Sunday, March 5, 2017

NH - Great Gray Owl


Great Gray Owl - Oak Street fields, Newport, Sullivan Co., NH. March 3rd, 2017.
Images appear courtesy of JoAnne Russo. 

A mere fifty miles north of the Massachusetts state line, this handsome Great Gray Owl put on a fabulous show as it roosted in the open at the edge of a wet meadow in Newport, New Hampshire. A major camera blunder left me without images for the day, but luckily Laura Gaudette and JoAnne Russo also got to the site on the same day, and JoAnne very kindly offered some of her excellent images to share on this post - thanks JoAnne!

The New Hampshire bird was apparently first found on or around Feb 25th, but it wasn't until about March 2nd that I finally picked up the thread. As it happens, the bird was not seen for most of the 2nd but did put in a late afternoon appearance that day raising my optimism for a chance visit on March 3rd. Thanks to a timley email from Dylan Jackson (many thanks Dylan) I was able to make the journey north  in between Matan's school hours taking Route 10 all the way from Northfield to the site in Newport. The drive was just 58 road miles from our home in Northfield and  turned out to be especially scenic north of Keene, NH. As I drove the route, I couldn't help but wonder how many Greay Gray Owls might actually be out there in this incursion year and maybe, just maybe, how about the prospect of one in Massachusetts?!

Remarkably, and before I'd finished composing this post, Brian Rusnica unearthed an ebird entry that clearly shows an unambiguous Great Gray Owl photographed just north of Northampton, Hampshire County, Massachusetts on February 22nd. The photographer, evidently not expecting anything out of the ordinary, had labeled his bird a Barred Owl and as such it was never flagged as 'rare' by ebird allowing the sighting to go unnoticed for 11 days. Naturally folks will be out searching and it remains to be seen whether or not the bird can be refound - I have a feeling it might be. In any event, kudos to Brian Rusnica for trawling ebird and spotting the photos and 'chapeau' to Derek Pritchard for taking the images and placing them in a public forum - excellent stuff!


Great Gray Owl - Oak Street fields, Newport, Sullivan Co., NH. March 3rd, 2017.
Images appear courtesy of JoAnne Russo. 


Great Gray Owl Scene- Oak Street fields, Newport, Sullivan Co., NH. March 3rd, 2017.
Sadly an all too familiar scene, birders and photographers keeping a respectable distance aside from the one jolly
who just has to get closer than everyone else. Thankfully the owl wasn't flushed on this occasion.




Wednesday, March 1, 2017

MA - a 'mini' big day in Franklin County 02/28

Red Crossbill - first-year male, Franklin Co., February 28th, 2017.

The end of February has been incredibly mild and exceedingly spring-like. Suffering from a little cabin fever, I felt the need for a full day in the field but rather than drive two hours to the coast I chose to stay local. With no fixed agenda or premeditated plan, I attempted a rather low key 'big day' in Franklin County, something that I've never tried before but I am likely to repeat. The goal was to simply poke around and see what I could dig up within a few miles of the house. The day was split into two sessions (06:30-12:30 and 15:00 - 19:30hrs) and I ended up with a tally of 54 species which I thought was pretty decent considering that it was a solo effort. As so often with big days, the 'big misses' hurt and Cooper's Hawk, Wild Turkey, American Woodcock, Horned Lark and Golden-crowned Kinglet somehow managed to elude me, and all of which are present currently in the local area. Then there's the 'near misses' with species such as Black Vulture and Barrow's Goldeneye seen before the 28th, or the Northern Harrier and Merlin in Gill the day after! Anyhow, it was a great test and a nice reminder of just how diverse the Pioneer Valley can be at times.

Red Crossbill - adult male, Franklin Co., February 28th, 2017.


Red Crossbill - adult male, Franklin Co., February 28th, 2017. Apparently collecting nest material.


Red Crossbill - adult male and female, Franklin Co., February 28th, 2017. Courtship feeding?


Red Crossbill - adult female, Franklin Co., February 28th, 2017. 


Highlights were many with just about all of the following sightings within a mile or two of the Connecticut River between Montague and Northfield;

Ring-necked Duck - 42 (one raft of 31 at Barton Cove).
Greater Scaup - 2 males at Turner's Falls. Nice but down from the five males on the 26th.
Great Horned Owl - 1 (seen at 07:15 in Gill)
Barred Owl - 3 (1 seen, pair heard catawauling)
Northern Saw-whet - 3 (all males 'soft' tooting).
Kumlien's Iceland Gull - 4 (3 first-cycle, 1 second-cycle), Barton Cove, Gill.
Red-breasted Nuthatch - 15
Red Crossbill - 12 plus. Males singing, several pairs seen carrying nest material and courtship feeding observed. However, no actual nests located.
Fish Crow - 1 calling Unity Park, Turner's Falls. Back at one of last year's breeding sites.

