Monday, June 30, 2008

More on pelagic trip... with photos

Once again, I stayed up too late last night (when I ought to have gone to bed) to review photos from Saturday's pelagic trip. I managed to turn out a couple that weren't too bad. I have already mentioned the species we've seen, so here are just a few photos...

As is often the case, there were plenty of Wilson's Storm Petrels around. (As well as several Leach's, but I didn't get any photos of them.)

Also common in these waters are Greater Shearwaters:
The Cory's Shearwaters were also pretty common today, but seemed a little more skittish, flying away from the boat much sooner than the greaters...As I mentioned before, in addition to the birds we get some spectacular sea life as well. We came across a few groups of Pilot Whales that were very accomodating... One of my non-avian favorites from these trips are the ocean sunfish - Mola Mola. I usually stayed on the lower deck on this trip and I didn't get any great photos of them (since they are often laying flat to the surface of the water) but I like the fact that, even at this angle, you can make out the eye and a bit of the mouth on this one...But as I mentioned in my previous post, the stars of the day were the Saddleback Dolphins. We encountered at least one group, and possible more (don't know if we came across the same group a few times), each time numbering in the several hundreds.
And my best photo of the day...
I've posted more photos of both the birds and mammals at:

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A fish tale

Yesterday was a very long day. It started at 1:15am when the alarm went off and I got up to gather my things, then head out to pick up my friend Jason, and drive down to Hyannis, MA to board a boat at 3:30am for an all day pelagic birding ttrip with the Brookline Bird Club (BBC).
We saw the expected pelagic birds - Cory's, Greater, Sooty, and Manx Shearwaters, as well as both Wilson's and Leach's Storm-petrels. No big surprise birds though. Oh well, that's how pelagics go sometimes. The birds we did see, we saw very well. I think the highlights of the day though were not of the avian kind. In addition to Fin & Pilot Whales, several Mola Mola (ocean sunfish), a blue shark, and grampus dolphins, we had the most amazing experience with a large group of Saddleback Dolphins (also called common dolphin). There were hundreds seen at multiple locations, and they had a grand old time swimming in the wake of our boat, and beyond. I've never seen anything like it. Here is a short video that I shot trying to capture the sense of what it was like...

This was my first pelagic trip with my camera, and there was a bit of a learning curve, but after taking about 700 photos over a 12 hour period (over 450 were deleted immediately), I think I may have actually got a couple of good ones. I don't have time to edit and upload now, but hopefully in the next day or two, I'll post again with whatever turns out halfway decent.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Pelagic Birding

Getting ready for tomorrow's Brookline Bird Club pelagic trip to Hydrographer's Canyon.

We've been organizing these trips for a few years now, and they are becomming increasigly popular. The boat that we hire, the Helen H. out of Hyannis, is a fast yet highly maneuverable boat with a great captain, and we've got some great spotters who know their pelagic species pretty well, and can pick out rarities - like last year's Macronesian Shearwater, a first US record! There is always a great variety of birds and mammals, everything from Humpbacked, Sperm, Fin, and Pilot Whales, to dolphins, Loggerhead Turtles and Mola Mola, and then all the birds - storm-petrels, shearwaters, jaegers, and an occassional skua or Bridled Tern.
Additional info about the BBC Pelagic trips can be found here.

We start out early (4am, so I'll be picking up my friend Jason around 1:45am!) so that we reach the warmer waters beyond the continental shelf when it is getting light and have a full day out on the ocean, getting back to the harbor around 9pm.

Here's hoping that we have good weather and great birds!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Fenway Park Red-tailed Hawk

It has been a slow week for birding - migration has settled down and I've not had an opportunity to get out since the weekend. I did get an iota of birding in last night - at Fenway Park while the Red Sox were playing the Diamondbacks. Aside from the expected pigeons, mourning doves and herring gulls, we did have a nice flyover of one of the local Red-tail Hawks. This photo is not from last night, but from the press when a girl was bonked on the head by one of the nesting hawks back at the beginning of the season.

