Monday, June 30, 2014

Merrimack River Trip in Lawrence - June 26, 2014


It was an unsettled forecast this morning, but we pushed it to later in the morning and had a dry outing on the Merrimack River!  I guided an enthusiastic group of 19 elementary school youngsters from Lawrence on "The Barge" with Captain Chris.  When I first arrived, the Blue Jays were vocal near the trail at the end of the parking area.  

We launched from the Abe Bashara Community Boathouse.  We took time to put on our life vests, then talked about birds, the river, its health and history, plastics, foam cups, fishing line, glass, apple cores and other non-biodegradable items in the river.   I explained the perils birds encounter related to improperly disposed trash.  We witnessed a Double-crested Cormorant dangling from fishing line from a utility pole.  

The banks for the Merrimack River were alive with bird song, and the young birders heard several catbirds, vireos and an oriole.  On the water, there were Chimney Swifts, blackbirds, crows and gulls.  We had some Common Grackles sitting in the shade with bills wide open. 

We came across Double-crested Cormorants sitting in the spread-wing position.  Cormorants use spread-wing postures only for drying their wings.  Although cormorant plumage also retains water, only the outer portion of the feathers is able to get wet, so an insulating layer of air next to the skin is maintained when cormorants swim underwater.  This difference in feather structure may explain why cormorants can spend more time foraging in the water and can tolerate cooler climates.
Red-winged Blackbirds were in a shallow area.  As we passed under a bridge, we saw  Rock Pigeons.  They're a very common sight in cities on crowded streets, making a living on discarded food and other offerings.  We had a pretty good look at a flimsy platform nest.  Pigeons reuse their nests, and they aren't good housekeepers.  The feces of their nestlings build up over time, and the nest grows into a sturdy, pot-like mound.  We cooed under the bridge, imitating the sound the birds make. 

We encountered family groups of molting Canada Geese.  There were dozens of goslings swimming and attempting to climb the grassy bank. Mallards were plentiful in their post-breeding plumage.  Several were loafing on a log, and we saw their orange legs.

We had several gulls overhead and saw only a few Tree Swallows.  We came across a yellow trash boom, and we saw some of the items it collected.  It was fitting as I started the program with how this river was once so polluted. 

We ended with some pretty strong wing flaps given it was the group's fledgling outing...


Good birding,
Sue

Friday, June 20, 2014

Essex County & Southern New Hampshire Bird Sightings - 6/18/14

Ferry Road, Newburyport:
House Wren, Fish Crow

Bald Hill Reservation/Crooked Pond, Boxford:
Wood Duck, Mallard, Great Blue Heron, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Wood-Pewee,
Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, Tree Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Winter Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Veery, Hermit Thrush,
Wood Thrush, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Cedar Waxwing, Ovenbird, Yellow Warbler, Pine Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler,
Chipping Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Scarlet Tanager, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Baltimore Oriole,
American Goldfinch

Woodsom Farm, Amesbury:
Eastern Meadowlark, Barn Swallow, Chimney Swift, Great Blue Heron, Baltimore Oriole, Northern Cardinal, Cedar Waxwing, Northern Mockingbird, Eastern Phoebe, Barn Swallow, European Starling, Red-winged Blackbird, Bobolink,  House Sparrow,  Song Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Gray Catbird, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, American Robin, Brown Thrasher, Willow Flycatcher, Northern Flicker

Graf Road, Newburyport:
Fish Crow, Great Egret

Sandy Point State Reservation, Plum Island:
Least Tern, Common Tern, Brown Thrasher, Piping Plover, Gray Catbird, Cedar Waxwing,
Great Black-backed Gull, Yellow Warbler, Willow Flycatcher

Pine Island Road, Newbury:
Black-crowned Night-Heron

The Mall, Newburyport:
Black-crowned Night-Heron

Tuxbury Pond, Amesbury:
Cedar Waxwing, Northern Flicker

7 Seas Whale Watch out of Gloucester:
Northern Fulmar, Sooty Shearwater, Wilson's Storm-Petrel, Herring Gull, Northern Gannet, Great Black-backed Gull

