Monday, July 13, 2020

RI - TEREK SANDPIPER!

Terek Sandpiper (in flight) - not much of a picture I know, but the broad white trailing edge to the dark wings combined
with the gray rump and tail provide a unique pattern among the smaller shorebirds. 
Napatree Point, Westerly, Washington Co., RI. June 30th, 2020.

On Sunday June 28th I read a truly intriguing post that Jan St Jean, one of the most active and reliable field birders in Rhode Island, had found a Terek Sandpiper at Napatree Point, Westerly. Being with Matan at Thunder Mountain bike park in Charlemont we were in no position to chase it that day and feared that it might have moved on by the following day. As it happens, I had long been fascinated by an older record of Terek Sandpiper from Plum Island, Essex Co., Massachusetts from June 23rd, 1990 seemingly found at a time of year when few other migrant shorebirds would be moving and apparently a one-day-wonder that was never photographed. How ironic then that Jan St Jean's mega-find would also come in late June! As photographs taken by Carlos Pedro and others appeared in ebird and on Facebook the Rhode Island bird became truly haunting. With multiple confirmed sightings on the morning of June 30th, our whole family set sail for the 300 mile round trip to Napatree Point from Northfield, MA with the idea of hitting the rising tide in late afternoon. We left a very thundery Northfield just before noon, and drove through rain for the entire journey until we reached Westerly when, miraculously, the clouds parted and the rain ceased. The walk across the sandy peninsula to Napatree Point and lagoon took a little longer than expected but on arrival we were delighted to find a small group of birders keeping track of the Terek Sandpiper in the tide wrack, albeit distantly. From there, the sandpiper played hide-and-seek between bumps and folds in the tide wrack ultimately giving decent scope views but proving almost impossible to photograph at range. Had Susannah and I not seen multiple Terek Sandpipers on migration through southern Israel some 20+ years ago, the views might even have been described as disappointing but they were certainly good enough to see all the key features on one of the most distinctive of all small/medium sized sandpipers. With shorebird migration barely underway, the Terek Sandpiper had few other shorebirds for company, mostly Spotted Sandpipers, a few Willets, and a handful of Least and Semi-palmated Sandpipers. Our best views actually came in the moment when it roosted for ten or so minutes on the white sand above the tide wrack.

Terek Sandpiper -  here feeding behind a small group of Willets. Gray head and upper breast, very white underparts and gray-brown upperparts. And perhaps a suggestion of the recurved bill in this shot? 
Napatree Point, Westerly, Washington Co., RI. June 30th, 2020.
Found by Jan St Jean on June 28th, 2020. 








Overall, a really fun day and great to experience to portion of the Rhode Island Coast that we'd never seen before. As to the sandpiper, well it was definitely worth the trek. A true 'mega' in every sense with just four accepted records for the Lower 48 states. And, with last last New England record some 30 years prior I can't imagine there will be another within driving distance of home any time soon. Remarkably, it seems that we were among the very last birders that evening to see the Terek Sandpiper. Despite being thoroughly searched for on July 1st, it was never seen again. How lucky we must have been! As always, gracious thanks to the finder Jan St Jean and for keeping us up to speed on the presence of the bird on the 30th.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

May - fourth week; Canada Warblers, Black Bears and a Sandhill Crane!

Canada Warbler (male) - Orchard Hill, Umass-Amherst, Hampshire Co., MA. May 25th, 2020. 

The last week of May began with an especially notable arrival of Canada Warblers on the 25th, most of which appeared to be pure migrants with singles singing on Boyle Road, Gill, Smiarowski Road, Montague (Brian Kane and Noel Watkins) and Hilltop Farm, Deerfield (David Sibley). I say "especially notable' because Canada Warblers have been especially scarce this spring. As luck would have it, I found a further three Canada Warblers during a mid-morning visit to Orchard Hill at Umass-Amherst where I came across an unexpectedly good fall-out of northern passerines including; Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (1), Swainson's Thrush (3), Tennessee Warbler (11), Northern Parula (3), Magnolia Warbler (9), Bay-breasted Warbler (3), Blackpoll Warbler (6), Black-throated Green Warbler (12). In the evening a Common Nighthawk flew NNE over the Sunderland/Montague townline, one of the very few local nighthawks seen in migration this spring.

