Thursday, June 29, 2017

Eating caterpillars and strawberries

juvenile Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerine
juvenile Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia
Black-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus erythropthalmus
Black-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus erythropthalmus
Eastern Grey Squirrel Sciurus carolinensis
Painted Lady Vanessa cardui
Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta
Tawny Crescent Phyciodes batesii (I think!)
  I spent an enjoyable 40 minutes watching a Black-billed Cuckoo in the drizzle today. Sitting in the grass amongst the pea-sized (but tasty) wild strawberries, I got great views as it caught and ate caterpillars for several minutes at a time before moving surreptitiously through the treetops to a new branch, superbly camouflaged. A very charismatic bird.
  Still plenty of juvies out and about, and I came across what I’m calling a ‘nursery’. Juvenile birds of several passerine species (Red-eyed Vireo, Black-capped Chickadee, Indigo Bunting, and Chipping Sparrow) were flopping about and giving flying a try in a small patch of detached woods, under the supervision of vocal adult birds above. 

  I witnessed a similar scene in Suncheon in September of 2015: “On September 8th, a female Yellow-rumped Flycatcher was spotted in a small ‘nursery’ woods next to a reservoir near Suncheon. Young Black-naped Orioles, Brown-eared Bulbuls, Azure-winged and Eurasian Magpies tested their wings under the watchful eye of several perched adult birds nearby.”

Monday, June 26, 2017

Gravebirds o'late

Black-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus erythropthalmus
American Redstart Setophaga ruticilla
Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum
Eastern Bluebird Sialia sialis
Eastern Bluebird Sialia sialis
young Northern Raccoon Procyon lotor
Northern Crescent Phyciodes cocyta
  I went for a saunter through the Mount Royal Cemetery and environs on June 24th, to see what was kicking about. The Black-billed Cuckoos were still quietly haunting a forgotten corner (if you know where to look, heh heh - you gotta think like the biiird, mannnnnn), the bluebirds and butterflies were out, and young critters trying out new limbs rasped for mummy from every tree.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Cape Cod - Part 3 (Craigville and Hyannis, June 18-20, 2017)

Herring River in Craigville
Craigville Beach
Laughing Gull in situ, Hyannis
Laughing Gull Leucocephalus atricilla
Herring Gull Larus argentatus
Willet Tringa semipalmata
Northern Mockingbird Minus polyglottos
juvenile American Robin Turdus migratorius
juvenile Tufted Titmouse Baeolophus bicolour
Eastern Box Turtle Terrapene carolina carolina
Atlantic Horseshoe Crab Limulus polyphemus
  While staying in the Cape, I was based in the sleepy cottage country of Craigville, on the south coast. There were loads of fledglings about – Common Grackles being fed next to a creek, young American Robins harassing adult birds, Red-winged Blackbirds (including one freshly fledged bird that appeared to have some kind of grotesque avian conjunctivitis), and a family of Tufted Titmouse (Titmice?).
  I was jarred from slumber on two mornings by a rousing dawn chorus – first in was the song of an American Robin (at 4:15 on the nose), followed closely by the sounds of Mourning Dove, Eastern Phoebe, Red-eyed Vireo, Gray Catbird, Yellow Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, several brief White-throated Sparrow phrases, House Finch, and American Goldfinch. A lovely racket, I wasn’t complaining.
  I checked in on the swampy (and tick-infested) area where the Herring River empties into Craigville Beach several times. An Eastern Box Turtle was a pleasant surprise there, as was a flyby by a pair of Mute Swans. Gray Catbirds were thick on the ground, and four local Ospreys patrolled over the swampy bits, regularly putting up several jumpy Willets. Other Craigville observations included a Green HeronRuby-throated Hummingbird, and Northern Mockingbird.
  Hyannis was passed through a few times, and it was there that I got my first looks at Laughing Gulls, Fish Crows, and Horseshoe Crabs. While driving through Hyannis, we passed a reedy pond where I saw/heard several fluttery Black Terns. Is that an odd record this time of year on the Cape? Who knows.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Cape Cod - Part 2 (Bass Hole and Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, June 20, 2017)