Turkey Hill Road, West Newbury:
Blue-winged Warbler, Great Blue Heron

Cashman Park, Newburyport: Mute Swam, Great Egret, Mallard, Osprey, Fish Crow, Northern Mockingbird

Maudslay State Park, Newburyport:
Baltimore Oriole, Pileated Woodpecker, Wood Thrush

Route 133, Essex:
Glossy Ibis

Powwow River, Amesbury:
Black-crowned Night-Heron

Hanover Street,  Newbury:
Chipping Sparrow

Ash Street, West Newbury:
Virginia Rail, Mute Swan, Mallard, Hooded Merganser, Wood Duck, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Belted Kingfisher, Green Heron, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Bluebird, Great Crested Flycatcher, Willow Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Chimney Swift, Tree Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Veery, Hermit Thrush, Cedar Waxwing, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, Mourning Dove, Chipping Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Baltimore Oriole, American Goldfinch

Town Farm Road, Ipswich:
Common Nighthawk

Battis Farm, Amesbury:
Bobolink

Newburyport Industrial Park:
American Woodcock, Great Egret, Killdeer

Scotland Road, Newbury:
Chimney Swift, Barn Swallow, Tree Swallow

Water Street, Amesbury:
Black-crowned Night-Heron, Cliff Swallow

Parker River, Newbury:
Tree Swallow, Belted Kingfisher, Willet, Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Phoebe, Baltimore Oriole

New Hampshire Seacoast:
Common Eider, Surf Scoter, White-winged Scoter, Black Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Greater Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Bonaparte's Gull, Laughing Gull, Herring Gull, Purple Martin, Cliff Swallow

Choate Island/Long Island, Essex:
Double-crested Cormorant, American Bittern, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Glossy Ibis, Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, Black-bellied Plover, Willet, Herring Gull, Least Tern, Chimney Swift, Willow Flycatcher, Blue Jay, American Crow, Tree Swallow,
Barn Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, House Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Yellow Warbler, Eastern Towhee,
Chipping Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Bobolink, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Baltimore Oriole,
House Finch, Purple Finch, American Goldfinch

Route 1 Gillis Bridge, Newburyport:
Cliff Swallow

Newman Road, Newbury:
Willet, Red-winged Blackbird, Tree Swallow

Essex-Manchester Woods, Manchester:
Glossy Ibis, Mourning Dove, Cuckoo species, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewee,
Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Veery,
Hermit Thrush, Wood Thrush, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Ovenbird, Black-and-white Warbler, Common Yellowthroat,
Yellow Warbler, Pine Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Scarlet Tanager,
Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Baltimore Oriole, American Goldfinch

Hines Bridge, Amesbury/Newburyport:
Cliff Swallow

Atkinson Common, Newburyport:
Mallard, Cedar Waxwing, American Robin, Chipping Sparrow, Pine Warbler

Hay Street, Newbury:
Green Heron

Route 110, Salisbury:
Spotted Sandpiper, Killdeer, Cedar Waxwing, Indigo Bunting

Plastics and Seabirds



Think about your plastic and please recycle...

Good birding,
Sue

Prairie Chickens


Monday, June 16, 2014

Plants Hitchhike on the Wings of Birds

By Virginia Morell


Biologists have long puzzled over why certain mossy plants are found only in the Arctic and at the very tip of South America, but not in between. Now, a team of researchers has discovered that long-distance fliers like the American golden-plover (pictured), which migrate from their breeding grounds in the Arctic to South America, often harbor tiny parts of these spore-producing plants in their feathers. Birds are known to transport seeds internally and externally, but scientists had not linked them to the long-distance dispersal of microscopic plant spores, called diaspores. To do so, the researchers first collected down and contour feathers from 23 birds representing eight species that were nesting along two Arctic rivers. The scientists microscopically examined the washed and screened samples, revealing 23 plant fragments from mosses, liverworts, algae, and fungi—all believed able to grow into new plants, they report today in PeerJThe plant bits had been attached to the feathers of seven birds from three species—semipalmated sandpipers, red phalaropes, and the golden-plovers. The birds likely picked up the fragments from the vegetation they used to line their nests, which are typically simple depressions they scrape in the ground. The diaspores, especially those of mosses, are known for their resilience and can likely survive the birds’ journey to South America, the scientists say. On arrival, the birds generally molt -- and in the process, drop off their tiny cargo, too. The scientists think that a new population of mosses can be established from a single, successful bird-dispersal event, because many moss species can self-fertilize and grow as clones.

