Monday, September 14, 2020

MA - Buff-breasted Sandpiper in Franklin County!


Buff-breasted Sandpiper (juvenile) - Whately, Franklin Co., MA. September 11th, 2020. 
Sensational find by Ted Gilliland in the late afternoon downpours of September 10th and, surprisingly, still present during the morning hours of September 11th. 

On Friday morning (Sep 11th) I'd planned to check some sites around Deerfield hoping for my first Connecticut Warbler of the fall. It was cool, overcast and blustery and quite the contrast to the previous day's warmth that had been coupled with muggy, thundery showers. Indeed the day before, I'd spent quite a bit of time looking for grounded shorebirds, in particular I had Buff-breasted Sandpiper in mind which I'd found under similar conditions at Turner's Falls back in September 2017. My prize for all that work was a single, calling, flyover American Golden-Plover at Turner's Falls and, despite checking all my local Killdeer flocks, there wasn't a hint of anything with them, least of all a Buff-breasted Sandpiper!

Just before heading out to Deerfield, I quickly checked ebird noticing that Ted Gilliland had come across a Buff-breasted Sandpiper the previous evening. It was a spot that I knew well having had several encounters with Buff-breasts along the same road only a little further south on the Hatfield/Whately town line. Those observations included one of seven together during Hurricane Katrina in August 2005! Since I was heading south I really didn't have too much to lose by quickly checking the fields where Ted had his sighting the evening before. It was tough, distant and the conditions blustery but after 15 minutes of scanning through Killdeers I eventually found the Buff-breasted Sandpiper, ultimately moving around to a more sheltered spot for better views. Close-up, it looked to be a nice crisply marked juvenile. Though September is most certainly 'the' month to look for this species in Franklin County it's rare enough to justify a local chase and I'm pretty sure this bird was only my second away from the former favored spot on the Hampshire/Franklin county line, and well worth the effort!


Wednesday, September 9, 2020

MA - opening up September with a Baird's Sandpiper!


Baird's Sandpiper - Hell's Kitchen, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 1st, 2020.

The opening ten days of September brought a flurry of good birds to northern Franklin County including a locally rare Baird's Sandpiper at Hell's Kitchen, Northfield on the 1st. It was a fine, crisp juvenile and courteous enough to stick around until the 3rd furnishing only my second county Baird's Sandpiper within the last ten years. My first Baird's was also a juvenile, found by Eric Huston on the Connecticut River on September 1st, 2017 and viewed from Barton Cove campground. Good shorebird conditions are not easy to find in Franklin County and we often have to be content with brief or distant views as was the case with 4 Semi-palmated Plovers at Caldwell Road sod fields, Northfield on the 2nd. The latter site also saw a Pectoral Sandpiper on August 29th with another, or perhaps the same bird at Hell's Kitchen on the 30th. Least Sandpipers have featured constantly at Hell's Kitchen (up to 23) and less frequently at Caldwell Road sod fields (up to 17) and Turner's Falls Airfield (2 - 5). An early Wilson's Snipe was noted on at Hell's Kitchen on three dates between the 3rd and 9th and on Sep 10th a calling American Golden Plover flew down the Connecticut River at Turner's Falls, the latter being a scarce, perhaps less than annual migrant in northern Franklin County.

Noteworthy waterfowl in the first ten days of the month included a lingering drake Gadwall at Turner's Falls with 2 -3 Green-winged Teal at Barton Cove and Hell's Kitchen, and a super group of six Blue-winged Teal at Hell's Kitchen on the 9th and 10th. Throughout the period 4 - 6 Pied-billed Grebes could be found lurking around a weed-choked Barton Cove. 

Red Crossbill - Montague Plains, Franklin Co., MA. September 4th, 2020.

Red Crossbills and Red-breasted Nuthatches continue to feature in numbers with Hell's Kitchen, Northfield and the Montague Sand Plains being among the easier places to find them. Most of the crossbills have been identified as Type 10, but Tim Spahr managed to winkle out Types 2, 3, 10 and possibly 1 from single concentration of 21 birds in the Montague Plains on Sep 4th! The presence of streaked juveniles in the flocks also raises the possibility of local breeding. Still at the Montague Sand Plains, impressive numbers of Pine Warblers (35+) have been present with the flocks containing up to five Prairie Warblers during Sep 6th - 8th. Other passerines of interest included a Palm Warbler at River Road Cemetery, Northfield on Sep 10th and a decent showing of Yellow-bellied Flycatchers after the first at Hell's Kitchen on August 30th with several more there and along North Cross Road, Gill through to Sept 9th. 

Prairie Warblers - Montague Plains, Franklin Co., MA. September 5th, 2020.

Pine Warbler (juv/first-winter) - Montague Plains, Franklin Co., MA. September 8th, 2020.

