Thursday, October 8, 2009

Morning Rounds, Part 2

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My morning drive takes me past several “birdy” spots with a variety of great habitat. Depending on the weather, the traffic, and my schedule, I’ll stop at two or three of these havens; I rarely have time for them all. Yesterday I wrote about several spots on the first part of the route (read it HERE). Here’s a rundown on the second part of my commute.

Near the center of town – ours is a classic old New England village – several large agricultural fields are a haven for all sorts of wildlife. Local farmers cultivate corn, cabbages, beans, and hay, and a large area is set aside where residents can plant gardens. The Farmington River runs through the whole area, enriching the soil with spring and fall floods, and supporting a diverse riparian habitat. At all times of year, this area is a goldmine for birds. I’ve seen many grassland species, including many beautiful sparrow varieties, blackbirds, flycatchers, ducks and geese during migration, and, of course, raptors that hunt over the fields. A stop in near the corn fields the other day yielded my first Lincoln’s Sparrows, an American Kestrel (two days in a row; migrant or resident?), and 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 Northern Flickers (beautiful woodpeckers) flying from tree to tree, headed in a generally southerly direction. I spent some time watching the activity in a large Poison Ivy vine which was loaded with berries. Did you know that the berries of this native plant are an important food source for birds? Chickadees, Yellow-Rumped Warblers, American Robins, Downy Woodpeckers, White-Breasted Nuthatches, and Catbirds all enjoyed the feast. The ivy leaves had already turned a deep wine-red, making a stunning backdrop for the colorful birds. My list of “best” birds in this meadow area over the past few years includes Peregrine Falcon, White-Fronted Goose, Northern Harrier, American Kestrels, Willow Flycatcher, and several days ago, a flock of about 50 Killdeer, a large and showy plover species.

One of my favorite local birding spots has a nice variety of habitat: meadows and fields (yes, there is a difference!), a pond, a stream, a swampy area and a small marsh (yes, there is a difference!), hardwoods, conifers, hillsides, a swale, lawns and gardens, and a small farm. Living and dead trees, shrubs, grasses – all these make good homes for a variety of birds. I stop there once a month or so.

Cemeteries are often good places to find birds. They’re quiet (naturally) and often planted extensively with ornamental shrubs and trees that provide cover and food for a variety of bird species. I often stop in our town’s largest cemetery which combines lawns, hedgerows, large trees, and a riverside habitat. This is a reliable place to find Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers, Bluebirds, and Eastern Phoebes. A pair of Red-Tailed Hawks has raised its family here for the past two years, and I’ve also sighted Cooper’s Hawks here every week or so. The other day, I saw a small flock of crows mobbing (harassing) a young Cooper’s; the battle lasted several minutes until the Cooper’s finally flew off. Other raptors come through here, too; during spring and summer, Ospreys patrol up and down the river, and occasionally a Bald Eagle may be seen. This spring I was delighted to see a migrating Magnolia Warbler, and I enjoyed hearing Warbling Vireos sing their wiry, spiky song all summer. On one memorable winter day, I saw all three species of Merganser – Common, Red-Breasted, and Hooded – in one small area on the River. This was special, as all three are rarely seen together, and the Red-Breasteds are rarely seen inland in the winter.

My favorite birding area is my own backyard, where several feeders attract a variety of beautiful avian visitors. The other day I was surprised to see a Red-Eyed Vireo hanging about with the House Sparrows. This young bird was obviously interested in the suet feeders, but couldn’t quite work up the nerve, or couldn’t figure out how to get at it. Our first White-Throated Sparrows showed up this week; yesterday a nice mixed flock in the yard boasted several of these handsome songsters keeping company with a Northern Cardinal and a Rufous-Sided Towhee (first time I’ve seen one of these in our yard).

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