Wednesday, November 30, 2016

MA/VT - Cackling Geese, more owls and a longspur (or two)

November has gone out on an extremely mild note with lots of rain in the last two days of the month. The autumnal feel is tapering as many bird species settle down for the early part of the winter. In particular, large numbers of Canada Geese remain in the Turner's Falls/Greenfield area with perhaps as many as 1500 geese at large. One or two Cackling Geese have been with them  throughout the last days of the month.

Cackling Goose - Greenfield, Franklin Co., MA. November 29th, 2016. 

Cackling Goose - Greenfield, Franklin Co., MA. November 30th, 2016. 

The excellent season for Northern Saw-whet Owls continues unabated with six birds being found at new site in Northfield on the 28th. These birds gave an exciting range of about half a dozen different vocalizations, with good visuals of at least four of the six recorded. A Barred Owl was seen at the same site, and Barred Owls continue to be seen in the daytime in the Gill area, especially on damp, foggy days. 

Barred Owl - on a very wet afternoon, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 30th, 2016. 

On Monday (Nov 28th), I joined Laura Gaudette for a tour of the Putney Great Meadow in southern Vermont and had a very enjoyable morning getting familiar with the place and sharing some of the birds on Laura's patch. Highlights included a late Turkey Vulture, Merlin, several Bald Eagles and a couple of swirling flocks of Horned Larks. The latter were typically difficult to observe but eventually gave themselves up providing excellent views. After a while we also detected one, possibly two Lapland Longspurs among them. 

 Horned Lark - Putney Great Meadow, Windham Co., VT. November 28th, 2016.

 Lapland Longspur (with Horned Lark) - Putney Great Meadow, Windham Co., VT. November 28th, 2016.

  American Tree Sparrows (with American Goldfinches) - Putney Great Meadow, Windham Co., VT. November 28th, 2016.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

MA - Gill screech-owls

Eastern Screech-owl (rufous-morph) - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 25th, 2016. 

Yesterday evening (11/25) was dull, foggy and even a little balmy - it might even have been compared to an evening in early spring. With this in mind, I decided to try a couple of spots in Gill for screech-owls as I made my way home from Turner's Falls. Eastern Screech-owls are reasonably common in Turner's Falls but I have found them to be inexplicably difficult north of Turner's Falls despite repeated attempts in many suitable areas. Yesterday evening I was very fortunate to find a pair of screech-owls in a spot that I felt looked good for years but had never produced them. Moreover, the birds appeared early while there was still plenty of ambient light, at around 16:30,hrs. The male of the pair was an obvious rufous-morph and showed well at close range for several minutes giving the classic "whinny" calls and sometimes the monotone trill. A second spot about three quarters of a mile away also supported a calling bird and again, the "whinny" call could be heard clearly through the fog. In the distance, a Barred Owl gave the classic "who-cooks-for-you" call but just the once. All in all, a very nice little owl session and, remarkably, the first actual views of a screech-owl that I've had in Gill.

Friday, November 25, 2016

MA - Thanksgiving birds

American Robin - Benardston, Franklin Co., MA. November 23rd, 2016.

The days around the Thanksgiving holiday might best be described as 'steady' least in the Gill/Turner's Falls area. The morning of the 23rd had a few new birds in Gill especially along North Cross Road with a surprise Peregrine, several Pine Siskins and a Red-breasted Nuthatch. On the other hand, I only saw one Evening Grosbeak and their numbers seem to be tapering in Gill after peaking at over 30 on Nov 18th. American Robins have been abundant in the greater Gill/Bernardston area over the last week with easily 3000 birds foraging in loose flocks in the fields and hedgerows. 

At Turner's Falls new arrivals included four Gadwall at dusk on the 23rd when an impressive 165 Common Mergansers came into roost. The adult Lesser Black-backed Gull was again present at Unity Park and a late or wintering Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was present at the power canal. Thanksgiving morning saw the return of the long staying Cackling Goose first noted on Nov 5th. It's appearances have certainly been erratic and very much in keeping with the daily fluctuations of enormous numbers of Canada Geese currently present in our area (c.1450 coming into roost on the 23rd for example). 