Bass Hole boardwalk
Osprey nest at Bass Hole
Beach at Monomoy NWR
Osprey Pandion haliaetus
Laughing Gull Leucocephalus atricilla
'Orange-tailed' Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum
Willet Tringa semipalmata
American Oystercatcher Haematopus palliatus
Common Tern Sterna hirundo (Buoys and gu...never mind...)
Northern Rough-winged Swallow Stelgidopteryx serripennis
Fish Crow Corvus ossifragus
  While on the road, a dart was thrown at a map, and it hit Bass Hole (Bass Hole!), so that ended up being the first birding stop on June 20. A pair of nesting Ospreys, an American Oystercatcher, and several noisy Willets were viewed from a long boardwalk. Being the eternal scopeless wonder, a raft of terns and gulls on a far-off sandbar remained uninvestigated and blobby. I regret nothiiiiiing!
  On an interesting note, I saw a Cedar Waxwing there with an orange tip to its tail, as opposed to the expected yellow. Apparently this happens in the northeastern US as a result of the birds eating an introduced species of honeysuckle berries. Neat-o.
  By the time we got to Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge (just south of Chatam, in Cape Cod’s southeastern armpit), the fog and wind had fully socked the place in, visibility was low, and most birds were keeping their heads down.

  Notable observations included a pair of Eastern Kingbirds on the dunes, several Willets probing for benthic organisms in the fog, four Common Terns dive-bombing for fish (no Roseates, boo-hoo), two Snowy Egrets, a nice close flyby from an American Oystercatcher, and good views, finally, of a vocalizing Fish Crow. Nuh-uh! Nuh-uh!
  At the sandy cliffs on the beach, a Northern Rough-winged Swallow got caught out by stiff winds, and it was incredible to watch its repeated aborted landing attempts and circle-rounds in the vicious gusts before a successful landing in its nest hole.
  Bass Hole!

Cape Cod - Part 1 (Sandy Neck, June 19, 2017)

Saltmarsh Sparrow Ammodramus caudacutus
Saltmarsh Sparrow Ammodramus caudacutus
Spot the Piping Plover chick! Hours of fun! (Scroll to the last image at the bottom for the answer...)
Piping Plover Charadrius melodus
Herring Gull Larus argentatus
Bonaparte’s Gull Chroicocephalus philadelphia
Least Tern Sternula antillarum
Least Tern Sternula antillarum
Diamondback Terrapin Malaclemys terrapin
My legs got sun-crisped a lively Nantucket red, to match my borrowed shorts

Habitat-o-rama: dunes on the left (with a beach beyond), saltmarsh on the right

Piping Plover chick
  I’ve just returned from a jaunt down to Cape Cod, and managed to sneak in some rewarding birding along the way. In preparation for the trip, I flicked through my Sibley and made up a ‘dream hit list’ of about 40 species that don’t often make it up Montreal way. By the time the fog had settled and I was on the road back north, I realized that I’d checked 11 lifers off that list! Badass.
  The most fruitful birding spot was Sandy Neck, which boasted a sensational mix of saltmarsh, dune, and beach habitats. The highlight there was superb close looks at a pair of Saltmarsh Sparrows. I had a string of frustrating brushes with Ammodramus sparrows along the saltmarsh trail, of the whack-a-mole-better-be-quick variety. Exasperated, and worried that I wouldn’t end up getting an ID-worthy look, I hunkered down at a promising spot by a small open pond, and let the birds come my way. After about ten minutes, they did just that (to my considerable surprise). Two cracking Saltmarsh Sparrows popped up, but instead of flopping straight back down again, they fluttered down onto a flat patch of dead grass, 15 feet in front of me. The encounter only lasted about ten seconds, but I won’t soon forget it – that is one spectacular species (and listed as "vulnerable" by the IUCN).
  Several Diamondback Terrapins were seen shuffling along the trails, and the park rangers were busy moving some of their nests to less precarious spots up the dunes.
  The walk towards the beach through the scrub and squooshy sand of the dunescape held its own little clique of birds: mewling Gray Catbirds, three Eastern Towhees, a Northern Mockingbird, and several Common Yellowthroats and Yellow Warblers, but sadly no Seaside Sparrows.
  On the beach, the whole area where dune meets sea level was roped off for nesting Piping Plovers, a "near threatened" species very susceptible to disturbance. Walking along the beach trail (accessible to walkers and 4WD vehicles alike), I came across an adult Piping Plover noisily leading me away from the roped-off bit, which hinted that there were chicks about. I spotted one standing immobile near the dunes, perfectly camouflaged, and quickly cleared off back towards to beach to give them their space. Another spectacular bird I’m not likely to see up here!
  Six delightful Least Terns squeaked and fluttered in the onshore winds, while handfuls of Herring and Greater Black-backed Gulls sulked on the waterline. Three Common Terns were also in the mix. Two Bonaparte’s Gulls were cavorting and wheeling low on the water, seeming to take pleasure in the act of flight.