Monday, April 27, 2020

Bonaparte's Gulls in Gill

Bonaparte's Gulls (11) - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 27th, 2020. 

 A cold wet night continued into a cold wet day! An initial check of Barton Cove in the morning hours proved to be fairly quiet though 21 Double-crested Cormorants remained from the previous day and three Horned Grebes were present, perhaps left over from the 26th as well. But the morning was highlighted by an adult Bonaparte's Gull in full summer plumage though admittedly it was a little distant. By the evening a fine flock of 11 Bonaparte's Gulls were present, all in pristine breeding plumage. They were flighty and showed interest in departing several times whilst I was there but always settled back down on the water and were still present when I left at about 17:45 hours. Also of interest, hundreds of swallows hawking over the water including 40 - 50 Barn Swallows, the largest concentration that I've seen so far this spring.

Bonaparte's Gulls - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 27th, 2020. 

The local Merlins appeared to take a special interest in hirundines today and I watched a female chasing swallows (unsuccessfully) around lunchtime, and then saw a male take a Barn Swallow over the water right in front of me this evening! Around the edge of Barton Cove, several migrant flocks of grounded, mostly male Yellow-rumped Warblers could be found foraging with a few Pine and Palm Warblers, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. Further south, Josh Layfield came across a large flock of warblers at Tri-town Beach in Whately including a careful count of 39 Yellow-rumped Warblers, almost all of which were males.

 Merlin (male) - carrying Barn Swallow, Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 27th, 2020. 

Merlin (female) - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 27th, 2020. 

Sunday, April 26, 2020

a brighter day - Greater Yellowlegs, Caspian Tern and a range of new migrants arrive in Gill.

Caspian Tern - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 26th, 2020.
Found by Josh Layfield and very much a 'classic' date for this scarce but regular Franklin County migrant. 

April 25th was a warm day with clear skies and temperatures peaking in the low sixties evidently allowing good numbers of migrants to filter northwards. A whole host of brand new birds arrived in Gill this morning (the 26th) and the day began in the nicest possible way with a Greater Yellowlegs wading around a small roadside puddle off Main Road. That was quickly followed by a bevy of newly arrived migrants on North Cross Road; Blue-headed Vireo, House Wren, Black-throated Green Warbler, Veery (2) and Eastern Towhee (2). Both of the Veeries were feeding at the roadside and not in song. I don't actually expect to hear Veery song locally until about May 5th/6th. Also, rather intriguingly, I heard one clear burst of a Cerulean Warbler type song though when I returned to the spot with bins and camera I couldn't help but wonder if it was actually a Brown Thrasher mimicking song fragments of a Cerulean Warbler? The thrasher certainly gave a perfect rendition of Eastern Whip-poor-will whilst I was standing there. Either way, I was unable to follow-up on the song burst that I'd heard and decided to leave it unidentified and, although it seems quite early for Cerulean Warbler in the Pioneer Valley, the local breeding birds will be back on territory in just over a week or so.

Greater Yellowlegs - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 26th, 2020.

Horned Grebes - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 26th, 2020.

The rest of the morning continued to be productive as we went for a family walk around Barton Cove Nature Trail. Pine Warblers (10+) and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers (8) were the most frequent small migrants but we also had a smattering of Yellow-rumped Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and a single (yellow) Palm Warbler. On the  cove itself Ring-billed Gulls increased from 11 to 16 birds whilst we were there and four Horned Grebes in breeding plumage hugged the Turner's Falls shoreline but were visible from Barton Cove campground.

Pine Warbler (male) - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 26th, 2020.

Around 12:30 pm a Caspian Tern dropped into Barton Cove found by Josh Layfield, pretty remarkable since we'd been checking the same spot from Riverview Drive only twenty minutes earlier! Thanks to Josh's timely text we were able to get over to Riverview Drive pretty quickly and enjoyed views of the magnificent beast careening all over the cove, fishing, bathing, preening and eventually circling high up over the water spending quite some time in the air before gaining more height and disappearing northwards. Surprisingly to us, it did not depart upriver but appeared, or at least as much as we could tell, to choose an overland route and head straight north at about 13:10 hours - absolutely fascinating to watch! It was certainly neat to wrap up a migration filled morning with something as impressive a migrant Caspian Tern and thanks again to Josh for his timely alert.

Caspian Tern - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 26th, 2020. 
Departing high to the north over Riverview Drive. 

Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 26th, 2020.
From Barton Cove Nature Trail. 

By early evening the Double-crested Cormorants at Barton Cove had increased from 4 to 21 and the Ring-billed Gulls (16), all of which appeared to be second-cycle birds, remained. 

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Covid Spring V

Virginia Rail - Franklin Co., MA. April 23rd, 2020.

