Friday, July 2, 2021

MA - mid-summer Bonaparte's

 

Bonaparte's Gull (first-summer) - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. July 2nd, 2021.

July is off to a pretty good start. A very welcome break from late June's heatwave brought heavy, sustained rains all day on the 2nd resulting in a really good soaking and significantly cooler temperatures (62 F versus 95 F!). Although I wasn't expecting many birds to be on the move this early in July, a quick spin around Turner's Falls in torrential rain yielded at 4 Ring-billed Gulls, 2 Double-crested Cormorants and a Bonaparte's Gull. The latter was a first-summer sporting a nice 'patchy' hood and provided my first July record in Franklin County. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I don't have any previous records of Bonaparte's Gull between late May and early September. While it might be a stretch to call it an early fall migrant, there's little doubt that the day's horrendous weather conditions had an influence on it's appearance at the cove. The four Least Sandpipers that appeared at Turner's Falls Airfield later in the day were much more obvious southbound migrants and my earliest fall record by almost three weeks! Like the Bonaparte's Gull, the sandpipers were doubtless grounded by the heavy rain-soaked conditions and provided a clear signal that fall migration is under way. 

 Ring-billed Gulls - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. July 2nd, 2021.


Least Sandpipers - Turner's Falls Airfield, Franklin Co., MA. July 2nd, 2021.


Least Sandpipers - Turner's Falls Airfield, Franklin Co., MA. July 2nd, 2021.







Wednesday, June 30, 2021

MA - catching up on a fine spring

Golden-winged Warbler - Montague, Franklin Co., MA. June 1st, 2021.

For one reason or another my blog features have been a little on the light side during the spring but that's not to say that it's especially been quiet, or that I haven't been active in the field. With so much uncertainty regarding travel and Covid-19 I made the decision to keep most of my birding relatively close to home and rarely ventured more than 20 minutes drive time from our house in Northfield. By the time the summer solstice had come around I couldn't help but notice that most of my spring birding had taken place almost exclusively within Franklin County. While that might sound limiting in some respects it did open up windows of discovery in others. In the event I carved out many hours of field time that I doubt can be repeated anytime in the future.  

Red Crossbill - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. April 30th, 2021.

In many respects the major avian event of the spring continued to be the remarkable concentrations of hundreds of Red Crossbills in the Montague Plains WMA, an influx that raged on well into late May. White-winged Crossbills lingered through to mid-April and a few could be heard singing towards the end of their stay. Crossbills ended up being a big attraction and I spent many hours recording them and attempting to learn, thanks to expert guidance from Tim Spahr, as many different call types as possible. More on those in a separate post sometime in the future. 

Upland Sandpiper - Orange Municipal Airport, Franklin Co., MA. April 19th, 2021.

Crossbills aside, a number of other species caught my attention during the spring, primarily because I'm often away tour during the key periods and regularly miss out on the occurrence of locally rare species. The first of the these was an Upland Sandpiper found by Scott Lachance by the public viewing area at Orange Municipal Airport on April 19th. This particular spot has become somewhat 'hallowed' turf having produced late fall records of Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and Northern Wheatear in years past. Matan was on April break that week but in recognizing that the Upland Sandpiper was probably going to be a one day event I dragged him along and bribed him with the promise of a mountain bike ride afterwards! We both had superb views and, although he'd never admit it, I think he secretly enjoyed the experience....and he still rode his bike that morning! Upland Sandpiper is a rare breeding bird in the Pioneer Valley with a small population inside the perimeters of Westover Air Base near Ludlow in Hampden County. However, it appears to be extremely rare in Franklin County and I couldn't find any local ebird reports more recent than September 2004! Certainly, I'd never heard of an Upland Sandpiper occurring in Franklin County since we moved here in 2010, least of all one that could be chased. So thank you Scott Lachance for the wonderful find! 

Wilson's Phalarope - two of three present, East Meadows, Northampton, Hampshire Co., MA. May 20th, 2021. 

