Saturday, October 25, 2008

last stop - San Diego

The last stop of my trip was in San Diego. There were a few House Sparrows and Feral Pigeons in New York, but nothing of note, and the previous week I'd seen my first Cooper's Hawk in a park in Chicago but it was raining so no snaps. San Diego was toasty, from 22c to 30c during the day. As it's also -3hours to the East Coast I was getting up around 4-5am each morning, so decided to take a short walk to the local park just after first light.

The most obvious bird in both volume and numbers, though hard to spot was the Black-chinned Hummingbird:

You hear them before you see them. There were a number of Purple Finches in the park, large number of Starlings and Feral Pigeons too. I did spot this lone Black Phoebe:

And finally, it's a flycatcher, it's looking at some other Flycatchers above it, but I have no idea what species it might be - but it sums up what I feel as I write this - I want and hope to see much more :)

Labels: , , , , , ,

Fall in Massachusetts - Sunday afternoon

(guess who tried to add another picture to the previous posting, hence the format issues - in the end I again couldn't add the picture as the formatting was much worse than it is now)

Sunday afternoon and our final destination for the weekend, Broad Meadow Brook, again another Massachusetts Audubon Sanctuary. As we got closer we were worried we had the wrong address as we were in the middle of the city of Worcester, or so it seemed. In fact you pull up to a fairly non-descript building and small car park, but out the back, it's like walking through a tardis. Basically the road is a single line of housing backing up onto woodland and a huge river valley beyond Worcester itself. So within five minutes you've escaped the city and are in a really very pleasant spot. Again Yellow-rumped Warblers were everywhere:

And here:

Also in the woodland, Downy Woodpeckers, Chickadees and Kinglets, etc. However my guess is in Spring the place will be absolutely teeming with breeding birds and much more 'alive'. Beyond the woodland there's a river side walk which is excellent. We spotted some unusual plants:

The berries are a rich velvety-red colour. Whilst walking along the river bank, we spotted a couple of birds circling low in the sky. If, like us, you've never seen a vulture before and can't make out the head and neck it can take some while to identify them, once you can make out the head however it's very straightforward. These shots are of one each of a pair of Turkey Vultures that soared overhead:

This one is lightened to bring some more detail out:

The Turkey Vultures were joined by a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk:

We got neck ache watching them and were surprised that most folk using the Sanctuary were clearly just out for a walk and so oblivious to the marvellous spectacle we were witnessing. Playing amongst the reed alongside the river, I think this is a Song Sparrow:

I thought at first this might have been an Ovenbird, turns out to be a Hermit Thrush, Auduboni:

The foliage is stunning. The reserves are much quieter than their equivalents in the UK so you really can get some personal space and time to experience the nature of the area, and it's all very accessible from Boston itself. We had a fantastic weekend. I have my fingers crossed for a weekend in Massachusetts in May next year. The last bird of note on a weekend of birding in Fall in Massachusetts, a Green Heron, stood proud on its own outcrop, feeding on passing fish and other invertebrates:

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Fall in Massachusetts - Sunday morning

And we thought Saturday morning was cold. Sunday morning we decided to head inland to Wachusett Meadow, another Massachusetts Audubon Sanctuary, which involved no small elevation gain and an eighty minute drive from the hotel. It was absolutely freezing. The locals, who were wrapped in mountain gear with ear muffs, hats, scarves and thick gloves, must have thought we were mental. There was quite a breeze too so we took the advice of the warden and started with the sheltered walks around the Sanctuary. The woodlands themselves looked very quite and peaceful except for the occasional volley of gunfire:

When we bumped into the warden again later he told us the muffled gunfire must have been target practice as whilst forbidden on the Sanctuary itself, killing for pleasure (aka hunting) is wildly popular outside but not allowed on Sundays. Of course.

