Beautiful, Bad, or Both?

salem end swan
This photo of an autumn swan reminded me of a topic I have been meaning to discuss for quite some time: Mute Swans.

Mute Swans are an invasive species. Like Gypsy Moth caterpillars, Japanese Bayberry, and Norway Maples, Mute Swans are a non-native species introduced to this country by well intentioned human beings. Mute Swans were transplanted from Europe because of their beauty. They were placed in public gardens and private ponds all over the eastern United States in the 19th century. I've been thinking about Mute Swans being invasive ever since a respected colleague spoke about it months ago.

I hate invasives. I have nightmares about Gypsy Moth caterpillars killing off all our deciduous trees; Japanese Bayberry choking the life out of all our native vegetation; and Norway Maples proliferating until their branches block out the sun. I even imagine these invasive species taking over the planet and leaving it uninhabitable other life forms!  Invasive plants and insects devastate the environment, and I hate Gypsy Moths and invasive plants with a passion. But Mute Swans?

young swan face
I like Mute Swans. I know that Mute Swans are problematic. Native swan species cannot compete with the larger, more aggressive, and more prolific Mute Swans. Other bird species that share habitats with Mute Swans are being driven from their nesting sites because Mute Swans are so intensely territorial. They have voracious appetites, and devour so much vegetation that some ponds and lakes are no longer able to support any life after Mute Swans lived there.

These are serious problems, but I don't hold Mute Swans responsible. As I see it, humans caused these problems by introducing birds into an environment that couldn't support them. Mute Swans didn't sneak over the border or bribe a customs official to get here. If anything, they were kidnapped!

I feel much the same way about Starlings and House Sparrows. I enjoy these bird species despite the fact that they are invasive and a problem. (I draw the line at Gypsy Moths, however. Gypsy Moths are utterly disgusting and repulsive, even if they were kidnapped!)

swan dad son
The more I learn about Mute Swans, the more I like them! Are they aggressive? Yes. They are very aggressive and will inflict serious damage on birds, animals, and even humans that get too close. They are as territorial as the mockingbird that cleared my yard last spring (see post), but their massive size and great strength make them truly dangerous.

swan face
I like aggressive birds, though. Especially BIG aggressive birds. Have I mentioned how much I like eagles, owls, osprey, hawks, and other such species? I practically fell in love with Great Black-backed Gulls after seeing one spear a shark, for god's sake!  Few birds are as bloodthirsty and aggressive as GBBGs!

I admire the Mute Swan's loyalty to it's mate. These birds form long term pair bonds, which may not sound as dramatic as mating for life, but is just as impressive. The fact is that if a Mute swan loses a mate, they will mate again. They don't die of grief. They may choose to switch mates for no good reason, or try to have two mates at a time; but these are rare and aberrant behaviors. Basically they stay together as long as both are healthy. They raise multiple broods and care for their young for extended periods of time. It is not unusual for last years offspring to remain with the family even after a new family has been hatched.

imm swan profile
Mute Swans are a lot more monogamous than human beings. They are better parents, too. Most of their aggression stems from being protective of their families or potential families.

swan yoga
(I liked this youngster's attempt at yoga!)  I will probably be booted out of the 'true birders club' for this heretical posting. I won't recant, however. I know the presence of Mute Swans is bad for our local ecosystems, but don't ask me to dislike them because they epitomize invasives. The truth is that I like Mute Swans for themselves, without considering what they represent.  I truly regret that they are invasive. In this situation, there is no possibility of a happy ending all around.


Sharing Sushi

1 banded cormorants sony
Is there a band on the cormorant's leg, or is it a trick of the light?  I really love this picture, in any case. It was taken by my son, and it is a nice intro into the topic of this post. Why?  Because these three cormorants also witnessed all the action below! 

gbbg eating horshoe crab w cormorants sony
Horseshoe crabs were the main entree for the shorebirds we saw at South Beach last month. This crab was munched on for quite a while by a ravenous GBBG.

rt eating horshoe crab sony
As soon as the GBBG walked away, a Ruddy Turnstone dashed in for his share.

ruddy turnstone finished hs crab
The Ruddy Turnstone left when he was satiated, and then my son went over to see how much of the crab had been eaten (looking at devoured things is a male thing, evidently.) To his surprise, the poor crab was still very much alive! Pete rolled the horseshoe crab onto his feet, and the thing even managed to move a bit. I guess he lived to be a meal for some other bird!

Ruddy Turnstones can easily be identified by the big circular necklace on their breasts. These birds are another of my favorites.
I like Ruddy Turnstones because of their dramatic coloring and their tough guy attitudes. I also like the name. All in all, they are very cool customers.


Yellow-Rumped Warbler(s)

black white yellow bird
Monday was a very exciting day for me. Getting a good shot of a Great Blue Heron was the highlight of my whole year, but other good things happened too. One was FINALLY finding and photographing some warblers! This guy is a Yellow-rumped Warbler. I am sure of it.

grey bird
This could also be a Yellow-rumped warbler in more fall-like plumage. I wouldn't swear to it, but my research seems to support that ID.

unknown bird butt
This is the butt end of some sort of warbler - maybe a Yellow-rumped, as well.

foss warbler 10 09
I have become so confused about these warblers that I think this sparrow might really be a Yellow-rumped warbler! Compare him to this photo, for instance.  See any similarities?

