Sunday, November 29, 2015

MA - Bohemian Waxwing and more over the holidays

The Pink-footed Goose was well searched for in the days after the initial sighting on Nov 25th but I haven't come across any reliable reports since so it's look like it may have moved on. However, the search for it did produced a Greater White-fronted Goose (many obs) and perhaps the return of the family group of four Cackling Geese, first noted on Nov 4th. Both species were present at Unity Park on the 27th, and the Turner's Falls power canal on the 26th.

Greater White-fronted Goose - Unity Park, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. November 27th, 2015.

Less expected, but still very welcome, were three Black Vultures that Susannah and I spotted from Barton Cove as they drifted south-east over Turner's Falls. Luckily, Brian Kane was at Unity Park with his parents and had them go right overhead......also on the 27th. 

Black Vultures (three) - southbound over Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 27th, 2015. 
Also seen over Unity Park by Brian Kane. 

The quiet country roads around Gill have been flush with 'frugivores' with a nice incursion of American Robins (up to 350 together) and Cedar Waxwings (up to 45). A nature walk with Matan on Thanksgiving morning inadvertently discovered a Bohemian Waxwing feeding on multi-flora rose in a private yard . I usually locate Bohemian Waxwings by call, but this bird was silent, nor was associating with Cedar Waxwings making the observation all the more intriguing. This is also the earliest that I've recorded Bohemian Waxing in the Pioneer Valley though a friend of mine had an even earlier bird in Sunderland in late October. Perhaps they'll become more frequent as the winter develops. 

Bohemian Waxwing - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 26th, 2015.
Subsequent visits to the same location produced no further sightings after this.

Otherwise, the gull show at Turner's Falls has been very slow to develop with an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull being the only large gull of note this month, and no pale-winged gulls at all. This could be the first November since 2005 that I haven't recorded a Kumlien's Iceland Gull at Turner's Falls pretty remarkable since I usually come across the first ones in early November, my earliest date being the 1st!

 American Robins - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 29th, 2015.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

MA - back in the valley

It's good to be back in the Pioneer Valley after a terrific tour of New Mexico and Texas. Even before the discovery of this afternoon's Pink-footed Goose, the day got off to a great start in Gill with Barred Owl, Northern Flicker, Purple Finch and Snow Bunting all observed on North Cross Road before sunrise.

At Barton Cove, Hooded Mergansers can be found gathering and displaying and yesterday I counted 52 together off the campground road along with a Ring-necked Duck. Along with masses of Canada Geese building up at the power canal, 3 American Wigeon, a dozen Black Ducks, 2 Gadwall and 2 Lesser Scaup have been present for the last two days......and yesterday, a returning adult Lesser Black-backed Gull.

 Hooded Mergansers - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 24th, 2015.
Some of the 52 birds present.

Lesser Scaup - first-winter male, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. November 24th, 2015.

Probably continuing bird, first seen October 26th, 2015.

 Lesser Black-backed Gull - adult winter, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. November 24th, 2015.

 Merlin - Unity Park, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. November 24th, 2015.

MA - Thanksgiving Pinkie

Conditions really felt good for an unusual goose at Turner's Falls today. A brief visit this morning saw flock after flock of Canada Geese dropping into the power canal, numbers easily approaching a thousand birds before I left to do errands around 10:00 hrs. Fortunately, I had another shot in late afternoon when I found even more Canada Geese present, perhaps 1200-1300 in all. Starting with the southern most group, I could hardly believe my luck when the very first bird that I checked in my spotting scope was a Pink-footed Goose! As it happens, our good friends Brian and Noel were also planning to visit the area in the afternoon and a quick text to let them know saw them scoping the bird not too long after it was first found.

Perhaps not the great rarity that it once was, it's still very rare in Massachusetts. Maybe a dozen or so birds have been found in the state including one at this exact location back in October 2011. I've also seen others in Concord (Dec 2010) and Hadley (March 2014) and I'm aware of at least four others scattered about the state though the Connecticut River Valley seems to be as good a place as any to look for this Old World goose.

Pink-footed Goose - Turner's Falls power canal, Franklin Co., MA. November 25th, 2015. 
My second at this location following a well photographed bird in late October 2011.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

MA - Northfield Black Vulture

Being the weekend, opportunities for field time were few but a couple of species brightened up my day. First, two Snow Buntings calling and trilling lower over North Cross Road at about 08:30hrs. They headed south but could well have come up from the corn stubble fields there.

