Friday, February 8, 2013

A little pre-blizzard birding

Chestnut Hill Reservoir in Boston sits under a layer of ice, while darkening skies overhead presage the coming blizzard. image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
With a major blizzard expected to hit southern New England today I decided to get outside early and see if there might be any interesting birds around. I was also curious to see if I might notice any different behavior ahead of the impending storm. My first stop was at Chestnut Hill Reservoir, where I hoped there might be a little open water and perhaps some ducks. Unfortunately the reservoir was covered in ice and there was a decent wind blowing, with only a few gulls standing far out on the frozen surface. I did manage to see a Golden-crowned Kinglet and a Blue Jay, but otherwise there wasn't much bird activity.

With things quiet at the reservoir I headed over to Cold Spring Park in Newton, where I can usually count on mixed foraging flocks and other winter regulars. While I was there I added 8 more species to my day list, including Downy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Blue Jay and Northern Cardinal. The highlight of my stop at the park, however, was a chance to photograph some Mallards up close. These ubiquitous birds are often taken for granted by both birders and the general public, but they are actually very nice looking ducks. I wanted to share the photo below of a female Mallard because it shows very clearly the blue patch on the wing, bordered by white on each side, as well as the coloration of the bill. A personal project of mine has been to try and get better at picking American Black Ducks out of crowds of Mallards, so I've been paying particular attention to female Mallards lately when I see them. I've also been taking some extra time when I do positively identify a black duck to look at the subtle but important field marks, beyond just being darker overall.

The key field marks for identification can easily be observed on this female Mallard, including a blue wing patch bordered by white and a yellow-orange bill with a dark mark in the center. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.

This female Mallard was with a group of fellow Mallards feeding in an open section of stream in Cold Spring Park. I've noticed that the stream in this location has consistently been open throughout the winter. After a while I wandered over to Newton City Hall (but not before spotting 3 Wild Turkeys in the Newton Cemetery) where there wasn't much bird activity at all - in fact I only saw two birds and ID'ed one of them - a Rock Pigeon. I did stop inside, however, to ask about the large construction project going on in the City Hall park. I was hoping it would turn out to the be the case that they were dredging the stream bed there, and the clerks at the front desk told me that this is exactly what they are doing. Birding in this location the last few years I've noticed the buildup of road sand and sediment, so hopefully this will help improve the flow of the water and the overall health of this small ecosystem. The City of Newton deserves kudos for this initiative.

Thanks for reading and stay safe and warm if you're in the northeast today.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.

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