Thursday, 18 September 2014

Mount Auburn, Boston, Sept 2014

The rodents were keeping their heads down at Mount Auburn Cemetery today and who could blame them with Red-tailed Hawks everywhere it would seem. I was on the look-out for warblers, but had no luck. The hawks however made it an enjoyable morning in Boston.

The first one was seen by using all my field craft skill and wandering over to a couple of birders and looking over their shoulders as they watched the bird in a tree at the southern end of Auburn Lake.

The others told me that 3 birds had fledged from the resident couple. And shortly afterwards, two more birds, an adult and a juvenile crossed the lake and the first bird followed.

The birds were seen frequently during the day, with at least 10 sightings. I assume that I was seeing the same birds over and over and only recorded 4 that I could recognise individually.

Chipmunks called piercingly throughout the day and I am guessing that the hawks were hungry. One bird gave me an appraising look before deciding that the squirrels on the lawn behind me would make a more manageable meal. It launched a strike, but the squirrels were too alert and were back in cover before the hawk even reached the lawn.

The hawks provided some excitement on an otherwise quiet day in the cemetery which only brought 20 birds and no warblers.

Bird List for Mount Auburn;

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) 4, Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) 1, Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) 4, Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) 6, Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica) 2, Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) 1, Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) 1, Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) 1, Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) 3, Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus) 2, Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus) 1, Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) 20, Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) 6, Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) 1, White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) 3, American Robin (Turdus migratorius) 60, European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 20, Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) 15, Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) 5, Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) 1.

Harvard Square Station is on the Red Line of the subway, heading out of Boston towards Alewife. Bus nos. 71 and 73 leave from the station and take less than 10 minutes to reach the cemetery. There is a stop close to the cemetery gates and between them there should be a bus twice every 15 minutes.

For previous posts from Mount Auburn, see the links below;

Visit the dedicated USA and Canada page for more posts from Boston including; Back Bay FensPleasure Beach and Whale watchingfrom the New England Aquarium. 

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Montlake Fill, Seattle, August 2014

Even familiar sites can hide little treasures and today I was treated to a Barred Owl on a boardwalk in a small area of swampy woodland to the west of Montlake Fill. Google Earth prefers the prettier name of Union Bay Natural Area (cut and paste the coordinates to fly there; 47 39 20.91N 122 17 33.09W), but there is no getting away from the reserve’s grubby beginnings as a rubbish dump.

The bus had dropped me at the to the south of Montlake Cut where I crossed the bridge, and turned right, following the road around the back of the Huskies’ Stadium. Banded Kingfishers cackled as they flew up and down the cut, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds still showed off with display flights and a Peregrine Falcon watched disdainfully from the structure of the stadium.

Keeping the water of Union Bay to my right, I continued around the boathouse where a Pied-billed Grebe was catching fish and followed the dirt road to a small bridge that crosses onto the parking area.

A circular path describes a route around the reserve taking in scrubby bushes, reedbeds, small shallow ponds and wildflower verges. American Goldfinches enjoyed the seedheads of the flowers along the path and I spent a long time convincing myself about a Yellow Warbler.
I was hoping that the reedbeds might produce a Marsh Wren, but had to settle for a House Wren. Little did I know at the time that the House Wren was by far the more significant bird and it provoked a questioning email from  eBird.
A Bald Eagle flew low across the water and pulled up in a tree on the far side.

The day was warm and dragonflies patrolled the water’s edge of the small ponds. I believe these ones to be male and female Shadow Darners, Aeshna umbrosa, but am open to suggestions if you know better.

At this time a lady birder passed by and kindly told me of a Barred Owl that had swooped past her as she walked through Yesler Swamp. I was not familiar with Yesler Swamp, so she generously showed me the way and helped me to find the owl which was tucked in amongst the willows.

A raised walkway passes through the swampy woodland and ends at a small platform overlooking a small bay which apparently holds masses of wildfowl during the winter. Ospreys passed over and one stopped on a large dead tree.

Another path, the East Trail will eventually be linked by the boardwalk, but for today, I employed the more traditional ground-level. Western Tanager, Steller’s Jay and Banded Pigeon all added to the list from Yesler’s Swamp, the entrance to which can be seen at Google Earth ref; 47 39 28.73N 122 17 17.77W.

