Saturday, December 31, 2022

December - not too shabby at all!

Smith's Longspur - Hadley Honey Pot, Hampshire Co., MA. December 14th, 2022.
A fabulous find for hard working local birder Scott Surner. Fifth state record and the first documented in the Pioneer Valley.
Discovered on Dec 12th delighting hundreds throughout its stay and still present on the last day of the year!

December, traditionally a month of minimal daylight, falling temperatures and usually lots of snow. Compared to October and November, my expectations for birding in December are generally pretty low, yet over the years the month has produced exciting birding in the Connecticut River Valley. Look no further that the near simultaneous appearance of two Sage Thrashers in 2020, one in Hampshire Co., MA and one in Cheshire Co., NH!

Rufous Hummingbird (fem/juv)- Millers Falls, Franklin Co., MA. December 16th, 2022.
As hardy as they come - Rufous Hummingbird in a blizzard!! First noted on Oct 7th by home homeowner
Bruce Kanash. Banded and identified on Nov 14th by Anthony Hill. Present and thriving at Bruce's home through to about Dec 21st. 

In addition to the long staying Rufous Hummingbird in Millers Falls, the month brought another major rarity in the form of a Smith's Longspur to the Hadley floodplain. Kudos must go to Scott Surner who found this bird lingering at the side of a busy thoroughfare in the Hadley Honey Pot on December 12th. To the joy of many, myself included, the longspur was courteous enough to stick around for weeks allowing hundreds of birders to share in Scott's discovery and to find itself added to the local Christmas Bird Count! At the time of writing (Dec 31st) it was still present favoring the same general area along Cemetery Road in the Honey Pot. Scott's find furnishes the fifth state record for Massachusetts and the first ever in the Pioneer Valley though there is an historical report by Harvey Allen from the nearby East Meadows April 1st, 1993. Though this record wasn't accepted by the MARC, it's always intrigued me largely because of the compelling elements of the description with comments such as "tame", "observed as close as ten feet" and "un-streaked buffy underparts indicating a female". But, birding in the modern era demands a high standard of documentation and in this respect the Hadley bird was a gift being absurdly tame, calling frequently and usually returning to the same feeding spot day after day, even when it was flushed. 

Smith's Longspur - Hadley Honey Pot, Hampshire Co., MA. December 14th, 2022.
An amazing find by Scott Surner and extra-ordinarily approachable. 

I've had quite a lot of luck with Smith's Longspurs over the years having seen them in the breeding areas on the Denali Highway, Alaska multiple times. But, the Hadley bird was only my third away from Alaska after chasing singles at Jones State Beach, Long Island, NYS in Feb 2007 (2nd state record) and Tuthill Road, Maricopa Co., AZ in Jan 2012 (2nd state record). To have one so close to home and showing so well was an absolute dream. Thank you Scott!

Other passerines of note this month but closer to home included a lingering Hermit Thrush and a late Eastern Towhee on North Cross Road, Gill on Dec 23rd and a small handful of Red Crossbills (Type 12) over Gill and along Green River Road, Colrain towards the end of the month. 

Redheads - Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. December 25th, 2022.
Loafing with the Mallards at Unity Park on Christmas morning, a lovely surprise though they didn't stick around for long.

View of Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. December 25th, 2022.

Frigid temperatures and major ice flows over the Christmas period brought some unexpected waterfowl to Turner's Falls with a female Northern Pintail at the power canal on Christmas Eve and three Redheads including a fine drake at Unity Park on Christmas morning. The Redheads didn't linger but the pintail stayed until Dec 31st and was briefly joined by a second fem/juv on the 28th. A lone juvenile Snow Goose at Barton Cove on Dec 26th was the most unusual goose of the period but also fairly typical in its random appearance. 

Northern Pintail (fem/juv) - Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. December 24th, 2022.
Another unusual duck showing up with Mallards, this time at the power canal. This bird lingered to the 
year's end and was joined by a second fem/juv on Dec 28th. 

Snow Goose (imm) - Barton Cove/Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. December 26th, 2022.

Barred Owl - Northfield, MA. December 22nd, 2022. 
Plenty of Barred Owls around often out 'sunning' on the coldest days. 

Iceland (Kumlieni) Gulls (first-cycles) - Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. December 29th, 2022.
Two; one darkish, one night in center of image. 

After a steady start, the numbers of large gulls began to build quite nicely towards the end of the month. With them came Iceland (Kumlien's) Gulls, initially two but then building up to five together at Barton Cove on Dec 28th with a new individual seen on the 29th so perhaps as many as six in the area by month's end. One or two Lesser Black-backed Gulls were present among the Herring Gulls too, though being immatures they were easily lost among the masses but I think at least two individuals were involved between Dec 22nd and 29th. 

