Sunday, May 30, 2010

Beautiful Sunday

60's and sunny. Thanks to Ian, I was able to recognize the call of the Willow flycatcher and there he was again down in the lower gardens (pictured left).  The local cast of characters down there were pretty much the same as yesterday although I think I saw the female grosbeak in this area today but didn't see the male.

The wildflowers in the meadow are getting prettier and prettier every day. The little white flowers of the fleabane are now blooming in tandem with some beautiful grasses. As I approached the upper gardens I saw the bluebird and tree swallow feeding their babies at exactly the same time. It was really sweet. Heard the warbling vireo that has been hanging out in the stand of trees to the right.

I took a look at the woods in the back of the upper gardens and saw what first appeared to be a downy woodpecker, but it looked too large. I am pretty certain it is a hairy woodpecker (pictured left). Can anyone corroborate for me?

Met a new gardener named Sean today. There is a lot of enthusiasm for these community gardens. Abandoned plots are being weeded and fixed up. Just as I was heading down to the soccer field, I saw a commotion in the upper gardens. It was a crow chasing a hawk. I ran back up to take a picture of the hawk as it seemed to have settled for a while on a tree branch. Is this a gorgeous specimen or what?

On the way down to the soccer field I saw something gray in the grass. At first, I thought it was a dead tree root but something made me go over and look. It looked like it might be a dead squirrel until I was right upon it. Very sad - it was a young raccoon. It was totally intact and can't imagine what happened to it. Nature has been very hard on things this year. This is the location where I am hearing the wood thrush this year, but haven't seen them at all.

Down in the soccer field was, what I think was a ruby-crowned kinglet, a yellow warbler that I think has a nest there, the Eastern Kingbird, a cardinal and the male oriole keeping an eye on its nest. I walked down to the pond to hear the bullfrogs and look for the ducks. The bullfrogs were croaking, but no sign of the ducks today. As I returned to the main path, I saw a gray flash come out of a little cleft in a small tree! I thought it might be a titmouse, but wasn't sure until I heard "peter, peter, peter" coming from a nearby branch. I stayed and watched for a while as the parents came and went, feeding their squeaky little brood. The nest locations for birds are so amazing. So often, they are right in front of us and we would never know it were it not for these chance encounters.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Pee Wees at the Park!

It was a beautiful morning. A nice temperature and sunny. When I arrived in the lower gardens I heard the "kreeeeet" of the great crested flycatcher, but never caught a glimpse of him. As I walked down the little path I saw for the first time, a woodchuck! I could see it because of the newly cleared plot and it quickly disappeared into the brush.

It seemed pretty busy this morning. Yellow warblers were out and about. Some of them must have nestlings already because I saw one warbler carrying a fecal sac in her mouth and dumping it as she flew. I think she may have a nest in somewhere in the middle of the gardens. I saw this beautiful female yellow warbler which was nice because I mostly see the males, singing. Saw the house wrens, what I think was a ruby crowned kinglet, tree swallows, more shrews, house finches and our arch enemy "Little Hitler" the killer house sparrow. As I was about to head up to the upper gardens, a beautiful flycatcher appeared at the top of the favored old fruit tree in the lower gardens. It had a beautiful yellow wash on its belly and I knew it was a flycatcher, but it was too small for a great crested. I had myself talked into it being the Eastern phoebe when luckily Ian turned up. He had heard it when he arrived and identified it as the Willow flycatcher. We don't see these everyday at Nahanton so that was nice, although I think I remember seeing one with Ian later in the summer last year, down near the soccer field.

Ian and I walked around the rest of the park together. This time we saw two woodchucks! Mr. Bluebird came and fed his babies, while Mrs. B looked on from a branch nearby. We saw three male cowbirds sitting on a garden fence. Ian heard a pee wee coming from the woods. We tried to investigate but couldn't see the bird, even though we knew it was right near us.

Oriole dad was feeding babies in nest down near the soccer field. Saw mama mallard and her seven babies in the pond and the goose family with their three babies swimming in the river. We walked through the woods behind the JCC and there was another pee wee singing from a bare branch pretty low down, so we got a great view of it.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Weekend Update

The weather this weekend was beautiful both days. It was in the 50's, sunny Saturday and slightly overcast Sunday, but very pleasant.