A difficult, unseasonably cold week has just passed. Temperatures at dawn were often below freezing bringing a thin layer of ice to some of the smaller ponds in the area and, on top of that, pesky raw winds from the NW brought more snow flurries in mid-week. Not surprisingly, migration was effectively stalled though a few hardy species did appear including an early House Wren at Barton Cove on April 20th. Otherwise, much of the migration was composed of slightly less obvious migrants with a particularly strong showing of Ruby-crowned Kinglets all week with up to six birds at places such as North Cross Road, Barton Cove, and Riverview Drive all in Gill plus other sites in Northfield and Bernardston. Savannah Sparrows cropped up in small flocks in several places including Deerfield Meadows, Northfield Meadows and even along North Cross Road in Gill. The flocks did contain several paler, light colored birds that seemed to stand out from the rest, and were first highlighted by Josh Layfield being noted at Northfield Meadows and North Cross Road and actually much earlier in the month by David Sibley at Deerfield Meadows. Also of interest, two Eastern Meadowlarks showed up at a promising looking grassland area in Deerfield on the 19th (Josh Layfield), remained all week increasing to three birds by the 24th.

House Wren - Barton Cove, Franklin Co., MA. April 20th, 2020.
A fairly early migrant, perhaps my earliest in Franklin County.

Eastern Meadowlark - Deerfield. Franklin Co., MA. April 24th, 2020.
One of three present in suitable breeding habitat.

Savannah Sparrow - Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. April 21st, 2020.
Small numbers of migrants passed through Franklin County this week including several notably paler birds. 

Warblers were scarce but small waves of Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers filtered through all week, as did Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. Louisiana Waterthrushes, usually very vocal in the third week of April, remained atypically quiet throughout the week with just a handful of birds bursting into song at a wide scatter of locations.

But on the plus side, our Northfield yard was quite lively over the last two days with 10 White-throated Sparrows and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet on the 24th and an early Swainson's Thrush hopping around the back lawn on the 25th.

At Barton Cove the most notable waterbirds were up to 26 Ring-necked Ducks, 2 female Buffleheads and 6 Great Blue Herons on the 21st, and at least 17 Double-crested Cormorants on the 22nd.

Probably my personal highlight of the whole week was a close encounter with a Virginia Rail, a scarce but probably overlooked breeding visitor to Franklin County. In fact, I heard two birds calling simultaneously at the same marsh on the 23rd and had pretty nice views of one of them.

Great Blue Herons (6) - Barton Cove, Franklin Co., MA. April 21st, 2020.
Quite unusual to see an actual 'flock' of migrant Great Blue Herons resting at Barton Cove. 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Covid Spring IV - Grebes!

Horned Grebes - flock of seven, Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 18th, 2020. 

Red-necked and Horned Grebes - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 18th, 2020. 

After a warm, promising start on April 12th the rest of the week turned decidedly chilly with cold air from the N and NW seemingly blocking, or slowing down the arrival of many spring migrants. In fact, the air was so cold that we had late spring snow falls on the 16th and 18th. Notable spring passerine migrants included Brown Thrashers singing on North Cross Road, Gill on the 12th and the 17th, and an early pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers on Meadow Road, Montague also on the 12th. Louisiana Waterthrushes trickled in but became increasingly quiet as the air grew colder in the middle of the week. A Blue-headed Vireo was singing in the NMH woods off North Cross Road on the 15th and three 'yellow' Palm Warblers dropped in by the Turner's Falls power canal on the 18th. There was also a strong 'wave' of Ruby-crowned Kinglets on the 17th and 18th with singing birds turning up in many places all over Gill.

Brown Thrasher - North Cross Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 12th, 2020. 
My earliest arrival date for this species in Franklin County. 

Towards the end of the week the snow showers produced a light fall-out of waterbirds at Barton Cove and Turner's Falls. Two Red-necked Grebes and a female Red-breasted Merganser were at Barton Cove on the 16th along with a Horned Grebe at the Turner's Falls power canal. A more impressive fall-out took place on the 18th with seven Horned and three Red-necked Grebes in one raft at Barton Cove (Josh Layfield), along with 13 Double-crested Cormorants and 3 Great Blue Herons. And on the same morning, visible from Barton Cove campground, a male Red-breasted Merganser, four Long-tailed Ducks and a further three Red-necked Grebes. All of the grebes this week were in pristine breeding condition!

Pied-billed Grebe - Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. April 18th, 2020. 

Great Blue Herons - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 18th, 2020. 

Double-crested Cormorants - some of the 13 present, Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 18th, 2020. 

Fields off Main Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 18th, 2020. 

Friday, April 10, 2020

Covid Spring - III

Common Loon - one of two, Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 9th, 2020.

