I headed out just before noon on this relatively mild almost-spring day. Kayak mounted on the car, I drove to Ponkapoag and unloaded at the boat launch parking. I carried the kayak down to the pond, set it down at the waters edge and lifted my binoculars for a cursory scan. A scan revealed nothing as usual, but I didn't let this hamper my dreams of countless possibilities. For some reason, ducks on the water are almost impossible to see from any angle on land here, hence the kayak. For the first time I decided to follow the edge of the pond to the right instead of kayaking to the left. Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds formed a small loose flock in a swampy area and a flock of Black-capped Chickadees and Golden-crowned Kinglets cavorted in the edge of the cedar bog.  I heard an odd gurgling, growling noise and looked straight ahead to see two small heads pop out of the water. My first thought was "River Otters!" but then I looked in my binoculars and was confused. I couldn't discern any features and they started to look more like the heads of large fish. But then one turned towards me and it couldn't have been more clear that it was an otter. One of them had something dangling out of it's mouth, which upon reviewing my photos later was definitely a crayfish.  The otters made their strange grumbling noises and continued to poke their heads in and out of the water, always resurfacing in a slightly different spot until they eventually went down and did not come back up.

Continuing on, I neared the cove by the cabins and noticed a large flock of ducks near a pair of Great Black-backed Gulls. In my experience here so far, I'd never seen a large flock of anything on the water other than Canada Geese. As I suspected, they were Ring-necked Ducks and after several careful counts I figured there were 33 of them. One of the birds stood out with very white sides and zooming into some photos I was able to confirm it as a Greater Scaup.  Kayaking now towards the much larger cedar bog, the Ring-necks scattered and there wasn't anything I could do about it. They were extremely skittish. A Common Raven flew by the far side of the pond and called several times. A Red-shouldered Hawk rose up from the small bog, mobbed by some crows. Several Bufflehead dove in an area towards the center of the pond, and three female Common Mergansers sat on a rock near the edge and became alert as I passed by at a respectful distance.  Nearing the bog I came upon the north corner of the pond and it's thicket-covered edge. Several chickadees and titmice called, so I stopped and pished a little to draw out the little guys. An American Tree Sparrow showed itself briefly at the back of the thicket and a kinglet popped into view closer to me. I expected a Golden-crowned but was surprised when I saw the clean and unmarked face of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. I spent some time with the bird, making sure to acquire a few useable photos for my eBird list.

As I began to traverse the edge of the bog I flushed two pairs of geese from the edge, both pairs having one obviously larger (male) and one smaller bird (female). Another flock of chickadees and Golden-crowned Kinglets greeted me. Some pishing drew in a Yellow-rumped Warbler from the cedars and he came in close to investigate. The bog held no more surprises for me and I turned back towards the boat launch. A decent-sized flock of geese loafing by the dam were the last birds of note I saw from the water.

I carried the boat back up to the car, strapped it on top, and drove to the golf course parking lot to take a short walk. I started on my favorite route up to the wood pile maintenance area at the north edge of the course. I figured I could add a few birds onto my list of 36 species and hopefully hit 40. It's often surprising after a couple hours of birding to take note of the common species you have missed. My first new bird was a Northern Flicker calling from up ahead. I soon found some House Finches, the pair of Fox Sparrows which have been frequenting the exact same spot for at least a week now, and a flock of White-throated Sparrows. The Carolina Wren began singing, and surprisingly a pair of Downy Woodpeckers were my last new birds for the day.

Please check out my eBird list for the day, I've added audio, photographs and more: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S28252117

I'll leave you with a Woodcock photo I took on the golf course several nights back. It was a juggle keeping my headlamp aimed at the bird while taking a photograph at the same time. I would have liked to get a lower angle, but with my frustrating setup I won't complain. 