The meadow has several wildflowers blooming right now. Grasses, red clover, ox eye daisies, lupine, some yellow hawkweedish flowers and some kind of wildflower with little purple flowers. I should research this to positively identify them.

Between Saturday and Sunday, in the lower gardens I saw many yellow warblers, house wrens, catbirds, robins, tree swallows, song sparrows. Somehow I have missed many of the migrants. Saturday, there was an Eastern kingbird hanging around. I think I saw "Little Hitler" the killer house sparrow that we wish would move elsewhere. The good news is that so far (and I am keeping my fingers crossed), the baby song sparrow is still in its ground nest and alive. I am wondering if this is the first brood ever for these song sparrows.

I'm also happy to report that the bluebird couple have been seen both days and today I saw him near the parking lot, which last year was one of their favorite spots to look for food to feed their babies. I also saw Mr. B fly to the box and feed the babies. I hope they make it.

In the upper gardens I caught a good glimpse of a warbling vireo singing. Also saw the great crested flycatcher being very vocal. It seems that the grosbeaks have abandoned the nest down near the soccer field, but I did have a great sighting of both of them in the upper gardens (pictured above).  Finally saw the red bellied woodpecker! Also saw a couple of gray shrews chasing each other like little brothers in the leaves near the edge of the woods.

Down near the soccer field, the orioles must be sitting on eggs in their cozy nest. I have seen the male hanging out in the tree a few times.

At the pond, one can hear a chorus of bull frogs glugging to each other. I haven't seen one yet, but they are so funny sounding and I did hear one plop in the water when I got too close. A female mallard was parading around with her brood of 6 or so babies and hanging out by the side to nibble on yummy stuff by the edge of the pond. Today, a turtle was sunning itself on a branch there. And this chipmunk was hanging out posing for a photo. Yes, you are very handsome!

Down by the river are lots of warbling vireos, titmice, orioles, warblers and chickadees. I saw a baby robin chasing its parent in the underbrush, begging for food. It was so cute. Also saw a pair of Canadian geese with 3 babies. I wonder if it's the pair I photographed this spring…As I walked along the river, I came across this tree. It sure looks like beaver damage, but I don't know if we have beavers in this part of the Charles. No sign of any beaver dams. Strange.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Some Sad News

Last Sunday, I went to the park with Brian. Haynes had seen a house sparrow in the lower gardens and it was determined that it had kicked out the tree swallows, taken over the box and was hatching babies. When Brian checked the other boxes, he found the chickadee male was inside and dead with 3-4 babies that were still alive. The female was trying to take care of the babies herself. He was sure it was the house sparrow as he has seen this before and they can be very aggressive about other birds in the area. A few days later, he went to check again, and all the babies were killed and on the ground. He also found the female wren in the third box dead inside her nestbox. Very disturbing.

We also discovered that the phoebe nest that is pictured with a baby on a previous blog entry was completely gone from its corner on the little hut by the river. We even found the nest material on the ground. I thought someone must have removed the nest, but Brian said that it was a predator. The baby was so close to fledging too. However, the 2nd nest on the building also seems to have a bird in it. Not sure if it was a different mother and/or whether there is a baby in that one.

A gardener Donna called me last Sunday evening as well and she discovered a little nest on the ground just outside her garden plot. She was worried about the babies being so vulnerable and also wondering what kind of sparrows they were. We're all in agreement that it is a song sparrow, but they don't often nest on the ground like that. The sad thing is that for a few days there were at least three babies but now, there is only one. Clearly, predators are getting them. I've been checking on the nest every day - we were all really worried with the last rain storm. Today, the baby is looking a little more like a fledgling sitting properly in the nest and developing pin feathers. I only wonder if it will last long enough to be able to fly away. It probably has 5-7 days to go but don't know if the odds are with it in that location.

The grosbeak nest was empty this morning. I hope that isn't a disaster too. Hopefully, the parents were foraging for food.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Busy Birds!

Yes, the birds have been busy. Mother phoebe left the nest for a minute and here's is the only baby that I could see. Looks pretty cozy in there, doesn't it?