Prolonged spells of warm dry weather coupled with clear blue skies in the last two weeks of May were not at all conducive to fall-outs at a time of year that traditionally produces quality shorebirds, often in full breeding plumage. With that in mind, and combined with the near-drought conditions, Theresa Gessing's discovery of three Wilson's Phalaropes Northampton's East Meadows on May 19th was a real shocker! The phalarope party delighted many, myself included, in a very dusty East Meadows, the birds seemingly finding the only damp patch in the meadows for miles around. Wilson's Phalarope has yet to be found in Franklin County (or at least logged in ebird) and is rare in the Pioneer Valley, and I had little trouble justifying the 30 minute drive south into Hampshire County to see these wonderful birds....and they put on quite the show!

American Woodcock - Montague, Franklin Co., MA. May 21st, 2021.


Golden-winged Warbler - Montague, Franklin Co., MA. June 19th, 2021.
Male carrying food to nestlings.

Golden-winged Warbler - Montague, Franklin Co., MA. June 19th, 2021.
Male approaching the nest which was on the ground about 10 inches below this perching spot. 

May also brought a fantastic male Golden-winged Warbler to the bird-rich environs of Montague and was first found by Amasa and Genlyne Fiske-White during Global Big Day on May 8th. Surprisingly, this bold male lingered in the same area throughout May and entertained many throughout its stay. It could be decidedly tricky to detect at times and was most frequently heard (and recorded) singing a Blue-winged Warbler song. By early June the male Golden-winged Warbler had paired with a female Blue-winged Warbler and the pair nested successfully raising about five young to the fledgling stage. While not at all easy to track, the female Blue-winged Warbler was still feeding at least four hybrid fledglings on June 26th. 

Golden-winged Warbler - Montague, Franklin Co., MA. June 19th, 2021.
Male carrying food item to nest. 


Blue-winged Warbler - Montague, Franklin Co., MA. June 19th, 2021.
Female (paired with male Golden-winged Warbler) carrying food item to feed nestlings.

Recently fledged Golden-winged x Blue-winged Warbler - Montague, Franklin Co., MA. June 25th, 2021.
One of about five nestlings successfully fledged from the nest below. 


Golden-winged x Blue-winged Warbler nest - Montague, Franklin Co., MA. June 20th, 2021.
Ground nest containing about five nestlings being attended by male Golden-winged and female Blue-winged Warbler

While early June will see most species settling down for the breeding season, it can also produce (and often does!) one last 'toot' from the horn of spring and this year was no exception. Montague turned up a fine singing male Hooded Warbler on the 3rd only a few meters away from the Golden-winged Warbler's territory. The Hooded Warbler sang vigorously for about twenty minutes and then promptly disappeared just as suddenly as it first appeared. While pretty rare in Franklin County, Hooded Warbler records are increasing in the neighboring counties and I'm sure we can expect more of them in future springs. 

Hooded Warbler - Montague, Franklin Co., MA. June 3rd, 2021. 

June also turned up what must surely be one of the most overlooked and discrete migrant breeders in Franklin County?! I was fortunate enough to be standing in the exactly right place at one of the Deerfield Marshes when a female Least Bittern flew across the cattails, 'crash landed' and promptly disappeared. Long story short, I traded an attempt at photos for prolonged flight views and never relocated it. However, the experience provided a good excuse to get out the colored pencils and make a sketch from raw field impressions. 

Least Bittern (female) - Deerfield, Franklin Co., MA. June 15th, 2021.

Marsh Wren - Deerfield, Franklin Co., MA. June 15th, 2021. 


Virginia Rail - Deerfield, Franklin Co., MA. June 28th, 2021. 


Deerfield, Franklin Co., MA. June 29th, 2021.
Franklin County is full of small, majestic wetlands like this begging the question;
just how many pairs of Least Bitterns are out there?!

Least Bittern (male) - Deerfield, Franklin Co., MA. June 29th, 2021.


Least Bittern (male) - Deerfield, Franklin Co., MA. June 29th, 2021.


Green Heron - Deerfield, Franklin Co., MA. June 28th, 2021. 

Least Bitterns appear to have been rarely reported in Franklin County over the years and I could only find half-a-dozen records in ebird, the most recent coming from May 2013....and none of those appear to have been photographed or sound recorded. All that changed towards the end of June as at least two or three pairs of Least Bitterns settled down in the Deerfield marshes for the breeding season and several birders made sound recordings of the resonant, rhythmic 'cooing' of Least Bitterns alongside the Marsh Wrens, Green Herons and Virginia Rails present in the same area. 