More photos of the Fenway Red-tails can be seen at:

And if you hadn't heard about it back when it happened, you can read the story at:

Monday, June 23, 2008

Notes from this weekend

This was the first weekend in several that we didn't have a lot of plans or obligations, so Saturday morning found us wondering what to do with our day. (Well, until fourish when we'd be joining friends at Mark & Laura's place for a Summer Solstice Barbeque.) After a bit of going back and forth, (should we see the Kites again? no it'll be a zoo today. what about Trudeau Road to look for Black-backs? that's pretty far and will usa a lot of gas. what about oxbow nwr? that's better later in the year, now we'll probably just get eaten alive. etc etc) we decided that we'd just head up to our favorite place for a few hours - Parker River NWR on Plum Island. It very rarely disappoints. Our first target bird on the island was Seaside Sparrow, and with the help of some directions from Tom Whetmore (the guru of PI) we had one in our sights pretty quickly. It was tee'd up and singing so it was actually pretty easy to find. Would've been a great digiscoped shot, had I remembered to bring my digiscoping camera. Oh well. We moved on to "the wardens" to check on an Orchard Oriole nest and found one of breeding Bobolinks cooperatively singing right next to the road, and I couldn't resist a photo.
We continued south on the island in hopes of spotting a Gull-billed Tern that has been reported sporadically from the island in the last week or so, with no luck. We did, of course, run into several friends and other birders -many of which we'd see again later at Mark & Laura's place.
At Sand Point, the south end of the island, the breeding Piping Plovers and Least Terns put in thier appearances.

After walking the beach a bit and not finding and Gull-billed Terns, we headed back north on the island and made a stop at Hellcat, walked out the dike between the Bill Forward and North Pools, and quickly spotted a Least Bittern. Photo's not that hot due to the distance and how well they can blend in. Again, would have been a great digi-scoped shot. I ought to know better than to leave without all the cameras!

We capped the day with great food and friends.

Sunday was a day to do other things. Primarily, we went to the tuxedo rental shop and spent a few hours looking at different shirt, vest, tie, and jacket combinations and finally came up with what I (and my friends Paul & Henry) will be wearing for the wedding come September.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

More on the Mississippi Kites in Newmarket NH

I noticed that a lot of the hits I've had for the last few days have come from people "googling" these birds. So I decided that, as a service to my readers, I am going to post a bunch of links to photos that people have uploaded in the last 5 days or so. (Note that these photos are much better than what I posted here!)
I imagine that there will be many more to come, as these birds look like they will be around for a while, but here is what has been posted so far:

Ben Griffith and Charlie Wright were the first to spot the birds this past week, and they did a great job getting the word out. Ben got a few photos and posted them here.
Steve Mirick posted a great map of the area showing where the birds were seen here.
My buddy Len Medlock got some shots on the 15th posted here.
Scott Young posted photos from 6/15 here.
Joe Sutherland's photos from 6/16 are here.
My friend Jason Forbes posted some of his photos from 6/17 here.
Scott Spangenberg posted 21 photos starting here.
Jon Winslow of Dover, NH posted a few shots here.
Chet Farwell, also from Dover, NH posted some photos here.
Ian Davies' photos from 6/18 are here. (this one and the next two)

I apologize to anyone who has posted photos to either Massbird or NH Birds that I might have missed. It is not an editorial call on my part, just a mistake! Shoot me an e-mail and I'll add your link to the above list.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Mississippi Kites in Newmarket, NH (cont'd)