NWF, VT Natural Resources Council

Report: Interior must address bird deaths caused by Canada’s tar sands

National Wildlife Federation, Vermont Natural Resources Council
June 11, 2014
Contact:
Jim Murphy, National Wildlife Federation, 802-595-5268jmurphy@nwf.org
Johanna Miller, Vermont Natural Resources Council, 802-371-9611 jmiller@vnrc.org
Conservation Groups Urge Interior to Declare Canada is Undermining Wildlife Protections
Montpelier – Destructive mining and drilling practices in the heart of Canada’s forest bird nurseries have already killed thousands of birds and are putting millions more at risk, including the critically endangered whooping crane, America’s tallest bird. That’s according to an issue brief released today by the National Wildlife Federation and Vermont Natural Resources Council.
The Department of Interior is under a legal obligation – known as the Pelly Amendment – to determine whether tar sands mining and drilling in Canada is undermining a century-old international treaty to protect North America’s shared songbirds and waterfowl. Tar sands are one of the world’s dirtiest energy sources. Not only do they have significantly higher life-cycle emissions of climate-disrupting carbon pollution than conventional oil, but tar sands mining is destroying bird habitat and leaving behind massive tailings ponds.
“The high carbon intensity of tar sands is driving climate change and putting people and wildlife at risk,” said Johanna Miller, energy program director at the Vermont Natural Resources Council. “Vermont wildlife enthusiasts, birders and hunters should be gravely concerned about the impact tar sands has on bird species and their habitat. Destruction of bird habitat is just another reason among many reasons that we need to stop mining tar sands right now, and leave all that carbon in the ground.”
“Unchecked tar sands development is turning a vast, irreplaceable breeding ground into a toxic wasteland,” said National Wildlife Federation Senior Counsel Jim Murphy. “Many of the birds Americans watch, enjoy and hunt fly to and rely on this area. The Canadian Government has vowed to protect these birds, but it is turning a blind eye.”
As the report details, tar sands development sits in the heart of the previously pristine boreal forest, a haven for bird production. But now an area the size of Florida is being destroyed by huge open-pit mines, toxic waste tailings ponds that can be seen from space, extraction wells, noisy compressor stations, refineries, and networks of new roads, drilling pads, seismic lines, and pipelines.
Oil-laden tailings ponds have resulted in the deaths of countless waterfowl. In 2008, 1,600 ducks died in Syncrude tailings ponds. An October 2010 storm resulted in hundreds of ducks landing on a Suncor tailings pond near Fort McMurray; at least 550 birds were too oiled to save. As of 2010, 43 species of internationally protected birds had suffered fatalities from exposure to tar sands tailings ponds. Unabated tar sands development could result in the reduction of 70 million hatchlings over a forty year period.
Of the 130 internationally protected American migratory and songbird species listed in the report as threatened by tar sands development, many are familiar names to bird watchers, hunters and wildlife enthusiasts in the Vermont including: Snow Goose, American Goldfinch, Evening Grosbeak, Great Blue Heron, Common Loon, Northern Pintail, Wood Duck, Siskin, Cedar Waxwing, and the Pileated Woodpecker.
“Wildlife and tar sands don’t mix,” said Murphy. “The Canadian Government is putting polluting fossil fuel profits above the welfare of birds and other species. Secretary Jewell and President Obama can send a message to Canada that it is unacceptable to undermine our shared wildlife heritage. The President needs to act by rejecting dirty tar sands pipeline projects like Keystone XL. Moving forward with clean, wildlife-friendly energy, not tar sands, is the answer.”

