Monday, August 15, 2016

MA - Laughing Gull in Gill!

Finally a break in the hot, muggy weather bringing a relatively nice day to Gill and,  even better, a relatively nice gull! This fresh, hatch-year Laughing Gull was one of just three gulls present at Barton Cove/Turner's Falls today. It spent all of it's time on the buoy line that spans both sides of the river and was easily viewed from Unity Park in Turner's Falls as well as Riverview Drive in Gill. Not only a Gill/Turner's Falls first for me but also my first in Franklin County and interior Massachusetts. Moreover, this is 12th species of gull that I've confirmed and documented from this site since 2005, a tally that does not include several possible Thayer's Gulls in February 2009 or the much talked about Yellow-legged/hybrid Gull from February 2016.

Laughing Gull - juvenile with Ring-billed Gulls, Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. August 15th, 2016. 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

MA - catching up

Common Loon - Unity Park, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., May 30th, 2016.
Lingering around Barton Cove for about one week through to the end of May.

Red-breasted Merganser (female) - Unity Park, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., May 30th, 2016.
Unseasonal and unexpected at this location and date.

Prairie Warbler - Sudbury Tree Farm, Bernardston, Franklin Co., May 31st, 2016.

Osprey - Unity Park, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., May 27th, 2016.

Bald Eagle - Unity Park, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., May 30th, 2016.
Everyday and easy to see at Unity Park especially in late afternoon.

Chimney Swifts - Unity Park, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., May 30th, 2016. Local breeders.

Locally, June 1st usually marks the end of the spring migration and the start of hot, sticky, summer months. The woods and fields around Gill have been filled with bird song over the last ten days or so with a huge variety of species too numerous to list here but particularly noteworthy have been good numbers of Yellow-throated VireosLouisiana Waterthrushes, Blue-winged Warblers and Purple Finches which can be heard over much Gill at the moment. And it seems to be another good spring for Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoos both of which can be heard or seen most mornings in especially around North Cross Road and Boyle Road.

Blue-winged Warbler - North Cross Road, Gill, Franklin Co., May 31st, 2016.

Late May brought a small 'wave' of boreal warblers to Gill including Blackpoll, Bay-breasted and a single Cape May between the 26th-28th but, as usual, I found myself listening for less expected species and found a few including an Eastern Meadowlark singing off Main Road just north of Upinngil Farm during the last week of May. This is quite a scarce species in Franklin County, and this particular bird was just my second in Gill after pair summered on the NMH campus in 2013.

Eastern Meadowlark - off Main Road, Gill, Franklin Co., May 24th, 2016. 
This vocal male sang for several days just north of Upinngil Farm through to the end of May. 

Also, slightly unexpected was a singing Prairie Warbler at the tree farm on the Gill/Bernardston townline just off West Gill Road. Although Prairie Warblers are easy to find along the powerline cut at Mountain Road in Gill, the Bernardston bird was the first that I've seen at the tree farm.

On May 31st I saw a Cliff Swallow collecting mud for nest building at the Lily's Farm on Main Road, Gill, again highly unusual and the first that I've seen in Gill away from Barton Cove. Goodness only knows where Cliff Swallows are nesting in our area?

Shorebirds have been few but with very low water levels at Barton Cove on the 25th, some 35 Least Sandipipers and 8 Semi-palmated Plovers appeared despite warm sunny conditions and a southerly breeze, hardly the poor weather that we normally associate with shorebird arrivals in 'the valley'. The birds were extremely difficult to see often remaining hidden within the folds of the distant sand-bars and best seen and counted when disturbed by the local raptors.

Black Vulture - Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., May 26th, 2016. 
Seen in the Gill/Turner's Falls/Northfield area with increasing frequency since mid-February this year.

At Turner's Falls I continue to be impressed by the consistency with which Black Vultures and Fish Crows can be seen in and over the town, with two pairs of Fish Crow nesting a Unity Park and a further six pair scattered around the town and residential areas. Black Vultures now appear every week with 1-3 periodically showing up around the local Turkey Vultures. It's hard to imagine that I only saw my first ever Black Vulture in Franklin County just one year ago, in May 2015.

In terms of waterbirds, well Common Loon and Red-breasted Merganser were late spring visitors in the last few days of May but otherwise Unity Park and Barton Cove have been fairly quiet aside from a handful of Double-crested Cormorants and first-summer Ring-billed Gulls. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

MA - Louisiana Waterthrush and plenty more

Louisiana Waterthrush - River Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 13th, 2016.

Yesterday, April 13th, really marked a turning point in the spring, hopefully bringing an end to the cold, wintery air that seems to have been with us for the last couple of weeks. Locally, there's no better indicator of the end of winter than the arrival of Louisiana Waterthrushes to our streams and rivers. Yesterday I heard three singing males along River Road in Gill, including the showy individual pictured here.

Vesper Sparrow - North Cross Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 13th, 2016.

