Sunday, October 30, 2011

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis
23 October 2011
Each fall we eagerly look forward to the arrival of Dark-eyed Juncos to our backyard, despite the fact that they are heralds of impending winter. This year we have been especially blessed to have at least a dozen of them regularly scratching through the leaves and mulch to find food, including bird seed which we strew everywhere. The birds are adept at finding it no matter how well concealed and it seems to minimize the competition from the ever-present squirrels.
This individual, whom we have named Stubby, has lost his tail in some earlier misadventure. Perhaps a predator was only able to seize the tail and was left with nothing more than a mouthful of feathers. In any event it seems not to present any serious impediment and Stubby is a welcome daily visitor.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Montezuma NWR, NY and Cape Cod, MA

Trip Report
Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, New York
Cape Cod, Massachussetts

6 October 2011 – 10 October 2011

David M. Gascoigne and Miriam Bauman

6 October 2011
Waterloo – Montezuma NWR – Westfield, MA

I needed to go into Toronto before heading out on our trip, so we left home at 05:05. The sky was clear and the temperature was 5.5 C.
As usual I met my crews at 06:30, dispatched them to their jobs, and we were able to leave for the border at 07:45. The sun was already up and everything pointed to a fine day ahead.
We arrived at the border crossing between Queenston, ON and Lewiston, NY at 09:15 and were happy to note that the traffic was light. We went through US Immigration with no more formality than in pre 9/11 times, perhaps less in fact. The agent asked us only two questions and waved us on. We were clear by 09:37.
We travelled down the Niagara Parkway towards Buffalo, NY and joined up with the NY State Thruway (I-90), which would take us all the way to the Massachusetts Turnpike. The sides of the expressway were well-maintained, the grass was trimmed everywhere and the whole area was free of garbage. We couldn't figure out whether the entire highway had been adopted, although there were no signs to indicate this, or whether the threat of fines had convinced people not to throw out litter. In any event it was quite immaculate.
At 10:30 we stopped at a service centre to use the facilities and gazed at a kettle of Turkey Vultures circling overhead. By now the temperature had climbed to 13 C.
At 11:55 we arrived at Montezuma NWR, a wonderful wetland with a driving trail of about 8 km with viewing areas along the way. Our first observations were from the deck at the visitors' centre and a nearby observation tower. Canada Goose was the preeminent species, but there was also a good number of Mallard, with American Black Duck, Wood Duck, Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal and other species too.
Along the driving trail there was a large number of American Coot and Pied-billed Grebe. Miriam spotted two adult Bald Eagles in a tree, and we saw another one flying over the wetland. Surprisingly, the ducks didn't seem perturbed by this, although I am quite sure that any injured bird would have summarily fallen prey to the eagle.
We left the refuge at 13:45 under a bright, blue sky and a temperature of 17.5 C, since we still had almost four hours to drive before stopping for the night.
We crossed the state line into Massachussetts at 17:30 and were pleasantly surprised to be told there was no toll charge when we exited at Westfield, where our accommodation (Econo Lodge) was just a minute or so past the ramp.
Theonly places to eat were fast food restaurants so we went into town to a pub on the recommendation of the front desk. When we found the pub, it was poorly lit, and we had the feeling that it would be a sports bar or at the very least a place with noise and loud music, so we headed back towards the motel. We ate at a Friendlys restaurant, which was not a particularly good choice, but we chose items from their High 5 menu of $5.00 entrees and it did the job. We split a chicken salad and a chicken wrap with fries.
At least the restaurant was close to the Econo Lodge and we were back in our room by 19:30. We made coffee in the room and relaxed for the evening.

Accommodation: Econo Lodge ($88.22 including tax). Rating: 3.5 stars.

All species 6 October – Canada Goose, Wood Duck, American Wigeon, American Black Duck, Mallard,, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, Great Blue Heron, Double-crested Cormorant, Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, American Coot, Greater Yellowlegs, Ring-billed Gull, Common Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, American Crow, Northern Mockingbird, Common Starling, Red-winged Blackbird.

