Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ludlow G's Excellent Adventure: Concord Birds 2013 Wrap-up

2013 was a virtual Big Year for our intrepid and omnipresent field companion, Ludlow G., who attempted to see as many birds (and assemble a deep database) in Concord and immediately adjacent areas.  Our task was in some ways quite different from a true Big Year like Neil Hayward’s, which involved extensive travel and substantial resources; Ludlow G. kept it local, with a focus on patch birding and extensive surveys of under-birded areas.  Above all, ours was a collaborative effort, with as many eyes on birds in as many places at as many times as possible.  Think of it as a year-long town CBC, with eBird as the reporting tool and Ludlow G. as the compiler, with yours truly as the impresario and secretary.

As a proof-of-concept, we succeeded well beyond our goals.  Based on a the usual total of about 200 birds encountered in Middlesex County in a given year, and on town patch totals of around 170 species by a few individuals, we set a modest goal of 200 birds for the year, hoping perhaps for a few more and the participation of perhaps a dozen birders.  By the end of June we had reached 190 birds, and passed 200 in August, with dozens of birders contributing eBird and field lists to Ludlow (and keeping me very busy during migration!).  As of December 24th, with a stunning Red-Throated Loon found on the Concord River by the Great Meadows Survey team, Ludlow G. finishes the year with a round 225 species, with 950 checklists contributed by some three dozen individuals and groups.  See a full summary (in draft) here.

While 200 birds in Concord is still within the reach of highly motivated birders (Cole Winstanley finished with 190; I finished with 188), it takes many eyes to find a string of rarities like we had this fall: American Golden Plover (Jim McCoy); Buff-Breasted Sandpiper (Lucas Hale); Grey-Cheeked Thrush and Red Headed Woodpecker (Willy Hutcheson); Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher, Philadelphia Vireo, Cackling Goose, Lapland Longspur (Cole and Jalen Winstanley); Olive Sided Flycatcher, Connecticut Warbler, Western Kingbird (David Sibley); Black Scoter (David Swain); Roughleg/Rough-Legged Buzzard/Hawk (Bob Stymeist); Snowy and Short-Eared Owls (Simon Perkins); and Red-Throated Loon (GMNWR Survey).  

It has been a pleasure and vicarious thrill to receive and read every report, get your text messages from the field, and track your observations on MassBird or using the BirdTrax tool on my blog, BirdingwithLudlow.blogspot.com.  I hope I have acknowledged and thanked you for them all.  I take this opportunity to thank my friends in Concord and the extended MassBird community for their interest and support of this project.

Good Birding in 2014!

David Swain and Ludlow G.
Concord, MA

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Ludlow's End-Game: Theoretical Birds for Fall and Winter

Back in late August, before my day-job brought all things birding to a virtual halt, my collaborator on Concord Birds 2013, Cole Winstanley, and I compared theoretical lists of remaining birds for fall and winter.  At that point Ludlow G. was at 204 birds.  Our dream list was pretty predictable:

Winter geese:  Greater White-Fronted, Barnacle, Pink-Footed, Brant (hoping for a fly-over or a one-day wonder at Great Meadows).

aythya ducks:  Redhead, Scaup, and Canvasback (we needed a stronger report than one spring sighting)

Long-Tailed duck
Black Scoter (most likely of the scoters; in 2012 we had a one-day flock at Great Meadows)

Golden Eagle (why not dream?)
Goshawk (maybe, maybe)

Shorebirds:  White-Rumped and Baird’s

Black Tern, Common (we needed a hurricane)

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Olive-Sided Flycatcher (a real one! not a molting phoebe)
Ash-Throated (why not dream?)
Western Kingbird (we are due)

Philadelphia Vireo
White-Eyed Vireo

Bicknell’s Thrush (night-time flight calls)
Gray-Cheeked (flight calls

Bohemian Waxwing (long shot, given the finch forecast)

Orange-Crowned Warbler
Connecticut Warbler
Mourning Warbler

Blue Grosbeak
Dickcissel (good sightings)

