Friday, June 29, 2012

An Unusual Shorebird and A Brown Thrasher in Newton, MA

An impressive array of shrubs, trees and flowering plants at the Newton City Hall plaza park attract a range of birds, mammals and insects.
Despite the very warm weather I decided to venture out this evening for a short walk near City Hall Plaza in Newton, MA.  I was especially interested in looking for the Killdeer which commonly nest in the wetland/pond area in the park, and can often be seen hunting for food quite close to the road. It's always a little odd to see these shorebirds so far from the ocean, but in the past I've also seen Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers use this wetland as a stopping point during migration, although as far as I know the Killdeer are the only shorebirds which seem to stay for the whole summer. As soon as I pulled up to the park I noticed a large number of American Robbins hunting for worms on the lawn, so I scanned the grass to count the Robbins and see what other birds might be looking for food in the same area. It wasn't long before I spotted the male Red-winged Blackbird in the photo below - it didn't seem very bothered by my presence and I was able to take a few photos of it.

An adult male Red-Winged Blackbird searches for food on the open lawn in front of the Newton City Hall Plaza. Red-winged blackbirds commonly nest in this area during the spring and summer.
This spot is also attractive to mammals, including Gray Squirrels, Muskrats and Rabbits.This evening there were two rabbits feeding on the grass.

Rabbits can be seen regularly in this area feeding on vegetation during the warmer months.
While I was scanning the open lawn and checking the line of vegetation closest to the water, something moving right at the edge caught my attention. At first I thought it might be a large American Robbin, but there was something noticeably different about this bird as I compared it with the naked eye to the Robbins feeding on the grass. I raised my binoculars and was delighted to see a bird larger than a Robin with brownish orange coloration, a long tail and a promninent black bill - I knew right away that I was looking at some kind of Thrasher, although I had never seen one in the wild before. This is where studying field guides when one is not in the field really does come in handy - I suppose it's like studying any other subject, but I can vouch for the effectiveness of "studying" guides at home, because it helps prepare the mind for things that may be seen in the field. I tried to get closer to get a photo, but it dissapeared into the greenery - fortunately I got a good look through the binoculars and was able to double check my ID with my Sibley guide. This was a new life bird for me, which was pretty exciting. The Brown Thrasher was the 7th life bird I've added to my list this year, and brought my total number of species for the year so far to 77.

Just as I was about to leave I looked over toward a small group of Robbins on the grass and saw right away that there was another bird on the lawn which was strikingly different. Peering through my binoculars I was very happy to see my first Killdeer of the season. I have little doubt that this species has been around this area for a while now, but I have not been birding here as much in June as I have been in previous months. I suspect there was another one around somewhere, since there seems to be at least two (probably a pair) which take up residence in this wetland each summer.

The Killdeer is a shorebird which is often found far from the ocean.
The Killdeer is a fascinating bird to me, since it is a member of the Plover family but is not found in habitat one would usually associate with shorebirds. Their name is derived from their distinctive call which sounds like they are calling out "kill-deer !" The folks at e-bird have put together a great short description of this bird and its life history, which you can view by clicking here.

Once again I was reminded this evening of the power of quiet observation, not to mention the fact nature has a lot to offer right in our own backyards (and parks). Seeing the Thrasher and the Killdeer was a great way to end my week and it put me 2 birds closer to my personal goal of seeing 150 species this year. I wonder what will pop up next ....

Thanks for reading.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2012.

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