Friday, May 15, 2009

Cape Cod - third day

Sunday promised to be the best day of the weekend, cooler than Friday but with mostly clear blue skies, so we set off extra early, leaving the hotel at 6:00 and starting out on the Beech Forest Trail at around 6:40am. I am pleased to announce that I managed to avoid getting stopped for speeding for the whole trip too!

Most of the warblers we'd seen yesterday had also decided to make use of the weather and head-on, so the walk was much quieter. The first new bird was this Orchard Oriole:

Apart from that we saw a number of Baltimore Orioles and the odd 'Butter Butt' and another Pine Warbler:

However it was quiet enough to prompt us to move on. On the basis we needed to end up in the hotel in Boston having dropped the car back at Logan Airport we decided on a meandering route taking in a few other reserves we'd not visited. First up the Audubon reserve at Moose Hills. It was Mothering Sunday in the US and on arrival the staff suggested we take a path leading us into one half of the reserve as we'd only hear the kids if we went the other way! The reserve was actually very quiet, surprisingly so and we surmised that the group we'd avoided was the second group of the day. We saw just three species of bird on the first four miles of trail though we did get the chance for a decent view of an Ovenbird:

When they see a human they hide behind the trunk of a tree, did it every time :) Very endearing. You wander on round and there they are. A later sighting gave me the opportunity to capture the head markings too:

We walked around six miles of trails in all and did see Tree Sparrow, Baltimore Oriole and various Sparrows, and on the last path back to the visitors centre, a Hermit Thrush:

Moose Hill was very quiet and though a very pleasant spot for a walk, the noisy groups of mothers and children had cleared a lot of the reserve. The places we'd planned on visiting subsequently were more urban and therefore likely to have had the same experience so we changed plans and headed for our, thus far, favourite spot, Ipswich River Audubon. It turns out our idea wasn't unique but thankfully it was busy mostly with walkers and birders, apparently there was a Prothonotary Warbler on the reserve, though we didn't see it.

Eastern Bluebirds have suffered a significant decline in breeding success, which is being combatted through the provision of nest boxes, for which they compete with the Tree Sparrows. The arrangement is working though:

We headed down to the Canoe Launch where said warbler had been spotted. From a clearing we watched a Broad-winged Hawk soar above:

As is true with almost any location in the USA or elsewhere, the further out from the visitor centre or car park the less people you encounter. We headed for the remotest areas of the reserve, assisted by some paths closed to protect nesting birds. One area was obviously Beaver territory:

In fact we spotted three new lodges that had been built since we last visited in Autumn 2008. One has been constructed part on a walkway over a swamp area :) The constant damming of the rivers and water flows has led to new areas of the reserve being dry and new areas flooded, fascinating to see that develop over time.

A bird that sounded very similar but none-the-less different to an Oriole sang overhead; we followed it for a bit as it bounced around the tree tops, sufficient for this snap of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak:

The commonest Sparrow on the reserve is the Song Sparrow. The Sparrow was the last bird of the trip as we needed to head back to the car and follow the build-up of traffic back into Boston ready for Helen's early morning flight home.

Cape Cod was wonderful, and we will absolutely be going back there, to both take up the kind offer of some birding with members of the Cape Cod Bird Club and to continue to explore. It looks like an Autumn trip would be good for migrant Shorebirds and possibly a trip to Monomoy Islands too...

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Cape Cod - second day

The people we spoke with at Wellfleet suggested that we should try the Beech Forest Trail, which suited our plans as we wanted to visit the northerly tip of the Cape. Unlike Friday, Saturday saw low lying cloud and drizzle becoming rain, but we weren't going to be put off so headed out around 6:30am, arriving at the car park around 7:15.

With the low cloud and the rain photography was hard work but I believe the weather actually aided the birding as we got to see a good number of warblers, often at distances of just a few metres.

First-up a Black-and-White Warbler:

We'd seen one of these before, in Florida this January, but not in breeding plumage. As well as Warblers, White-throated Sparrows were moving around the trail in flocks of thirty or more birds together. The noise of them scratching amongst the leaves as a group was quite something. The next bird of note wasn't a Warbler, rather a Great Crested Flycatcher:

Curiously, as we moved along the path, we were followed by a Northern Cardinal who kept quite close (worth a closer look this one):

Next-up an Eastern Wood-Peewee:

Whilst we were watching the Peewee a group of local birders approached. They were hand feeding the Chickadees and Titmouses, one of the chaps gave Helen some seed to have a try, here a Tufted Titmouse is perched just about to grab a sunflower seed:

Naughty really, but very, very cute. They are very light and of course trusting. We also understood now why the Cardinal had been following us, they pick up anything dropped or discarded, though they won't feed from the hand. This picture shows just how green the woods along the trail are:

Time for another warbler, this one is a Black-throated Blue Warbler one of the more common species on the Saturday:

We had also seen Prairie, Palm and Pine Warblers on our way round and a brief first sighting of an Ovenbird together with Yellow-rumped Warblers (which are locally nicknamed 'butter butts':)

The rain got heavier the cloud got lower so we headed up first to Race Point in the hope of seeing the whales; no such luck, though we added Red-breasted Merganser, Gannet, Ring-billed and Herring Gulls to the trip list. Next we headed into Province town hoping to find somewhere nice for a cuppa but there was just one cafe open and it was heaving so we parked up at a 'gas station' and got tea and coffee there instead. On the basis we'd had such a good time on the Beech Forest Trail we decided to head back there and go around it again, this time anti-clockwise.

