Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bog Bird Explosion

1. COGR 11-2-11-kab Common Grackles at Bog 11-2-10

Note: All of today’s pictures are from my archives.

I didn’t mean to count birds tonight. Gus was walking the dog and I said I would go with him. But, then he said he was walking as far as the bog. “You are walking to the bog,” I ask? When he replies yes, I run back into the house and grab my bins, pad, and a pen. I set my funny birding hat on my head and head back out the door. I know that these next two weeks are going to be busy. “I’ll just squeeze in a quick 5-minute count,” I think to myself. I decide NOT to take my camera. Then I hurry to catch up.

It is still humid out on this Saturday night, but the temperature has dropped a little, so it is not too bad. At a few minutes after 7 PM the sun is already setting casting evening gold light across the lawns and trees as I walk down the street. We are almost to the bog when I finally catch up to Gus and Blossom, but then Blossom stops to do her business, so I pass them and hurry on.

MODOb 6-6-11-kab Mourning Doves at Bog 6-6-11

Before I even reach the edge of the bog I can hear a Red-tailed hawk crying. In the tall, dead snags that pierce the sky I can see birds perched on every available dead branch. It looks as if someone has tried to decorate the dead trees with bird ornaments! There is a low and steady cacophony of bird sounds. I pick out grackles and starling sounds at first, then hear the twittering of Chimney swifts and the chittering of Eastern Kingbirds in the midst of it all. I step up to look between the pine trees bordering the swamp on this side. Birds are everywhere! It looks like a bomb exploded and dropped birds all over this bog! I have been coming here for almost a year now and I have never seen so many birds!

Bog 7-4-11-kab Stirling Swamp 7-4-11

I start my count at 7:15 PM EDT. As I scan the trees and water with my binoculars I hear, and then see Gus and Blossom pass beside me. They are going farther up the road to investigate, but I am rooted to this spot. Well, not entirely rooted. I have to walk a few steps to get better views between the trees. I step over the guardrail a few paces up where there is a gap in the trees with a better view. I hear the descending rattle of a Downy Woodpecker as I start to try to separate out what species I am seeing. Common grackles  dominate the scene but they are almost equally balanced with European Starlings. I have not seen starlings here in months but suddenly last week they were here in droves! Now I have to separate out the body shapes from other blackbirds for there are young starlings as well as adults. While adult starlings are iridescent black with yellow beaks and whitish speckles on their backs, the young are a dull gray-brown with dark eyes and black beaks. However, their overall silhouette is the same: long pointed beak, chunky body, stubby tail. Common Grackles are larger, long bodied, longer tails that are wedge-shaped when they fly. The eyes of the adults are white but only the adult males are shiny, glossy, purple-black while the females are brownish like the young. The adult females have white eyes but the juveniles have dark eyes.

Juvenile RWBL 7-5-11 Juvenile Red-winged blackbird 7-5-11

Then there are the Red-winged blackbirds. Adult male red-wings are easy to spot with their glossy black feathers and red and gold shoulder patches which I like to call “epaulets.” However, the females look like large streaky sparrows, and while they usually stay low in the reeds, sometimes I do see them out and about, especially when they are trying to feed their persistent and begging youngsters! That is what I am observing tonight, but there are far fewer Red-winged blackbirds in this sea of blacks.

RTHA 4-11-11-kab Red-tailed Hawk Pursued by Crows 4-11-11

Soon a chorus of crows takes up its cries across the bog. I see a Red-tailed Hawk flying north pursued by crow, then robins take up the chase! What…? But before i can get a grip on that scene I feel one of my feet being bitten by something. I look down to see red ants crawling all over my left foot. I step back and use my notepad to swipe away the errant ants, then decide I will find a new spot for watching the birds. A few more steps to the north and I am looking between pines trees again into the open space of water, lily pads, stumps, trees and sky. And there right before me I see something moving in the lily pads. Oh my word, it is a mother wood duck with about 6 little ducklings! I have not seen wood ducks here since last spring! then, just beyond her I catch another movement and spot a Green heron fishing from a fallen and rotting log. His head snakes out like a spear, then swiftly retracts again.

MODOa 6-6-11-kab Mourning Doves 6-6-11

As I am totally lost in my world of birds Gus and Blossom came walking back. I know now that I will not be walking back with them. I tell Gus I will meet him at home and turn back as intent as a heron to count my birds. Mourning Doves are everywhere in clusters in the swamp. they perch on dead snags low and high and sing their mournful songs. Tonight I am seeing even more than usual, and have already counted up to 20 individuals.

