Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lakeville Ponds - 3/12/2017

I was joined by five club members for a trip to the Lakeville ponds complex on this unseasonably cold March day.   The temperature was only 13F when our group arrived at the meeting spot at 8:00am.  A little later in the morning, the northwest wind increased to 10-15 mph with gusts to 25 mph.  It was not the early March weather anyone had expected.  In fact, it looked and felt more like February 12th.  The conditions were challenging, but the ducks were abundant and unaffected by the wintry conditions.
    One of our first stops was at Tamarack Park at the junction of Assawompsett and Long ponds.  This early morning visit yielded a surprise American Woodcock.  The bird was inadvertently flushed and exploded from the tangles with wings whistling in hurried flight.  Despite its quick departure, everyone in the group got a glimpse of this harbinger of spring.
   Subsequently, our group drove to the causeway between Great Quittacas and Pocksha ponds.  We were happy to discover that the high numbers of Greater and Lesser scaup were present on Pocksha Pond again.  We speculated about the possibility that the drake Tufted Duck, observed at this location in late February, might be embedded in the rafts of scaup.  We diligently scanned the ducks with our scopes, but concluded that the Tufted Duck was not visible from the causeway.  However, we were pleased to have excellent looks at Common Goldeneyes, Hooded and Common mergansers, and Buffleheads before continuing to the western shore of Pocksha Pond.

    Within minutes of arriving at our next stop, a participant reported that the Tufted Duck was present.  The bird was very active and at times difficult to locate, but eventually everyone had satisfactory looks at this charismatic duck.  Although the bird was not too far from shore, it was associating with the Greater and Lesser scaup and was never conspicuous.  We estimated that there were over 170 scaup at the lakes today with Greater Scaup being the most numerous species observed.

    Our next stop was Little Quittacas Pond where we were pleased to find continuing high numbers of Ring-necked Ducks.  More than 250 birds spent the winter at Little Quittacas Pond this season.   In recent years, counts of 200 birds during the fall migration have been recorded, but numbers this high in winter are particularly noteworthy.  While watching the ducks at this location, we were fortunate to observe two immature Bald Eagles flying about the north end of the pond.  The excitement of the sighting distracted us from the fact that we had been facing the brisk northwest wind and had lost all feeling in our extremities.  At this point in the trip, nobody needed to be cajoled into patronizing a local coffee shop.  After warming up and regaining sensation in our faces, we decided to check out some areas on the north and east sides of Assawompsett and Pocksha ponds.   As we exited the coffee shop, we were greeted by the nasal caws of a Fish Crow while several small flocks of Common Grackles flew overhead and reminded us that it was actually early March.


    A brief stop at the Nemasket River (near Assawompsett Pond) produced a nice assortment of birds.  Several Northern Flickers and a Red-bellied Woodpecker made an appearance at this location.  We also observed another immature Bald Eagle soaring above the river.  At other locations on the perimeter of the ponds, we heard the peter-peter calls of a Tufted Titmouse and the faint vocalizations of White-breasted Nuthatches when the wind subsided.

  We also checked Snipatuit Pond in the town of Rochester.  Here we observed one Red-tailed Hawk, four Lesser Scaup, eight Hooded Mergansers, and five Common Mergansers. 

   Our last activity of the day was a leisurely stroll on Crooked Lane, a productive birding site north of Assawompsett Pond.  This mid day walk produced many of the expected species like Red-winged Blackbirds, American Crows, Song and Swamp sparrows, and American Goldfinches.  A highlight of this stop was a cooperative Winter Wren that gave us decent views as it was working the edge of the cattail marsh. We followed the bird as it called dit dit repeatedly and occasionally disappeared amongst the cattails and shrubby growth.  It was strange to see the bird in such unusual habitat since the more likely species would be a Marsh Wren (a species that has occasionally wintered at this location). 
   It was a fun, albeit bitterly cold, day to be afield.  The duck show was rewarding and we had great looks at ten species.  The trip description in the club bulletin had a caveat about bringing waterproof boots.   This suggestion was completely unwarranted since crampons would have been a more appropriate recommendation. Thanks to all who participated today and braved winter’s icy return. 

Jim Sweeney