Perhaps more surprising was the appearance of a pair of Vesper Sparrows along North Cross Road, I think only the second time that I've recorded the species in Gill. The birds showed well, foraging at the roadside, quite literally at the side of the road. 

Common Loon - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 8th, 2016.

In the afternoon, I recorded no less than nine species of raptor from Unity Park in Turner's Falls including my first Broad-winged Hawks (3) of the year, along with a Black Vulture and a Merlin. Barton Cove itself has been pretty quiet aside from a single Common Loon and, after the first on April 6th, the daily presence of up to nine Double-crested Cormorants

Double-crested Cormorant - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 13th, 2016.

Widespread arrivals of more Eastern Phoebes, Pine Warblers, Field and Chipping Sparrows and Hermit Thrushes (including one in our yard on the 14th) have taken place in the last two days and their songs have been common place around Gill. A few Fox and White-throated Sparrows have also burst into song as they pass through the fields and hedgerows. North Cross Road in particular has been good for the former.

Eatsern Phoebe - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 11th, 2016.

Finally, a rainy morning didn't put off a Ruffed  Grouse from an aggressive roadside display on April 12th. This bird quite literally charged at my vehicle when I pulled up to take a look. I became so concerned for its welfare that I gently encouraged it to retreat back into the woodland. Otherwise, it might easily have become roadkill.

Ruffed Grouse - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 12th, 2016.

Ruffed Grouse - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 12th, 2016.

White-tailed Deer - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 14th, 2016.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

MA - winter hits back for a few more days

Pine Warbler - male, Turner's Falls power canal, Franklin Co., MA. April 3rd, 2016.

After last Friday's balmy 70 degree temperatures, winter hit back with a vengeance on Monday bringing about 5 inches of fresh snow followed by a very cold night with temperatures of around 13 deg F at dawn this morning. Even the hardiest of early migrants will shiver, or perhaps even perish under these conditions. But even so, Pine Warblers can still be heard singing from the woods around Gill and I heard two along a snow-covered Barney Hale Road this morning. Otherwise, it's been exceptionally quiet and migration, understandably, seems to be on hold for the moment.

 Pine Warbler - male, Turner's Falls power canal, Franklin Co., MA. April 3rd, 2016.
Exceptionally confiding male, much more often heard than seen in the Gill/Turner's Falls area.

Barney Hale Road, Gill - Franklin Co., MA. April 5th, 2016. 
Two singing Pine Warblers could be heard from this spot despite the wintery scene.

Song Sparrow - Unity Park, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. April 3rd, 2016.
Foraging during snowstorm.

Fish Crows continue to expand around Turner's Falls and on Sunday I came across pairs on I Street and at the Turner's Falls power canal, that's in addition to the regular birds around the Cumberland Farm gas station and at Unity Park. Oddly, I'm not finding Fish Crows on the Gill side of the Connecticut River though they seem easy enough to find in Greenfield, especially along Federal Street.

Fish Crow - Turner's Falls power canal, Franklin Co., MA. April 3rd, 2016.
All Fish Crows in Turner's Falls can be identified by their unique nasal vocalizations.

Fish Crows - I Street, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. April 3rd, 2016.

Friday, April 1, 2016

MA - another Osprey and widespread arrivals

The last two days (03/31-04/01) have been absurdly warm and balmy. A strong southern airflow has brought widespread arrivals of Northern Flickers, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Pine Warblers, Swamp Sparrows and Chipping Sparrows to the greater Gill/Turner's Falls area. Eastern Phoebes seem to be absolutely everywhere at this time, even deep inside wooded areas. Less usual was a singing Hermit Thrush in woodland north of North Cross Road this morning and another Osprey, this one taking a fish right in front of me at Barton Cove boat ramp. Overall, however, Barton Cove remains eerily quiet with just two Ring-necked Ducks present today.

 Osprey - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 1st, 2016.

Northern Flicker - North Cross Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 29th, 2016.

Canada Goose - Ben Hale Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 29th, 2016.
Expanding their local breeding range to rural Gill. First nest that I've seen at this location. 

Other birds of interest around Gill included a Barred Owl on North Cross Road yesterday, plus two Golden-crowned Kinglets and a lot of Pileated Woodpeckers, very active and seemingly all over Gill at the moment.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

MA - phoebes, tree swallows and other late March arrivals

Fresh back from a fabulous tour to Israel to find western Massachusetts edging slowly towards spring. Widespread arrivals of Eastern Phoebes and Tree Swallows seemed to have taken place, and in particular phoebes appear to be present around most properties in Gill and up to 150 Tree Swallows can be seen hawking over Barton Cove on most days. Less usual was an early-ish Osprey heading north over North Cross Road, Gill on the 26th and a Fox Sparrow singing from there on the same morning.

Fish Crows again appear to be increasing in Turner's Falls (Unity Park, Avenue A and the Rod and Gun club) and downtown Greenfield (Pierce Street) with up to three together at all the mentioned locations.

