Thursday, May 29, 2008

Just proving how big of a woodpecker geek I am...

One thing (ok one of the many things) that I really love about Pamela is that, not only does she 'put up with' some of the odder aspects of my personality, (including an almost all-consuming passion for birding) but that she also indulges them regularly. Case in point: I found this item on-line a few years ago and really have not been able to justify the purchase of it, although I really and truly wanted it. This year it was one of my birthday presents!

Museum-quality replica of a Pileated Woodpecker skull from Skulls Unlimited
I'm sorry, but for a woodpecker nut like me, that is damn cool. And it's even cooler that Pamela got it for me. The other item she got me, speaks not only to the woodpecker nut in me, but also to the 19th century enthusiast in me: a William Morris tapestry that is based on his poem about Picus, the Italian king that was transformed into a woodpecker, which comes in turn from Greek and Roman mythology. (And was the source of the title of this blog)

And that's your woodpecker moment of zen for the day:

i once a king and chief,

now am the tree barks thief:

ever twixt trunk and leaf,

chasing the prey.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Prairie Warbler Redux - Memorial Day weekend

Didn't do quite as much birding this holiday weekend as one might have expected of me, but I have a darn good reason. My sister's wedding was on Sunday afternoon, so we were involved with rehersals, ceremony and reception. Everything was beautiful and I wouldn't have traded a moment of it for any bird. Lisa looked beautiful, and Richard is a very welcome brother-in-law. I wish nothing less than the best for them both!

That's not to say we didn't get any birding in this weekend. I got out for about two hours on Sunday morning, and headed back to Horn Pond to see if I could try to get some better photos of the Prairie Warblers and Indigo Buntings that are so easy to see there. Still not entirely happy with the photos, but they are a bit of an improvement over the ones from earlier this week.

On Memorial Day, we had the day to ourselves - no work or other obligations, so Pamela and I headed to Plum Island. The Purple Martins have returned to the martin boxes that are put up every year just past the entrance gate. I have always had a problem photographing these guys - they have the beautiful glossy, purple/black sheen, but I never get any facial definition. This is the best one so far...

The most exciting bird on the island was a continuing Mourning Warbler that was found the day before, but it was only seen earlier in the morning and was not found again while we were there. The weather was nice, but windy, which really kept the bird song and activity to a minimum. I tried getting some more warbler photos while there, but it was difficult with the birds being few, and those seen were in denser brush.

We did make it down to the south end of the island later in the day after many of the beach-goers that fill the parking lots there had left and saw several Piping Plovers (including a pair that was engaging in 'plover-lovin') and a few Least Terns.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Some pre-work birding

Although I am an early riser (show me a birder that isn't), I don't usually get any birding in on weekday mornings because the earlier I am up, the earlier I come in to work to try to get things done before the phones start ringing, and things get hectic. I swear that the two hours before most people show up are the most productive of my day. Unfortunately, since I am a salaried minion, it means I put in 50+ hours a week, but get paid for 40. Oh well, it's the price you pay for having the flexibility. (It also means that I don't feel too guilty about leaving a few minutes early if a 'good' bird is posted to one of the list-servs.)

This morning I decided that I would get in to work 'late' (7:20) and stop at Horn Pond for a little while to see if I could get a photo or two of the Prairie Warblers that we saw during the birdathon. It was a little cool still and things were a little slow. Most active was an immature Indigo Bunting that was just belting it out.

I did manage to also get a few quick but distant photos of one of the Prairie Warblers - not as close as I would like, but sufficient to id.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Weekend full of birding

This was one very full weekend of birding!

Started out at Horn Pond in Woburn at 6pm on Friday evening for the 2008 Massachusetts Birdathon, (see other post for description) where it started to rain JUST AT 6pm. Paul, Diana and I manged to get a couple of our target species out of the way, even in the rain, but it was a slog, and rather miserable going. The further we got from any protection from the elements, the harder it came down. We managed to dig up Ruddy Duck, the Great Horned and Eastern Screech Owls, as well as a few other species, but certainly not what we planned on for our first few hours. The rain continued through the night, and until 10 Saturday morning. That didn't deter us as we started out early Saturday morning and checked off a Broad-winged Hawk on a nest, then continued to Mt Auburn Cemetery, where we saw a good number of birds, but also managed to miss a few. If we didn't have to get back to Horn Pond (for several species that we would have seen the evening before if it wasn't raining), we probably would have picked up another 5-7 species from what I hear that was seen after we left. We did manage to see two target birds - a Summer Tananger that was reported Friday morning and the Cape May Warbler that had been hanging around the dell.

Not a great photo of the Cape May, but they usually hang out pretty high up in the trees and this one was no excpetion...