Cackling Goose  - Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. November 24th, 2016. 

Gadwall  - Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. November 23rd, 2016. Three of the four present at dusk. 

Great Blue Heron  - Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. November 23rd, 2016. 

Lesser Black-backed Gull  - Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. November 23rd, 2016. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

MA - Northern Shrike in Gill

Northern Shrike - immature, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 22nd, 2016. 

November just keeps on producing good birds in Gill/Turner's Falls. This morning, after dropping Matan at school, I found a fast moving Northern Shrike heading south along the banks of the Connecticut River. Initially, I picked it up in flight some distance to the north but it worked its way toward me and thankfully teed up in front of me, albeit briefly. It was another brownish immature, similar to last week's bird in Rockingham, Vermont. Otherwise, a scatter of Evening Grosbeaks, all singles in flight, though the previous day I did see a party of twelve or so shortly after first light.

 Northern Shrike - immature, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 22nd, 2016. 

Evening Grosbeaks - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 21st, 2016.  Six birds from a party on twelve.

Eastern Bluebird - male, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 22nd, 2016.  

American Tree Sparrow - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 22nd, 2016. 
Good numbers along the fields and hedgerows of Gill at the moment. 

At Turner's Falls an American Wigeon (female) and a Lesser Black-backed Gull were new arrivals, the latter being my first of the fall/winter season and probably one of the returning wintering adults.

Lesser Black-backed Gull (rear) - adult, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. November 22nd, 2016. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

MA - LITTLE GULL in Turner's Falls

Little Gull - juv/first-winter, Unity Park, Turner's Falls. Franklin Co., MA. November 20th, 2016.
A late afternoon reward for sticking around on a cold, blustery Sunday afternoon. Little Gull is an ABA Code 3 species. 

As with the previous Sunday (a day that produced a Mountain Bluebird in Turner's Falls) I had no specific plans for local birding today. Other than a female goldeneye sp. that may have been a Barrow's and a first-year male Lesser Scaup, incidental birding opportunities at Turner's Falls had produced relatively little. Indeed, the overall atmosphere was that of a quiet day and, as I closed my day in the fading light at Unity Park, my expectations were relatively low. As the weather worsened, I noticed several large gulls arriving high from the north-east. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a small gull appeared high over the Gill side of the river. As it approached the assembled Ring-billed Gulls I had my first taste of the identification as a brief  dorsal view showed a thick black 'M' on the upperside contrasting with an especially white rump and tail, and a very neat black band at the tip of the tail - "Little Gull!". I watched and photographed transfixed, trying not to loose track as it careened about the sky on the squally north-westerlies. It showed some interest in joining the Ring-billed Gulls before moving off high to the south-east after which I lost it. The Little Gull hadn't returned by the time I left. At the time, the observation seemed quite long but my camera details show that bird was in view for just two minutes between 16:11 and 16:13 hrs. 

Little Gulls are not too difficult to see in very small numbers in coastal Massachusetts, Outer Cape Cod being especially good for them at the moment. However, they are exceedingly rare in the interior and I'm only aware of three other records prior to this sighting. They include two spring records from Berkshire County and one from Gill, Franklin County. The latter bird was an adult that I found during an extreme Nor'easter on December 21st, 2008;

Saturday, November 19, 2016

MA - Northern Saw-whet Owl

Northern Saw-whet Owl - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 19th, 2016. 

I've been having frequent encounters with both of these species in Gill throughout the month. 

 Barred Owl - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 20th, 2016. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

MA/VT - Evening Grosbeaks keep coming

Seemingly a big day for Evening Grosbeaks on November 18th, beginning at dawn with 30 (11, 19) leaving a roost in Gill along with 2,500 American Robins! The Robins departed north-east while the grosbeaks headed south-west. Later in the morning, whilst scouting for the Saxtons River CBC with Laura Gaudette and JoAnne Russo in southern Vermont, two more single Evening Grosbeaks and then finally a single over the Turner's Falls power canal towards the end of the day. The previous day, Nov 17th, I stumbled across three Evening Grosbeaks including two males near Gill Center. Without doubt, this's the best autumn that I've had for this species locally since we moved to Franklin County in 2010. 

