Saturday, November 28, 2020

MA - pictorial highlights during Thanksgiving week

Barnacle Goose (adult) - Greenfield, Franklin Co., MA. November 28th, 2020. No doubt the same bird that's been using the Turner's Fall power canal for roosting and bathing since November 23rd. 

As if the prospect of one or more lingering Barnacle Geese wasn't enough to grace Thanksgiving week, winter finches continued to show in numbers almost unabated. In particular, Pine Grosbeaks settled into a couple of reliable feeding spots at Wendall and Northfield after several weeks of frustrating flyovers. Red Crossbills remained in their reliable haunts at Montague Sand Plains (85+) and North Cross Road, Gill (5+) and flocks of Common Redpolls, mercurial if nothing else, showed up in flocks of 25 - 30 in several birch stands before disappearing just as suddenly as they'd appeared. Of the irruptive finches, White-winged Crossbills have been the most difficult to catch up with and continue to elude my camera though I got pretty close this morning (Nov 28th) with two passing low over North Cross Road, Gill. The latter site is also currently hosting a fairly late Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and a couple of Winter Wrens. However, numbers of Evening Grosbeaks do appear to be tapering and in fact I only saw a single over North Cross Road during the whole of Thanksgiving week where formerly I was seeing them almost daily. A Yellow-rumped Warbler on Pine Meadow Road, Northfield on Nov 26th could well be my last warbler species of the year though I wouldn't rule out finding another in December. 

Barnacle Goose (adult) - Greenfield, Franklin Co., MA. November 28th, 2020.

Pine Grosbeaks -  on a soggy Thanksgiving morning, Wendall State Forest, Franklin Co., MA. November 26th, 2020. First noted by Bruce Kanash on November 25th. 

Aside from rare geese, the Turner's Falls area managed to pull in a Red-throated Loon on Nov 25th, 5 Greater Scaup on Nov 26th and the first Iceland Gull of the fall on Nov 27th/28th. 

Red-throated Loon (adult) and Red Fox - Turner's Falls,  Franklin Co., November 25th, 2020. 

Red-throated Loon (adult) - Turner's Falls,  Franklin Co., November 25th, 2020. 

Greater Scaup (5) -  Unity Park, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., November 26th, 2020. 

Iceland Gull (kumlieni)  -  first-winter, Unity Park, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., November 28th, 2020. 

Yellow-rumped Warbler - Pine Meadow Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. November 26th, 2020. 
Horrible shot I know. Taken through the car windscreen during a downpour and included purely for the records. 

Common Redpoll  -  Montague, Franklin Co., November 18th, 2020. 

Red Crossbill (fem/imm) -  Montague, Franklin Co., November 25th, 2020. 

Pileated Woodpecker  -  Unity Park, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., November 26th, 2020. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

MA - Thanksgiving Barnacle Goose in Turner's Falls


Barnacle Goose (adult) - Turner's Falls power canal, Franklin Co., MA. November 24th, 2020. 

It's not the first time that a rare goose has graced the Turner's Falls power canal during Thanksgiving week. Though it seems quite fresh in my memory, it turns out that the 'Thanksgiving' Pink-footed Goose at Turner's Falls is already five years old! While I wasn't exactly expecting a repeat performance this year, I can admit to being delighted when I learned of a Barnacle Goose at the power canal via the ABA Rare Bird Alert. The bird was found amid a thousand Canada Geese by Sue and Edward Lewis on Nov 23rd and, fortunately for me, I found a mid-morning slot between errands to go and check out the canal on Nov 24th. Despite being a small, attractive and distinctively marked species, finding the bird among 1500 Canada Geese proved to be no easy task. When I eventually did locate it, it would often 'vaporize' amid the masses though the subsequent searches for it did reveal two Cackling Geese. But, minor grumbles about the glare and contrast aside, I really enjoyed watching this little beauty, a fine adult and actually my first at Turner's Falls. Gracious thanks to the finders Sue and Edward. 

Canada Geese -  just a portion of the 1500 present at the Turner's Falls power canal, Franklin Co., MA. November 24th, 2020. 
The Barnacle Goose appears towards the right end of the flock. 

Cackling Goose - Turner's Falls power canal, Franklin Co., MA. November 24th, 2020. The right most bird in this shot. 

Pink-footed Goose (adult) - Turner's Falls power canal, Franklin Co., MA. November 25th, 2015. 

Over the years I've been fortunate enough to have quite a lot of success with Barnacle Geese in New England and have seen them in Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont, as well as several in Massachusetts.  

Barnacle Goose (adult) - CT River at Vernon,  seen both sides of the VT/NH state line. March 6th, 2012.

The rest of the day was made up of incidental but noteworthy sightings; 15 Common Redpolls over North Cross Road, Gill, a migrating Red-shouldered Hawk high over the Turner's Falls power canal and a White-winged Crossbill over the Eaglebrook bike trails in Deerfield where I also chanced upon an especially personable Barred Owl that simply watched me fumble with my iphone while I tried to get a shot!