One of the local birders had obviously put out some birdseed, this Chipping Sparrow was making the most of the feeding opportunity:

We sat and ate our lunch, using provisions bought on Friday afternoon, and watched the birds feeding. As we sat there a family of Canada Geese headed from the lake to shore then on to the grass to eat. The vigilant parents were guarding six recent fledglings. We wound down the window, and stayed very still and quiet. Sure enough they headed over to where the seeds had been dropped, allowing me to get a close-up of one of the goslings:

How cute is that? After the geese had moved on a Blue Jay dropped down to take his share:

Having the car window as a stabiliser meant that even in low light I was able to take very sharp pictures, here the bird is facing away, showing the plumage on the back:

These are 24-25Mb picture files, compressed in the process of loading to the blogging site but still really very detailed.

We finally decided to walk the path around again, it's only three-quarters of a mile, the rain had stopped and most of the birds moved away from the feeding area. First up a pair of Eastern Kingbirds in the woods, followed by an Eastern Towhee alongside the path, foraging like the Sparrows in the fallen leaves:

I was amused by the way this Gray Catbird had plumped itself up:

Prior to this trip I didn't know why they were called Catbirds. Suffice to say if you hear a cat in the woods in Massachusetts in Spring it's probably a bird :) We added Brown-headed Cowbird, Wood Duck, and then a fabulous new bird, a Magnolia Warbler:

followed almost immediately by another new bird, a Nashville Warbler:

and then another, this a Chestnut-sided Warbler, though by now it was raining again:

Back at the car, we watched a Common Grackle feeding on a fresh 'deposit' of sunflower seeds:

Having completed our second loop of the trail we headed off next to Pilgrim Heights and the two trails there. The first bird from the trail was a Sharp-shinned Hawk, followed by a displaying Ruby-throated Hummingbird:

Another new species! Whilst on the trail a Wild Turkey ran across the path though too quickly for my reactions. It's an interesting spot because of the history associated with the Pilgrim Fathers, the founding of the colony at Plymouth, etc., and reasonably popular with tourists. The car parks are huge - though at this time of year also empty :) This is a view from an overlook on one of the trails, with just a hint of sunshine on the sand dunes:

We very quickly added another new species in the pine woods at the end of the trail, a Pine Warbler:

We also spotted a Cedar Waxwing and our only woodpecker of the holiday, a lone Downy Woodpecker. At this point I was also the proud owner of six major mosquito bites, despite having used citronella so even though I'm allergic to DEET, that's what it'll have to be from now on.

Other birds included this Olive-sided Flycatcher:

Followed by another flycatcher, an Eastern Phoebe:

Considering the light I'm delighted with this 'Butter Butt' taking off, taken earlier in the day:

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Cape Cod - first day - afternoon

Next up we headed the short distance to the Audubon reserve at Wellfleet and were immediately rewarded with views of Eastern Bluebird, Tree Swallow and Baltimore Oriole:

We went through the centre to access the trails and were startled first by a plunge attack from a Cooper's Hawk on some unsuspecting bird, that escaped, but which drew the attention of a Red-tailed Hawk which alighted on the tree no more then five metres from me:

Birds on the various trails included Great Black-backed Gulls, White-breasted Nuthatch, more singing Northern Cardinals:

A Northern Mockingbird alighted on a tree above us whilst we ate lunch:

And an Eastern Towhee (ssp. rufous-sided) was perched on a bush proclaiming his fitness:

Of course it's not just birds, we also saw Musk Rat, and crabs, hundreds and hundreds of little crabs which scuttle down their little burrows as you approach. In some places it's actually very hard not to step on them, but we managed it:

And squirrels:

Very cute! Back at the visitor centre, we stopped to top-up our water bottles and chat with the staff about other good birding locations on the cape when a Baltimore Oriole landed on one of the feeder, turns out the staff load some feeders with jam, which the birds really like:

So that was Friday!

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Cape Cod - first day - morning

We had extensive plans, made over some month or so, to visit Acadia park in Maine, on the basis I had another business trip to the USA for over a week and Helen had just enough holiday left to join me. However as the trip got nearer it became apparent we were probably just a little too early for the park to be really accessible but also the weather forecast looked awful - predicted continual heavy rain for at least two and a half of the three days we had planned. A last minute change of plan was therefore required. In the end we settled on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Logistically this involved re-routing Helen and her catching an Amtrak from New York whilst I drove down to meet her at Providence.

Friday morning dawned bright with only patchy cloud so the weather had blown through. As we hadn't had a chance to get provisions on the way down and didn't know the area we had to wait in the hotel until they opened to serve us breakfast, eventually getting out just after 8am.

First stop was the Salt Pond visitor centre, which though closed we knew had some accessible trails we could walk. Of course the first bird was a Black-capped Chickadee:

Very friendly little birds, no doubt due to all the hand feeding! Also in the trees behind the visitor centre we saw (and heard) a Northern Cardinal, singing away, and a small group of Purple Finches:

Other birds seen form the trails included Greater Yellowlegs, American Black Duck, an inquisitive Tufted Titmouse:

American Goldfinch:

Chipping Sparrow, Common Grackle, Gray Catbird, Mourning Dove and a splendid Red-winged Blackbird, really going for it with singing and displaying:

and here in profile:

As we headed back to the visitor centre having walked around the four-odd miles of trails, we spotted our first warbler of what could also have been called 'Warbler Weekend', a stunning Yellow Warbler:

Fifteen patient minutes later (about our limit), one got really close (definitely worth a click for a closer look this one):

And finally for the Salt Pond visitor centre, a Carolina Wren. We thought it looked more like a Bewick's Wren but having checked with the Cape Cod Bird Club, they very helpfully confirmed the ID for us (along with another seven or so birds across the weekend - thank you all!). Old World Wrens sing from cover but not this fellow, sat on a post singing away, ignoring us completely. A great start to our Cape Cod trip.

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