Thursday, July 30, 2015

MA - Great Egrets aplenty

This morning I made a casual check of Barton Cove from the Turner's Falls side of the Connecticut River. Water levels (controlled) were nice and low and it seemed more than reasonable to hope for a few shorebirds. Alas no shorebirds could be found but that was more than compensated for by an actual flock of Great Egrets! Although late summer Great Egret sightings are not rare in Turner's Falls, all of my observations in recent years have been of singles so to have a flock of six was almost too good to be true! The birds spent time on the Turner's Falls side of the Connecticut River before a dog walker flushed them over to the Gill side where they landed on a fully exposed sand bar. It should be interesting to see how long they stick around, if at all.

Great Egrets - Unity Park, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. July 30th, 2015.
First time I've seen an actual 'flock' of Great Egrets in Franklin County!

Also of interest this morning, several Yellow Warblers moving south over Barton Cove and at least 100 Chimney Swifts hawking of the residential areas of Turner's Falls.

Monday, July 27, 2015

MA - hello autumn

Signs of autumn are not always that easy to detect in my corner of the Pioneer Valley but one of the strongest indicators is the appearance of Yellow Warblers as they filter through the trees and bushes bordering the many fields in our area. I first noted them on July 9th and they've been a regular feature ever since most easily detected by their 'buzzy' flight calls. This is more likely to be post-breeding dispersal rather than true migration but the appearance of Yellow Warblers has always marked the tail end of the breeding season and the beginning of autumn migration for me.

Throughout June and into July, I had regularly seen single Green Herons flying back and forth over North Cross Road in Gill, quite scarce in the Gill area, and I strongly suspected that they were breeding locally. On Friday morning I had a high-flying small heron over North Cross road but this bird behaved differently gaining height and then flying around in at least four loops. It was a Green Heron but my photos revealed it to be a pristine plumaged juvenile, most likely relatively recently fledged and no doubt a result of local breeding.

Green Heron - juvenile, North Cross Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. July 24th, 2015.

Nowadays I see very few migrant shorebirds locally, so it was nice to come across two adult Least Sandpipers this morning (07/27) foraging at the edge of the Oxbow Marina in Northampton. These were certain migrants but 3-4 Spotted Sandpipers close by may have been local breeders. Hopefully I'll be blogging about more local shorebirds in the weeks to come. 

 Least Sandpipers - adults, Oxbow Marina, Northampton, Hampshire Co., MA. July 27th, 2015.

 Spotted Sandpiper - Oxbow Marina, Northampton, Hampshire Co., MA. July 27th, 2015.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

MA - Gloucester Whale Watch 07/25

Yesterday morning Brian Kane and I left Western Mass early to arrive at Cape Ann at 07:30hrs. Feeling the need to get out onto the ocean, we'd booked an outing with 7 Seven Seas Whale Watch, the first time we'd used this particular outfit. Conditions were perfect with overcast skies and a good northerly breeze keeping temperatures low and comfortable.

Humpback Whale - Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, MA. July 25th, 2015.

It was a fabulous trip with plenty to see. We ended up at the SE corner of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary where we treated to an amazing Humpback Whale that persistently breached around the boat for minutes on end.

Pelagic highlights included modest numbers of Great and Sooty Shearwaters, and my personal favorite, Cory's Shearwater which we saw throughout the day, and we saw them very well indeed. All of the Cory's identified to sub-species appeared to be borealis. Otherwise, just a smattering of Wilson's Storm-petrels and two Manx Shearwaters, along with a few Common Terns and Northern Gannets.

Cory's Shearwaters - five different individuals  showing characteristics of  C. d. borealis, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, MA. July 25th, 2015.

 Great Shearwaters - Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, MA. July 25th, 2015.

Sooty Shearwaters Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, MA. July 25th, 2015.