Magnolia Warbler (male) - Orchard Hill, Umass-Amherst, Hampshire Co., MA. May 25th, 2020. 


Black-throated Blue Warbler (female) - Orchard Hill, Umass-Amherst, Hampshire Co., MA. May 25th, 2020. 


Swainson's Thrush - Orchard Hill, Umass-Amherst, Hampshire Co., MA. May 25th, 2020. 


Ovenbird - Orchard Hill, Umass-Amherst, Hampshire Co., MA. May 25th, 2020. 

Bay-breasted Warbler - Orchard Hill, Umass-Amherst, Hampshire Co., MA. May 25th, 2020. 


The following day (May 26th), saw two Blackpoll Warblers, an Alder Flycatcher and a new Canada Warbler all singing on North Cross Road, Gill and single Olive-sided Flycatchers at Hell's Kitchen, Northfield (Josh Layfield) and Hilltop Farm, Deerfield (David Sibley).


The 27th saw a further three Blackpoll Warblers along North Cross Road, Gill where there was also had a singing Black-billed Cuckoo but I think the highlight would have to be the discovery of one, possibly two, Grasshopper Sparrows at a new site in Deerfield.

Grasshopper Sparrow - Deerfield, Franklin Co., MA. May 27th, 2020. 

Two Blackpoll Warblers were singing in our Northfield yard on the 28th and a singing Mourning Warbler was in Deerfield (David Sibley), the latter species seems to have been decidedly scarce this month, especially compared to last year.

The week also produced a number of daytime Black Bear sightings including singles in Gill on the 28th and Charlemont on the 31st, and this one neatly photographed by Brian Kane in his backyard in Sunderland on the 27th!

Black Bear - Sunderland, Franklin Co., MA. May 27th, 2020. 
Image appears courtesy of Brian Kane. 

As the month drew to a close, the air was full of the sounds of breeding species settling down for the season in Franklin County with especially an especially vocal Virginia Rail in Gill, and a distinct increase in singing Alder Flycatchers and Black-billed Cuckoos. The last day of the month was neatly rounded off by a stunning Sandhill Crane preening in a roadside marsh, quite oblivious to the Sunday traffic and attention that it was receiving from the passing public! 

Sandhill Crane - Ashfield, Franklin Co., MA. May 31st, 2020.



Tuesday, May 26, 2020

May - third week

Veery - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 16th, 2020.
Plentiful during the Mass Audubon bird-a-thon. This was off River Road, Gill. 

It hardly seems like a week has already passed since the Mass Audubon Bird-a-thon event last weekend! In terms of migration, gradually dwindling numbers of northbound migrants tapered towards the end of the week.


Upinngil Farm, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 15th, 2020. The storm clouds that brought an abrupt end to Friday evening viewing during the bird-a-thon. 

The Mass Audubon Bird-a-thon was just fabulous. Given the climate of the time, it was a human-powered, socially distant event, restricted to families birding from home and nearby surroundings. Being a 'carbon-free' effort, bicycles were allowed and between 6pm on Friday the 15th and 6pm on Saturday the 16th I managed to log 54 miles of Garmin measured riding and notched up 114 different bird species. I was impressed with that tally considering no vehicles were involved and the fact that a major thunderstorm brought an abrupt and early end to plans for night birding on the Friday. My 'remote' field companions, all independently covering other corners of Franklin County, had successful days too with plenty of migrants around though usually reliable summer breeders such as Black-billed Cuckoo and Alder Flycatcher were notably absent. However, between my family and three other teams working Franklin County, we managed a combined haul of 126 species - all on foot or by bicycle. During the count I discovered that North Cross Road was something of a sweet spot for warblers, especially Cape May Warblers with more than a dozen there on the 16th and a huge count of 25 on the 17th. With them came Bay-breasted, Blackpoll and Tennessee Warblers and a lot of Northern Parulas. I really enjoyed the bird-a-thon but as much as I'd like to do it again next year, I'm genuinely hopeful that my tour schedule will be up and running and we'll have returned to 'relative normal' in spring 2021. 

