Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A great day of birding at Drumlin Farm WLS offers close views of Turkey Vultures, Killdeer and other birds

Open fields are a great place to look for a variety of birds in the early spring, including Red-winged Blackbirds, Killdeer and Brown-headed Cowbirds. Image Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
Typically the Turkey Vulture is a bird seen at great distances, often surfing a current of air high above a field, mountaintop or road where it's distinctive profile and teeter-totter flight make it easy to distinguish from other hawks and other large birds. The vultures are up there looking for food, and unlike other birds, the Turkey Vulture uses its keen sense of smell to find a meal, usually a dead bird or mammal. Today I was lucky enough to get only my second look at one of these birds up close, while birding at the Mass Audubon Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Lincon, Massachusetts. As I was scanning a large farm field I noticed a Turkey Vulture which seemed to be flying quite close to the ground, so I followed its flight with my binoculars and was excited to see it land and begin to pick at the carcass of something in the short stubble of last year's crops. I was also on the lookout for my first Killdeer and brown-headed Cowbirds of the season, so I decided to walk around the edge of the field and try to spot these two likely species while getting closer to the vulture.

A Turkey Vulture sweeps low over the treeline bordering a farm field at the Mass Audubon Drumlin Farm sanctuary in Lincoln, MA. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
As I made my way slowly down the trail toward the vulture I spotted a group of American Robbins feeding in the far corner of the field. I watched them through my binoculars and saw that there were other, smaller birds mixed in with the group and decided to make a quick detour to investigate.  It turned out to be a good idea, too, as I saw my first Brown-headed Cowbirds of the year, bringing my New England birding big year total to 102 species for 2013. Not long after sighting the cowbirds I heard a familiar call from several hundred feet away and looked up to see my first Killdeer of 2013, bringing my total to 103 species. Having added these two new species to my list I decided to go over and try to get a closer look at the vulture and perhaps what it had been eating. As I approached, though, another Turkey Vulture showed up overhead and swooped down on the carrion, scaring off the first vulture. I watched the newly arrived bird for a while, then moved closer, trying not to disturb it. When I got within about 150 feet it took off and disapeared behind the treeline, leaving me to inspect the remains it had been feeding on. I was expecting to find the half-chewed body of a woodchuck or rabbit, but was somehwat surprised to find only feathers - I'm not sure what kind of bird they belonged to, but there were a few clumps scattered around, so I took a photo.

Turkey Vultures will eat a variety of dead animals, including other birds. The photo above shows the remains of a bird that a vulture at Drumlin Farm was feeding on. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
In addition to the birds mentioned above I also got a great look at a male American Goldfinch in breeding plumage which was visiting a feeder near the education office, as well as several Wild Turkeys by the feeders near the parking lot. There were 3 female turkeys foraging on the ground beneath the feeders, while a male turkey kept watch over the group, puffing himself up to twice his normal size whenever someone came a little too close for comfort. Fortunately he didn't seem to mind having his picture taken.

A male Wild Turkey stands guard as several females forage beneath bird feeders at Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Lincoln, MA. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
Thanks for reading.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.

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