Tuesday, May 2, 2017

MA - grand fall-out of migrating waterbirds at Turner's Falls!

Black Tern - adult, Turner's Falls Rod & Gun Club, Franklin Co., MA. May 2nd, 2017.  

May 2nd: Overnight thunderstorms and very heavy rain persisted through to dawn. I decided to trade my early morning bike ride for a quick visit to Barton Cove, Gill and arrived at the public boat ramp at 06:22 hrs. Within minutes I was looking a some good waterbirds with clear indications of an overnight arrival: two Bufflehead, a Long-tailed Duck, two Common Loons, a Horned Grebe (in near full breeding plumage), five Northern Shoveler and a flock of 36 Green-winged Teal - not too shabby for starters! Scanning through the swallows, I came across several Cliff Swallows when Eric Huston called with news of a 'hooded' gull from the Turner's Falls Rod & Gun club. He was understandably cautious, as the previous day I'd seen a summer plumaged Bonaparte's Gull at the same spot, but he seemed pretty confident that his distant bird was a Laughing Gull - exceedingly rare for interior Massachusetts. 

Laughing Gull - adult in breeding plumage with Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, Turner's Falls Rod & Gun Club, Franklin Co., MA. May 2nd, 2017.  The dark hooded, dark mantled gull in the center of the island. Distant but readily identifiable through a spotting scope. A good find for Eric Huston, only the second documented record for Franklin County. 

Long-tailed Duck - male-breeding, Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 2nd, 2017.
One of four Long-tailed Ducks today. 

Northern Shovelers - five, Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 2nd, 2017.

  Red-breasted and Common Mergansers - Turner's Falls Rod & Gun Club, Franklin Co., MA. May 2nd, 2017.  
Common Merganser flanked by two Red-breasted Mergansers.

Bonaparte's Gull - adult-breeding, Turner's Falls Rod  & Gun Club, Franklin Co., MA. May 1st, 2017.  

Five minutes later I was fortunate to find Eric and the Laughing Gull still present at the Rod & Gun club. It was distant and resting on a small island which's only exposed when water levels (controlled upstream) are low. Around the same island, 3 female Red-breasted Mergansers and a first-summer Common Tern......wow!

Eric had to leave for work but I had enough time to linger for another ten minutes or so and could hardly believe my luck when a Black Tern in breeding plumage flew through my field of view as I watched the Common Tern. 

Black Tern - adult, Turner's Falls Rod & Gun Club, Franklin Co., MA. May 2nd, 2017.  

With brightening skies, I returned to the Rod & Gun club after dropping Matan at school, hopeful of improving on the documentation shots of the Laughing Gull. Alas, the favored island was already underwater and all the birds that it had been holding had moved on. It later transpired that Josh Rose and Bill Lafley had seen and reported the Laughing Gull at Barton Cove, just a little downriver from the Rod and Gun Club. However, the latter site still held 3 Long-tailed Ducks, a Horned Grebe, a Common Loon and 2 Red-breasted Mergansers as well as Great Crested Flycatcher, Black-throated Blue Warbler and Northern Parula and no less than 10 Cliff Swallows. Shorebirds included 2 Greater and 1 Lesser Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper, 2 Least Sandpipers and plenty of Spotted Sandpipers.

Lesser Yellowlegs - Turner's Falls Rod & Gun Club, Franklin Co., MA. May 2nd, 2017.  

Cliff and Barn Swallows - Turner's Falls Rod & Gun Club, Franklin Co., MA. May 2nd, 2017.  

By 09:15 activity seemed to be tapering and the Laughing Gull had already moved on from Barton Cove by the time that I arrived back at the boat ramp. Other than a singing Northern Waterthrush, I didn't really add anything new to the species haul in the few minutes that I spent there. Even so, by local standards this was a pretty thrilling morning to be out.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

MA - migration surge at the end of April.

Yellow Warbler - male, Turner's Falls Rod & Gun club, Franklin Co., MA. April 25th, 2017. 
My first of the year, but already widespread after the 26th. 

Unfortuanely, I haven't had a lot of time for blog posts this month but it's certainly been lively in Gill and the surrounding towns with widespread arrivals of American Kestrel, Hermit Thrush, Pine Warbler, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Towhee, Field and Swamp Sparrows and Purple Finch. A broad 'wave' of Ruby-crowned Kinglets passed through Gill on th 17th - 19th and thier rapid-fire warbling songs were common sounds in the woods and yards. I estimated at least 30 in Gill alone on the 18th. With them came th first Blue-headed Vireos and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers.

Eastern Towhee - male, Montague, Franklin Co., MA. April 30th, 2017.

Solitary Sandpiper - Hell's Kitchen, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. April 30th, 2017. 
One of seven present, very good numbers for a single site in Franklin County, 

Louisiana Waterthrushes first returned on the 11th, earlier than my first last year, with singing males already widespread by the 14th/15th. Despite being absent through the fall and winter, it was really great to hear two Winter Wrens singing off North Cross Road throughout the first two weeks of the month, with another at the Turner's Falls Rod & Gun club on the 25th, and one off Hoe Shop Road on the 29th. A House Wren singing from a yard on Boyle Road, Gill on the 13th was also earlier than average.