Purple Martins of Plum Island - June 15, 2014 Update



Dear 2014 Purple Martin Supporters,

Earlier this season, we mounted three Purple Martin decoys on the arms of the gourd rack at Lot #1 at Parker River NWR.  These 
decoys aided us by attracting migrating martins.  Martins prefer the company of other martins at their breeding sites.  These life-size 
decoys gave the appearance that this site was colonized.  These decoys are highly-detailed at 7" long and weighing 1.5 oz.  

I purchased the decoys from the Purple Martin Conservation Association [PMCA].  PMCA is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization dedicated 
to the conservation of Purple Martins through scientific research, state of the art management techniques and public education, with 
the end goal of increasing martin populations throughout North America.

The Tree Swallows that had been active at the gourd rack have moved on.   The Red-tailed Hawk that had been present at Lot #1 has broadened its territory and hasn't been seen hanging out on the building.  We now have Purple Martins busy with nesting activities  
at Lot #1!  Yesterday evening, I discovered the first egg prior to leading a Newburyport Birders' evening walk.

The Purple Martins  at the colony at the North End of the island are incubating eggs!

Newbury's Lynette Leka is shadowing me again this breeding season - I so look forward to her assistance. 

Once we have young in the nests, I'll be sending an email invitation to an open gourd visit.

Thanks for supporting this human-dependent songbird!
Warm regards,
Sue

Friday, June 13, 2014

Essex County, MA & Southern NH Bird Sightings - June 12, 2014

Black-crowned Night-Heron by Nathan Dubrow

Atkinson Common, Newburyport:
Eastern Phoebe, Chipping Sparrow, Pine Warbler, Fish Crow, Cooper's Hawk, American Robin, American Goldfinch, Yellow Warbler, Tree Swallow, Chimney Swift, Northern Cardinal

Pawtuckaway State Park, Nottingham, NH:

Mourning Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, Winter Wren, Louisiana Waterthrush, Brown-headed Cowbird, American Redstart, Least Flycatcher, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Wood Thrush, Hairy Woodpecker, Wild Turkey

Ring's Island, Salisbury:
Tree Swallow, Mallard, Great Egret, Osprey, House Sparrow, House Wren, Mourning Dove, Greater Yellowlegs, Belted Kingfisher

Sandy Point State Reservation, Plum Island:
Least Tern, Piping Plover

On Board Granite State out of Rye, NH:
Arctic Tern, Common Tern, Wilson's Storm-Petrel, Northern Gannet

Route 110, Salisbury:
Mallard, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Indigo Bunting, Mallard, Willow Flycatcher, Song Sparrow, Great Crested Flycatcher

Moulton Street, Newburyport:
Common Nighthawk, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Cedar Waxwing, House Wren, Northern Cardinal, Mallard, Baltimore Oriole, Tufted Titmouse, Mourning Dove, Gray Catbird, Chimney Swift, Chipping Sparrow, Cedar Waxwing, House Finch, House Sparrow

Bradley Palmer State Park, Topsfield:
Wood Duck, Mallard, Great Blue Heron, Broad-winged Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy
Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, 
Yellow-throated Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, 
House Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Veery, Wood Thrush, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Ovenbird, Blue-winged Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Pine Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, 
Song Sparrow, Scarlet Tanager, Northern Cardinal, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, 
Brown-headed Cowbird, Baltimore Oriole, American Goldfinch

The Mall, Newburyport:
Black-crowned Night-Heron, Double-crested Cormorant, Red-winged Blackbird, Chimney Swift

Martin Burns Wildlife Management Area, Byfield:
Canada Goose, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Cooper's Hawk, Mourning Dove, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Red-bellied Woodpecker, 
Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great Crested Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay,
Tree Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Wood Thrush, American Robin,
Gray Catbird, Cedar Waxwing, Blue-winged Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Eastern Towhee, 
Chipping Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Scarlet Tanager, Northern Cardinal, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Baltimore Oriole, American Goldfinch  

Spring Lane, Newburyport:
Great Blue Heron, Chimney Swift, Chipping Sparrow, Pine Warbler

Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, Plum Island:
Willow Flycatcher, Alder Flycatcher, Blue-winged Warbler, Black-billed Cuckoo, Winter Wren, Ruff, Mourning Warbler, Purple Martin, White-eyed Vireo, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Least Bittern, Seaside Sparrow, Alder Flycatcher, Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Gadwall, American Black Duck, Mallard, American Black Duck x Mallard, Wild Turkey, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Osprey, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Least Tern, Common Tern, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, American Crow, Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, Marsh Wren, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, Tennessee Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Field Sparrow, Saltmarsh Sparrow,  Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Bobolink, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Baltimore Oriole, Purple Finch, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow 

New Street, Newburyport:
Cedar Waxwing, House Wren

Water Street, Amesbury:
Black-crowned Night-Heron
 
George Burrows Brookside Wildlife Sanctuary, South Hampton, NH:
Great Blue Heron, Osprey, Broad-winged Hawk, Virginia Rail, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, 
Hairy Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great Crested Flycatcher, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, Tree Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Winter Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Veery, Wood Thrush, American Robin, Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, Pine Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Scarlet Tanager, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Baltimore Oriole, American Goldfinch  

Crane Beach, Ipswich:
Mallard, Wild Turkey, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Piping Plover, Killdeer, Willet, Sanderling, Dunlin, Semipalmated Sandpiper, American Woodcock, Bonaparte's Gull, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Least Tern, Caspian Tern, Common Tern, Whip-poor-will, Chimney Swift, Northern Flicker, Willow Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Tree Swallow, Bank Swallow, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Cedar Waxwing, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Towhee, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle 

New Hampshire Seacoast:
Common Eider, White-winged Scoter, Black Scoter, Bonaparte's Gull, Common Loon, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Bald Eagle, Black-bellied Plover, Spotted Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Purple Martin, Nelson's Sparrow, Saltmarsh Sparrow, American Black Duck, Surf Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Loon, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Greater Yellowlegs, Willow Flycatcher, Purple Martin

Ferry Road, Newburyport:
House Wren, Fish Crow 

Bald Hill Reservation/Crooked Pond, Boxford:
Wood Duck, Mallard, Great Blue Heron, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Wood-Pewee,  
Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, Tree Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Winter Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Veery, Hermit Thrush, 
Wood Thrush, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Cedar Waxwing, Ovenbird, Yellow Warbler, Pine Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler,  
Chipping Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Scarlet Tanager, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Baltimore Oriole,  
American Goldfinch  

Woodsom Farm, Amesbury:
Eastern Meadowlark, Barn Swallow, Chimney Swift, Great Blue Heron, Baltimore Oriole, Northern Cardinal, Cedar Waxwing, Northern Mockingbird, Eastern Phoebe, Barn Swallow, European Starling, Red-winged Blackbird, Bobolink,  House Sparrow,  Song Sparrow,  Savannah Sparrow, Gray Catbird, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, American Robin, Brown Thrasher, Willow Flycatcher, Northern Flicker

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Disappearing Wood Thrush



Illustration by Adelaide Tyrol

Spring mornings and evenings at my family’s cabin in the woods of Waitsfield, Vermont, are charmed by the ghostly, flute-like song of the wood thrush. In recent years, however, wood thrush populations in the Northeast have declined, and their magical song has begun to fade. What could be happening to the habitat around our cabin that threatens these familiar forest-dwellers?

Returning each spring from its winter range in Central America, the wood thrush chooses its breeding ground in hardwood and mixed forests through the northeastern U.S. and southeastern Canada. As a rule, the forest habitat best suited to wood thrushes has plenty of shade, a convenient source of water, and an open forest floor carpeted by leaf litter. Each pair of birds will defend a territory ranging in size from less than an acre to as much as two acres, building a robin-sized nest of dead grasses and leaves in the fork of a tree branch usually above human head-height.

Wood thrushes spend much of their time on the forest floor, combing through leaf litter for beetles, caterpillars, and millipedes to provide them the energy they need to raise their young. Typically, they produce one or two broods each season. For the egg-laying female, a diet of mostly insects necessitates a calcium supplement of sorts to ensure healthy egg shells. For the wood thrush, this often comes in the form of calcium-rich gastropods such as snails and slugs.