Clay-Colored Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow
Nelson’s Sparrow
Lapland Longspur

Hoary Redpoll (unlikely given the finch forecast)

We estimated that of this list, maybe 17-19 were actually possibly, which might get Ludlow to the low-to-mid 220s. Since those estimates,  quite a number have fallen into place:

Mourning Warbler (heard by David Sibley at Kaveski, Aug. 13)
Dickcissel (heard by David Swain at Great Meadows, Aug. 15)
American Golden Plover (seen by many at Great Meadows for a week after Aug. 23)
Little Blue Heron (Great Meadows; seen by many and now annual)
Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher (found by the Winstanleys at their home, Aug. 27)
Buff-Breasted Sandipiper (2 found at Kaveski Farm by Lucas Hale on Sept. 2)
White-Rumped Sandiper (solid report from Great Meadows on Sept. 2)
Grey-Cheeked Thrush (at Middlesex School by Willy Hutcheson, Sept. 8)
Red-Headed Woodpecker (also by Willy on Sept. 8)
Baird's Sandpiper (several sightings on Sept. 8 at Great Meadows)
Olive-Sided Flycatcher (seen by David Sibley at Barrett's Farm on Sept. 14)
Philadelphia Vireo (seen by the Winstanley brothers, Sept. 15, at Estabrook Woods)
Connecticut Warbler (seen by David Sibley at Annursnac Conservation Land on Sept. 20)
Orange-Crowned Warbler (photographed by Christian Gras at Kaveski Farm, Sept. 25)
Dunlin (found by the Great Meadows survey crew on Oct. 14)
Lapland Longspur (heard and recorded by Jalen Winstanley at Great Meadows, Oct. 14)
Greater White-Fronted Goose (found by Will Martens in the Concord Rotary fields, Oct. 19)
Cackling Goose (photographed over Kaveski Farm by Jalen Winstanley, afternoon of Oct. 19)

These bring Ludlow to 220 birds, and there might still be some ammodramus sparrows to be found as well as ducks and other vagrant geese.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fall Migration Underway

Ludlow G. cleared 200 birds in Concord during 2013 nearly two weeks ago with a Snowy Egret, several of which are now being seen daily at Great Meadows in Concord.  Joining them is an elusive juvenile Little Blue Heron.  But the star of the show, so to speak, was an American Golden Plover which arrived over the weekend and has attracted a lot of attention, as it appears to be the only one seen so far in Massachusetts. (this has since changed, with small flocks appearing along the coast).  AGPL usually leaves its last staging area in eastern Canada and heads out over the Atlantic for its very long migration to southern South America, but some stay inland a bit longer and touch down in New England before heading out.

The count since 200 looks like this:

201:  a fly-over, calling dickcissel at Great Meadows

202:  American Golden Plover, still in breeding plumage (last reported on 8/26, with rumored re-sightings)

203:  Little Blue Heron, juvenile, associating with Snowies

and just this morning,

204:  a hatch-year Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher

and this afternoon (8/27), much to my chagrin,

"205":  a juvenile Olive-Sided Flycatcher, or so it seemed to my desiring eyes.  It was, in fact, an adult phoebe undergoing heavy molt.  Use your imagination!

In our next post we will forecast a theoretical total for 2013 based on current needs and what has historically shown up during fall and early winter in Concord.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Ludlow G. makes 200

With the Great Meadows survey sighting of a Snow Egret on Monday, August 12, Ludlow G. has reached his putative year goal of 200 birds during 2013 in Concord, Massachusetts.  Clearly, his original goal was conservative, and with the bulk of fall migration still to come, how high will he go?

Thanks to all who have contributed their field lists and shared their eBird reports as we have built this collaborative Big Year in Concord in 2013.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Shorebird Season at Great Meadows, Concord (August 2013)

For the first time in several years, a good variety of shorebirds are visiting the mud-flat (such as it is) at Great Meadows.  So far there have been concentrations of Least Sandpipers (20-30) and a surprising number (for an inland location) of Semipalmated Sandpipers, which on some counts have outnumbered Leasts. Killdeer have been joined by Semipalmated Plovers in small numbers (under 10).  Solitary Sandpipers have actually outnumbered Spotteds on most counts.  Since August 5 one or two early Pectorals have been seen most days, but are still scarce.

