Monday, December 10, 2018

NJ - Cape May - Day 5 October 14th


Yellow-billed Cuckoo - Higbee Beach, Cape May Island, NJ. October 14th, 2018.
Image appears courtesy of David Hughes. 

We started bright and early once more heading straight over to the Higbee Beach dike at first light. The morning was much calmer than the previous days with very little wind but rather cloudy. As a result many migrants were already quite high etched against complete cloud cover making them nearly impossible to identify to any level of satisfaction. Instead, we focused on the migrants feeding and resting along the dike and ended up having a nice, bird rich walk with good numbers of Yellow-billed Cuckoos (7-10), Black-throated Blue Warblers, Palm Warblers (both subspecies), White-crowned and Lincoln's Sparrows, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Yellow-rumped and Blackpoll Warblers, and more Brown Creepers.

Lincoln's Sparrow - Higbee Beach, Cape May Island, NJ. October 14th, 2018.


Baltimore Oriole - Higbee Beach, Cape May Island, NJ. October 14th, 2018.


Pine Warbler - Higbee Beach, Cape May Island, NJ. October 14th, 2018.


Red-breasted Nuthatch - Higbee Beach, Cape May Island, NJ. October 14th, 2018.


Wood Ducks - Higbee Beach, Cape May Island, NJ. October 14th, 2018.


Yellow-billed Cuckoo - Higbee Beach dike, Cape May Island, NJ. October 14th, 2018.

A quick visit to the Hawkwatch platform at Cape May State Park was rather quiet where several small kettles of Broad-winged Hawks proved to be the highlight. Ducks on bunker pond included a clear influx of Gadwall and the continuing drake Eurasian Wigeon.



Black, Surf and White-winged Scoters - Avalon, Cape May Co., NJ. October 14th, 2018.

From there we headed north to the Avalon Seawatch which picked up towards the evening after a fairly slow start. Some 2000 scoters of all three expected species headed south with Red-throated and Common Loons, Northern Pintail, American Wigeon and American Black Duck all involved in the movement. We also enjoyed good numbers of Northern Gannets and a handful of Parasitic Jaegers. A Swamp Sparrow in the dunes behind the seawatch hut provided some entertainment during the quieter spells until David cranked it up a gear finding three American Oystercatchers, a Lesser Black-backed Gull and a Piping Plover in the final hour of daylight! The latter turned out to be the only Piping Plover of the entire trip - well done David!

Sunday, December 9, 2018

MA - two, maybe three Common Yellowthroats in Northfield!

Common Yellowthroat (first-winter male) - Northfield Meadows, Franklin Co., MA. December 12th, 2018.
Still present in the favored patch of cattails this morning for the sixth straight day and distinctly feisty, 
this male being outwardly aggressive towards Savannah and American Tree Sparrows. Is this an attempt at over-wintering?



Common Yellowthroat (first-winter male) - Northfield Meadows, Franklin Co., MA. December 9th, 2018.

This morning I returned to the scene of the previous day's Common Yellowthroat sighting in Northfield Meadows. My expectations of a repeat performance were not high after another very cold night - it was 11 deg F in Northfield at dawn. It was very nearly birdless for a good twenty minutes or so until a small olive toned warbler caught my eye and I knew I had the Common Yellowthroat once more. As I settled down to try and get some record shots another Common Yellowthroat started calling about 12 feet away and it wasn't long before I was watching two Common Yellowthroats flitting through the cattails together. That just seemed crazy for a bitterly cold morning in December! I tracked them as best I could before eventually losing sight of them towards the back of the cattails. As I watched, a third bird started calling that might also have been a yellowthroat, but for now I'm erring on the side of caution and going with two birds - one (first-winter) male and one female. Update: at least one (first-winter male) still present on Dec 12th, with 2 on Dec 11th and 4 seen and heard on Dec 10th - remarkable!

Common Yellowthroat (female) - Northfield Meadows, Franklin Co., MA. December 9th, 2018.

Common Yellowthroat (first-winter male) - Northfield Meadows, Franklin Co., MA. December 9th, 2018.

Common Yellowthroat (first-winter male) - Northfield Meadows, Franklin Co., MA. December 8th, 2018.


Common Yellowthroat (first-winter male) - Northfield Meadows, Franklin Co., MA. December 8th, 2018.

Earlier, the day had gotten off to a terrific start with 5 Evening Grosbeaks and my first Common Redpoll  of the season flying over North Cross Road, Gill.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

MA - crossbills and other cool passerines in early December

Red Crossbill (male) - Montague Plains, Franklin County, MA. December 5th, 2018.
Identified as 'eastern' Type 10 after analysis of the sound recordings by Tim Spahr.

