Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Spring has arrived in Boston!

I woke up to be informed that it was bright sunshine outside! I didn't believe Barbara! It could be an April fools prank! Begrudgingly, I got out of bed & looked through the window to see the garden bathed in warm, lovely sunlight! I couldn't believe it! What a change from yesterday! I quickly decided to visit Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Concord. I had been wanting to explore this area for the last week, but bad weather or one sort or another, held me back. I didn't want to go there & find it completely frozen & devoid of birds. Today was my chance!
 The beautiful Colonial Inn.

One of the many pretty houses in Concord.

I hoped on the bus & then onto the commuter train descending in the wonderful old town of Concord. I think I saw the place at its best today, bathed in spring sunlight. I even took my winter jacket off for the very first time on this trip! Concord is my idea of a New England town. It is picture postcard pretty & I took a few snaps of the place.
I had a vague idea of which direction to take but there was no one to ask. One of the minor annoyances of the good old USA is that no one walks anywhere! So, if you are on foot like me, there is no one to ask directions, everyone is in a car you see! I finally found an old lady walking her dog & she proved to be both a ready & useful source of information. She was totally accurate with directions to the refuge & gave me a concise potted history of Concord! Absolutely brilliant!
Please notice the shadows of the trees across the sign.
Proof it was sunny!

As I was walking to the refuge, I heard the first of three Eastern Phoebes calling. I also saw art least four Eastern Bluebirds, the males always take your breathe away, that blue is just soo blue! In some flooded woodland by the roadside I found eight large nests in trees. carefully scrutiny revealed it to be a Great Blue Heron heronry. My first birds on this trip. They really are super birds & I enjoyed scoping them.

The wetlands were more extensive than normal
because of the melting snow


Spring is definitely on the way & it was with a light step that I arrived at the refuge. I quickly scaled the observation tower & started scanning the water in front of me. It really was a wonderful morning, birds were plentiful on the water but too far out for photography.
 The best were:
8 Wood Duck; 12 Ring-necked Duck; 32 Common Goldeneye; 38 Bufflehead; 36 Hooded Merganser; 2 Common Merganser. Notice that all the numbers are even numbers! All the ducks were already paired up & displaying to each other.  4 Red-tailed Hawk & an Osprey complete with fish in its talons flew by. Over the distant hillside were 34 Tree Swallows hawking high in the blue (did I really say that?) sky.
 The melt water was seriously deep in places.
Most of the forest trails were flooded.

I decided to walk the trails around the lake, but most were flooded with melting snow. in some places the trails were around 30cms deep underwater! I did what I could & in a small grove of pine trees flushed 2 Great Horned Owls. They were pretty wary & I didn't manage any meaningful shots, which is a shame, because they were great birds to see. Woodpeckers seemed to be everywhere, they were drumming all around me in the woodland: 10 Downy; a Hairy & 2 Red-bellied Woodpeckers were noted. Otherwise it was just the normal fare in a New England wood. But it was a great few hours, in good surroundings & in wonderful weather.

The next day (2nd) I was up at the crack of dawn, to get the bus, to the tube, to the main railway station! I was going to Newburyport on the train! The only problem was, I got to the railway station an hour early! What I didn't realise, is that public transport in Boston runs very efficiently without people! I was too early for the hoards & consequently was through the city & all its connections in a flash! I am not used to that! I headed for a forlorn looking mini MacDonald's & ordered breakfast. It was dire, but the coffee was good. I eventually bordered the train & I was whisked through Boston heading north along the coast. Small interesting looking places flashed by, some with estuaries & saltmarshes alongside. Newburyport came at last & I was the last person on the train, as it was the terminus. I was a bit perturbed to find the bloody railway station was quite a long way out of town! Highly unusual! So I foot slogged it along the highway & eventually came into to the small town of Newburyport.
The Merrimack River.