A few heart-pounding moments as Brian spotted something large, black and white sitting on the ocean as we steamed at speed toward the northern end of Stellwagen Bank - heart-pounding because we were both aware that an albatross sp. had been seen near Stellwagen Bank on July 12th. The ride out was so bouncy that it took these photos for us to be sure that we had been looking at an immature Northern Gannet!

 Wilson's Storm-petrels Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, MA. July 25th, 2015.
Not a great day for looking at these with very few close to the boat, but nice to have them around all the same.

White-winged Scoter - adult male, Gloucester Harbor, MA. July 25th, 2015.
Very nice to see and not on my 'radar' for the day. 

Brian Kane in action Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, MA. July 25th, 2015.
He never stopped looking all day!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

MA - cuckoos, swallows and a bear!

Mid-summer blog entries have been precious few lately but it's also perhaps my least active time of year for local birding. However, a few birds have caught my attention and there's certainly been plenty to see.  A Black-billed Cuckoo showed well in a roadside tree on Boyle Road, Gill yesterday (07/21) and I was surprised to hear one still singing as late as July 12th on North Cross Road, Gill. Cliff Swallows have showed up in a couple of less than expected spots recently with one over North Cross Road, Gill on June 22nd and  2-3 together over Newton Brook, Vernon, VT on July 18th. I only rarely encounter Cliff Swallows locally, most frequently at Barton Cove, Gill.

Fish Crows continue to turn up in family groups and this morning (07/22) I had one such group on Turner's Falls Road near the intersection with Edward Ave. I had another group down at Depot Street, Turner's Falls last week where there was also an immature Orchard Oriole.

Many species are still vocal despite the overwhelming sense that autumn is fast approaching. In particular, Indigo Buntings seem abundant in Gill while Winter Wrens have been surprisingly vocal recently on the wooded streams in Gill and Field Sparrows singing aplenty from the tree farms in the area.

Most of these observations have been made during my frequent bike rides in the area and last Sunday I had an early morning encounter with a youngish Black Bear that crossed West Gill Road just in front of me. It was all over seconds but luckily, it left some nice fresh, wet foot prints for me to record using my iphone. I'm always thrilled to find a bear in my local area and sadly see far fewer than I'd like.

Black Bear - fresh prints, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. July 19th, 2015. 
Photographed immediately after Black Bear crossed road at 06:40 am. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

MA - ibis, orioles and Fish Crows aplenty

Apologies for the lack of posts lately. I've been busy with fieldwork in the Pioneer Valley so had little time for blogging. That much said there's been plenty going on in Gill and surroundings and the normally 'quiet' mid-June period has yielded a number of incidental surprises, not least of which was a dark (Plegadis) ibis heading north over West Gill Road on Sunday  morning (06/14). No pics unfortunately, not even any bins as I was riding my bike at the time but it was almost certainly a Glossy Ibis. On the other hand, White-faced Ibis is occurring with increasing frequency in Massachusetts and has even been found breeding in the state and I don't think can be ruled out on a fly-by.

Another surprise this week has been the number of Orchard Orioles on territory in Gill. This is my fourth spring in the area and the month of June normally yields one or two singing males, especially along River Road but over this last weekend I had singing males on North Cross Road, Main Road (3) and at Gill Elementary School and I haven't even checked River Road where this male (below) was singing in late May.

Orchard Oriole - singing male, River Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. late May 2015.

On Sunday afternoon we had a family bike ride in Turner's Falls and heard and saw a Fish Crow calling at last year's breeding site just south-east of the 11th Street bridge. This is now the third year in a row that I've had them here in summer and it appears to be a traditional breeding spot. Later the same afternoon, I photographed this family group of calling birds on the powerline cut above Greenfield's Stop n' Shop supermarket. And then, returning to Turner's Falls, had another family group of Fish Crows flyover the 11th Street bridge. I love hearing their nasal calls and they certainly seemed to be established as summer breeders in the Turner's Falls/Greenfield area.

Fish Crows - vocalizing birds, Stop n' Shop, Greenfield, Franklin Co., MA. June 14th, 2015. 
Three of four present around the supermarket parking lot on a hot Sunday afternoon. 