Finally, August 29th brought a fantastic migration of Common Nighthawks and I was lucky enough to be around Turner's Falls that evening to experience it. Between Turner's Falls Airfield and Unity Park I estimated around 620 Common Nighthawks appearing in tight, dense swarms over the town, Barton Cove and the Airfield - very impressive to say the least! 

Friday, August 21, 2020

MA - red, ruby and purple

 August 15th brought a cool, north-easterly airflow and a welcome end to a prolonged spell of heat and humidity. It really felt like fall had started and there were even small kettles of Turkey Vultures and Broad-winged Hawks, as well as a juvenile Merlin to be seen at Turner's Falls Airfield that day. The 16th was equally cool and comfortable and Hell's Kitchen supported a small but enticing selection of shorebirds including 5 Least and 1 Solitary Sandpiper, a Lesser Yellowlegs and at least 12 Killdeer. A post breeding flock of at least 15 Killdeer continued to linger at Turner's Falls Airfield as well. 

But the real story revolved around the build up of several irruptive species throughout northern Franklin County, especially Red Crossbills. I've now heard and seen crossbills every day since July 31st. Sightings appear to be completely random and almost always involve flyovers will a general movement toward the SW. Flock sizes have not been large ranging from two to nine birds and actually involving quite a lot of singles. Since August 8th I've found them at numerous sites in Gill, plus Hell's Kitchen in Northfield, Millers Falls, Sunderland, Montague and Wendell. Sound recordings from about 15 observations and all have been identified as 'Type 10' by Tim Spahr and Matt Young after analysis of the 'kip-kip' flight calls. It's fantastic having these birds in our area, especially so early in the fall, and with no signs of the influx slowing down it seems that we have plenty to look forward to in the coming weeks. 

Mid-August also produced an especially noteworthy wave of Red-breasted Nuthatches with small numbers and singles occurring just about anywhere, and larger concentrations at Hell's Kitchen (15+) and North Cross Road, Gill (7+) over the 16th and 17th, and Highland Park, Greenfield (16) on the 20th.  Like the crossbills, I think we can look forward to more over the next few weeks with the potential for some quite spectacular movements and concentrations.  By comparison, the SW movement of Purple Finches over Gill and Northfield has been more subtle involving fewer birds and they have not been daily. However, the indications are there for a stronger passage in late August and into September. 

Gadwall - eclipse male, Unity Park, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. August 13th, 2015.

Historical image of what is presumably the same male back for another summer in 2020!

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have graced our garden feeders in Northfield with up to eight in the yard at any one time, and on the 18th I noted four individual hummingbirds moving low over the water at Barton Cove heading in SW direction - those could well have been migrants. Barton Cove has also hosted several Great Egrets and, remarkably, what appears to be the same returning drake Gadwall back for another summer. It can usually be found loafing around with the Mallards off Unity Park and is likely to stick around for several weeks. 

Sunday, August 9, 2020


Sooty Tern - Rainbow Cove, Wachusett Reservoir, Worcester Co., MA. August 8th, 2020.

Although Tropical Storm Isaias failed to deliver any detectable storm-driven birds to northern Franklin County, Worcester County fared much better with 4 Sooty Terns discovered by Sean Williams at Wachusett Reservoir on the afternoon of August 4th. As much as I expected those birds to be gone in a heart beat, I was genuinely surprised to learn that two of them lingered well into the next day with one remaining all the way through to the 8th! With positive reports still coming through all day on the 8th, Susannah, Matan and I decided to make a dash for Wachusett Reservoir late in the afternoon, hot on the heels of Josh Layfield's success earlier in the day. 

Sooty Tern - Rainbow Cove, Wachusett Reservoir, Worcester Co., MA. August 8th, 2020.

On arrival the scale of the Rainbow Cove was something to behold, and that was only a small portion of the reservoir!  Twenty anxious minutes passed with no sightings of the tern but we were very kindly and reliably informed by a couple on site that the bird was still foraging in the distance......seconds later there it was - a beautiful crisply plumaged adult Sooty Tern! We watched for a while as it made many passes up and down on the far side of the cove, gaining height at times and soaring/towering on down-curved wings reminding me a lot of a shearwater or petrel. At times it even soared above the tree line only to glide back down again on bowed wings. The bird looked healthy and strong with no obvious signs of weakening and the often sad end that befalls many stranded pelagic birds. 

Almost all my experience of Sooty Tern comes from Florida where I've seen thousands over the years at the Dry Tortugas but getting to see one just an hour from home and only 35 minutes east of the Pioneer Valley was an unexpected bonus and I'm very glad we made the trek to see it. Gracious thanks to Sean Williams the finder and all the birders who posted timely ebird reports as well as Josh Layfield who gave us up the minute information on logistics and the bird itself!

