Sunday, August 19, 2018

MA - a Brown Booby in Berkshire County!

Brown Booby - Onota Lake, Pittsfield, Berkshire Co., MA. August 18th, 2018.

Rene Wendall posted welcome news of a Brown Booby at Onota Lake in Pittsfield on August 17th. The bird seemed settled and allowed plenty of local birders to catch up with it that day. The following morning, a window of time opened for me too and after a timely post from Jonathan Pierce I headed west embarking on the ninety minute drive from Northfield to Pittsfield. I needn't have rushed! After I arrived the bird sat quietly on the water for the best part of two hours before actively foraging around the north end of the lake off Burbank Bank. It was worth the wait, it looked so much better in flight careening over the water and plunge diving, successfully taking fish on multiple occasions.  Apparently, only the second for interior Massachusetts and fitting well within a pattern of recent inland freshwater occurrences with birds documented from Vermont and upstate New York in the last few years. On a personal level, this was my third Brown Booby in Massachusetts, the other two coming from Outer Cape Cod, both of those being in late August.

Gracious thanks to Rene Wendall for getting the word out and to Jonathan Pierce and Sheila Carroll for keeping us up to speed on the bird's presence via social media.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

MA - beginning of fall migration of shorebirds in Franklin County

Feeling the need to kick the mid-summer doldrums into touch I headed out into northern Franklin County yesterday evening in the hope of finding one or two migrants to signal the start of autumn migration. I wasn't disappointed! More than twenty four hours of warm, muggy southerlies had brought heavy rain and thunderstorms to our region resulting in a lot of standing water and multiple 'pockets' of migrating shorebirds, all adults in summer plumage. My tally for the evening of July 23rd included;

Least Sandpiper - 7 at Caldwell Road, Northfield, 1 at Satan's Kingdom.

Pectoral Sandpiper - 1 at Turner's Falls Airfield.

Semi-palmated Sandpiper - 3 at Satan's Kingdom.

Solitary Sandpiper - 1 at Satan's Kingdom.

In addition, small numbers of Killdeer at Caldwell Road, Satan's Kingdom and Turner's Falls Airfield and a Spotted Sandpiper at Satan's Kingdom were most likely local breeding birds. A Grasshopper Sparrow was singing out on the airfield at Turner's Falls with American Kestrels present there and at Caldwell Road, Northfield.  Indeed, the only disappointing site was Four Star Farms in Northfield which appeared to be completely devoid of shorebirds of any kind.

Great Blue Herons - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. July 23rd, 2018.

Towards the end of the evening I was intrigued to see and hear two Great Blue Herons moving north high over Barton Cove, Gill. The birds spent about three minutes circling high overhead before continuing north. I couldn't help but wonder why north? Post breeding dispersal perhaps?

Thursday, May 3, 2018

MA - more heat and more migrants

Baltimore Oriole - Barton Cove, Franklin Co., MA. May 3rd, 2018.
Other passerines in the boat ramp area included warbling and Red-eyed Vireos, and several White-throated Sparrows. 

May 3rd - another busy, interesting and extremely warm day. Most obvious was a broad wave of Wood Thrush arrivals in Gill with at least 12 males heard singing on my 5K run through the woods on North Cross Road this morning. Also strikingly obvious, many Blue-gray Gnatcatchers in all habitats with seemingly above average numbers of migrants for early May. With them came the first Black-throated Blue Warblers, Least and Great Crested Flycatchers. Two Solitary Sandpipers called overhead at 06:30, the birds seen heading west. Around that time Josh Layfield found a male White-winged Scoter at Barton Cove which had been joined by two Red-necked Grebes by the time I got there at around 11:00 hours, and the first Spotted Sandpiper of the year skimmed across the water. Fourteen Ring-billed Gulls were loafing around off the boat ramp at Barton Cove while overhead there was a light movement of Broad-winged Hawks (c.10) and a couple of Ospreys.

Red-necked Grebes and a White-winged Scoter (male) - Barton Cove, Franklin Co., MA. May 3rd, 2018.

Spotted Sandpiper - Barton Cove, Franklin Co., MA. May 3rd, 2018.

Early evening at Barton Cove saw the White-winged Scoter and Red-necked Grebes still present but an increase to 33 Double-crested Cormorants, and well over 30 Ring-billed Gulls most of which were hawking for insects high above the cove. An adult Herring Gull and a breeding plumage Common Loon also dropped in towards the end of the evening, and a Black Vulture headed west over Turner's Falls presumably to roost.

Double-crested Cormorants - Barton Cove, Franklin Co., MA. May 3rd, 2018.

Black Vulture - Barton Cove, Franklin Co., MA. May 3rd, 2018.

