Friday, June 20, 2008

Birding in Boston

A new job, and my induction is in Boston, Massachusetts. When I landed it was in the midst of a serious heatwave with temperatures only normally seen at the very height of summer. Being a an Englishman/mad dog I went out for a walk with no suntan lotion in jeans and thick top, as soon as I'd checked into my hotel. Big mistake, I lasted thirty minutes before returning to my room with my tail between my legs, at least I had walked the flight out of my system though, and seen some new birds :)

The Charles River flows through the heart of Boston and is as large a river as the Thames where it passes through London. Along its course I encountered American Herring Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls, and a number of Double-crested Cormorants:

Along the banks of the river too were a number of birds, including this Common Grackle:

According to my field guide they 'sometimes have a blue-ish tone to their head'. Right. I'd say that was really rather blue actually. Their eyes are great too and the way they fan their tail when sat on a perch and best of all is their call 'grackle, grackle', brilliant :)

Further along there was a freshwater puddle on the concrete, and a group of bathing Starlings were joined by this Killdeer, in the middle of Boston!

I pursued a Baltimore Oriole though the trees but as well as my wilting in the heat, the bird proved very elusive. I did however get very close to this Black-crowned Night Heron, in a small group of trees by a busy intersection:

You can tell how hot it was as the bird didn't want to fly and was 'panting' to try and regulate its body temperature, I left it be. Well, after that brief foray into the city it was time to knuckle down and get to work, that was until Saturday when Helen joined me for the weekend :)

I was as keen as mustard to drag her out first thing as there are a number of prominent birding sites close to Boston. For our first stop we chose Plum Island, a Wildlife Refuge just up the coast from Boston itself. I made my only serious gaffe of the trip here, I didn't notice the speeding limit and was stopped for doing 45 in a 25 zone. The parks authority policeman was not very amused and frankly neither was I. Thankfully he decided against ticketing us though I believe it was a close call. Lesson learned, I am going to faithfully obey the speeding limits in America, wherever and whenever!

The next lesson we learned was that there are a lot of biting insects in that part of the world at this time of year, so having been let off by the policeman, we were back in our car within 10 minutes and driving to the gate to 'borrow' some insect repellent. Despite a liberal dosing I got into double figures with my bites, whereas Helen only managed 5 but had a much more severe reaction to all of them! So next time extra Deet strength insect repellent will be packed.

We then drove all the way back to Car Park no 5 at a very respectable 22-23 mph and parked up. The policeman by now must have thought all English people were indeed as crazy as he suspected. The first bird we identified and probably the most common bird on the refuge was the Red-winged Blackbird:

I still think the American Robin is the closest New World relative of our Blackbird, I think this bird got its name due to its colour rather than a very close genetic relationship. On the first path itself, a pair of Mourning Doves:

And wading in the pool off the path, this Snowy Egret:

A very similar bird to the Little Egret. After a short while it took off and flew past:

We walked through the 'marsh habitat area' with Helen slapping at my back and shoulders as the mosquitoes queued up to land and try and get at me through my clothes (a couple succeeded). Our naivety was rewarded with excellent views of some Cedar Waxwings:

They really are stunning birds and if you saw one in the UK you'd be doing very well :) We decided to walk along the road by the maintenance area as there had been sightings of an American Bittern, but to no avail. We did however get to watch a multitude of Bobolinks , including their frequent habit of chasing smaller birds (typically Savannah Sparrows). I took a number of photos of Bobolink's but they proved to be fast moving and elusive birds, which is surprising considering just how noisy they are!

Further along the road we spotted this Willet, in a rather unusual habitat:

As you can see it was struggling to maintain balance which proved rather amusing.

