Thursday, May 29, 2008

Female Yellow Warbler at Blue Hills

My boyfriend and I made a trip to Blue Hills last weekend and I was thrilled when he wanted to go to Fowl Meadow. We hadn't been there since our first trip in January 2007 when I tried out my new camera. This time of year there's much more activity there, as many of you locals know.
Steve got some really great pictures of a Female Yellow Warbler:

We were tipped off about a Rose-breasted Grosbeak and about halfway through out hike we encountered a male that was very active and tended to stay high in the canopy, hence the crummy pictures:

We also encountered a Mallard family as we went through a swampy area. I heard them first and then saw the mother and babies making their way away from the path to the other side of the swamp. The male was actually in the trees above us and did a lot of squawking and flying around in distress. This died down of course as we got further away from the family.

Here are some non-bird pictures I got while in the Fowl Meadow. This is an iris that I saw along the main path that leads in from the parking area. Are there any flower experts out there? I'd love to know what species it is.

Here's a little violet or Johnny Jump-up I believe.

Here's a Garter Snake that Steve got.

We also encountered some Great-crested Flycatchers I believe (they were flycatchers and I'm assumed Great-crested since they're the most common around here) but didn't get any good pictures. Also lots of Yellow Warblers, Red-winged blackbirds and Song Sparrows. It was a great trip and I can't wait to go back and spend more time there.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Female Parula, Magnolia Warbler and other Mt. Auburn Sightings

I made a return trip to Mt. Auburn Cemetery Sunday to see if I could spot the Summer Tanager and identify the small gray bird I saw in the apple tree up by the tower. I got a late start and arrived around 1:30pm. I went up Indian Ridge first and saw the following birds:

Female Parula
Black and White Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler

Then I cut back along the path below Indian Ridge and then went over by the sphinx and the chapel. There I saw a:

Female American Redstart

Then I took a walk up Laurel Ave and the circle at the top turned out to be a great spot! Since there were so many many people birding and walking around I wanted to go somewhere quieter in the hopes of seeing some interesting birds. Sure enough, there was no one else up there and I was able to observe a variety of warblers and several Chipping Sparrows. Here are some that I captured:

Chipping Sparrow

American Redstart (including birds found in other locations)

Black-throated Blue Warbler
As I got closer to the edge I realized the circle was right above the Dell. That explained why it was such a hot spot.

From there I moved on to the hill where the observation tower is. I waited a while and sure enough the small gray bird with yellow on its bad returned. I studied it for a while but didn't get any good photos. The most distinguishing characteristics were the yellow/greenish mantle, faint wing bars (at least one) and that it was mostly gray, had an all-gray head, and slight yellow underneath.

After eventually giving up I started making my way back to my car. On my walk back I saw:

Magnolia Warbler

And a Yellow-rumped Warbler

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Blackburnian Warbler and other Lifers during the 2008 Bird-a-thon!

I truly enjoyed my day out with members of Gordon's Gaggle during the 2008 MassAudubon Bird-a-thon. I learned so much about ID-ing birds, got out to a great birding spot, and even got a few pictures for my blog.

I planned to meet the team at Mt. Auburn Cemetery at 9:00am. They were running a little late (good birding in Medford) so I spent the first hour by myself, which was good since it gave me some time to explore on my own. It was an exciting place to be during the Bird-a-thon. There were birders everywhere with their Swarovskis, huge scopes and tripods. I went down to a quiet shaded area where I spotted some Chipping Sparrows and also some black and white warblers w/yellow. At this point I was just practicing using my binoculars and didn't get any pictures so I quickly forgot what they looked like.

At 10:00 I met the two members of the group assigned to Mt. Auburn Cemetery and they took me up Indian Ridge right away. There was unbelievable activity up there. There were so many groups gathered along the path, calling out sightings of various warblers. There was a lot of excitement over a female Tanager, and I was quiet excited to see a male Scarlet Tanager for the first time! Everyone has said that their color is breath-taking and it truly is! Here's a picture of a Magnolia Warbler that I snapped while up there:

Then we went over to the Dell where a Summer Tanager had been sighted. In fact we spent the whole day in search of the Summer Tanager but came up empty in the end- missing him by mere minutes each time. In addition to spending a lot of time at the Dell, we also spent a good portion of the day up on the hill where the observation tower is. Here a Blackburnian Warbler was spotted, which brought a lot of excitement. When I first caught sight of him I couldn't believe how beautiful he was. The way the rose fades to white on the breast was really beautiful. It was my favorite sighting of the day:

The more experienced of the pair I was with was intent upon finding not only the Summer Tanager, but also a Nashville Warbler. There was quite a bit of activity in the apple tree up on the hill where tower is, I saw something small and gray with yellow on it and got excited thinking it was the Nashville Warbler. I tried taking a few pictures to help me ID it, and unfortunately it looks like it's a female Parula. The wing bars are a dead giveaway:

As I mentioned, this was my first time using binoculars and it's great because you have an unbelievable view of the birds; however, if you're a novice like me you can have a hard time keeping track of what you've seen.

