Monday, October 22, 2018

MA - White-crowned Sparrow pandemonium in Northfield


White-crowned Sparrows (5) and a Song Sparrow - Northfield Meadows, Franklin Co., MA. October 22nd, 2019. 
A cluster of five birds from a remarkable concentration of  45 White-crowned Sparrows in Northfield this morning. 


The day got off to a pretty good start with a Northern Saw-whet Owl calling spontaneously in the pre-dawn chill on North Cross Road, Gill. The call was not the familiar territorial 'tooting' but an eerie, drawn out 'wail' or 'whine' repeated about three times and proved to be my first migrant saw-whet of the fall. As the morning warmed up a little I found myself in the hoar-frosted fields of Northfield Meadows where I was greeted almost immediately by a half-dozen White-crowned Sparrows. Any October day with a White-crowned Sparrow is noteworthy in our area but to have six together straight of the blocks was a neat precursor to what would become my biggest day (locally) for the species. After an hour of working a relatively small area of fields I'd logged a minimum of 45 White-crowned Sparrows and I couldn't even get to the remainder of the fields because of fumigation taking place nearby. Any autumn morning with 3 - 6 White-crowned Sparrows would be excellent for northern Franklin County but a tally of 45 is totally unprecedented and I've certainly not seen anything quite like it before. It's the first morning that I've had where White-crowned outnumbered the often abundant White-throated Sparrows. In fact, it was quite the sparrow show in Northfield this morning with Savannah (25), Song (30), Chipping (8), Vesper (1) and Field (1) Sparrows all on view. Warblers had virtually cleared out from this particular spot and I only saw one Yellow-rumped all morning. 










White-crowned Sparrows - Northfield Meadows, Franklin Co., MA. October 22nd, 2019. 
The majority, about 85%, were immatures.

Friday, October 19, 2018

MA - a Franklin County Common Gallinule

Common Gallinule (juv/first-winter) - Tri-town Beach, Whately, Franklin Co., MA.October 19th, 2018. 
First discovered on October 15th by Josh Rose.


We've lived in Franklin County since the fall of 2010 and during all that time I don't recall a Common Gallinule ever being reported in the county so it certainly came as a surprise when Josh Rose found and reported an immature at Tri-town Beach, Whately on October 15th. I was in Cape May leading a private tour at the time but fortunately the bird was courteous enough to stick around throughout the week and was still present when I went to check on it this morning. It was quite distant, a 'scope bird' as such, so all these images are digi-scoped shots, and this is the first time that Common Gallinule has featured on this blog.

I would have to admit that Common Gallinule hasn't been on my radar of 'hoped-for' species in Franklin County though it's rarer cousin Purple Gallinule has, inspired by a record of a long staying immature in Leverett on October 11th - 22nd, 1985, and another well photographed by Al and Lois Richardson at Ashley Reservoir in Holyoke, Hampden County November 3rd, 2005 - perhaps we're overdue for another?





Tuesday, October 9, 2018

MA - Nelson's and other sparrows in Franklin County


Nelson's Sparrow - Northfield Meadows, Franklin Co., MA. October 7th, 2018.
Image appears courtesy of Josh Layfield. 

The last three days have seen more than just a gradual shift from migrant warblers to migrant sparrows. Pride of place among the sparrows, hands-down, has to be the Nelson's Sparrow found and documented by Josh Layfield in Northfield on October 7th. This species has long been on my wish list for Franklin County, so for Josh to have one teed up for a solid minute just a mile from my house was especially galling! Despite being thoroughly searched for on the same day and the following days, the little beauty was never seen again. Opportunities for finding Nelson's Sparrows in our area are limited by fairly sparse accessible habitat and a narrow time window (late September to mid-October) in which to find migrants. Josh absolutely nailed his self-found lifer with some great images and even shot an eight second video!

Nelson's Sparrow - Northfield Meadows, Franklin Co., MA. October 7th, 2018.
Image appears courtesy of Josh Layfield. 



Nelson's Sparrow - Northfield Meadows, Franklin Co., MA. October 7th, 2018.
Image appears courtesy of Josh Layfield. 



Otherwise, small numbers of White-crowned Sparrows showed up at multiple sites in Northfield from October 6th, as did the continued passage of Lincoln's Sparrows, and  two to three Vesper Sparrows featured at Northfield Meadows from October 6th - 9th. 