Iceland (Kumlieni) Gulls (second-cycle) - Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. December 29th, 2022. 
In the center of the image. 

Iceland (Kumlieni) Gulls - Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. December 29th, 2022.
Four; two darkish first-cycle, one light first-cycle, one light second-cycle. 

Lesser Black-backed Gull (first/second cycle) - Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. December 22nd, 2022.

Lesser Black-backed Gull (first-cycle) - Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. December 29th, 2022.
Upper left bird in this image, and probably different to the LBBG I noted on Dec 22nd. 

Happy New Year and a bird-rich 2023 to all!


Thursday, November 17, 2022

MA - a Rufous Hummingbird in Millers Falls


Rufous Hummingbird - Millers Falls, Franklin Co. MA. November 11th, 2022. 

Found by Bruce Kanash at his home, ID ultimately verified by Master bander Anthony Hill. 

November 10th was warm and breezy with winds in the southern quarter. Since I hadn't been out to the Quabbin for a few weeks I thought I'd give it a try feeling open minded but not overly optimistic. On arrival at Gate 35 a chance encounter with Jeff Johnstone ultimately led to an encounter with a Rufous Hummingbird in Millers Falls later the same morning! A Selaphorus hummingbird had been coming to a feeder at a residence close to Millers Falls center. As it turned out, Jeff and the home owner, Bruce Kanash, had been friends for years. Bruce had first noted the hummingbird at his feeders on October 8th and kudos to Jeff, together with Ernie LeBlanc and Bruce, who identified it as a Rufous/Allen's on November 8th. 

Rufous Hummingbird - Millers Falls, Franklin Co. MA. November 11th, 2022. 

Found by Bruce Kanash at his home, ID ultimately verified by Master bander Anthony Hill. 

Quite naturally I was interested in taking a look at such a rarity, especially since I pass through Millers Falls almost every day and Bruce's house happened to be on one of my regular biking riding routes! Bruce was extremely generous with his time which was fortunate because the bird itself proved to be rather skittish. In the event, I visited on Nov 10th and 11th but never saw the hummingbird whilst standing outside. At the time, it could only be viewed from inside Bruce's home but thanks to Bruce I managed nice views on both days and secured some shots of the spread tail on Nov 11th. Certainly the images of the spread tail showed a moderate notch in R2 pointing towards a Rufous Hummingbird and I messaged Bruce with my suspicions. A few days later, on the 14th, Bruce was courteous enough to call and let me know that Anthony Hill had just successfully caught and banded the bird and identified it as hatching-year Rufous. Moreover, the bird was in good condition weighing in at 4 grams and returned to the feeders straight after banding! As the weather worsens and night time temperatures drop to well below freezing, it should certainly be interesting to see how long the hummer sticks around at Bruce's home. On a personal level, I'm extremely grateful to Bruce for sharing his hummingbird, and his hospitality.  

Around 45 confirmed records of Rufous Hummingbird currently exist for Massachusetts with others pending. However, reports from Franklin County appear to be exceedingly rare with only one other verified record to date, a single bird that came to a feeder in Ashfield in Nov/Dec 2004. 

Red-throated Loons (3) - Turner's Falls Rod and Gun club, Franklin Co., MA. November 16th, 2022.

Red-necked Grebe (juvenile) - Lake Mattawa, Franklin Co., MA. November 16th, 2022.

November in the Pioneer Valley often has a treat or two in store aside from rarities. After a fairly low key migration of waterfowl through our area it was good to finally see some Red-throated Loons in Turner's Falls on the 16th, part of a mini fall-out and a result of inclement weather, with a wider spread arrival of Red-throated Loons in southern Vermont and the Berkshires. Many of these, much like the Turner's loons, moved on quickly as the weather conditions eased somewhat during mid-morning. The same day also saw 13 Buffleheads and a Surf Scoter (immature male) at Turner's Falls and a Red-necked Grebe at Lake Mattawa. 

In terms of passerines, well this does seem to have been a very good month locally for Winter Wrens with multiple sightings at Northfield (Caldwell Road), Gill (North Cross Road), Barton Cove, Turner's Falls and Montague at the very least. It's not a rare species but numbers of fall migrants do appear to fluctuate from year to year, and this seems to be a good late fall period for them.

Winter Wren - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 17th. 2022.

Snow Buntings - Turner's Falls Rod and Gun club, Franklin Co., MA. November 16th, 2022.
Six in total and nice to see a few on the ground instead of the usual flyovers!

Barred Owl - with prey, possibly Eastern Chipmunk. Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. November 13th, 2022. 
Good numbers of Barred Owls in Gill/Northfield/Bernardston this fall including, sadly, several road killed on I-91 and Rt 10. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

MA - a Purple Gallinule in Longmeadow


Purple Gallinule (juvenile) - Longmeadow Flats. Hampden Co., MA. October 25th, 2022.

