Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Texas Days 5-6 (Nov 14-15th)

Ringed Kingfisher, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley SP, TX, Nov 14, 2011

Green Jay, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley SP, TX, Nov 14, 2011

Black and White Warbler, Estero Llano Grande SP, TX, Nov 14, 2011

Spotted Towhee, Estero Llano Grande SP, TX, Nov 14, 2011

Plain Chachalaca, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley SP, TX, Nov 14, 2011

On my final two days in Texas I decided to return to a few spots I had already visited to try and add a few new birds and get some better looks at ones I had already seen.  On Monday the 14th I started the morning at Santa Ana NWR beginning with a trip to the hawk watch tower and then a walk to Pintail Lakes and then back to the hawk watch tower with several others from back home when they arrived.  I had a very interesting morning there with several new species including a Merlin buzzing past the tower low and fast, a Peregrine Falcon moving south (an odd looking bird as it didn't seem quite right...I was thinking possibly Prairie Falcon but the light was terrible and the photos I got don't seem to help much) as well as a distantly perched raptor that may have been a Hook-billed Kite.  Again I cannot be sure and the photos are very distant and blurry.  Someone else did have a Hook-billed Kite there that morning but I just couldn't be sure.  Certainly wish I had a scope at that point.  Beyond the raptors here I had an impressive morning flight of  941 White Pelicans lifting off in groups in the morning and heading south toward Mexico over the course of 45 minutes first thing in the morning.  There was also an impressive morning flight of Red-winged Blackbirds numbering in the several thousand.  After leaving Santa Ana on yet another breezy but warm morning I headed just down the road a bit to Estero Llano Grande SP once again.  The best birds of the stop here were a Black and White Warbler and a Spotted Towhee.   Not too much else of note here beyond what I had seen before so I decided to head back to Bentsen SP midday.  I spent the rest of the afternoon around Bentsen with one noteworthy bird being a Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet (the name is much more flashy than the rather nondescript flycatcher that it is).  Despite a lot of searching the Black-vented Oriole remained elusive. 

Green Kingfisher (one of the last birds of the trip), Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley SP, TX, Nov 14, 2011
My final morning in Texas I decided to stay around Bentsen SP before heading to the airport.  I started out at first light and walked throughout the park and also spent about 45 minutes out at the hawk tower during which time a front came through dropping the temperatures a bit, increasing the wind and threatening to rain.  Luckily the few sprinkles did not last but a couple minutes and then the clouds broke a bit more.  It was amazing to see how fast the weather can change down here when a front comes through.  On my walk back out of the park one of the final birds I had was a Green Kingfisher...a nice way to end my time down there.  With my flight quickly approaching I headed toward the airport in McAllen and stopped briefly at Quintan Mazatlan right next to the airport to get a final taste of birding before my flight back to reality.

The totals for the trip down to the lower Rio Grande valley from November 10-15 include the following:

-total species on trip-160
-new Texas species-13 (bringing my state total to 214)
-new Mexico species -9 (bringing my total to 37)
-new species for the year -28
(thank you eBird for making the tally of these numbers easy!)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Hadley area birds

American Tree Sparrow, Hampshire College, Nov 27, 2011

Cooper's Hawk, Hampshire College, Nov 27, 2011

Cedar Waxwing, Hampshire College, Nov 27, 2011

House Sparrow, Hampshire College, Nov 27, 2011

I decided to head over to the Hadley area to check some of the fields and other areas to see what I could turn up.  I immediately ran into fog and it stayed around for a good part of the morning.  I tried Hadley cove for waterfowl but could not see the water.  I next stopped at Aqua Vitae Road and did have a small group of Snow Buntings and a single Lapland Longspur.  Once these birds left it was very quiet with almost no activity except for a Coyote moving through the fields.  I next tried the east meadows and the honeypot but the fog was just too thick.  I decided to head away from the river a bit to try and get away from the fog.  I made a brief stop at Lowe's to pick up some poles for duck boxes I'm putting up at home.  I then made it over the Hampshire College to try and catch up with and photograph the Dickcissel that has been there for weeks.  I could not find the bird despite a lot of searching.  I did have a good number (84) of Cedar Waxwings as well as a handful of sparrows including White-throated Sparrow (2), American Tree Sparrow (2) and several Song Sparrows plus quite a few juncos.  Another spot at the college that usually is productive was very quiet given the Cooper's Hawk that was working the area.  Once the fog lifted mid morning the temperatures warmed once again well above normal to near 60.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

