Sunday, August 30, 2009

Late Summer Day

A gorgeous late summer day! Sunny, clear, no bugs, with the first hint of fall in the air.

                                                                                            Sumac in front of cornfield

                                                                      Cedar Waxwing balancing on a branch to pick berries

                                                                                                       Ripening berries

                                                                                                        Reflections on a stream

So far this year I have seen only two Monarch butterflies! I tried to take a photo but it wouldn't hold still until it settled briefly on some gravel on the path.

                                                                      A young Great Blue Heron hiding in the reeds:

We are off tomorrow on a road trip to Michigan - Grand Rapids and South Haven - for a family get-together - not much opportunity for birding, I am afraid, but I am looking forward to seeing family and friends.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Belted Kingfishers, Green Herons, American Crows and Poison Ivy

Saturday morning: after a brief stop at the Chatham Lighthouse, still in a predawn fog, I drove to the Mass Audubon Wellfleet Sanctuary. The sun was just coming up over the distant dunes across the bay:

Cape Cod tidal flats

From a birding blind I got some nice photos of a female Belted Kingfisher:

female belted kingfisher

female belted kingfisher

and a couple of Green Herons:

green heron

green heron

green heron

On the tidal flats Semipalmated Sandpipers were busily running back and forth gleaning the ground for tidbits

semipalmated sandpipers

and the air was full of noise from the many scavenging American Crows.

American Crows

I left the sanctuary at about 10 AM and headed out on to Rte 6, planning to stop at another beach or so, but when I saw the free-flowing traffic heading off the Cape I joined the exodus, thinking to avoid massive traffic jams later on. There had not yet been any signs of the coming storm, but as soon as I hit the mainland, the sky opened and rain was coming down by the bucketful.

During my visit I had been very careful to keep to the paths avoiding the poison ivy that was growing in lush profusion everywhere inland. Cape Cod appears to be the original home of the Poison Ivy, a shiny shapely three-leaved plant of the greenest of green. Actually quite beautiful.

poison ivy

Cape Cod - Roseate Terns

Race Point dunes
Continuing my post from this morning, I made it to Race Point Beach at the very tip of the Cape by afternoon. It was hot, the sand so hot that you couldn't walk barefoot on it; even hot for this Greater Black-backed Gull who was cooling off by keeping its beak open:

greater black-backed gull
Whereas Brattleboro was under a cloud of thunderstorms, here at the beach people were having a good time.

Race Point Beach
Small flocks of terns were flying parallel to the shore, so fast, and hard to catch a decent photo - in fact I had to discard about 90% of my photos. On closer inspection at home I verfied that most of them were Common Terns,(See correction below. On this photo only the bird on the lower right is a Common Tern; the others are Roseates}

Common Terns

But there were a couple of Roseate Terns - juveniles:

juvenile Roseate Tern

At Race Point I also bought a map and the Mass Audubon publication "Birding Cape Cod" to help me plan for Saturday. Exhausted and exhilarated I drove to Hyannis where I had made a reservation at a motel, and after a supper of a box of graham crackers brought from home and two ice-cold Pepsis out of the machine, I fell into bed to get up at 4 AM the following morning.

8/30/09 Correction: After checking with some experts it turns out that most of the terns that I saw were adult and juvenile Roseates:

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Indigo Buntings

I got out early this morning to beat the heat and the bugs, and took my two dogs with me on our usual walk along the West River trail bordering the cornfield behind the Marina. The dogs love to plunge down the slides made by beavers who cut down the tall cornstalks and drag them across the trail down a steep slope into the river. I kept my eyes on the cornfield and watched Indigo Buntings dipping in and out of the plants. Both males and females were well into their post-breeding molts.

Saturday I was to embark on my big adventure, an overnight extreme pelagic trip out of Hyannis, but it was cancelled because of hurricane Bill. Since I had already booked a motel for Friday night I decided to drive out anyway and do some birding along the seashore - get away from the heat and enjoy a fresh ocean breeze, and keeping my fingers crossed that it won't rain!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Marbled Godwit on Plum Island

Off to Plum Island yesterday in the rain, but it was dry by the time we arrived in Newburyport. The day remained mostly overcast, softening the light, which is actually an advantage when taking photographs. There were just a few gulls at the boat launch and harbor, and a lone double-crested cormorant in the water.

I had only about an hour at low tide to look around in the PRNWLR since I had to leave my husband and our dogs outside. The North Pool at first was disappointingly empty except for some black ducks on the opposite side and a small group of peeps at the far end. But as I watched the peeps picking in the mudflats suddenly a large bird landed close by: my first marbled godwit. It stayed for about 5 minutes and then flew off again. Here are some pictures:

Marbled Godwit

Marbled Godwit

Marbled godwits are scarce and local along the Atlantic Coast. This was probably a migrant, as migration for this species starts in July.