A combination of factors led me once again to NH yesterday afternoon to check out the Mississippi Kites that have been reported for the last several days. When I last posted, we had driven up to NH to see the birds the day they had been reported. (They were actually reported a few weeks earlier, but were confirmed and seen by many on Saturday.)
Since that time, people have been checking in on the Kites almost constantly. They have seen the male bringing sticks to the female, copulation, then a female was found on a nest while TWO other birds were seen flying. So there are THREE MISSISSIPPI KITES in New Hampshire. Just in case you missed that, let me sum it up - there is a female Mississippi Kite on a nest, a Male that has been seen copulating with her, then a third kite, which appears to be a young female, that the male is also courting and seems to be copulating with. All this is happening for the first (documented) time north of the Carolinas Virginia. (I've not researched this well, so if you know of a documented nest further north, please let me know) Amazing!!! (Oh yeah, there is also a ton of photo documentation of all of this.)
So, for the last several days, I've been wanting to go back, since when we were there on Saturday, nobody had discovered where they were regularly perching (much less nesting) so all we saw were the birds in flight. I wanted to get much better looks, (and maybe a few pics of my own) but I'd been feeling pretty wiped out for the last few days. (Tired, achy, headaches, etc - I keep checking but haven't noticed any ticks on me in the last week, no odd rashes or anything, so I think I'm just trying to outrun a cold.) Yesterday, I had all my work done early, and headed home to try and get some rest. Pam had the day off but had an appointment in the afternoon. When she got in, we decided that since the weather was so much nicer than predicted, that we'd give another shot at the kites, and up we went.
The immature female sat out in the open for very easy looks (and obviously some digiscoped shots) while the second female stayed on the nest. Eventually the male flew in, and attempted a few 'passes' at the younger bird, then perched nicely for us while dark storm clouds rolled in behind us.
Not the best photos, but the looks - both perched and in flight - were fantastic.
Definintely worth the trip!!!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Long but satisfying day - AND a life bird!

Today was a long but very satisfying birding day. Today I had volunteered to be the "on-board bird guy" on a boat trip for my friend Doug. Each year his childen's school has a fundraising auction, and for the last two years his contibution has been a morning trip aboard his boat, and he throws me in as bonus to help identify the birds as we explore the Merrimack River, Plum Island Sound and a bit of the Parker River (for which the NWR is named). The trip was scheduled to start at 8:30am, so I headed north a bit earlier so I could stop at the refuge for a little while and check in on some of the reports I had seen posted. The big treat was a King Rail in the gravel area at "the Wardens" as I pulled into the parking lot there. He quickly ran towards the grasses, but continued to provide good looks for a minute or two before disappearing into the salt grass. A few other birders showed up and we were able to re-locate him. I managed to get a couple of quick photos before he disappeared again.

I then headed off to the boat to meet my friend and the lucky winner of the auction. She was a nice woman who brought her two children. I think they would have easily had just a good a time without me there, but I was able to point out the herons & egrets that are regulars, as well as talk about the ubiquitous cormorants, red-winged blackbirds, and willets. Marsh Wrens and Bobolinks were also singing and I was able to get them all to hear and distinguish their voices (above the din of the Willets.) I hope they enjoyed the trip as much as I enjoyed seeing the refuge from the water.

Once back on land, I called Pamela to see what she was up to, and she told me about a report that had hit Massbird regarding TWO Mississippi Kites that had been spotted in Newmarket NH... not two miles fom where I used to live. I made a phone call to my friend Steve M (who I met while I lived in NH, and who is another amazing birder - both in ability and enthusiasm, can't say enough good things about him!) to find out the latest sighting status, then made the decision to go for it. They would be life birds and I was only about 25 minutes away. Paul and Diana were heading there as they had been birding earlier that day in NH with a few of our other friends, Bob & Bonnie, so they were also all already in the neighborhood. Pam, not wishing to be left out, got in the car and headed up as well. When I arrived, Paul, Diana, Bob and Bonnie were already at the location where they had been last spotted, along with Mark, who had already seen the birds. Within about 10 minutes the birds were spotted soaring in the distance. They never did land anywhere near us but they flew realtively close and good looks were had by all, including Pamela who arrived about a half hour after we first spotted the kites.

This brings my ABA list up to 592 birds. I hope to be able to spot my 600th while Pamela and I are on our honeymoon this September (which will be an Alaskan Cruise!)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Broad-winged Hawk and bees

On my lunch break yesterday, I went back to the spot that we noted the Broad-winged Hawk nest a few weeks ago during Birdathon to see if any progress has been made. The hawk was still sitting quietly.