Here are some birds I saw yesterday. This list may seem kind of short for a trip to Mt. Auburn during peak migration time, but I want to be truthful and only include birds that I actually was able to locate and identify as they were called out to me by my team members. There were many cases where they were described to me but I was never able to locate them with my binoculars.

  • Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak (near the Dell)
  • Eastern Towhee (seen in the apple tree)
  • Juvenile Red-tailed hawk eating a mouse (in a tree right by the front gates, being harassed by blue jays the whole time)
  • Veery
  • Blackpoll Warbler (looks just like a chickadee with stripes)
  • American Redstart (I became quite familiar with these as the day went on- they were so abundant there)
  • Blue-headed Vireo
  • Juvenile Baltimore Oriole (the black on its head was very splotchy so I didn't recognize it at first- this guy was hopping around on the path up on Indian Ridge)
  • Female Black-throated Blue Warbler (I saw her down by Auburn Lake- the most distinguishing characteristic was the small patch on her wings)
  • Ovenbird (rustling around in the leaves just off one of the paths around the Dell)

And last but not least:

  • Cedar Waxwing (I spotted a male hanging off the lower branches of an oak when we were on our way out for the day- this was exciting because it was a lifer for me and I was also able to call the attention of my team members, who hadn't counted one yet for the Bird-a-thon. And I probably wouldn't have noticed it if it weren't for my mother Carol, also an avid bird-watcher, who spotted one in her yard on the Cape a few weeks ago. She was excited to show it to me in her Peterson's Guide and the image stuck with me. They're just as beautiful as she said they are!)

I couldn't get enough so I made a return trip the very next day!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Birding Binoculars: Getting Ready for the Bird-a-Thon

This afternoon I bit the bullet and finally got a pair of binoculars. Since I'm a novice user I figured I would go for a lower end and now that I'm home and have done a little research I'm pretty pleased with my purchase.

I ended up with a pair of Nikon Action 8x40s.I paid $74 so at least that's not too far off Amazon's price. Larry at The Brownstone Birding Blog gave me some helpful advice on purchasing binoculars, but I regret to say I didn't have much of a chance to shop around. I went to Hunt's Photo after work thinking they'd have a great selection based on what I had seen on the website. Unfortunately they did not. I learned that the Harvard Square location I went to was actually a satellite store and they don't carry a full inventory. Just mostly point-and-shoot and SLR cameras. Oh, and just 2 pairs of binoculars! I had the option of driving to their main store in Melrose or checking out the Nikons. I knew they were a strong brand and honestly I just wanted to get a pair and be done with it.

As I was saying to my friend Dave last night- I equate it with the experience of buying a musical instrument. I started playing the flute when I was 12. I started out with a 'band' issue flute- I think it was a Selmer- and once I had actually mastered the technique I was in a position where I could appreciate a quality flute and purchased a silver Yamaha. Flute World in Michigan actually shipped my flute teacher several for me to try and then I simply had to choose the one I liked, and send back the rest along with my payment. What a difference there was! In addition to the Yamaha I tried a Jupiter, Gemeinhardt, Armstrong and maybe one more (it was almost 15 years ago so my memory's a little fuzzy). I was able to play each one and actually notice the differences in clarity, tone, weight, keys etc.

Somehow I don't think I could accomplish this with binoculars in my price range so the first pair I saw was the first pair I bought! I hope none of you are disappointed in me. At least I'm using binoculars now!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Be kind to your feathered friends! Bike to Work

My friend Casey at Volunteer Boston wrote an informative post about the joys of biking to work, and included lots of helpful information about participating in Mayor Menino's Bay State Bike Week. For inspiration click on the image for the background story on how he got started.

