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Songbirds

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

Here’s a confession: until last Sunday, I’d never seen a female Red-winged Blackbird.

But then, driving along the canal in the city’s South Holyoke neighborhood, I saw a male perched on a chain link fence. I pulled over, hoping to snap a photo. The bird flew away. And then it started to rain.

I waited.

Several more males landed on utility wires overhead. When they flew away, they flew down toward the canal, out of sight over the steep bank. When the rain died down, I scurried under a fence to see where they were going.

At the water’s edge was a band of reeds and cattails, and two female Red-winged Blackbirds were busy snatching insects and tending to their well-camoflaged nests.

Some of the photos below may make this spot look like a bucolic marsh, but looks are deceiving. Across the canal is a row of factories. Back up the bank and across the street is a tire store.

It’s a world inside a world, and it’s one I’m glad to have discovered.

Here’s a slideshow of photos from the outing:

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(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

I found the Northern Flicker above hanging around near the same factory where the American Kestrels have their nest, and near the spot on one of the canals where the Canada Geese nest.

I’d actually gone out looking for the Kestrels when I ran across this bird — a good reminder to keep your eyes and ears open and to be ready for anything, even when you think you know what you’re looking for.

But speaking of trying to find specific birds: during Bird-a-thon I noticed that a strip of an old canal bed near the Flats neighborhood had attracted a number of Yellow Warblers. I went back the other day to see if I could get a few more shots of them, and they were still out in numbers. I saw about a half dozen along a short stretch of Canal Street over a period of 25 minutes or so. Here’s one of them:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

Last weekend marked MassAudubon’s 30th-annual ‘Bird-a-thon‘ fundraiser. The idea: log as many species as possible within a 24-hour period. The event runs from 6 p.m. Friday through 6 p.m. Saturday.

I set a goal of logging 50 species within walking distance of Holyoke’s downtown neighborhoods. Friday evening and Saturday morning were promising — but despite the good weather, new sightings slowed down Saturday afternoon. My little team, which also included Holyoke resident and fellow blogger Sonia Barrera, ended up logging a total of 45 species. Not bad, considering most of the habitat we surveyed included urban parks and industrial tracts.

A few highlights included my first-ever Yellow Warblers in Holyoke; a Killdeer (also a Holyoke first for me) that landed near my feet by an electrical substation on Water Street; a Ruby-throated Hummingbird that paid a visit as dozens of shad fishermen tended to their hobby nearby; and an Eastern Kingbird, seen at a distance, that briefly confounded us until Sonia nailed the ID.

In addition to a multitude of Yellow Warblers, we spotted a Black-and-white Warbler, a few Yellow-rumped Warblers and an American Redstart. There were a number of Warbling Vireos out, too, as well as a male and female Baltimore Oriole out behind the paper mills near the river.

Missing from the list were the woodpeckers (mostly Downy and Red-bellied) that I often see, as well as the Belted Kingfisher that’s almost always a sure bet out near the river.

While we didn’t hit my 50-species goal, sticking so close to home reinforced the idea that you don’t have to go anywhere fancy to see really interesting birds. At one point, a Yellow Warbler perched on a utility line right by Water Street. Any kid living in the Flats could see that bird, and that’s awesome.

Below, a slideshow of photos I shot during our time in the field. I’ll post the full list in the days ahead.

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I wrote yesterday that with so many Yellow-rumped Warblers at Arcadia, one could probably find them in Holyoke, too.

I was right: I found three behind the Crocker Mill this afternoon, near the Connecticut River. They were very high in the trees:

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A Downy Woodpecker was foraging nearby:

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And I saw at least two different Eastern Phoebes, including this one:

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This gallery contains 11 photos.

While I do most of my birding in the heart of Holyoke, I find it helpful to take regular trips to more traditional birding hotspots around the Pioneer Valley. Checking in at places like Arcadia, where the bird populations tend to be a bit more robust and varied, helps me keep tabs on when migratory …

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A few common birds that I don’t see too often in Heritage State Park were hanging around this morning.

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I saw the female Cardinal only; she spent a lot of time singing, but no male showed up while I watched her. I’ve seen a male Cardinal somewhat regularly near a vacant lot on Race Street, but I believe this is the first time I’ve seen either a male or female in the park.

A handful of Blue Jays have also been making appearances over the last few days:

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And, in addition to the pair of Canada Geese nesting along one of the canals, I’ve seen a lot of geese using the canals as a sort of flyway. Here’s one half of a pair that flew through the city this morning:

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On some days birding in Holyoke feels like catching up with old friends.

The Canada geese are back at the nest they chose last year, and it looks like they have eggs. I believe the eggs were laid this week — I’ve been checking the site regularly, and this morning was the first time I saw one of them actually sitting on the nest:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

A Mallard paddled in the canal nearby, drawing the ire of the male goose when it got a little too close to the nest:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

The Eastern phoebe is still hanging around in Heritage State Park:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

And, it may only be a week or so before we see this year’s brood of Red-tailed Hawks. I caught the adults switching off incubating duties this afternoon:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013