Thursday, June 27, 2013

Birding Pawtuckaway State Park in Nottingham, New Hampshire

A Cedar Waxwing perches on an exposed branch at the top of a steep hill in Pawtuckaway State Park in Nottingham, New Hampshire. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
During a recent birding day trip to Pawtuckaway State Park and the surrounding area with a group from Mass Audubon's Drumlin Farm wildlife sanctuary I couldn't help thinking back to those chilly days in January and February when I slogged through frozen wetlands, waded through snow drifts and scanned the freezing surf for scoters and other ducks. Where once there was windburn, ice and frozen sand we now had humidity, mosquitoes and the looming possibility of pop-up thunderstorms to consider.
Fortunately, though, we got an occasional breeze and the presence of so many exciting birds definitely helped to take my mind off the occasional dark cloud overhead.

We started out by visiting a lovely wetland area along a side road somewhere south of Pawtuckaway State Park, where we scanned the thick green vegetation and surrounding forest. On one side of the road there was a large, shallow pond, brimming with weeds. Here we saw a female Wood Duck in the distance, moving slowly and almost indisit6nguishiable amidst the tangle of Lilly pads around her, a White-tailed Deer wading against the far shore and in the trees on the opposite bank Great-crested Fly Catchers, a Scarlet Tanager and a pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers which swooped in overhead, landing in a tall tree by the edge of the road. Although the wetlands looked like prime terrirotry for Virginia Rail we didn't see any there, although I suspect that there must have been one or two tucked away deep in the vegetation, staying safely out of sight.

In early summer wetlands like the one above in southern New Hampshire are excellent spots to look for rails and other marsh birds. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
It was also at this location where I added two more species to my year list - an Eastern Wood Peewee and the Scarlet Tanager. Throughout the day we heard and saw a number of peewee's, which was great since I have been working on improving my birding by ear skills, which are somewhere between non-existent and pretty bad at this stage. Nonetheless, the peewee and a few other thoughtful birds became my teachers for the day, and with the expert guidance of our trip leader, Strickland Wheelock, I actually managed to learn to identify at least 3 more species by ear, which was really nice. This is definitely one of the major advantages of the Mass Audubon birding trips, that you not only get to see a lot of birds but you can always learn something new as well.

Our next stop was a power line cut near the state park where I added three more species to my year list: Field Sparrow, Indigo Bunting and Prairie Warbler. I have written here before that in my opinion the Bobolink has the coolest songs in the avian world, but after listening to the Prairie Warbler I may have to rethink that assertion. If you've never heard it I highly recommend taking a listen to its call and song. We heard several of these talented singers as we hiked a little way down the power line road,where we were also treated to great views of a swirling kettle of Turkey Vultures and a lone Broad-winged Hawk.

This fire tower sits atop a hill at Pawtuckaway State Park in Nottingham, New Hampshire and is surrounded by a variety of bird feeders. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the state park, driving along the narrow dirt roads with the windows down and stopping to look for birds as we went. Using this technique we found a number of very productive places, including a beaver pond and wetland where a Virginia Rail came within a few feet of our group, as well as several American Redstart, two Louisiana Waterthrush and a forested areas that produced both Blue-headed Vireo and Yellow-throated Vireo, two very striking birds and a lot of fun to watch as they moved quickly through the canopy overhead. We also hiked up to the top of a steep hill where we ate lunch and watched numerous Purple Finches and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds visit a multitude of feeders that surrounded a fire tower. It was in this spot that I also saw my first Common Raven of the year. By the end of the day I had added 11 more species to my New England birding big year list, bringing the total to date to 172 species seen. This was my first serious birding effort in the Granite State, and with so many beaver ponds, wetlands, forests and mountains to explore up there I'm looking forward to doing more.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A look at some of the birds and blooms of Harpswell, Maine

A whirling wooden loon sits on a railing at a gift shop at Land's End in Harpswell, Maine. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
I recently spent a little time birding along the beaches and craggy coves of southern Maine, in and around the Harpswell area. While I didn't add any new species to my year list (or see a moose) I did enjoy looking out at the waters of Casco Bay, watching male and female Common Ediers resting in the surf and on small islands, and generally exploring the winding roads of Cumberland County.

A Song Sparrow sings with the ocean in the background. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.

We started off with a windy, slightly rainy morning of casual birding at Land's End, a gorgeous spot at the very tip of Bailey Island in the town of Harpswell. Here we walked along a short section of rocky beach looking out at the gently rolling waves and rocky little islands in the distance while we listened to the serenade of Song Sparrows perched prominently atop shrubs and Yellow Warblers hidden in the brush.

Even on a cloudy day the beauty of Maine's rugged coastline comes through. In the photo above a statue dedicated to the fisherman of the state can also be seen. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.

With gray skies overhead this Lupine added a little color to the day. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
In addition to the 18 species of birds we saw during our two days in the Brunswick area we were also lucky enough to see the Lupine in bloom in gardens, fields and along the roadside. Sometimes it's all too easy to focus only on one aspect of the natural world, whether its birds, bugs or weather and lose track of all of the other amazing things out there waiting to be found. Most of the time we were surrounded by a sea of green trees or the ocean, but then we would come across something like the Lupines in the photo above and it would remind me to take a closer look around. Always a valuable lesson in the outdoors.

We ended our evening with dinner at a fantastic restaurant out at the end of South Harpswell called Dolphin Marina and Restaurant. I would have given this place a major thumbs up for the view alone, but the food was also delicious and the service was great. As a birder I also appreciated being able to sit next to a giant window looking out at the bay and beach and having the chance to watch a Great Blue Heron fly back and forth, silhouetted against the sunset.

The sun sets over Casco Bay at the end of South Harpswell, Maine. Image Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
Thanks for reading.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Up close with the herons and a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher brings my current big year total to 160 species

A Great Blue Heron stalks the marsh at Great Meadows national wildlife refuge in Concord, Massachusetts. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.

Despite the uncomfortable heat and humidity I felt compelled to get outside this morning and continue my New England birding big year effort. So this morning I brought along plenty of water and sunscreen and sweated my way through a long 2 1/2 hour walk at Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Concord, Massachusetts. Most of the birds didn't seem to mind the weather at all, and there was a lot of activity to observe, from vociferous Yellow Warblers to an Osprey hunting high above the impoundment to Song Sparrows picking caterpillars and other bugs from leafy treetops. The sky overhead was clear and bright and sunlight reflected off the water all around me, making it hard to see some of the ore distant birds, but I did get to see a number of brightly-colored male Red-winged Blackbirds and Great Blue Herons fishing in the shallows.

A great Blue Heron balances atop a tilted bird box at Great Meadows NWR. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
As the day heated up I made my along the dyke path and then turned left, following the river toward a small pond I have visited before. It was along this path that bird number 160 showed up - a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, moving quickly from branch to branch, stopping only momentarily before taking flight again. There were also lots of great plants and wildflowers blooming all over the place.

These daisies were growing wild at Great Meadows NWR. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
When it comes to plant ID I have to admit I know very little - if any gardeners or plant enthusiasts out there can help ID the plants in the images below I would love to hear from you.

I thought this might be some kind of Milkweed, but I'm not really sure. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
I found these flowers growing in a strip of woods between the river and the main trail at Great Meadows NWR. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.