Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Eastern Kingbird at Charles River

These pictures are from my walk along the Charles River last week. I walked out onto one of the wooden lookout points and saw 2-3 of the birds perching on the branches on either side of it. At first I almost thought they were swallows, but the white tipping on its wings made me think otherwise. According to my Sibley Guide they will perch on any open perching area to watch for passing insects. The area I saw them in was perfect for that since the water is very shallow and calm there and plenty of bugs were out that night.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Carolina Wren Song

I was home on the Cape this weekend and decided to go birding in the conservation land behind my parents' house. I first went down to what I believe is a vernal pool (it has water in rainy seasons, but is mostly dried up during hot, dry periods like we're experiencing right now). I crawled down the hill and spent a long time patiently waiting in the swampy area, which looked very promising. I waited there probably about 20 minutes braving the mosquitoes and a slight case of the jitters since I was a little creeped-out about being in the woods by myself, but finally gave up and climbed back out to safety. I saw some common birds: a Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Northern Cardinal, and a Catbird.

I did a loop around the area, using my better judgement and not venturing into the woods, and finally decided to check out an area very close to the border of our land. It's at the base of a very steep hill we used to sled down in the winters, and it's made up of large rocks and a bed of pine needles on the ground. I used to play down there with my neighborhood friends, pretending the ground was water and having to jump from rock to rock without fall into the 'water.'

It was here that I heard a familiar bird song and stopped to trace it to its source. I was patient and finally was able to spot two Carolina Wrens. I ended up sitting on the soft pine needle and moss-covered ground and tried to get some pictures of the birds. It's not easy! I find Wrens nearly impossible to capture since they're so erratic and move around constantly. I managed to get one decent picture, and then thought it would be interesting to take some video and try to capture their song.

I grew up hearing so many different bird songs so it's nice when I'm able to identify the source. Especially for the birds that don't visit my mother's bird-feeders. These wrens were sneaky but I'm glad I finally tracked them down!

Juvenile Wood Ducks at Charles River

While on my recent walk at the Charles River I noticed lots of juvenile ducks that I initially assumed were Mallards, then thought were Blue-winged Teals, and finally realized were Juvenile Wood Ducks thanks to my friend Dave.

Many of the ducks I saw were hanging out on overturned trees laying in the river, and this group was roosting in a tree right near the footbridge. There was a very large group of Canada Geese nearby since people were feeding them bread. This annoys me not only because I know it's not good for the birds, but also because it's frustrating if I'm running or walking because I need to navigate around the birds or avoid the path altogether if there's too many of them.
According to a recent feature in the "Green Guru" column in the July/August issue of Audubon Magazine, feeding wild birds is harmful for the following reasons:
  • White bread offers poor nutrition for the birds (refined sugar and processed fats are essentially "junk food" for them).
  • It causes ducks to gather in larger-than-normal groups, which might alter the behavior of the birds and make individual ducks more aggressive.
  • Another negative result of allowing large groups of birds to gather is it might change their migration timing and some ducks might not migrate at all.
  • Large bird congregations can also contribute to the spread of disease among birds.

There was also a article on the subject in a recent MassWildlife newsletter, but I'm having trouble finding it online.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Juvenile Downy Woodpecker at Charles River

It was toward the end of my walk home yesterday that I heard this little guy and stopped to get some close-ups. This juvenile downy woodpecker (note the red on its crown) was pecking away on what appeared to be a sapling, or just a very small tree. I was surprised by that, but there must have been something inside it was trying to get at!

Look at the red on its chest- is that coloring normal? I didn't see any mention of it in my guidebooks. I thought it just bumped into something messy like fruit on a tree.

Note the black bars on the outer tail feathers. This is one of the ways to distinguish a Downy Woodpecker from a Hairy Woodpecker, yet apparently some Hairy Woodpeckers do show this. In which case the Downy's smaller size would be the giveaway.

Black-crowned Night Heron at Charles River

Here are my pictures from last night of a black-crowned night heron fishing for dinner in the Charles River. This area is a hot spot to catch wading birds since fish get caught in the current and shallow water created by the dam approaching Watertown Square.