2 foss yrw unk
Despite looking very sparrowish, he fits more than a few of the Yellow-rumped warbler criteria!

As you may have noticed, I really need to spend more time learning about warblers before attempting to identify them!  But I nailed it on the first one!  I think I did, anyway . . .


Great Blue Heron in Flight!

great blue closeup2
I finally did it! I finally got a decent Great Blue Heron photo! And he was FLYING, which makes it much harder to photograph. Unfortunately, it was entirely by accident. I sensed something big flying by, and shot blindly. I really don't remember seeing this in the viewfinder, even. But I'm thrilled, no matter how it happened. I have a whole bunch of other pictures from yesterday, but I think this image deserves a post of it's own!


Pool Party!

single sparrow at the birdbath
First there is one.

3 in a tub
Rub-a-dub-dub, three birds in a tub!

party of 4
Along comes another, and then there are four.

pool for 5 copy
Party of Five.

pool party
Now, this is what I call a pool party!

Seconds later, it's a free-for-all! Totally out of control! (The same thing happens at every party I go to. What a coincidence!)

backyard sparrow
Why are you looking at me? I had nothing to do with all this! I'm innocent!


Egrets from the Best New England Bird Photo Gallery!

DSC_0744-b, originally uploaded by hump7.
This is the most marvelous image of a Great Egret you will ever see! The photographer's name on Flickr is hump7,and if you take a few moments to peruse his photostream, you will be very impressed. I know I was! There are three of his photos in this gallery alone!

Snowy egret eating a fish, originally uploaded by ecoguy30.
I think this photo is an great juxtaposition of amazing and amusing! A more beautiful image of a Snowy Egret cannot be found, yet how can one resist a grin at the expression on his face? This is an example of the excellent work done by the photographer known as ecoguy30. His is one of the photostreams that I return to over and over again. You will too!


Ring-necked Ducks on the Sudbury Reservoir.

mallarrd and mate
Monday afternoon, my son and I visited the Sudbury Reservoir. I wanted to find the unknown species of duck I thought I saw there the day before. At first we saw only Mallards. These two were pretty close to us. I thought they looked lovely against the reflected foliage.

mallarrd and mate2
A closer look revealed some kind of neck injury on the male. What the hell IS that?
NOTE:  I've been informed that the mallard could simply be molting, and it is probably not injured.  I failed to research that statement, obviously.  Sorry.

female mallard
The female on her own.

blue jay sudbury rs
Two of many Blue Jays seen on Monday.

sudbury chickadee
The only really decent picture I took that day: a cute little Chickadee!

ringnecked ducksony2  copy
Just as we were about to leave, my son spotted the mystery ducks! He took this photo, which clearly shows these are Ring-necked ducks.

sudbury res ducks copy
I still think there was another species of duck on the Sudbury Reservoir on both Sunday and Monday. I only saw them at a distance, but I think they were more black and white than the Ring-necks. I think this picture may include something different. I'm referring to the small black and white looking duck just right of center. On the other hand, it could be just a trick of the light.


My favorite bird, my favorite place.

no trespassing water supply
Now I'm REALLY angry. A new NO TRESSPASSING sign that is misleading (at best) or perhaps blatantly deceitful! The Foss is NOT a public water supply. It hasn't been for 60+ years. And the reservoirs that ARE public water supplies allow fishing, hiking, even boating! This is WAR!

I walked up the driveway, fuming, looked to the left and saw a Great Blue Heron not 5 feet away from me. He was frozen, I was frozen - and when I lifted the camera, he flew off. I blame my obliviousness on the new sign, and get even madder! The squirrel saw it all, felt bad, and let me take his picture.

foss trimmed
They totally cleaned it up since I was here last. No wildflowers, no poison ivy, a manicured lawn, possibly sprayed for bugs . . . what is going on?

The view is as lovely as ever.

foss blue jay
There were tons of Blue jays out today, both here and at the Sudbury Reservoir later in the day.

I saw what I thought was a Turkey Vulture,

Then I thought it must be a Red-tailed hawk.

fosshawkvulture3 copy
At certain angles I even thought he was an Osprey. No Ospreys here, though. (I don't think)
CORRECTION:  There are Ospreys here.  Sorry for the erroneous information.

foss fall heron
As I'm leaving I glimpse something in the spillway pond. I crawl along the crest of the dam until I get a good look - and it's the heron again!

foss fall heron 2
I'm still unable to take a decent picture. It's always been a bit grimy, but now I think something is broken. I don't want to spend a fortune checking it out, though. Anyway, you can tell it is a GBH. It is a juvenile, I believe.

foss fall heron 5
And then he flew!

foss fall heron 6
He was really gorgeous and large, albeit a bit on the skinny side.

foss fall heron 7
He flew in a giant circle around me, out to Route 9, back around the gatehouse, and then into the trees on the left.

foss fall heron 8
Seeing my favorite bird at my favorite spot made me quite cheerful! It was a good morning, all things considered. (Not that I am going to let that sign go without a fuss - no, that will be addressed at a later date.)