The oriole nest that we saw started last weekend down near the soccer field is now complete (see picture to left) and though I didn't see the mother, I imagine she's either laying or sitting on eggs. I'm just amazed at the speed with which this all takes place - huge journeys from the south or southern hemisphere, land here, build nest, have babies and fly back in the fall. I also saw what must be a young male because his head was a mottled orange and black instead of the rich, solid black of the fully adult male.

Didn't see anything wildly unusual today, although I did see some kind of sandpiper down near the river, but he was a little too far to tell what kind. I remember last year, I saw a spotted sandpiper and I'm kind of wondering if this is the same bird. I like to think that the same birds come back year after year.

Saw our wrens, goldfinches, a couple of yellow rumps which are hanging around in the same shrub as last week (making me wonder if they might build a nest there), cardinals, song sparrows, tree swallows and Mr. Bluebird. Also, finally heard the wood thrushes in a couple of locations, but haven't actually seen one. Somehow, I feel like I've missed out on some of the more unusual warblers this year but I guess that's the way it goes.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Nahanton Park Needs Your Help!!!!

There will be a public hearing about the farm proposal for Nahanton Park. Many of us are very concerned about this very large amount of open space that is being requested.

How will this impact the birds and animals that live there?

Nesting season has begun and these areas should be studied first to try and determine what effect this proposal could have on these sensitive areas. 

It is precisely the loss and fragmentation of these shrubby, small-tree areas that is one of many factors causing declines in bird populations. There are many species that benefit from these habitats.

This is a serious change in the use of the park and should be discussed thoroughly. We are concerned about the speed and lack of discourse of this process which is most unusual.

Monday, May 17th at 7:00 p.m. Room 209
Newton City Hall
1000 Commonwealth Avenue
Newton Center, MA 02459

To speak:
call Robin McLaughlin at: 617-796-1500 or email:

email letter and ask Robin to distribute to the Parks & Recreation Commission:

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day Bird Walk

Today was the Newton Conservator's Annual Mother's Day Bird Walk. We had at least fifteen people of all different levels and experience. The walk was led by Alison Leary.

It was cool and windy, but even under these conditions there were some good sightings.

We started down the river path, but the wind was so loud, it was hard to hear, so we back-tracked and took Florrie's path to the soccer field. We saw an oriole that had started building a nest. Some saw yellow-rumps, robins, song sparrows and catbirds. There was a red-eyed vireo singing in the trees between the soccer field and the upper gardens. Earlier, it was in plain view and I have a picture here to the right, although it's not very detailed.

In the lower gardens, we were greeted by the nesting tree swallows and the bubbly house wren. We also saw several yellow warblers, cowbirds, Baltimore orioles, song sparrows, Cooper's or Sharp-Shinned Hawks flying overhead as well as geese that kept flying back and forth and a red-tailed hawk.

As we moved to the upper gardens, the bluebirds were hanging out in a tree by the path. Later we saw the female on the nest box with her husband nearby. Some of our group saw a prairie warbler and a mourning warbler which is very exciting! I think a redstart was seen up here as well. Somehow, I seemed to keep missing these great sightings! There were goldfinches and more orioles.

Towards the end of the walk we moved down to the lower gardens again. Alison saw an Indigo bunting, but most of us missed it - however many in the group did get to see a Ruby Throated hummingbird which looked quite unusual in the lighting - nothing like the Ruby Throated, but I guess their iridescence can play major tricks on you. Another member of the group, I think it was Cris, saw a couple of American Redstarts down here as well.

This walk is always great fun!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Beautiful Friday at the Park

I went to the park around 6:00 a.m. this morning. It was about 53 degrees but not feeling cold. I feel like the next two weeks will be the most productive for seeing migrants and wasn't sure what the weekend weather will be like so decided to take advantage of good weather.

I've also been reading B. Cassey's entries in the bird register. On May 3rd he saw 45 species including 11 types of warblers. The next day he saw 51 species. This is when I get frustrated with myself that I only see so much because of my skill level!

Today, the lower gardens was so active. Birds were chasing each other, singing, flying and deciding territories etc. It was really fun to watch the action. Yellow warblers, tree swallows, goldfinches, catbirds, robins and song sparrows were all very busy. The house wren still has his eye on that tree swallow box in someone's garden. He's really sticking to that area!