Early morning, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 16th, 2020.


Early morning, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 16th, 2020.


Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - Northfield, RT 142, Franklin Co., MA. May 15th, 2020.
Some unfortunate roadkill along the bird-a-thon , two Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and the male Rose-breasted Grosbeak below.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (male) - Northfield, RT 10, Franklin Co., MA. May 16th, 2020.


 Louisiana Waterthrush - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 16th, 2020.
Plentiful during the Mass Audubon bird-a-thon with 27 noted on the 16th. This one was off River Road, Gill. 


Swainson's Thrush - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 16th, 2020.
A scarce migrant, this one was off River Road, Gill. 

 Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 16th, 2020.
Woodland fringe on the Mass Audubon bird-a-thon, off River Road, Gill. 


Cape May Warbler  - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 16th, 2020.
Very good numbers (16) seen during the Mass Audubon bird-a-thon. This male was on North Cross Road, Gill. 
Even more were present on North Cross Road the next day. 

Cape May Warbler  (male) - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 17th, 2020.
Image appears courtesy of Josh Layfield. 


Cape May Warbler  (male) - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 17th, 2020.
Image appears courtesy of Josh Layfield. 


Wilson's Warbler - Greenfield Community College,  Franklin Co., MA. May 16th, 2020.
Image appears courtesy of Josh Layfield. 
Josh managed to tally four of these scarce spring migrants in the college grounds during the bird-athon.


My trusty steed. Giant Revel. Turner's Falls power canal, Franklin Co., MA. May 16th, 2020.
54 miles ridden at an average speed of 11.5 miles mph and 114 bird species recorded. 

Mid-week was, for me at least, highlighted by nice close views of a migrant Gray-cheeked Thrush at the mountain bike trails at Orchard Hill, Umass-Amherst on the 19th. It was very co-operative and feeding right alongside a Swainson's Thrush. The 19th/20th also bought a strong 'wave' of Tennessee Warblers throughout northern Franklin County with at least 15 singing the Montague area alone. The 22nd brought fewer Tennessee Warblers and a couple of Blackpoll Warblers to the Gill area but did produce a nice surprise in the form of a Solitary Sandpiper on Ben Hale Road, Gill.

Gray-cheeked Thrush - Orchard Hill, Umass-Amherst, Hampshire Co., MA. May 19th, 2020.

Swainson's Thrush - Orchard Hill, Umass-Amherst, Hampshire Co., MA. May 19th, 2020.

Gray-cheeked and Swainson's Thrush (rear) - Orchard Hill, Umass-Amherst, Hampshire Co., MA. May 19th, 2020.


Solitary Sandpiper - Ben Hale Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 22nd, 2020.

Friday, May 15, 2020

May 14th -


Bobolink - one of at least five singing males, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 14th, 2020.

The day dawned cold, clear and frosty once more. Initial indications appeared to point to very few new birds so I settled for catching up with some local breeding birds including Bobolinks and Orchard Orioles in Gill, and Killdeers at Turner's Falls where I just happened to come across a nest with four eggs!

Killdeer (nest with eggs) - Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. May 14th, 2020.

As the day warmed up migrant warblers including Blue-winged, Nashville and Northern Parula became more obvious but as I set off for a morning bike ride I wasn't quite prepared for the numbers of parulas that would actually be out there. A 22 mile loop from Montague Plains through Sunderland and Turner's Falls produced no less that 40 Northern Parulas, easily the biggest wave of the species that I've experienced in Franklin County. Other notable arrivals on the same ride included Northern Waterthrush (8) which seem to have been scarce so far this spring and Yellow-throated Vireo (4), notably late in arrival compared to previous springs.


