Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary
Birding Community Newsletter

Issue 2017-07 | Friday, April 7, 2017 | 815 Subscribers
Out Like a Lion
Storm force winds and flooding rains hold back the tide and dilute the briny soils of the Rumney Marshes ACEC
Spring's first storm carries in an abundance of rain to wipe clean Jack Frost's last checkerboard left behind in the heaved earth.  The hope of early green draws Cottontails out where kiting Raptors can search for their hidden statues.  Fresh soils awash with the season, tender the promise for fields of wildflowers as March roars out of the grasslands of the Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary.
  April 2, 2017 TRIP REPORT
Bear Creek Sanctuary
(restricted access) , Saugus, Essex County, Massachusetts, US

April 2, 2017
9:08 AM - 12:44 PM

Protocol: Traveling

1.5 Mile(s)

40 Bird Species

Rough-legged Hawk   1     
*rare, but regular here; light morph; hunted full circuits around sanctuary several times, unfortunately never crossing into Suffolk County; photos

Killdeer   28     
careful count of flock on top

Wilson's Snipe   5     
flushed from wet swale just when we started the walk

Ring-billed Gull   3

Herring Gull   130

Great Black-backed Gull   5

Rock Pigeon   5

Mourning Dove   10

Short-eared Owl   4     
flushed from field; photos

Downy Woodpecker   1     
near feeder area

American Kestrel   1     

Blue Jay   1

American Crow   8

Horned Lark   85     
a few large flocks, the largest of which was 65 at the southwest corner; none behaving like breeders

Black-capped Chickadee   2

American Robin   120

European Starling   25

Smith's Longspur   1     
***mega; continuing third/fourth state record (probably returning bird from last year); flushed about 6x and always gave dry, abrupt rattle when flushed, with notes spaced almost slowly enough to count (Lapland's rattle is faster); no other vocalizations heard; in slight always flashed substantail white in tail and showed prominent white median/lesser coverts, whcih show in many photos; on the ground appeared overall buffy with bold black frame to facial pattern, showed no whitish on underparts and no rusty wing panel, and no hint of blackish below which would be expected on Lapland at this season; in addition to call and plumage, the behavior of always flushing from close range in dense grass was typical for Smith's. Diagnostic photos by several and audio recording by M. J. Iliff

Snow Bunting   1     
*late; calling flyover heard only giving rattle call, which was a rattle with each note more rounded and less abrupt than Smith's (or Lapland) Longspur

American Tree Sparrow   5     
at feeder

Dark-eyed Junco   1     
along entrance road

Savannah Sparrow   1     
heard in wet ravine where Smith's was initially flushed; subspecies uncertain

Song Sparrow   9

Northern Cardinal   1     
at feeder

Red-winged Blackbird   55

Common Grackle   20

Brown-headed Cowbird   17     
one flock of 15

American Goldfinch   4

House Sparrow   7     
most at entrance gate

The pictures contained in this week's newsletter are from two well attended walks on Wednesday, March 29 and Sunday, April 2.

In the last two weeks the Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary has been visited by more than 250 of our friends who have come to see the Smith's Longspur.  Thank you, we hope to see you again soon. 
The Rough-legged Hawk
Light Phase
This week's bird of the week goes to the light phase Rough-legged Hawk that methodically kited over the grasslands for the entire walk on Sunday,  April 2. This winter visitor to the Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary is a bird of the far north, that breeds in the Arctic Tundra.

The rough-legged appearance that this hawk is named for, is actually an adaptation to the inhospitable cold of the extreme north.  Over time, the Rough-legged Hawk has evolved a proportionately smaller talon size to reduce heat loss.  The smaller talon size, combined with legs that are feathered all the way down to the toes, give the Rough-legged Hawk its distinctive appearance. 

Runner-up this week goes to the Merlin Falcon spotted by Alan and Sebastian as it was making a run at a chattery flock of Killdeer.  Having the knack of being in the right place at the right time,  just like when the pair willed an American Pipit out of the thin air a few weeks ago, the Merlin cruised in at striking speed, and apparently startled by their presence, quickly veered around them.

The windswept slopes of the last remaining grassland in the Rumney Marshes ACEC are blanketed with a thin layer of fresh snow.  Snow so light and fluffy, it filters through the blades of grass and wildflowers stems like windblown sands on a foredune.  Each step offers a guess.  One, two, maybe three, or perhaps as far as six inches before your foot touches bottom. The landscape is tinged a steely-grey and feels barren with the touch of frostbite nipping at your exposed skin.