Passerines of interest this week included six Red Crossbills in the Montague Plains on Dec 5th, identified as 'eastern' Type 10 after analysis of sound recordings taken at the scene. The flock was skittish, mobile and difficult to pin down so I was quite happy to come away with a handful of shots and a decent recording. In the same area, a lose flock of some 15 - 20 Red-breasted Nuthatches was no less impressive. Evening Grosbeaks (1 - 3) flew over North Cross Road, Gill every morning during Dec 1st - 5th, with another 3 over Turner's Falls Airfield on Dec 5th. A wide scatter of wandering Snow Buntings with 25 on Upper Farms Road, Northfield on Nov 30th, 11 on River Road, Gill on Dec 2nd and a single (male) over North Cross Road, Gill on Dec 6th. Skulkers included a smart Winter Wren on Pine Meadow, Northfield on Nov 30th with two together in Northfield Meadows on Dec 7th, and another on North Cross Road, Gill on the 8th. Dawn Winkler and Harvey Allen found a late Gray Catbird at Bennett Meadow, Northfield on Dec 3rd, and a very late Common Yellowthroat showed up in Northfield Meadows on Dec 7th & 8th.

Red Crossbill (female) - Montague Plains, Franklin County, MA. December 5th, 2018.
Identified as 'eastern' Type 10 after analysis of the sound recordings by Tim Spahr.

Red Crossbill (male) - Montague Plains, Franklin County, MA. December 5th, 2018.
Identified as 'eastern' Type 10 after analysis of the sound recordings by Tim Spahr.

Red Crossbill (male) - Montague Plains, Franklin County, MA. December 5th, 2018.
Identified as 'eastern' Type 10 after analysis of the sound recordings by Tim Spahr.


Red-breasted Nuthatch - Montague Plains, Franklin County, MA. December 5th, 2018.


Red-breasted Nuthatch - Montague Plains, Franklin Co., MA. December 5th, 2018.


Winter Wren - Pine Meadow Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. November 30th, 2018.

Winter Wren - Pine Meadow Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. November 30th, 2018.

Gray Catbird - Bennett Meadow, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. December 3rd, 2018.
Image appears courtesy of Dawn Winkler.




Common Yellowthroat (first-winter male) - Northfield Meadows, Franklin Co., MA. December 8th, 2018.










Tuesday, December 4, 2018

MA - the Baer's Pochard in Longmeadow

Baer's Pochard (male) - with Mallards, Fannie Stebbins Refuge, Longmeadow, Hampden Co., MA. December 3rd, 2018.

Yesterday morning (Dec 3rd) I traveled south to Fannie Stebbins Refuge in Longmeadow with the goal of trying to see a long staying Baer's Pochard, apparently present at the refuge since early October. Curiosity certainly got the better of me and since I'd never seen a Baer's Pochard anywhere, wild or captive, I felt that there was little to lose by taking a look and I wasn't disappointed. The bird itself, an adult male, was extremely beautiful and very easy on the eye. It was diving frequently and engaged in short flights whenever the accompanying Mallards 'spooked' from foraging and flew back towards the protection of the cattails at the rear of the pond. It's a free flying bird, fully winged and not decorated with any bands of any kind. Watching it behave within the context of a relatively natural environment turned out to be a much more rewarding experience than expected.


The Baer's Pochard at Longmeadow is currently regarded as an escape from captivity, and I guess with good reason. The species is endemic to East Asia and listed as "Critically Endangered" by Birdlife International with a population estimate of 150 - 700 individuals remaining in the wild. It is migratory breeding in the Russian Far East but even so, vagrancy to the Eastern US doesn't seem to be particularly plausible. On the other hand, an unbanded, free flying Baer's Pochard requires some explanation. Inquiries spearheaded by Michele Moore have apparently drawn a blank in terms of the bird's origin which, for now, remains unknown. Baer's Pochard occurs in collections at a number of locations in the Eastern US, but even in captivity it appears to be rare with the global captive stock estimated at around 220 birds in 2015 (Richard Hearn, WWT). Naturally, if captive breeding programs have been successful since that time the current figure could be much higher and it's perfectly acceptable to assume that this unbanded male has slipped away from one of the collections located in the Eastern US.

Update December 11th; the Longmeadow Baer's Pochard was last reported at Pondside Road, Fannie Stebbins Refuge on December 4th (Michelle Moore), and on the Connecticut River near the Pioneer Valley Yacht at Anthony Road, Longmeadow on December 9th (Nick Paulson).

Baer's Pochard (male) - with Mallard, Fannie Stebbins Refuge, Longmeadow, Hampden Co., MA. October 25th, 2018.
Image appears courtesy of Joe Oliverio. 

Baer's Pochard (male) - Fannie Stebbins Refuge, Longmeadow, Hampden Co., MA. October 25th, 2018.
Image appears courtesy of Joe Oliverio. 