Louisiana Waterthrush - male, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 11th, 2017. 
First of the year and quite early but more widespread from the 14th with 20+ singing male in the Gill area alone.

Other early migrants included Baltimore Orioles in Old Deerfield on the 24th and Gill Elementary on the 25th, plus a Yellow Warbler singing at the Turner's Falls Rod and Gun Club on the 25th, and a Black-and-White Warbler in Gill Center on the 26th. 

Barton Cove has been 'heaving' with migrant swallows on rainy or heavily overcast days with large numbers of Tree, Northern Rough-winged and Barn Swallows, with a few Bank Swallows appearing from the 25th. Similar conditions have also produced a few single Bonaparte's Gulls throughout the month plus pairs of Long-tailed Ducks on the 5th and 19th.

Bonaparte's Gull - first-summer, Turner's Falls Rod & Gun club, Franklin Co., MA. April 25th, 2017. 

Northern Rough-winged Swallows - Turner's Falls Rod & Gun club, Franklin Co., MA. April 25th, 2017. 

Warm muggy days, combined with fog and drizzle produced a strong push of migrants and summer breeders towards the end of the month:

27th; Least Flycatcher singing near West Gill Cemetery plus widespread influx of Black-and-White Warblers and House Wrens throughout Gill. Also of note, Barred Owl pair dueting for about two hours solid in Northfield from 21:00hrs.

Least Flycatcher - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 27th, 2017. 
Quite early with three more heard in Gill on the 29th. 

28th; Remarkable day - A Great Egret by the CT River in Gill. My first spring record. A Snowy Egret at Turner's Falls Road & Gun club, courtesy of a text from Eric Huston - my first ever in Franklin County since I began observations in 2005. Also four or five Virginia Rails in a small wetland in Gill and a slew of year-firsts including Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Wood Thrush, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Waterthrush and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Barred Owl calling throughout the morning on River Road, Gill. 

Great Egret - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 28th, 2017. 
Unusual in spring, more typically seen around Barton Cove in mid to late summer. 

Virginia Rail - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 28th, 2017. 
Not easy to find in Franklin County but probably overlooked. 

 Common Yellowthroat -  male, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 28th, 2017. 

 Great Blue Heron - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 28th, 2017. 

29th - Sudden mass arrival of Ovenbirds with 20+ heard on an 11 mile bike ride around Gill. Also, several Black-throated Green Warblers and a Warbling Vireo at Gill Elementary school. 

30th - Chimney Swifts arrive in numbers at Barton Cove. Eastern Kingbird and a very early Willow Flycatcher just east of Main Road, Gill at the NMH campus. Several Prairie Warblers and Red Crossbills at Monatgue Plains plus a very vocal Red-shouldered Hawk. Nice shorebird viewing at Hell's Kitchen in Northfield with 7 Solitary, 5 Spotted and 3 Least Sandpipers, 4 Killdeer and 2 Lesser Yellowlegs.....(courtesy of Eric Huston). 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

MA - Broad-wing' migration comes to Gill - 04/24

Broad-winged Hawks - small flock forming over farm fields, River Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. 
April 24th, 2017. Eventually, I tallied 225 over a period of minutes.

April 24th was a gorgeous, warm spring day in Western Mass with winds in the southern quarter throughout the day. After dropping Matan school I opted for a quick drive along River Road in Gill and stopped for what should have been a five minute stroll along the fields.  A quick scan above the treeline produced a couple of soaring Broad-winged Hawks. Rather too quickly I assumed they were recently arrived local breeders. Minutes later, a small kettle of 8, then 12 Broad-wings formed in the same spot where the previous two birds had been. From that moment on, the following 90 minutes saw an excellent northward migration of Broad-winged Hawks along the Connecticut River in Gill. Several other species enjoyed the warm air and favorable conditions and by the end of the 90 minutes I'd logged; 5 Common Loons (all in breeding plumage), 4 Double-crested Cormorants, 12 Turkey Vultures, 5 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 2 Merlins, 2 Ospreys and 225 Broad-winged Hawks. The latter included several large kettles of up to 42 birds and was easily the most intense migration of raptors that I've seen in Gill.

Sharp-shinned Hawk - northbound over farm fields, River Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 24th, 2017.  

Broad-winged Hawk - over farm fields, River Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 24th, 2017.
A fantastic morning for this species in Gill with some kettles containing up to 42 birds. 
The closer birds, like this one, moved through incredibly quickly. 

Common Loon - northbound over farm fields, River Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 24th, 2017.  
I rarely see Common Loons away from Barton Cove, so to have a five in a morning (all breeding plumage birds migrating north) was certainly notable for the Gill area. 

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.