Anyway soaring above the Sanctuary were a pair of Sharp-shinned Hawks, though they never got decently close:

This is the view of the meadow and beyond over which the birds were soaring:

The woodlands really were quiet of birds though, we heard small groups of Chickadees and Kinglets but not much else. We stopped by the warden's house having completed the southern loop and watched the activity around their feeders, including this Red Squirrel. We were invited by the warden to check the feeders at the back of his house, which flushed the squirrel away from his eating spot. He was furious and kept up a real racket whilst we were trying to watch the other feeding birds:

They included Downy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Dark-eyed Juncos:

From the warden's house we started a northerly loop up to Otter Pond, though we'd been advised after 9am the chances were we'd see nothing at all. They were right, not even a bird :)

On from there we crested the summit and were treated to magnificent views down into Connecticut (you can see over 60 miles on a clear day) and up to the higher peaks inland. We headed back down to the centre, en route a male Northern Cardinal showed particularly well, taking advantage of the seasonal abundance:

Another Downy Woodpecker female:

At the centre itself we saw Blue Jays, though they proved almost impossible to photograph, very skittish birds, a lone Grackle who was similarly jumpy and here a Chipping Sparrow:

Before finishing off at Wachusett meadow we decided to have a look in the wildlife pond in case there were any ducks around to see and photograph. Good decision.

We were stunned to see this Otter breaking the surface and then diving (it being 11am by now):

In fact there were two Otters, seemingly oblivious of us:

They appeared to be diving for some kind of weed then surfacing to eat it:

They were joined by a third Otter, though this one seemed much more nervous and kept calling and calling until they followed it further away from the shore and from us:

We watched the Otters for around ten minutes. A real 'goose-bump' experience that we truly hadn't expected and a real delight. They were still visible in the Wildlife Pond when we drove out some fifteen minutes later.

Next stop Worcester and the 'Sanctuary in the City'.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Fall in Massachusetts - Saturday afternoon

(my apologies for the formatting issue in the below post, despite approx. 20 attempts to correct it the software can't cope - I was going to include the picture of this White-breated Nuthatch and say how it had joined us at the top of a tower overlooking the swamp at the Ipswich River Valley, but that really mucked things up:)

Anway, Plum Island was a thirty minute drive from the Ipswich River Valley. We stopped off at the Joppa Flats Education Centre and were advised that an unusually high tide was due right about now. Well that did for our plans for lunch, as we headed straight out on to the Island, to see what might have been 'pushed-up'.

Our first stop was the car park opposite the salt pans. Though we were there to see what was in the pans, our attention was grabbed by a band of very small birds buzzing around the bushes to the right of the car park. They were Golden-crowned Kinglets:

Here's one stretching a wing:

These birds are remarkably similar to Goldcrests. At this point Darwinian evolutionary theory comes to mind. There are so many similar but distinct species in the old and new worlds that they must have had a common evolutionary source...

On the pans themselves and close-to this Greater Yellowlegs was wading and dashing around close to the shore:

Most of the Greater Yellowlegs were roosting but this one was very active and feeding. Birders we met later said there were also Long-bill Dowitchers, but we didn't see any.

Heading from the car park into the wooded area, a number of these Yellow-rumped Warblers were visible from the boardwalk:

And of course the colours of Autumn were everywhere:

Further along the Island we stopped in a car park with access to the beach via another Boardwalk (most of the paths stop short of providing access to the beach itself), the view was a delight:

Unusually there were small groups of waders 'hanging around' clumps of seaweed on the beach. I got the impression the unusually high water levels had confused them. It was good for us though as these birds were really close to. This is a White-rumped Sandpiper (thank you Mark):

There were numerous Semipalmated Plovers:

A lone (and confused) Savannah Sparrow 'roosting' with the waders:

A Sanderling scuttling up to the line of vegetation for cover:

More Semipalmated Plovers, this one wandering on the shingle:

We could have walked along the beach and no doubt seen many more birds, but we were loathe to disturb them too much so headed back to the car and further along the island. Next stop was another car park and another boardwalk. I'm advised this is a female Ruby-Crowned Kinglet:

That is due to its size, location and overall appearance, though I cannot fully resolve the plumage against the field guides I have. On the other side of the road a path led up to an overlook. There were plenty of ducks about including Garganey, Wood Ducks, American Black Ducks and Mallards. Near the overlook, we spotted this juvenile Northern Mockingbird:

I can only think this is another Savannah Sparrow; this time I'm using the general size and shape and in particular the chest patterns as the colouration on the head is confusing:

Out on the boardwalk overlooking the beach, this adult Ring-billed Gull in Winter (non-breeding) plumage:

The warmest part of the afternoon, around 3pm, reminded us just how tired we were so we decided to head back off the island and to the hotel, though with one last stop at the salt pans. We'd seen this heron on our previous stop but hadn't really noticed the differences versus a Great Blue, on closer inspection though it looks like an immature Tri-colored Heron, moulting to adult plumage:

A great afternoon at a great spot, the birds we saw on this visit being completely different to those we saw when we came in June. Other birds we saw but haven't pictured or blogged included Northern Harrier, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Snowy Egret, a Nashville Warbler and a pair of Great White Egrets.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Fall in Massachusetts - Saturday morning

My job meant I needed to spend another two weeks in America, so having been diligently saving Air Miles, Helen flew out to join me for the weekend. We stayed in a hotel to the North-West of Boston, which gave us easy access to all the places we planned to visit. Also being only partially adjusted to Eastern time, and with Helen just arrived we made a very prompt start on Saturday morning. It was freezing. We'd dressed for a British Autumn, so mild and with persistent drizzle. No sign of the drizzle, or for that matter the cloud cover, so early morning temperatures were much lower than we expected. Luckily Helen and I had packed gloves and a spare jumper, which was just as well otherwise it would have been a short visit at our first stop - the Mass. Audubon Ipswich River Valley Sanctuary.

One of our hopes of the trip was to experience 'fall' in New England, we weren't disappointed:

The first place to look for birds here is around the back of the house as they have a number of feeders set-up. On my way around the back a group of Cedar Waxwings were feeding in the trees, including this one:

On the feeders we saw White-breasted Nuthatch, Black-capped Chickadees and Crested Titmouses as well as some Mourning Doves and a Northern Cardinal.

A real benefit of being out early is that the birds are up and feeding and haven't been disturbed yet by anyone else. The combination of those factors and the confiding nature of some of the birds on the Sanctuary meant we had very good views of, for example, this female Downy Woodpecker:

She seemed oblivious to our presence and hopped about within a metre. A male Downy Woodpecker was also close-by, though higher-up:

The red spot on the back of the head being the distinguishing feature between male and female. The first 'unusual' bird, at least from our point of view, was this Red-bellied Woodpecker (he's worth a closer look):

A Tufted Titmouse:

As you can see here, the day was brightening up and the variety of trees made for some stunning woodland perspectives:

And being Autumn/Fall some elements of nature's larder were filling-up:

The birds that got closest to us were these Black-capped Chickadees, we later learned this is because regular visitors feed the birds from the hand, hence they were mooching around us for food:

Down in one of the swampy areas, this appropriately named/located Swamp Sparrow, was one of a pair chasing each other through the undergrowth:

We also had fleeting glimpses of a wren but no joy photographing one. As it was still so cold we decided to head back-up to the reserve centre for a coffee and to warm-up before continuing. Good timing. There's an open space between the woodland and the centre and perched on one of the Hirundine nest boxes was this Red-tailed Hawk:

We watched the bird settle in a tree and then, watching the ground, launch itself at a ground squirrel:

I was between the bird and the sun so have had to lighten the picture to bring some of the colour out. He missed so went to settle on another tree:

Before flying across the field to another hunting spot. You can see from this picture where they get their name from:

I wonder if this is the same bird that we watched when we were here in June that had been perched up by the reserve office? They don't sell coffee any more but they do have heating which we took advantage of, before setting off again. This time we decided on the large circular walk as there were reports of Ruby-Crowned Kinglets. About halfway however we spotted this Blackpoll Warbler, no sign of the Kinglets:

The third Woodpecker species of the day was this Hairy Woodpecker:

It looks very similar to the Downy but is distinguished by its longer bill and being a somewhat larger bird, though you get small Hairys and big Downys so the bill is the crucial discriminator. On a swamp we saw our first Heron of the weekend, a common Great Blue Heron:

I like how sharp the picture is, even in the substantially variable lighting conditions, the new camera body is a real treat in that sense, with the number of pixels really helping image quality, especially for more distant subjects.

All the way around the Sanctuary we were struck by the colours of the foliage on display:

A great morning, really special with magic moments including the very close Downy Woodpecker and watching a hunting Red-tailed Hawk for five minutes with the bird being no further than three metres away for a good part of that!

Other birds we saw this morning but did not photograph or have not included in this posting were American Robin, Brown Creeper, White-throated Sparrow, House Wren, Canada Goose, Mallard, Wood Duck, Blue Jay, American Crow, Hermit Thrush, Starling and House Sparrow. Next stop Plum Island...

Labels: , , , , , , ,