Unlike last season, the current weather pattern and a snow-free landscape in late February prompts images of spring, and movements of forest birds are already occurring. More than 60 American Goldfinches and 15 Dark-eyed Juncos recently stopped by the Lloyd Center feeders, along with a handful of fresh plumage Red-winged Blackbirds. Kinglets were also spotted flitting in the Holly trees nearby. The Kinglets, Juncos and Finches all breed in conifer country and are probably on their return trip north, while Red-winged Blackbird appearances in our region in February are a sure sign of looming spring.
Thus far, the 5th Annual FeederWatch Survey on the Lloyd Center property has been the season of the American Goldfinch, with large numbers mobbing the thistle feeders. Unusually large flocks of Brown-headed Cowbirds (a less welcome nest parasite) have also been seen. A diverse array of woodpeckers including Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied and Northern Flicker have been fixtures at suet cakes, while less common species including Brown Creeper and Purple Finch made appearances this season.
On a rather balmy but calm January 9th day, a Lloyd Center group ventured to New Bedford’s waterfront for some winter birding. Starting at Fort Tabor Park, various waterfowl were seen offshore along with the reliable flock of 40-50 Snow Buntings feeding in the grasses. Snow Buntings breed in the open Arctic tundra and migrate great distances to winter along our coastline. Up on the lawn, Horned Larks, another bird of the open country often seen in flocks with buntings, offered great close range views.
On the Harbor walk, large flocks of Brant were feeding along the intertidal area created by recent harbor dredging. Along the hurricane barrier good looks at Buffleheads and Common Loon were offered, along with stunning close views of Long-tailed Ducks in various plumages, and Bonaparte’s Gulls, a true winter gull. Finally, a grey seal made a surprise appearance near the barrier to cap a great morning of waterfront viewing.
A month later on February 7th came the Owl Prowl, an event cancelled last year due to the repeated snowstorms. This time around, calm, seasonably cool conditions provided great owling conditions, and a recent storm seemingly just brightened the landscape. In reality, the snow, while picturesque, limited our access points and may have subdued the owls somewhat. Our Owl Prowl was once again an Olympic event of sorts.
On the Lloyd Center property and Allens Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, two prime owling locations, not a hoot! But at Demarest Lloyd, our last (and coldest!) stop, a Screech Owl enthusiastically answered our taped calls. The crew then witnessed some waterbirds and a beautiful sunrise at Gooseberry Neck Island, where a Snowy Owl spends many winters, but wasn’t in attendance at this hour. Despite a quiet owl night and morning, attendees were clearly invigorated by their unique pursuits, and gained an appreciation for both the winter season and the unsolved mystery of owls and their habits.