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Talking advantage of the beautiful weather yesterday, I birded for the first time Lake Waban in Wellesley and the Medfield Charles River State Reservation. Parking by the Wellesley College athletic field I began my walk around the west side of the lake. Open deciduous woods anchored a shrubby cattail stream flowing out from a small higher pond into the lake. A ridge-line path set higher in the woods revealed a beautiful dell of hemlocks. Continuing further, the low elevations of the woods were filled with rhododendrons that thinned out up the slopes of the hills into rocky outcrops and many young white pines. Even further the deeper woods morphed into thick white pine groves with very large trees and a dense dead understory. Reaching the south end of the lake I looped around to the east side and found myself at the back edge of private yards with large houses. The trail hugged the edge of the lake here, framed by dense rhododendrons. Eventually it opened out back into Wellesley College property and the habitat became more manicured and open throughout the campus.  The highlight bird-wise was a Common Raven, five Ring-necked Ducks, nine American Coot, and a Turkey Vulture. I was hoping for Red-breasted Nuthatch and the habitat was excellent but I had no such luck. The Turkey Vulture here would have been a county year bird had I not had two soaring over the highway on my way to Lake Waban.

​From Wellesley I drove south to Medfield and parked at a place google calls McCarthy Park although no sign displaying this name could be located in situ. The place is an open semi-defunct field complex, with stands of birches and what looked to be a dry cattail marsh. Edge habitat abounded but literally no birds could be found beside a small flock of Cedar Waxwings. Areas of concrete dotted this overgrown place, and much of it was rutted with meandering tire tracks. An open mowed hill close to the road seemed to be a popular place for people to exercise their dogs. For some reason most visitors felt the need to drive a healthy distance off-road instead of parking on the edge of the paved park road. From McCarthy Park I walked along Hospital Rd to the Medfield Charles River State Reservation. I entered via the gravel road that parallels the train track. This road heads straight for the model airplane field and dead-ends at the Charles River. Swamp and shrubby marsh can be found on either side before it reaches the mowed grass of the airplane field. The edge of the field borders the river and the habitat is typical for the edges of the Charles River. Low shrubs and tangles of vines turn into matted grasses at the rivers edge. Birds were scarce although I ran into several American Tree Sparrows, a decent sized flock of Dark-eyed Juncos and a Sharp-shinned Hawk, which was another county year bird.

​Two county year birds for the day left me at 97 species. Only three more until the 100 milestone.

Today, after much deliberation I decided to do some very local birding. I planned to check spots in Milton including Turner's Pond, the landing, and a couple other spots along the Neponset River. At Turner's Pond I just checked the water and as usual this winter I came up empty-handed. Nothing other than the Mallards, Ring-billed Gulls, and pair of Canada Geese. Milton Landing was similarly disappointing. The lack of an eagle was made up for in a female Red-breasted Merganser. Not a species I often see this far up the river. One female Common Merganser also swam nearby.

I arrived at Riverside Ave with high hopes and was not disappointed. Upon parking the car I could see several Red-winged Blackbirds working the phragmites and plenty of sparrow action nearby. Opening the car door I heard a Common Grackle call from behind one of the houses. Geese filled the marsh and as I began to scan them for any rarities I noticed a Killdeer staring me down from the edge of a puddle. Blackbirds and Killdeer, the earliest migrants are sure signs that Spring is just around the corner! Entering the edge of the woods I came upon a large flock of White-throated Sparrows and Tufted Titmice. It wasn't long before I heard the distinctive chip of a Yellow-rumped Warbler and saw it flitting about mid-way up the trees. Juncos began to feed into the woods from the marsh and the sound of twittering birds filled the air. Walking out into the marsh I realized how sheltered I had been from the wind as it began to nip at my ears and my hands as I, gloveless, updated my eBird totals. Song Sparrows flushed from the edge of the marsh and as I reached the river I added several more species to my growing list. One Common Goldeneye swam near a Common and Red-breasted Merganser. With these three female ducks in view I scanned further and found a larger flock of Red-breasted Mergansers that included both sexes. A dully patterned immature Great Blue Heron stood in the marsh near a roost of Ring-billed and Herring Gulls. ​ Lengthening my walk to a nearby suite of industrial buildings and a small section of the Presidents Golf Course I didn't find many new birds besides a pair of Red-tailed Hawks. I made my way back to my car and headed home.

