Wednesday, May 8, 2013

3 More species bring my New England birding big year total to 124

Nahanton Park in Newton, Massachusetts. Clear, pleasant weather followed by wind, rain and fog can cause migrating birds to stop and wait out the bad weather in parks and other green spots along their routes. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.

For the last week or so we have had phenomenal weather here in Massachusetts, with consistently clear, blue skies and little humidity. It's been great being outside and enjoying this unusually pleasant weather, but when I saw that rain would be moving in toward the middle and end of this week. I got even more excited. My hope was that with the nice weather for the last week and the sudden arrival of rain, wind and fog that we would get what birders call "Fall out," a condition when migrating birds take a break from their journey and hunker down wherever they happen to be while they wait out the bad weather, so I drove over to Nahanton Park in Newton, Massachusetts. I was really hoping this might help me with my warblers - so far I only have 4 species for the year, which will probably really hurt my overall number for my New England birding big year. Unfortunately the only warbler I saw was a Yellow Warbler, a bird that is already on my year list. Despite the lack of warblers I had a nice time and managed to add 3 more species to my year list, bringing my total to 124 species for the year to date.

The first addition to the list came as I was standing near the parking area scanning the sky above the field, watching Tree Swallows hunt insects on the wing. These small, gregarious birds are one of my favorites to watch, especially as they swoop through the air over meadows, ponds and wetlands. As I was watching them I realized that one of the birds was different from the others and I began to track its flight through my binoculars. After quickly consulting my Sibley's field guide for a refresher I was certain that I was looking at a Northern Rough-winged Swallow. The bird was just as fast as the others, but uniformly brown on top, with a brown head, white underside and brownish tail. Not long after that I decided to explore a patch of brush and trees near one of the garden plots and heard a familiar rambling series of notes coming from the underbrush. I stood listening, trying to figure out if it might be a Northern Mockingbird when the animal in question flew up and landed on some vines, revealing itself to be a Gray Catbird, my first for the year. These two birds increased my New England birding big year list count to 123, but I wasn't done yet.

A Tree Swallow pokes its head out from inside a nesting box at Nahanton Park in Newton, Massachusetts. Image copyright Daniel E . Levenson 2013.
 There was plenty of activity going on all around me as I walked toward the soccer field and along the narrow path that leads to down the river: Song Sparrows were letting loose their out-sized tune, Common Grackles were creaking and wheezing in the tree tops and American Robins made themselves known through their distinctive squeaking call which always reminds of a dog toy. In past years this section of the park has been a good place to see a range of birds, including the first Rose-breasted Grosbeak I'd seen. There may have been a warbler or two hidden in the tangle, but any clear views eluded me. Over by the Charles River, where Charles River Canoe and Kayak has an on-site rental location I saw a number of birds moving quickly in the branches of a leafy tree and moved closer to investigate. First I saw two Eastern Phoebes - possibly a pair - they didn't seem overly concerned by my presence and sat mostly exposed, flicking their tails ever few seconds, in true phoebe style. Then I noticed a couple of Chipping Sparrows among the leaves. What really caught my attention, though, were two drab little birds, gray on top, white underneath with a hint of a yellow wash along the side and a whitish eyebrow. I watched them for a while as they moved from one branch to another grabbing insects from the leafy, flowering branches. After about ten minutes I knew I was looking at species #124 for the year, Warbling Vireo.

Kayaks and canoes wait to be used by paddlers near the Charles River in Newton, MA. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
As the light started to fade the chorus of frogs from the pond and river stepped in, taking the place of  grackles and robins, and the little clouds of insects overhead grew into bigger clouds of insects. Under the darkening sky I walked back to the parking area and stood for a while watching the Tree Swallows over the field. It was a nice way to end the day.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.

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