Thursday, July 29, 2010

Plum Island continued: Eastern Towhees, Purple Martins and more

Continuing with my visit to Plum Island Part III:
---So I broke for lunch, settled myself on a bench on the Sandy Point boardwalk and unwrapped a sandwich I had brought from home. Soon however  I stopped eating, mesmerized by an Eastern Towhee singing in the tree just above my head.

Eastern Towhee

Spectrogram and wave form show repeated complexes consisting of introductory note, a trill of 3 to 4 syllables and ending in a buzzy trill

I never managed to get a good look at the bird - it remained hidden the foliage, but driving back to the exit I saw an Eastern Towhee sitting on a small juniper tree by the side of the road.

Eastern Towhee

Further along the road, a Great Egret was hunting, leaning forward, stretching its neck longer and longer until it suddenly pounced on a prey in the grass. By the time I was able to get a shot, whatever it had swallowed was already half way down its gullet.

Great Egret

An Osprey was flying over the salt marsh.


I stopped at Ocean #1 to check out the Purple Martins. 

Purple Martin House

Purple Martin Adults

Detail: Adult Purple Martin

A very curious chick

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Least Terns, Common Terns, Sanderlings.... Fall migration getting on the way!

Part II of my early morning visit to Sandy Point on Plum Island last Sunday. 

Least Terns, the smallest of terns, fiercely protective of their young on the ground., were swooping around and screeching  above me as I walked near their territory, whereas the Piping Plovers were paying little attention to me..  Least Terns share the same nesting habits with them, although more adaptable and therefore less in need of protection as they also nest on all kinds of sandy spots, alkaline flats and even gravel roofs.

The juveniles waited quietly on the beach to be fed. I didn't want to disturb the parents too much; so I kept my distance.

Common Terns were less disturbed by my presence. Many were carrying  food in their beaks, although I didn't see any juveniles. Maybe they were just looking for a peaceful spot to devour their prey which they may have just stolen from other terns. They are very proficient klepto-parasites.

The presence of Sanderlings shows that fall migration has begun. They, along with Semipalmated Sandpipers, breed in the high artic and migrate south in mid summer. I only saw a few at this visit, all adults with the rust red head and neck. Until now I had only seen Sanderlings in their mostly gray and white non-breeding plumage on my previous visits later in the fall.

This solitary Short-billed Dowitcher was feeding in a shallow lagoon along with semipalmated plovers and sandpipers. It's migrating from subartic Canada to its wintering grounds which extend from southeastern US to the West Indies, Venezuela and Brazil and starts in late June

Here is another fall migrant. If the bird hadn't stretched its wing I would have had a difficult time identifying it as a Black-bellied Plover, but the dark axillaries gave it away. It's either a non-breeding adult or a juvenile but hard to tell from this distance.

It's a fairly large bird as can be seen here in comparison to the Semipalmated Sandpiper behind it.

Off shore was a flock of gulls, mostly Bonaparte's, adults and juvies. (I am correcting an earlier statement that this was a Black-head Gull - an expert ornithologist set me right.) 

Looking at this Great Black-backed Gull I decided it was time to break for  lunch.

Coming in Part III:  Eastern Towhees and Purple Martins.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

A Day on the beach with Piping Plovers

Adult Piping Plover

It was the best day of summer: blue skies with wispy white clouds, a broad expanse of sand with the  tide out, a breeze to take the edge of the heat and flocks of small shore birds running along the tidal shore, flying up, settling down again to extract morsels from the wet sand.

After a 2.5 hours drive I had arrived  at the Sandy Point parking lot on Plum Island at about 7 AM, a couple of hours before the Sunday crowds. Colored tape had been put up to keep people off the sandy center of the peninsula to protect nesting birds and chicks. At some distance I saw a couple of chicks running around in the sand, whereas the juveniles and adults were out along the shore line.

Piping Plover chick

Piping Plover chicks

Piping Plover chick
The juveniles were feeding along the water line along with the adults.

Juvenile Piping Plover

Juvenile Piping Plovers

Juvenile Piping Plover

A juvenile stretching its wings

Adult Piping Plover feeding

Adult Piping Plovers

Adult Piping Plover

Piping Plovers as a species are a globally threatened. The birds pick bare or sparsely vegetated sand for their nest sites, exposing them to all kinds of human beach activity. They have largely disappeared from their former breeding grounds on the Great Lakes. To protect them, all beaches in the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge are closed throughout the breeding season. The tip of Plum Island is not part of the refuge however and the beach is open, accessible by boat and by car through the refuge. The sandy center of that spit of land, as I mentioned above, has been cordoned off though.

Google Earth Map of Plum Island

Getting the right camera setting was very difficult. The bright light and glare made the screen black and the histogram, just barely visible, is of no great help with the stark contrast of the harsh morning sun. I have hesitated for a long time because of the expense but after this trip I determined I just have to spend the money on a Hoodman Loupe that would allow me to adjust the settings without guessing.

Thanks for stopping by. Happy Birding!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Orchard Oriole

It's always a thrill to see Orchard Orioles. They generally prefer habitats with low density human population such as farms, parkland, floodplains, marshes, riparian zones, and they don't stay for very long. They arrive sometime in April, rear one brood and often migrate south again as early as mid July.

So following recent reports on the VT birding listserve I drove to the Putney Great Meadow, a vast field planted in part with corn, in part alfalfa and part clover. The birds were feeding on the invasive common buck-thorn along a railroad track at the far edge of the field. I was able to get some photos but only from a distance, so the quality is kind of low.

I believe it was a family of a male with a female and one fledgling but it could have been two fledglings. The fledgling looks similar to a female except for the bill which has a pink base instead of being entirely black.


Fledgling and male Orchard Oriole


A female was feeding on this Common Mullein (corrected - not Agrimony). But as soon as she spied me she flew off in a blur.

It's raining today, finally, after a paralyzing heat wave, time to catch up with house work, but there is all this activity outside my window....One in particular which over a long run would drive me crazy: the plaintive wee wee wee of a fledgling Rose-breasted Grosbeak, being quiet only for a moment when food is being stuffed down his beak. He keeps both parents working hard.  

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Friday, July 2, 2010

Birds of Summer....

It's the time for tending, feeding and rearing the young.

American Robin

Song Sparrow

I photographed these Bobolinks last year. Haven't seen any yet this year, but then their meadow was cut much earlier this year, leaving no time to rear the young. Bobolinks are threatened with loss of high grass habitat.  Farmers are faced with a quandary: cutting late allows these birds to flourish but it diminishes the nutrient and monetary value of the hay.

Female Bobolink

Male Bobolink

Male Bobolink

Lastly here are a couple of juvenile Barn Swallows

Juvenile Barn Swallows

Juvenile Barn Swallows

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