Category Archives: In the Field

At the park: 96

My final report for the ducks and mergs team this season:

Well, our box score for the season shows a lot of at-bats but not too many runs across the plate. The mergansers started 10 clutches but only hatched 4; the Wood Ducks started 5 but only completed 1. We had evidence of predation in only 1 box (raccoon, #60). A possible hypothesis to explain the high rate of nest abandonment by the mergansers is simply that there were too many birds chasing scarce resources.

The egg and hatchling counts are similarly depressed: 139 eggs laid by the Hooded Mergansers, with 52 hatched (37%); 34 eggs laid by the Wood Ducks, with 7 hatched (21%). Summary worksheet from our monitoring.

A recap of the boxes: I applied some insulating foam to patch gaps in boxes #1 and #3. Boxes #4 and #7 should be replaced. A map of nest box locations.

box 5, duringbox 5, afterTiny little box #5 was put to good use this year! It was the site of our single successful Wood Duck nest. During (10 June) at left and after (24 June) at right.

Monitors, thank you for all your help!

Wood Duck and Hooded Merganser trend chart

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Maine birding recap

I put together a cumulative list for my two Maine birding festivals this year, and it’s not bad: 89 species. A surprising number of flycatcher species (six) and a respectable count of wood warblers (fourteen).

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Acadia Birding Festival 2018

on itJeepers, a great number of guides for ABF events to thank: Don Lima, David Ladd, Doug Suitor, Fyn Kynd, Fred Yost, Michael Retter, Bill Sheehan, Margaret Viens, Ed Hawkes, George Armistead, and the crew and staff of the Friendship V—as well as all the other guides aboard the boat.

target islandOur target birds for the pelagic trip out of Bar Harbor were pretty much the same as those for the trip out of Cutler the week before, and the alcids duly made their appearances. Guides also spotted a lone Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) at Petit Manan Island (lifer), and Marsall Iliff found a Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster) on the way there (tropical mega-lifer).

bonus bonus lightbonus lightOn the return, we scooted past Mount Desert Rock (its light, at left) and Great Duck Island (its light, at right).

one more lightWith a little time before lunch, to continue the theme, I drove my car down to Bass Harbor Head to photograph its light.

larderNear to Otter Cliffs, we picked up a couple of female Red Crossbills (Loxia curvirostra). I am gratified to report that I first saw (but did not identify) the birds fly into these White Spruces (Picea glauca), which look a little raggedy at the top with cones but no green branches. Apparently that was exactly the sort of tree the hungry birds were looking for.

getting the search imageI saw a lot of Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum) and eventually got the jizz of this rather common plant, with its single bare stem rising two and a half feet before sending out any leaves.

tricky focusMore bogs and bog specialty plants! This sketchy image of Cottongrass (Eriophorum sp.), a sedge, is from Orono Bog.

On the whole, the weather was very cooperative for both trips. I didn’t see rain until a layover in Boston on my return drive. Now that I look back at my trails map of Acadia National Park, I realize that I saw a lot of Mount Desert Island, but there’s still so much more to explore. I added nine birds to my ABA Area life list, running my total up to 423. Missed the Spruce Grouse, and I was disappointed not to find a Black-legged Kittiwake.

one for Callanand another for CallanOoh, and some Friday Fold candidates for Callan Bentley. These boulders were on the shore of Western Bay in the Indian Point Blagden Preserve.

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Enroute: 16

always stop for cable-stayedI should bumper-sticker Della with the warning, “I brake for cable-stayed bridges.” This is the Penobscot Narrows Bridge: I’m standing on the approach on the Verona Island side; Prospect is at the other end. You can just make out the windows of the observation deck at the top of the far tower.

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Enroute: 15

unexpectedBetween festivals, I stopped by Thuya Garden and Asticou Azalea Garden in Northeast Harbor — two lovely spots. The framing of the views in Asticou is exquisite. I figured out that Moosewood is the Down East name for our Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum). This was the first one that I’d seen in flower.