Lesser Yellowlegs have been fairly regular since the beginning of August, with the occasional Greater. Several observers have seen the occasional pair (or more) of Short-billed Dowitchers.  On August 9th a cold front passed through the area and immediately afterward Willy Hutcheson found 17 Stilt Sandpipers preening on the mud, but as soon as the rain stopped, they flew out.  No word yet on whether they have returned.

With at least 8 species of shorebird seen most days, this bodes well for the rest of August.  Fingers crossed for a Baird's, or a Whimbrel, or some phalaropes.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Fall Migration Update: 200 and Up

With late July has come relief from the blistering heat of the first three weeks.  Ludlow G. doesn't take the heat well any longer, so he's in a fall mood.  Sure enough, we have had some fall-like days, and with them a first influx of shorebirds and dispersal of post-breeding egrets and ibis.  For two weeks now small groups of Least Sandpipers have been at Great Meadows, and all the ones I have been able to see up close have been worn adults.  This morning (July 30) I found three worn Leasts with a very tattered Pectoral, looking for all the world like their bigger brother.  Two Blue-Winged Teal have been seen my many, and a single immature Green-Winged has been spotted by a few.  Immature Black-Crowned Night Herons arrived last week, along with (briefly) an adult and an immature Glossy Ibis. Also last week, for two days small flocks of Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs were using the shallow pools along the north side of the lower impoundment.  That is, until the water level rose.

Water levels at Great Meadows went down with the drainage almost two weeks ago, but the heavy rains last Friday seemed to have raised it back part way.  But there is another problem:  beavers have rapidly closed off the drainage to the lower impoundment, and the USFWS was going to clear it.  We'll see how that goes!

Incredibly, we had thought our initial goal of 200 species this year was ambitious, but even by the end of May it was looking easily attainable.  And indeed, as of July 30 Ludlow G. has crowd-sourced a list of 198 species.

You read it right: 198 species!  We still have real shorebird season to come (although my expectations aren't high for many rarities), sparrow and vagrant season, and a Concord specialty, errant geese.  I have been thinking it, but now I'll say it: I think we can beat the de-facto local checklist of 220 species.

So, an incentive for 200.  I will send whomever reports #200 their choice of either Ludlow Griscom's Birds of Concord or Griscom and Snyder's Birds of Massachusetts.  Share your birds, all of them, with "Ludlow G." on eBird.

Happy (early) Fall migration.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

More Rails!

On the day following the session with the Sora, I did some wading to a dry section along the back dikes where a family of Virginia Rails have been active.  I saw one juvenile and an adult.  Some pictures.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Great Meadows Rail Show

When people talk about the "rail trail" at Great Meadows in Concord these days, they don't mean the old Reformatory Branch rail bed.  This is the rail trail:

Heavy rains in early June have the Sudbury, Assabet, and Concord rivers at flood stage, and over the weekend Great Meadows became a water world.  And with flooding, birds and all manner of wildlife come out of hiding.  For several days now people have been reporting spectacular Virginia Rail shows, with at least one Sora making frequent appearances near the parking area.  Today, two Sora put on a show, with many photographers in attendance.  With the birds virtually at our feet, I managed a few shots.

One bird had been carrying food to a location off the dike, and while foraging a second rail, presumably its mate, joined it for several minutes.

Showing some wing.  This is a handsome bird.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

"Uncommon and Local"

Here in eastern Massachusetts we have a lot of trees, but we lack extensive, unbroken forest.  Concord is blessed with one of the biggest (over 1000 acres) tracts of unbroken forest: Estabrook Woods.  So, it is there we go looking for specialty interior forest species that breed locally, like Winter Wren and Northern Waterthrush.  One species, the Black-Throated Green Warbler, prefers hemlock stands, but these are now threatened by wooly adelgid infestation, and healthy hemlock stands are very uncommon and highly localized.  While this bird is quite common on migration, come late May and early June, it is tough to find them in eastern Massachusetts.  However, according to Breeding Bird Atlas 2 data, they are on the increase in the east.

