Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Solitary Sandpipers and My First Warbling Vireo of the Year, Suburban Birds in Newton, MA

 Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2012

I had about an hour to get outside this afternoon so I drove over to one of my favorite suburban birding spots near the Newton Public Library, There are actually quite a few good places to explore within a mile or two of the library, including the area around Bullough’s pond where I have seen many Hooded Mergansers, Great Blue Herons and Belted Kingfishers in the past. Today I focused on the area closest to Newton City Hall, where I was very pleased to find my first Red-winged blackbird nest of the year and to add another bird to my year list – a Warbling Vireo.  So far this year I have seen 68 specieis, mostly in Massachusetts but a few in Connecticut and New York as well.
The first birds to make their presence known were a pair of pigeons perched on the City Hall roof and a European Starling that came winging by, immediately recognizable by its triangular wings and overall dark coloration. Soon afterwards I came across several mallards feeding in the shallows of the stream and a Solitary Sandpiper. I took a few photos and some video of the mallards which you can see below, and  the sandpiper makes a cameo, flying right through the middle of the frame.
Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2012

I was also very pleased to get close enough to a Gray Catbird to get a couple of decent photos - normally I have found Gray Catbirds to be somewhat weary of people, but this one didn't seem bothered by my presence. I was able to stand quite close to it and listen to its characteristic roller-coaster song as it moved from one branch to another. Gray Catbirds are generally fond of wet, brushy areas, so the trees and thick brush close to the stream make excellent habitat for them - they typically show up in Newton in early May and stick around throughout the summer.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2012

In addition to this Gray Catbird I also noticed a pair of Yellow Warblers, a vociferous Song Sparrow calling from the top branches of trees, Several American Robins, a Blue Jay (good to see- according to Mass Audubon they are declining in the Commonwealth), two Mounring Doves feeding on the mud flats, a solitary Chimney Swift, an Eastern kingbird, several Red-winged Blackbirds, an American Goldfinch and a Northern Flicker (another species that is declining in Massachusetts).I also came upon this mysterious nest - not sure who this belongs to, I'm guessing a raptor of some kind, given the size. I would definitely welcome any help in identifying it.

 Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2012

While I prefer to be somewhere far from cars and people when I’m exploring the outdoors I think it’s also very important that we realize the crucial role that places like this  plot of grass, trees, shrubs, mud flats and wetlands play in supporting local and migratory wildlife, especially birds and amphibians. This is one reason I wanted to highlight this park today, but also to draw attention to the importance of protecting the environment, regardless of whether it’s some remote mountain range out west or a little section of greenery right in our own backyards. I have documented more than 60 species of birds in this one small patch of Newton in the last three years, and I would argue this alone clearly shows how important these small places are to native plants and animals.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2012.

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