Thursday, June 28, 2012

Merlins in Northampton

A couple of days ago, while at work, I came across at least three Merlins near the Clarke School off  Elm Street in Northampton.  There appeared to be two adults and at least one young.  They were in the area that they were suspected of nesting this year.  This was one of two pairs that likely nested in the Northampton/Florence area this season.  This makes at least a few years that nesting has or was suspected of occuring in the local area.  This is only one of a handful of records of nesting Merlins in the state ever.  I'll elaborate on the nesting of Merlins in Massachusetts in a future post.  Sorry no photos of these birds.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Kingfishers and others before the rain

Belted Kingfishers (four of six), route 9 marsh, Quabbin, MA, June 25, 2012

Belted Kingfishers, route 9 marsh, Quabbin, MA, June 25, 2012

Belted Kingfisher with stick, route 9 marsh, Quabbin, MA, June 25, 2012

Belted Kingfisher with stick (beaver below), route 9 marsh, Quabbin, MA, June 25, 2012

Belted Kingfisher with stick, route 9 marsh, Quabbin, MA, June 25, 2012
With the prediction of rain I was not sure I would be able to get out at all this morning but the rain held off for a time.  I decided to stay close to home so I spent a little time at Winsor Dam and the route 9 marsh before heading home to take Wilson for a walk.  I ran across a family unit of six Belted Kingfisher with the young all centered around the largest beaver lodge.  The young would practice diving into the water and picking up sticks from the water and then whack the sticks against whatever they sat on once they returned from the water in a fashion similar to how the adults treated any fish they caught.  It was very interesting to see the young practicing this activity and I managed to catch it on video.  I didn't have my good camera with me today so all shots and video were taken with my iPhone.

Video of Belted Kingfisher 'practice fishing', route 9 marsh, June 25, 2012

In addition as I was watching the activity at the marsh a car stopped a few hundred feet past me on Route 9 and then turned around and came back toward me and said there were three Black Bears at which point of the them came over the guardrail and crossed the road and headed out into the woods. I wasn't quick enough to get a photo.  Other birds of note at the marsh included a Virginia Rail calling and 13+ Wood Ducks of various ages.

Barn Swallow adult feeding young, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, June 25, 2012

Barn Swallow young, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, June 25, 2012

A stop at Winsor Dam found a few freshly fledged Barn Swallows being attended to by adults.  The birds appeared to have very recently left the nest.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Quabbin Gate 12 and 15

Eastern Towhee, Gate 12, June 24, 2012

Eastern Towhee, Gate 12, June 24, 2012
I decided to spend some time checking out some of the western gates of Quabbin in search of a few target birds including Hooded Warbler and Acadian Flycatcher.  Yet again I was skunked on my target birds (but not for lack of trying!).  I was rewarded with finally catching up with a Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  I started at Gate 12 and walked for about 3/4 of a mile down and caught up with some various warblers and other breeders but nothing too unusual beyond the cuckoo.

Veery, Quabbin Gate 15, June 24, 2012

Veery, Quabbin Gate 15, June 24, 2012

Ovenbird, Quabbin Gate 15, June 24, 2012

Blackburnian Warbler, Quabbin Gate 15, June 24, 2012

Blackburnian Warbler, Quabbin Gate 15, June 24, 2012

Black-throated Blue Warbler, Quabbin Gate 15, June 24, 2012

Scarlet Tanager disassembling a dragonfly, Quabbin Gate 15, June 24, 2012
I next stopped at Gate 15 and took the southern road all the way down to the water and then cut out cross country for a few miles seeing what I could find.  I really hoped to find an Acadian Flycatcher here but no luck.  The road down along Briggs Brook is very overgrown and tough to get through in spots...prepare for getting wet!  After striking out along Briggs Brook I walked up through Atherton Brook trying to find an Acadian...again no luck.  Lots of breeding birds around with many bringing food to nests.  I ran into a few little pockets of warblers deep in the woods with several coming in quite close. The darkness of the woods may for some less than ideal photo opportunities but it was still great to get up close looks at these birds.   After several hours of exploring the area I headed for home.  There were many highlights from the day so I'm going to let the list speak for itself. 

Video of Winter Wren singing, Gate 15, June 24, 2012

Lots of Moose signs (scat, tracks, rubbings) too but no actual animals. 