I had heard reports of breeding B-T Greens in Estabrook in a remote hemlock stand, and Willy Hutcheson confirmed one bird while running.  Today I hiked in to this marvelous area, located on a rocky knoll upslope and east of the large and mysterious white cedar swamp in northern Estabrook, and immediately heard two singing males.  One was very cooperative and posed, sort of, for a few quick shots.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Breeding Season

Migration was very busy and I posted little because I was in the field as often as possible.  Overall, this year's migration was a bit strange, with very delayed birds due to some high-pressure blocking patterns which recurred.  These were followed by storms systems and a dump of migrants, especially on days like May 11th when several coastal and inland areas experienced "fall-out" conditions.  The following Saturday was Birdathon, with a significant arrival of Bay-Breasted and Wilson's Warblers, along with many Black-Billed Cuckoos.  Overall, though, migration sort of sputtered along and trees were fully leaved by the time the "good birds" arrived.

I was asked yesterday whether the Concord Birds project "missed anything."  Yes:  Louisiana Waterthrush and Olive-Sided Flycatcher, but those are stretches anyway.  It would have been nice to have had Kentucky Warbler and Red-Headed Woodpecker and Grasshopper Sparrow, but these are recorded infrequently (if at all) in Concord.  Birds that barely registered, however, were more frustrating:  King Rail and Common Gallinule (Moorhen) were observed only a few times at Great Meadows.  It is unknown if Pied-Billed Grebes stayed to breed, but perhaps two pairs of American Coots definitely have stuck it out at Great Meadows.  A potential Worm-Eating Warbler just over the Carlisle line hasn't been confirmed yet.

Our current focus is to confirm (or at least observe) Black-Throated Green Warblers and Hermit Thrush in Estabrook Woods, where they have historically bred in a stand of hemlock east of the Cedar Swamp near the Carlisle line.  This area might contain other scarcities—potentially Blue-Headed Vireo or even Blackburnian (although this species is even scarcer in eastern Mass since Breeding Bird Atlas 1).  Coming soon will be post-breeding wading birds.

Now to Ludlow G.'s list!  My five readers will recall that our year goal was 200 birds.  We are now at 191 (192 provisional pending confirmation of Worm-Eating), which means shorebirds, waders, fall sparrows, geese, and vagrants will push us well past 200 and into the territory of the historical checklist for the area established by Dick Walton in his Birds of the Sudbury Valley in 1984.

Now it gets interesting!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Massachusetts Swainson's Hawk

Our Birdathon team and at least one expert have reached a consensus on the "mystery bird."  The bird was a light-morph adult Swainson's Hawk, rare in the east, and very rare in spring.

For perspective, the Massachusetts Avian Records Committee has seven attested sightings going back to 1978, but only one in summer, the rest in fall (when people are actually looking for these).  Veit and Peterson's Birds of Massachusetts lists ten attested sight records between 1955 and the early 90s, with a few in spring.  Before that we turn to Griscom and Snyder's Birds of Massachusetts, who list quite a few records of varying authenticity stretching back to the shotgun era in the 19th century.  Never common in the east, the Swainson's Hawk was neverthless not a rare bird in the era when much of Massachusetts was farmland.

Lacking a picture of our own, here is one by Brian K. Wheeler (1998) of an adult light-morph:

Image from Brian K. Wheeler (1998).  Hawks in Flight Gallery.  http://www.virtualbirder.com/vbirder/onLoc/onLocDirs/HAWK/gallery/bkwheeler/index.html

Monday, May 20, 2013

Birdathon! With Mystery Bird Quiz!