As it turns out, the need for a diet high in calcium may be a key factor in the fate of the wood thrush and possibly many other song bird species as well.
Songbird population declines have long been tied to forest fragmentation, as trees are felled to make way for human development throughout the birds’ breeding territories. Forest fragmentation also provides easier access to these breeding territories for such predators as raccoons, who feed on the nest eggs. But a recent study by ecologists at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology has implicated yet another culprit in the decline of the wood thrush. Intending to explore the effects of forest fragmentation on the wood thrush, the scientists were surprised to find a new factor in the equation: acid rain.

A byproduct of burning fossil fuels for our vast energy needs, acid rain occurs when nitric and sulfuric acids combine with water in the atmosphere and return to earth as rain, snow, or mist. Acid reaction with the ground depletes soil calcium levels, leading to a host of forest ills.

In the early 1980s, Vermont then-Governor Madeleine Kunin made a well-publicized trip to Camel’s Hump to underscore the problem of acid rain in the Northeast. Calcium-depleted soil on the mountainside had left the trees unable to protect themselves against the stresses of temperature and insects, and the entire red spruce forest was in trouble.
Today, the wood thrushes near my Waitsfield cabin, which has a magnificent view of Camel’s Hump and its dying trees, are also feeling the effects of more than a half century of acid rain.

According to the Cornell study, wood thrush numbers in the eastern U.S. have declined by more than forty percent since 1980. The steepest declines have occurred in areas with the heaviest acid rainfall, especially in elevated forests along the spine of the Appalachians. In the northern forest, significant wood thrush population declines have been recorded in the Adirondacks, the Greens, and the White Mountain ranges.

The study notes that a female songbird needs nearly 15 times more calcium to produce her eggs than a mammal of similar size needs to nurture its embryos. With such a demand, she relies on a steady supply of snails and slugs gleaned from the forest floor. Healthy gastropods, in turn, rely on adequate calcium levels in the soil. Where soil acidity is greatest, snails and slugs do poorly. In a classic case of the interdependence of different animals along the food chain, as the snail goes, so goes the wood thrush.

A calcium-poor diet can easily lead to egg shell defects and a smaller clutch of eggs. Both of these factors may contribute to breeding failure not only for the wood thrush but also for a variety of other songbirds.

The Cornell scientists wrote: “Despite clean air legislation, many eastern regions continue to experience heavy, wet, acidic deposition, and many bird species breeding in these areas show unexplained population declines.”

With our culture ever-more dependent on the fossil fuels that lead to acid rain, it seems likely that springtime at our Waitsfield cabin is likely to become even quieter as wood thrush songs become rarer still. The Cornell study, at least, deepens our understanding of the Northeast’s ecosystem and may yet help us make the right decisions to protect what is surely a delicate balance.

Eben McLane is a freelance writer and editor living in Scipio, New York.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Essex County & Southern New Hampshire Bird Sightings - June 5, 2014

Black-necked Stilt

Eastern Meadowlark by Nathan Dubrow


Moseley Avenue, Newburyport:
Cedar Waxwing, House Wren

J. B. Little Road, Groveland:
Black-billed Cuckoo, Yellow-throated Vireo, Great Crested Flycatcher, Wood Duck, Hooded Merganser

61st Street, Newburyport:
Snowy Owl

Route 1A, Rowley:
Black-necked Stilt, Glossy Ibis, Cedar Waxwing, Eastern Kingbird, Snowy Egret

Crow Lane, Newburyport:
Black-billed Cuckoo, Great Crested Flycatcher, Red-eyed Vireo

Seven Seas Whale Watch out of Gloucester:
Northern Fulmar, Yellow-nosed Albatross

Martin Burns Wildlife Management Area, Byfield:
Olive-sided Flycatcher, Black-billed Cuckoo, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, House Wren, Wood Thrush, Gray Catbird, Blue-winged Warbler, Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Brown-headed Cowbird, Orchard Oriole