Late October often brings a really good, memorable bird to the Pioneer Valley and this year was no exception gifting a Purple Gallinule to the Fannie Stebbins Refuge at Longmeadow Flats. This fascinating record first came to light when Jean Langevin drew attention to it via Facebook on the Western Mass Photographers page. Though aloof at times it lingered for the best part of a week at one of the most heavily used public spots on the refuge allowing dozens of birders to catch up with this genuinely rare bird for the Pioneer Valley. It was juvenile much like a previous record from the same location and on remarkably similar dates, October 24th and 25th, 1978! I don't do a lot of bird chasing to the lower Pioneer Valley but the gallinule had some appeal and I managed to squeeze in ten minutes with the bird at the public gazebo on Pondside Road on October 25th. Having seen quite a few Purple Gallinules over the years, most recently on visits to Central America, I don't recall any of those birds being quite so fearless and showy as this smart, personable juvenile - I'm glad I made the trip!

Over the years we've had late October vagrants from all the points of the compass, some being state level rarities while others occur annually in coastal Massachusetts but are notably rare in the interior part of the state, for example the Purple Sandpiper found by Ted Gilliland at Holyoke Dam on Oct 30th, 2020. From the far west, the Pacific-slope Flycatcher in Hadley stood out as being exceptional. First found by Joe Olivero on Oct 23rd, 2019, this bright empid was courteous enough to stick around for over a month allowing hundreds of birders to catch up with an exciting state first. Another obliging flycatcher, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, was found by Jeff Johnstone on Oct 22nd, 2009 at Orange Airport and stayed for several days to the delight of many, including me! And October 26th, 2011 brought a Pink-footed Goose to Turner's Falls. At the time it was only the fourth state record but of course that species has become much more frequent in Massachusetts since. 

Pacific-slope Flycatcher - Huntington Road, Hadley, Hampshire Co., MA. Nov 2019. 

New to Massachusetts found by Joe Olivero on Oct 23rd, 2019. 


Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Orange Airport, Franklin Co., MA. October 22nd, 2009.  

Pink-footed Goose - Turner's Falls Power Canal, Franklin Co., MA. October 26th, 2011. 

The fourth record for Massachusetts. 


Purple Gallinule (juvenile) - Longmeadow Flats. Hampden Co., MA. October 25th, 2022.
First noted by Jean Langevin on October 21st, 2022. 


Tuesday, October 18, 2022

MA - Nelson's Sparrow in Hadley

Nelson's Sparrow - Hadley Pump House, Hampshire Co., MA. October 17th, 2022.
A long stayer and super find for Janice Jorgensen on October 11th, 2022. 

Long time, no blog feature...indeed it's been a while. A busy period of tour leading in late 2022 through May 2023 followed by a few life changes at home left me with little time for the blog lately. But even so, today I was very appreciative to see a relatively local Nelson's Sparrow, admittedly not my find but a Nelson's Sparrow in the Pioneer Valley is well worth the 40 minute drive from home and looking back at my records, it's a cool thirteen years since I last saw one! Indeed, the last Nelson's I saw in the valley was pretty interesting in the sense that it was quite late (October 20th, 2009) but also showed characteristics of the coastal form A. n. subvirgata. 

Today's Nelson's Sparrow looked like a nice example of one of the interior forms A. n. interior/alterus as noted by the many observers visiting the site since October 11th. Janice Jorgensen originally found the bird and Scott Surner neatly followed up her observation with good, to-the-point, directions and advice. Personally I was amazed that the bird would still be present after a 'cool' seven days of staging in the same area but I was super happy that it stuck around. The venue was the Hadley Pumping Station, a site I always enjoyed visiting when we lived in Amherst from 2005 to 2010. Good numbers of Song, Swamp and White-throated Sparrows were present too and the Nelson's would pop into view periodically, often showing very well, and sometimes too close to focus my 400 mm lens.....overall, a delightful experience.

Nelson's Sparrow - Hadley Pump House, Hampshire Co., MA. October 17th, 2022.

Nelson's Sparrow - Hadley Honey Pot, Hampshire Co., MA. October 20th, 2009.
Just reflecting on the last Nelson's Sparrow I saw in the Pioneer Valley, a nice example of the 
 coastal form A. n. subvirgata. This bird was in a fallow, weedy field next the Hadley Transfer Station. 

The favored habitat of the current Nelson's Sparrow at the Hadley Pump House off Mount Warner Road. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

MA - another Mourning Warbler!


Mourning Warbler - Deerfield Meadows, Franklin Co., MA. September 28th, 2021.

