Thursday, July 5, 2012

Birding by Habitat - 6/23/2012

On June 23rd I was joined by four other SSBC members for a day of birding in a variety of habitats found throughout southeastern Massachusetts.  We started the day at Black Pond Bog in Norwell.  Despite threatening skies and occasional brief showers, we managed to get into this classic sphagnum bog and experience a rare habitat that is more typical of western and northern New England.  Our group was pleased to hear three Northern Waterthrushes singing emphatically from the Atlantic White Cedar growing around the perimeter of the bog.  We also had the opportunity to listen to the flute-like songs of the Veery since there were multiple birds vocalizing in the area.

Interesting plants in the immediate area included the carnivorous Pitcher Plant and both Round-leaved and Spatulate-leaved Sundews.  In addition, Poison Sumac, Virginia Chain Fern, and Swamp Loosestrife were observed.
Our next stop was the Burrage Pond W.M.A. in the towns of Hanson and Halifax.  This location was chosen as a destination because it contains a number of interesting habitats in one place.  We started in typical scrub habitat and quickly found singing Prairie Warblers, Field Sparrows, Brown Thrashers, and Orchard Orioles amongst the young Gray Birches, Sweet Fern,  and open sandy patches.  Several Halloween Pennant dragonflies were observed in this habitat as well.
A short distance away, we walked through grassland habitat that had been inadvertantly created in cranberry bogs that have not been used for many years.  In this area, we heard (and then observed) Savannah Sparrows.  We were also very pleased to observe a female Northern Harrier, a very uncommon sight for an inland location at this time of year.   Our group also looked at the tract of Atlantic White Cedar growing at the edge of one of the former bogs.  The Atlantic White Cedar sometimes provides breeding habitat for species that are more often found in more northern and western parts of New England.  Two species that occasionally utilize this habitat in the southeastern portion of Massachusetts include White-throated Sparrow and Winter Wren.  While walking in the northeast corner of the former bogs area, we were fortunate enough to observe a beautiful red dragonfly called the Carolina Saddlebags.  This was somewhat of a surprise since this species is much more often encountered in coastal plain ponds with sandy bottoms.

Subsequently, we visited the nearby Poor Meadow Brook since the habitat there is mostly flood plain forest.   Because the forest along the edge of the brook is subjected to periodic flooding, the plant communities are unique here and the understory is almost nonexistent in some places.  We were lucky to get good looks at Scarlet Tanager, Great Crested Flycatcher, and a Cooper’s Hawk at this location.  We also heard the Eastern Wood-Pewee, Eastern Towhee, and a number of Ovenbirds along the edge of the brook.  Interesting ferns such as Royal Fern, New York Fern, and Cinnamon Fern were found in this habitat.  Damselflies known as Ebony Jewelwings demonstrated their characteristic floppy flight as they crossed the beams of sunlight that managed to penetrate the heavy canopy above.  This forest habitat looks more like a cloud forest in Nicaragua than the typical  pine/oak forest that dominates much of southeastern Massachusetts.
Our group finished the day at the Myles Standish State Forest since this area is mostly Pine Barrens habitat (primarily Pitch Pine and Scrub Oak).  We walked out to a perfect example of a coastal plain pond (aka kettle hole pond) which was formed when large chunks of the glacier broke off and created depressions in the sandy soil  deposited by glacial movement and run-off.  These large chunks of ice eventually melted into the depressions they had created and ponds persist in these areas today.  Birds that are common in these areas include Prairie Warbler, Eastern Towhee, and Pine Warbler.  Another species that breeds within the forest in decent numbers is the Black-billed Cuckoo.  Unlike the ubiquitous Prairie and Pine Warblers, the Black-billed Cuckoo takes a bit of work to detect.  Listening for its distinctive call is the best way to find this species at Myles Standish State Forest.  Our group was lucky to observe a vocalizing bird at close range.  In addition to the birds we observed, we had nice looks at a number of dragonflies that are found in coastal plain pond habitat.  Our group observed Comet Darners, Golden-winged Skimmers, Carolina Saddlebags, and a number of Atlantic Bluets (a species of Damselfly).  As we walked out to the coastal plain pond, we observed Red-spotted Purple and Baltimore Checkerspot butterflies.  We also paused to take note of the following interesting plants:  Blunt-leaved Milkweed, Goat’s Rue, Golden Hedge Hyssop, and Pipewort.
Our walk back to the cars was not without reward.  The ascending song of Prairie Warblers competed with the ethereal songs of Hermit Thrushes.  As we stopped to take note of an additional interesting living thing along the trail, the early evening chorus would occasionally be interrupted by the resounding “chewink” of an Eastern Towhee.  It was a great day to be afield sampling a variety of habitats that can be found in the eastern portion of the state.
Bird Species:
Northern Waterthrush
Cedar Waxwing
Eastern Kingbird
Yellow Warbler
Song Sparrow
Gray Catbird
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
American Goldfinch
Brown Thrasher
Prairie Warbler
American Crow
Common Grackle
Eastern Phoebe
Field Sparrow
Tree Swallow
Common Yellowthroat
Northern Harrier (female) 1
Orchard Oriole
Red-winged Blackbird
Savannah Sparrow
Great Egret
Turkey Vulture
Black-capped Chickadee
Baltimore Oriole
Pine Warbler
Mourning Dove
Eastern Towhee
Northern Cardinal
Carolina Wren
Cooper’s Hawk
Chipping Sparrow
Scarlet Tanager
Tufted Titmouse
Eastern Wood-Pewee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Northern Flicker
Downy Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Common Yellowthroat
Great Crested Flycatcher
Blue Jay
Black-billed Cuckoo
Hermit Thrush
Jim Sweeney


  1. Nice summary of the trip. Although I missed it (darn!), I could picture it from the great descriptions of the habitats, birds, insects and plants. Lovely. A worthwhile outing and one I would have found very instructional. Hope you will repeat this outing in the near future!