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Down East Spring Birding Festival 2018

winkLots of sights and sounds and smells at the festival. A Maine-sized thank you to trip leaders Fred Galenski, Amy Zipperer, Woody Gillies, Maury Mills, Amy Meehan, Bill Kolodnicki, Susan Cline, and Capt. Andy Patterson of the Barbara Frost, who took us on a safe but thrilling ride to Machias Seal Island for the first lifers of my trip.

best shoton the wingMy big target for this trip was Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica), but upon further inspection, I find the thin white lines on a Razorbill (Alca torda) more appealing.

hanging outI’ve seen Common Murres (Uria aalge) before, but only in the Pacific, so the bridled form (peculiar to the Atlantic) was new to me.

looking for flycatchersBack on land, Alder Flycatcher (Empidonax alnorum) was new to my ABA Area list (#419), a pleasant surprise when I compiled my notes from a visit to the Edmunds Unit of Moosehorn NWR. Guides pointed out the bird along this alder-lined stream. In the Barings Unit of the refuge, we heard Whip-Poor-Will (Caprimulgus vociferus) responding to recordings (no tick for me, since I don’t count heard-only birds).

unseenon the beachI was prepared to see craggy shores and tumultuous headlands, as at West Quoddy Head

foreground for scaleand Campobello Island, but

yumdrinkI wasn’t expecting an abundance of bogs and bog-specialty plants: Baked-apple Berry (Rubus chamaemorus) and Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea). Nor was I expecting to see bluets blooming like weeds in people’s yards.

target speciesthere you areI was looking specifically for Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) and found it in several places. Guides also pointed out Starflower (Trientalis borealis), as well as

little guysa clump of Alder Leaf Beetles (Agelastica alni). A rather larger animal, a Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum), crossed the road in front of me on my way to the dock at Cutler. In the category of even-larger mammals, we saw Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina) and one or two Gray Seals (Halichoerus grypus) on the way back from Machias Seal Island.

strongly interruptedInterrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana) is common here (as at home): I’ve never seen such strong color difference between the spore-bearing part of the plant and the rest of it.

Mystery lichen of the trip was a bright orange species, particularly fond of calcium-rich stone, like those used in the Lubec town cemetery.

Bonus francophone music for the road provided by ICI Musique.

Still working on a cumulative bird species tally for the trip.

nice tealyipes stripesAnd I do like my lighthouses: Little River Light at left, West Quoddy Head Light at right.

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At the park: 95

From my most recent report:

The not-so-good news is that five of our boxes showed no evidence of incubation, with eggs that had been laid four weeks prior — so we cleaned out those boxes. The much-better news is that we have new nests started in box #6 and our studio apartment, box #5. Box #6 would be a second brood, if it comes to term — it’s only one egg at present. We also have two, possibly three, nests still incubating.

* * *

A recent BirdNote featured Frank Bellrose and one of our favorite ducks: https://www.birdnote.org/show/frank-bellrose-and-wood-ducks

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National Arboretum

onerfairwayAfter my trip to the Dogwood Collection earlier this month to get a snap of the plaque honoring Louisa King, I returned to get a look at the trees in bloom. Protip: The garden was peopleless at 8:00 of a Saturday morning, right after the gates opened.

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Peirce Mill river herring 2018

downstreamNeil Fitzpatrick and Bill Yeaman led a walk to Rock Creek and the fish ladder established in 2007 to enable migratory river herring to swim around the man-made barrier of the dam at Peirce Mill. And our luck was great! Despite some muddy conditions in the stream, many Gizzard Shad (Dorosoma cepedianum) could be seen, working their way upstream. Alas, no acceptable photos acquired. (Note to future self: bring a longer lens and a little more patience.)

On our walk down the somewhat trippy Melvin Hazen Trail, the group spotted a single Louisiana Waterthrush (Seiurus motacilla).

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At the park: 94

From my report for last Sunday:

box 62, againThe birds appear to have hit the snooze button in response to the variable weather conditions. None of the nest has hatched out yet, while three new nests have started. Ever-popular box #62 is still incubating.


unhappy at box 60Unfortunately, it appears that the nest in box #67 has been abandoned. And the predator guard for box #60 was no match for a determined Common Raccoon (Procyon lotor), who consumed the eggs in the box. Box #60 is set rather low to the ground, on the bank of the channel; we should think about raising it or otherwise repositioning it.