There were, of course, many other highlights from the spring but these observations stand out as being some of the more memorable and satisfying. In terms of other fauna, well I had a fantastically close encounter with a Black Bear in May, a month that also produced my first ever Eastern Box Turtle in the Montague Plains. 

Black Bear - Greenfield, Franklin Co., MA. May 7th, 2021.


Eastern Box Turtle (male) - Montague. Franklin Co., MA. May 14th, 2021.

July is almost upon us and it's just about time to look forward to some autumn migration! 













Thursday, April 1, 2021

MA - White-winged Crossbills and an early Barn Swallow

 

White-winged Crossbill - female, Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. April 1st, 2021.

The gradual warming trend experienced in the last few days of March came to an abrupt end this morning with sleet showers and a biting, blustery NW wind that remained in place all day. Indications of stalled migrants cropped up in many places with around 500 American Robins in the fields around Gill and a wide scatter of Eastern Phoebes searching for insects in the most sheltered nooks. Despite apparently favorable conditions, there was no obvious sign of a waterfowl arrival with 3 Lesser Scaup being the pick at Barton Cove. From there I headed (once more) for the Montague Plains and eventually found some Red Crossbills though they were quieter and fewer in number than in recent days. One flock was graced with an especially approachable female White-winged Crossbill and I must say it's fantastic to have these birds lingering into April. Other notables from the plains included nice daytime views of an American Woodcock and my first Palm Warbler of season, the nice bright yellow eastern form.

Red Crossbill - female, Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. April 1st, 2021.


Barn Swallow - Barton Cove, Gill , Franklin Co., MA. April 1st, 2021. 

The raw, windy conditions persisted into early evening and a further check of Barton Cove produced a nice early Barn Swallow hawking around with seven or so Tree Swallows. With temperatures forecast to drop well below freezing tonight, I'm sure that bird will be shivering wherever it decides to roost! 



MA - March migration and yet more crossbills!

 

Bonaparte's Gulls - three of eight present, Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 26th, 2021.

March 26th was one of those bigger migration days when warm conditions coupled with an occluded front brought rain, thunderstorms and a lot of avian action! Widespread arrivals of Eastern Phoebes and, to lesser degree, Tree Swallows occurred that day as well as 30 newly arrived Green-winged Teals at Barton Cove. Just upriver, Ted Gilliland was busy sorting through a smaller flock of 13 Green-winged Teal and ultimately found a nice example of the Eurasian sub-species, certainly the first that I've seen or even heard about in Franklin County! Later that day, eight Bonaparte's Gull graced Barton Cove, along with five (early) Double-crested Cormorants and a Common Loon in full breeding plumage. And....I would have loved to have seen the flock of five migrant Sandhill Cranes reported by Eric Huston migrating high over the cove a little earlier in the afternoon. Overall, that was a pretty decent haul of migrants for the 26th!

Bonaparte's Gulls - five of eight present, Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 26th, 2021.

Eurasian (Green-winged) Teal (left) - distant crop, taken from Barton Cove campground, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 26th, 2021.
Nice find by Ted Gilliland. First Franklin County record.

Barton Cove continued to host a fairly large flock of Ring-necked Ducks with over 100 present, often loafing around Barton Island and subsequently difficult to see at times. Up to two Lesser and seven Greater Scaup (on the 28th) were often present with or near the Ring-necked Ducks


White-winged Crossbills - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 29th & 30th, 2021.


Red Crossbills - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 29th & 30th, 2021.

Fox Sparrows - three of five in the Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 19th, 2021.

Field Sparrow - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 29th, 2021.

Waterbirds aside, the incursion of winter finch species continued to be a major attraction for me and over the last month or so I've been very drawn to the Montague Plains which continues to host large numbers of Red Crossbills, the numbers of which appear to fluctuate on a day-to-day basis as the birds roam, presumably in search of the most productive feeding spots. Red Crossbills peaked at a whopping 360 birds on March 25th, a day which also saw 55 Pine Siskins and over 200 Dark-eyed Juncos and the first local Pine Grosbeak that I've seen for weeks. The day before saw 22 White-winged Crossbills in the plains with smaller numbers continuing through to the end of the month including 17 on the 31st. The Montague Plains have also proven to be a good spot for migrant Fox Sparrows with up to five present on the 19th, and the first territorial Field Sparrows started to appear for another breeding season from March 28th. 