I was really surprise at how well the heron defended its fishing territory. There was a seagull that kept encroaching on its space and the heron would turn around, climb up the wall and chase it away. It was really pretty entertaining.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Hunt for the Charles River Mystery Bird

I was on the hunt for a large gray heron-like bird with a short bill at the Charles River after one of my readers, John, wrote in about it. Here's the backstory, taken directly from my post at the Boston Birds Google Group:

A reader of my blog emailed me back on June 9th about a mystery bird he and his wife had seen. He wrote: "Looking for info on a pair of birds my family saw while walking along a Waltham section of the river this weekend. They were about the size of blue herons without the long beaks. Their beaks actually looked more like parrot beaks. They were grayish in color except for their heads which were more of a yellow. There were two of them together (another non-blue heron trait) on a tree that had fallen over the river."

I did a little bit of research and the best guess I could make was a Sora or some other type of Rail, although they seem to be pretty rare in Massachusetts.

Then this morning I was jogging along the Charles River headed toward Watertown Square when I saw a large gray bird sitting on one of the rocks at the edge of the dam there, along with the Canada Geese. The body shape resembled a duck but it had a very short bill. I didn't notice any yellow on the head.

Further down the river, beyond Watertown Square and headed toward Brighton, I saw what appeared to be two more of these birds swimming in the water. I found some images of Soras swimming and they looked very much the same.
Any thoughts? Thanks in advance!

I got some very helpful feedback from the Boston Birders, but none of the suggestions (Black-crowned Night Heron, Coots, Double-crested Cormorants) match up. I'm starting to think that what I saw was some type of duck. As for John's bird, I'm still not sure.

Needless to say I was even more curious now that I had all this feedback on the subject. Luckily I had jogged to work so that meant I got to walk home and pass by all the same hot spots from the morning, but much slower. I did jog in place when I spotted the gray birds this morning, but it's not the same.

Well, the dam at Watertown Square proved to be such great birdwatching I had to call my boyfriend and ask him to meet me there with the camera. There were tons of wading birds taking advantage of the abundance of fish caught in that area. Most notably, a Black-crowned Night Heron. The first time I saw one was on an epic hike on the Big Island in Hawaii:
I knew today I could get much better pictures since the birds were so close to the look-out point.

So while I didn't get a positive ID on this mystery bird, I'm glad that it prompted me to get out and bird today and I'm even gladder that my boyfriend saved the day and met me down at the river with the camera!

I'll post the pictures over the next few days.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How do Cormorants Cool Off?

It's been pretty steamy in Boston, and the birds are feeling it too. On my trip to Mt. Auburn Cemetery three weeks ago I also stopped to watch a Double-crested Cormorant cooling in Auburn Lake.

These pictures were not taken at a fast shutter speed- the bird was simply holding its wings up and fanning them very, very slowly.
It was such a hot day, and this was such a small, sheltered body of water it made me wonder why it wasn't out in the open ocean or even in the Charles River where I see lots of them. It's a mystery. Has anyone else spotted cormorants in small ponds like this before?

Mallard Fledglings

Here's a cute story my friend Kate passed along. It actually comes from the site Cute Overload.

Click on the image of the fledgling about to jump off the 10' concrete wall to read the story. Don't worry- it has a happy ending of course.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Female Western Tanager?

I have a Mystery Bird! During my trip to Mt. Auburn Cemetery on Sunday I got just a few pictures of what looked like a finch with a pale yellow body. Another distinct characteristic is the white wing bars.

Any thoughts? I can't find any pictures of female tanagers with pale enough bodies. I also considered it might be a female oriole?

I've spent long enough poring through my field guides and doing image searches online. I give up- I'm ready for someone to set me straight!
UPDATE: I've received two tips that this is likely a female or juvenile Great-crested Flycatcher. Initially I didn't think it was a good fit since the bird seemed larger overall (including the head) and was more sparrow-shaped, but after doing some image searches I think it is in fact a Great-crested Flycatcher.