Baer's Pochard (male) - Fannie Stebbins Refuge, Longmeadow, Hampden Co., MA. October 25th, 2018.
Image appears courtesy of Joe Oliverio. 

Gracious thanks go to Al and Lois Richardson for the bringing the initial identification to my attention in late October and for keeping me up to speed on the bird's appearances, and equally gracious thanks go to Joe Oliverio for allowing me to use three of his excellent images within this post. Thanks to David Sibley for his input on the identification and for sharing references on the status of Baer's Pochard. Although there are no accepted records of  Baer's Pochard in North America, David highlighted a mostly forgotten report of a specimen taken in "Oregon Territory" in 1841 that wasn't identified until 1949. It was considered unacceptable by the AOU in 1998, with comments suggesting that the specimen was most likely a hybrid.

I'm very open to comments on this particular bird and whether or not it can be traced to a collection. I'm equally interested to receive comments on the current status and distribution of Baer's Pochard,  in particular out of range occurrences. Thanks in advance.
















Tuesday, November 27, 2018

MA - Thanksgiving buntings, longspurs and a smart Barred Owl

Barred Owl - Main Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 24th, 2018. 

Finally a chance to catch up on some blog notes after a busy, but very lovely Thanksgiving Break. An adult Lesser Black-backed Gull showed up at Unity Park on the 21st and was present area in the Turner's Falls everyday after that. It looked very much like the returning winter adult that I've documented in Turner's Falls for at least the previous five winters.

Lesser Black-backed Gull (adult) - Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. November 21st, 2018.

Lesser Black-backed Gull (right) -  with Herring Gulls, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. November 21st, 2018.

Lesser Black-backed Gull (center) -  with Herring Gulls, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. November 24th, 2018.

Iceland Gull (second-cycle) - Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. November 21st, 2018.

Great Black-backed Gulls (adults) - with a couple of Herring Gulls, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. November 21st, 2018.

Waterbirds of note included a Common Loon at Turner's Falls Rod and Gun club throughout the period after initially arriving during the big waterbird fall-out on the 20th. The long staying female Surf Scoter was still present at Barton Cove on the 21st, a female American Wigeon was with Mallards at the Turner's Falls power canal on the 22nd and two Ruddy Ducks (first-winters) were at Barton Cove, Gill on the 26th. Perhaps more surprising was a late Double-crested Cormorant at Unity Park on 23rd, certainly one of the latest that that I've come across in Franklin County. The annual late autumn gathering of Hooded Mergansers at Barton Cove continued to be a feature but never really built up to the impressive show that we saw last year in late November with numbers remaining steady at around 65 birds for the area. 

Hooded Mergansers - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 19th, 2018. 

Hooded Mergansers - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 24th, 2018. 

Ruddy Ducks (first-winter) - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 26th, 2018. 

Ruddy Ducks (first-winter) - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 26th, 2018. 


Bufflehead - Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. November 24th, 2018. Long staying, slightly injured female.

Double-crested Cormorant - Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. November 23rd, 2018. 

Some 1200 Canada Geese gathered at the Turner's Falls power canal on the 26th, the largest single concentration that I've seen this fall. The flock contained at least two Cackling Geese but unfortunately time constraints prevented me from finding a few more birds of interest though I would have loved to have stayed a bit longer!

Cackling Goose (center) - Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. November 26th, 2018. 

Cackling Goose (right) - Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. November 26th, 2018. 

Cackling Goose (left) - Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. November 26th, 2018. 

The wave of irruptive finches passing through northern Franklin County most certainly tapered during the Thanksgiving period with very few Purple Finches and Pine Siskins, though I did have a very vocal Evening Grosbeak on North Cross Road, Gill on 23rd. On the plus side, Snow Bunting numbers increased with up to 50 at Northfield Meadows (on the 26th), 7 at Turner's Falls Airfield (on the 26th) and 4 at Caldwell Road fields, Northfield on several dates where a Lapland Longspur joined a small flock of Horned Larks on the 22nd.

Snow Buntings, Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. November 23rd, 2018. 

Lapland Longspur - Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. November 22nd, 2018. 

Lapland Longspur - Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. November 22nd, 2018. 


 Snow Buntings - Northfield Meadows, Franklin Co., MA. November 26th, 2018.

 Snow Buntings - Northfield Meadows, Franklin Co., MA. November 26th, 2018.


The passerine highlight of the period was arguably a very late Common Yellowthroat unearthed by Josh Layfield in Northfield Meadows on the 24th - I know of only one report later than that for Franklin County. Josh also had around 35 Snow Buntings in Northfield Meadows on the same day.

Common Yellowthroat - Northfield Meadows, Franklin Co., MA. November 24th, 2018.
Image appears courtesy of Josh Layfield.

And, in keeping with other roadside reports from around northern Franklin County, I had a nice daytime encounter with a Barred Owl in Gill on the 24th.