Weather: 32 deg F at first light rising to around 62 deg F by late afternoon. Clouds and light showers early giving way to a clear, sunny afternoon with a light but sometimes blustery south-westerly breeze.

Miles: 58 driven; 4 walked.

Fish Crow - Unity Park, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., February 28th, 2017. 
Eight pairs bred in Turner's Falls in 2016 including three pairs in Unity Park alone. 


Greater Scaups - two males with Ring-necked Ducks, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., February 28th, 2017. 


Hooded Mergansers - adult male and female, Franklin Co., February 28th, 2017. 
Breeding pairs moving back into the small ponds and swamps, this pair was in Gill.


Kumlien's Iceland Gull - first-cycle, Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. February 28th, 2017.


Kumlien's Iceland Gull - second-cycle, Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. February 28th, 2017.


Red-breasted Nuthatch - Franklin Co., February 28th, 2017.


Barred Owl - Franklin Co., February 28th, 2017.


Northern Saw-whet Owl - Franklin Co., February 28th, 2017.
A busy evening for these with three males calling from just one location. 







MA - Barrow's and 'orange billed' Common Goldeneyes


Barrow's Goldeneye - female, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. February 27th, 2017.

Every once in a while a post to the Western Mass Birders  Facebook page captures my interest, so when Mark Taylor posted news of a female Barrow's Goldeneye at the Turner's Falls power canal I was especially keen to take a look. Recent winters have been very good for Barrow's Goldeneye at Turner's Falls but this winter has been inexplicably poor. In fact, despite checking the goldeneye roost on many evenings in Dec through Feb, I couldn't come up with a single Barrow's, male or female. The only certain local report that I knew of was from Eric Huston on January 22nd when he had a male at Bennett Meadow in Northfield. The situation had also been clouded by the presence of a couple of female Common Goldeneyes showing atypical bill coloration.


Common Goldeneye - female with abberrant dull orange bill, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. February 27th, 2017.


Common Goldeneyes - female with abberrant bill (left), Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. February 27th, 2017.
Potentially a pitfall for female Barrow's - can a hybrid could be excluded? I'm not sure.

Mark's post to WMB seemingly generated very little interest but had certainly intrigued me. When I arrived at the power canal the first female goldeneye that surfaced was a Common with a dull yellow-orange bill! But with over a dozen goldeneyes diving in front of me, I patiently went through them all. I knew Mark to be a careful local observer and thought it unlikely that he'd get turned around by a Common Goldeneye with an abberant bill. A few moments later, a goldeneye surfaced right next to the guard rail about 10 meters from where I was standing - it was a beautiful female Barrow's and the closest goldeneye to me. For a good fifteen minutes I was treated to point blank views in exactly the spot that Mark had described. In fact it was so close to the guard rail that I would surely have missed it had I stayed in the car.


Barrow's Goldeneye - female, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. February 27th, 2017.

A beautiful bird and the only Barrow's that I've seen at Turner's Falls the entire winter. Thanks to Mark Taylor for his post.

Monday, February 27, 2017

NY - one or two Short-eared Owls


Short-eared Owl - Washington County Grasslands WMA, February 21st, 2017

Last week I made the two hour journey west to the Fort Edward Grasslands IBA in extreme eastern New York State. The site had been recommended to me some years ago by a birder that I'd met at Turner's Falls and had always been at the back of my mind for a winter visit. More recently, Laura Gaudette and JoAnne Russo made the journey from Putney, Vermont and spoke so highly of the experience that I could hardly resist the opportunity for a visit before the winter petered out. 

On reaching the area, I found numerous birders cruising the quiet country roads looking for raptors and it wasn't too long before I encountered my first Rough-legged Hawks and Northern Harriers. But having driven for over two hours to get the site I didn't want to stay in the car and decided to stretch my legs by walking down to the public viewing deck in the center of the IBA. Despite the birder traffic along the roads I was genuinely surprised to find myself alone on the deck, perhaps a little unnerving since I could a see a concentration of birder's cars on a nearby street leaving me to wonder if I was in the right place after all!

But, raptors were on view all the time from the deck as Rough-legs, Red-tails and harriers hunted around the area and sparred with each other. As dusk approached, I began to get to concerned that the hoped-for Short-eared Owls had already moved out for the winter. Then thankfully around 17:10hrs, the first owl appeared and, after briefly sparring with two harriers, flew right past the deck at close range. Moments later, another flew past me. I was surprised how vocal they were and watched them chasing over the fields barking and screaching, surprsingly audible at distance. With these two birds still in view, I quickly became aware of more owl vocals behind me and turned around to see a concentration of nine owls in a tight swirl remaniscent of a flock of migrating nighthawks. I could hardly believe it, 11 Short-eared Owls in the air simultaneously! At the same, and seemingly out of nowhere, the fields were suddenly 'cloaked' in quartering in Northern Harriers with at least 12 in view including three gray males. From then on, the owl and harrier activity continued until it was almost too dark see, though the owls remained vocal well into the dusk. On the other hand, the Rough-legs had dispersed early with around a one hour pause between the last Rough-leg sighting and the appearance of the first Short-eared Owl.

