Monday, August 6, 2012

Cottontails, Chimney Swifts and August

The edges of fields are a great place to look for birds which have begun their fall migration. Be sure to check all levels of vegetation, from underbrush to tree top. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2012.

This evening some of the heat and humidity subsided, so I decided to go outside for a little while and see what birds might be around in a park in Newton, Massachusetts. I've been reading a great book recently - Kenn Kaufman's Field Guide to Advanced Birding, which puts a lot of emphasis on studying individual birds quite closely to sharpen field ID skills.The author writes at length about the importance of understanding the placement and structure of feathers, bird anatomy and physiology and learning to recognize other key traits that can help lead to more accurate identification of birds seen in the field. This evening there was not a lot of activity at the park, but I did manage to see about 10 or so species of birds that I could ID, along with two probably Solitary Sandpipers, a species I have seen several times before at this location. One of my favorite finds for the evening was a single male American Goldfinch, which was perched at the end of a long, bare branch at the top of a tree. I was scanning the treetops when I spotted it, standing quite still in the evening light.

With rain in short supply this summer, many wetlands and streams are suffering. In this photo two female mallards move between mudflats and a shallow stream, looking for food. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2012.
In the course of my wandering, I also saw several mammals, including a gray squirrel, two muskrat and several cottontail rabbits.When I got home I was curious to learn a little more about what kind of rabbits I might have seen, and was surprised to learn that there are actually two different cottontail species in Massachusetts - the Eastern Cottontail and the New England Cottontail,  but for all intents and purposes, they are impossible to tell apart visually.  I found this webpage on cottontails put together by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife to be pretty interesting.

As I was looking in a semi-open area to see if there might be any Downy Woodpeckers or Black-capped Chickadees in the area, I came across a rather large fungus, which you can see in the photo below. I don't know much about fungi, so if anyone has any thoughts about what this might be, I would love to hear them,

A large and fungus at the base of a tree in a park in Newton, Massachusetts.

As I walked back to the car I paused to watch a group of Chimney Swifts high above me in the sky. Their distinctive rapid chirps floating down as they beat their tiny wings quickly, then glided in short swooping arcs, catching insects in the air. Maybe it was the fading light of a summer evening having an effect on me, but I couldn't help thinking as I watched them that in another few weeks they might already be gone, headed south for the winter.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2012.