May 17th at 6pm through the 18th at 6pm I birded with Pam Sowizral, volunteer coordinator at Drumlin Farm MAS and team captain, and friends Joanne Normandin, and Mary Brogan and Bruce Black.  As the "Free Agents," we chase some rarities like Manx Shearwater and other rarity reports, but mostly we are free to bird wherever it is good.  This year we decided to spend the 18th birding locally around Concord (influenced by Ludlow G., of course; I had nothing to do with it) and Wayland.  The tyranny of Birdathon is the 24 hour window, which meant a Saltmarsh Sparrow missed the cut by ten minutes on Friday, and a Ruby hummer missed it by 5 minutes on Saturday.

After seeing some of the usual suspects at Revere Beach and Belle Isle Marsh on Friday night, we hit Great Meadows in Concord very early for Least Bittern and rails, but it was pretty quiet overall.  We then headed to the Punkatasset/Mill Brook area of Estabrook woods for warblers and forest birds.  We had some good luck, with Swainson's Thrush, Lincoln's Sparrow, two Black-Billed Cuckoos, many Magnolias, Parulas, Redstarts, a Nashville, two Wilson's, and the star of the morning, a Baybreasted that gave pretty good views.  We then headed into the forest for Scarlet Tanager, Peewee, Pileated, many Ovenbirds, and singing Brown Creepers and a Winter Wren.

Our next stop was the no-longer-obscure Gate 13C Massport Trail on Rt. 62, where we had two more Baybreasteds, many Blue-Winged warblers, a Chestnut-Sided, Prairies, many Towhees and Wood Thrushes, and Field Sparrows.

After all my forced marching, the team was tired and broke for lunch.  Invigorated, we headed to an overlook at Hanscom field to try our luck at Upland Sandpiper.  No dice, but we had numerous Bobolinks and several Meadowlarks, with the local Redtails and Kestrels providing some entertainment. In all, a good Birdathon, with 117 species but notable misses.

Then, Pam noticed a very curious raptor rise off the field, briefly tangle with a Red Tail, then circle rapidly on thermals and move to the north.  Four of us got on it with scopes for about four minutes before we lost it in the clouds.  None of us risked fumbling for iPhones to attempt a shot--it was moving too fast and it was simply too far by the time we realized it was "interesting."  We have proposed an ID and it is currently under review.  But I present our one bit of physical evidence, the sketch and field marks I hurriedly put together after losing it in my scope, without reference to any guides.

In short, uniform gray back, long, straight, unbanded tail, pointed wings with dark flight feathers and white underwing and slight bend at "elbow," smudge across neck, soaring with slight dihedral and flat wing-tips, gliding with slight inverted dihedral.  Buteo flight style, accipiter tail, falcon-like wings.  Size smaller than Red-tail, larger than a Peregrine.  Bird 118.

What do you think?

P.S.  Not to shirk Wayland, where we had another Wilson's, Orchard Oriole, killer looks at a Black-Billed, our nemesis Cedar Waxwings, and two Solitary Sandpipers.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

May 9th Update: Migrants

As Bob Dylan wrote, "a change in the weather is known to be extreme," and with the arrival of a large southern low pressure system have come warblers and other delayed birds.

Today Ludlow G. had his first confirmed Black-Throated Greens at the Massport trails at Hanscom, with rising numbers of Northern Parula and Common Yellowthroat (which seemed very delayed), a Black-throated Blue, and perhaps even more Blue-Winged, which are thick on the ground in several early successional areas in north Concord.  Additionally, first Red-Eyed Vireo, but still awaiting Veery, Blackburnians, Magnolias, and Redstarts.  This pattern looks like it will hold through the weekend, so we might get some good birds.

Today also brought the first positive reports from Mt. Auburn, with first double-digit warbler counts, and Middlesex Fells, with a very good report of arrivals.

Of course, most trees are fully leaved out, so we won't see much.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Early May: a Ludlow G. Update

I've been so busy trying to finish the semester, bird every free minute, and enter and accept lists that an update on Ludlow's Big Year in Concord is long overdue.  It seems only a few weeks ago that this project cleared 100 species and 200 still seemed far away.