All in all, a wonderful experience and special thanks to Laura and JoAnne for encouraging me to give it a go - what an amazing place for raptors!

Short-eared Owls - Washington County Grasslands WMA, February 21st, 2017.
Four of the flock of nine visible from the viewing deck. 






Northern Harrier - Washington County Grasslands WMA, February 21st, 2017.
Minimum of 12 individuals during the afternoon, including three males.







Rough-legged Hawks - Washington County Grasslands WMA, February 21st, 2017.
Minimum of six individuals seen from the viewing deck. 









Short-eared Owls - Washington County Grasslands WMA, February 21st, 2017.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

OH - "the warbler capital".....more than just warblers.



Henslow's Sparrow - Ottawa NWR, Ottawa Co., OH. May 13th, 2016.

Very few birds are missed in NW Ohio in May thanks to the leaders of "The Biggest Week in American Birding" who keep tabs on all the good finds and provide up-to-the-minute information via a very active twitter feed. As a result, we were often provided with some rare treats such as exceptional views of roosting Eastern Whip-poor-wills and Common Nighthawks, and even the odd rarity such as the Curlew Sandpiper in full breeding plumage near Swanton - not too shabby!


Eastern Whip-poor-will - Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Lucas Co., OH. May 14th, 2016.


 Common NighthawkMagee Marsh Wildlife Area, Lucas Co., OH. May 15th, 2016.


Common Nighthawk - Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Lucas Co., OH. May 15th, 2016.


Curlew Sandpiper (right) - with Dunlin, near Swanton, OH. May 12th, 2016.


Sora - Pipe Creek Wildlife Area, Erie Co., OH. May 15th, 2016. 


Eastern Screech-owl - Maumee Bay SP, Lucas Co., OH. May 11th, 2016.


American WoodcockMagee Marsh Wildlife Area, Lucas Co., OH. May 14th, 2016.


Veery - Maumee Bay SP, Lucas Co., OH. May 11th, 2016.


Eastern Wood Pewee - Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Lucas Co., OH. May 15th, 2016.




OH - "the warbler capital"


Canada Warbler - Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Lucas Co., OH. May 11th, 2016.

As much as I tend to be a little guarded about talking-up locations when it comes to birds and birding, I've yet to come across any place in North America that could match North-west Ohio in May for warbler diversity. May 2016 was my fifth consecutive visit which, combined with an excurision into Michigan for Kirtland's Warbler (and other breeding birds and migrants) gave our Birdfinders group 31 species of warbler for the tour. That tally matched the previous tours but the species compostition was different on all four trips! Although the famous boardwalk at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area was crowded at times, the rich array of habitats close by served us well and we often slipped away to find some of our own birds. If North American warblers are your thing, then NW Ohio has to be a 'must visit' location - I certainly haven't seen anything quite like it in my travels in the US.

 Blackburnian Warbler - male, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Lucas Co., OH. May 15th, 2016.


 Blackburnian Warbler - female, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Lucas Co., OH. May 14th, 2016. 


 Bay-breasted Warbler - male, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Lucas Co., OH. May 14th, 2016.


Bay-breasted Warbler - male, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Lucas Co., OH. May 13th, 2016.


 Chestnut-sided Warbler - male, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Lucas Co., OH. May 15th, 2016.

Blackpoll Warbler - male, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Lucas Co., OH. May 13th, 2016.


 Cape May Warbler - male, Maumee Bay SP, Lucas Co., OH. May 11th, 2016.


Cape May Warbler - male, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Lucas Co., OH. May 14th, 2016.


Black-throated Green Warbler - male, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Lucas Co., OH. May 15th, 2016. 


Golden-winged Warbler - female, Maumee Bay SP, Lucas Co., OH. May 15th, 2016. 

 Magnolia Warbler - Maumee Bay SP, Lucas Co., OH. May 15th, 2016. 


 Magnolia Warbler - male, Maumee Bay SP, Lucas Co., OH. May 15th, 2016.  


Mourning Warbler - male, Maumee Bay SP, Lucas Co., OH. May 15th, 2016.  


Northern Parula - male, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Lucas Co., OH. May 15th, 2016. 


Prothonotary Warbler - Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Lucas Co., OH. May 14th, 2016. 


Northern Waterthrush - Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Lucas Co., OH. May 14th, 2016. 


Wilson's Warbler - male, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Lucas Co., OH. May 15th, 2016. 


Philadelphia Vireo - Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Lucas Co., OH. May 15th, 2016.