Block (Island) Party

  Birds are a miracle because they prove to us there is a finer, simpler state of being which we may strive to attain.  Douglas Coupland
 The Tree Swallow invasion at Plum Island occurred right on time.  Actually, for me, a week earlier than ‘right on time.’  Last year my first look at the Tree Swallows at Plum Island was on August 15. This year my first look was on August 8th. As it was last year, when I passed parking lot #1, they were there by the thousands, covering the road at times and erupting from the trees along the road.  It’s a sight that you never get used to. 
Tree Swallows, Plum Island.  Photos by John Harrison.
In addition to seeing the Tree Swallows that day, there were also shore birds in the marsh along the road, including a nice, close look at some Sanderlings.  
Sanderlings, Plum Island.  Photos by John Harrison.
Here are a few videos of the Tree Swallows:  
 We had many opportunities to watch and photograph the Waltham Bald Eagles.  The two adults and their one fledgling did a lot of flying for us and we even caught them on the ground a few times.  They would often sit atop of a tall pine and perch for a long time.  We knew if we were patient they would eventually take off and our patience rewarded us with some magnificent take-off moments.
Bald Eagles takeoffs.  Photos by John Harrison.
Bald Eagle fledgling.  Photos by John Harrison.
Here are some video of the fledgling on the ground  drinking and walking around and on tree limbs. 
  Our magical Peregrine Falcon summer wound down in August.  We were seeing less and less of the four fledglings, which was as it should be.  They gave us an exciting season and in the fall they disperse to find their own territories.  We wish these fledglings luck.   We’ll never forget this magnificent Peregrine season.  A special shout-out and thank you to Peregrine Whisperer Craig Gibson.  He formed the Peregrine Monitor Group to watch, photograph and chronicle the Peregrine season.  The twenty members of the group submitted photographs and each member will have a photo in an exhibit at Hunt’s Photo in Melrose.  Bids can be placed on these photos, the proceeds benefiting  Mass Audubon’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum,  The opening reception of this exhibit will be at Hunt’s Photo on Sunday, Nov. 04, 2018 from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m.
Peregrine Falcon Fledgling.  Photo by Craig Gibson.   Hunt’s Photo Benefit Auction announcement.
  On Sunday, August 12th, as we were waiting for the Peregrines to show themselves, we heard some noises from one of the nearby dumpsters that sounded like animal noises.  We carefully looked into the dumpster and there were two Raccoons at the bottom.  It was easy enough for them to drop down into the dumpster, but they were unable to get out.  We put a couple of wooden pallets that were next to the dumpster into it so the Raccoons could climb out, which they quickly did.  But as this was going on, the two Raccoons were fighting with each other. 
Raccoons at the Woburn cliffs.  Photos by John Harrison.
In late August in Gloucester we had some exciting looks at Otters.  In past years we could always count on watching Little Blue Herons, especially juveniles, at this pond with only an occasional look
at the Otters.
 Otters in Gloucester.  Photos by John Harrison.
Little Blue Heron adult in Gloucester.  Photos by John Harrison.
 September started off with a bang.  A gray morph Screech Owl was back in the same tree cavity at Mount Auburn Cemetery where we enjoyed it last year.  We figure it’s the same one but of course we can’t be sure.  It was molting when we first discovered it and looked kind of goofy.  But after a couple of weeks the molt was over and it looked really good.
Screech Owl, Mount Auburn Cemetery, molting, early September.  Photos by John Harrison.
Screech Owl, Mount Auburn Cemetery, after molt.  Photos by John Harrison. This one was seen several times at that part of the pond and it (or another one?) was seen at Willow Pond.
Barred Owl, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photos by John Harrison. we had a couple of encounters with a juvenile Cooper’s hawk at a few locations in the cemetery.
Cooper’s Hawk, juvenile, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photos by John Harrison.
Green Herons, Black’s Nook, Fresh Pond, Cambridge.  Photos by John Harrison. 
In the midst of all of this end-of-season activity, photographer Jim Renault and his family went to Scotland for a week.  He sent me a photo of a quite striking bird that looked to me like a warbler.  Jim informed me that it was a European Robin.  Something is definitely lost in the translation when comparing American Robins and European Robins.  Kind of like the comparison of Cedar Waxwings and Bohemian Waxwings. We imported some European Starlings at one time in our history and now there are zillions of them.  Why haven’t any of these magnificent European Robins been brought here?  It would be nice to have both varieties (though our own Robins would be jealous of their European cousins).  Once back home, Jim caught a couple of Blackpoll Warblers, a Kingfisher and a Great Crested Flycatcher at Sandy Beach, Mystic Lakes at the beginning of October.