Friday, August 7, 2020

MA - every day Crossbills

Semi-palmated Sandpiper (adult) - Hell's Kitchen, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. August 2nd, 2020.

In the first week of August, Hell's Kitchen in Northfield remained a reliable spot for small numbers of shorebirds including KilldeerLeast and Solitary Sandpipers but an adult Semi-palmated Sandpiper there on the 2nd was far less usual and my first of the fall locally. 

Tropical Storm Isaias was the most significant weather event of the week bringing thundery, squally showers and damaging wind gusts late in the day on the 4th but sadly, in terms of northern Franklin County, there were no major fall-outs of seabirds while both Worcester and Berkshire Counties enjoyed significant arrivals of Sooty Terns. The best bird at Barton Cove during the storm was an unidentified white heron, either a Snowy Egret or juvenile Little Blue Heron first spotted by Josh Layfield. Unfortunately, the views were brief and in flight, and we were unable to settle on an identification but either species would have been good for Franklin County. The day after the storm, August 5th, did produce 6 Double-crested Cormorants and 3 Ring-billed Gulls but these and the two Great Egrets loafing around the cove were probably unconnected to the storm. 

The avian event of the week, at least locally, was the continued and unabated movement of Red Crossbills through northern Franklin County with 1- 10 birds noted daily between the 1st and 7th at sites in Gill, Northfield, Bernardston and Deerfield. In most cases, these were of birds passing over heading in a South-westerly direction but the few birds seen foraging appeared to be feeding in White Pines. Matt Young of Cornell identified my sound recording from North Cross Road on July 31st at 'Type 10' and I'm hoping to get the results of a further sound recording taken from a single bird, also on North Cross Road, Gill later today. Other passerines of note this week included a Bobolink over Boyle Road on the 6th (most likely a migrant) and at least five Red-breasted Nuthatches at Hell's Kitchen on the 7th, probably a family of local breeders. 


Great Egrets - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. August 4th, 2020.
Double-crested Cormorants and Ring-billed Gulls - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. August 5th, 2020.
Bald Eagle (adult) - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. August 5th, 2020.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

MA - egrets, shorebirds and crossbills!

Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. July 29th, 2020.
Seven of the nine Great Egrets present forming an evening roost on Barton Island. 

July went out with something of a bang as clear indications of an incursion of Red Crossbills became very evident on the last day with seven passing over North Cross Road in mid-morning, and at least one other calling and singing at Hell's Kitchen. Later that evening, I came across a further six Red Crossbills on North Cross Road feeding in White Pines with a similar number of Cedar Waxwings for company. The 31st also brought a singing Lousiana Waterthrush to our Northfield yard, quite a rare visitor in late summer/early fall and almost certainly a migrant. 

Shorebird migration has been particularly evident in the last two weeks of the month with Least Sandpipers consistently present at Hell's Kitchen (2 - 3 birds) and also for a couple of days at the Turner's Falls power canal (10 - 15 birds on Jul 23rd and 24th). Being partially drained on those dates, the power canal showed much promise and also held a Semi-palmated Plover on Jul 24th. Similarly, Solitary Sandpipers were present at Hell's Kitchen (1 - 3 ) and at the power canal when water levels were drawn down. Unfortunately, power canal water levels went back to normal on the 25th ending a short but sweet spell for migrant shorebirds there. Rather less expected was a wandering, calling Greater Yellowlegs over North Cross Road on Jul 29th, the same day that no less than 9 Great Egrets showed up for an evening roost at Barton Cove in what has become a traditional late July build of that species in northern Franklin County. However, they were not present the following evening when a juvenile Bald Eagle had taken a liking to their preferred roost tree!

Breeding species continued to be of interest late into the month with a notably strong presence of Yellow-billed Cuckoos and Alder Flycatchers in Gill/Northfield and the successful breeding of Barred Owls for the third consecutive year on North Cross Road, Gill. And of special interest, confirmation of breeding Merlins at an unexpected location in Greenfield where a pair raised at least three young to the fledgling stage. I was lucky enough to be there with the finder just as some of the fledglings were taking practice flights right over her backyard! Although I've suspected breeding Merlins in the Gill/Turner's Falls area for years this was first actual nest and confirmation of breeding that I've come across anywhere in Franklin County......thanks very much to Tamsin Flanders for sharing the experience! 

Merlins - all recently fledged young, Greenfield, Franklin Co, MA. July 24th, 2020. 

Friday, July 17, 2020

MA - fall migration underway!

Solitary Sandpiper - Hell's Kitchen, Northfield, MA. July 14th, 2020. 
Rather distant and one of two birds present. This is a phone-scoped image. 