Wild Turkeys - Gill, Franklin Co, MA. March 29th, 2016.

Cedar Waxwings - Unity Park, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. March 29th, 2016.

A sizable flock of Cedar Waxwings has also been roaming around the Unity Park area of Turner's Falls with up 100 birds present.  In the fields and meadows around Gill, very much in keeping with this time of year, small parties of American Robins throughout the area probably totaling around 500 birds - not huge numbers but nice to see all the same. Among them just one 'sooty-mantled' bird (nitrides) so far but perhaps more will pass through in the first week of April. Northern Flickers are already widespread and the first Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was 'wrapping' off North Cross Road on the 29th, a day which also saw the first American Kestrel of the season at Upinngil Farm. Another highlight was a male Ruffed Grouse perched in a Hemlock stand off North Cross Road on the 30th.

Barton Cove has been relatively quiet this week with just 10 Ring-necked Ducks over the 26th - 27th, and up to two drake Buffleheads and a female Common Goldeneye throughout, a pair Wood Ducks at the Rod and Gun club on the 27th.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

MA - early March Barrow's Goldeneyes and a Glaucous Gull

Barrow's Goldeneye (left) - male, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. March 4th, 2016.

The opening week of March might best be described as 'steady', at least from the Gill/Turner's Falls perspective. It was very much a picture of gradual increases in waterfowl numbers and, respectively, dwindling numbers of large gulls. On the plus side, the attractive pair of Barrow's Goldeneyes remained at the Turner's Falls Rod and Gun club throughout the period along with up to four drake Bufflehead that consorted between there and Barton Cove. Good numbers of displaying Common Mergansers were present throughout. Numbers of Ring-necked Ducks peaked around the 4th/5th with up 23 at Barton Cove and a further 13 at the power canal - most were males. 

Just as the large gulls appeared to be dispersing, a surprise Glaucous Gull showed at Barton Cove on the 7th and two Lesser Black-backed Gulls (first-cycle and second-cycle) brought more interest on the 8th. In fact, on the evening of the 8th, Ring-billed Gull numbers had swollen to 250 birds so there was clearly an arrival of fresh birds there. Many of the Ring-billeds were calling from the ice, as were the Herring Gulls. 

In the fields around Gill, well lots of Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles to be found there and this morning (the 9th) I thought I heard a 'snatch' of Eastern Phoebe song but couldn't quite clinch it. That was on North Cross Road where a calling Barred Owl and a Winter Wren were rather easier to confirm. It's currently very spring-like with temperatures expected to reach 70 deg F this afternoon...pretty crazy for early-mid March!

Barrow's Goldeneyes male (left) and female (right) -  Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. March 4th, 2016.

Glaucous Gull - first-cycle, Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 7th, 2016.

 Lesser Black-backed Gull - second-cycle, Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 8th, 2016.

Ring-necked Ducks - daily at Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March  1st - 7th, 2016.
Numbers peaked at 23 on Mar 4th and 5th with a further 13 birds at Turner's Falls power canal.

Sunday, March 6, 2016


Yesterday we experienced an extra-ordinary day on Outer Cape Cod. Scott Surner, Brian Kane and I left the Pioneer Valley early. Our goal was to see the Yellow-billed Loon found at Race Point, Provincetown by Steve Arena about a week prior. We found the subject bird without too much trouble and then settled down to enjoy some of the best loon viewing that we've ever seen in North America. Conservative estimates of 150-200 Red-throated, 60-70 Common and 3 Pacific Loons and the Yellow-billed made for an unprecedented four loon day......not too shabby and well worth the three-mile round trip trudging through the soft sand of Race Point beach.

The spectacle was not taken for granted, not by any any means. Loon watching can be difficult at times with individuals tending to disappear for extended periods, especially when diving frequently. Race Point beach was all the more impressive as the rarities (Yellow-billed and Pacific Loons) remained on view for extended periods providing a living 'loon workshop' for anyone who might be interested in improving their knowledge of this fantastic group of birds in basic plumage.

Although it was a tough day out from Western Massachusetts, all three of us agreed that it was one of the best field experiences that we'd had in the state in recent years. On the walk back to the parking lot, I couldn't help but think about how fortunate Massachusetts is to be blessed with some remarkably good birders - 'chapeau' to Steve Arena for his excellent find and for alerting us to the excellent loon viewing currently available at Race Point.

Yellow-billed Loon - juvenile/first-winter, with Common Loon, Race Point, Provincetown, MA. March 6th, 2016.

Pacific Loon - with Common Loon n foreground, Race Point, Provincetown, MA. March 6th, 2016.

Red-throated Loon - Race Point, Provincetown, MA. March 6th, 2016.
One of several slightly tricky individuals potentially confusable with Pacific Loon.

Red-throated Loon (left)- Race Point, Provincetown, MA. March 6th, 2016.  
Same bird as above with Pacific Loon to the right.