Then we headed off to the Brooks Estate in Medford, which is usually another good hot spot, but things had died down a bit by the time we got there in mid-afternoon. A Hooded Merganser that has been hanging out with the Mallards stuck around and gave us some nice looks.

We then headed back to Horn Pond to pick up some "gimme" birds that breed there and are seen and heard regularly, like Field Sparrow, Prairie Warbler, Hairy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, etc. The Wood Ducks there this year are really acclimated to people, and every time I am there I feel the need to take a few photos because they are so colorful and accomodating.We hit a few other spots along the way, hoping to pick up an extra species or two here and there. In the end, our final tally was 94 species - shy of our goal of 100, but not too bad given the weather we had to contend with. And there's always next year...

On Sunday, we joined our friend Eddie for a BBC trip to Wompatuck State Park in Hingham. It is one of his regular stomping grounds and has been getting some fantastic sightings. While doing Birdathon there on Saturday, he checked off some fantastic birds and the place on Sunday was crawling with birders itching to add some warblers to their year (or life) lists. The photos aren't great but, then again, they not the most cooperative birds for point-and-shoot photography...

Kentucky Warbler

Hooded Warbler

Cerulean Warbler

We also head many and saw a Worm Eating Warbler - unfortunatley I was not able to get a photo of that one. After we wrapped up the trip, we headed over to East Bridgewater where a Lawrence's Warber (a hybrid between Blue-winged and Golden-winged Warblers) has been putting in appearances for the last few years. I heard the typical Blue-winged Warbler "bee-bzzzzzz" song and managed to spot him a hundred or so yards away. Again not a great photo as it stayed pretty far away...

Friday, May 16, 2008

Bird-a-thon 2008

Starting at 6pm tonight (Friday May 16th) I will be participating in Mass. Audubon's 25th annual Bird-a-thon - 24 hours of birding!!! My team will be raising money for the Drumlin Farm Sanctuary in Lincoln. Paul & Diana and myself will be birding Mt Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Horn Pond in Woburn, the Arlington Reservoir, and anyplace in-between to see as many bird species as possible.

If you would like to help support our team - and more importantly, Massachusetts Audubon, let me know and I'll get you on my pledge list. OR you can pledge on-line at the Bird-a-thon home page.

If nothing else - wish us luck!!!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Birthday Birding

I took the day off from work today so I could just go birding. I decided that since we went to Mt. Auburn Cemetery on both Saturday and Sunday last weekend (and that I'll be doing bird-a-thon this weekend, more on that later) I would take the day to go to Plum Island and see what I could add to my 2008 Plum Island competition list. I arrived at 6am and birded until 3:30 in the afternoon and managed to see 90 species.

I started the day by "rescuing" a Grey Catbird. The bird was in the road and didn't fly away as I passed it. Knowing that something wasn't right, I pulled over and walked back to the bird, not sure if it was even alive. It seemed almost like it was asleep on the pavement. I gently picked it up, and it seemed to wake a bit, and I brought it far enough off the road to keep it out of harms way. Feeling good about hopefully doing some good, I continued on to the island.

The island was pretty active the entire time I was there. One of the highlights of the morning was a Black-billed Cuckoo alongside the road. The photo above is actually from a few years ago, but the bird was in almost the same place as where I digi-scoped this one.

Then there were all the warblers...

Northern Parulas and Magnolia Warblers were among the more common ones...

Wilson's Warbler's were relatively easy to see, although harder to photograph. There were also a few Canada Warblers around. I was lucky to get a few shots off of this guy...

Other warblers seen: Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Black-and-white, Nashville, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Chestnut-sided, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstarts, Ovenbirds, Northern Waterthrush. 15 total, not too bad. Unfortunately, there were no Cape May, Blackburnian, Bay-breasted or Tenenesse Warblers today on the island.

I also had a lot of sparrows on the island - White-crowned Sparrows got people's attention at a few locations...

And, of course, Towhees were singing everywhere, so I couldn't resist snapping a few pics.

Also, I kept finding Lincoln's Sparrows - this normally shy and retiring sparrow was pretty bold yesterday, at one point coming within 2' of a few people I was chatting with. (they had their backs to the sparrow and it popped out right in front of me)

Seemed like migration was in evidence everywhere, from Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Scarlet Tanagers singing, to new warblers and sparrows , extending even to shorebirds as the Semi-palmated Plovers, Semi-palmated and Least Sandpipers.

Also, the Woodcock that I saw on the nest a few weeks ago apparently hatched her eggs on Wednesday. I happened to find her with three chicks about 5' from the boardwalk at one point. Unable to get any photos since the underbrush was so thick, but the chick were absolutely adorable. The beaks are not full grown yet obviously, but they did seem a little too big for their little black and yellow fuzzy bodies.