Bird list for Montlake Fill

Canada Goose 40, Wood Duck 2, Mallard 35, Pied-billed Grebe 10, Double-crested Cormorant 4, Great Blue Heron 6, Osprey 2, Bald Eagle 1, Peregrine Falcon 1, American Coot 6, Spotted Sandpiper 2, Band-tailed Pigeon 2, Barred Owl 1, Anna’s Hummingbird 14, Belted Kingfisher 2, Northern Flicker 1, American Crow 10, Steller’s Jay 1, Violet-green Swallow 1, Barn Swallow 25, Black-capped Chickadee 20, Bushtit 30, Bewick’s Wren 3, House Wren 1, American Robin 1, European Starling 20, Cedar Waxwing 2, Yellow Warbler 1, Spotted Towhee 1, Savannah Sparrow 1, Song Sparrow 8, White-crowned Sparrow 4, Dark-eyed Junco 1, Western Tanager 1, Red-winged Blackbird 5.

Bus number 255 is an express service taking just 11 minutes from downtown Seattle at Westlake Transit Mall. The stop for Huskies’ Stadium is on the central reservation of a freeway, so ask the driver to call the stop. Express buses 311 and 545 pass the same stop.
The freeway was closed on my return and no traffic was getting through, so I had to catch bus from the bridge (Google Earth ref; 47 38 38.42n 122 18 15.41W) which takes the more sedate route along 24rd Ave.
Previous posts from Montlake Fill can be seen at the links below;

Please visit the dedicated USA andCanada Page for more posts from Seattle, including; Discovery Park and Bremerton Ferry.
Birding, Birdwatching, Seattle.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Discovery Park, Seattle, August 2014

My beautiful colleague, Jennifer, joined me for a late afternoon walk around Discovery Park to the northwest of Seattle and experienced one of the slowest starts to a bird walk, ever. No birds were seen on the journey, which started me worrying and we were still birdless 20 minutes after stepping from the bus in the park. The park can boast one of the highest species count in the area as it has mature woodland, meadows, scrub and the beach on Puget Sound, but they seemed reluctant to be spotted today..

We had taken the path that cuts into the deep, dark woods close to the bus stop at Google Earth ref; 47 39 52.30N 122 24 39.68W, hoping to find a Barred Owl for which the park is well known. Eventually a muted “dee, dee, dee” drew our attention to a Black-capped Chickadee and a small feeding flock of Chestnut-backed Chickadees and Brown Creepers with a few Cedar Waxwings a little higher up.

In a small meadow at the top of the steps that lead down to the shoreline, another small mixed flock of chickadees teased me as I tried to get a photograph. A Red-breasted Nuthatch made up the bark-creeping element of this party.

We followed the steps down to the path that runs along the shore where a few more small flocks of chickadees included a Hutton’s Vireo in their number.

The waters of the bay were exceptionally quiet as well today with very little seen until we rounded the corner at the lighthouse on the point. White-crowned Sparrows fed, one drupelet at a time, from the wild blackberries that grow abundantly here.

A Caspian Tern passed us a couple of times and a Boneparte’s Gull tried to hide amongst a flock of Mew Gulls right on the edge of the bay. A couple of Common Mergansers took flight before we could get a good look.

I was especially surprised to see so few American Robins which didn’t show until the evening was drawing in and the light was fading. It wasn’t quite as dark as the sunset shot might suggest. This picture was slightly underexposed and shot with a cloudy white balance to warm it up a bit.

Bird list for Discovery Park;
Mallard 1, Common Merganser 2, Osprey 1, Bald Eagle 1, Boneparte’s Gull 1, Mew Gull 20, Glaucous-winged Gull 8, Caspian Tern 3, Northern Flicker 1, Western Wood-peewee 1, American Crow 30, Black-capped Chickadee 8, Chestnut-backed Chickadee 15, Bushtit 8, Red-breasted Nuthatch 2, Brown Creeper 4, Bewick’s Wren 2, Hutton’s Vireo 1, American Robin 5, Cedar Waxwing 6, Song Sparrow 4, White-crowned Sparrow 5.

Bus number 43 runs from 3rd Ave and Union in downtown Seattle. The fare costs $2.25 and the timetable/map can be seen here.

Visit the dedicated USA and Canadapage for more posts from Seattle, including; Montlake Fill and Bremerton Ferry.
Birdwatching, Birding, Seattle, WA.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

University of Ghana Botanic Gardens, Accra, August 2014

I reached the University of Ghana’s Botanical Garden in Accra after taking more than an hour to travel about 8 miles. There are better ways to do it, so check the logistics section at the bottom of the post.
It was quickly obvious that this was not the manicured version of botanical garden that I had pictured in my head. A row of Royal Palms may once have graced a grand walkway, but it was now overgrown and under-maintained. The road leading from the gate was rutted and a narrow strip of grass had been roughly mown to either side. The slightly unkempt look of the area encouraged me to think that it would be more productive for birds.
The loud throaty call of the Red-eyed Doves could be heard over the softer chuckling of Laughing Doves and a Rose-ringed Parakeet screeched over as we (I was joined by my taxi driver, Samuel) entered.