More robins, waterfowl and Snow Buntings at Quabbin

Snow Bunting, Quabbin Park, Nov 26, 2011

Snow Bunting, five of seven present, Quabbin Park, Nov 26, 2011

Snow Bunting, Quabbin Park, Nov 26, 2011

Distant shot of Red-necked Grebe, Quabbin Park, Nov 26, 2011

Distant shot of Red-necked Grebe, Quabbin Park, Nov 26, 2011

I spent another early morning at Quabbin Park beginning at dawn at Winsor Dam where I spent 45 minutes watching the morning spectacle of American Robins leaving their evening roost.  Today the birds seemed to split into two groups with one heading nearly west and the other milling around and finally heading south to southeast.  It was difficult to get a good count as many were at the limit of sight even with a scope.  I counted just over 1100 this morning which is a bit lower than previous days.  The waters were quite still this morning as there was little wind which made looking for waterfowl a bit easier.  I found a handful of Common Loons, several Horned Grebes, a Red-necked Grebe, Hooded and Common Mergansers as well as Black Ducks, Mallards and Canada Geese.  No big numbers but with southerly winds the last few days I was not expecting a large influx of new waterfowl from up north.  I also had a Belted Kingfisher flying quite high over the reservoir.  The number of land birds was quite low but not really unexpected given the date and conditions.  The Snow Buntings in the tower parking lot continued today and I was able to get a few photos.  The day started around freezing but ended at a balmy 60 degrees as we continued our run of above normal temperatures.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Texas Days 3-4

Eastern Screech Owl (gray phase), Anzalduas County Park, Nov 13, 2011

Common Paraque roosting,  Estero Llano Grande SP, Nov 12, 2011

American Avocet, Santa Ana NWR, Nov 12, 2011

Bald Eagle, rare in lower RGV, Santa Ana NWR, Nov 12, 2011

Long-billed Curlew along wildlife drive, Laguna Atacosa NWR, Nov 12, 2011

Long-billed Thrasher, Laguna Atacosa NWR, Nov 12, 2011
My next two days in Texas featured increased heat and increased winds.  The temperatures quickly climbed well into the 80's.  I visited Santa Ana NWR, Estero Llano Grande SP and Laguna Atacosa NWR on the third day and Bentsen and  Anzalduas County Park on the fourth day.

I yet again ran into a rare bird in the valley and it was again a visitor from the north.  This time it was a juvenile Bald Eagle perched in a tree north of Cattail lakes in Santa Ana NWR.  Once I got to Cattail Lakes the damage left over from the floods from a few years ago was quite evident.  The lakes had been changed dramatically with little vegetation left around the lakes.  This did not mean the lakes were void of life.  On the contrary, the area was quite active with shorebirds, ducks, waders, raptors and assorted other birds in the general area. 

I next went to estero again to try to find that elusive becard but again had no luck.  The wind had picked up dramatically and I decided to next make a quick stop at the bird festival vendor area in Harlingen.  The festival was quite large and had many vendors.  After a short stop here I decided I was already half way to the coast so I headed out to Laguna Atacosa NWR.  Despite the late afternoon arrival I still managed to find some birds including yet another rare bird from up north making a visit down in Texas.  This time it was a male White-throated Sparrow near the park headquarters.  I then took a ride along the wildlife drive and added several species to the trip list such as White tailed Hawk, numerous shorebirds, a few waders, gulls and terns.  I also added Redheads that are exceptionally numerous here, especially first thing in the morning.  The area around the wildlife refuge holds a large segment of the Redhead population every winter.
White-throated Sparrow, Laguna Atacosa NWR, Nov 12, 2011