Even with the slow start to migration because of a huge high pressure system blocking southerly flows, Ludlow is off to a good start with all the early warblers accounted for, although in minute numbers.  Palms and Yellow Rumps came in on time, but many are lingering.  There has been a very slow trickle of Northern Parula, Nashville, Northern Waterthrush, and Ovenbird (with only single digits seen for each), but beginning around May 1-2 Blue-Wings arrived on territory around Hanscom, along with Prairies and Black and Whites, all in good numbers.  They, at least, seem roughly on time.  But there is a dearth of Common Yellowthroat and nary a Black Throated Green has been reported, and only one Black throated Blue.

Rose Breasted Grosbeaks arrived a few days ago, along with a few Scarlet Tanagers, Baltimore Orioles, and Brown Thrashers seem to be back on territory.  Grey Catbird is still scarce.  Savannah and Field Sparrow are back in good numbers, and a few Vespers have been seen/heard.

Upland Sandipipers were active at Hanscom on May 2 and 3, but no reports since, so either nesting has begun, or these birds were moving through.

Unbelievably, Ludlow G. is at 156 species as of May 6 at 3pm.  200 seems easy, right?  Maybe it is a conservative number, but it will get hard soon.  But, given the pace I think the Concord Birds project might be in position to give Dick Walton's Great Meadows checklist (from 1985) of 220 birds a good run.  Stay tuned!

Edited to add on May 7: With first reports of Red Eyed Vireo, BT Green, Chestnut-Sided warbler, and the results of Steve Arena's first marshbird survey of Great Meadows (King Rail, Least Bittern, Common Gallinule), Ludlow jumped to 164 species today.  With the arrival of a southern weather pattern over the next few days, we should begin seeing more migrants.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Migration Time: Jackson Childs' Gulf Crossing

As we gear up for the peak of migration, Jackson Childs, a birder from Tallahassee now living in Cambridge, has made freely available a re-edited version of Gulf Crossing: Story of Spring, a terrific documentary on neotropical migration he produced in 2012.  It is aimed at more general audiences and is suited particularly for use in schools.  It is a really nice overview for anyone on how weather patterns and the photoperiod govern migration timing and flight patterns.  It features some really lovely photography (especially of warblers) from Texas, Florida, and Mt. Auburn Cemetery!  You can stream it on Vimeo from Childs' site, or view it through YouTube here. Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Purple Martin, Great Meadows, April 3, 2013

I was able to get off work a bit early today, so I went to Great Meadows in Concord to look for a Barn Swallow.  It was sunny, very gusty, and I spotted a large, swirling mass of swallows over the lower impoundment.  By the time I got to the boat ramp area, the cloud of swallows had moved over the upper impoundment.  Between 4pm and 5:15 I looked at swallows.  Around 4:15 I spotted a rather large, dark swallow and thinking it might be a Rough-Winged, I started following it.  Oddly, though, it was uniformly dark underneath.  Then it disappeared.  Around 4:45, after finally spotting a Barn Swallow (FOY), the big, dark swallow turned up again, flying near the tree line over the upper impoundment trail and within 40 feet, allowing really close views over a five minute period:  indigo body, light brown wings, blocky head, wide, fanned, notched tail, and several inches longer than the many nearby Tree Swallows. Quite different flight style. I managed a short video on my iPhone which at least shows its relative size and profile.

Purple Martins are uncommon in Middlesex County, and last year the first bird reported on eBird was May 2; none were reported (as far as I can tell) on eBird in 2011.

While looking at swallows a Wilson's Snipe flew in to the boat ramp area.  Nice afternoon.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Fieldfare in Carlisle, Massachusetts

With the memory of the Le Conte's Sparrow in Concord still fresh, Massachusetts birders were stunned on St. Patrick's Day by the news that Alan Ankers had discovered a Fieldfare among a large flock of Robins in Carlisle, Mass., located on Greenough Land off Maple St.  (Carlisle Mosquito article on Alan's sighting.)  Here are some admittedly grim record shots (hand-held phone, scope at 42x, bird at 150yds.)  Some good photography can be found in the eBird Rarities Photo Pool.

