Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Birding is Like a Box of Chocolates?
August 25, 2012
By Steve Grinley
Forest Gump said “My mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you‘re gonna get.“ Birding, as a way of life, is much the same way. You just never know what you are going to see. Such was the case this past weekend when Margo and I decided to head out to the Quabbin Reservoir area in central Massachusetts. There had been recent reports of Louisianna waterthrush and red crossbills out there, and those birds have eluded us this year. In fact, it has been several years since we have seen red crossbills.
We made our first stops in Belchertown, checking for the waterthrush. It is getting late in the season for this bird, as most would have started migrating already. As it turns out, we failed to see this bird in the stops we made, nor did we hear its familiar loud song.
We continued on to Quabbin Park and entered through the main gate to the headquarters building. This was the most recent area where red crossbills had been found. When we arrived, we saw a couple of familiar birders, Christine and Paul, who were also looking for crossbills. They told us that they heard them and had brief, poor looks at one flying overhead. They had to leave, but pointed us in the direction of where they had the bird.
We spend some time combing the area around the headquarters and the parking lot area. We did hear the croak of a raven, which was a delightful surprise. Later we saw two ravens go overhead, croaking as they flew. We found a nest of a cedar waxwing not more than 12 feet up in a tall shrub. One young bird was just out of the nest in the nearby branches and it ws being quite noisy. An adult came and fed another young waxwing that was still in the nest. Both red-breasted and white-breasted nuthatches were calling from nearby pines. Pine warblers were also buzzing in the same pines. Blue Jays fed in the oaks while catbirds ate the berries in the bushes below. Four wild turkeys crossed the clearing in the nearby woods.
We walked past the headquarters building toward the Windsor Dam. Goldfinches were calling in the pines that lined the walkway. Then we heard the “jit-jit-jit“ call of a red crossbill. Just as we got our binoculars up, a bird the size of a crossbill flew out from the pines and headed away from us, eventually flying over the dam and out of sight. A very unsatisfying look at what was most likely the red crossbill!
I was expecting to drive across the dike to look though the rest of the park, but it was blocked off to vehicle traffic since 9-11. I hadn‘t realized that it has been that long since I had been there. Margo had never been there before, so she, too, was enjoying the bird activity and the breath-taking views of the reservoir. What we weren‘t enjoying was the number of loud motorcycles driving into and out of the park. Those coupled with a lot of families and other groups of people talking very loudly, made the birding difficult and less enjoyable.
Still, we wanted to look further so we decided to get in the car and enter the rest of the park through another gate. We stopped periodically to listen for crossbills and other birds. At one stop, we looked up and there were a pair of adult bald eagles soaring high overhead! The rest of the park was fairly quiet with birds, until we came upon on area of dying pine trees lining the road. We first stopped because we heard a woodpecker, but we weren‘t expecting what we found when we got out of the car and explored this stand of dead pines form the road.
We found five species of woodpeckers, downy, hairy, red-bellied, pileated and a yellow-bellied sapsucker! There was a flurry of other birds, and we soon saw 2 red-eyed vireos and a Philadelphia vireo loosely associating with them. The latter was a new year bird for us! We then encountered several warblers including black-throated green, black & white, and Nashville warblers. Also in the mix were wood pewees, a phoebe, towhees, and chipping sparrows. A great blue heron was fishing the shore of the reservoir on the other side of the road, while a kingfisher called nearby. Quite a flurry of activity in the late afternoon in, what we thought, was the quiet area of the park!
We decided to end the day by going back to the headquarters building are to try once again for crossbills. The motorcycles were still roaring in and out and the throngs of visitors were as loud as before. But we did delight in watching five common nighthawks migrate silently overhead. No crossbills, but we were please with the birds we did get on this late summer day.
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