The sun was out & I was walking alongside the Merrimack River, which meant plenty of birds to scope. A flock of 280 Common Eider was noteworthy as were 22 Long-tailed Ducks; 44 Ring-necked Ducks & a host of Bufflehead & Common Goldeneye. It was quite a long walk but a very interesting one for birds. I arrived at the bridge near the landmark of the pink house, close to Plum Island.
 Interesting light, over the marshes.

Looking from the sea, over the dunes
 towards the saltmarshes.

I started scoping the marshes & quickly found two immature female Snowy Owls in different locations. I took a few shots, but they were very distant. Then a workman came & chatted to me (see A Blizzard of Owls post, for the full story). He pointed out the close one, which turned out to be very close & a super immature male! What a bird!
 The close one!
 The one I hadn't seen - but it is looking at me!
I eventually walked away from this bird!

After that very welcome interlude, I carried on walking to Plum Island & was dismayed to discover the diner was closed! I hadn't brought any food with me, so I was a bit miffed!
American Tree Sparrow -
an overdue world tick for me!

 I birded the gardens seeing a host of Dark eyed Juncos & Song Sparrows & I also picked out 6 American Tree Sparrows, which were a tick for me. They breed far to the north & all my previous trips to the US had been in late spring/summer, so I had missed them. Fine birds they are too!
Jane - I know what is in those panniers!

It was at this point that I heard a shout behind me, it was Jane, who I had met here last Saturday. She was alone & on her bike. We swapped news & information & she spent the morning birding with me. She has recently taken up birding & photography & is very enthusiastic. It was great to have her alongside, as she was great company. We slowly walked down the road entering the reserve. As we walked further south, it became apparent that there had been an immense arrival of Juncos & Song Sparrows. They were feeding & flitting everywhere along the roadside. Numbers were hard to count, but I estimated 2,000 Dark-eyed Juncos & around 1,300 Song Sparrows.
Female Merlin of the very dark
 North American race.

 I spotted a female Merlin perched in a roadside bush. She gave great scope views, but the light was again poor for photographs. Other good raptors included a Rough-legged Hawk & three Northern Harriers. We kept spotting distant Snowy Owls as well. By the time I turned around to head back north, we had tallied eight birds. Unbelievable!
Tempting me eh?

 We stopped for lunch, the only problem was, I didn't have any! Jane very kindly gave  me a sandwich & very good it was too. I appreciated it so much, that she saw fit to offer me a second! Thanks Jane! We then had to part, Jane to go further south, while I had to start walking back north, to get to the train station, about eight miles away! I hope we meet up again Jane.
 Tastes like chicken!
Piping Plover.

The beaches were now closed for the summer season to try & help the breeding success of the rare & endangered Piping Plover. It is a drastic & unpopular move among the locals & visitors alike. But without closure they really don't stand a chance because of the high amount of disturbance. Dog walkers really kill this species & closing the beaches is the only way of keeping them away from the nesting birds.
My terrible shot of a Beaver.

I spotted a Beaver feeding out in the open, quite close to the road. He was aware of me & I only managed poor shots. But it was a very nice interlude of a species which you often just see the top of its head as it swims away! It was a bird filled walk back, but with nothing new. Right at the end of the walk a guy from Mass Audubon picked me up & very kindly took me to the railway station. Thank you very much. As I was waiting for the train a Turkey Vulture drifted overhead.
The journey home was a nightmare! I missed every connection & then my bus didn't show! After 40 minutes it turned up & then it was a rush to get on. It was a very uncomfortable ride home. I arrived home fourteen hours after I set out, tired but elated by the day. Barbara had a nice evening meal ready for me, which was much appreciated & then both of us dropped into bed & into an exhausted sleep.
The entrance - Habitat Reserve.