The evening hours were decidedly balmy in Gill (72 deg F) with a fantastic chorus of Barred Owls and Wood Thrushes and my first 'singing' Veery of the spring. Our yard in Northfield also turned out to be something of a sweet spot for thrushes with Susannah spotting a migrant Swainson's Thrush, several foraging Veeries plus a Hermit Thrush in song early in the morning.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

May 12th - 13th


Orchard Oriole (male) - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 12th, 2020.
The return of a pair to a traditional breeding site in Gill. 

Back to cold air unfortunately, apparently a system feeding straight off an ice-covered Hudson Bay! The 12th saw blustery north-westerlies once more and a chilly, uninviting start at Barton Cove, Gill. However, that didn't deter the first Orchard Orioles from showing up at a traditional breeding site with the male singing vigorously and a female already in tow. Other species new for the year included Red-eyed Vireo and Indigo Bunting though warbler numbers did appear to be reduced from previous days. Although water levels on the cove were not especially favorable for shorebirds, 10 Least Sandpipers continued to linger from the 11th.

Orchard Oriole (male) - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 12th, 2020.

Meanwhile up in Northfield, Josh Layfield did rather better on warblers producing the first Wilson's (1) and Cape May Warblers (2) of the spring as well as Red-eyed Vireo and no less than four Solitary Sandpipers and a Green Heron. And in Sunderland, Brian Kane noted our first Franklin County Lincoln's Sparrow of the spring.


 American Redstart (female) - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 12th, 2020. 



Cape May Warbler (male) - Hell's Kitchen, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. May 12th, 2020.
One of two males present, image appears courtesy of Josh Layfield.


Wilson's Warbler (male) - Bennett Meadow, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. May 12th, 2020.
Uncommon migrant in spring. Image appears courtesy of Josh Layfield. 


In the evening, while preparing for a bike ride at the east end of Turner's Falls Airfield, I unexpectedly disturbed what could only have been a Lark Sparrow from a sandy parking spot and watched it fly low and direct towards Montague Sandplains. As reluctant as I am to post possible or probably sightings anywhere, I had good, close, naked-eye views of this bird noting the direct yet bounding flight, very prominent white tips to the tail and creamy white underparts. But, I wasn't 'switched on' for birding in those moments and the beast was escaping before I realized what I had in front of me. That much said, I do get to see hundreds of Lark Sparrows each year on my tours and feel pretty confident about this one. Let's hope it gets relocated! While I was musing on what could have been, 10 Fish Crows flew over and dropped into the pines along the northern fringe of the sand plains.


The start of the 13th was even colder  in Gill with temperatures of 28 deg F and a sharp frost. New birds were not at all obvious though a trickle of Yellow-rumped Warblers moved north over North Cross Road and there was also a Palm Warbler with them. Otherwise the chorus along North Cross Road was composed mostly of Wood and Hermit Thrushes, a few Louisiana Waterthrushes and the first singing Winter Wren in a while.

Monday, May 11, 2020

May 12th - Shorebirds!

Least Sandpipers - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 11th, 2020.
A sample of the 28 birds present on the cove this morning.


An interesting day with a distinct 'air' of change compared to the previous three days, especially with an unexpected arrival of shorebirds to northern Franklin County. I say 'unexpected' because the perfectly calm, clear morning offered no indication at all that a shorebird fall-out might occur. Things got off to a promising start with a Common Loon departing north over Barton Cove and reduced water levels produced a nice array of shorebirds scattered around the cove including the first tundra breeders of the season; Least Sandpiper (28) and Semi-palmated Plover (2). In addition, Solitary Sandpiper (2), Spotted Sandpiper (15) and Lesser Yellowlegs (2) were also present. Apparently a strong day for Solitary Sandpipers continued with five together on a small flooded area in Greenfield and three individuals from three different sites in Montague/Sunderland (Brian Kane). The Greenfield birds were close enough for Matan to try his hand at photography and a couple of his shots appear here. 