It is much more difficult to see (much less photograph) now that the trees have leafed out so much. If I didn't know exactly where to look, I would never have found it. These are the only photos that came out because the foliage happened to blow out of the way for a moment. I did hear another Broad-winged call (the high-pitched two-part whistle) from a little further away but never located it. Just as I was returning to the car, onesoared by above me and I got one quick photo off before it got too far away.

One of the reasons I was able to re-find the hawk's nest in the dense foliage is that I remembered that I needed to find and stand next to a dead snag that had what looked like an old Downy Woodpecker nest cavity. (I tend to notice cavities a lot, and in some people's opinion, spend entirely too much time looking at holes in trees.) Today, while checking the cavity I noticed some movement. Upon closer inspection, it seems that bees had taken over the hole.

I wasn't aware that they did that, but I guess they have to go somewhere! One more reason that woodpeckers are so cool.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hey! You said no more Prairie Warblers!

Wait just a gosh darn minute!
You said just yesterday that you wouldn't post any more photos of me!

Well, I said that I wouldn't post any more unless I got something really good...

And, well... I got what I think are probably my best photos yet yesterday evening of this bird. And of course, some more photos of the Indigo Bunting that is still transitioning into it's adul plumage. SO, no more after this of these two birds. I'm not even going to go back to this spot again this year. I will find other birds to photograph!

Showing a bit of the color on it's back...

Close-up and singing

Can't get much closer than this...

I like how some of the blue primaries have come in and others haven't yet...

Just as pretty as a full adult...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Just a few warblers

Most of the migrant warblers have moved through, and the reports on the local list-servs are slowing down a bit. Now it's time to pay closer attention to our local breeders. The weather was unusually hot yesterday - mid 90's - and should be again today. I got out for a little bit, but was really not dressed appropriately. Here are a few quick photos I snapped - really just so that I'd have something to post. (I promise, no more Prairie Warblers after this unless I get something really stunning.)

Meanwhile the birds at work have been a little boring, though with tsome interestng behavior. I have a few House Sparrow fledglings that have been sitting on the branch next to the suet feeder, peeping and wing-fluttering while mom runs back and forth to the suet to feed them. Don't know where my Downys went.

Also, one of my co-workers called me yesterday because there was a crow running back and forth across the parking lot with twine wrapped around it's leg and seemed unable to fly. I grabbed a scissor and a box-cutter and went out to see if I could help. I found a rather small young crow (even still fleshy near the corners of the mouth) tangled with the twine in a small bush, barely able to move at all any more. Two adult crows above let me now that they were pretty upset by my presence. The twine was really wrapped and knotted around it's leg, so I made the first cut as close to it's leg as possible to free it from the bush and before it did any harm to itself. (Needless to say, it was pretty upset.) As soon as I got him free of the bush, he ran off as fast as his little lets would take him. (Shaking the leg with the twine every couple of steps.) He didn't try to fly, which leaves me to believe he really wasn't ready to yet. I felt bad that I didn't get more off his leg. Since he obviously wasn't doing a lot of flying yet, and there was so much of it there, it makes me wonder if the crows had used the twine in making the nest and the fledgling bird grew with it's foot tangled in it. I'll be curious to see if they are able to get it off themselves now that it's not dragging as much.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Trip north on Saturday

At least, that's what these guys must've thought when they saw us coming!

Yesterday, I led a co-sponsored Brookline Bird Club/Menotomy Bird Club trip north to New Hampshire, to bird the Caps Ridge Trail and Trudeau Road. This is an area I used to bird a few times a year when I lived in NH, but only get up once or twice a year now as it is almost a three hour drive. The Caps Ridge Trail has the highest trailhead in the state at 3006' so it's a great starting point to look for birds that prefer the higher elevations. It also hosts some some boreal species at the southern edge of their breeding range. The big target here is Bicknell's Thrush, which we unfortunately did not find this year. I would suggest that anybody looking specifically for this bird take the tram up Canon Mountain near Franconia Notch as they have been reported there pretty regularly. (And, in fact, my friend Mark had a few there yesterday!)