The 3rd April turned out to be a really warm day, bathed throughout in beautiful sunshine. I had decided to visit a Mass Audubon Reserve called Habitat, here in Belmont, close to where Barbara lives. Barbara had been urging me to visit & was very enthusiastic about the place. It was a super morning, so I decided to walk there. Barbara's directions were spot on & after an hour, I was there. The entrance & surrounding were quite impressive. It is a wildlife sanctuary & an educational centre catering for the local community. While I was present, there were two small groups of children accompanied by their teachers & everyone seemed to be having a good time & maybe learning a little as well.
 Only 30 acres in extent, but a lot of
 different types of woodland present.
 There are more open areas as well.

Still vestiges of winter to be seen - even though
I saw 3 species of butterfly today!

I headed off on my own, down the longest trail, which passed through mixed woodland, pastures & a small stream & pool. it really was a lovely morning.

Hermit Thrush - an early migrant.

Birds were a little lacking in variety, but a fine Hermit Thrush livened up proceedings! It gave terrific views & was a new bird for me on this trip. I also saw an Eastern Phoebe, another returning migrant.
Tree Swallow

 A couple of Tree Swallows hawked above the pasture & one perched quite close in the clearing.
 Reminders of spring were everywhere & I even spotted three different types of butterfly, the first of spring! I flushed an adult Coopers' Hawk out of some tall trees, but didn't manage a photo.
White-tailed Deer.

 I came across a small herd of 5 White-tailed Deer, they kept mainly to the deep shade but I got a few shots of them.
A very different looking Fresh Pond!

I then walked to Fresh Pond & to my complete surprise it was ice free! The first time I had seen it in this condition! A Great Blue Heron; 4 Hooded Merganser; 4 Bufflehead & 4 Ring-necked Duck were loafing around, enjoying the fine weather.
Notice the blue sky!

A magnificent Red-tailed Hawk soared just above me, giving cracking views.
Cedar Waxwing.

Probably the best birds were a pair of Cedar Waxwings, they looked just  great in the sunshine.

Downy Woodpecker putting on a show.

 I found a Downy Woodpecker excavating a nesting hole close to the path. No one noticed it apart from me!
I continued my circuit to Mount Auburn Cemetery & spent a couple of hours wandering around. Another Great Blue Heron was noted as well as all the usual species.
Ipswich Savannah Sparrow

But I found an unfamiliar sparrow feeding on the grass. It turned out to be an Ipswich Savannah Sparrow. This was a new race for me, as it breeds in a small, very local area to the north. With that, I headed off home & Barbara & I enjoyed a nice Italian dinner later that evening.

On the 4th, I had another walk around Mount Auburn Cemetery. It was a nice sunny day but very cold- two steps back from yesterday.
One of the resident Canada Geese.

Red-tailed Hawk, unfortunately the light had just
 gone, by the time I found this bird.

The usual Red-tailed Hawk gave good views & the Great Blue Heron was still fishing on the pond.
Eastern Phoebe - one of the earliest migrants here.

The only other species of note were an Eastern Phoebe & a Brown Creeper.
One of the many American Robins.

There were however over 100+ American Robins feeding on the grass, which is many more than I have seen before. The weather started to turn cold & overcast & the wind increased, so I turned for home & spent the time updating my blog. Looking forward to the weekend in central Maine.

Today, the 7th, is my last day in Boston. I fly out this evening. I was up early & birded Mount Auburn Cemetery. It was a beautiful, early spring morning & a pleasure to be birding. What a change in climate from a month ago when I first arrived! Signs of spring were everywhere & birding was quite good: four species of Woodpecker; Red bellied; Downy; Hairy & a very fine male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. A few migrants had arrived: a Golden-crowned Kinglet; 2 Eastern Phoebes & 2 Brown-headed Cowbirds.
This Mourning Dove, was collecting twigs
 to build a nest - a sure sign of spring.
 Red-tailed Hawk with rabbit.
 This is quite a large prey item for this bird.
 & it is surprising how much of the rabbit
 it has eaten.


However, the highlight of the morning was a Red-tailed Hawk which had caught & was eating a rabbit. I spent a while here, taking photographs.

It was now time to pack up & leave. I plan to be back around 20th May, hopefully to catch a little of the spring warbler migration.


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