Red-shouldered Hawk (immature) - Turner's Falls power canal, Franklin Co., MA. November 24th, 2020.

Monday, November 23, 2020

MA - more 'winter finches' and a saw-whet owl


Common Redpoll - Pine Meadow Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. November 22nd, 2020.

The march of irruptive finches into Franklin County appears to be raging on, at least for some of the species. Common Redpolls showed up in numbers this weekend though these were generally composed of aloof, fast moving flocks that were difficult to study. Larger flocks included 35 at New Salem Vista on Nov 19th and 50 plus at High Ledges in Shelburne on Nov 21st. Flocks two to seven Common Redpolls also showed up at Montague Sand Plains, Turner's Falls, Northfield and Gill. Of the smaller, closer flocks I've been unable to detect any Hoary Redpolls to date but I think it's only a matter of time before they appear. It's been a cool ten years since I've seen a Hoary Redpoll close to home so the next one is going to be very welcome indeed!

White-winged Crossbills continue to filter through with flyover singles at Gate 22 in the Quabbin on Nov 19th, and North Cross Road, Gill on Nov 20th and 22nd. I'm still hoping and waiting for a photogenic flock that will actually settle for just a few minutes. Pine Grosbeaks too, remain elusive (for me) with just a single over North Cross Road, Gill on Nov 22nd. 

Meanwhile, the Red Crossbill show in the Montague Sand Plains continues unabated and I've personally logged 65-75 birds on every recent visit. It's a true audio and visual spectacle with roaming flocks constantly 'buzzing' in and out of Old Northfield Road dropping down to drink from puddles on the road as well as feeding in the surrounding Pitch Pines. Results from the audio clips, thanks to Tim Spahr, have shown that the vast majority are eastern Type 10 (Sitka Spruce) but also include Types 1 (Appalachian), 2 (Ponderosa Pine) and 3 (Western Hemlock) - not too shabby!

Evening Grosbeaks have been far fewer, in fact the only birds I came across this week were singles over downtown Turner's Falls and over North Cross Road, Gill on Nov 20th. 

Lingering waterbirds at Turner's Falls included a Cackling Goose through to the 21st at least, and 5 American Coots and a Double-crested Cormorant through to the 23rd. 

Northern Saw-whet Owl - Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. November 22nd, 2020.

November 22nd saw a completely windless afternoon and heavily overcast, brooding sky. While family commitments prevented me from making the most of the remaining daylight hours I did sneak out at dusk for my first serious owling attempt of the fall and met with great success! My prize was a fantastically close encounter with a Northern Saw-whet Owl that responded aggressively to my whistled imitations by dive bombing me! After that initial greeting I was treated to a long sequence of vocalizations including drawn out 'whine' or 'wail' calls and a lot of soft, staggered 'tooting'. I'm not really a photographer and struggle with owls at night, and this particular bird never perched in one spot for long, so I ended up with just one record shot to show. But no matter, the experience was wonderful and a powerful reminder that Northern Saw-whet Owl  is probably my favorite North American bird. As if not wanting to be overlooked, a Barred Owl called in the distance while the saw-whet was tooting, and all of this took place within the Hemlock forests not too far from our home in Northfield. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

MA - waterfowl and other odds n' ends in the first half of November


(Pale-bellied) Brant - three of six at Pine Meadow Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. November 1st, 2020. Initially found by Sasha Auer and Kevin Barnes. 

Irruptive passerines from the boreal certainly stole the show in early November but compared to previous years, it seemed (to me at least) that waterfowl migration was a little below par for the first twenty days of the month. Small numbers of Black, Surf and White-winged Scoters showed up at Turner's Falls and at the north end of the Quabbin Reservoir along with a tiny handful of Long-tailed Ducks but generally, those species were not found in the numbers that we've seen in the past. That much said, there were certainly some notables around with Red-breasted Mergansers turning up in flocks of up to nine birds and a continued presence with Common Mergansers at the Turner's Falls power canal through to the middle of the month. It was also excellent to have some lingering Brant (6 at Pine Meadow Road, Northfield through to Nov 2nd) and a Cackling Goose in Turners Falls  (Nov 7th - 20th) after both species had been curiously missing in October. Still, while early to mid November might have light on the scarcer waterfowl, it certainly wasn't light on volume. On several dates between the 12th and the 20th, the Turner's Falls power canal 'groaned' under the weight of 1900-2000 Canada Geese and up to 260 Common Mergansers and 32 Common Goldeneyes. Other notable gatherings included the continued presence of Pied-billed Grebes and American Coots on the CT River all month to the 20th at least, with up to 11 of the former and up to five of the latter between Barton Cove and the Turner's Falls Rod and Gun club. 

Cackling Goose (center) - heading north for evening feeding. Unity Park, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. November 7th, 2020. 
This bird was courteous enough stick around at the power canal for well over week after this initial sighting. 

Cackling Goose -Turner's Falls power canal, Franklin Co., MA. November 14th, 2020. 