Fieldfare, Greenough Land, Carlisle, MA.  Heavy crop of iPhone shot at 42x, but enough to be diagnostic

Fieldfare.  Gray head and heavy eye-line, gray rump just visible, and white leading wing edge.
Fieldfare (on right) with Robin:  lankier build, generally more upright posture

Fieldfare is an ABA Code 4, although many of us were mystified why it was a 4 when an annual bird like Barnacle Goose is a Code 5.   I met five birders today who had seen the Fieldfare in 1986 at Nine Acre Corner; one wag commented, "I don't even get a new county bird!" The mood was celebratory, with numerous grizzled veterans of stake-outs past catching up (I heard chatter about the Ivory Gull of 75-76), young birders enjoying the scene, and one birder celebrating her 700th ABA bird.

Update:  the Fieldfare was relocated on March 19 after heavy snow by several parties, but appeared to be moving around quite a lot, with one sighting in adjoining Great Meadows NWR land.

March 21 update:  Fieldfare is now being seen down Maple St., south of the original location in the vicinity of Piggery Rd., which is the access road to the Great Meadows NWR--Carlisle Unit.  It has been seen much of the day behind the house next to Piggery Rd.  For updates, read MassBirds.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Spring Harbingers

Spring, and all those colorful, tiny migrants, seems far away, but to remind us that migration is much more than Mt. Auburn in May, this week marked the arrival of three reliable harbingers of spring.  Ludlow heard Red Winged Blackbirds at Great Meadows, at the White Pond Reservation rookery, and in West Concord.  Today, saw our first Killdeer and this evening, from across the Assabett River here at Concord Birds 2013 HQ we heard our first American Woodcock peenting.  Welcome back, spring.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Le Conte's Sparrow in Concord

Ludlow Griscom never saw a Le Conte's Sparrow in Concord, but his avatar has.  On February 11th Pete Gilmore and Paul Sullivan were walking Shadyside Avenue in the northeast corner of Concord, near the Lincoln line, when they spotted an unusual sparrow feeding in roadside grass.  They first reported it as a more-probable Grasshopper, then confirmed it as a Le Conte's.  By the end of the week hundreds of birders, photographers, birder photographers, passersby, and a van load of touring birders from New Jersey had seen this marvelous, mousy little bird.  Unlike other sparrows (except its fellow ammodramus sparrows), it would not flush when spooked; instead, it simply hunkered down or tunneled deeper into the grass.  From a distance of fifteen or even ten feet it was virtually invisible, its cryptic back pattern and buffy yellow face blending in perfectly with the grass and weeds.  There is an abundance of jaw-dropping pictures of this bird here, here, and here.  David Sibley posted an amusing video of its mouselike behavior.  Here are a couple of my more modest (cropped and somewhat sharpened) shots.

To my knowledge, the bird was not seen after February 15th.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

My Town Patch

When is a local patch more than a patch?  I got thinking about this somewhat academic question last fall  as I found myself in a good-natured eBird competition with a very sharp teen birder who also had a Concord patch on eBird.  I finished the year with 161 birds, but he found over 170.  Both of us were intensively birding some reliable patches, and then assembling them into a larger town "patch."  It begs the question of what a patch really is, but the aggregate patch concept intrigued me as a potential tool for pulling in disparate sightings for a relatively small geographic area.  After all, what if my list were combined with his list—what would we have seen "together?"

Many aspects of the eBird database are virtual, not least of which are top-100 lists, recent sightings apps like BirdTrax, the species mapping tool, and so forth.  So the question eventually presented itself:  what might Ludlow Griscom have made of eBird if he were doing his famous study, Concord Birds, now?  One of the amazing things to me about his book was how he gathered sightings of his own and other birders into an aggregate representation of status and distribution of birds in the Concord area since the turn of the 20th century.  Is it always accurate?  Certainly not, but it is always suggestive, and Griscom preserves many amazing sightings from otherwise lost field lists of long-dead birders.