European Robin.  Photo by Jim Renault.          Kingfisher.  Photo by John Harrison
Blackpoll Warblers (L), Great Crested Flycatcher (R).  Photos by Jim Renault.
On September 21st photographer Kim Nagy and I boarded the high-speed ferry at Port Judith, RI for the thirty minute ride to Block Island  (New Shoreham, RI). 
High Speed Ferry, Port Judith, RI.  Photos by John Harrison.
Kim Nagy aboard High Speed Ferry, Port Judith, RI.  Photos by John Harrison.
It’s a well known birders’ location with fall migrant and shore bird activity.  Kim Nagy had explored Block Island last September and had many opportunities to photograph the warblers that were passing through.  So she knew where we would find these birds.  As soon as we arrived we made our way – by taxi –  to Andy’s Way beach for shore birds.  At first we were disappointed.  It was low tide, the best time to catch shore birds.  But there was no sign of them.  We wandered around for a while and then noticed a pair of Oyster Catchers fly to the edge of the water, not far from us.
Oyster Catchers, Andy’s Way Beach, Block Island.  Photos by Kim Nagy.
We were able to watch them for almost an hour before they flew to another part of the beach, too far away for photographs. also had several Semi-palmated Plovers at this beach. Another surprise was thousands of Tree Swallows.
  Tree Swallows, Block Island.  Photo by Kim Nagy.    Kim photographing Tree Swallows.           Photo by John Harrison.                                                                                     .
That, however, was all we were able to find on the beach.  In 2017 at this beach Kim Nagy also had Black-bellied Plovers and other species but we didn’t see them this time.  We were very fortunate to .
have Block Islander Bill Lambert as our guide.
Our very excellent guide Bill Lambert and Kim Nagy.  Clay Head Bluffs.  Photos by John Harrison.
He took us to Kim Gaffett’s beautiful home, with a great ocean view, about a half mile or more along a rough unpaved road.  Kim is a Master Bird Bander of the Block Island Bird Banding Station and is a naturalist at the TNC Block Island Program.  Without Bill I doubt that we would have managed to get to this house.  Kim and her assistant, Rachel, had waited for us to get there so we could watch them band a few birds – a couple of Red-eyed Vireos (one of my favorite species), three Catbirds and a Dark_eyed Junco.
 Bander Kim Gaffett and her assistant Rachel with banded birds about to be released.  Photos by John Harrison.
It was fascinating watching this activity.  They catch these birds in the mist nets around the property and then band and release them.  This helps us learn more about birds and their activities and therefore enables us to discover their travel patterns and do things to help them.
Red-eyed Vireo being released.  Photos by Kim Nagy.
Kim Gaffett is dedicated to this process and has been an important Block Island scientist.  And for us, witnessing this process was an education.  While there we all took a walk along the path over Clay Head Bluffs. It was perfect habitat for warblers and last year Kim saw many of them along this path but as Kim Gaffett explained, the wind lately hadn’t been right to bring down the migrants so we didn’t get to see even one.  But watching the banding was enough to satisfy us.  Next year we’ll visit Block island again and maybe we’ll have better luck with migrants.  Here’s a look at the banding experience.  ;
Block Island is also well known for its magnificent sunrises and sunsets.  While Bill Lambert was driving us to a great sunset location, he twice discovered deer along unpaved roads.  He was a fantastic spotter.
 Deer spotted by Bill Lambert, Block Island.  Photos by John Harrison.
Unfortunately clouds had moved in and the sunset wasn’t what we had hoped, but the moon-rise was good and we caught a good sunrise on another beach that morning.  Block Island is Rhode Island’s answer to Cape Cod and Plum Island and I look forward to our visit next year.
   The new season and fall migration are upon us.  Some of the ‘confusing fall warblers’ have begun filtering in.  The Blackpoll Warblers have been at the Mystic Lakes berry trees already and Yellow-rumped Warblers are being seen in increasing numbers there too.
Backpoll Warbler (L) and Yellow-rumped Warbler (R) Mystic Lakes.  Photos by John Harrison.
Mount Auburn Cemetery is welcoming migrants as well.  I saw my first fall Black-throated Green
Warbler on Indian Ridge on Friday, Oct. 5th.
 Black-throated Green Warbler, Mount Auburn Cemetery, Indian Ridge.  Photos by John Harrison.
Of course, once fall migration is in full swing, the question we birders ask is “When will the first Snowy Owl sighting occur?
 Snowy Owl, Salisbury Beach, March, 2018.  Photo
 by John Harrison.
If this year’s Snowy Owl season is anything close to last year’s, we have a lot to look forward to.  Our collective fingers are crossed!
Sunrise on Block Island.  Photos by John Harrison