sighting by far here was a Marsh Wren that was located somewhat near a small wetland in the woods.  The bird seemed lighter in the face with less rufous color overall then others I have seen, perhaps a juvenile?  It seemed out of place here and appeared to be associated with a mixed species flock.  Certainly unexpected here as luck would have it I didn't have my camera with me but I did get great looks at it.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

No rarities today but some nice pockets of birds

Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Quabbin Park,Oct 16, 2011

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Quabbin Park,Oct 16, 2011

Winter Wren, Quabbin Park,Oct 16, 2011

Song Sparrow, Quabbin Park,Oct 16, 2011

Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Quabbin Park,Oct 16, 2011
The windy weather continues for today with temperatures starting around 50 again.  I visited Quabbin Park and Covey WMA again today.  No out of the ordinary birds but I did have some waterfowl on the reservoir including a couple each of Horned and Red-necked Grebe, a few Common Loons and a few other species.  There was some movement of raptors with several Red tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles, Cooper's Hawk and an Osprey.  Passerine flocks seemed to be almost absent until I found a nice flock feeding in dense undergrowth, grape vines and various fruiting plants near the entrance to Quabbin Park.  This small area contained 20+ Ruby-crowned Kinglets, five species of warbler,a Blue-headed Vireo, several Hermit Thrush's, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and several other species.  The kinlgets seem to be everywhere with over a dozen in a couple small apple trees at the same time.  Covey WMA was relatively quiet with the only oddity being a Northern Bobwhite that somehow had escaped the hunters over the past few days.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The winds have changed...and may bring odd birds

The weather had turned from rainy and somewhat warm yesterday to sunny, cooler and windy today with some late afternoon showers.  The wind was slight to begin with in the morning but increased and stayed steady out of the southwest for the entire rest of the day.  This weather pattern at this time of year could result in some oddities showing up from out west or down south (although mainly these birds would be pushed to the coast).  A nice discussion of this can be found on Massbird in a post from Marshall Iliff from Cornell.  Here is a bit of that post:


Several conditions are aligning this weekend to make for what may
potentially be a great weekend for birding and could very well bring an
additional slug of top-level rarities.

Rare bird prognostications are an imperfect science, for sure, and certainly
I won't be totally surprised to be completely wrong. But for those who like
a challenge, are interested in the science of birds and weather and the
not-so-random appearances of "vagrants", this would be a good weekend to get
out afield.

Here are a few things to think about:

1) This fall has already had a large number of rarities turning up. I assume
this is due to the same dip in the jet stream that has brought us such cool,
moist weather all summer and fall, yet with consistent southerlies. Consider
the birds recently: Lark Bunting; Smith's longpsur in ME; multiple
Ash-throated Flycatchers (Plum Island and Winthrop); Townsend's Warblers in
NJ and MD; Black-throated Gray Warbler in NJ; Green Violetear
and Bell's
Vireo in Maryland, etc.

2) The long, trailing offshore system a couple weeks ago produced one of the
more impressive fallouts of southern passerines along the coast from Boston
to central Maine. (My impression is that birders did not cover places like
Cape Ann well enough; Cape Ann may have been superb on Sunday and Monday 2-3
Oct, but the best coverage there was 5-6 days later). Impressively, many of
the birds (Hooded Warblers, White-eyed Vireos, Summer Tanager, cuckoos etc.)
have persisted through this week and some are setting very late records
(e.g., the multiple recent Yellow-throated Vireos). Since some of these
birds may still be around in coastal thickets, it is yet another reason to
get out and look.

3) Most importantly, this weekend's weather could very well bring some new
rarities. We are now in the middle of two very wet cold fronts moving up
from the south (as did the system 2 weeks ago that brought these southern
landbirds). This wet weather is scheduled to clear tonight and behind it a
third low pressure system will bring strong westerly winds. This system has
been tracking across southern Canada and the Great Lakes and will have
pretty long wind fields that have good potential to displace birds--in other
words, this could be a good weekend for vagrants. Over the weekend wind is
forecast (at e.g., Gloucester) to be 15-20 mph or higher from the WSW or SW.

This system does not have the "ideal" conditions to displace southwestern
birds to New England. This type of system--best known for Cave
Swallows--would have southwesterly winds in advance of a long front that
trails far down into Texas and northern Mexico. When these conditions occur

in early November, Cave Swallows occur and often a smattering of other
unusual species (Ash-throated Flycatchers, rare eastern warblers, etc.) crop
up as well.

