Friday, November 28, 2008


Thanks to a timely and much appreciated phone call from Nick Bonomo, my visiting parents and I drove down to the Windsor/Bloomfield landfill to enjoy this fantastic find by Nick. Leaving the house to the site took just fifty minutes, straight down I-91.

On arrival, the bird was out of view for the first twenty minutes or so causing me to keep glancing at my watch and worry about closing time (4pm). At around 2:25 pm I re-located it and then had it view until 3:05pm, along with a relatively small band of very happy birders. At peak, I would say some 5,000 large gulls were present on site at around 2pm but a gradual thinning of birds was evident throughout the afternoon leaving perhaps less than 2,000 by about 3:45pm when we departed.

This Slaty-backed Gull is certainly showing some signs of immaturity, most obviously in the dark bill markings and has me wondering about the age which I'll discuss when I have a little more time. Nick is discussing the age of the bird on his own blog here.

A very cool find indeed that gives me some hope for the forthcoming winter evenings at Turner's Falls.

Slaty-backed Gull - 3rd/4th cycle - The first record in Connecticut.

Slaty-backed and Kumlien's Iceland Gulls flanked by American Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls.

Kumlien's Iceland Gulls - about 4 present at the landfill today.

Lesser Black-backed Gull - adult with primaries still growing.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Two Greater Whitefronts in Amherst - 11/23

Raw, frigid conditions continue. Temperatures didn't climb above freezing all day making any type of birding difficult. After a relatively fruitless drive around the Hadley fields I ended up back at the UMass campus pond. The first 20 minutes were rather dull but soon streams of Canada Geese started flying in and landing on the ice and the only remaining patch of open water. Around 10am, two Greater White-fronted Geese flew in together with a small flock of Canada Geese. Both of these birds were easily separable from each other and may well represent two different subspecies.

Greater White-fronted Goose - Images 1 - 4. This was the larger of the two birds being rather darker brown with a thick-necked appearance, an extremely bright orange bill, a narrow white stripe along the flanks and narrow pale tips to the upperwing coverts - all suggestive of the Greenland subspecies 'flavirostris'.

Greater White-fronted Goose - Images 5 - 7. subspecies uncertain. Overall grayer-brown cast than the flavirostris above with pinkish bill, prominent fairly broad white flank stripe, rather neat prominent white tips to the greater and median coverts, and broad white tips to the blackish-brown tail.

Greater White-fronted Geese - flavirostris (right), unidentified form left.

Greater White-fronted Geese - flavirostris (left), unidentified form right. Nice comparison showing some of the major differences between these two birds.

By way of coincidence, David Sibley has been looking at Greater White-fronted Geese recently near his home in Concord, MA. His blog entry includes a nice summary of the features of 'Greenland' White-fronted Geese with comparisons to North American-types.
Here's the link to his excellent blog:

Friday, November 21, 2008

Cackling Goose again - Nov 21st

Checked a few fields in Hadley on this frigid afternoon without too much success (just a few small flocks of Horned Larks) before deciding to make a late afternoon dash for the campus pond at UMass. The pond was packed tight with Canada Geese, at least 700 birds in all, the largest concentration that I've seen here this fall. Also one Cackling Goose, almost certainly the same bird from last weekend, giving excellent views towards the Fine Arts Center end of the pond. Having watched this bird a little more I'm rather less comfortable in calling it a Richardson's. The whole bird looks darker that most hutchinsii that I've seen, and the breast is especially dark for that form.

Update Nov 24th: Despite a few of my own doubts about this bird, Steve Mlodinow has kindly offered to comment and allowed me to post those comments here;
"The first pic looks like a typical Richy, just a bit dark. I've seen some photos of flocks of Richys, and dark ones are uncommon but not hideously rare. The bill and head shape seem very good. The bird is an immature, which is why its wing coverts are relatively heavily patterned and why it is kind of mottled beneath."

Cackling Goose calling. Sounded quite high-pitched but rather grating.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Two more Bonaparte's in Hadley! - 11/16

After viewing the Cackling Goose on the campus pond, I drove down to the wet field on Mill Valley Road hoping to find gulls. I wasn't disappointed. Some 600 Ring-billed Gulls were present , later building to 800 birds, along with a few American Herring Gulls. Within a few minutes, I'd found two first-cycle Bonaparte's Gulls - obviously different birds to the adult of the previous day. In fact, yesterday's adult wasn't present at all. Still, three Bonaparte's Gulls in the local area over the course of a weekend is well worth seeing, easily the most I've recorded since moving here in 2005.

Bonaparte's Gulls - Both first-cycle birds are featured in these shots.

