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.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

MA - Mourning Warbler.....Northfield


Mourning Warbler - Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 14th, 2021.

The last two days have seen a distinct swing towards slightly later season migrants in Northfield with Swainson's Thrush, Northern Waterthrush, Yellow-rumped Warbler and White-throated Sparrow (8) all making their first appearances at Caldwell Road fields. In addition, up to 25 Common Yellowthroats and 5 Lincoln's Sparrows both showed obvious increases over the 13th and 14th. A couple of late migrants also turned up with two Yellow Warblers (together) and a Willow Flycatcher on the 13th. 

Lincoln's Sparrow - Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 13th, 2021.

Mourning Warbler - Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 14th, 2021.

But in general, warbler numbers and diversity remain quite low for this time of year. All the more rewarding then to have good views of a calling Mourning Warbler on the 14th, in my view something of a county rarity on fall migration. In fact, I've actually had more luck with Connecticut Warbler over the years though the tiny handful of Mourning Warblers I've encountered tended to be bolder and more cooperative. 

Mourning Warbler - Northfield Meadows, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 18th, 2020.
Historical image, also from Northfield in mid-September. 

The 14th also produced a 'heard-only' Connecticut Warbler that called just once from a dense patch of Jewelweed, totally catching me off guard as I walked a mere five paces from my car at the start of the day. Despite much effort and patience, it couldn't be coaxed into view. While I'm pretty hesitant to call Connecticut Warbler by sound only the loud, distinct 'pwik' call was close enough to be sure and I'm not at all surprised that the bird didn't show given the mercurial nature of the species. 

Friday, September 10, 2021

MA - Connecticut Northfield!

Connecticut Warbler - Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 10th, 2021. Probably first-winter. 

September brings many avian riches to Massachusetts and has to be one of the most keenly anticipated months of the year for local birders. Whether it be the mass migration of Broad-winged Hawks at established hawk watch sites, or the ever present chance of finding Buff-breasted Sandpipers and other cool shorebirds among local flocks of Killdeer, every day of the month has something to offer and even just an hour outside can be time well spent. But for me, September in Western Massachusetts can only mean one thing - migration of Connecticut Warblers! The species is not an especially rare transient but can certainly be regarded as a scarce passage migrant. It's overall status coupled with skulking and unpredictable behavior make it one of the most sought-after warblers at this time of year. Within the Pioneer Valley, the flood plains of Hadley and Hatfield in Hampshire County receive the lion's share, almost all of them in reported in September. 

The situation in Franklin County is a little different with far fewer reports and only one (that I know of) actually photographed (by Josh Layfield on Sep 29, 2019). This morning I finally laid a personal ghost to rest when I shared three fantastic minutes with a Connecticut Warbler in Northfield. It flushed up simultaneously with a Common Yellowthroat providing a perfect comparison in flight. Thankfully my eyes tracked the larger, more hulking, shorter tailed bird until it perched in the shade and simply looked at me as if it were offended that I'd accidentally flushed it! Moreover, after three or so minutes of perching silently it suddenly began calling allowing me to grab a few audio clips of the distinctive, yelping 'pwik' calls. Shortly afterwards it dropped down never to be seen again.....but I still lingered hoping for more views.

Ironically, it wasn't a busy morning for landbird migrants with Common Yellowthroat and Connecticut Warbler being the only migrant warblers that I could find during a solid hour of effort.  I have seen Connecticut Warbler in Franklin County before but never well enough to attempt record shots making this morning a different experience altogether. 

In the evening a quick check of the flats at Hell's Kitchen found 7 Least Sandpipers and single Pectoral and Solitary Sandpipers amid half a dozen Killdeer, plus 15 or so Wood Ducks

Thursday, September 9, 2021

MA - early September


Nashville Warbler. Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 9th, 2021.

The first ten days of September saw a welcome drop in the heat and humidity of August but, certainly from a Franklin County perspective, it's been pretty quiet for migration. Even the passage of Hurricane Ida on the 2nd did little to stir things up though did bring a small number of shorebirds to Northfield and an increase in shorebird diversity. The Baird's Sandpiper that had showed so well at Caldwell Road in late August lingered until September 3rd though became increasingly difficult to see spending most of its time with Killdeers on the plowed section of the fields rather than feeding out in the open grass. Two Semipalmated Plovers, two Least Sandpipers and my first Wilson's Snipe of the fall were also at Caldwell Road on the 2nd. On the 9th, heavy overnight rain brought a further 21 Least Sandpipers and 4 Lesser Yellowlegs to the Caldwell Road sod fields though the yellowlegs stayed only briefly and flew off purposefully to the south after just a few minutes never to return. 

Killdeer. Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 9th, 2021.

Least Sandpipers. Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 9th, 2021.
Part of a single flock of 21 birds.

Aside from an excellent showing of Common Yellowthroats along the Connecticut River, warbler migration and diversity has been slow so far, or at least in the places that I've been able to check. A few Cape May Warblers, a couple of Northern Parulas and a Nashville Warbler (on the 9th) is all I have to show for my efforts so far! On the plus side, checking for warblers has revealed an excellent passage of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds feeding in wild habitat while taking advantage of the flowering Jewelweed along the banks of the Connecticut River, and there was an early Lincoln's Sparrow in the same habitat on the 3rd, I'm pretty sure my earliest fall record for Franklin County.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 9th, 2021. 

Lincoln's Sparrow. Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 3rd, 2021.

Common Yellowthroat. Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 9th, 2021.

Abundant along the field edges flanking the Connecticut River.