Back with the car, we headed to the last car park and up into the observation tower. There wasn't much to see flying around, but this male Song Sparrow was singing long and loud in a bush halfway down the tower. I think he noticed the attention he was getting:

From the tower we crossed over for a walk to the beach. Perched on the railing of the planking, this Brown-headed Cowbird, this time with no cows about:

You can tell from the background there are a lot of purple flowering things on the island. Back towards the car, another Cedar Waxwing, this time with the plumage on its head being blown to form a 'crest':

Heading back along the Island and toward the exit, we spotted a pull-out we hadn't seen on the first few trips up and down and went to have a look. Again nothing much moving about but there was a pair of Brown Thrashers by the blind, this one took cover as we approached:

On the pools by the road, we spotted a Great-white Egret. We'd seen (presumably) the same bird earlier, but much further away, this time it was close enough to photograph, I like the swamp goo you can see attached to it's foot:

Another relatively common bird on Plum Island is the Eastern Kingbird. The bird is reminiscent of the Old World Flycatchers and is indeed a Flycatcher:

Our last and most fleeting sighting on Plum Island was a small group of Glossy Ibis, they flew in and over a pond and then off again, they didn't even land, luckily we were in the right place at the right time. Having seen Ibis in South Africa and an escapee in Norfolk helped us ID the birds on the spot:

Next we decided to head to another Audubon of Massachusetts refuge, this one at Ipswich River, a 200-acre refuge, the largest in the state. The very friendly volunteers at the information centre at Joppa Flats just off Plum Island gave us directions.

En route we stopped for a 'sub' lunch and spotted this female Wood Duck on the pond at the back of the store, she had a large group of youngsters but they (sensibly) scuttled to cover very quickly as we approached:

We got out of the car at River Island and headed to the reserve house. It genuinely is a house, with feeders in the garden, a lawn, etc. Not at all like the RPSB. They did have insect repellent and a few books but a real money-raising opporutnity missed there I think.

On the approach to the house, this critter was unpreturbed, munching at the grass and, we think, some thrown nuts. It looks like a Marmot.... but I have no idea what it is... anybody know?

In the car park we'd seen a large bird of prey being mobbed by a smaller bird of prey. We left the house and started the first trail, which led behind the house and guess what was perched in the tree right in front of us?

I think it's a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk, again any feedback much appreciated:

Whatever it is it was huge! On the feeders at the rear of the house, were a couple of oustandingly coloured birds, Northern Cardinals:

If I were that colour with a large hawk only 50 feet away up a tree I wouldn't be perched out in the open on a feeder! Maybe the colour and sheer bravado is part of their display? Stunning birds though, absolutely stand-out.

We headed into the refuge, which did indeed encompass a number of different habitats, this being a mixture of woodland and swamp (and alive with crawling, flying and buzzing beasties):

In a tree a Yellow Warbler sang:

Further along the path and in another swampy bit I snapped this bird. My guess is it's a juvenile Red-winged Blackbird, by the colour, posture, bill shape and location, but I really don't know for sure:

On the water this almost perfectly formed Lily:

Ducking across our path we spotted this Grey Catbird who flew to a perch to watch us pass-by:

Another Grey Catbird this time watching prospective meals from a bridge over swamp:

It'd been a year since we last walked anywhere in America, so time to get reacquainted with the very squeaky and deeply cute Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel. This one was so 'not terrified' it sat and cleaned its tail in the shade of a big tree:

All about the woodland were the very brightly coloured but very hard to photograph Baltimore Orioles. This is just about the best shot I managed:

This one was working on the nest, whether repairing or completing I don't know, there were also fledglings being fed too:

So just one day out but a fabulous day. I'd particularly like to be around that area in Spring Migration, I gather the numbers of waders that passage along the coastline are truly astounding to behold. Fingers crossed.

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Blogger Mark Wilson said...

Hi Michael, nice write-up of your trip. I completely forgot to warn you about the bugs - sorry. I was thinking that they weren't so bad this spring ;-)

You were lucky with the Glossy Ibis - I have only seen them on Plum once so far this year.

The mammal on the lawn is a Woodchuck - wish the one in my yard would show like that!

The hawk is indeed a Red-tailed.

The little squirrel is in fact an Eastern Chipmunk - Golden-Mantled is a Western species.

6:18 pm  
Blogger Michael said...


A woodchuck! Excellent. Thanks also for the chipmunk ID. I see you blog now too, bookmarked :)



7:11 pm  

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