Here is the list from Gate 15:

Common Merganser  3     all at end of road on water neat loon raft
Spotted Sandpiper  1     flying to small island
Ring-billed Gull  1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  2
Downy Woodpecker  1
Hairy Woodpecker  4
Eastern Wood-Pewee  3
Eastern Phoebe  1
Blue-headed Vireo  3
Red-eyed Vireo  21     minimum number
Blue Jay  5
Black-capped Chickadee  11
Red-breasted Nuthatch  6
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
Brown Creeper  1
Winter Wren  4     three singing various spots, one juvenile
Veery  17
Hermit Thrush  1
Gray Catbird  2
Cedar Waxwing  8
Ovenbird  31
Louisiana Waterthrush  1     one along brook chipping
Black-and-white Warbler  11
Common Yellowthroat  3
American Redstart  1
Magnolia Warbler  9
Blackburnian Warbler  17
Chestnut-sided Warbler  1
Black-throated Blue Warbler  19
Pine Warbler  9
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle)  7  a few freshly fledged
Black-throated Green Warbler  35   minimum number
Eastern Towhee  3
Chipping Sparrow  2
Song Sparrow  1
Scarlet Tanager  4
Rose-breasted Grosbeak  1

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A futile search for terns...but other birds found

Barn Swallow, Quabbin Park, MA, June 23, 2012

Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Quabbin Park, MA, June 23, 2012
After a few reports over the last several days of terns around the area I decided to try my luck in finding some on the southern part of Quabbin.   The terns that have been seen around include Caspian Terns at north Quabbin and the Oxbow in Northampton and Common Terns (or perhaps Arctic?) in Berkshire county plus a few other Caspian's a bit further afield.  It was a long shot and I came up empty for the morning.  Despite not finding any terns there were still some good birds around but nothing unexpected.  As I watched for terns from Winsor Dam I got some great looks at various swallows as they worked the area in front of the headquarters building.  Great looks at Northern Rough-winged, Barn and Tree Swallows.

Belted Kingfishers, Quabbin Park, MA, June 23, 2012
Quabbin Park also had a family of Belted Kingfishers working the route 9 marsh.  I also found four species of vireo, twelve species of warbler, five species of flycatcher and four species of thrush plus many other birds.  There was a lone Bald Eagle near the nest at Winsor Dam but the nest was empty.

Tree Swallows (two nestlings visible), Belchertown, MA, June 23, 2012

Tree Swallow, Belchertown, MA, June 23, 2012

Tree Swallow (adult with fecal sac), Belchertown, MA, June 23, 2012
At home the Tree Swallows look to be getting close to fledge time with the adults in and out all day with food.  The young are now quite vocal and spend a lot of time at the nest hole waiting for the next arrival of food.  The end of the day brought some thunderstorms and a break from the heat and humidity of the last several days.

possible tracks of Debby as of Saturday evening
In addition another tropical storm has developed today, making four for the season so far.  This is the earliest ever there has been four named storms this early in the season.  The early start doesn't necessarily translate to a busy season throughout but it certainly bears watching.  the big determining factor will be El Nino and how it develops as the summer goes on.  The newest storm, Debby, is in the Gulf of Mexico and the exact track it will take is very much an unknown at this point as the various potential model routes above show.

Friday, June 22, 2012

House Wrens fledge

I just watched one of my nesting families of House Wrens fledge out of the nest box.  They have gotten big enough the last few days the adults rarely entered the box and instead fed them at the nest hole.  There are at least two more wrens still a bit reluctant to leave but the others have fledged.  The adult was able to coax one by flying up to the box with food which one of the young ate quickly and then coming right back with more food but instead flying away with it instead of feeding the young wren at the nest home.  The young wren immediately flew out and followed the adult into the blackberry bushes.  Neat to see.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

First day of summer

Summer has 'officially' arrived as of today with the summer solstice occurring this evening.  The days around this date are the longest days of daylight we get all year with a sunrise occurring just before 5:15am and sunset around 8:30pm.  We then start the long slide back toward days getting shorter.  It does appear that summer has indeed arrived weather wise too as the temperature is expected to peak today and tomorrow in the mid to upper 90's with high humidity resulting in a heat index in the low to mid 100's.  As of 4:30 today the temperature is 97 with a heat index of 106.  Very warm indeed!  The heat is on for a large portion of the eastern part of the country.

Highs for Wednesday, courtesy of The Weather Channel

Monday, June 18, 2012

Weekend birding

American Redstart building nest, Quabbin Gate 12, June 16,2012

American Redstart building nest, Quabbin Gate 12, June 16, 2012

Canada Geese ignoring the Coyote decoy, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, June 16, 2012

Winter Wren singing, Quabbin Gate 12, June 16, 2012

(Can you identify the other birds calling in the background? Answers at bottom of post)

On Saturday I stayed around Quabbin with visits to Winsor Dam and some western gates including Gates 12 and 15.  I tried to find the Acadian Flycatcher which has been in the same area along the Gate 15 road for years but came up empty again today.  I also tried unsuccessfully for the Hooded Warbler that had been in the same area for several weeks.  The bird either moved on, was killed or was being quiet.  I did have a few good birds including a pair of Evening Grosbeaks at Gate 12 and numerous breeding birds around with some feeding young or carrying food while others were still building nests.