Ten paces into the distance a small stone moves, cries ‘eep’ and takes flight.  In the surrounding space, fifty more stones materialize from the sparse grass and form wings.  Staying together as a wide spread flock, some fly true, others surf through the air in a distinctly undulating pattern that causes an occasional squabble and chase within the confines of the flock.  Keeping low on the horizon, the flock makes a wide arc over the ridge and out of sight, only to turn ‘round and return.  Standing still, the flock parts a seam just beyond your fingertips, closes ranks and disappears back into the grass.

The Horned Lark, Eremphila alpestris, is a regular winter resident at the Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary, and in 2016, established a first time breeding population at the Sanctuary.  This is the first recorded Horned Lark nest in Essex County since 1977, although adults with young were seen in 1984, and again in 1993.

The Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program describes the Horned Lark as a songbird of open areas and sparse vegetation, particularly coastal dunes, air fields, and agricultural fields. 

Originally, not known as a breeding species in Massachusetts until the mid-19th century, Horned Larks expanded from a mainly winter resident status, to establishing a breeding population of the prairie race, Eremphila alpestris praticola, during the agricultural revolution.  With the onset of reforestation, the once wide spread breeding population correspondingly retracted, and are now found primarily associated with large dune systems on Cape Cod, the Islands, and the North Shore.

During the census periods for the Massachusetts Breeding Bird Atlas I and II, the Massachusetts’ populations of Horned Larks further declined to scatted locations along the Connecticut River Valley and the Southeastern Coastal Plains, and on Cape Cod and the Islands.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology places the global Horned Lark population as numerous, but steadily declining at 2% per year from 1966-2015, resulting in a cumulative population decline of 71%.  Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 120 million with 62% of the population residing a portion of the year within the United States.

Special thanks to the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for not only maintaining such wonderful online resources free to the public, but also for the extraordinary efforts these organizations preform each and every day in the conservation and preservation of our natural resources.       
We are currently planning our spring and summer
workshop schedule at the Sanctuary

Salt Marsh Resiliency - *Updated*
This season we will be taking a special interest in salt marshes.  Lately, it is difficult to go through a day without hearing a news story on sea level rise or global climate change.  For salt marshes, the threat of sea level rise is of great concern.  Existing in a narrow band between mean sea level and extreme high tide, marshes need to migrate inland or increase in elevation to survive. 

Introduction to Coastal Wetlands - Saturday, May 13
Information and a sign-up sheet will be posted on a separate web page soon.
Salt Marsh Sparrow
Salt Marsh Sparrows are solely dependent on salt marshes, and because they are, this sparrow is predicted to be the first vertebrate species in this region to become extinct due to sea level rise.   Based on the eBird database, the Rumney Marshes ACEC has a stable Salt Marsh Sparrow population. This season we would like to establish a population baseline for use in future restoration efforts.  

Innovative Invasive Species Control
Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary has nearly two decades of experience controlling Phragmites australis without the use of harsh chemicals.   With increasing health concerns about the use of herbicides and dwindling management budgets, methodologies that focus on trajectory stabilization are returning to the forefront of resource management.
  The next two scheduled nature walk are:
Sunday, April 9 at 9 a.m.
Sunday, April 23 at 9 a.m.

NOTE: The Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary is fully integrated into an active landfill setting.  Due to the potential for visitors to interact with landfill operations, all visitor must be accompanied by an escort for the duration of their visit.  Thank you.
Special thanks to Soheil, Suzanne, Norm, Alan, Sebastian, Ted, Marshall, Scott, John, Dave, Jim, and everyone else who contributed pictures and support this week.  Without your help, this publication could not be produced.

Additional pictures from the March 29 and April 2 walks:
The Wheelabrator Saugus Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary is a 370-acre property abutting a 2,274-acre estuary on the outskirts of Boston, located in the heart of the Rumney Marshes ACEC. Maintained and managed grasslands, salt marshes, shrublands and maturing woodlands combine as one of the largest bird migration staging areas on the North Shore and a habitat for nearly 200 bird species, as well as other wildlife such as coyotes, foxes, raccoons and snakes. Visitors can enjoy the more than 14,000 feet of walking trails that permeate the site, a half-acre exhibit garden, and meeting and lecture areas, which are scattered throughout nine of the restored ecosystems. Situated directly behind Wheelabrator Saugus, the Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary is maintained and managed by Geoff Wilson of Northeast Wetland Restoration. Follow along with us as the birds change with each passing season!