Yesterday I biked the eleven miles from my home to Castle Island in Boston and back. I hoped to find some of the first-arriving winter ducks and possibly a Bald Eagle that has been hanging out in Milton for more than a week. My first stop was Turner's Pond and I was delighted to quickly pick out a Wood Duck among the Mallards next to the shore. He was clearly very trusting, and perfectly willing to boss the Mallards around. I always wonder if it's the same drake that keeps coming back or if there's more than one willing to run up to your feet and beg for bread. He wasn't particularly photogenic this time around so I decided to continue on. Meeting with the Neponset River trail, my next stop was Milton Landing to check for the Bald Eagle. A quick scan with just my eyes revealed nothing out of the ordinary, or rather, nothing at all. Not even a single bird. From here until the end of the Neponset River trail I continued to see absolutely no ducks. The river was dead quiet. Making my way past Morrissey Boulevard I finally began to see some action in the coves of the open harbor. Small rafts of Bufflehead were the first birds I noticed. A pair of Hooded Mergansers and a few Common Goldeneyes loafed with them, hugging tight to the shore of Squantum Point Park. At UMASS I began to see groups of White-winged Scoters far out, and looking out from the Kennedy Library around the corner I finally hit the jackpot. Hundreds of ducks were actively diving in long loose lines including Bufflehead, and White-winged and Surf Scoters and Common Eiders. There were smaller numbers of Red-breasted Mergansers, Horned Grebes, Common Goldeneye and Greater Scaup. The ride along the harborwalk from here to Castle Island was easy and fast with the wind at my back. Getting onto the Head Island Causeway around Pleasure Bay I began to look for sandpipers among the rocks. Coming to the usual spot I was thrilled to see seven Ruddy Turnstones probing the barnacles. After a thorough scan with my binoculars I was able to pick out a single Purple Sandpiper roosting among the rocks. The conditions were not ideal for photography as the tide was low and the birds were along the water line, not close enough to the fence for very good pictures. Scanning the open bay I saw a small pale gull cruising low and dropping down to pick morsels off the water. Obvious white leading primaries identified it as a Bonaparte's Gull. In a quick scan I picked out several more, spread out over the water. The ride back to Milton was hard into the wind, but passed relatively quickly, with less stopping and skipping the UMASS peninsula. A Northern Harrier flying near the National Grid tank was notable. I checked back at Milton Landing for the eagle and was happy to see it perched on a fallen tree by the edge of the river. It was somewhat far off and soon took off in the opposite direction. A full adult, it was spectacular in flight. I couldn't help but stop at Turner's Pond again. The Wood Duck was still present and I was fortunate enough to arrive just as someone was about to feed the ducks. As much as I don't agree with this practice, at least the bread didn't look moldy, and it did allow for some nice shots.
Updated: Feb 1, 2019
Yesterday, I took the ferry over to Prudence Island for the second time. The ferry leaves from the end of Church Street in Bristol and the journey takes about half an hour. The first ferry of the day was scheduled for 5:45am but left at 6:00. I was the only passenger. The island was wonderfully quiet and tranquil as I explored it on my bike. I rode north from the town to the neck where the main section of the island narrows and connects to the north end. Some of the first birds I noted were Yellow-rumped Warblers and this species coninued to be the most prevalent throughout the day. Mixed into the flocks were a couple Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Black-capped Chickadees but not much else. In the salt pond at the neck there were good numbers of Canada Geese and small groups of American Black Ducks. Scanning the edge with my binoculars I managed to pick out a heron hunched by the water. The medium size and light brown color, crouched posture, and thick, sagging neck all pointed to an American Bittern. I snagged a photo, and zooming in confirmed my identification. A single Greater Yellowlegs stood casually nearby on a pensinsula of mud. The calls of American Crows began to get closer and soon there were a few flying across the road. An odd hoarse call joined the others and in seconds another crow passed quickly across the road, this one with a Merlin in hot pursuit with wings folded. Both birds went down behind the trees as the crow applied some evasive maneuvers. I don’t know if it was the Merlin that sent the geese into the air or not, but they were soon flying overhead in neat lines, honking their annoyance for some reason unbeknownst to me. The neck itself is an open area separating the woods of the main section of the island from the woods of the thin north end. A good stream of birds was passing from north to south, some flying high, and some making the jump from woods to woods. These were mostly American Robins, Blue Jays, and Northern Flickers. More Yellow-rumps were actively making their way south while a pair of Eastern Phoebes flycatched randomly. A Red-tailed Hawk casually flew past and very surprisingly, a Common Loon called from somewhere out over the water. Making my way up the north end, I stopped to watch a huge flock of gulls in a feeding frenzy over what looked like a school of fish. The fish would move and the birds would follow. One lone gull would find them and dive into the water and the rest would come screeching in as a large mass of wings. Most were Laughing Gulls mixed in with Herring, Ring-billed, and Great Black-backed. I tried hard to pick out another species but couldn’t find anything. Double-crested Cormorants joined in the frenzy also, with large rafts of immatures grouped here and there on the water. A Cooper’s Hawk took off from some low vegetation and passed by at eye level.
Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
Further north I entered conservation land and explored another salt pond area and the barrier beach separating it from the ocean. There was barely anything to see, the only interesting birds being a Snowy Egret, and a Wood Duck which is very odd to see on salt water. Another area of the conservation land consisted of tall grass meadows interspersed with small cherry trees. This open land harbored two Field Sparrows which could easily have bred here over the summer, it looked like such perfect habitat. Another Red-tailed Hawk flew overhead, this one having a physical battle with an immature Peregrine Falcon.
Reaching the top of the north end I took a photo of a huge group of roosting cormorants on nearby Patience Island. I zoomed into the photo, searching for a Great Cormorant. I surprised myself by actually picking one out on the far left of the flock. It was clearly bigger, blacker and with a shaggier head with a white throat patch. More of these birds will be showing up now with the winter season approaching. Named appropriately, they are the largest Cormorant in the world. A single Chipping Sparrow jumped around an area similar to the one I found the Field Sparrows in. There seems to be a lot of land like this on the island, most of it being old farmland. A pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets foraged in some cedar trees.
Back down the island, I biked around the southern end a little bit, seeing some pine barrens, beautiful switchgrass plains, and some old rusted bunkers with concrete pathways like giant sidewalks. The birds were slow, but it sure was beautiful with red sumac leaves framing views of the bay.
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)
eBird Checklist here: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S20240986
Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be able to take a small trip to Fairhaven, MA to chase a Common Gallinule that has been hanging around a small area for about two weeks. Not only was I successful in seeing the gallinule, I was also excited to see some other cool birds. Upon arriving, I found five birders already present including Carolyn Longworth, who originally found the bird, and Dan Logan. Carolyn quickly pointed the bird out to me and I got a pretty good view of it in the back of the pond as it swam around a patch of open water with an American Coot. Other birds in the water included a family of Mute Swans, plenty of American Wigeon, Mallards, and a few Gadwall, American Black Ducks, and one Green-winged Teal. A Belted Kingfisher flew noisily back and forth, while a couple of Great Blue Herons quietly napped in slightly hidden places. Of course, the immature Sora was seen in the open before I arrived there and did not make another appearance in my two hours watch. However, I picked out a Rusty Blackbird on the other side of the wetland and snagged a few shots as it perched and later as it flew across the water towards us. This was a lifer I have been hoping to see for a while, and a bird I find very attractive. Along with the gallinule it made for a two lifer day! Other notable birds were small groups of Pine Siskins and a single American Pipit flying over.
After the excitement on Egypt Lane I biked a little ways down the bike trail and found a couple Blue-headed Vireos, both species of kinglets, more Pine Siskins, and a single beautiful male Purple Finch I saw just as I was looking up from a tiny Brown Snake basking on the trail. I was setting up my camera to get some good pictures of the snake when a passing couple failed to keep their dog away from me as I was crouched on the side of the paved trail. It came up and sniffed me and my backpack not even noticing the snake. Just after they left, the snake had clearly had enough and slithered into the nearby thickets. I straightened my back, disappointed, and noticed the Purple Finch quietly eating cherries in the tree right in front of me. It was mostly obscured by foliage the whole time I watched it, but it was still nice to see one so close.