House Wren, Belchertown, MA, June 17, 2012

House Wren, Belchertown, MA, June 17, 2012
On Sunday I stayed mostly around the house trying to get some house work done.  This allowed some time to catch up on all the breeding birds in the yard.  The Tree Swallows continue to go in and out of one of the two boxes set up in the small field near the house with the young inside getting louder each day.  One group of House Wrens have a group of very vocal young in a box on one of the sheds while a second group has several just fledged young making lots of noise from the various brushy areas around the house.  The first American Robin fledglings are hopping around on the lawn being fed by the adults.  The Canada Geese that nested here have two remaining goslings that have grown up quite a bit in the last few weeks.  The Hooded Mergansers have not been seen much following their fledging from the nest box along Jabish Brook.  Other birds heard every day and almost certainly nesting nearby include Yellow and Pine Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, Great-crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Brown Creeper, Baltimore Oriole, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Warbling Vireo, Cedar Waxwing, Red-bellied, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers and several others.

The breeding season continues around the area with many birds feeding young both in the nest and outside. There are still a few lingering migrants coming through but by and large the migration season is over for now until the shorebirds start moving back south from the arctic in July.

Answer to question above:  Other birds calling/singing in the video include Black-throated Green Warbler, Blackburian Warbler, Veery, Red-eyed Vireo, and Eastern Wood Pewee.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Bird/mammal interaction

I saw an unusual bird/mammal interaction on Thursday while I was at work.  I was parking near a building at Smith College and noticed a small mouse at the base of a shrub perhaps 10 feet away.  Directly above it was a House Sparrow that repeatedly dove at it pecking it and chasing it.  The mouse would at times chase the bird but it was usually the House Sparrow chasing the mouse.  This continued for a couple minutes before the mouse ran to another shrub and then to the side of the building nearby.  At this point a Northern Cardinal that had been feeding on the ground nearby came over to the mouse and chased it and pecked at it until the mouse ran along the side of the building and out of sight.  This all happened in the middle of the day in bright sun in a landscaped area in a built up part of the campus.  There were no nests nearby that I could see.  The mouse seemed small (perhaps a third of the size of the House Sparrow) and is probably a young mouse that has not learned that being out in the open on a bright sunny day is not advisable.  What really surprised me was how long the mouse stayed out in the open and chased and was chased by a couple different species of birds.  An interesting interaction to witness.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Whip-poor-will survey

Moose, Prescott Peninsula, June 10, 2012
Moose, Prescott Peninsula, June 10, 2012

After a beautiful, warm sunny day on Sunday I headed to the Prescott Peninsula to conduct a Whip-poor-will survey.  The weather for this survey season has been bad and this was the first evening within the limited time frame available to conduct the survey. At the last minute I decided to give it a try to get the survey completed.  The route consists of ten stops along a route that begins on the south end of the peninsula and ends near the north end at gate 20.  Each stop consists of listening for the birds for six minutes before moving on to the next stop to repeat the process.  The count begins 15 minutes after sunset.  I obtained the following results during this survey.  Despite the less than ideal conditions (breezy at times and late in the moon phase) there were still at least nine Whip-poor-wills heard.

Stop                                       Whip-poor-wills                                             

1                                              1

2                                              0
3                                              2

4                                              2

5                                              2

6                                              0

7                                              0

8                                              0

9                                              0

10                                           0

                                                7 total during survey (plus 2 heard between stops)

The most productive stops were the on the lower end of the peninsula which corresponds with what was found during the breeding bird atlas over the last several years.  The area on the lower part of the peninsula consists of some larger tracts that have been logged over the last several years opening up some areas for the Whip-poor-wills.  Besides the Whip-poor-wills I came across a couple of American Woodcocks during the survey.  In addition there were also a couple Moose along the route and I managed a few marginal photos of one.
Common Mergansers, Quabbin Park, June 11, 2012

Common Mergansers, Quabbin Park, June 11, 2012

Common Mergansers, Quabbin Park, June 11, 2012

Common Mergansers video, Quabbin Park, June 11, 2012
Today I made a few stops around the lower side of Quabbin first thing and found a few Common Loons calling, a large juvenile Bald Eagle still in the nest, a family group of Common Mergansers and a Worm-eating Warbler near the Winsor memorial.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Grasshopper Sparrow and other stuff