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This year since I've gotten to know Norfolk County up to a point where I feel comfortable with it, I've decided to try and pull off a county big year. Since I'll be limiting myself to my home county there won't be much driving involved and it will be easy to chase anything rare that shows up. I won't be dropping anything I already have planned to chase birds, and since I've never tried this before, I don't expect much. I'm not reaching for the stars. I'm just testing this out. I want to focus on local birding and limiting the majority of my birding to one county is how I'm going to do it. I don't know the county as well as I could but I definitely know it better than I ever have before (obviously). I feel confident in being able to find 200 species, which would be a new record for me as I've only had 183 in one year (2015) in the county before. Since I missed several peak seasons last year I figure it will be easy to do better this time around, as long as I stay in Milton.  Milton has a well positioned spot within Norfolk County. Very close to Squantum in Quincy (the biggest hotspot in Norfolk Co.), Milton also allows very easy access to the Blue Hills Reservation and several very good Spring warbler spots such as Fowl Meadow. On the north edge, Milton directly abuts Suffolk County. This is not ideal, since any birds seen over the border will not count for my big year. It often seems however, that sometimes the best birding is on county lines. The Neponset River Reservation and Cutler Park are both on the border of Suffolk County. The Neponset River, and the Charles River respectively forming the actual border.

Since it's already February, you may be wondering what I have seen this year so far. I'll break down the species list and some of the spots I've hit. I tried to start the year off strong and I think that worked out pretty well. I started on January 1st at Webb Memorial State Park in Weymouth and did very well by picking up a Razorbill just off the point. I filled out my new year list to 24 species there with birds like Bald Eagle, both loons, and plenty of the common sea ducks. ​Picked up my continuing Laughing Gull at a nearby beach and continued to Turkey Hill in Cohasset/Hingham. Birding the Norfolk side of the the hill I didn't add much to my list, having only 8 new birds. A low flying Common Raven was a nice addition however. Making my way back north along the coast I picked up Hooded Merganser and American Oystercatcher on my way to Squantum. Squantum treated me well with a group of Northern Shoveler and a single Brant. Horned Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, and American Tree Sparrow were a few more of the birds I added there. I managed 45 species in total for January 1st which is surprising considering I only started birding at half past 11.

On January 2nd I stayed inland and did some birding in Randolph. I picked up some good birds in Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Swamp Sparrow and Red-winged Blackbird. At Great Pond I had Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Greater and Lesser Scaup, Common Merganser, Belted Kingfisher, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet among other birds.

With the first big sections of birds done, I'll recap the rest of the year so far with any new birds I had after the first two days. At Ponkapoag Pond on the 6th of January I added Merlin, Brown Creeper, Winter Wren, Carolina Wren, and Orange-crowned Warbler. On January 7th I added Eastern Screech Owl in the Blue Hills, and at Shea Naval Air Field (Southfield) I added Northern Harrier, Red-shouldered Hawk, Rock Pigeon, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, and Purple Finch. I added Gadwall from Souther Tide Mill, Common Yellowthroat from Broad Meadows Marsh, and Canvasback, Sanderling, and Snow Bunting from Wollaston Beach. On January 8th I added American Wigeon and American Coot from Lake Massapoag. On January 10th I added Wood Duck from Leverett Pond. On January 27th at Great Pond I added Northern Pintail, Ruddy Duck, and Fox Sparrow. I also added Ruddy Turnstone from Wollaston Beach and Savannah Sparrow from Squantum. On January 30th along the Cohasset coast I added Black Scoter, Barrow's Goldeneye, Red-necked Grebe, Great Cormorant, and Purple Sandpiper. On January 31st I added Common Grackle from Cutler Park. On February 2nd I added King Eider, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Lark Sparrow (photo below) from Webb Memorial State Park.

And finally on February 7th I added Horned Lark while kayaking from Milton Landing.

This concludes my very boring recap! The following posts should undoubtedly be much more entertaining!

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