Solitary Sandpipers - Greenfield, Franklin Co., MA. May 11th, 2020.
Images by Matan Lerman-Smith, some of the five birds present at this site. 


Gulls were not represented early in the morning by noon 14 Ring-billed Gulls had dropped into Barton Cove. Noteworthy passerines included Scarlet Tanager, Great Crested Flycatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and 6+ Blackburnian Warblers at Barton Cove campground along with a widespread arrival of Black-throated Blue and Blue winged Warblers in Gill. Northern Parulas were also especially evident in Gill this morning with over a dozen at a wide scatter of locations.

Common Loon - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 11th, 2020.
Migrant departing north at 06:50 hrs. 

Yellow-rumped Warbler (female) - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 11th, 2020.
Large numbers currently moving through northern Franklin County. 

May 8th - 9th - 10th : another Sora!

Sora - Greenfield, Franklin Co., MA. May 10th, 2020.
A nice find by Josh Layfield.

The ongoing theme of cold air continued culminating in frigid conditions on the 9th with snow showers throughout the day driven by harsh, blustery north-westerly winds. All in all, it was fairly unpleasant to be out and generally unfavorable for migration. 

The 8th saw few changes with the exception of Common Yellowthroats which were suddenly much more widespread and vocal than they had been at any point during the spring. In Gill, a pair of Virginia Rails called spontaneously from a cattail marsh where I'd discovered them earlier in the month. Also of note, a Least Flycatcher sang from our yard in Northfield around noon. In late afternoon, Josh Layfield discovered a small but diverse gathering of shorebirds at Hell's Kitchen, Northfield; Solitary Sandpiper (1), Greater Yellowlegs (1) and Lesser Yellowlegs (2). Further up the road he also noted a Nashville Warbler at Satan's Kingdom.

Black-throated Green Warbler (male) - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 9th, 2020.


The 9th was simply brutal, beginning with snow showers that left a light dusting and some accumulation in the higher areas of Franklin and Hampshire Counties. Barton Cove, surprisingly, was devoid of migrant waterfowl but hundreds of swallows could be seen hawking low over the water with large numbers either side of the campground peninsula probably totaling over 1000 birds. Four species were involved; Northern Rough-winged, Barn, Tree and Bank Swallows.  Migrant passerines were few and far between though I did stumble across a small feeding flock at Barton Cove campground containing Northern Parula (1), Nashville Warbler (1), Blackburnian Warbler (2) and a fairly late Ruby-crowned Kinglet. In late afternoon, Josh Layfield noted an arrival of 17 Double-crested Cormorants at Barton Cove along with a Bufflehead, most likely a continuing female/immature from the previous weekend.

Brown Thrasher - Greenfield, Franklin Co., MA. May 10th, 2020.


Sora - Greenfield, Franklin Co., MA. May 10th, 2020.
A good find by Josh Layfield in an unlikely setting. 

The 10th was similarly raw and blustery, though not quite as brutal as the previous day. Waterbirds, again, were next to non-existent at Barton Cove but a decent sized feeding flock of around 45 warblers fed around leafing oaks at Barton Cove campground. Most proved to be Yellow-rumped Warblers seemingly part of the second major push of the spring but good numbers of Northern Parula, Black-throated Green, Blackburnian and Black-and-White Warblers were also present along with a couple of Nashville Warblers, as well as another Ruby-crowned Kinglet.  At home in Northfield, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird visited the feeders for the second day in succession. And in Gill on North Cross Road, a Veery was calling though I still haven't heard any Veery song so far this spring.  Late afternoon brought more unexpected news from Josh Layfield in the form of a Sora calling from a little-watched wetland in Greenfield. With yet another Sora reported (via ebird) from Ashfield yesterday, this seems to be an unusually good spring for the species in Franklin County. Not wanting to miss the opportunity, I found myself chasing a second County Sora in a matter of days!