George Burrows-Brookside Sanctuary, South Hampton, NH:
Great Blue Heron, Osprey, Black-Billed Cuckoo, Red-Winged Blackbird, Common Yellowthroat, Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, Bank Swallow, Belted Kingfisher, Baltimore Oriole, Downy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Brown Creeper, Wood Duck, Great Crested Flycatcher

Cashman Park, Newburyport:
Black-crowned Night-Heron, Greater Yellowlegs, Common Tern, Chimney Swift

Hay Street, Newbury:
Green Heron, Osprey

Moulton Street, Newburyport:
Fish Crow, House Wren, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Gray Catbird, Cedar Waxwing, Baltimore Oriole

Powwow River, Amesbury:
Great Crested Flycatcher, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Baltimore Oriole, Tree Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Green Heron

Newman Road, Newbury:
Bobolink, Glossy Ibis, Snowy Egret, Willet, Barn Swallow, Killdeer, Cuckoo species, House Wren, Eastern Phoebe

Old Merrill Street, Amesbury:
Wild Turkey, Baltimore Oriole

Linebrook Road, Ipswich:
Eastern Bluebird, Black-capped Chickadee, Northern Flicker, Cedar Waxwing, Wild Turkey

Bradley Palmer State Park, Topsfield:
Wood Duck, Mallard, Great Blue Heron, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Herring Gull, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Barred Owl, Chimney Swift, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great Crested Flycatcher,  Eastern Kingbird, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, American Crow, Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, House Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Veery, Wood Thrush, American Robin, Gray Catbird,  European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, Ovenbird, Blue-winged Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Yellow Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Pine Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Indigo Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Baltimore Oriole, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow

Kent's Island, Newbury:
Indigo Bunting, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Willet, Barn Swallow, Killdeer

Archelaus Hill Road, West Newbury:
Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Whip-poor-will

Tenney Street, Georgetown:
Common Raven

Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, Plum Island:
Cedar Waxwing, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Winter Wren, Willet, Orchard Oriole, Baltimore Oriole, Purple Martin

Woodsom Farm, Amesbury:
Black-billed Cuckoo, Osprey, Great Blue Heron, Mallard, Wood Duck, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow,  Northern Cardinal, Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, Mourning Dove, Chimney Swift, Barn Swallow, Tree Swallow, Willow Flycatcher, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Northern Flicker, Northern Mockingbird,  European Starling, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, House Finch, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow

Black-necked Stilt, Rowley



I've been so enjoying prolonged looks at the Black-necked Stilt in the Rowley salt 
pannes in the new, marsh grass sprouts.  The trio of black, white, pink to coral legs 
are a pleasant sight.  

I read in Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion that he calls the Black-necked 
Stilt a "Marsh Poodle" and a "Coral-legged Water Strider".  Chris Leahy states in
The Birdwatchers Companion to North American Birdlife that "Stilt", of course, 
refers to these birds' extraordinary legs."

This delicate looking, long-strider wades in shallow waters, captures its prey - aquatic 
invertebrates and fish - with precision.  It consumes such fare as crawfish, brine flies, 
brine shrimp, beetles, water boatmen and tadpoles. In true stilt style, it pecks, snatches 
and plunges its head into the water in pursuit of the prey.  In some cases, they're fish
herders, trapping their prey in shallow waters.  They'll swim or dive under duress only.   

During breeding, they're strongly territorial and are particularly aggressive to chicks that 
are not their own.   When not breeding, Black-necked Stilts roost and forage in closely packed 
groups, often staying within a foot of each other.  As semi-colonial nesters, the Black-necked 
Stilts will participate collectively in anti-predator displays.  These displays are done by non-
incubating birds who fly up to mob predators.  In another display, all birds encircle the predator, 
flapping their wings rapidly while hopping up and down. 

I find them to be so careful and graceful in wetlands, rice fields and fields.  In the breeding season, 
they shriek and dive at predators.  As with other shorebirds, they'll feign a broken wing.