Vesper Sparrow - Northfield Meadows, Franklin Co., MA. October 8th, 2018.

Just when warbler migration appeared to be tapering, the Northfield Meadows concentrated over 150  Yellow-rumped and 35 Palm Warblers on October 9th, along with at least three more glorious Cape May Warblers - what an autumn it's been for that species!

Cape May Warbler (first-winter) - Northfield Meadows, Franklin Co., MA. October 9th, 2018.



Cape May Warbler (adult) - Northfield Meadows, Franklin Co., MA. October 9th, 2018.

A Pectoral Sandpiper was slightly out of place on North Cross Road, Gill on October 6th where the same morning also featured a flyover Bobolink and plenty of migrating Yellow-rumped, Palm and Blackpoll Warblers.



Friday, October 5, 2018

MA - first White-crowned Sparrows of the fall


October 5th dawned cold and breezy with winds in the northern quarter. Many birds appeared to be moving over North Cross Road, Gill just after first light including a strong push of Yellow-rumped and Blackpoll Warblers, and the first Golden-crowned Kinglets of the fall certainly indicated some brand new arrivals. Further north, I found pockets of migrants at Caldwell Road fields in Northfield but it became clear that the excellent diversity of warblers present in the first three days of the month had moved on and most of the migrant flocks were now composed of White-throated, Song and Swamp Sparrows. The first White-crowned Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos of the fall appeared, and there were more Golden-crowned (and Ruby-crowned) Kinglets in the area plus quite a number of Purple Finches. A quick stop on Pine Meadow Road produced much of the same including another (first-winter) White-crowned Sparrow. A handful of southbound raptors included a juvenile Bald Eagle and an Osprey. And there were small flocks of Canada Geese and Blue Jays filtering south throughout the morning.


White-crowned Sparrow (first-winter) Franklin Co., MA. October 5th, 2018.

Purple Finch (first-winter) Franklin Co., MA. October 5th, 2018.


Yellow-rumped Warbler (first-winter) Franklin Co., MA. October 5th, 2018.

Undoubtedly the highlight of the morning was a Bobcat hunting for sparrows deep in the thickets and being mobbed by an entourage of around 35 Song Sparrows!! We had eye to eye contact for the briefest of moments and then he/she was gone.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

MA - Cackling Goose, sparrow surge and continuing Cape May Warblers



Cackling Goose (right) - Turner's Falls power canal. Franklin Co., MA. October 2nd, 2018.

Early October was characterized by hordes of migrant sparrows showing up along most of the field and woodland edges in northern Franklin County. Most abundant have been White-throated, Swamp Sparrow and Song Sparrows in that order with the numbers of Swamp Sparrows being especially impressive. For example, I estimated about 200 of the latter in the Caldwell Road fields in Northfield on the 2nd, although I shaved that down to a more conservative 160 for my ebird entry. I haven't come across any of the scarcer sparrows yet, but Lincoln's Sparrows have been consistently present throughout with 3 - 6 at many of the locations that I've visited. Plus, it was especially sweet to catch up with about 5 Field Sparrows in Turner's Falls on the 2nd, a species that I don't stumble across all that frequently in the fall. Also of note, a seasonally high concentration of 5 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks on Pine Meadow Road, Northfield on the 1st.


Field Sparrow - Turner's Falls power canal. Franklin Co., MA. October 2nd, 2018.


Swamp Sparrow - Caldwell Road fields, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. October 2nd, 2018.


 Swamp Sparrow - Pine Meadow Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. October 3rd, 2018.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (male) - Pine Meadow Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. October 1st, 2018.



Rose-breasted Grosbeak (fem/imm) - Pine Meadow Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. October 1st, 2018.

Warblers and vireos have noticeably tapered in the first few days of October which is only to be expected but I continue to be blown away by the Cape May Warbler show, many of which I've found around unharvested cornfields. For example, there were still 9 on Pine Meadow Road, Northfield on the 3rd loosely associating with 12 Blackpoll and around 25 Yellow-rumped Warblers along with singles of Tennessee, Nashville and Black-and-white Warblers and a notable increase in Ruby-crowned Kinglets.



Nashville Warbler - Pine Meadow Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. October 3rd, 2018.


Cape May Warbler - Pine Meadow Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. October 3rd, 2018.