After the bird flew off I paid closer attention to the peeps. They turned out to be white-rumped sandpipers. Another lifer for me! These too were most likely migrants from their usual breeding grounds in the high Arctic to South America. Spring migration takes them through the Great Plains and fall migration through the Atlantic Coast according to The Shorebird Guide(M.O'Brien, R.Crossley & K.Karlson)


White-rumped Sandpipers

After lunch we drove out to the ferry landing at the other end of the island. I saw some gulls, very distant, but was able to get some shots of what turned out to be 1st summer Bonaparte's gulls:

Bonaparte's Gull

Bonaparte's Gull

All in all a very successful day!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Red-tailed Hawk, continued

Just a quick update: the red-tailed hawk youngster was back yesterday, on his own now. I kept hearing his thin sharp cries high up in the sky. It's been another beautiful day with white cumulus clouds at the horizon and a deep blue sky overhead. I hope it stays this way as we, my husband and I, are planning to head out to Newburyport and the PRNWLR tomorrow.

Spectrogram of squeals and click to play audio :

Friday, August 7, 2009

Squeals in the sky and a pair of unseasonable visitors on the ground, and more ...

red-tailed hawks
High-pitched squealing cries in the sky ... I had been sitting in the porch reading but jumped up and ran outside: high up in the sky two hawks were slowly circling, so high that they just looked like two winged spots. I had heard these squeals before coming from a red-tailed hawk nest in the neighborhood. My camera with telephoto lens brought the birds a bit nearer: a wind-blown parent and a compact neat-looking youngster that was vocalizing for the entire time that I observed it. Maybe it was on its first high-altitude flight and needed reassurance from its parent :-)
Click to play audio

red-tailed hawks

Yesterday afternoon I was working on the porch and casually looking up was thrilled to see two evening grosbeaks on the ground below the feeder; the first ones for me, and out of season too since they are usually only seen in the winter. Dave Johnston, who I ran into by the boat house near the Marina, told me who saw a group of EG on the West River trail at its Black Mountain Rd end. Maybe it's an early sign of fall?

Evening Grosbeak, mle
Evening Grosbeak, female
The two Evening Grosbeaks took off when my dog decided to investigate what I was looking at. Soon however another visitor settled in the grass looking for seeds, a very handsome male lst-winter Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

immature rose-breasted grosbeak
Later on, the tree, and the grass skirt around it, were overrun with Goldfinches, all males who were making quite ruckus. Actually I have never seen goldfinches forage on the ground for fallen seeds even when the feeder was empty.

American Goldfinches
Here are follow-up photos of the molting Blue Jay, who looks like his head feathers are starting to come back in,

Blue Jay
and Northern Cardinal, who is still losing his,

Northern Cardinal
and a new baldy, this very sorry looking Red-Bellied Woodpecker who just grabbed chunk of suet from the feeder.

Red-bellied Woodpecker, molting

It's getting dark and starting to drizzle, but the Goldfinches are still at it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Electronic Birding Guides

I am planning to go on a pelagic trip toward the end of August and was considering what fieldguide to take along, preferably one that didn't weigh much. For the past couple of years I'd been using the ufg guide (formerly "Peck") from on my Palm TX and had been fairly happy with it, but it lacked photos of the seabirds I was expecting to see. Also the screen of the Palm is almost impossible to see in sunlight. I investigated other platforms and decided on the IPod Touch which looked beautiful on photos. I bought it at Amazon and downloaded National Geographic's Handheld Birds and iBird Explorer Pro for $14.99 and $29.99 respectively. Both performed nicely outside in partial sunlight, but I much prefer the iBird Explorer Pro which has a wealth of information, i.e.both drawings AND photographs, text, maps, audio etc, much more than the National Geographic program. Here are some photos of the critical test, how does the IPod Touch compare to the Palm under these condititons?

The first photo is a juxtaposition of photos, in partial sunlight, of a Orchard Oriole on the IPod Touch using the iExplorer Pro program, and on the Palm using the ufg guide.

orchard oriole

This photo compares drawings on National Geographic Handheld Birds, which has no photos, on the IPod Touch with the same photo as above on the ufg guide.

The last photo is taken inside, eliminating the sunlight as a confounding factor.

orchard oriole

When held in direct sunlight the picture on the IPod Touch is recognizable whereas on the Palm it is not. Of the three birding programs the iBird Explorer Pro gets my vote. As to seabirds, it does great job too with both drawings and photos, range maps, facts, and Wikipedia which requires a wifi connection.