During hot weather, they cool their nests by saturating their belly feathers and carry this water to
their nests, sometimes making more than a hundred trips a day.  Given their fitness for nest duties,
this isn't as delicate a bird as it looks...
Good birding,
Sue

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

JUNE BIRDING PROGRAMS





FUNdamentals of Grassland Birding
Date: Wednesday Evenings - June 4, 11 & 18, 2014
Time: 6:30 pm to dusk
Fee: $20 each
Meeting Location: Woodsom Farm in Amesbury - meet at the parking lot on Lions Mouth Road in Amesbury
Take a walk, have fun, learn where to look for birds and how to identify them in their habitat. This slow-paced walk will introduce you to grassland birding. We'll discuss the natural history of the birds
we encounter.  Please wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and footwear appropriate for walking on
unpaved surfaces.
Wings, Feathers & Flights
Date: Saturday, June 14, 2014
Time: 5:00 pm to sunset
Fee: $20
Meeting Location: Parker River National Wildlife Refuge at Parking Lot #1
Let's explore Parker River National Wildlife Refuge with a focus on wings, feathers & flights.  We'll
discuss field marks, and we'll be watching bird behavior at this premier, birding destination. Long-sleeved shirt and long pants are suggested. Light refreshments will be provided.
 
Sunday Morning Birding At Woodsom Farm
Date: Sunday, June 29, 2014
Time: 7:30 to 9:30 am
Fee: $20
Meeting Location: Woodsom Farm in Amesbury - meet at the parking lot on Lions Mouth Road in Amesbury
Take a walk, have fun, learn where to look for birds and how to identify them in their habitat. This slow-paced walk will introduce you to grassland birding. We'll discuss the natural history of the birds
we encounter.  Please wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and footwear appropriate for walking on
unpaved surfaces.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Birding the Salisbury Point Ghost Trail - 5/30/14





The Salisbury Point Ghost Trail provides a peaceful 1.8 mile,walk or bike ride through the woods on a well-maintained stone-dust trail. Salisbury shares railroad history with Amesbury, the Salisbury Point Ghost Trail name comes from the train cars transported carriages and early auto bodies covered with white, muslin shrouds. The trains passed through Salisbury with their "ghostly" freight on their way to Boston, Detroit and New York. Also popular on the Salisbury rail line was passenger service, and people could travel throughout New England, or even make a transcontinental journey from Salisbury. In 1936, this passenger service was discontinued.

We accessed the trail from Bartlett Street. To reach Bartlett Street from I-95, take Exit 58 for State Route 110 east. Take Route 110 also known as Elm Street about 2 miles; turn left on Bartlett Street. The small parking lot will be on your left.

We saw some Lady's Slippers some were 6 to 15 inches tall.  Often we see them in flower between May and July. The species name acaule is Latin, meaning, "stem less", referring to the plant’s leafless flowering stem. Another common name for this plant is moccasin flower.  In the 1800's and 1900's, Lady's Slippers were regarded in traditional practices as having medicinal value. The root of lady's slipper was used as a remedy for nervousness, tooth pain, and muscle spasms. It, as well as other orchids, were widely used as a substitute for the European plant Valerian for sedative properties.   

Lady's Slippers grow in mixed hardwood coniferous forests of pine and hemlock on rocky or mossy slopes.  They like deep humus and acidic but well-drained soil found under birch and other deciduous trees of eastern United States forests.  In order to survive and reproduce, Lady's Slipper interacts with a fungus in the soil. 

We came across many lively and speedy young chipmunks.  I can see why their pudgy cheeks, large, glossy eyes, stripes, and bushy tails made them a favorite among animators, and landed them in roles in Hollywood.  Chipmunk litters consist of two to eight young. The young stay with their parents for about two months before they'll begin to gather their own provisions for the winter ahead.

Our sightings:
American Crow
Wild Turkey
Black-billed Cuckoo - vocal just before the solar farm
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Red-eyed Vireo
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Hermit Thrush
Gray Catbird
American Robin
Cedar Waxwing
Ovenbird  
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow Warbler
Pine Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Scarlet Tanager  
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch

Good birding,
Sue