White-tailed Hawk, Laguna Atacosa NWR, Nov 12, 2011

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Robin roost at Quabbin

Distant shot of Bald Eagle catching fish, Winsor Dam at Quabbin Park, Nov 24, 2011

Distant shot of Bald Eagle carrying fish, Winsor Dam at Quabbin Park, Nov 24, 2011

Young Porcupine feeding, Quabbin Park, Nov 24, 2011
I began this somewhat frosty Thanksgiving morning at Winsor Dam trying to get a more accurate total on the numbers of American Robins roosting somewhere to the north of Winsor Dam on the west side of Quabbin.  I first noticed the morning flight out from the roost area on the Hampshire Bird Club trip when several hundred came over in the morning.  I had a total of 2122 on Monday the 21st and I came back this morning and had a total of 1832.  Many of these birds today were even further west then Monday so I probably missed many.  A scope was needed to see the vast majority but occasionally the route the birds take come right over head, like they did on the day of the bird club trip.  It will be interesting to see if the roost remains throughout the winter.  Beyond the robins I had several Common Loons, Horned Grebes and Common and Hooded Mergansers plus an adult Bald Eagle that came in and caught a fish just off the dam.  I also made a trip through Quabbin Park and had a few other birds around plus a young Porcupine feeding low and providing great looks.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Texas Day 1-2

Green Kingfisher, Bentsen RGV State Park, Nov 10,2011

Least Grebe, Bentsen RGV State Park, Nov 10,2011

Dark-eyed Junco, Estero Llano Grande SP, Nov 11, 2011

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Estero Llano Grande SP, Nov 11, 2011

Green Jay, Bentsen RGV State Park, Nov 11,2011

Vermilion Flycatcher, Bentsen RGV State Park, Nov 10,2011

On my first two days in Texas I visited Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley SP and Estero Llano Grande SP as well as a few other quick stops elsewhere.  I few rarities for south Texas had been seen in both of these areas and I was hopeful to catch up with them but never did.  I missed seeing the Black-vented Oriole at Bentsen by just a few minutes and was unable to see the sporadic Rose-throated Becard at Estero Llano Grande.  Although I missed on these birds I found some great birds at these spots including a rarity from up north at Estero...a Dark-eyed Junco.  The bird was not yet on the extensive bird list here.  I was able to photograph the bird to document the record.  Beyond that bird I found many of the south Texas specialties as well as many wintering species and a few lingering birds that have not yet left the area yet.  The weather was sunny for the most part but started cool on the second day with temps around 40.  It quickly warmed up well into the 70's so it was quite comfortable. 

iphone photo of sunrise at Estero Llano Grande SP, Nov 11, 2011

The sunrise at Estero Llano Grande on the second day down there was spectacular and the first of several great sunrises and sunsets.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hampshire Bird Club trip Gate 35-45 and Winsor Dam

Common Loons, gate 43, Nov 20, 2011

Common Loons, gate 43, Nov 20, 2011

I spent a pleasant late fall day leading a Hampshire Bird Club trip up the east side of Quabbin starting at Winsor Dam and then travelling to Gate 45 and going up to Gate 35.  Despite the extensive tree damage caused by the storm a few weeks ago the roads were in very good shape.  The number and variety of waterfowl was quite low with some usually productive areas having no birds at all.  There were however some nice birds found throughout the day with a handful of Pine Siskins, a male Northern Harrier migrating through, a late Yellow-rumped Warbler, a Belted Kingfisher, a Barred Owl seen by a few as they arrived at Winsor Dam as well as a large flight of American Robins leaving a roost in the early AM.  I have included the list below to illustrate what we did see today.  We had a total of 46 species of bird.

