It seems every Sunday when I lead my bird walk at the McIntosh Refuge in Bristol I come up with a few new birds for the sanctuary. Today was no exception. An Orange-crowned Warbler showed very briefly in some bright red sumac at the edge of the meadow. Swamp Sparrows were incredibly numerous as they have been for the past couple of weeks. Two Purple Finches showed themselves from afar perched on the top of tree. Their chunky build and striped heads were obvious even from the distance. And finally, a Field Sparrow gave us a great view when it responded to pishing in the meadow.

Last weekends big surprise was a Clay-colored Sparrow out at Jacobs Point just by the water, hanging out near a Brown Thrasher.

Check out the data I've compiled for the refuge, I find it very interesting. There are a few options to choose from when you view the species lists:

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On April 25 the Massachusetts Young Birders Club had our first trip to Wompatuck State Park in Hingham. I planned this trip hoping for Louisiana Waterthrush and any other early migrants we could stir up. We had a good turnout with approximately 13 participants. It was a gorgeous day and cold in the morning. By midday it had warmed considerably into t-shirt weather. We covered a fair amount of area in the park and found one Louisiana Waterthrush at Picture Pond which was seen by about 50% of us and only heard by the other half. We also flushed a Ruffed Grouse from the side of a trail, again only seen by those in the front of the group. Other birds of note were Black-and-white Warblers, one Northern Waterthrush, a Broad-winged Hawk, a Blue-headed Vireo, a Winter Wren, Pine Siskins and some other great early season birds. We ended the day with a total of 53 species (eBird checklist).

This morning, I headed out early (5:50am) over to Turner's Pond to see what I could stir up (eBird checklist). Overnight rains meant few birds had likely migrated but I hadn't been to the pond for a while and I was sure to see something interesting. As I expected, it was a slow start once I got there. A single Yellow-rumped Warbler was the only unusual bird to be seen until I reached the far side. A couple White-throated Sparrows were singing from the thickets as per usual.  The song of a Yellow Warbler reached my ears from across the pond and I made my way over to the apparently productive side. A singing Ruby-crowned Kinglet was also soon audible, a high-pitched noise that reached a crescendo and tumbled back downwards in a jumble of frenetic warbling notes. Several tiny kinglets seemed high on caffeine as they sang and jumped about from branch to branch. With my camera in hand, the bird would no longer be in my sights by the time I had it raised for a photo.  Two Black-capped Chickadees were busy excavating a cavity at eye level and flew back and forth between a flock of American Goldfinches feeding on last years birch catkins. Several more Yellow-rumps joined in, one of them hopping about on the ground at the waters edge. Crisp black, blue-gray, and yellow patches made the Yellow-rumps easily stand out from the nearby chickadees and kinglets.  One tree, party fallen over the water seemed to be a favorite perching spot for the days swallows and I counted a total of 17! Northern Rough-winged Swallows perched at one time mixed in with several Tree and Barn Swallows. In total I counted 20 Rough-wings making it my all time high count for this species and the new high count for the pond (previous was 11). Although I have never found the nesting spot of the Rough-winged Swallows that feed over the pond, Tree Swallows breed in several tree cavities and all three species are common throughout spring and summer. This time of year migrant numbers peak with as many as 75 swallows feeding over the small pond. I am often surprised by the diversity of certain species (such as these swallows) at such a small location.  Continuing my walk, I heard a House Wren singing from behind the woods by the main parking lot. Carolina Wren numbers are almost certainly down after the harsh winter. I usually have two pairs around the pond and have had a hard time even hearing one calling this spring. I decided to begin the loop again since I saw a Yellow Warbler flying to an area of the shore I have never before seen them utilize. I am sure glad I did since I quickly flushed my first Green Heron of the year as I approached the water for a closer look at where the warbler went. Upon re-finding the flushed heron, I soon found a second perched nearby. Both were in superb breeding colors with bright orange legs and long and sharp blue back plumes. Just near the second heron was a Great Blue Heron and it was quite a shock to see both birds side by side, the Green Heron the size of a chicken, and the Great Blue the size of a.........chair..?

It turned out to be a beautiful morning despite the cloudiness and persistent wind.

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A couple days ago, my mom and I woke early to go kayaking. I set my alarm for 5:15 and we were out the door an hour later. We pulled into Milton Landing just after sunrise to the song of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Mist still clung to the surface of the water as the sun had yet to rise high enough to burn it off. We slid into the river across the gelatinous mud and began to paddle downriver. The mudflats of the low tide shined blue in the early morning light and Ring-billed Gulls patrolled the banks and the sky. A Great Blue Heron stood sentry far ahead, a sillhouette against the rising sun.  We paddled the first stretch and rounded the bend to see several Bufflehead but still no egrets as I had hoped. A Red-throated Loon surfaced ahead of me and quickly went back under. Scanning in every direction for almost a minute, I failed to see where it had resurfaced. Turning around, I finally spotted him far behind me.  Around the next bend and again no egrets in the spot I had them the day before. Several pairs of Canada Geese in the distance honked their annoyance for some unknown reason. At least fifty Double-crested Cormorants worked the waters as a group in front of the bridge. As we approched they began to flush, flying towards us and past, brilliantly lit by the sun. Several flew  at the right height to pass in front of a willow in full bloom and made for a beautiful photograph. 

Double-crested Cormorant | Canon 7D | Canon 400mm f5.6 1/1600 | f/6.3 | ISO 800

Continuing on, we passed the park on the left and went under the Rt 93 bridge. Another Red-throated Loon surfaced nearby and there on the right was finally an egret. A lone Great Egret stood by the edge of the river with two Greater Yellowlegs by its side. As I began my approach, a Snowy Egret came gliding in and landed with the three other birds. Perfect! This is exactly what I wanted. Now all the birds had to do was stay there as I made my careful way towards them. The first step was getting the sun at my back and with that set I let the tide take me slowly towards them so the raising of my paddles would not scare them off. The birds stood their ground and made no sign of flushing. I was at the perfect distance and began to fire off shots of both egrets. The yellowlegs, being more wary, made their way farther down the muddy bank away from me. Both egrets were still for a while and I managed some very nice shots of them against the calm water in the early morning light. Eventually the Snowy Egret began to move about and I took a few shots of it striding through the water with yellow feet slightly exposed. The Great Egret began to hunt and to my surprise I nailed the classic shot of it striking into the water and coming up with a tiny fish. The breeding colors and plumes of these birds were spectacular to see so close. The lacey back plumes and orange-red lores of the Snowy Egret and the lime green lores of the Great were something I had wanted to see for a while but had never managed until now.

Snowy Egret | Canon 7D | Canon 400mm f5.6 1/1600 | f/6.3 | ISO 200

Great Egret | Canon 7D | Canon 400mm f5.6 1/1600 | f/6.3 | ISO 200

After this most successful endeavor, a male American Kestrel flying over the river was an added bonus. I picked it out from afar and a dive-bombing Red-winged Blackbird confirmed it as a small raptor before I was able to see the details. A Mute Swan back at the landing proved to be my first of that species there and a nice finish to the morning. The numerous Northern Rough-winged Swallows were building nests and the Black-crowned Night-Herons continue to be numerous in the gorge.

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