7 October 2011
Westfield, MA – East Orleans, MA

We were awake early and by a little after 04:30 were having a coffee in bed. We will be eternally grateful to the individual who first conceived of placing coffee makers in motel rooms!
We showered and went for breakfast at 06:00, had a bagel and cream cheese, and more coffee. Miriam grabbed a couple of apples for us to eat later.
By 06:30 we were on our way. The temperature was a cool 4 C, shortly dropping to only 2. However, as we motored along the sun came up, with the augury of a beautiful day ahead of us. At 08:53 we crossed the Bourne Bridge and were on the Cape.
Our first birding destination was the Fish Hatchery in Sandwich where the birding was sparse, but enjoyable nonetheless. There were lots of White-throated Sparrows, a lone Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a couple of Grey Catbirds. Numerous crows flocked to the edges of the various fish ponds, but we were never able to determine why. They seemed not to be feeding but there was evidently some attraction to being there, since when they were flushed they quickly returned to the same location.
We located the Sandwich shore where we enjoyed a long walk out to the ocean on a boardwalk, seeing various species on the way and enjoying the smell of salt water in the air. We chatted with another birder (the only one we would encounter) and he pointed us along the beach where about a kilometre distant we found numerous Common Eiders swimming in heavy swells. There were also White-winged Scoters and Horned Grebes. Three Buff-bellied (American) Pipits flew right above our heads. Laughing Gulls were ubiquitous with a smattering of American Herring Gulls and the odd Great Black-backed Gull.

Lunch was taken at Beth's Special Teas and Bakery, a delightful little establishment. We both chose a soup and half sandwich combination. Miriam's soup was a delicious, piping hot butternut squash and apple soup, while I opted for a herring chowder which was quite exceptional. We each had a chicken cesar wrap, mine spinach and Miriam's whole grain. Miriam had a coffee, but I was content with water with a slice of lemon. The service was efficient and pleasant. Our ears were constantly assailed by a strange choice of music played far too loud, but the food and the location were beyond reproach.
At 12:40 we were back in the car. We had bright sunshine and a 15 degree temperature.
A stop at the Bass River Rod and Gun Club in Yarmouth was not especially productive, but we did see several Pied-billed Grebes, a pair of American Wigeon and a lone Mute Swan. It was delightful to bask in the sun on a deck overlooking the Tom Matthews Pond.
We then proceeded to Gray's Beach where we saw three Myrtle Warblers in the scrub vegetation around the parking lot. The highlight of a walk to the end of a long boardwalk was to watch a Laughing Gull locate, dismember and quickly swallow two crabs. The digestive enzymes of this bird must be efficient indeed. The crabs were coated in mud and slime, but it was swallowed with gusto, carapace, claws and all. Once the crab was “down the hatch” the bird stood for a couple of minutes, as though to digest in place.
Back in the car, we drove to Orleans to the end of Mill Pond Road. It was high tide, so our birding opportunities were limited. Several Myrtle Warblers flitted around in the bushes and Double-crested Cormorants predominated on the water.
At 15:40 we headed for our B & B (The Parsonage) in East Orleans, arriving there at 15:45. We were shown around by Liz and got settled into the Maple Room which we had booked on line before leaving home. The room and the establishment in general were very pleasant, and Liz and her husband Ian were convivial hosts.
I walked down the road a short way and picked up a bottle of Chilean Merlot. We each enjoyed a glass before dinner. Upon the recommendation of Liz we went to a local eatery called Joe's. It was expensive and not especially good. We shared an order of “Killer Wings” which were barely “Wounder Wings” let alone killer wings – five wings for $8.99. Miriam had an arugula salad and I had a red and yellow beet salad. These dishes were not bad, but the predominant taste in each of them was a very sweetly coated pecan. The juice from the beets was quite acidic and flowed merrily around the plate coating everything else.
We walked back to our room and had another glass of wine before turning in early.

Accommodation: The Parsonage Inn ($138.55 per night, including tax.) Rating: Four stars.

All species 7 October – Wild Turkey, Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Wigeon, Mallard, Common Eider, White-winged Scoter, Pied-billed Grebe, Horned Grebe, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Double-crested Cormorant, Grey Plover, Greater Yellowlegs, Bonaparte's Gull, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, American Herring Gull, Common Pigeon, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Barn Swallow, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Grey Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Common Starling, American Robin, House Sparrow, Buff-bellied Pipit, American Goldfinch, Myrtle Warbler, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Northern Cardinal.