The Caldwell Road fields were admittedly quiet this morning although Common Yellowthroats were still present in good numbers along with Lincoln's Sparrows and Red-eyed Vireos. In the evening I found myself with enough time to try some birding around Deerfield. I don't normally search for passerine migrants in late afternoon/early evening but the calm, muggy and 'buggy' conditions looked promising and I soon found warblers insect gleaning around the overgrown dirt mounds in Deerfield's meadows. More Common Yellowthroats, five or so Tennessee Warblers and then a sharp, hard 'pik', clearly an interesting warbler, but which one? With my mind still wrapped around Connecticut Warblers I wondered about an alternate call for that species but it didn't seem right. After some patient waiting, the bird started calling again and eventually gave reasonable views in the evening light. It was a Mourning Warbler and an interesting looking bird to boot with a bold eye-ring, gray-brown hood and long, yellow undertail coverts, all similar features to those outlined for Connecticut Warbler. Either way, with the ID established I can admit to being thrilled with my second local Mourning Warbler of the fall. 

Monday, September 27, 2021

MA - a little more from Northfield


Red-eyed Vireo - Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 19th, 2021.

It's late September and the last few days have seen glorious autumnal days and cool, refreshingly comfortable nights. But the mostly stable air has allowed many migrants to pass through our area uninterrupted and this morning in particular there was a small but notable visible migration of southbound warblers along the Connecticut River in Northfield. Most were Blackpoll and Yellow-rumped Warblers but I was also able to pick out a couple of Tennessee Warblers and a single Nashville Warbler. Even better, I tallied my 7th Connecticut Warbler of the month when a single flew over giving buzzy 'zeet' flight calls before landing at the edge of a belt of deciduous trees and giving a loud, emphatic 'pwik' call, difficult to describe but distinctive once learned. Unfortunately, this particular Connecticut Warbler got away without being documented but I was very comfortable with what I heard, comfortable enough in fact to add it to the six I've already seen and heard in the Caldwell Road fields in September; photos and audio of two, plus audio of at least two more unseen, and three others heard well enough to be certain but simply too fast to be recorded. However, I do get the impression that we're well past the peak for Connecticut Warblers and this morning's bird was my first since the well photographed bird on Sep 16th.  The middle part of the month did host a very good showing of fairly late Yellow Warblers with five still present on the 19th. 

Yellow Warbler - Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 19th, 2021.

Yellow Warbler - Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 19th, 2021.

Blue-headed Vireo - Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 21st, 2021.

Red-eyed Vireos have certainly been present and passing through in numbers, often in tight flocks of 3 - 4 birds but I've yet to have any luck with a Philadelphia Vireo this fall. 

While the warbler numbers may have been dwindling we are in the midst of several major waves of White-throated Sparrows, the first of which occurred on Sep 19th with 80-100 in the fields around Caldwell Road. With them have come modest numbers of Savannah, Swamp and Lincoln's Sparrows though today (Sep 27th) saw a major incursion of migrant Song Sparrows as well. Meanwhile, I did hear and sound record a lonely Dickcissel on North Cross Road, Gill on Sep 17th but decided against entering the cornfield where is was feeding to try for photos. Dickcissel is a pretty scarce migrant in Franklin County but September is probable the single most productive month to find them. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

MA - more Connecticut Warblers


Connecticut Warbler - Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 16th, 2021.

A high pressure system currently settled over much of the region brought cooler temperatures with chilly, foggy dawns and delightful fall-like days. September is surely one of the most beautiful months of the year to be out birding! Such conditions generally don't see the larger scale fall-outs associated with more active weather systems but often see a steady turnover of newly arrived migrants along with the departure of the few remaining summer migrants. This particular month I've been engrossed in the day to day changes playing out in the fields near the Northfield transfer station no more than five minutes from my home. The highlight has unquestionably been the discovery of several more Connecticut Warblers. After the personal excitement surrounding the bird that showed so well on Sep 10th, I would never have imagined being gifted even better views of a different bird on Sep 16th. The latter bird showed off and posed around me for a solid five minutes having flown in totally unsolicited following a 'Trail's' Flycatcher and a Tennessee Warbler. And, much like the Connecticut Warbler that I saw in the same fields on the 10th, it seemed to be naturally inquisitive about my presence in the hedgerow as the images appear to show. While I was watching this bird I'm pretty sure another Connecticut Warbler called from farther down the hedgerow and thirty minutes earlier I succeeded in getting marginal but conclusive audio of a calling bird in a completely different spot in the fields, so certainly a minimum of two Connecticut Warblers present on the 16th. I also heard, but did not see, a further individual bird on the 15th and may have a sound recording of that one too. So, I'm reasonably happy with at least five individual Connecticut Warblers passing through the Caldwell Road fields between Sep 10th - 16th, pretty remarkable considering how difficult the species has been in previous years. 

Habitat favored by migrant Connecticut Warblers, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 16th, 2021.