Checked out the swamp, which is getting quite buggy, and heard things that I just didn't know what they were but they sounded good! Saw 3 orioles chasing each other, a titmouse making a beautiful whistling sound and thought I heard the yellow throat, but wasn't sure. No owl though.

In the upper gardens, it was reassuring to see Mrs. Bluebird's little head in the hole of the nest box. The 3 cowbirds have been hanging out up here recently. Lower garden characters up here too, including the catbird singing at top of page as well as this house wren that was singing on top of a scarecrow head with hat! They are so comical!

The soccer fields yielded 2 orioles hanging around the tree they like to nest in down there, a yellow-rump, a red-breasted grosbeak, yellow warblers, a flicker and two males sharing the pond - a wood duck and a mallard. I did not hear or see the wood thrush although Brian has reported 3.

Down by the river, I saw two swans flying overhead which actually is quite a sight. They almost seem too big to fly! Saw a warbling vireo and the phoebe is still sitting on her nest.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Another Exciting Day!

Immediately upon arrival, I heard and saw one of our house wrens in the lower gardens. Actually, I think it was a couple. He is very desirous of a house that I'm pretty sure is and has been in the past occupied by tree swallows. He's even putting sticks in there - so I'll be curious to see what develops with two pretty aggressive birds over this box.

Now, there are many catbirds in addition to the one we saw last week gurgling away. Got to see the yellow warblers myself with their "sweet, sweet, very sweet". It's great to have them back. They love the scrubby areas surrounding the lower gardens as well as the gardens themselves.

In the upper gardens I saw several Savannah sparrows. Saw a pair of cowbirds. The female looked like she wanted to be fed by the male with her wings shuddering and flapping. I don't think it could be a baby cowbird so soon. Does anyone know if this is a special ritual? Also, saw at least three baltimore orioles. Very refreshing to see their bright orange coloring. Did not see the orchard oriole that Haynes saw.

Down by the soccer field and river were more orioles, an angry kinglet, a warbling vireo and a fisherman!

Came back up to check out the gardens again and ran into Ian, met Judy & Chris for the first time and then Haynes as well. Ian spotted an Eastern Towhee in the scrub to the right of the lower gardens. We really don't see that many towhees here so that was quite interesting. Saw more yellow-rumped warblers, Mr. & Mrs. Bluebird and with Ian's sharp eyes the barn swallows that Haynes saw yesterday. Also saw "Lucy" our special song sparrow with the white on her wings!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Orioles and warblers

May 1, 7:00- 10:00 (with an hour out in the middle along the Charles River Walk across Kendrick St).

40 species, spring is definitely here. The highlight was a male Orchard Oriole, pausing briefly in a tree in the lower garden.
The Hermit Thrush was along Florie's Walk. Many Savannah Sparrows along the golf course side of the lower garden, and further along the 'meadow.' Lots of Ruby-crowned Kinglets in song. The Black-and-White Warbler and Northern Parula were up near the JCC.

At least 16 of these species were observed in Angino Farms's proposed "Area 1."

Canada Goose 2
Mallard 2
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Mourning Dove 6
Red-bellied Woodpecker 4
Downy Woodpecker 3
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) 2
Eastern Phoebe 1
Red-eyed Vireo 1
Warbling Vireo 4
Blue Jay 2
American Crow 2
Tree Swallow 12
Barn Swallow 2
Black-capped Chickadee 4
Tufted Titmouse 12
White-breasted Nuthatch 4
House Wren 5
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 5
Eastern Bluebird 1
Hermit Thrush 1
American Robin 20
Gray Catbird 3
Northern Parula 1
Yellow Warbler 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) 11
Black-throated Green Warbler 1
Palm Warbler (Yellow) 1
Black-and-white Warbler 1
Chipping Sparrow 2
Savannah Sparrow 9
Song Sparrow 8
White-throated Sparrow 2
Northern Cardinal 3
Red-winged Blackbird 6
Common Grackle 8
Brown-headed Cowbird 4
Orchard Oriole 1
Baltimore Oriole 2
American Goldfinch 4