April 9th: I wasn't expecting to post another blog entry so soon after yesterday's report but it was clear from my early morning run along North Cross Road and through the southern portion of the NMH campus woods in Gill that a lot a birds came arrived last night. Moreover, the cold, gray, overcast conditions were no deterrent to those arrivals and the woods were full of song. My 5K loop tallied 11 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, 17 Pine Warblers, 3 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Louisiana Waterthrushes (early) and 4 Hermit Thrushes (all seen, not singing). I came across a few more of the latter two species as a drove through Gill on my way to Barton Cove where I came across my first Barn Swallows of the year. About five of them were mixed with Tree and Northern Rough-winged Swallows hawking low over the water.

Buffleheads - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 9th, 2020.

Eastern Phoebe - Barton Cove campground, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 9th, 2020.

Greater Scaup - male , Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 9th, 2020.

In addition, new waterbird arrivals at the cove included two Common Loons (full breeding plumage), five Double-crested Cormorants, a male Greater Scaup, two Buffleheads (one female, one immature male) and a female Red-breasted Merganser. Heavy rain ensued for most of the rest of the day until about 17:00 hours when there was a clearance from the NW. Surprisingly, most waterbirds had already cleared out by that time leaving just the two Buffleheads and a long staying Pied-billed Grebe that I'd missed in the morning. But, there was plenty of raptor activity and in just 20 minutes I noted 3 Bald Eagles, 3 Black Vultures, 8 Turkey Vultures, a huge female Cooper's Hawk and a male Merlin. At Barton Cove campground over 30 Fish Crows gathered once again, plus Eastern Phoebes and Pine Warblers (4+) continued to sing throughout the evening.

Double-crested Cormorants - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 9th, 2020.
Departing north after pausing at the cove for 25 minutes or so. 

Connecticut River - looking towards Turner's Falls from Barton Cove campground, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 9th, 2020.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Covid Spring - II

American Robins - North Cross Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 5th, 2020.

Two days of clear skies, warm afternoons and generally immaculate weather allowed the migrant flood gates to open. Within the last 48 hours the mixed woodlands around Gill/Montague have filled with Pine Warblers with, for example, 15 singing males on my morning bike ride through Montague yesterday (04/07). Eastern Phoebes and Tree Swallows are even more widespread, seemingly every homestead in the rural areas having both species around them. In many respects these hardy migrants are to be expected in late March and early April but to me, nothing quite says that spring has truly arrived more than the sound of the first Louisiana Waterthrush singing from the fast-flowing wooded streams around Gill. This morning (04/08) I heard my first of the year in exactly the same spot as I heard my first last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. This bird, if indeed it is the same returning male, appears to arrive a good five to ten days ahead of the main influx of Louisiana Waterthrushes in northern Franklin County. This year it was even earlier - three days ahead of my earliest date in the county. Perhaps co-incidence or perhaps part of the same wave of migrant arrivals, I also noted my first Northern Rough-winged Swallows (4) of the year, hawking over the water at Barton Cove with Tree Swallows (15)Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers appeared in numbers with many drumming males around Gill and Montague from 04/05 - 04/06, and Chipping Sparrows arrived in numbers too, visible and audible in the yards and roadsides around Gill. 

Notably absent during this spring, or at least to date, has been the passage of large numbers of American Robins through the fields and meadows of Gill. Early April often brings 1200 - 2000 birds to the area but this year they've been curiously missing with c.150 on North Cross Road on 04/05 being the most noteworthy gathering.

American Robins - North Cross Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 5th, 2020.

More discrete migrants, included three Field Sparrows together at the Turner's Falls Rod and Gun club found by Josh Layfield on the 04/07, single northbound Evening Grosbeaks over North Cross Road, Gill on 03/27 and 03/28, an Eastern Meadowlark heard calling and singing on North Cross Road on 04/04, and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet singing on North Cross Road on 04/08. Indeed, late afternoon, early evening on 04/08 proved to be a productive time further south in Franklin County when Brian Kane discovered two Hermit Thrushes feeding on crab apples in his yard, and David Sibley and Joan Walsh found a decidedly early Grasshopper Sparrow in the Deerfield Meadows. Nearby, David, Joan, and Josh Layfield connected with an American Bittern in Old Deerfield, found and reported the previous day.

Hermit Thrush - Sunderland, Franklin Co., MA. April 8th, 2020. 
One of two photographed by Brian Kane in his Sunderland yard. 

Field Sparrow - one of three, with Song Sparrows, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. April 7th, 2020.
The migrant flock of Field Sparrows (3) was found by Josh Layfield.

Rather random sightings included an early Great Blue Heron heading north over Northfield Mount Hermon, Gill on 03/16, an impressive single flock of 38 Fish Crows at Barton Cove, Gill on 04/03, a flock of 65 Brown-headed Cowbirds by Main Road, Gill on 04/05, a Black Vulture south over Turner's Falls on 04/07 and a wide scatter of American Kestrels through Montague, Turner's Falls and Gill through late March into early April. Purple Finches are also back on breeding territories in Gill with several males singing on North Cross and Boyle Roads, and at Gill Elementary School.

