Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Birds of the Grasslands and Forest at Moose Hill Farm, Sharon, MA

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2012.
With clear skies, a light breeze and temperatures in the upper 60's, this past Monday seemed like a great day to go over to Moose Hill Farms in Sharon, MA to look for both grassland and forest birds. This property, which is owned and managed by the Trustees of Reservation is a fantastic place to see different grassland birds, many of which are under tremendous pressure from habitat loss, and the surrounding forests attract Scarlet Tanagers, Baltimore Orioles, Wild Turkeys and deer. There are also a number of old farm buildings on the property which draw Barn Swallows and Chimney Swifts. This land was formerly owned by the Kendall family who had the vision and foresight to help preserve this beautiful corner of New England farmland, fields and forests. The many Bobolinks, Orioles and other migratory birds that call this place home during the summer months are a part of their legacy and one for which we should all be very grateful. 

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson
Farm buildings at Moose Hill Farm in Sharon, MA. In the center background  of the photo the faint outline of Great Blue Hill can be seen. Image Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2012.

After getting out of my car I walked along the gravel road that runs beside the large field closest to the parking lot, where immediately noticed an Eastern Bluebird and a Barn Swallow. This was my first Barn Swallow of the year, which was exciting. After attempting to enter the big field beyond and finding that there was no path mowed in the grass I decided to double back and take a trail I knew would be accessible, since I had no interest in either disturbing any nesting grassland birds or getting covered in ticks unnecessarily. Almost as soon as I entered the shade of the forest I saw something moving out of the corner of my eye. I moved ahead very slowly, taking care with each step not step on twigs or crunch gravel underfoot , until I got close enough to take a picture of the deer below, which was feeding on ferns and other vegetation about 30 feet away from me.

A White-Tailed Deer browsing on vegetation in the forest at Moose Hill Farms. Image Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2012.
Exiting the cool shade of the deciduous canopy I stepped into bright sunshine, following the mowed path that runs between two vast expanses of wild meadow where I could see swallows patrolling the open skies. At the far end of the path I entered back into the woods where I spotted an Eastern Towhee, a Baltimore Oriole and a small, grayish bird which I think may have either been a Philadelphia or Red-Eyed Vireo – I couldn’t get a good enough look to make a positive ID, but it did confirm for me, yet again, that this is a great place to see a wide variety of bird species. As I walked back along the open path I spotted a large Red-Tailed Hawk soaring on a thermal high above the property and a few minutes later a Turkey Vulture came into view overhead, wings wobbling slightly, teetering in its characteristic way.  It’s not my best work, but I did manage to get a few photos of the vulture, one of which is posted below.

A Turkey Vulture in flight over Moose Hill Farm, Sharon, MA. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2012.
As I was watching the Turkey Vulture I began to notice a familiar sound, similar to sci-fi sound effects and I knew that there were Boblinks in the area. Soon two males appeared, flying low over the fields, singing and occasionally stopping to perch at the top of a tree near the side of the trail. I have seen these birds before, but there is something thrilling about their unique coloration and song, and it was definitely a highlight of the day.

A male Bobolink perched in a field. These birds depend on large areas of grassland for survival. Image Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2012.

By then I needed to head back, but Moose Hill Farms had two more surprises in store – a female Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, which at first presented something of a challenge, it was a brownish bird slightly smaller than an American Robin, with a heavy, dull yellowish bill and distinct white wing bars. I watched it eat a caterpillar as I tried to get close enough to take a photo. Unfortunately it flew off before I could take its picture, but I did get a good enough look to feel confident about the ID.  The last surprise of the day was a female Wild Turkey a few feet from the end of the path near the parking lot which I nearly walked right by – fortunately I was able to get a photo. All in all, a great afternoon of forest and grassland birds, I’ll definitely be back to Moose Hill Farm soon.

A female Wild Turkey. Image Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2012.
 Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2012.

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