In terms of non-passerines, well October 2nd produced a fly-over Black-bellied Plover and a Red-shouldered Hawk at Caldwell Road fields, and a Cackling Goose at the Turner's Falls power canal. The latter was my personal earliest for a returning fall migrant and was present at the power canal the following day. Shorebirds included 2 Least Sandpipers (with 17 Killdeer) at Deerfield Meadows on the 1st and 2 Solitary Sandpipers at Hell's Kitchen on the 2nd where an eclipse Blue-winged Teal continued from late September.

Cackling Goose (left) - Turner's Falls power canal. Franklin Co., MA. October 2nd, 2018.

Monday, October 1, 2018

MA - Northfield warblers including late Cerulean, plus a Yellow-billed Cuckoo!


Cape May Warbler - Pine Meadow Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 28th, 2018. 


Chestnut-sided Warbler - Pine Meadow Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 28th, 2018. 


Yellow-billed Cuckoo - Pine Meadow Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 29th, 2018. 
Image appears courtesy of Josh Layfield.


The last days of September have been peppered with some relatively high quality birding, most of which I've managed to find within a few miles of our home in Northfield. Almost every roadside stop provided a feeding flock of some description, mostly consisting of fast moving warblers and vireos but with increasingly large numbers of sparrows. It's been especially satisfying to find 'sweet spots' within two or three miles of the house, keeping drive time to a minimum and maximizing the time that I have in the field. I love this time of year. There's so much to see and there's the ever present chance of finding a decent rarity whether it be locally rare or something from a little further afield. 

Blue-headed Vireo - Pine Meadow Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 28th, 2018. 

The morning of the 28th dawned with heavy rain and fog, and the air was already heavy with the calls of migrant warblers. When the weather finally started to break-up around mid-morning I found myself watching an especially compelling feeding flock on Pine Meadow Road, Northfield. The most obvious migrants were Blackpoll, Cape May and Yellow-rumped Warblers, along with White-throated, Swamp and Song Sparrows. I hadn't been there long when a particularly hard, penetrating 'chip' call turned my head and a bright,  'aqua-marine' colored warbler past no more than a few feet away and landed in a nearby oak - "Cerulean!!....surely?!". The overall color fields blew me away and I'd never seen anything like it on a fall warbler in our area. It then flew across the road to join other feeding warblers, confirming my impression of the aqua-marine coloration seen on the first flight view - I wasn't seeing things after all! Distractions started to abound, the subject tree was full of warblers and getting onto the right bird in bad light proved impossible. Moreover, it was still raining quite heavily and I was concerned about getting damp inside my camera. At that point the same bird left 'the warbler tree' and gave prolonged flight views as it flew across a paddock and landed in some Alders giving more hard, penetrating 'chip' calls. I was certain of the ID and waited in the area for a further thirty or so minutes but never had another glimpse. While it was most certainly frustrating not to get any kind of record shot, I was also extremely happy with the field views that I'd had and felt comfortable with the ID. Pine Meadow Road turned out to be a real 'sweet spot' and as I waited for the Cerulean Warbler to reappear I came across many more excellent species including Cape May (5), Chestnut-sided and Tennessee Warblers.

The following day (Sep 29th) birders hoping to relocate the Cerulean Warbler came across a Yellow-billed Cuckoo with Josh Layfield capturing some nice record shots. In the meantime, I had a typically brief and frustrating experience with a Connecticut Warbler down in the Deerfield Meadows where I also found two late Yellow Warblers and a nice fly-over flock of 27 migrating Double-crested Cormorants. 

Yellow Warbler - Deerfield Meadows, Old Deerfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 29th, 2018. 

The 30th saw a huge arrival of sparrows at Gill Elementary School, mostly White-throated, Song and Swamp Sparrows but also a locally notable tally of at least 12 Lincoln's Sparrows. 

Lincoln's Sparrow - Gill Elementary School, Franklin Co., MA. September 30th, 2018.  


Black-throated Green Wabler - Gill Elementary School, Franklin Co., MA. September 30th, 2018.  




Wednesday, September 26, 2018

MA - Northfield shorebirds, kestrels and Cape May Warblers


Greater Yellowlegs, Solitary and Pectoral Sandpipers - Caldwell Road fields, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. 
September 26th, 2018.