Elsewhere, Brian Kane noted the first Orchard Oriole of the season down in Montague.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

MA - Solitary Sandpiper and more in the first days of May

Solitary Sandpiper - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 2nd, 2018.

Fresh back from a wonderful grouse tour of Colorado and straight into a major wave of spring migration. The 1st brought two Cliff Swallows hawking over Barton Cove along with four other species of swallow. In the afternoon, some 26 Double-crested Cormorants dropped into Barton Cove along with a dozen Ring-billed Gulls, all of the latter being first and second summer birds.  A Winter Wren sang from a traditional territory on North Cross Road with Blue-headed Vireo, Brown Thrasher and Field Sparrow, Pine and Black-throated Green Warblers being among other noteworthy species.

Double-crested Cormorants - arriving at Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 1st, 2018.

The 2nd was always going to be a warm day, even from first light and temperatures soared to the mid-80s by late afternoon. The result was immediate with a broad wave of new birds for the year; House Wren, Yellow Warbler, Ovenbird, Eastern Kingbird, Baltimore Oriole and Chimney Swift all arrived in numbers. At Barton Cove, Black-throated Green, Pine and Magnolia Warbler foraged alongside a larger flock of 15-20 Yellow-rumped Warblers. They all fed around a roosting Barred Owl, seemingly oblivious to the action going on around it!

Exceedingly low water levels at Barton Cove saw the first notable shorebirds of the year with 3 Least Sandpipers and 2 Greater Yellowlegs and preceded earlier in the morning by a surprise Solitary Sandpiper in a small puddle off Main Road in Gill.  

Barred Owl - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. May 2nd, 2018.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

MA - Sandhill Cranes in Gill!

Sandhill Cranes - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 14th, 2018.

A raw afternoon birding off Riverview Drive, Gill produced some nice sightings ahead of the forecast cold front promising freezing rain by dawn. A Bonaparte's Gull dropped in to join a small number of Ring-billed and Herring Gulls on the water, and nine Double-crested Cormorants headed south flying straight over the five cormorants already present on Barton Cove. Two Ospreys also arrived whilst I was there with at least 20 Tree Swallows and a couple of Northern Rough-winged Swallows foraging overhead.

Sandhill Cranes - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 14th, 2018. In flight  directly above Main Road.

On the drive home, Matan and I noticed two very large birds flying along the route of Main Road in Gill. They were relatively low and any thoughts of Canada Geese were quickly dismissed as we realized almost immediately that they were Sandhill Cranes! They continued north-east passing right over Gill town hall and were obviously looking for a place to land. After a couple of minutes they landed in Upinngil's agricultural fields just west of Main Road, but surprisingly lifted up almost immediately and continued heading north-east where we lost them about a mile up the road.

Sandhill Cranes - Upinngil Fields, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 14th, 2018.

This was just my second observation of Sandhill Crane in Gill (and Franklin County), the previous record being of one calling high above Barton Cove on April 13th, 2015.

Friday, April 13, 2018

MA - bittern, rough-winged swallow and Bald Eagles aplenty!

American Robin - partially leucistic individual, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. April 6th, 2018.

Cold air persisted during 6th - 10th April with frequent snow showers and dawn temperatures often at freezing or below. Franklin County seemingly saw few new arrivals and indeed, the scene at Barton Cove was one of gradually reduced numbers of geese and gulls, though diving ducks continued to show in good numbers and included a fine male Red-breasted Merganser on the 10th.

Buffleheads - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 8th, 2018. 

 Common Mergansers - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 9th, 2018. 

Red-breasted Merganser - male with female Common Merganser, Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 10th, 2018. 

But there have been a few highlights, the most significant of which was an American Bittern which totally caught me off-guard as I ran along North Cross Road, Gill early on the morning of the 6th. The bittern was already in flight when I saw it and had likely flushed from a small cattail marsh near the roadside before departing north below the tree line never to be seen again. Interestingly enough, that particular spot on North Cross Road has no history of herons of any kind which only added to my surprise in seeing a mid-size brown heron in flight over the cattails! Eric Huston and Marshall Iliff were kind enough to send me some ebird information on the status of the species in Franklin County as I felt sure that I hadn't seen an American Bittern any closer to home the than Keene, New Hamsphire. It turns out that American Bittern reports numbered only 1 - 6 per year between 2012-2017, and some of those involved the same bird reported by several different observers with most of the records concentrated around the north Quabbin region. I hadn't quite appreciated it was quite that rare (and difficult to see) in Franklin County.

Two Black Vultures showed among 20 or so Turkey Vultures in Shelbourne on the 9th, and the Bald Eagles at Barton Cove/Turner's Falls have been nothing short of spectacular with up to three adults and seven immatures in the air together at times, the immatures sparring a lot over the cove sometimes pursuing the flocks of waterfowl.