8 October 2011
Various locations on Cape Cod

We awoke at about 06:15 after a great night's sleep. The bed was very comfortable indeed. We made a pot of coffee, then showered and got dressed.
We had made arrangements the previous evening to show up for breakfast a little earlier than the regular time, since we had to be at the Massachussets Audubon property in Wellfleet by 09:00 and we didn't know how long it would take us to get there. So, we sallied in at 07:45 instead of the normal first seating of 08:00.
We both had coffee, Miriam also had orange juice. There was honeydew melon and then what was described as a fritata with a little round of some kind of processed ham. It was certainly not a fritata! It resembled a kind of egg souffle and was pretty tasteless. Miriam followed up with a slice of coffee cake.
At 08:30 we were on our way with the temperature already 15 C and blue skies throughout. We found the wildlife sanctuary without any problem and were in the parking lot by 08:45. The birding right at the visitors' centre was very active. Many Eastern Bluebirds were massing for migration, and there were Chipping Sparrows, Field Sparrows, Carolina Wrens, a Nashville Warbler, an Eastern Towhee and many other species right there.
We checked inside and were told where to wait for the leader of the walk. There seemed to be some confusion as to who exactly was conducting the outing, since a woman first announced to us that she was the leader, but then a staff biologist named Mark insisted that he had been assigned to our group. He won out and was a very competent leader with whom everyone in our small group was happy. We were the only “real” birders; others were people who had a general interest in nature, and decided that the walk would be a worthwhile outing on a pleasant Saturday morning. How right they were!
Pokeweed had gone to seed and seemed to be a magnet for migrating birds. The seeds of this herb are toxic to mammals but not to birds. The birding was simply quite terrific and species included Palm Warbler, Pine Warbler, five species of woodpecker, and a variety of shorebirds, herons and egrets. Various habitats produced different species.
In addition to the birds Green Darners were plentiful and we saw several Autumn Meadowhawks. Mourning Cloak butterflies flitted around in the warm air.
The walk was scheduled for two hours duration but Mark prolonged it to over three hours to compensate for the bulk of his time spent in the office. One participant had to leave us a little early, but everyone else completed the circuit.
Having left the sanctuary we found a small roadside restaurant, Catch of the Day, for lunch. Miriam had a crab sandwich and I had a lobster roll. Both were okay, but certainly not memorable. This would be the first of two lobster rolls I had, having remembered them from a previous visit to Cape Cod many years earlier. The was no stinting on the lobster but there was so much mayonnaise added that basically that was all that one tasted. The two sandwiches, with tax and a tip totalled forty bucks, hardly a bargain. But, we consistently found the Cape expensive and there was no sign of the economic difficulties one reads and hears about. Many hostelries displayed no vacancy signs – in October, no less.
By 13:35 we were heading north. The temperature had climbed to 20 degrees and it felt more like summer than fall. We stopped at the Cape Cod National Seashore pavilion and then headed for the Race Point parking lot, described as one of the best pelagic lookout points on the Cape. The dunes were too high to permit viewing from the parking lot, so we headed down to the beach. There were shearwaters off in the distance and a couple of jaegers too, but given the heat shimmer and the far off looks, it was impossible to identify anything.
We drove to Provincetown Harbour where we hoped to park and walk down to the waterfront, but the entire town was thronged with people, all the while promenading down the middle of the streets. The book “Birding Cape Cod” recommended parking on Commercial Street and walking to the harbour, but this was completely impossible. It was hard to even drive down the street, so dense was the pedestrian traffic.

We gave up and headed for Eastham, the temperature now 25 degrees. Our destination was Fort Hill, where we hoped we might find Saltmarsh Sparrow in the phragmites and other coastal vegetation, but no such luck. It was pleasant to be there, however, and we enjoyed our walk, seeing mainly gulls and cormorants. We checked the gulls for a possible late Black-legged Kittiwake, but none were to be found.
We left at 16:30 to return to our B & B. I went out later to pick up sandwiches for dinner in the room. They were not especially good, but they filled the void!
We played Boggle for a while and turned in early.