Another volatile weather system brought heavy rain for the whole of the 25th followed by warm, muggy, south-westerlies the next day. Storm related birds appeared to be very few on the 25th but I did find a 'pocket' of shorebirds at Caldwell Road fields in Northfield late in the day. A modest haul of 2 Pectoral, 2 Semi-palmated and 2 Least Sandpipers plus Greater Yellowlegs and Killdeer wasn't bad compared to most other sites that I checked which seemed to be bereft of birds. American Pipits though, appeared in numbers for the first time this fall with 11 visible on the sod fields.

American Pipits - Caldwell Road fields, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 26th, 2018.

The following day, the 26th, was a very different story. A return to the Caldwell Road fields had me captivated for three hours! The place was hopping and it was clear that a major songbird fall-out had taken place. The very first warbler that I saw and identified was a first-winter Cape May setting the theme for the morning as Cape May Warblers (12 in total) lifted out of the corn fields to filter through the trees and bushes along the roadside. Again, I was struck by the relative abundance of this species in northern Franklin County compared to previous years. Other warbler species included Yellow-rumped (10), Tennessee (5), Magnolia (2), American Redstart (3), Common Yellowthroat (9), Northern Parula (5) and plenty of unidentified birds that were just too quick or high for me to be sure of. Red-eyed (5) and Blue-headed Vireos were both included in the mix and I'm pretty sure I had a Philadelphia Vireo leaf gleaning but just couldn't clinch it.

Cape May Warbler (first-winter) - Caldwell Road fields, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. 
September 26th, 2018.

American Redstart (first-winter) - Caldwell Road fields, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 26th, 2018.


Red-eyed Vireo - Caldwell Road fields, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 26th, 2018.

Down on the sod fields, some shorebirds remained and had even increased from the previous evening, surprising given the clearing weather conditions - 5 Least, 2 Pectoral, and 3 Solitary Sandpipers, Greater Yellowlegs and Killdeer, and an increase to 35 American Pipits.


Solitary and Pectoral Sandpipers, Greater Yellowlegs - Caldwell Road fields, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. 
September 26th, 2018.

In terms of spectacles, well 14 American Kestrels on wires along a stretch of dirt road no more than 300 meters would take some beating and certainly the closest I've come to a fall-out of that species in our area.

American Kestrel (5 of the 14 birds in view here) - Caldwell Road fields, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. 
September 26th, 2018.



Northern Harrier (juvenile) - Caldwell Road fields, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. 

September 26th, 2018.


Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs - Pine Meadow Road fields, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. 
September 27th, 2018.









Monday, September 24, 2018

MA - Dickcissel and MUCH more in Northfield



Dickcissel (first-winter) - Northfield Meadows, Franklin Co., MA. September 24th, 2018.

This morning I headed off to Northfield Meadows in pursuit of the Dickcissel found yesterday by Eric Huston. The morning felt raw with winds in the northern quarter and it was the first day of this autumn that I felt genuinely cold, something of a relief after September's protracted warm spell. Thanks to excellent directions from Josh Layfield it didn't take me too long to find the Dickcissel but it wasn't especially cooperative often remaining buried in the thickets for long periods. Since I was happy with the views I decided to press on and perhaps visit another site, but the meadows had more treats in store and three hours later I was still there tallying upwards of 50 species! The cold air was heavy with migrants, a very nice mix of visual migrants overhead with warblers and sparrows in the scrub and Sumac thickets.

Notable arrivals/movements included Purple Finch (19), White-throated Sparrow (35), Lincoln's Sparrow (16), Swamp Sparrow (25), Cape May Warbler (7), Blackpoll Warbler (15), Palm Warbler (26), and Yellow-rumped Warbler (18). Other species of interest included Red-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Waterthrush (2), Nashville Warbler, Wilson's Warbler and Yellow Warbler (2).

Cape May Warbler (first-winter) - Northfield Meadows, Franklin Co., MA. September 24th, 2018.


Cape May Warbler (adult) - Northfield Meadows, Franklin Co., MA. September 24th, 2018.



Nashville Warbler - Northfield Meadows, Franklin Co., MA. September 24th, 2018.


Northern Waterthrush - Northfield Meadows, Franklin Co., MA. September 24th, 2018.


Lincoln's Sparrow - Northfield Meadows, Franklin Co., MA. September 24th, 2018.

The first small skeins of  southbound Canada Geese appeared today with a Northern Pintail leading out one of the flocks, just to add a touch of the bizarre - my first Pintail of the fall.

Northern Pintail - Northfield Meadows, Franklin Co., MA. September 24th, 2018.