Then, during a family hike in the Brush Mountain Conservation in Northfield, Susannah spotted a raptor passing low over the power lines. The short tailed shape immediately suggested Black Vulture and luckily I managed to get a record few shots to confirm it before it disappeared over the tree line to the north-west. The bird was in a constant glide and did not display the typical flight manner that often makes Black Vulture so readily identifiable in the field .

Black Vulture - passing WNW over Brush Mountain Conservation Area, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. November 7th, 2015. Quite scarce in Franklin County but my second observation in 2015 following three at Turner's Falls in late May. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

MA - another new Cackling Goose

Cackling Goose - Turner's Falls power canal, Franklin Co., MA. November 5th, 2015.
Newly arrived bird and the family group of four still present from the previous day.

This afternoon, the Turner's Falls power canal was 'heavy' with Canada Geese and numbers seemed to be up from recent visits with at least 720 present. Yesterday's family group of four Cackling Geese were still present, plus a new Cackler arrived this one hanging out much closer to the guard rail than the other birds. Greater and Lesser Scaups remained, seemingly very much at home on the power canal.

Cedar Waxwings - Barton Cove boat ramp, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 5th, 2015.
Quite a lot of Cedar Waxwings in Gill and Turner's Falls at the moment. These birds were part 
of a group of about 40 or so. 

A brief visit to Barton Cove in the morning found it completely shrouded in fog but the public boat ramp area provided a few nice species and included 40 or so Cedar Waxwings, 100 Dark-eyed Juncos (with a few White-throated Sparrows) and a smart Carolina Wren which, unlike most local Carolina Wrens, actually gave some nice views for once!

Carolina Wren - Barton Cove boat ramp, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 5th, 2015.


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

MA - four Cacklers arrive

Cackling Geese - four together in late afternoon light, Turner's Falls power canal, Franklin Co., MA. November 4th, 2015. 
Apparent family group constantly moving around together among 600 or so Canada Geese. 
The largest bird in the group (second from left) was probably a male and constantly on sentinel duty throughout the observation. 

Barton Cove was so quiet this morning that I decided to keep my visit short and go home to deal with trip preparations for a forthcoming tour. In the afternoon, I again tried Turner's Falls power canal finding all three scaup (2 Greater, 1 Lesser) continuing along with a drake Common Goldeneye. Scanning through the geese offered little reward in the beginning but a white-cheeked goose with a Cackling 'feel' caught my eye. Since it was surrounded by two or three others, I initially dismissed it but kept coming back to it and the other geese with it. Even at distance, I started to entertain the idea that I was looking at a family group of Cackling Geese and driving up closer to the birds proved it to be the case!

Lesser Scaup - probably first-winter male, Turner's Falls power canal, Franklin Co., MA. November 4th, 2015. 
Present daily since October 26th. 

Cackling Geese - four together Turner's Falls power canal, Franklin Co., MA. November 4th, 2015. 
All four birds appear in both shots. 

The birds remained within the middle of a fairly large flock of Canada Geese and looked shy and wary. One bird in the group was larger and seemed to be on sentinel duty throughout with neck extended, seemingly constantly alert. At a guess, I'd say this was the male of the group. The other three were clearly smaller and spent most of the time in relaxed mode.

This was easily the largest group of Cackling Geese that I've recorded at the power canal, recalling a flock of six found a few years ago by Hector Galbraith at the same location, a flock that I happened to miss because I was out of state.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

MA - another Snow Bunting

Didn't have a lot of time to bird today but I did have 30 minutes of a beautiful calm morning at Barton Cove. Another flyover Snow Bunting was probably the highlight, along with several flyover Horned Larks and Purple Finches. Calling from the woodland fringe at the edge of the cove, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Winter Wren.

As expected, such a fine mild day produced little in the way of waterfowl but 7 Green-winged Teal and a Ring-necked Duck were new and a single Gadwall remained, and as many as four Double-crested Cormorants were present - getting quite late for those.

 Gadwall - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 3rd, 2015.

Common Grackles - with a few Red-winged Blackbirds, North Cross Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 3rd, 2015.  Part of a flock of around 600 birds, almost all Common Grackles. 