Quabbin -Winsor Dam and Gate 45-35

Canada Goose 8
American Black Duck 30
Mallard 5
Common Goldeneye 4
Ring-necked Duck 2 pair
Hooded Merganser 38
Common Merganser 14
Ruffed Grouse 1
Wild Turkey 2
Common Loon 11
Pied-billed Grebe 1
Horned Grebe 7 all northern part of reservoir
Bald Eagle 5
Northern Harrier 1 adult male migrating past fishing area
Accipiter sp. 1
Red-tailed Hawk 2
Ring-billed Gull 11
Herring Gull 4
Barred Owl 1 seen by a few on arrival
Belted Kingfisher 1
Downy Woodpecker 6
Hairy Woodpecker 2
Northern Flicker 1
Blue Jay 9
American Crow 10
Common Raven 1
Black-capped Chickadee 46
Tufted Titmouse 3
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2
White-breasted Nuthatch 5
Brown Creeper 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet 13
Eastern Bluebird 4
American Robin 529 (510 leaving roost heading southeast at winsor dam AM)
European Starling 130
Cedar Waxwing 4
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) 1 seen and heard near fishing area
White-throated Sparrow 1
American Tree Sparrow 2
Dark-eyed Junco 53
Northern Cardinal 1
Purple Finch 2
Pine Siskin 4
American Goldfinch 11

In addition a Cooper's and Sharp-shinned Hawk were seen between Winsor Dam and when we went into gate 45.

River Otter-1
Red Squirrel-12
Gray Squirrel-4
Eastern Chipmunk-3

Clouded Sulpher-1

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Back from Texas

Green Jay, Bentsen Rio Grande Valley SP, TX, Nov 11, 2011

I just returned from a trip down to the lower Rio Grande valley in Texas.  I was down there from November 10-15 and visited several sites there including Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley SP, Estero Llano Grande SP, Laguna Atacosa NWR, Santa Ana NWR and other spots.  I'm still adding up the totals from the trip but I will post all that info as I add postings from the trip.  Another successful and relaxing trip with nice warm weather to make me forget all about the early onslaught of winter back at home.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Breeding Bird Atlas wrap up

American Redstart feeding young, Prescott Peninsula, Quabbin, MA, June 14, 2010
With the setting in of fall of 2011 the five year Massachusetts breeding bird atlas has now wrapped up and I thought I would take this time to reflect on some of the highlights the five seasons in the field provided me.  This will be a relatively long post for me but hopefully interesting for those reading it.
First a little background of the breeding bird atlas here in Massachusetts.  The first one was conducted during the years of 1974-1979.  The second one began in 2007 and ended this year.  It is a five year state wide project to get a snap shot of the various species of birds that breed throughout the state.  It is a massive undertaking that requires a lot of effort of many volunteer birders to complete.   In this area the many volunteers were coordinated by Mary Alice Wilson who did a fine job of getting the right people into the blocks and making sure we got the info entered into the state database.  The entire state is split into blocks that are approximately 10 square miles.  There are a total of  about 1055 blocks statewide.  Each block has a primary atlaster that is responsible for at least 20 hours of primary observation time (many block get much more time than that).  Each block received a name and number that reflected the area it covered such as Winsor Dam 2 or Belchertown 5.  Additional info can be found at http://www.massaudubon.org/birdatlas/bbaportal/index.php

I had a total of four blocks assigned to me as the primary and another five as secondary with three of these on the restricted access Prescott Peninsula at Quabbin.  Tom Gagnon was the primary on these blocks and I joined him on all his trips in there as well as taking many, many trips on my own.  The total number of hours spent over the five years amounted to probably well over 1000 hours.  The most productive blocks as far as overall species either breeding or suspected of breeding were Winsor Dam 3 and Shutesbury 8 which both had 91 species.  I found a total of 136 species in the blocks I covered and was able to confirm breeding of 108 species.  I had several records of state listed species breeding in the blocks I covered.
Red Crossbill feeding young, Prescott Peninsula, Quabbin, MA, June 3, 2009