We chased some paper wasps from box #67. I was cautious about seeing a wasp with yellow bands on the abdomen (as well as some wasps showing the more common all-black coloration), but it seems that several of the Polistes wasps in our area may show that feature, including the introduced P. dominula.

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Potomac River

Cathy Stragar and Stephanie Mason led a walk Sunday down the C&O Canal towpath from Point of Rocks to Monocacy, rescheduled from a rainy February day, and it was worth the delay: enough sun, not too cool, calm winds. And surprisingly birdy: I had 29 species on my list, and I think that the group detected a couple more. Top birds were a resting Barred Owl (Strix varia), spotted while we went off trail to measure the circumference of a 90-year-old Silver Maple; swarms of clean white-and-black Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis) drifting over farm fields; and skeins of migrating Tundra Swans (Cygnus columbianus), extremely high in the sky, identifiable only by voice. We nearly ran the table on mid-Atlantic woodpeckers, missing only (as you might expect) the Red-headed.

TIL the broken and peeled twigs of Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) smell (to me) like stale bittersweet chocolate.

getting startedUp and down the trail, the flowers of Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) were just starting to peep out from their shielding foliage.

first oneCathy pointed out winter stoneflies that were starting to emerge, and she found the single Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) that had opened up.

hulk down by the bankAt river’s edge, a venerable Silver Maple was holding on. We covered the six miles in about 6:45, which is fast for this bunch of naturalists.

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At the park: 93

Monitoring of nest boxes for Wood Duck and Hooded Merganser has commenced at Huntley Meadows. We had planned to get started on 25 February, but we were rained out. From my first report:

As I expected, we already have nests started in the boxes. What I didn’t expect was that we have FIVE nests started, 4 Hooded Merganser and 1 Wood Duck. First out of the gate was the merg hen in box #67, already with 10 eggs.

Paul reported that box #13 may need some additional (unspecified) maintenance….

Interesting birds of the day included a Northern Harrier and one of our new regulars, Red-headed Woodpecker.

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Cheverly parks

Sunday afternoon, I crossed over to the east side of the city to walk, bird, and botanize with Matt Salo in two parks in Cheverly, Md.: the Nature Park and the wilder bits of Cheverly-Euclid Neighborhood Park. The Nature Park, located at the highest point in Cheverly, is notable for populations of Chestnut Oak (Quercus montana) and Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia). This location might be home to the nearest patches of Mountain Laurel to the District line.

starletThere wasn’t too much happening with the birds, but we did turn up some earthstars (likely Geastrium triplex) near a patch of moss.

Cheverly’s bedrock is the Potomac Group from the lower Cretaceous, sand-gravel and silt-clay units. Nevertheless, I am surprised by the sometimes steep topography of this area. It doesn’t feel like we’re on the Coastal Plain at all.

The Euclid park doesn’t have organized trails, just deer trails and social trails. Matt and a group of volunteers are managing a clearing for native grasses and Liatris pilosa. We glimpsed a Bald Eagle in the air, and heard at last one Barred Owl.

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Great Backyard Bird Count 2018

melting fastOn the Sunday after our brief snows, I made a very fast trip to the Glade. Only 15 species in 0:45, and a couple of expected species that didn’t show. But I got my RSHA.

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Patuxent River

catching raysStephanie Mason and Cathy Stragar led a walk to two locations along the Prince George’s side of Jug Bay. Snow flurries as I arrived at the park; up in the woods, out of the wind, temperatures were tolerable. We focused on plants and animals that manage to make a living, a little photosynthesis, under cold winter conditions. We enjoyed lightly scratching the bark of thin-barked trees like American Beech and Carpinus caroliniana to see the green evidence of chlorophyll just underneath. We stopped for drifts of evergreen lycopodium nearly covering the forest floor, not shaded out now that the leaves are down. The fuzzy underside of the dead but moist leaf of a Mockernut Hickory is quite pleasantly velour-y.

restingWe drive to Selby’s Landing, and then walked down to the bridge over Mattaponi Creek. A new birder in our group got a look at a small museum of Cedar Waxwings, feeding on Winterberry.

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