Traditionally, mid-July almost always brings the first obvious signs that fall migration is underway. This year has been no exception and migrant shorebirds (from much further north) made an appearance this week with two Solitary Sandpipers at Hell's Kitchen, Northfield on the 14th and a Least Sandpiper over Hilltop Farm, Deerfield on the 15th (sound recorded by David Sibley). And July 17th brought three Solitary Sandpipers and my first Least Sandpiper of the season to Hell's Kitchen as well as up to a dozen Killdeers

Least Sandpiper (adult) - Hell's Kitchen, Northfield, MA. July 17th, 2020. 
Rather distant and another phone-scoped image. 

Solitary Sandpiper - Hell's Kitchen, Northfield, MA. July 17th, 2020. 
One of three birds present. Phone-scoped image. 

Migrating passerines are usually more difficult to detect at this time but an Eastern Kingbird moving high and direct to the south over Barton Cove on 15th looked like a strong candidate for a genuine migrant. Many species have also been forming post-breeding flocks. In particular, I came across a nice gathering of 120 Tree, 35 Barn and 2 Cliff Swallows at Beaver Meadow in Leyden where there was an impressive selection of other species including three Bobolinks

Cliff Swallow (center) - juvenile with Tree Swallows, Leyden, Franklin Co., MA. July 14th, 2020.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

MA - Acadian Flycatcher nesting in Franklin County - July 11th

Acadian Flycatcher at nest - Bernardston, Franklin Co., MA. July 11th, 2020.

A balmy Saturday evening with a strong southern wind seemed like a good opportunity to get outdoors and go for a family bike ride. Our destination was close to home in Bernardston and we aimed to do about 10 miles at a casual pace. My expectations for bird finding in the summer heat were pretty low but I carried my iphone all the same, just in case I heard or saw something unusual. We'd barely gone a mile into the ride when I heard the distinctively sharp 'peek' notes of what could only have been a calling Acadian Flycatcher. By the time I'd stopped to get a sound recording and fumbled around with my phone, Susannah and Matan were way up the road and the bird had stopped calling. But on the return leg of the journey I fared better. The bird was again calling spontaneously. This time I managed three recordings above the background noise of the stream and had brief naked-eye views of the bird zipping back-and-forth high amid the Eastern Hemlocks. Even without binocular views, I was pretty well convinced that it was an Acadian Flycatcher, a scarce/rare, low-density breeder at a handful of widely scattered sites in the Pioneer Valley. On a personal level, I recognized several years ago that I'd never actually seen an Acadian Flycatcher in Franklin County so to locate a self-found bird was especially satisfying. After the bike ride we returned to the same area, armed with bins and camera and soon located the bird, and it was still calling. It was so fast and tricky to view but, remarkably, it was clearly in the early stages of building a flimsy, basket-like nest high on the outer limbs of an Eastern Hemlock. I snapped a few pics as best I could and then moved on. 

Acadian Flycatcher at nest - Bernardston, Franklin Co., MA. July 11th, 2020.

Subsequent visits on July 13th and 14th found that the nest had very clearly been built up and attended to, and it looked relatively complete by the 14th. Oddly, there was no sign of the actual bird on either of those dates and the 11th was the only date on which I actually heard and saw the bird itself. I'll be keeping a close eye on the nest and will likely offer a more more updates to this page over next couple of weeks. 

Acadian Flycatcher nest - Bernardston, Franklin Co., MA. July 13th, 2020.
The nest had clearly been worked on since the 11th, but no sign of the flycatcher during my visit on the 13th.

Acadian Flycatcher nest - Bernardston, Franklin Co., MA. July 14th, 2020.
More material added to the nest since the previous day, but still no sign of the flycatcher on the 14th!

Monday, July 13, 2020


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 an intriguing post from Jan St Jean, one of the most active and reliable field birders in Rhode Island - she had found a Terek Sandpiper at Napatree Point! Being with Matan at Thunder Mountain bike park in Charlemont all of that particular day we were in no position to chase it, fearing that it might have moved on by the following day. By pure coincidence, I had long been fascinated by an old New England record of Terek Sandpiper from Plum Island, Essex Co., Massachusetts from June 23rd, 1990. That bird was seemingly found at a time of year when few other migrant shorebirds would have been moving and was 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's pages and on Facebook, the Rhode Island bird became more and more haunting and had the courtesy to stick around for several days after Jan's initial find. 

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 wet, thundery Northfield just before noon, and drove through heavy rain for the entire journey until we reached Westerly when, miraculously, the clouds parted and the rain ceased. The walk along 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 that sort of range. Had Susannah and I not seen multiple Terek Sandpipers on migration in 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 only a 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 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 a 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 previously 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. As always, gracious thanks to Jan St Jean for the spectacular find and for keeping us up to speed on the presence of the bird on the as we drove south on the 30th. What a day it was!!

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.