Thursday, April 30, 2009

Yellow-rumped Warbler Identification

This past weekend it was gorgeous in New England. We had temperatures in the 90s in Bridgewater and I took advantage, doing yard work and going birding on Sunday. I've help out hope for the diversity of birds in the Stiles & Hart conservation area behind our house, and sure enough I saw warblers! And here I thought I had to travel all the way to Boston-area parks in order to see migratory warblers...

I picked up on their call and found a group of 3 or so among saplings and low bushes. The area small trees covered an area passing over a creek connecting two of the ponds in Stiles & Hart. I stopped and watched them for probably a half hour and even saw a Northern Waterthrush walking along and pecking at the edges of the creek but unfortunately didn't get a picture.

It was very difficult photographing them between the emerging leaves, but here are some of the best pictures. I will also point out some tips for male yellow-rumped warbler identification.

First, I notice the black inverted "V" on its breast:

Then I look for the tell-tale "yellow rump" and yellow mark on its crown:

Next I look for the yellow markings on the sides of its breast:

Here are some other great pictures I think help give different perspectives of the bird:

Friday, April 24, 2009

Palm Warbler and More at Charles River

I got up extra early this morning to do some birding along the Charles River before work. Since I don't live in Watertown anymore I need to take advantage of being near the river during the work week.

For all of you Massachusetts birders caught up in the warbler frenzy right now (I see Christopher at Picus Blog made a recent trip to Mt. Auburn Cemetery and to Brighton to see the Townsend's Warbler at Chestnut Hill Reservoir- so jealous!), I'll give a tip of my own about the best spot for warblers on the Charles River Rd. stretch of the river in Watertown. Today confirmed for me that the best area is in the stand of trees immediately after Watertown Square. This is where I've seen nearly all of the warblers/kinglets I've spotted in along the Charles in Watertown. I walk the whole stretch between Watertown Square and N. Beacon St. when I go birding, but for some reason they only like that area. Especially where the trees border the lawn when it is nice and sunny.
I first heard then saw two Ruby-crowned Kinglets that I tried desperately to get pictures of, but this was the best I could do:

I've seen Golden-crowned Kinglets at the Charles River before, but this was my first Ruby-crowned! I consider it a lifer since I have no memory of seeing this one a year ago and the pictures in my previous post are blurry as you can see. Kinglets are just too damn quick- they're fun to watch but impossible to photograph. That's when I know I've really made it as a bird photographer...I'll have crisp beautiful ruby-crowned and golden-crowned kinglets pictures to post on my blog :)

Then when I got to the stand of trees I heard the kinglets again, stopped to watch them and then saw a yellow Palm Warbler (lifer):

Finally, I saw a yellow-rumped warbler, which I've seen in this stretch of the Charles River before:

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Eastern Bluebirds in Bridgewater

I saw my first Eastern Bluebird on Saturday! I was just starting out on a jog and had only gotten a couple hundred feet down the road when I saw one fly from the direction of our backyard to the opposite side of the street. At first, I wasn't even sure it was a bird because it was so bright blue that thought it was a butterfly. It was being followed by another bird, that I thought was a goldfinch since it was drab and yellowish, but very well could have been a female Eastern Bluebird. It was only when I saw the "butterfly" perch on a tree limb that I realized it was a bird. I stopped and watched it for about a minute and I did see the telltale brick red breast once it was perched.

Source: Isidor Jeklin/Cornell Lab of Ornithology

I'm very excited about this because we just put up our Bluebird House a few weeks ago and I hope we get some Bluebirds in there. Steve said he saw evidence of grass/vegetation in the birdhouse, and I've seen some chickadees peeking in there and checking it out. I hope we get any kind of bird to nest there, but it would be exciting if it was a Bluebird because now that I've seen one I can't wait to spot more.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Can you identify these two birds?

I've been listening to Grateful Dead shows all morning on my iPod in anticipation of the Dead show we're going to tomorrow night at the DCU Center in Worcester, MA. We're going with our friends Dave & Meg- Meg of Puppies Foster fame :)
Steve did a great job of finding artwork for all of his albums on iTunes so I'm always checking out the screen while listening to my iPod—the 4th generation Nano has a nice big screen for that. I find the artwork for this show (6/7/70 at the Fillmore West, San Francisco) particularly interesting since the handbill features images of two birds.
One is a hawk and the other looks like a gull. Anyone want to take a stab at it?
Or, even better- anyone going to any of the shows on this tour?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Red-winged Blackbird Habits

I had been watching a couple of red-winged blackbirds during a walk in Stiles & Hart Conservation Area last month. The male flew into the reeds growing in a small pond and I decided to take some video since it was interesting to watch what he did.