Evening Grosbeak - fem/imm Rockingham, Windham Co., VT. November 18th, 2016.

Southern Vermont also yielded my first Northern Shrike of the fall, again with Laura Gaudette and JoAnne Russo, this bird being a lovely brown, and very vocal, immature. There was also a smart, unusually marked male American Robin with white wing coverts (creating a white wing panel) which stood out from the rest of the foraging group of 20 or so birds.  

Northern Shrike - first-winter, Rockingham, Windham Co., VT. November 18th, 2016.

American Robin - male, Rockingham, Windham Co., VT. November 18th, 2016.

Predators in Gill this week included several Barred Owls and a nice, late, American Kestrel

American Kestrel - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 17th, 2016. 

The middle of the week saw the departure of the well watched Mountain Bluebird at Turner's Falls airport. This highly attractive western passerine brought so much pleasure to its admirers and was a 'life bird' for some. 

Mountain Bluebird - first-winter male, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. November 16th, 2016. 
The first for Franklin County and the Pioneer Valley, and about the tenth state record overall.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

MA - Mountain Bluebird continues, plus harriers and more......

 Mountain Bluebird - first-winter male, Turner's Falls Airfield, Franklin Co., MA. November 15th, 2016.
Third straight day for this stunning passerine. 

Checked in on the Mountain Bluebird in mid-morning finding it straight away, remarkable the only bluebird present around the airfield at that time. Initially, the airfield seemed pretty quiet but a gray male Northern Harrier, 16 Snow Buntings, Purple Finch and Common Raven had been logged by the end of visit. Heavy rain hastened my departure at 11:00 hrs but just prior to that, the bird flew straight onto the low perimeter fence and began foraging a mere 20 feet in front of myself and Bee Emily - simply breathtaking to have the bird that close.

Northern Harrier - adult male, Turner's Falls Airfield, Franklin Co., MA. November 15th, 2016.

In between errands I passed through River Road in Gill and found it 'loaded' with birds including a female Northern Harrier, 800+ American Robins, 250 Horned Larks, several Snow Buntings, Dark-eyed Juncos and at least a dozen Northern Cardinals.

Northern Cardinal - male, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 15th, 2016.  

Northern Harrier - female-type, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 15th, 2016.  

White-throated Sparrow - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 15th, 2016.  

Sunday, November 13, 2016

MA - Mountain Bluebird in Turner's Falls

Mountain Bluebird - Turner's Falls Airfield, Franklin Co., MA. November 13th, 2016. 
About the tenth state record for Massachusetts.

Update Nov 14th: The Mountain Bluebird apparently showed well all morning from first light and was clearly finding plenty to eat!

Came across this wonderful Mountain Bluebird at Turner's Falls Airfield this morning (11/13). Initially somewhat distant, I waited for closer views and confirmation before sending out the first alerts to friends and colleagues. Within thirty minutes or so, the first birders started to arrive with the bird being regularly seen by many until sunset. 

Although Veit and Petersen document just one record of Mountain Bluebird in the 'Birds of Massachusetts' (1993), it appears that the species has occurred in the state far more regularly since that time with at least eight more records to date, not including this bird. Quite a few of these have been from interior Massachusetts with dates ranging from late October through to mid-May. Check out the excellent summary in MARCs pages here;

This species has been on my 'radar' as a potential Franklin County bird for several years and I was thrilled to see it come to light today. Other birds of interest at the airfield included around 40 Snow Buntings, 25+ Horned Larks and a couple of Eastern Bluebirds. Elsewhere, more signs of irruptive finches included one flock of 19 Evening Grosbeaks in Gill in the early morning, and Brian Kane reported a Red Crossbill flyover River Road in Montague in mid-morning.

*Turner's Falls Airfield can be viewed from the public parking area near the administration building just off Miller's Falls Road, across the street from the former Country Creemee.