Closer to home, the day got off to a raucous start with a huge flock of at least 600 Common Grackles on North Cross Road, Gill. The same flock also contained a handful of Red-winged Blackbirds.

Monday, November 2, 2015

MA - Red-necked Grebe, Snow Bunting both season firsts

 Red-necked Grebe - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 1st, 2015.
First local migrant of the season. 

Nothing too dramatic over the weekend but a Red-necked Grebe showed up at Barton Cove on Sunday morning (11/01) with two Gadwall, three Hooded Mergansers and three Double-crested Cormorants remaining there. 

Gadwall - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 1st, 2015.
Probably remnants from the flock of eleven on Oct 30th.

Two Greater Scaup and a single Lesser Scaup remained at Turner's Falls power canal where a calling Snow Bunting flew over on Monday morning (11/02).

With warm southerlies forecast for much of the week, it looks like we could be in for a quiet time regarding waterfowl arrivals and raptors. Perhaps time spent in the woods and field edges might yield more in the way of late or unusual passerines.

MA - an interesting Raven

So I was driving south on Main Road, Gill on a mission to get eggs for breakfast. It was a quiet Sunday morning and daylight savings had just come into effect, so Gill seemed even sleepier than usual. Above the Lily's Farm, just up the road from the Gill Tavern, a soaring bird caught my eye and struck me as unusual in several respects. Although I recognized it as a 'corvid', the bird didn't register as either of the two most likely options - American Crow and Common Raven. The former is the most expected, but the latter can be found in Gill with a bit of effort and vigilance. This corvid looked liked it had the jizz of something that might fall between the two, especially while soaring. While soaring the tail was fanned and the wings seemed quite broad at the body producing an odd silhouette for either of the expected species. By the time I'd pulled over and got the camera ready, the bird was already in a glide over the road and heading west. I fired as many shots as I could before it disappeared west over the tree line.

The bird threw me off balance for several reasons as it looked Raven-like but the tail shape was far from wedge-shaped, and overall it looked small and puny for that species. Although pretty lousy, and taken against complete cloud cover in dull early morning light, the photos also emphasized what I'd seen overhead. Overall, the bird recalled a Chihuahuan Raven a species that I've seen hundreds of times on trips to Texas and Arizona but as far as I'm aware there's no precedent for vagrancy in that species, especially to the north-east.

Naturally, the easy option would be to pass it off as an odd looking Common Raven. On the other hand, the remnants of Hurricane Patricia passed through New England late last week, so how about a disorientated Chihuahuan Raven showing up and trying to work its way back to the south-west? Of course, it's stretch to think about such things, and "remarkable claims require remarkable evidence", but then again, who looks at Ravens?

unidentified raven - Main Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 2nd, 2015.

Friday, October 30, 2015

MA - Gadwalls spearhead interesting morning

Although I had to deal with some car issues throughout the morning I managed to squeeze in some birding between appointments. It was cold and blustery with winds in the NW quarter and there appeared to be plenty of birds moving. The morning got off to a great start with a tight flock of 11 Gadwall among the Canada Geese at Barton Cove though little else was present and last night's Bonaparte's Gull had already moved on.

Gadwall - 11 birds, Barton Cove, Gill Franklin Co., MA. October 30th, 2015.
The largest single flock of Gadwall that I've encountered in Franklin County. 

While my car was being worked on, I picked a spot off Route 2A in Greenfield overlooking an old sandpit. Although my view to the east and south was blocked, I had a decent amount of horizon to the west and north, and soon noticed large flocks of American Robins moving SW, along with some Cedar Waxwings (55), Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles. Scarcer species included a party of 3 Rusty Blackbirds and 2 calling Evening Grosbeaks.

Rusty Blackbird - one of three moving SW over Route 2A in Greenfield, Franklin Co., MA. October 30th, 2015. 
Token record shot. The other two birds appear in the same frame but couldn't be squeezed into this heavy crop. 

Greater (left two birds) and Lesser Scaups - Turner's Falls power canal, Franklin Co., MA. October 30th, 2015. 

Meanwhile, at Turner's Falls, a flock of 18 Pine Siskins flew straight over Avenue A in downtown Turners in mid-morning, and the 2 Greater Scaup continued at the power canal, this time joined by the long staying Lesser Scaup.