How would Griscom have assembled his data today?  eBird suggests itself as the logical tool for a relentless, competitive, highly-networked birder like Griscom.  At the heart of the eBird concept is, essentially, patch-listing, and I think this concept eludes many birders using it.  At Plum Island, a current and somewhat notorious example, eBirders have placed hundreds of personal location markers for their sightings, some on top of established hot spots, some at nearly random locations along the island, many representing single sightings.  If you run a recent sightings report from Plum Island, a Western Grebe might appear anywhere on the island, or only at Lot 1 ocean.  Compare the often chaotic eBird reporting with Tom Wetmore's meticulous Plum Island Sightings page and you see how dividing Plum Island into useful patches can really work.  Similarly, Griscom talked about the birds of Concord with real specificity, citing sightings by patch locations:  Nine Acre Corner, Great Meadows, Fairy Land, Fairhaven Bay, Merriam's Corner, and so forth.

Since my Concord patch list is assembled from many of the same locations that Griscom used, why not see what Griscom could have gathered by aggregating field lists from local patch birders?  And why not have some fun, too?  Enter Ludlow G. and his crowd-sourced Concord Big Year, 2013.

I hope you will join in the fun by keeping up with Ludlow and allowing him to shadow you in the field this year.  The challenge is 200 species, but also exploring potential patches which we tend to avoid, well, because tradition says they don't have birds.  Yes they do!

Monday, January 7, 2013

He's Everywhere!

Our man Ludlow G. has had a busy first week in his virtual 2013 Concord Big Year, and has birded with some good company, including Cole Winstanley, David Sibley, Lucas Hale, Chuck Johnson, Willy Hutcheson, Connie Schlotterbeck, Gian Fabbri, and Will Martens, Kathy Dia, and the rest of the Great Meadows weekly survey crew.  

If we had any doubts about what the great man might be like in his Web 2.0 incarnation, he's an inveterate lister, twitcher, and die-hard eBirder.  You see it, and he's there.  He has had a hankering to see the Gyrfalcon, but he's sticking to the rules (although he cheated and went for Canvasbacks at Fresh Pond).

This week he spent a lot of time at Kaveski Farm looking at sparrows, redpolls, and looking for shrikes with several parties.  He saw a Wood Duck on Jan. 1 and a continuing Rufous Hummingbird at a private residence (he knows people who know people); he's also seen Pine Grosbeaks and Common Ravens at Middlesex School.

As of this morning, Ludlow is at 55 species in Concord, not bad for a newly-plugged-in old timer!

Thanks to all who have contributed to the project.  The hope is to explore all the nooks and crannies of Concord through many eyes and reach 200 species.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Concord Birds 2013 Begins!

Happy 2013!

Ludlow G. and the Concord Birds 2013 Project began today with a good bird, a resplendent drake Wood Duck in the Assabet River below Cousin's Field.

Here are Ludlow G's first shared sightings:

Cousins Park/Thoreau School Neighborhood, West Concord, MA, Middlesex, US-MA
Jan 1, 2013 8:00 AM - 9:00 AM
Protocol: Traveling
0.5 mile(s)
Comments:     Windy, 30*, warm front pushing in.
19 species

Wood Duck  1     loosely associating with Mallards just below Cousin's Field in the Assabet; flew upstream toward Damon Mill. Observed for 5 minutes
Mallard  5
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Mourning Dove  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1
Downy Woodpecker  2
Blue Jay  4
American Crow  8
Black-capped Chickadee  4
Tufted Titmouse  1
White-breasted Nuthatch  2
Carolina Wren  1
American Robin  5
American Tree Sparrow  3
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)  1
Northern Cardinal  1
House Finch  1
American Goldfinch  13
House Sparrow  15

Share your 2013 Concord sighting with Ludlow G. at davidswain79 at gmail.com.  Our crowd-sourced goal is 200 species.

all the best in 2013!