Red Crossbills, Prescott Peninsula, Quabbin, MA, April 23, 2010

Red Crossbill, Prescott Peninsula, Quabbin, MA, April 30, 2010

The highlights were many and I will recount a few of the more memorable.  As far as oddities one of the best was finding breeding Red Crossbills on Prescott Peninsula on a few years of the count.  I first found them on the lower third of the peninsula in the only area I also had breeding Cerulean Warblers in a few seasons of the atlas.  I had an adult feeding young there and managed a few photos for ID purposes.  Over the next couple years I found evidence of breeding of Red Crossbills in other blocks on Prescott including males and females mating as well as additional recently fledged juveniles being fed.  As far as what type of Red Crossbills I do not know but I had them feeding on red pines.  Although there are other records of breeding Red Crossbills in the state over the years (Montague Plains WMA and pine barrens in the southeast part of the state) I believe the blocks on Prescott Peninsula were the only ones with breeding confirmed during the five years of the atlas.  Many times I would have just a handful of birds but the best day I had was June 19, 2010 when I had 26 individuals with most in one large group.
distant shot of Canada Goose on nest in tree (old heron nest), Prescott Peninsula, Quabbin, MA, May 6, 2008
Another interesting sight was a Canada Goose that decided to take over a Great Blue Heron nest in a small pond.  The bird was at least 15 feet above the water sitting in this nest.  Certainly one of the strangest nest I have seen.

Barred Owl on nest (head and tail visible), Covey WMA, Belchertown, MA

Northern Saw-whet Owl -juvenile in nest, Prescott Peninsula, Quabbin, MA, May 26, 2008
Another fun group of birds to try and find the nests of were owls.  The best ones I found were a Northern Saw-whet Owl on Prescott Peninsula and a Barred Owl that used the same nest for several years at Covey WMA (the nest tree fell during a storm a few years ago).  I also found a few juvenile Great Horned Owls and had Eastern Screech Owls in appropriate habitat during the breeding season.  Besides the owls I also found some other nocturnal birds that were breeding in our blocks including American Woodcocks and Whip-Poor-Wills.  The Whip-Poor-Wills seemed to have a stronghold in the southern third of the Prescott Peninsula and I would have double digit numbers on some of my evening trips in.  Several times I had spectacular close views as the Whip-Poor-Wills came flying right next to us.  Hearing several of them calling right near you in the pitch blackness of Prescott Peninsula was quite exciting.
Ruffed Grouse young, Prescott Peninsula, Quabbin, June 27, 2009
I had many breeding neotropic migrants during the years of the atlas as well as species such as Bald Eagle, Common Loons, Sharp shinned Hawk, Ruffed Grouse, Cooper's Hawk and others.  It was always a thrill to find a bird gathering nest material or actually building a nest.  I included a few of the many photos I got of this type of activity over the years of the atlas.  It was fun to watch a nest be built, then have the birds sitting on the nest and then see the young develop and finally fledge from the nest.  The time spent watching the various nests paid dividends in other ways as staying put and quiet led to some other wildlife sightings such as when I was viewing the American Redstart nest pictured above and I had the feeling I was being watched.  I dropped my binoculars down, turned around and found a Bobcat thirty feet away looking at me. 

Bobcat, Prescott Peninsula, June 7, 2010

In addition to the Bobcat I ran across a multitude of other wildlife such as Black Bear, Moose, Porcupine, various bat species, Mink, a Southern Bog Lemming (a life mammal for both Tom and myself on Prescott), lots of butterflies, other insects and a multitude of plant life.
Eastern Box Turtle (endangered species), Quabbin Park, May 3,2010

Leather Beetle, Prescott Peninsula, May 13, 2009

Gray Hairstreak, Prescott Peninsula, May 30, 2008
I could go on and on with the different experience I had while conducting this atlas and many photos to go along with the stories but I have to keep the post to a manageable size.  I will say again it was fun and made you take a more critical look at the birds that you would come across from day to day.  It will be unusual next spring to not be out there seeing what new species I can add to the various blocks I covered.

Here are some additional photos of various species either collecting nest material or on nests.  The warblers and vireos were always some of my favorite subjects to find building nests and raising young.  These as well as other neotropic migrants are fascinating in the long, perilous journeys they take from their breeding grounds here to their wintering areas in the Caribbean, central America or down to South America and back again each year.

Gray Catbird with nest material, Quabbin Park, May 23, 2010
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher gathering nest material from fern head, Quabbin Park, May 7, 2008
Chestnut sided Warbler on nest, Quabbin Park, June 13, 2008
Red eyed Vireo on nest, Prescott Peninsula, June 21, 2008

Cedar Waxwing on nest, Prescott Peninsula, July 3, 2009