Friday, July 17, 2020

MA - fall migration underway!

Solitary Sandpiper - Hell's Kitchen, Northfield, MA. July 14th, 2020. 
Rather distant and one of two birds present. This is a phone-scoped image. 

Traditionally, mid-July almost always brings the first obvious signs that fall migration is underway. This year has been no exception and migrant shorebirds (from much further north) made an appearance this week with two Solitary Sandpipers at Hell's Kitchen, Northfield on the 14th and a Least Sandpiper over Hilltop Farm, Deerfield on the 15th (sound recorded by David Sibley). And July 17th brought three Solitary Sandpipers and my first Least Sandpiper of the season to Hell's Kitchen as well as up to a dozen Killdeers

Least Sandpiper (adult) - Hell's Kitchen, Northfield, MA. July 17th, 2020. 
Rather distant and another phone-scoped image. 

Solitary Sandpiper - Hell's Kitchen, Northfield, MA. July 17th, 2020. 
One of three birds present. Phone-scoped image. 

Migrating passerines are usually more difficult to detect at this time but an Eastern Kingbird moving high and direct to the south over Barton Cove on 15th looked like a strong candidate for a genuine migrant. Many species have also been forming post-breeding flocks. In particular, I came across a nice gathering of 120 Tree, 35 Barn and 2 Cliff Swallows at Beaver Meadow in Leyden where there was an impressive selection of other species including three Bobolinks

Cliff Swallow (center) - juvenile with Tree Swallows, Leyden, Franklin Co., MA. July 14th, 2020.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

MA - Acadian Flycatcher nesting in Franklin County - July 11th

Acadian Flycatcher at nest - Bernardston, Franklin Co., MA. July 11th, 2020.

A balmy Saturday evening with a strong southern wind seemed like a good opportunity to get outdoors and go for a family bike ride. Our destination was close to home in Bernardston and we aimed to do about 10 miles at a casual pace. My expectations for bird finding in the summer heat were pretty low but I carried my iphone all the same, just in case I heard or saw something unusual. We'd barely gone a mile into the ride when I heard the distinctively sharp 'peek' notes of what could only have been a calling Acadian Flycatcher. By the time I'd stopped to get a sound recording and fumbled around with my phone, Susannah and Matan were way up the road and the bird had stopped calling. But on the return leg of the journey I fared better. The bird was again calling spontaneously. This time I managed three recordings above the background noise of the stream and had brief naked-eye views of the bird zipping back-and-forth high amid the Eastern Hemlocks. Even without binocular views, I was pretty well convinced that it was an Acadian Flycatcher, a scarce/rare, low-density breeder at a handful of widely scattered sites in the Pioneer Valley. On a personal level, I recognized several years ago that I'd never actually seen an Acadian Flycatcher in Franklin County so to locate a self-found bird was especially satisfying. After the bike ride we returned to the same area, armed with bins and camera and soon located the bird, and it was still calling. It was so fast and tricky to view but, remarkably, it was clearly in the early stages of building a flimsy, basket-like nest high on the outer limbs of an Eastern Hemlock. I snapped a few pics as best I could and then moved on. 

Acadian Flycatcher at nest - Bernardston, Franklin Co., MA. July 11th, 2020.

Subsequent visits on July 13th and 14th found that the nest had very clearly been built up and attended to, and it looked relatively complete by the 14th. Oddly, there was no sign of the actual bird on either of those dates and the 11th was the only date on which I actually heard and saw the bird itself. I'll be keeping a close eye on the nest and will likely offer a more more updates to this page over next couple of weeks. 

Acadian Flycatcher nest - Bernardston, Franklin Co., MA. July 13th, 2020.
The nest had clearly been worked on since the 11th, but no sign of the flycatcher during my visit on the 13th.

Acadian Flycatcher nest - Bernardston, Franklin Co., MA. July 14th, 2020.
More material added to the nest since the previous day, but still no sign of the flycatcher on the 14th!

Monday, July 13, 2020


Terek Sandpiper (in flight) - not much of a picture I know, but the broad white trailing edge to the dark wings combined
with the gray rump and tail provide a unique pattern among the smaller shorebirds. 
Napatree Point, Westerly, Washington Co., RI. June 30th, 2020.

On Sunday June 28th I read an intriguing post from Jan St Jean, one of the most active and reliable field birders in Rhode Island - she had found a Terek Sandpiper at Napatree Point! Being with Matan at Thunder Mountain bike park in Charlemont all of that particular day we were in no position to chase it, fearing that it might have moved on by the following day. By pure coincidence, I had long been fascinated by an old New England record of Terek Sandpiper from Plum Island, Essex Co., Massachusetts from June 23rd, 1990. That bird was seemingly found at a time of year when few other migrant shorebirds would have been moving and was apparently a one-day-wonder that was never photographed. How ironic then that Jan St Jean's mega-find would also come in late June! As photographs taken by Carlos Pedro and others appeared in ebird's pages and on Facebook, the Rhode Island bird became more and more haunting and had the courtesy to stick around for several days after Jan's initial find. 

With multiple confirmed sightings on the morning of June 30th, our whole family set sail for the 300 mile round trip to Napatree Point from Northfield, MA with the idea of hitting the rising tide in late afternoon. We left a wet, thundery Northfield just before noon, and drove through heavy rain for the entire journey until we reached Westerly when, miraculously, the clouds parted and the rain ceased. The walk along the sandy peninsula to Napatree Point and lagoon took a little longer than expected but on arrival we were delighted to find a small group of birders keeping track of the Terek Sandpiper in the tide wrack, albeit distantly. From there, the sandpiper played hide-and-seek between bumps and folds in the tide wrack ultimately giving decent scope views but proving almost impossible to photograph at that sort of range. Had Susannah and I not seen multiple Terek Sandpipers on migration in southern Israel some 20+ years ago, the views might even have been described as disappointing but they were certainly good enough to see all the key features on one of the most distinctive of all small/medium sized sandpipers. With shorebird migration barely underway, the Terek Sandpiper had only a few other shorebirds for company, mostly Spotted Sandpipers, a few Willets, and a handful of Least and Semi-palmated Sandpipers. Our best views actually came when it roosted for ten or so minutes on the white sand above the tide wrack.

Terek Sandpiper -  here feeding behind a small group of Willets. Gray head and upper breast, very white underparts and gray-brown upperparts. And perhaps a suggestion of the recurved bill in this shot? 
Napatree Point, Westerly, Washington Co., RI. June 30th, 2020.
Found by Jan St Jean on June 28th, 2020. 

Overall, a really fun day and great to experience a portion of the Rhode Island Coast that we'd never seen before. As to the sandpiper, well it was definitely worth the trek. A true 'mega' in every sense with just four previously accepted records for the Lower 48 states. And, with last last New England record some 30 years prior I can't imagine there will be another within driving distance of home any time soon. Remarkably, it seems that we were among the very last birders that evening to see the Terek Sandpiper. Despite being thoroughly searched for on July 1st, it was never seen again. As always, gracious thanks to Jan St Jean for the spectacular find and for keeping us up to speed on the presence of the bird on the as we drove south on the 30th. What a day it was!!