A Senegal Coucal rose from the grass and watched from a tree as we tried to track down a coarse, three-syllabled chirp which proved to be from a Yellow-billed Shrike.

There are no signs in the gardens and I was not sure where we had started from, so we just felt our way round. Google Earth shows a roundabout in the middle of the gardens, but it was not as obvious in real life. The Royal Palms walk is to the right (east) and now we headed west. We chose the right fork when we encountered a junction. A hot spot stopped us for a short while with Green-headed Sunbird, Double-toothed Barbet and Black-billed Wood-Dove coming in quick succession and a greenbul sp escaped identification.

Does anyone else see Audrey Hepburn?

After a short while we came upon a fence which enclosed a number of water reservoirs. They had the look of sewage settling tanks, but there was none of the other accoutrements or sensory offences associated with water treatment. We followed the fence around until we found an open gate. Samuel seemed fairly sure that we were allowed in, so we took a look.

Common Sandpipers and Wood Sandpipers roosted on piers that jutted out into the largest reservoirs on the second tier. A view from above at Google Earth ref; 5 39 46.85N 0 11 35.29W shows 12 reservoirs with the third one down on the left (west) having a slightly lower level. This held true today and provided the most productive spot of the day.

Spur-winged Plovers and Senegal Thick-knees roosted on the paths but unfortunately they flushed before we saw them. At the edges were White-faced Whistling-Duck, Cattle Egret and a Black Heron.  A Little Grebe was caring for its brood of three chicks on the middle pond.

We returned via the experimental fields where the botany department of the university tests new strains of corn, and turned left along an avenue of what I took to be mango trees, but Samuel did not recognise the fruit. We returned to the roundabout and took the north exit which led us to a small pond that I had seen on Google Earth at ref; 5 39 56.84N 0 11 16.68W and had hoped to make the main focus of my walk.

There was a small Cattle Egret colony with young birds still not keen to fly. Reed Cormorant were seen fishing and a Malachite Kingfisher waited patiently on the far bank. This small section of picnic area and lake are separate from the gardens and are subject to a GC 5 fee. On my next visit, I will start from here as access may be had at any time and it is easily accessible for the taxi.

 Bird list for Ghana University Botanic Garden; 40
White-faced Whistling-Duck 8, Little Grebe 6, Long-tailed Cormorant 2, Black Heron 1, Cattle Egret 50, Striated Heron 1, Black Kite 1, Hooded Vulture 6, Shikra 1, Senegal Thick-knee 10, Spur-winged Plover 3, Common Sandpiper 8, Wood Sandpiper 3, Red-eyed Dove 8, Laughing Dove 25, Black-billed Wood-Dove 2, Rose-ringed Parakeet 1, Western Plantain-eater 5, Senegal Coucal 4, Mottled Spinetail 1, Little Swift 2, African Palm-Swift 2, Malachite Kingfisher 1, Green Woodhoopoe 4, African Grey Hornbill 5, Double-toothed Barbet 2, Black-crowned Tchagra 1, Yellow-billed Shrike 15, Piapiac 12, Pied Crow 40, Common Bulbul 25, Zitting Cisticola 1, Brown Babbler 3, African Thrush 3, Splendid Glossy Starling 12, Purple Glossy Starling 2, Green-headed Sunbird 3, Northern Grey-headed Sparrow 2, Black-winged Bishop 8, Bronze Manikin 6.

I started the day with no currency and the exchange desk didn’t open until 10.00am. So I had to visit a nearby hotel whose forex clerk was an earlier riser. Mind you, this was a Saturday morning. My first choice of entrance to the University grounds was blocked by a closed road and the second was manned by a guard who sent us back to the first. Eventually we entered via Freetown Ave. and stopped at the security post opposite the stadium. Here we sought permission to visit the gardens and it was readily given, but Samuel, my taxi driver, was not allowed to stop inside the university. I had booked him to wait for 2 hours, but he was not allowed to wait for me. We compromised and parked his taxi at the security point and took a security vehicle to the gate of the gardens. The security guard expected a small donation for this service, but he did come and pick us up again afterwards.