Bald Eagles - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 9th, 2018. 

The cold air understandably subdued passerine activity but Pine Warblers began to arrive in Gill in small numbers around the 8th and 9th, along with a few Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and a couple of Winter Wrens began to sing from traditional territories along North Cross Road, Gill. An American Pipit migrated north-west over Gill School on the 9th. Brown-headed Cowbirds arrived numbers around the 9th/10th with several large foraging flocks including 175 at Four Star Farms in Northfield with tens of American Robins and Cedar Waxwings ground feeding on fallen crab apples at the same location. 

American Robins and Cedar Waxwings, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. April 10th, 2018. 

Red Crossbill - male, Montague Plains, Franklin Co., MA. April 6th, 2018. 
Up to five continuing to show well, though sometimes aloof.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


Little Gull - adult with Ring-billed Gulls, Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 11th, 2018.

A quick stop at Barton Cove this morning produced a lovely adult Little Gull, my third for this particular site but still exceptional in the Pioneer Valley overall. The day had dawned cold and frosty but soon warmed up into a lovely early spring morning - so nice in fact that the day seemed to offer little in terms of the potential for new arrivals. But I like surprises, and Barton Cove is always worth a check in spring migration. The bird was distant for the most part, associating with a handful on Ring-billed Gulls but still present when I left at 11:00 hours despite being flushed a couple of times by Bald Eagles.

Little Gull - adult with Ring-billed Gulls, Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 11th, 2018.

Update: At 15:00 hours I returned to the boat ramp hopeful of improving my views and photos, but the bird appeared to have moved on. As far as I know, Eric Huston was the last to report it around 14:10 hours. But the return visit did produce a couple of migrant Ospreys, my first of the year in Franklin County, one of which was calling overhead.

Ospreys - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 11th, 2018.

The Little Gull at Barton Cove was my first there in spring, the previous two records being in late fall/early winter on November 20th, 2016 (first-winter) and December 21st, 2008 (adult).

Thursday, April 5, 2018

MA - good birding in the first few days of April

Long-tailed Ducks - gracing the Turner's Falls power canal in heavy rain, Franklin Co., MA. April 4th, 2018.

April opened with a nice wave of Eastern Phoebes in northern Franklin County with a concentration of at least seven birds around the fringe of Gill Elementary school fields on the 1st, and several other smaller gatherings at sites such as Barton Cove and Turner's Falls power canal. The phoebes must have shivered during the snowfalls on the 2nd but were already widespread and present around many properties in Gill by the 4th.

Eastern Phoebe - newly arrived migrant, Gill Elementary School, Franklin Co., MA. April 1st, 2018.

Finally, I managed to connect with some Tree Swallows on April 3rd, with three at Turner's Falls Rod and Gun Club and another three at the power canal hawking over the water in very gloomy conditions.

Tree Swallow - over the Turner's Falls power canal in heavy rain, Franklin Co., MA. April 3rd, 2018.

The 3rd also brought an impressive build up of waterfowl at Barton Cove, especially in late afternoon when over 145 Common Merganser, 85 Ring-necked Duck, 15 Wood Duck, and six Common Goldeneye were among the species present, highlighted by four Northern Shoveler this time composed of two pairs versus the three males and a female present last week.  Also on the 3rd, a flurry of large gulls arrived at Barton Cove in the evening bringing two Iceland Gulls ( first-cycle and second-cycle).

Barton Cove, Gill - relatively impressive gatherings of waterfowl. April 3rd, 2018. Northern Shovelers (four center left), Common Mergansers, Ring-necked Ducks and Wood Ducks among the species present.

Iceland Gulls (2) - with Herring Gulls, Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 3rd, 2018.
Second-cycle left, first-cycle upper right. 

Again on the 3rd, I caught up with some of the Red Crossbills present in the Montague Plains where I found two pairs in what I assumed to be the spot where breeding had been reported in the preceding weeks. Even so, I think I would have to admit to being more impressed with the gathering of around 150 American Goldfinches present in the same area, by far the largest flock I've encountered in Franklin County. The birds were very vocal, just about audible from the road but only truly appreciated by walking into the habitat some 300 meters from the road where I was greeted by absolute wall of sound coming from singing and calling American Goldfinches. Oddly, when I returned to the site the following day (the 4th), most of the large numbers had moved leaving only 35 or so present in the same area, though intriguingly, I found another very large flock (80+) along River Road in Gill that day.

Red Crossbill - male, Montague Plains, Franklin Co., MA. April 3rd, 2018. 

American Goldfinches - Montague Plains, Franklin Co., MA. April 3rd, 2018. 
Just a tiny fraction of the 150+ birds singing and calling about 1/4 north of Old Northfield Road. 
Unexpected and supplemented by another large flock of 80+ on River Road, Gill on the 4th. 

