Paper Mills

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

A small group of Golden-crowned Kinglets brought a little color to an otherwise gloomy day. I photographed the one above behind the factory that was once home to the Gill division of American Writing Paper, between Water Street and the Connecticut River.

The tiny birds — weighing about as much as two pennies — are one of the miracles of animal survival. Somehow, they can withstand the freezing winter nights of the north, huddling together in conifers.

What else do they do to survive? From an episode of BirdNote:

Bernd Heinrich, a biologist at the University of Maine, tried to answer that question. He found that the kinglets move through the forest in small flocks and feed constantly, at almost one peck per second, throughout the short day. By this activity, they take in enough tiny caterpillars to keep their bodies going. [“Kinglets in Winter,” Dennis Paulson]

Heinrich’s 2003 book, Winter World, explores how a number of species weather the winter. Kinglets, it turns out, stick out the season of scarce food by relying on a species of moth larvae that spends the winter on tree branches instead of underground.

For more on Golden-crowned Kinglets, see Vermont blogger Chris Patrick’s excellent post on the species.

(c) Greg Saulmon 2012

(c) Greg Saulmon 2012

Over the past few weeks I’ve been seeing at least two different Cooper’s Hawks in the city with some regularity.

I’ve spotted a juvenile, above, hunting in Pulaski Park and perched atop the Canal Gallery on Dwight Street.

There’s also an adult male that I haven’t managed to photograph yet. I’ve seen him flying over Hampden Street just downhill from the Stop & Shop, and hanging around out behind the Crocker paper mill by the river.

I’m curious to see whether they’re just passing through, or if they’ll be permanent residents around town.

A Mockingbird behind the Gill paper mill. (c) Greg Saulmon 2011

I watched a Mockingbird for a long time Sunday afternoon.

I’d taken a walk at one of my favorite Holyoke birdwatching locations: the path that runs between the old paper mills and the river out behind Water Street.

I see a lot of hawks out here, and a lot of Mourning Doves hanging out on the power lines. It’s in the flight path of the American Crows on winter afternoons. One day I followed a Baltimore Oriole into an eerie courtyard between the Albion and Crocker mills. And during Sunday’s walk I even startled one of the Bald Eagles that makes its home along the river — my second eagle sighting in the city that day.

Arriving at a large pile of brush behind the Gill, I spotted a trio of Mockingbirds taking turns swooping in from a nearby tree to land on the tangle of branches. Each time the birds would sit for a few seconds, fidget a bit and fly back to the tree.

A Song Sparrow. (c) Greg Saulmon 2011

Finally one landed and just sat. And for over 15 minutes, it sat on the same twig. It was around 5:30 p.m. Every once in a while it would make a chewing motion with its beak and spit out what looked like the red shells of a seed. Sometimes it would throw a nervous glance my way — but it didn’t seem to worry about the fact that I kept inching closer, and it held its ground when I moved around to the other side of the brush pile to shoot from a different angle.

Eventually it darted over to a rusted chain link fence topped with barbed wire, and then joined the others in a tree by the mill.

And the Mockingbirds weren’t the only ones enjoying this little corner of the world: I managed to snap this photo of a Song Sparrow in the same spot Sunday, only noticing the delicate spider web when I opened the file on my laptop.