I recommend reading Casey's entire post, Biking to Work in Boston - My first time. Here are some highlights:

"The ride to work was a breeze. I concentrated on shifting, signaling, and avoiding potholes (my car could take them, but I don't know that my rear end could). I think it helped that most of the trip was downhill. I felt the breeze in my hair, sweat just a little at some tiny uphills, and thought, "wow, this isn't bad."When a Prius passed me, I laughed. "You think you're green? Ha!"I got to work safely. Believe it or not, the ride took just about the same amount of time as driving - I'd say about 10 minutes with traffic lights, etc. Maybe even quicker. After all, on my bike I can coast up to the front of every intersection. I had but a few drops of sweat on my brow. I would have felt comfortable throwing on my work clothes and heels without showering - I think I sweat more climbing the 3 flights of stairs to my office."

Tomorrow's 'Bike Day' marks the end of Bay State Bike Week, but it's not too late to get started. Casey gives some really helpful information on local and national biking resources so check it out even if you're not from Boston.

Naturally I support any type of green initiative since it helps make the world a better place for birds (oh and people too). Way back in March 2007 I created the post Test Your Knowledge of Global Warming and included some really interesting insights from a 1907 field guide for birds about the impact of human activity on bird populations:

"There are parts that each one of us can play in lessening the unnatural dangers that lurk along a bird's path in life. Individually, our efforts may amount to but little, perhaps the saving of the lives of two or three, or more, birds during the year, but collectively, our efforts will soon be felt in the bird-world."

Massachusetts Important Bird Area: Mt. Auburn Cemetery

I just signed up to participate in the MassAudubon Bird-a-thon 2008 this weekend- May 16th- May 17th. I'm pretty excited about it since this is my first time birding with a group, and we'll be going to Mt. Auburn Cemetery—one of the most desirable birding spots this time of year.

Mt. Auburn is identified as an IBA (Important Bird Area) by MassAudubon. The primary reason is that it's an important stopover for migratory land birds. Another reason is that it supports long-term research and monitoring projects. I've lived close-by for almost two years, and yet I've never been to Mt. Auburn Cemetery. I've always known that it has beautiful gardens, but it wasn't until I started my birding hobby that I learned how well it supports migratory birds, and that it is known as a prime birding spot.

Is anyone else signed up to participate in the Bird-a-thon? It's my first time and I was pretty clueless about donating money and trying to join a team, but someone from MassAudubon called me right away and helped get me set up. I'll be joining the team Gordon's Gaggle, which will also be raising money for General MassAudubon support.

I'm anxious to report what I see on Saturday and hopefully share some pictures as well!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Ruby-crowned Kinglet and other evening sightings at the Charles River

It took a little bit of motivation but I went for a walk tonight around 6:30pm since it was so nice out and I wanted to see what birds were down at the River. As soon as I got out of my I heard an interesting song and followed it to a Baltimore Oriole. I was excited to see something right away and quickly opened my lens. I kept pressing the shutter button but nothing was happening. Then I noticed the red '0' in the bottom right-hand corner of my screen. The memory card was full- D'Oh! I quickly deleted a few pictures and managed to get a few good ones:

I also saw several yellow-rumped warblers during my walk:

A cute little Savannah Warbler:

I also saw a Yellow Warbler...

...and an adorable Ruby-crowned Kinglet. It took quite a long time to identify it using my guide. Kinglets are such a small group that they don't come to mind right away. (Despite the fact that I saw a Golden-crowned Kinglet at the river last January.) I spent a long time going through the wood warblers, and even looking at vireos, but then finally I came upon the one page in my Sibley guide devoted to kinglets. The pictures were too blurry to include, but I'm just glad I finally got to the bottom of it! Ok- I can't leave it out after all that. Here a few *terribly blurry* pictures:

Chipping Sparrow and other Cape Bird Feeder Sightings

I was at my parents' house on the Cape this past weekend and despite the rainy weather there was quite a lot of activity at the front and back yard feeders. I saw a lone Chipping Sparrow, which went back and forth between the front and back yards, a Goldfinch pair, a female Cardinal, several chickadees and nuthatches, and a titmouse. I was also happy to observe that both of my parents' birdhouses are currently being moved into—the nuthatches are moving into the front yard birdhouse and the titmice are moving into the back yard birdhouse. Two years ago my parents had a great crested flycatcher family attempt to live in the back yard feeder, but House Sparrows kicked them out. They cleaned out the birdhouses after that and repainted them, but didn't get any inhabitants last year. My dad hypothesized that maybe they didn't like the fresh paint smell and now that the houses have had a year to 'season' they're attractive again. Nonetheless, I'll be anxious to see how these two families fare and hopefully the house sparrows will stay away.