The 3rd also produced a fine male Northern Harrier migrating north through Upinngil Farm, neatly matching a cluster of late March/early April dates for other spring males in Gill in previous years. And on the 2nd, a surprise American Pipit in the arable fields along North Cross Road, Gill.

Northern Harrier - male, northbound migrant, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 3rd, 2018.

Inclement weather on the 4th produced yet more waterfowl arrivals with new birds including 17 Green-winged Teal at Barton Cove, four Lesser Scaup, a female Red-breasted Merganser and a whopping 175 Common Mergansers present, and highlighted by pairs of migrant Long-tailed Ducks at the Rod and Gun club, and at the power canal. Many of these departed on the following cold, clear night though a Lesser Scaup (female), a male Bufflehead and no less than 13 Common Goldeneyes were noteworthy at Barton Cove on the 5th. 

Woodland birding remains fairly quiet though singing Fox and American Tree Sparrows were present on North Cross Road, Gill on the 5th, along with a singing Winter Wren back on a  traditional breeding territory. Further north, we chanced up a Hermit Thrush in the woods and a Red-breasted Nuthatch excavating a nest hole in Pisgah State Park on April 1st. 

Hermit Thrush - Pisgah State Park, Cheshire Co., NH. April 1st, 2018.

Red-breasted Nuthatch - Pisgah State Park, Cheshire Co., NH. April 1st, 2018.

American River Otter - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 3rd, 2018.
Briefly resting on floating ice during snow flurries.

Monday, April 2, 2018

MA - March in northern Franklin County

Northern Shovelers - (with Mallards) Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 27th, 2018.

After a promising start, March turned out to be a relatively quiet and rather wintery month. Numbers of waterfowl appeared to be fairly stable with continued large numbers of Ring-necked Ducks, Common and Hooded Mergansers loafing at Barton Cove and the female Redhead present through to at least mid-month. The last few days saw better diversity with increased numbers of American Black Ducks, Wood Ducks (19 together on the Connecticut River at Erving), Green-winged Teal ( 9 together at Barton Cove on the 30th) and Northern Shoveler (4, including three males at Barton Cove during 27th - 29th), and Lesser Scaup (3 at Barton Cove and 2 at Erving), and also a smattering of Bufflehead, Northern Pintail and American Wigeon on several days throughout March. And there was a nice early Pied-billed Grebe at Barton Cove on the 30th. 

Pied-billed Grebe (in the mist) - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 30th, 2018.

Cackling Goose - with Canada Geese, Turner's Falls power canal, Franklin Co., MA. March 10th, 2018.
Image appears courtesy of Josh Layfield . 

On March 10th, Josh Layfield found a Cackling Goose at the power canal in Turner's Falls. It was a typical Richardson's (B.h.hutchinsii) and remarkable in the sense that it was the only definitive Cackling Goose that I've managed to see in Franklin County all winter. Moreover, it appeared for just one day and was evidently associated with the large numbers of Canada Geese (1500+) moving through that particular weekend. On the 30th, both Brian Kane (in Sunderland) and Josh Layfield (at Barton Cove) had a large flock of Snow Geese migrating north in late afternoon, most likely the same individual flock of around 100 birds.

The first two weeks of March also saw continued numbers of Iceland Gulls (up to 7) and Glaucous Gulls (up to 2 first-cycle birds) at  Barton Cove through to about March 12th. After that, gull numbers and diversity gradually dwindled, though a single Iceland Gull was still present through to March 28th at least.

Iceland Gull (first-cycle) - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 27th, 2018.

At beginning of the month, Black Vultures began to appear over downtown Greenfield with increased numbers of Turkey Vultures with no less than 11 Blacks in one flock over Federal Street on March 8th, by the far the largest single flock of Black Vultures that I've recorded in Franklin County. Towards the end of the month, and perhaps a little later than average, Fish Crows started to appear along Federal Street in Greenfield, with others in Turner's Falls including seven together in Unity Park on the 29th.

Fish Crows - three of seven feeding on Sumac, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. March 29th, 2018.

Arrivals of summer breeders also appeared to be later than average this year Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (1 at Gill Elementary on the 30th), Pine Warbler (1 at Gill at Elementary on the 30th) and Eastern Phoebe showing up before the end of the month but only just, and none of them widespread before April 1st. Indeed, Tree Swallows seemed absent altogether and I was unable to find any in Gill before the month ended. A strong contender for bird-of-the-month was stunning adult Red-shouldered Hawk along Boyle Road, Gill on the 27th and spotted by our son Matan as I drove him to school. Equally memorable has been the impressive concentration of displaying American Woodcocks along North Cross Road in Gill, with seven seemingly undeterred by a foot of fresh snow on the 14th, and at least 10 displaying there on the 29th.