We did manage to get most of our other target birds there though, including several Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, a single Boreal Chickadee (which was odd to me as I've typically had small scolding groups of them along the trail), many Blackpoll Warblers and these Grey Jays which enjoyed a free lunch handout fro a few members of my group. These guys are known to come in and take food from hikers that stop to eat at "pothole rock" which has a beautiful scenic view of the valley and the distant Mt. Washington House and Bretton Woods.

Another target for me on this trip was Black-backed Woodpecker. I usually get them either on the access road to Caps Ridge or near pothole rock, but didn't have them at either place this time. We did find a Hairy WP bringing food to a nest cavity that was filled with very vocal nestlings. I wasn't too worried as there had been two reported regularly from the trails off Trudeau Road in Bethlehem, NH which is where I found my life Black-backed some years back. So after a lunch break and a quick pit-stop we headed there, where we heard and saw a few very cooperative Blackburnian Warblers. Photos aren't great as they came out for good looks, but they were very backlit. That was ok, because I was really bringing the camera in hopes of getting some new photos of the Black-backed Woodpeckers.

Unfortunately, during our time exploring the trails, we never turned any up. That's just the way it goes sometimes. At one point we looked up to see a Red-shouldered Hawk soaring very high in the sky, and in almost the same view a pair of Broad-winged Hawks.

So instead of having a new Black-backed photo to post here, you will just have to be satisfied with a grainy one I took a few years ago of a pair about to change places at a nest cavity...

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Blue-winged Warbler photos (finally!)

I tried again after work this evening to see if I could get some photos of the Blue-winged Warblers that I've heard but had trouble seeing, much less photographing. The location is the Mary Cummings Park in Burlington, which is pretty convenient to work.

The Yellow Warblers were still common and easy to photograph.
And then finally, I managed to spot one nearby as I watched a second fly by. An hour's patience got me several opportunities for photos

And also, one stayed stayed long enough singing on the same branch that I was able to get some video!


Got out a little extra early this morning to see if the Blue-winged Warblers that I heard yesterday would be more active, and maybe come out into the sunlight for a few photos. They remained just as distant in the morning as they were in the afternoon. I didn't walk away empty-handed (empty-camera'd?) though, as an American Woodcock flushed from right in front of me and rather then disappearing, he just landed a little further up the path, allowing me to get a few dewy morning shots...

Flicker Day

Sunday was Re-bellied Woodpecker day at the Brooks Estate (see previous post), and Monday was Northern Flicker day. When I was watching the RBWO's on Sunday I noticed the flickers also going to a nest cavity, but the light was really bad, so I didn't get any photos of them. I went back after work yesterday and had some better light so I took a few photos and then moved on.

In case you didn't know, woodpecker nestlings (and in fact the nestling of many cavity nesters) excrete in tidy little bags called fecal sacs. This helps keep the home tidy, as there isn't a lot of excrement building up in the cavity with the chicks - the parents just take out the garbage after dropping off some food and drop it elsewhere. This is exactly what is happening in the photo below.

I've been trying forever to get a photo of a flicker with it's wings spread to show the beautiful golden linings. So far this is the best one - too bad it's so blurry. The light was very filtered and I was using a pretty low shutter speed (1/100 sec). Someday I'll get that shot!
I also managed to get out yesterday on m lunch break for a bit. Not too much in the way of birds (Yellow warblers everywhere, a few Blue-winged Warblers, and Willow Flyactchers, but none of them wanted to come out for photos.) I did come to a bush that was attracting dragonflies. I don't know much about them, but I do find them fascinating and need to learn more.

These are probably pretty common, but like I said, I don't know much about them. If anybody out there knows dragonflies, I'd love some help on identifying the following two:

I'm not sure the photo does this next one justice - he was a beautiful green with rustThis one I am pretty confident is en Ebony Jewelwing. I got this shot off just as he was taking off...