Grasshopper Sparrow, Palmer landfill, Palmer, MA, June 9, 2012

Grasshopper Sparrow, Palmer landfill, Palmer, MA, June 9, 2012

Grasshopper Sparrow, Palmer landfill, Palmer, MA, June 9, 2012

Grasshopper Sparrow, Palmer landfill, Palmer, MA, June 9, 2012

Grasshopper Sparrow singing, Palmer landfill, Palmer, MA, June 9, 2012
Winsor Dam at dawn with fog coming up over dam, June 9, 2012
Today I stayed around the local area with a handful of stops at various locations.  I started at dawn at Winsor Dam and had a few expected species such as Common Loon and Bald Eagle as well as others.  The scene there changed with each passing minute as the sun came up and the fog rolled up and over the dam.  I next headed toward Palmer with a brief stop at the route 9 marsh.  I stopped at a few spots near the old Palmer airport and the capped landfill nearby plus a few fields to the south.  The Grasshopper Sparrow showed quite well and at times came right up to and into the fence along the road.  The bird (or birds) would call from a distance and then come up close to the fence and run through the grass, calling quite often.  I thought there may have been two again today but never had them both in view at once.  Other birds of note in this area were a family of Brown Thrashers, Bobolinks, a Black-billed Cuckoo, Alder and Willow Flycatchers, Field Sparrows, and various warblers. I then headed back to Belchertown with stops again at Winsor Dam and the route 9 marsh.  I then headed to the large marsh near the old state school.  I had not spent any time here before and it holds some promise for good birds.  Even in late morning there were families of Hooded Mergansers and Wood Ducks and a Green Heron as well as many Tree Swallows.  It seems like a great spot to explore by kayak.  The rest of the day was spent around the house catching up on yard work.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Transit of Venus

View of transit courtesy of NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory
Although not a birding post today I figured I would make a short post on an unusual astronomical event that is occurring today.  The transit of Venus across the face of the sun.  I managed to get a shaky view of it by using the projection method through my binoculars.  This event will not be repeated again until December of 2117.  This means that everyone reading this (as well as every other person alive today) will never live to see it if that doesn't make you think I guess nothing will!  It is certainly worth the time to take a quick look.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Breeding Bird Survey route -Belchertown

Tornado damage along King St in Monson, MA, June 3, 2012

Tornado damage along King St in Monson, MA, June 3, 2012

Grasshopper Sparrow (trust me it is there!), Palmer landfill, Palmer, MA, June 3, 2012

Route 9 marsh, Quabbin, June 3, 2012
Today I conducted my breeding bird survey (BBS) route which starts in Belchertown (BBS Mass route 14)and runs through Ware, Palmer, and Monson to the Connecticut line.   The Breeding Bird Survey involves a preset 25 mile route with 3 minutes stops every half mile to census the number and species of birds present.   I began at 4:42am in the fog and cool temperatures and spent the next few hours covering the route.  With every passing year with this route, more and more of the area becomes built up with more and more homes.  The damage left over from the tornado of June 2011 is still impressive and a great illustration of the power of nature.  I included a few photos of an area of Monson (King St) that is along my survey route.  The fog made photos a bit tough but the areas pictured were nearly mature forest with homes tucked in among the trees before the tornado.  The total number of species seen during my various stops totaled 56 species.  In comparison to the last few years the numbers are down from 64 last year and 71 the year before.  I had no waterfowl or raptors this year which is unusual.  To provide a little more info on my BBS route I will delve into the details a bit more.  The top five most frequently heard or seen species in order were Chipping Sparrow (28 stops), American Robin (25 stops), Northern Cardinal (25 stops), Black-capped Chickadee (23 stops) and Red-eyed Vireo (21 stops). Nine species were heard or seen at just one stop with the vast majority of the others seen at ten stops or less. The cool temperatures and fog may be partially to blame but it is tough to say for certain. 

Once I finished up my survey route I came back up through Palmer and made a stop at the old Palmer landfill where I had a Grasshopper Sparrow last week.  There are at least two birds still there as of today.  If I had remembered my good camera I would have gotten some good photos but I only had my phone and binoculars.  I also ran across an odd sounding Common Yellowthroat near Conant Brook Reservoir in Monson and I included the video of it above.  I also made a quick swing by the route 9 marsh at Quabbin where half a dozen Great Blue Herons were hunting. 

A short video clip of the Grasshopper Sparrow taken through my binoculars.  You have to turn the volume up high to hear it calling.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Rainy Saturday

White-tailed Deer, Quabbin HQ building, June 2, 2012

White-tailed Deer, Quabbin HQ building, June 2, 2012

White-tailed Deer, Quabbin HQ building, June 2, 2012

Quabbin from HQ building camera, June 2, 2012
Today was an all day rainy day.  At times it would pour and other times be reduced to a drizzle.  The temperatures stayed in the 50's for most of the day with a steady east wind.  Given the conditions I made numerous trips over to Quabbin to see if the weather grounded any birds or moved any in from the east.  No big surprises as far as birds were concerned just the usual suspects here such as Bald Eagle, Common Loon and three species of swallows plus others.  One odd sighting was a White-tailed Deer that appeared directly out in front of the HQ building in the middle of the afternoon and walked along the edge before jumping into the water and swimming the 50 feet or so to the other shore.  Despite all the deer in this area I had never seen a deer in this particular spot before.