Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bird-a-thon 2009

Yesterday and Friday evening, Mark and I participated in MassAudubon’s Bird-a-thon, which is a 24-hour birding competition and fundraiser held during mid-May. We have participated in Bird-a-thon since 1995 and bird for the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary team. Up until last year, we covered the Outer Cape but we wanted to bird closer to home so now our territory includes Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA and the Greater Boston area.

We started Bird-a-thon on Friday night. We had ourselves strategically situated at our first stop, Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge (GMNWR) in Concord, so that at the stroke of 6:00PM we would be off and birding. Our target birds at this location were Common Moorhen and Pied-billed Grebe. While we dipped on the Grebe, the Moorhen was an easier find as it called from deep in the marshes allowing us only a glimpse or two of its colorful plumage and bill.

From GMNWR we went to Hanscom Field in Bedford to search for Upland Sandpiper. While we dipped on the Sandpiper I was able to digi-scope this Bobolink pecking at something on the edge of a signpost.

We birded until 8:30PM and even though we dipped on two of our targets we tallied 36 species for the evening.

On Saturday morning, we were up at O’dark-thirty and birded a local pond and thicket before heading to Mount Auburn Cemetery. We arrived at the Cemetery at 6:30AM and met up with our good friend Mike. It was a relatively quiet morning but we wandered the many roads and paths looking and listening for birds. During our wanders, we met up with another birding friend, Leslie, who joined us for a few hours before heading north to Newmarket, NH to look for nesting Mississippi Kites! Leslie and I share the same viewpoint when it comes to cameras - we would rather be behind the lens instead of in front of the lens. She quickly dodged out of range as I took this photo.

At one point, I took a side trip along the Indian Ridge Path where I spotted this American Robin with a huge amount of nesting material in its bill! It hopped a few feet along a small cement wall, looked at me, hopped a few feet more, and looked at me again. I wondered if it would be able to fly to its nest site with all of the material it was carrying. I did not stay long enough to find out though - I felt like the robin was waiting to make its flight without any witnesses. I quietly walked away.

One cannot bird Mount Auburn Cemetery without taking time to stop smell the flowers. There are so many annuals and perennials to be admired such as this beautiful Peony.

There are also pockets of wild flowers tucked here and there such as this pocket of Trillium, Hay-scented Fern, and Violets located near The Dell.

After birding Mount Auburn, we went back to GMNWR to try again for the Grebe and to find the Moorhen for Mike – he has not seen one in over 20 years and has never seen one in the state! As we were walking toward the refuge, we found this cute juvenile Snapping Turtle trying to cross a fairly well traveled road. I snapped this photo before setting it on the other side of the road so that it could continue its journey. A face only a mother could love!

Once we were on the path to the Moorhen we saw this Least Sandpiper feeding along the edge. It did not seem to mind that it was the center of attention as it was hungrily searching for something to eat.

While we dipped again on the Grebe we were able to find the Moorhen for Mike! Definitely worth the trip back to the refuge. On our way out of the refuge we saw several patches of Lady Slippers along the Edge Trail.

After GMNWR, Mike and Leslie went their separate ways and Mark and I continued birding. We ended Bird-a-thon at the Martin Burns Wildlife Management Area in Newbury where we had our last birds of the day (Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Prairie Warbler, and Field Sparrow). By the time 6:00PM rolled around we added another 56 species to our list for a total of 92 species for Bird-a-thon 2009. I enjoy this type of birding competition because it challenges you to use your birding skills in a completely different way and allows you to help raise funds for MassAudubon so they can continue their stewardship of conservation lands and educational programs.

For more info about Bird-a-thon go to

Sunday, May 3, 2009


One of my favorite things to do during spring and fall migration is to get on my bicycle and go birding! Birding-by-bike is truly a wonderful experience and I think it is one of the best ways to bird an area that you would otherwise drive. There are some challenges when birding-by-bike though. For example, how do you carry all of your birding gear – you know binoculars, scope, tripod, field guides, water, and a few munchies. As you can see in the photo below, I have attached an expandable bike bag on to the rear fender of my bike and I fill it with small essentials and munchies that will carry me through a ride. I then strap my scope securely on top of the bike bag and place a field guide in the back pocket so that it is handy.

I use a Cordura tripod backpack to carry my tripod. It has padded shoulder straps and a zippered pocket that allows me to carry more stuff but I do not use this pocket when birding-by-bike because I do not like having anything poking me in the back as I am peddling. Once the tripod backpack straps are adjusted and the tripod legs are fully retracted it is a comfortable set up. To complete my set up, I strap my binoculars over my shoulders and the tripod backpack so that I can use them with relative ease during the bike ride.

On my first birding-by-bike trip, I had my scope attached to the tripod, which I then carried on my back. I learned very quickly that that was not a good set up since the scope was constantly whacking the back of my head! In addition, carrying all that weight on my back while biking was taxing so the set up I use now suits me just fine.

While birding-by-bike, you hear and see so much more than you would from your car and you have greater freedom of movement to explore areas you may otherwise drive by. For example, on a birding-by-bike trip that Mark and I led just yesterday morning we were able to listen to and watch a small pocket of warblers flitting among the shrubs before moving on to our next stop.

We were also hearing and seeing birds in-between our stops that we would have otherwise missed if we birding by car. Mark and I are fortunate that some of our friends also enjoy birding-by-bike and they are eager to join us on our trips, rain or shine.

I cannot think of a better way to spend a morning in May!