Fish Crows - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 3rd, 2020. 
Part of a flock of 38 present that evening. 

Barton Cove continued to be remarkably quiet for waterfowl migrants though 2 Gadwall and a Pied -billed Grebe were present on 04/07 and a drake Lesser Scaup on 04/08. Any change at the cove can only be for the better!

North Cross Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 24th, 2020. The last snowfall of the spring, hopefully!

Good birding and Happy Passover to all,


Friday, April 3, 2020

Covid Spring - I

Bobcat - Franklin County, MA. February 12th, 2020.

Dark, surreal, unprecedented times. The opening quarter of the year has been nothing short of a roller coaster; Christmas with the family in the UK, immediately followed by my first trip to Costa Rica (brilliant!), and then a trip to Panama. A quieter, slower February rolled straight into another new tour in March with my first trip to Belize. All of these tours came along courtesy of Naturalist Journeys meaning fantastic ground conditions, smooth logistics and great birding throughout. But, a lot of paperwork between trips resulting in, among other things, the neglect of this blog!

In fact, it was on the Naturalist Journeys Panama tour that I first learned through Hallie Ephron that a Global Pandemic was on the way. I was fortunate. Our Naturalist Journeys trip to Belize passed without a hitch and I arrived home on March 15th only to find out that American Airlines had made the decision to ground 75% of its International fleet on March 16th, and I'd just flown with American Airlines in and out of Belize City Airport!

After an incredible tour to Belize it was back down to earth with a bump on March 16th. Susannah brought her office to home from Umass-Amherst, and I looked/struggled/scrambled for ways to keep a 12 year old occupied for the weeks ahead with no school. At week three, the powers that be have told us that we can look forward to a peak of Covid-19 cases in Massachusetts sometime between April 7th - 17th but with an optimistic return to school date of May 4th.

In the mean time, we're restricted but not so restricted that we can't go outside to exercise, sketch, and do birding. Spring is here, no doubt about that, with species such as Tree Swallows (first one in Gill on 03/27) and Eastern Phoebes (broad, sweeping influx on 03/27) already widespread and even a Pine Warbler singing in Gill on April 1st. Hermit Thrushes and Winter Wrens could also be heard in the Gill woodlands from April 1st. Less usual but certainly noteworthy species in Gill included a displaying Red-shouldered Hawk over the Elementary School on April 1st where there was also a calling Fish Crow. In fact, Fish Crows have been unusually obvious in Gill with calling birds noted over North Cross Road on several dates in late March, perhaps looking for a breeding niche? Either way, Fish Crow presence in 'interior' Gill is certainly a new development for 2020 and, in terms of the town of Gill,  I've never seen them away from Barton Cove and Gill Riverside.

Carolina Wren - a male utilizing an unusually high song post, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 1st, 2020.

A few northbound sparrows have been passing through too with a fairly widespread movement of White-throated Sparrows that included 18 in our yard in Northfield on Mar 19th, an American Tree Sparrow in Turner's Falls on Mar 30th and a Fox Sparrow in full song on North Cross Road, Gill on the 31st. Josh Layfield also noted 3 Fox Sparrows in Northfield Meadows on Apr 3rd.

As for Barton Cove, well the little that I've seen so far this spring might indicate that the migration has been incredibly quiet. Ring-necked Ducks peaked at 113 birds on March 31st but the flock seemed to roam or disperse quickly after that? A few Lesser Scaup were present with them and a handful of Greater Scaup included a flock of eight birds at the Turner's Fall Rod and Gun club on Mar 29th (David Sibley). Single Pied-billed Grebes turned up at Barton Cove, the Rod and Gun club and the Turner's Falls power canal in late March but it wasn't until April 2nd that I had my first Common Loon of the spring - a bird in full breeding plumage at the Rod and Gun club. A lone Snow Goose dropped in for half a day on Mar 30th, with my first Double-crested Cormorant of the spring and at least 15 Tree Swallows present at the same time.

Snow Goose - immature, Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 31st, 2020. 

Having said all of that, the highlight of my spring so far, at least locally, has been near-regular sightings of Bobcats close to home - "near-regular" meaning roughly once per month or so. Luckily, Matan has been with me for at least two of these sightings and I tried my best to get some photos.

Bobcat - Franklin County, MA. February 12th, 2020.

Bobcat - Franklin County, MA. March 16th, 2020.

Well, I'm really hopeful that another four months doesn't elapse before my next blog entry! In the mean time, I wish everyone a safe, healthy and stress-free spring.

Good birding,