I was going to add more info here about Bird-a-thon, but instead I'm going to do a new and separate post...

Monday, May 12, 2008

3 best photos from the weekend.

I finally got to get out this weekend and enjoy spring migration. Both Saturday and Sunday we (Paul, Diana, Pamela & myself) started out at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, one of the famous "hot-spots" for spring warblers (which just happens to be relatively close to us). Saturday morning was overcast and pretty cold, and not nearly as many birders as I expected, but the birds were there. Black-throated Blue Warblers were everywhere (although not as common as the ubiquitous Yellow-rumps.)

We dipped on the Hooded Warbler that was seen near the tower, but managed to find several other target warblers, including Tennessee, Blackburnian, and Cape May. These birds are often a struggle for many as they are often in the very tops of the trees which are now leafing out.
Listening to 6 different people giving directions to a bird that is 50-60 feet up, is both funny and irritating - funny when you've already found the bird, irritating when you're still trying to locate it! Then throw in the constant commentary from those around you...
"OK, I've got it -look for the dead branch at three o'clock, now follow it to the end, it points to another branch that is crossing in front a fir tree. Go up six feet from there and watch for the movement."
"I think I see it - did it move left? Oh wait, it just flew."
"No it didn't, I'm still watching it."
"OK wait... start again, I go left from the dead branch to an opening..."
"Let me try it a different way - follow the main trunk up to where it splits in three directions, go out the left branch all the way to the end... "
Now various other birders start chiming in on how they think one should look, usually accompanied by "Stand here in front of me and look toward..." "It just hopped to the left"
"It just dropped down" or my favorite - "It's right out in the open"
To be fair, many birders are pretty good at giving directions to a bird, it's just when there are such large numbers of birders at a hotspot trying to get on one tiny little half-ounce bird that is 40ft away, well, it's pretty comical to me.

Ovenbirds were very cooperative this weekend. For a bird that is more often heard than seen, this weekend it was the opposite. I saw at least 7 different individuals, and photographed four - the best photo is this one.

Now I know that American Robins are pretty common, even finding nesting robins isn't hard. Nevertheless, when one flies in to feed young at a nest at eye level, it's will still make you stop and take a second look. (And it you happen to have a camera in your hand at the time, so much the better...)

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Migration has arrived...

...and I'm missing out! The weather has been beautiful and the reports are coming in fast and furious, and I have been stuck in the office for the last several days starting at 6:30am, and not even getting out for a lunch break. I've been getting out pretty late most days also, so rather than getting to see some birds then, I'm sitting in traffic sucking exhaust fumes, or better yet, sitting in a dentist chair for two hours while having a crown done.
My big plan was to get out this weekend and bird Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge both days, but the weather reports so far are predicting rain and temps in the 40's to low 50's, so we'll see what happens.

SO, while everyone else is posting beautiful photos of spring warblers, orioles, tanangers, etc, I was going to post a photo I got a few weeks ago of a Flicker that I rather like...
BUT blogger seems to be having a few problems at the moment and I can't even do that!

Ever have one of those weeks where nothing seems to go your way?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Some photos from the last week

Migration seems to be a bit slow in coming this year. In the last week I've not had much to post about, except an odd visitor to my feeders at work. (Actually the reports today seem much more optimistic than the last week - unfortunately, I was unable to get away from work for any amount of time today.)

Pine Warblers, along with Palm Warblers seem to be the vanguard of our warbler migration, so it is not unusual to see them by this point. What was odd was that this Pine Warbler was coming to my feeders at work, and specifically to the suet feeder. I think this is the first time in the few years I have had feeders up in my office park that I've had a warbler come. Last time I saw him was a few days ago now.

On Saturday, while Pamela attended my sister's bridal shower, I headed out to Plum Island, where things were cold (low 40's fahrenheit) and wet. Overall a show day, but there were a few highlights including watching a large Peregrin Falcon wanting to get at something a Great Black-backed gull was picking at. (Which turned out to be a Gadwall - I suspect that it was the falcon's kill and the gull forced her off it) Also there was a pair of Tri-Colored Herons on the refuge. But one of the best points of the day was being "let in on" the location of a nesting woodcock. It was far away enough that people couldn't get to it, and you wouldn't even notice her if you didn't know where to look. I was able to get a shot or two off where she was relatively in focus (difficult with the combination of very low light and a lot of branches, trees and twigs between her and where I was) and then quietly move on.

That's all for now - with any luck I'll be able to get "into the field" tomorrow afternoon/evening and start to enjoy the spring migration!