Saturday, March 1, 2008

Snowy Owl at Drumlin Farm!

Today was the inaugural day for my Mass Audubon membership- I got a membership for myself and my boyfriend yesterday and today the cards were in action!
It snowed last night into this morning and I really wanted to get out there and enjoy the snow before it's too late! Yes, unlike everyone else in Boston I am not sick of the snow. Ok, I'm a little tired of shoveling but I truly love having snow on the ground since it's been a rarity in recent years.
I threw on my Tretorn rubber boots and we headed off into the slush. At the point we got to Drumlin Farm it was lightly sleeting, and the overall temperature was pretty mild today so the snow had gotten very wet. The boots help up great- my feet were completely dry and warm- I highly recommend them.
We explored the farm yard for the first time, now that we did have to pay for admittance. We checked out the Drumlin Underground, which allows you to view various animals' dens through glass panes from within a basement of sorts. The dens are connected by tunnel to the above-ground enclosure. The only active animals today were the Red Fox and the Black Fox (?). The Red Fox was the friendliest though- when we went around to the above-ground enclosure he stayed out in his pen and jumped around and seemed interested in us. Maybe it was the fact that we were the only people walking around the grounds today...Oh and on our way out the door of the Underground there was a tank containing baby mice that had just hatched. They were red and squirming around their mother.
We went on to check out the birds in Bird Hill. They included owls (barred owl, great-horned owl) raptors (red-tailed hawk, broad-winged hawk, american kestrel), a pheasant, and a crow. They all had interesting back-stories and it's nice that they found a good home where they can also help educate.
As for birding, we certainly heard lots of active birds on the grounds, but dismissed a lot of the common chickadees and titmice in favor of covering more ground on this wet sloppy day. There were some very active male cardinals that caught my attention. Normally when I encounter cardinals I only see a male/female pair; however, today was interesting because I saw males only and observed how they were interacting with each other. There was a lot of squawking and chasing going on, which I found interesting. I kept assuming that I would see a female in the mix, but no- just males chattering and following each other around the canopy. I decided to do a little research since I'm ignorant on the subject and I learned a lot from All About Birds on the Cornell Ornithology Website.
The most natural thing to assume is the sparring had something to do with a female, and the site said they will very fiercely defend their breeding area. Perhaps there was a new male trying to encroach on that patch of land. I also learned that brighter colored males are also evolutionarily superior, living in areas with denser vegetation, feed more often and have better reproduction success. I can't recall the colors of the various males I saw, but here is a picture of one I captured from far below. Note his crest high in the air.

I also saw quite a few robins during the trip.

I stopped to take pictures of a bird that was along high up in a tree making a shrieking sort of noise since I thought it might be a type of hawk. Upon getting home; however, I discovered it was merely a robin!

And a BirdingGirl post wouldn't be complete without a Mystery Bird!

Here's the progress I've made so far: At first glance I thought it was just a house sparrow since it had brown and white feathers, but it was by itself and that made me pay more attention. Next I tried getting a closer look at the coloring and saw that there were markings on the head. It also hopped and clung upside down more than I've seen house sparrows do. I managed to get some pictures through the trees, but unfortunately the branches obscured most of them. This is the best picture I have to work with. Once home I pulled out my Sibley Guide and first started trying to identify if by the coloring on the breast and flanks, but that wasn't enough. The next identifying feature I saw was the beak, which is long and narrow. That helped rule out finches and sparrows. I picked up on the resemblance to the ovenbird I saw at Gifford Pinchot State Park in Pennsylvania, but I remembered that bird was large and kept to the ground.

Here are my guesses- feel free to shoot me down!

Swainson's Thrush, Gray-cheeked Thrush, or Hermit Thrush- narrow beak, spotted breast and white eye-ring (which can be seen just barely in the photograph); I'm leaning toward Swainson's because the tail seems to be more gray than red.

Ovenbird- again, I doubt that it is this, but the spotted breast, white eye-ring and stripes on the crown make me consider it.

Last but not least, I have to report on the Snowy Owl we saw. I'm still trying to verify that there have been other sightings at Drumlin Farm, but I am 99% positive that's what I saw, especially after having seen one already at Crane Beach in Ipswich.

I first spotted it as we came up the hill where Hayfield Loop meets Drumlin Loop. I saw it swoop down from a big evergreen over the hillside. I remember the distinct slow beating of the wings, along with the very long wingspan. I kind of shook it off as possibly a seagull, but then as we continued along the ridge of the hill I saw it come back up from the field and fly into another large tree up ahead. At this point the weather was getting really bad and I didn't want to expose my camera to anymore sleet and wet snow so we didn't hang around long enough to see it again. Not to say we didn't try- we did linger for another 10 minutes or so. But after all the time we spent tracking the snowy owl at Crane Beach we felt we had gotten that out of our system.


Kathryn and Ari said...

Always great to meet another New England birder! I'm curious about your black fox, too. I don't think we have them here in Maine.

Birdinggirl said...

Hi Kate,

Thanks for stopping by. Yes, unfortunately we only saw the black fox briefly but it was a nice surprise. I had a chance to check out your blog just briefly- it sounds like there's a lot going on up there in Maine. I loved all your dog pictures, and also the one of the lynx- very cool!

I have one post about my friend's dog that you might like:



Bennet said...

I'm leaning toward Hermit Thrush on your mystery bird, I don't think the spots on the chest extend far enough down to be a Swainson's. I only just got my first Hermit down in Florida last weekend, though, so I'm not an expert on thrushes yet. You should submit that to BirdQuiz or a listserv or something, it makes a great mystery pic.

Glad to hear you have your Mass Audubon membership up and running!

Birdinggirl said...


Thanks! I'm excited to visit more MassAuduon sanctuaries with my new membership.

Thanks too for the tip about the mystery bird. The Hermit Thrush seems to be the most common for this area and that was my initial ID. I'll do a little more research on the Web and see what it looks like in a variety of situations. I'll have to look into the sites you recommended. I'm registered on eBird and also I'll have to start sharing pics on there as well.

Happy Birding!

Larry said...

I was thinking Hermit Thrush.-Snowy Owl!-How cool is that! I really didn't know about the Black Fox-very nice Cardinal observations.-I haven't visited your blog for a while-You've been a busy BirdingGirl!