Red-shouldered Hawk - one of two first-summer birds over the Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 30th, 2021.
These birds flew off to the NW together and behaved like migrants.

Ring-necked Ducks and Double-crested Cormorants - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 31st, 2021.
A fairly typical early spring spring scene. 

The last two days of the month saw increasingly warm temperatures with first Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and Pine Warblers in the Montague Plains as well as some odd migrants such as two immature Red-shouldered Hawks and 5 Rusty Blackbirds on the 30th, and a Belted Kingfisher heading north on the 31st. The latter date also saw a late afternoon arrival of 17 Double-crested Cormorants at Barton Cove. 








Thursday, March 18, 2021

MA - fringillid morning

 

Red Crossbills - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 16th, 2021.

Last Tuesday (March 16th) I ran into an embarrassment of avian riches in the Montague Plains WMA. It was was bitterly cold at the start of the day, well below freezing in fact but by mid-morning the warmth of the spring sunshine began to make a real difference and the Montague Pitch Pines became a frenzy of finch activity once again. What made this morning particularly special wasn't so much the simple presence of lots of fringillids but more to do with having them gather together in one especially sweet spot. The place was full of them with Red Crossbills (85) White-winged Crossbills (7), Pine Siskins (12), Common Redpolls (7) and other commoner species such as American Goldfinch, Dark-eyed Junco, American Tree Sparrow, Song Sparrow and a handful of White-throated Sparrows.

White-winged Crossbill (female) - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 16th, 2021.
Finally a chance to catch up with proper views female White-winged Crossbills!


Red and White-winged Crossbills (males) - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 16th, 2021.


White-winged Crossbill (pair) - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 16th, 2021.
Two birds from a party of five feeding in the same Pitch Pine.

Common Redpoll with Red Crossbills - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 16th, 2021.


Red Crossbill - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 16th, 2021.


Red-breasted Nuthatch - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 16th, 2021.
Still good numbers around though far fewer than in the autumn and early winter. 
A few will breed in the plains even in non-incursion years. 



















Tuesday, March 16, 2021

MA - Snow Goose and a good selection of other waterfowl

 

Snow Goose - (first-spring), Turner's Falls power canal, Franklin Co., MA. March 16th, 2021.

Migration appears stalled for a few days, perhaps held up by four straight days of very cold, blustery North-westerlies, certainly a shock to the system after last week's warm southerlies. Aside from a steady build up of Ring-necked Ducks (c.140 between Barton Cove and the Turner's Falls Rod and Gun club) and Buffleheads (9 Barton Cove and at least 5 at the Turner's Falls power canal), the last few days have seen several species simply 'staging' in the area presumably waiting for more favorable weather conditions to continue migrating. A combined total of at least 1400 Canada Geese has been present at Barton Cove and the Turner's Falls power canal, seemingly ripe for the discovery of a good rarity? Alas, the most unusual geese so far have been single Snow and Cackling Geese, both of which have been present at the power canal from the 14th - 16th. The power canal also produced a welcome surprise with the appearance of the long staying (but often aloof) first-winter male Barrow's Goldeneye on the 13th. Barton Cove hosted a female Lesser Scaup (11th - 13th) and a female Greater Scaup (14th - 16th) as well as up to 30 each of Common and Hooded Mergansers. Gull migration has definitely been light over the last few days but an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull was new at Barton Cove on the 13th. 

Cackling Goose -  Turner's Falls power canal, Franklin Co., MA. March 15th, 2021.


Barrow's Goldeneye - (first-spring male), Turner's Falls power canal, Franklin Co., MA. March 13th, 2021.
Mercurial, with sporadic appearances at the power canal throughout the winter since December 25th, 2020.


Ring-necked Ducks - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 15th, 2021.


Lesser Scaup (female) - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 13th, 2021.


Greater Scaup (center) - female, Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 15th, 2021.


Black Vultures - Turner's Falls power canal, Franklin Co., MA. March 13th, 2021.
Continued arrivals in Montague with four over the power canal on the 13th.