Sunday, December 16, 2012

Last Flickers of Autumn

With the last days of Autumn at our doorstep, I find myself contemplating the coming cold. Despite a few strangely warm days this past week, when I stepped outside this morning I could feel that winter wasn't very far away. So under gray skies I decided to check out a few of my regular spots in Newton, hoping to find a little color and motion in a landscape otherwise rapidly sliding toward its seasonal slumber.

In one favorite haunt of mine I was surprised as a group of 4 ducks on the wing seemed to be as they circled over head, to notice that some of the smaller ponds had frozen over, while all along the water's edge Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatch, Juncos, House Sparrows and American Goldfinch moved rapidly from one spot to another between the brush and evergreens. Overhead, I spotted a couple of American Crow and two Blue Jays, all calling raucously in flight, while three Northern Flicker sat silently in the skeletal arms of a maple tree.

In another favorite spot I came across a boisterous flock of American Robbins who were soon joined by a group of European Starlings, transient transplants, cutting the cold gray air with their triangular wings. Like all animals, birds make changes in response to season and weather, and I have little doubt that the robins were on the lookout for late season fruit and berries.

In the winter the American Robin changes its dietary focus from insects to fruit. One way to find robins in winter is to look along the edges of fields and wetlands for fruing plants. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2012.

As I was scanning the brush by one of the open ponds I met two other birders who were out as part of the Christmas Bird Count. We chatted briefly and they told me they had seen a Pine Siskin in a nearby park, and pointed out a Northern Mockingbird perched at the top of a tall tree. Again I was reminded of the amazing advantage of birding with other people - it seems like different people will always notice different birds. While we stood there I also spotted a female House Finch mixed in among a group of House Sparrows.

The real prize of the morning, in addition to the flickers, was a continuing group of American Green-winged Teal, which have been seen in Newton for the past few weeks.  Seeing them dabbling beside a small group of Mallards provided me with an excellent opportunity to study them beside this other very common duck.Although the Pine Siskin eluded me it was still a great morning to be outside and I hope to get back to the Newton City Hall pond soon with my camera to take some photos of the Green-winged Teal, which I'll be sure to share here on the blog.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2012.

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