On a recent walk along the Emerald Necklace in Boston I was unfortunate enough to come across a few gruesome sights. Walking along the Riverway I noticed a dark shape by the side of the path under one of the bridges. It turned out to be a female American Black Duck lying on its back, wings tucked in at its sides. There was no obvious reason for it to be dead, but it was hard to tell in the gloom under the bridge. Walking further in the direction of Leverett Pond I spied what looked to be a clump of leaves with a branch protruding into the air. Upon closer inspection, the branch reaching upwards was a spine with each vertebra picked clean. The 'leaves' were the remainder of the Mallard below in the snow. There was no head in sight. Another dark shape in the snow caught my attention in the Arnold Arboretum. Slightly off the path, I walked over and through the snow to get a closer look. What I found was half of a duck, lying flat with feathers strewn here and there. It was a female Wood Duck, the delicate bill and breast patterning still visible although it certainly was not fresh. The bottom half of the bird was missing, hopefully eaten by the predator that killed it.

The purpose of my expedition was actually to photograph (live) ducks. As you might have guessed, seeing as I'm relating my encounters with dead ones, that I failed in that matter. A drake Northern Pintail that was supposed to be in the fens was absent, and only one drake Wood Duck was at Leverett Pond and was not photo friendly. The local Wilson's Snipe (pictured below) in the Arboretum kept me photographically entertained for a while near the end of my walk, and it was nice to hear Red-breasted Nuthatches and Pine Siskins in the conifers.


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On Friday my dad and I made the drive up to the White Mountains in New Hampshire to stay the night and do a day hike on Saturday. The only birds from the highway were a pair of synchronized ravens that were a joy to watch in flight. A couple town center stops for Bohemian Waxwings came up empty and we made it into the mountains and to the lodge at about sundown. The stars that night were beautiful, although it was hard to stay outdoors for more than a few minutes in the -15ºF temperature. We woke early but didn't get on the trail until 8:30. We started up the Crawford Path to the summit of Mt Pierce. The snow was very compacted on the trail and fairly easy to walk on. If you stepped slightly off the trail however, your entire leg would instantly disappear. Going up took a while with the steady and sometimes steep incline. Trekking poles were a necessity. Red-breasted Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees were almost always audible. A single Boreal Chickadee flew over the path and called a few times. The higher we climbed, the thinner the trees got and the more they were covered in snow. A single Pine Siskin could be heard calling as it flew over. The ascent took us a few hours and stopping just shy of the summit to eat something it became obvious how cold it really was. During the climb I had shed down to 3 thin layers as I began to sweat, but once we stopped moving I had to layer back up. After eating and walking a little further the view opened up to show Mt Eisenhower and Mt Washington very clearly. The breeze picked up in the open as we climbed the last distance to the summit. The surface of the snow was frozen solid and proved very slippery. The photo below shows the view towards Mt Eisenhower where the path continued towards the next summit.



Once we reached the summit I noticed a group of people huddled together and one had their arm raised into the air. Just as I looked up, a fairly large bird flew towards the people and landed on the raised hand. Gray Jay! It was bigger than I was expecting with a head that looked like a puff of snow. A few people continued to feed it and the jay flew to and fro, clearly caching these pieces of food in secure locations. More and more people made it to the summit and as people began to forget about the jay it took advantage. Sneaking up behind someone who was eating, it jumped onto their pack, picked up a piece of food and flew off. The person soon turned back to their pack to reach for their food and looked confused as they realized the piece they were just eating was gone.  I positioned myself in the perfect spot for the light as the jay landed near the group of people who had been feeding it. I came away with the exact shots I had dreamed of for this species. The distant mountains in shade made for the perfect backdrop. The bird was more handsome than I imagined and it seemed perfectly suited to the 0º temperature and wind as it glided delicately back and forth between raised hands.



Our descent from the summit was unbelievably quick in a little over an hour. Without crampons or snow shoes we were almost forced to run/slide down the steep parts (which was most of it). This made for an incredibly speedy descent although I felt it in my knees and hips at the end. Back down at the road I was thrilled to see a raven perched very close and spent a few minutes watching him and trying to get his attention by imitating his gravelly call. On the drive south I was very happy to finally nail a few Bohemian Waxwings when we stopped for a minute to get a last view of the mountains. One bird was perched at the top of a tree and it soon joined others in flight, so I didn't get the awesome photos I hoped for, but the Gray Jay most certainly made up for that.


On Saturday, after having lunch at Whole Foods we ventured to a few spots along the Seekonk River in Providence to see if I could have any luck looking for a female Tufted Duck that had been reported among a flock of scaup. I was happy to find a birder already set up with a scope. Upon talking to him, I discovered he had seen the Tufted Duck between the pilings under the Henderson Bridge, where he now had his scope pointed. The duck was diving on and off between the scaup so was hard to keep track of. He managed to get it in the scope for me to see and I had a pretty good view of the very small white patch at the base of the bill (as opposed to a sizable patch on a female scaup) and a very slight tuft on the peak of the head before it dove again. I was lucky with my timing as the flock soon retreated back behind the pilings and out of view. All three merganser species were present along with Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, American Black Ducks, Canada Geese, and some Mute Swans. We drove to a couple more spots in the hopes of seeing the Barrow's Goldeneye (still my nemesis bird for the year) but no luck even though the other birder had seen it near the Tufted Duck before I arrived. A Great Cormorant in breeding attire and two adult Peregrine Falcons strafing the river side by side filled out my sightings for the day. I had to trudge through a little bit of snow to get to some of the lookout spots but it was far easier than I might have expected.

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