All species 8 October –Wild Turkey, Brant Goose, American Black Duck, Black Scoter, Green Heron, Great Blue Heron, Double-crested Cormorant, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Grey Plover, Greater Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper, Sanderling, White-rumped Sandpiper, Dunlin, Bonaparte's Gull, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, American Herring Gull, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher (heard only), Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Tree Swallow, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Carolina Wren, Red-breasted Nuthatch (heard only), White-breasted Nuthatch, Grey Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Common Starling, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, House Sparrow, American Goldfinch, House Finch, Tennessee Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Myrtle Warbler, Pine Warbler, Palm Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, Red-winged Blackbird, Rusty Blackbird, Common Grackle, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Savannah Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Northern Cardinal.

9 October 2011
East Orleans, MA – Westfield, MA

We were awake by 06:30 and made coffee in the room.
At 08:00 we went down for breakfast which was served on the patio this morning, with the temperature around 20 C. We started with coffee and a slice of canteloupe. Miriam also had apple cake and she opted for French toast, of which I am not particularly fond, so I passed on that. I had a bowl of cold cereal. Miriam said that the French toast was pretty soggy but the delicious apple cake more than compensated.
The rooms at this B & B are really terrific and the hosts friendly and efficient, but the breakfasts are mediocre at best.
We said goodbye to Ian and Liz and were on the road to Wellfleet Harbour by 08:50. The temperature was now 23 degrees.
On the way to Wellfleet we had the nearest miss of a serious road collision that we have ever had the misfortune to experience. We were travelling at highway speed (80km/hr) when a car came out of a side road without stopping, right in front of us. I had to swerve or I would have broadsided the car, but this put me in the path of oncoming traffic, also travelling at highway speed. Fortunately, the car coming towards me was able to drive onto the shoulder to avoid a head-on collision. Ironically, we had previously been driving on a stretch of the highway which has no shoulder. Had we been there, the outcome would have been quite different.
Upon arrival at Wellfleet Harbour we stopped at Uncle Tim's Bridge and walked across it, but birds were almost non-existent. We then went to the town pier, but other than gulls and cormorants there was little else.
At 10:00 we left to go to the Nauset Light overlooking Nauset Beach. A Tufted Titmouse and a few Song Sparrows were in the coastal scrub, and out over the water several small skeins of White-winged Scoters, ultimately to be joined by Black Scoters also. A couple of Red-throated Loons were agreeable sightings. There was a large number of terns diving for fish, predominantly Common Terns but mixed in were a few lingering Roseate Terns, our only lifer for the trip. Seals were numerous and easily seen and heard but we don't know the species.
We left at noon and stopped at a roadside eatery called Box Lunch. It took forever to get served and the sandwiches which we ate outside at a picnic table, were dismal. Miriam's was called a Whale Watcher, described as a seafood salad. She said that had she not known what it was it could have been anything soaked in mayonnaise. I opted for a creation called Gilded Lobster, similarly drowned in mayo, but having little squares of avocado and melted Swiss cheese. The whole thing was microwaved so that parts were incredibly hot and other parts cold. I have to say the squares of avocado just about burned through my tongue. I don't remember the price, but once again it was expensive for dross.
We left for Woods Hole with the temperature an incredible 29.5 C.
Arriving at Woods Hole at 14:00 we found a parking spot on the street and walked down to the harbour. It was almost devoid of birds, but it was enjoyable to walk around town and watch the ferries leave for Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.
We departed at 14:45, arriving at the Econo Lodge at Westfield where we had stayed on the way down at 17:45. We relaxed for a while, then I picked up a couple of salads at Wendy's and took them back to the room. They really weren't bad. One was a spicy chicken cesar, the other a kind of Cobb salad. I also got a couple of orders of chicken nuggets.
We were in bed by about 20:30.

All species 9 October – Brant Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, White-winged Scoter, Black Scoter, Red-throated Loon, Double-crested Cormorant, Turkey Vulture, Bonaparte's Gull, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, American Herring Gull, Roseate Tern, Common Tern, Common Pigeon, Blue Jay, American Crow, Tufted Titmouse, Northern Mockingbird, American Robin, House Sparrow, Song Sparrow.