While a longer field of southerly winds might be nice, any westerly
component connected to far away lands has a lot of potential to produce
rarities. The wind fields should be almost continuous from the Great Lakes
to the Northeast coast, so we might optimistically hope for some
displacement of October migrant species from those areas. Some possibilities
might be Le Conte's Sparrow, Sedge Wren, Say's Phoebe, Western Kingbird and
(long shot) Smith's Longspur or Sprague's Pipit. Sandhill Cranes and rare
geese like Greater White-fronted and Ross's could be in the cards. And in
1998 a somewhat similar system produced a massive East Coast fallout of
Franklin's Gulls. While this system may be north of big concentrations in
Kansas now (see eBird, of course, for current Franklin's flocks:**), it is a species to think about. However, I
think the 1998 system was significantly stronger, so if this storm does
produce Franklin's, it is unlikely to displace the hundreds that reached the
East in 1998

With the chance of some rarity potentially showing up, the excitement of going out in the morning always increases a bit.  I began at dawn at Winsor Dam at Quabbin and then continued to various other areas of Quabbin Park.  The interesting bird of the day was a swallow species seen distantly from the area of the blueberry patch in Quabbin Park.  It was too far away to ID to specific species but was certainly a swallow.  It appeared dark above and light (but not white) below.  Given the time of year the default swallow would be Tree Swallow but given the weather conditions anything is possible.  It would have been nice to have the bird closer and had a better look.  There was a variety of waterfowl around but nothing too unusual.  A flock of 14 Horned Grebes was very neat to see.  Beyond that just a few Common Loons, Common Mergansers and a few others.  I returned a few more times to Quabbin during the day but found nothing too out of the ordinary.

White-winged Scoter, Quabbin park, Oct 14, 2011

White-winged Scoter framed by trees close to shore, Quabbin park, Oct 14, 2011

I'm including a photo of a White-winged Scoter I had very close to shore yesterday at Quabbin Park.  This species is seldom seen so close to shore here so it was a good sighting as far as I'm concerned.  It will be interesting to see if tomorrow brings anything new.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Leucistic Sooty Shearwater in Monterey Bay

Sooty Shearwater leucistic

Sooty Shearwater leucistic showing underwings

Sooty Shearwater leucistic

Sooty Shearwater leucistic

Sooty Shearwater leucistic

Sooty Shearwater leucistic with normal Sooty Shearwater behind it
A little more in depth description and photos of the partially leucistic Sooty Shearwater seen on a Monterey bay pelagic trip with Shearwater Journeys. This was one of possibly two present but certainly the most photogenic. The bird was in a large feeding flock of Sooty Shearwaters that we managed to get right in the middle of. The bird was in view for a few minutes and then dove right next to the boat and it was not seen again. Despite its unique appearance it was easy to lose in this dense feeding flock of shearwaters. There had been numerous sightings of similar birds on other Shearwater Journeys trips but as Debi Shearwater points out in her blog they are seldom photographed. Another similar bird was indeed photographed by Brian Sullivan on a trip on September 11, 2011

I was very happy to get a look at this bird as well as manage several photos of it before it disappeared. A truly unique looking individual.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Additional photos from my Monterey pelagic trip

Black-footed Albatross

Buller's Shearwater

Northern Fulmar light morph

Sooty Shearwater
Black-footed Albatross

Common Murre

South Polar Skua

Pomarine Jaeger

Long-tailed Jaeger
Ashy Storm-Petrel

Rhinocerous Auklet

A few additional photos from my September 22 pelagic trip from Monterey out into Monterey Bay.  The overcast conditions made for some difficult photography but the birds were great.  Hopefully you will enjoy the wide variety of species shown above.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Quabbin Park waterfowl and others

Northern Pintails, Quabbin Park, Oct 10, 2011

Northern Pintails (I cannot explain the apparent dark heads on three of the lower birds, perhaps shadows?  I didn't notice it until I looked at the photos), Quabbin Park, Oct 10, 2011
Quabbin Park looking toward the area of Goodnough Dike, Oct 10, 2011

Winter Wren, Quabbin Park, Oct 10, 2011

I spent another beautiful day out and about around the local area as our stretch of warm weather continued for another day.  Today the temps started in the 50's but quickly rose into the low 80's.  The morning fog made for some impressive sights as the sun rose and shined through it.  Today I stayed a bit closer to home visiting Quabbin Park, Quabbin Gate 5 and a trail along Jabish Canal with Wilson.  I was surprised by the number of interesting waterfowl sightings.  The sightings started with a group of nine Common Loons all together in one group at Quabbin Park and continued with an assortment of waterfowl viewed from Winsor Dam.  These included a flyby group of 10 Northern Pintails (which can be tough to come by here), an amazing group of twelve Red-necked Grebe together in a group (plus one single elsewhere) along with three White-winged Scoters.  In addition there were Wood Ducks, Mallards, Black Ducks, Common Mergansers and Canada Geese to round out the waterfowl.  I next went to gate 5 to get a better look at the grebes but they were still too far out for photos.  I tried to photograph through the scope with my iphone but they are not identifiable.  I had three White-winged Scoters here as well as four Northern Pintails.  A couple of juvenile Bald Eagles added some excitement as they made a low flight past me and then the assorted waterfowl while I watched from gate 5.  I wish I had it in me to make the hike down the gate 4 road as the birds were probably directly out from there but I was barely able to make the short walk down the gate 5 road so I figured I better not push my luck.   Beyond the waterfowl I had the expected assortment of later migrants with three warblers species (including a Black-throated Green that I oddly didn't see any of yesterday).  The small stump dump at Quabbin Park again produced some nice migrant groups with a bunch of sparrows and two Winter Wrens.  The trip to Jabish canal produced nothing out of the ordinary but was fun nonetheless as Wilson found lots of bugs, sticks, etc to keep him happy.