Feeling rather pleased, I also tried the wet corn field to the South on East Hadley Road and found it teeming with birds; 400 Horned Larks, 120 American Pipits, 35 Killdeer and, a little surprisingly, an American Golden Plover which must be getting rather late for this species. Anyhow, the plover wrapped up a really excellent morning of local birding, and this despite a brutal North-westerly wind that didn't relent all morning.

Richardson's Cackling Goose, Amherst - 11/16

Acting on gut feeling, I decided to check the UMass Campus Pond earlier, rather than later in the day, and finally pinned down the Richardson's Cackling Goose that has been feeding in the Hadley fields for at least a week, perhaps more. I actually watched the bird fly in from the West over the UMass playing fields at around 08:05am, and then drove back to the campus pond to enjoy excellent views. This bird shows a number of characteristics associated with Richardson's Cackling Goose (B.h. hutchinsii) including the steep forehead and square headed appearance, proportionately short stubby bill, broad white cheek, rather gray cast to the upperparts and tiny size. This particular individual was darker breasted than most that I've seen in the Pioneer Valley, but I didn't read too much into this, other than individual variation. It was also molting accounting for the untidy looking tail seen in some of the flight views.

Keeping a close eye on the local Peregrines!

Canada Goose - An interestingly marked aberrant bird.

Bonaparte's Gull - Hadley 11/15

A wet, wild and balmy day with a strong southern wind. No planned birding as such, but I did have five minutes of excellence whilst out running errands with Matan. On Mill Valley Road in Hadley, I couldn't resist pulling over to go through a flock of about 500 Ring-billed Gulls feeding in wet pasture. Almost the first bird I put the bins on was a Bonaparte's Gull, a nice adult. As I got out of the car to grab a few digiscope shots, a huge flock of Canada Geese rose up from the fields far to the West of me, and amidst the closest flock was a Cackling Goose which eventually came right overhead. This almost certainly the same bird with rather 'ratty' tail feathers that I'd seen over Hadley Honey Pot last weekend. This time it flew off to the south. One of these days I'll get good views of this bird on the ground!

Bonaparte's Gull - Adult with Ring-billed Gulls, Mill Valley Road, Hadley.

Cackling Goose - Lower right with Canada Geese, Mill Valley Road, Hadley.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Another Provincetown Eider - Nov 11th

This large-billed, dark Eider caught my attention just as I was leaving Macmillan Wharf. It was feeding entirely alone in open water, frequently diving. The bill appeared huge from most angles, and the frontal bill lobes of this bird appeared to be pointed. The plumage was mostly dark, 'velvety' brown lacking the reddish tones of most of the local dresseri. I'm not sure what to make of the age or sex of this bird, but suspect that sub-specifically, it maybe something other than dresseri.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Provincetown Eiders - Nov 11th

A return visit to the Outer Cape couldn't quite match last week's superb day for gulls and other species, but I still had an enjoyable day all the same. The wind was pretty fearsome from the West, later swinging North-west, and actually much stronger that I'd anticipated from the forecast. Having had a mediocre morning at Herring Cove and Race Point I wandered down to Provincetown Harbor where I knew I could find some close birds and hopefully a bit of shelter from the wind. The Eiders grabbed my attention straight away. I always find them so attractive and MacMillan Wharf is such a superb place to see them close. As expected, all showed strong characteristics of S.m. dresseri sometimes called 'American Eider', primarily breeding along the Atlantic Coast from NE Canada to Maine. Having found a male 'Northern Eider' S. m. borealis here in Dec 2006, I was aware of the possibilities but admittedly a little disappointed when all of the males that I checked showed nice rounded frontal bill lobes, and olive-gray bills pretty typical of male S. m. dresseri.

Common Eider - Images 1 & 2 - S.m. dresseri. Males showing nice rounded frontal bill lobes. Variation in some females from dark reddish-brown to almost ginger-brown.

Common Eider - 3 - S.m. dresseri. Group containing a rather pallid, gray looking female/juv (center).

One rather gray, 'pallid' looking female caught my attention and stood out from the rest of the flock, the females of which were almost all reddish-brown, varying from dark red-brown to almost ginger-brown, but not gray or cold toned like this bird.

Common Eider - 4 - S.m. dresseri with gray looking female/juv (rear).

Common Eider - 5 & 6 - S.m. dresseri with gray looking female/juv (foreground). These images were taken in the shadow thrown from the wharf. The pale gray tones are less obvious here, but the bird still appears cold-toned compared the the accompanying dresseri.

Common Eider - gray female/juv with typical female/juv dresseri.

Common Eider - gray female, race uncertain. This close-up (taken in shade) appears to show pointed rather than rounded frontal lobes - perhaps another indicator of a bird from from more Northerly populations?

Comments on the appearance of this bird and pointers to the racial identification of gray looking females would be most welcome.