10 October 2011
Westfield, MA - Waterloo, ON

We were up before 5:30 and went for breakfast at 06:00. It was pretty standard fare for a complimentary continental breakfast at a motel and we had cereal and a bagel and cream cheese. Again Miriam grabbed a couple of apples for later.
By 06:20 we were on our way and even in the dark we could see that the colours of the fall foliage had deepened substantially since we had passed this way a few days earlier.
We arrived at Montezuma NWR at 10:45 under blue skies with a temperature of 20 degrees. There was a lone Greater White-fronted Goose mixed in with the Canada Geese viewable from the platform at the Visitors' Centre. Among several female Wood Ducks was a stunning male.
As we had done on the way down we drove the wildlife perimeter road and had great birding. We added Common Gallinule and Solitary Sandpiper to the species we had seen on out last visit.
We really enjoyed Montezuma and I am sure we will return there again.
After two hours in the refuge we left to go into Seneca Falls for lunch at Parker's Grille and Tap House. Miriam had a strange kind of pizza which came without tomato sauce, but it was quite good. I had a pulled pork sandwich with sweet potato fries, which was also quite good.
We hit the road again at 13:50, the temperature now registering 25 degrees.
When we arrived at the border post there was a great deal more traffic than we had encountered on the way down. It took almost an hour to get across but we were through by17:04 and heading for home.
The journey was uneventful and we were pulling into our driveway at 18:45.

All species 10 October - Canada Goose, Wood Duck, Gadwall, American Wigeon, American Black Duck, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Pied-billed Grebe, Great Blue Heron, Double-crested Cormorant, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Common Gallinule, American Coot, Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper, Ring-billed Gull, American Herring Gull, Common Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, American Crow, Common Starling, House Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal.


Marcia Balestri, helpful as always, provided details of her previous trips and copies of her sightings.

David Spector was especially helpful and provided much useful information based on his personal experiences at the Cape.

More information: David M. Gascoigne or Miriam Bauman, tel: 519 725-0866, email:

Complete list: This blog does not lend itself to the spread sheet format we use, but we'd be happy to forward it on request.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Maple Trees from Heritage Stock

Maple Trees from Heritage Stock

We have always tried to achieve carbon offsets in compensation for the greenhouse gases we create when we travel. Usually this has involved planting trees, which, while not active carbon sinks at the time of planting, become significant absorbers of carbon dioxide as they mature.
My brother-in-law, Dave Metzger, retired from active farming several years ago, and has taken an ever greater interest in the environment and its wildlife now that he is freed from the burden of using his land only for the purpose of making a living. Dave has lived on the same corner of Highway 86 and Manser Road in Wellesley Township for all of his seventy years, so he has witnessed the numerous changes that have occurred over a long span, and he has often commented on the effects of modern farming on wildlife. To give just one example, he remembers vividly the Bobolinks which populated the area when he was a boy, and recalls their joyful song, a constant feature of spring. He made the comment that migrant Bobolinks from the pampas of Argentina were his companions. These grassland birds nested in the fields of Dave's boyhood and were able to raise their young when the first cut of hay did not occur until June and some fields were left fallow to regenerate their nutrients. With chemical farming, earlier and more frequent cuts, increased mechanization, these birds enliven the landscape no longer.
Dave has embarked on a programme of planting native maples on his farm as part of a group called Maple Leaves Forever ( . This wonderful organization sponsors the proliferation of native maple saplings and provides them to landowners on a cost-shared basis. They assure that the trees come from a certified Canadian seed source, that they are compatible with the hardiness zone in which they are planted and reflect the arboreal patrimony of the area.
At a family gathering earlier this year, Dave mentioned his activity to me (he had already planted twenty-eight trees) and I agreed to split his portion of the cost on the next batch he planted. I am getting off very easily, of course, since Dave does all the work involved.
Yesterday, Miriam and I had the great pleasure of going to see “our” thirty trees, and we will be doing more in the future. Dave has done a marvellous job of planting and the saplings look healthy and well-established. Some are already showing considerable growth. This truly is a great programme and one which we hope will spread and flourish throughout the region.
Dave's grandson Bennett helped him with the planting and Dave is already telling Bennett that in twenty years he will need to pick him up at the nursing home so that he can see how his trees are progressing!

I am proud to call Dave Metzger my brother-in-law and I salute his commitment to the restoration of  some of the natural landscape we have eliminated.

Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that the land on which we are situated are the lands traditionally used by the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, and Neutral People. We also acknowledge the enduring presence and deep traditional knowledge, laws, and philosophies of the Indigenous Peoples with whom we share this land today. We are all treaty people with a responsibility to honour all our relations.