Just then I spot something that I have been longing to see here but up until now I never have. There, bobbing along on another log, searching for insects or something is a Spotted Sandpiper! I knew they should be here! This is perfect habitat for them, but I have never seen one here! Now I am wishing I had my camera with me. I could get such a good picture of this bird and the Wood Ducks which are quite close. So many times the birds I see here are farther out in the swamp or silhouetted against the sky or it has been gray and dreary, or the lighting bad. tonight is perfect but I did not bring it. I did not know it would be like this. I did not intend to stay long. Yet now, here I am.

RTHA in tree 4-11-11-kab Red-tailed in dead trees at bog 4-11-11

The deeper, flowing water is far across the swamp on the eastern side of the bog. Usually I can find ducks or geese over there. I scan the water’s edge for birds and soon spot a Great Blue heron and some female Mallards. The Red-tails continue to cry from the north end of the bog where they have landed in a very tall but dead trees. The bare stumps have branches like ladder rungs reaching out on opposite sides of the trunks. the red-tails hop from one to another as various bird species harass them. At one point one of the red-tails flies off into the woodland of Den rock Park which is the northern boundary of Stirling bog. It isn’t long before I hear the resident Blue Jays take up their cries and the red-tail is back with its mate landing on a branch above it.


Juv AMRO 7-15-11-kab Then I see the Robins. They are everywhere and most of them have the spotted breasts of juveniles. Here at the northeast corner they are the species that is decorating all the tree branches. I see them fly out into the swamp and down to the water’s edge and back up onto branches again. In contrast to them a Mockingbird stands, its tail cocked high and long like mockingbirds do. A lone gull slowly glides through the faded blue sky and as the sun sinks behind the hills to the east a deep shadow falls across the swamp. I think the birds are starting to settle down now and I spot yet another Blue Heron hunting in the shallow water at the north end of the bog. Just when I am thinking all is peace and serenity, suddenly I hear “bang, bang, pop! pop! pop!. It sounds like gunfire but how can that be? This is a residential area. There are houses around this western edge of the swamp, a main road to the south and apartment buildings to the east. I conclude it must be firecrackers yet I can’t imagine why they are going off. Still, after a brief pause, the pop and bangs continue from across the swamp to the southeast and the birds start to take to the sky. Mallards fly up and circle and land. Blackbirds fly to different locations. Amazingly the herons just keep on hunting, unruffled by the activity around them.

AMRO bog 10-13-10-kab

I have been here for 45 minutes now and decide I have been here long enough. I have counted all the birds I can. Now I need to head home and tell Gus all about it and enter my bird counts into eBird so I can add a spotted sandpiper, species number 58, to the list of birds seen at the bog! (If you are interested you can see the complete list of Bog Bird Species in the sidebar.)

Birds Seen at the Bog tonight 7-23-11

Stirling St. Bog, Essex, US-MA
Jul 23, 2011 7:15 PM - 8:00 PM
Protocol: Stationary
Comments: Bog Bird Explosion! I only meant to do a quick 5 minute count but there were so many birds! Sunny, muggy, humid, 88F. Towards the end of the count someone was lighting off what sounded like firecrackers across the swamp to the southeast. It continued for a quite awhile and scared some of the birds up into the air.

20 species (+1 other taxa)

Wood Duck 7
Mallard 8
Great Blue Heron 2
Green Heron 1
Red-tailed Hawk 2
Spotted Sandpiper 1
gull sp. 2 2 gulls seen flying over, 1 large, 1 small
Mourning Dove 20
Chimney Swift 8
Downy Woodpecker 3
Northern Flicker 1
Eastern Kingbird 2
Blue Jay 2
American Crow 8
American Robin 30
Northern Mockingbird 1
European Starling 35
Cedar Waxwing 4
Red-winged Blackbird 10
Common Grackle 50
Brown-headed Cowbird 1

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2 (


  1. So much better than a "quick" count. I also wish you'd been carrying your camera, but that would have changed the wonderfully painted story.

  2. HI Katie...I so enjoyed our evening at the bog...
    What a wonderful treat that was to have so many birds to see at this visit!!
    Lovely words to acompany very nice photos!!
    Always amazes me when I see small birds going afer larger ones...In humans it seem to be reversed!! lol
    Beautiful cooler day here ..hope you have cooled down to!!

  3. Kathie, the bog sounds like a great place for your count and birding. Lots of great birds there. Your list of birds is impressive. It has been awhile since I have seen a green heron.

  4. nice count and birding adventure :)



Welcome to my nest! I hope you will enjoy spending time here with me and the birds. Thank you for your comments. I will try to get back to you as soon as I get back from counting more birds.