Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Rainy Day at Mass Audubon's Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary

Sometimes I think that the best time to be out in the woods is when the rain is falling in the Spring or Summer, or Snow in winter. This is a time when few other humans venture out and the ones who do are more likely to be the kind who are more apt to move with the rain and snow, than against it. When the average person looks out their window and thinks it would be best to stay inside, this is of course the best time to go afield. And so despite the rain today I drove to Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary in Natick, MA, to see what soggy secrets Mother Nature might divulge amidst the intermittent deluge.  I have wandered the woods and fields here many times before and in all seasons and below you can see a photo from last summer when the sun was out. Broadmoor is one of my favorite places close to Boston since I can get there in about 30 minutes, and the forests, fields, wetlands and the Charles River which  make up the patchwork of the landscape are home to a plethora of plant and animal life. 

 Photo Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2012

One of the reasons I chose Broadmoor today was that I had seen a report from e-bird that  there had been both Green Heron and Pileated Woodpecker sightings at Broadmoor, and never being one to let a little rain stand in the way of a decent walk in the woods I put on my (slightly leaky) rain gear and headed out. My first stop was the nature center where the woman behind the counter told me that they had in fact been seeing a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers and a pair of Green Herons, both of which had apparently decided to build nests at Broadmoor this season. I was excited at the prospect of perhaps not only seeing both species (which would be the first of the year for me in the case of the Pileated Woodpeckers, and life bird as well in the case of the Green Heron) but maybe even catching a glimpse of a nest. I was also warned to steer clear of the Mute Swans and their newly hatched Cygnets, since these normally foul-tempered birds become even more unpleasant when they perceive any threat to their young. So, with binoculars in hand, I stepped back out in the rain and began to explore the lush green landscape, I watched leaf and branch bob with the weight of falling drops and listened to a chorus of avian voices, obviously undeterred by the wet weather. In all I counted some 20 species of birds and encountered a few frogs along the way ( a complete list of birds is provided below).

The Red-winged blackbirds were the first to make their presence known along the boardwalk, the high spinning call of the males caught my attention right away, as did the appearance of several females with insects held firmly in their bills, disappearing into clumps of cattails, presumably to feed young. The Mute Swan family was also present, two adults and two small gray fluffy cygnets – they are impressive-looking birds, but as an alien-invasive  species (and an aggressive one, at that) there  is no question that they are having an impact on the native plants and animals in New England’s wetlands. From this same spot at the starts of the boardwalk a variety of other birds appeared, including the ever-present House sparrow, a male Baltimore oriole, a solitary Tree swallow and a male Downy woodpecker. As I continued on I spotted several Canada geese resting on an island of vegetation further out, a single male Mallard and a female Hooded merganser. I was somewhat surprised to the see the merganser – it came in for a splash landing, then dove and disappeared from sight.

As I moved along the wet path, listening to the sound of rain falling on the leaves, filtering down through the pine needles and landing on the brim of my hat I paused to inspect a tall tree that showed recent signs of beaver. I have still yet to positively ID a beaver at Broadmoor, I think I have seen one before, but I am never quite sure whether I am looking at a beaver or a muskrat since in those instance I have not gotten a good look at the animal’s tail. In any event, I have seen beaver lodges at the sanctuary and the results of their distinctive feeding habits can be seen on dozens of trees close to the water.

I decided to head for the wildlife viewing platform since it affords excellent views of a small pond where I often see various ducks, Eastern phoebe, beaver/muskrat, deer and other wildlife. Also, it has the virtue of having a roof, and as much as I love to be out in any weather, my binoculars were not as pleased. In the meadow just before the platform I noticed another tree swallow patrolling the skies, joined by two Chimney swifts making similar areal loops. An Eastern Bluebird also landed on a nearby branch, a bright green worm of some kind in its bill. As I got to the platform two ducks took flight from the water, shooting off at an angle and disappearing over the field, as I scanned the water for signs of wading birds and waterfowl. This is one of the best places in the sanctuary to observe a variety of wildlife because it offers multiple examples of ecotones- places where different kinds of environments overlap or meet, in this case we can see wetlands and meadows connecting, as well as forest and wetlands, and forest and meadow. 

I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the pileated woodpeckers, but didn’t have any luck. The woman at the nature center had indicated they had been seen in this section of the sanctuary and I listened closely for the tell-tale thumping of their bills on tree trunks. After a while I left the relative shelter of the viewing platform and made my way along the trail back toward the nature center. The rain continued to fall and increased in intensity, but I was rewarded with two final sightings of the day – a pair of beautiful Wood ducks and just at the end of the boardwalk a Green heron took flight, adding another bird to not only my seasonal count of species but my life list as well. Not a bad way to end a peaceful, damp walk in the Spring landscape of Broadmoor wildlife sanctuary.

Complete list of birds seen:
House sparrow
American Robin
Red-winged blackbird
Mute Swan
Baltimore Oriole
Downy woodpecker
Tree swallow
Mourning dove
Canada goose
American crow
Common grackle
Hooded merganser
Eastern bluebird
Eastern phoebe
Wood duck
Gray Catbird
Green Heron
Chimney swift

          Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2012.

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