Since I was in Turner's Falls, I spent a bit of time looking at the local Turkey Vultures hoping for a return of last months Black Vultures. No such luck with the Black Vultures but it was nice to see a Peregrine sparring with the vultures for a few seconds before it moved over the town.

Turkey Vulture - Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. June 14th, 2015.
One of about 15 roosting around the Turner's Falls bridge. No sign of any Black Vultures today.

Friday, May 29, 2015

MA - good birds in Gill

The last few days have continued to be warm and muggy but the woods, fields and wetlands around Gill have just been a 'wall of sound' lately. In particular, Wood Thrush, Pine Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Ovenbird, Yellow-throated Vireo, Willow Flycatcher and Indigo Bunting seem to be especially abundant in our area this year.

Yesterday evening 14 Double-crested Cormorants dropped into Barton Cove to join a lingering, and very late, drake Bufflehead.

Bufflehead - drake, Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 28th, 2015.

Double-crested Cormorants - some of the 14 individuals, Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 28th, 2015.
All appeared to be first-summer birds. 

 Yellow-billed Cuckoo - River Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 29th, 2015.

Orchard Oriole - male, River Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 29th, 2015.

Willow Flycatcher - River Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 29th, 2015.
Many singing birds along River Road this morning.

Spotted Sandpiper - River Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 29th, 2015.

The singing Kentucky Warbler continues to hold territory for it's third straight day and this morning I had my first local Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Orchard Oriole of the season making for some great birding just a few minutes from home.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

MA - Kentucky Gill!

Kentucky Warbler - singing male, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 27th, 2015. 

Found as a 'heard only' during my early morning bike ride, this Kentucky Warbler was still singing in the same spot when I returned with bins and camera a couple of hours later. Perhaps the result of the latest spell of very warm southerlies, this bird behaved in a territorial manner in what looked (to me at least) to be suitable breeding habitat. Unfortunately the site is on private rather than public land. The bird was easy enough to hear but very difficult to see as it chose five or six different song posts, often remaining surprisingly high in the canopy. Though not great, I was pretty happy to come away with these unambiguous record shots. 

Kentucky Warbler is one of several 'southern' warblers that I've been hoping to come across in Franklin County this year and, as far as I'm aware, this bird has the potential to be a county 'first'. 

A fine local morning for warblers was rounded off with a singing Worm-eating Warbler, again in suitable breeding habitat, on Ben Hale Road, Gill. Unfortunately, that bird was far less co-operative for the camera but I may try the site again in a couple of day's time.......bird on!

 Kentucky Warbler - male, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 27th, 2015. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

MA - local Black last!

Late this morning while driving south with Matan across the Turner's Falls bridge I noticed a small gathering of roosting vultures atop a tower just west of the Great Falls Discovery Center. I regularly see Turkey Vultures in the area so wasn't over surprised to see them, but the opportunity to see them perched was a good one so I pulled up in the parking lot and made a quick binocular scan - Black Vulture! The left most bird in the group was a Black, careful scanning producing two more Blacks and nine Turkey Vultures. It did seem slightly odd to see them perched and roosting at midday but with complete cloud cover, light rain showers and no wind, the air must have been so lacking in thermals that the vultures just preferred to sit it out.

Black Vulture has become something of a nemesis for me in Massachusetts. I've never chased one preferring that my first should come to me instead. But even so it's been frustrating to hear of multiple reports this year coming from towns like Wendall, Turner's Falls, Greenfield and other sites in Franklin County with none of them coming my way until today! Reports from further south and west in Massachusetts have become well established and I think we can look forward to more Black Vultures joining the Turkey Vultures in Franklin County in the near future.

 Black Vulture - Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. May 25th, 2015.  Upper bird in both images (with Turkey Vulture).

 Roosting Vultures - Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. May 25th, 2015.  Left most bird is a Black Vulture.
Two other Black Vultures roosting atop the rail are hidden from view at this angle.