This video isn't terribly exciting, but you can hear the dry "chek" sound he's making in the beginning of the video, and then toward the end he climbs sideways up the reed, starts to display the red on his wings and then flies toward the camera.

Some interesting red-winged blackbird habits taken from Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

  • When defending territory or trying to attract a female the male displays its epaulettes (red on its wings- "shoulder decorations" is the literal translation)
  • They are highly polygynous (keep multiple breeding partners) and males can have up to 15 females in their territory
  • A male might spend more than a quarter of all the daylight hours in territory defense
  • Red-winged blackbird populations and sub-species vary in appearance and it is largely due to environment--an experiment was done where nestlings were moved and they grew up to resemble the species they were left with
  • They keep roosting congregations throughout the entire year. In the summer they hang out in small groups in the wetlands at night (for foraging and breeding) and in the winter it can join congregations of several million birds at night and then they disperse in the morning.

I find that last habit really fascinating. I can't believe that they gather in groups that large. They apparently roost with other blackbird species and European Starlings which makes me find the several million number easier to believe if the group includes those species also.

Here is an immature male red-winged black bird picture from our trip to Mt. Auburn Cemetery last weekend:

This was a tough ID for me--I should have known by the white mark on its wing. Learn something new every day!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

American Goldfinch Molt

This was my first winter seeing American Goldfinches since it was the first time I offered a thistle feeder. It was only until I hung the thistle feeder I got for Christmas that the Goldfinches and Pine Siskins showed up.
I'm so glad I got to observe American Goldfinches in winter or non-breeding plumage since I had no idea that they changed this much. While the other species in its family molt once in the fall, American Goldfinches through a second molt in the spring.
I've been observing their daily change in color. At this point, they're almost all yellow.

And how ironic that these pictures are of my black oil sunflower seed feeder...But I stand by my argument that the thistle feeder is what drew them to my yard!

I just found some older pictures (taken February 1st) that I never posted. This picture shows the drab winter plumage of the goldfinch.

Cliff Swallows at Stiles & Hart

I was thinking about being adventurous and going birding somewhere new today (I was considering Caratunk Wildlife Refuge in Seekonk and also Daniel Webster Wildlife Refuge in Marshfield) but opted to avoid the 45-minute drive and simply go for a walk in my backyard.

We're really fortunate to have Stiles & Hart Conservation Area right behind us. I've mentioned before how it's tauted as a 'Bird Watchers Paradise' since it has such bird-friendly features. There are many waterways (the Town River, its off-shoots, many ponds, and swampy areas) and open marshland. Nearly ever time I'm there I see a red-tailed hawk patrolling the marsh area, although there are several small trees in the middle of the marsh for the birds to escape to.

Today was a rainy/windy day but it was a success since I saw a life bird! I'm sure that I've seen a Cliff Swallow before since they nest in man-made structures like bridges and buildings, but that was before I was a birder. Actually, I think I saw one sitting on our utility line several weeks ago but was on my way to work and didn't have time to stop and make an ID.

I had stopped to watch some Chickadees in a tree along the bank of the river. Then I heard a different type of sound and looked around to see what it was. I didn't get very good pictures since the two Cliff Swallows were down by the bank of the river and I had briars and bushes blocking my view, with no way of getting closer without scaring them away.

I feel confident they're Cliff Swallows since in these pictures you can see the dark head and throat and the chestnut-colored face.

I also was watching a song sparrow down along the Town River. It was first in a bush on the marsh side of the river (where I got this picture) then flew down to the bank of the opposite side of the river and eventually up to a tree where it resumed singing.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Piping Plovers on Cape Cod

Forget spring fever, I have summer fever! I can hardly wait for it to be beach season. This editorial cartoon on made me laugh and think back fondly on my trips to the Spit in Popponesset in Mashpee.

Source: Editorial Cartoons

There's a piping plover nesting area at the Spit, and this cartoon is not too far off from reality. During the most critical time of nesting season there are Audubon volunteers who actually patrol the roped-off area to make sure dogs and children don't trample the nests. Not only do they patrol the borders of the nesting site, they also provide educational pamphlets explaining why that area is off-limits.

I know I have video footage and pictures of piping plovers on Martha's Vineyard and in North Truro but I guess I haven't posted them yet. I just have pictures of a pacific golden plover in Hawaii, and a semipalmated plover in East Sandwich. I'll have to go through my laptop at home and find them. Actually, an interesting fact about the semipalmated plover- semipalmated means "half-webbed" referring to its two toes.