To avoid this rigmarole next time, it is possible (and my guess is that it would be much easier) to enter the gardens through the private entrance on Haatso Atomic Road, 1km west from the junction with Legon East Rd. This entrance opens onto the pond and picnic area and there are no barriers to the rest of the gardens. At some point someone will ask for 5 Cedis per person which equals about £1 at the time of writing.

Samuel is a taxi driver hailed from the street. We negotiated a price of 80 Cedis to get to the gardens and for him to wait for 2 hours. He was very helpful in talking with the guards and organising a lift from the security driver. He gave me a number to contact him if I wanted to visit the gardens again and I am sure he wouldn’t mind me passing it on;   +233 (0) 244 175232

Malaria exists throughout Ghana and you are advised to take precautions. Parmaceutical precautions are not 100% effective, so the best advice is to avoid getting bitten. Use Deet and cover up. 

Visit the dedicated Africa Page for more posts from Accra, including; The canopy walkway at Kakum National Park and Winneba Plains.

Birding, Birdwatching, Accra, Ghana.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Tyson's Corner, IAD, Virginia, August 2014

There are few things in life that can’t be fixed with a great look at a snake or an owl or even both. After a long day yesterday followed by a couple of beers, I was reluctant to rise for the lark and festered until almost lunchtime. It wasn’t a hangover as such, just a beery fatigue that seems to hit more often these days. I wasn’t expecting much from the pockets of woodland around Tyson’s Corner in the middle of the day, so I sauntered about not paying much attention, but I got a few surprises.

First, unfortunately, building has begun on the wild ground behind Tyson’s 2 Mall. With the arrival of the Metro train, land around the station is likely to be in high demand and the woodland pockets are being squeezed. For the first few minutes, all bird sounds were drowned out by construction noise from two sides. Even the strident “birdeep” calls of the Northern Cardinals were barely audible.
I moved on along Westbranch Drive and ducked back into the woods at Google Earth ref; 38 55 34.20N 77 13 21.95W, where the path leads down to a small pond. A Great Crested Flycatcher caught my eye from high up and at last I could hear a Carolina Chickadee with its fast call.

The outbound journey was so uneventful that I could hardly be bothered to look on the return leg, but a Spotted Sandpiper, teetering on a log before flying onto the shallow edge of the pond, had me reaching for my camera. This would be a state first and I wanted a photo just for the record.
As I was putting the camera back into my backpack, I spotted a long black shape in the shade beneath a tree. “Be a snake, be a snake”, I am sure you all know the mantra.

Sure enough, this turned out to be a Rat Snake. It wasn’t a very big specimen of a species that can grow to over 8 feet, but it was slow and photogenic. I am sad to say that it was probably heading for a warm spot in the sun when I noticed it and it had already spotted me as it turned slowly and sluggishly crept back into its tree.

I was pleased that I hadn’t taken the short cut home now and I was rewarded again on investigating a commotion a little further round. I had nearly doubled back on myself and wondered if the birds were alert to the snake, but they were calling from on high and about 30 meters from the snake’s tree. It had to be worth a look in the event that there might be an owl. I scanned the trees where the fuss appeared to be coming from, but couldn’t see anything. I put down my backpack and moved further in. I glanced to my left to check my footing on the slope and saw a Barred Owl looking back at me. 

The owl was half way up a tree that was half way down the slope which put us on eye-level with each other. After a few moments, I regained my composure (please note that at no time during the proceedings did the owl’s poise desert it) and moved slowly back to my camera. 

We were unfortunately in deep shade and there was a bit of camera movement on most of the pictures, but by fashioning a rest out of my camera bag and a tree stump, I managed to get a few usable shots before retreating.

I can't ever remember getting a better look at an owl. I was fortunate to be so close to the bird without it flushing before I spotted it and lucky again that it tolerated my movement as I backed away.

Bird list for Tyson’s Corner; 20

Mallard 3, Red-tailed Hawk 1, Spotted Sandpiper 1, Mourning Dove 3, Barred Owl 1, Northern Flicker 2, Great-crested Flycatcher 1, American Crow 4, Carolina Chickadee 1, Tufted Titmouse 1, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher 1, American Robin 15, Grey Catbird 10, Northern Mockingbird 2, European Starling 1, Song Sparrow 3, Northern Cardinal 5, Common Grackle 1, Brown-headed Cowbird 1, House Sparrow 8.

There are more posts from Tyson's Corner at the links below;

Visit the dedicated USA and Canadapage for more posts.

Birding, Birdwatching, Tyson’s Corner, Virginia.