Cackling Goose (right) -Turner's Falls power canal, Franklin Co., MA. November 15th, 2020. 

Bonaparte's Gull (adult/near adult) -Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. November 12th, 2020. 

Late migrant shorebirds included a Dunlin on Nov 8th and a Semipalmated Plover on Nov 10th, both coming from the rather under watched Gate 22 at the Quabbin Reservoir. The Connecticut River at Turner's Falls hosted unusually good numbers of Greater Yellowlegs until all of them appeared to form one tight flock of eleven birds and depart south at speed on the evening of the 12th. While the odd Greater Yellowlegs can be expected in November, a single flock of 11 is unprecedented in my experience in the county, especially so late into the month.  

A Bonaparte's Gull at Turner's Falls Rod and Gun club on Nov 12th was the only larid of note in the first 20 days of the month in what had to be quietest opening to 'gull season' that I've ever seen in the greater Turner's Falls area. Iceland Gulls are long overdue but should hopefully put in an appearance soon, and perhaps one or two Lesser Black-backed Gulls

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

MA - 'Winter Finches' - they just keep coming!


Common Redpolls - two from a large flock of 85, North Cross Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 13th, 2020. 

Hopes, perhaps even anticipation, that an influx of Boreal Chickadees might take place in Franklin County fizzled a little after my initial sighting on Nov 3rd, though not for the lack of trying. I actually went back to New Salem Vista three times after the event but didn't have so much as a sniff of any further sightings or calls. But the subsequent days were not completely devoid of hope when Tom Raymo and his wife discovered two Boreal Chickadees very close to entrance of High Ledges Massachusetts Audubon Sanctuary on Nov 8th. The following day I was fortunate enough to meet Tom at the site and spoke to him in person about his observation. It turns out that his birds were right along the entrance road to High Ledges close to the main parking lot and feeding low down in Golden Rod offering exceptional views. By Tom's description it sounds like his birds were no more that six feet from him - wow! Much like my Boreal Chickadee sighting from New Salem, they didn't stick around and when Tom returned with his camera they'd already moved on never to be seen again. To date, Tom's report remains the only other record of Boreal Chickadee in Franklin County this fall but I remain optimistic that there might be one or two others out there waiting to be discovered. 

(Appalachian) Red Crossbills - Montague Sand Plains, Franklin Co., MA. November 16th, 2020. 
These birds were carefully sound recorded and identified as Type 1 (Appalachian).

(Western Hemlock) Red Crossbill
Montague Sand Plains, Franklin Co., MA. November 14th, 2020. 
This photo would best be regarded as putative but Tim Spahr confirmed that Type 3 (Western Hemlock) was present from my sound clips, 
and I think was coming from this bird. I was right underneath it at the time and got some nice, clear audio. 

(Sitka Spruce) Red Crossbills - North Cross Road, Gill,  Franklin Co., MA. November 5th, 2020. 
The vast majority of Red Crossbills since the incursion began in late July, have been of this type. Type 10 (Sitka Spruce).
They've been regularly present along North Cross Road, Gill since early August. 

And to the winter finches.....well each and every day brings a new development with fresh birds showing up all the time. The Red Crossbill show has been particularly outstanding, perhaps of historical proportions, with flocks turning up in stands of White Pine all over Franklin County and the largest numbers coming from the Montague Sand Plains where the birds have been feeding and gathering (mostly) in Pitch Pines. Crossbills have been guaranteed in the sand plains this month with most visits producing 25 - 45 birds but on Nov 13th the place (Old Northfield Road to be specific) was  simply 'heaving' with them. That morning I tallied no less than 120 Red Crossbills on a mere 1/4 mile section of Old Northfield Road and got the distinct impression that a further, fuller exploration of the plains might have turned up 200 birds! It was really something to behold. Tim Spahr has been very generous in offering to analyze and allocate many of my crossbill audio clips to type, the vast majority being Type 10. But clips from the Montague Plains over the last few weeks have also produced firm evidence that Types 1 (Appalachian), 2 (Ponderosa Pine), 3 (Western Hemlock) and possibly 5 (Lodgepole Pine) are present within the Montague flocks too. 

White-winged Crossbills took a little longer to filter into Franklin County I had my first (6 birds) at Gate 22 in the Quabbin watershed on Nov 10th and an impressive, busy flock of 20 in Buckland on Charlemont Road on Nov 17th. So far they've eluded the camera but I feel confident that I'll find a photogenic flock soon. And the same goes for Pine Grosbeaks with calling singles on North Cross Road, Gill on Nov 13th, Lake Pleasant, Montague on the 16th and Shepard Road, Buckland on Nov 17th. Roaming Evening Grosbeaks have literally turned up just about everywhere on my travels in the county with their shrill calls becoming common place in most of the spots that I've raised my binoculars. Like the White-winged Crossbills and Pine Grosbeaks, the Evening Grosbeaks have been extremely mobile only rarely cooperating for photos. Firmly caught up in these irruptive movements have been dozens of Pine Siskins (110 in the Montague Plains on Nov 13th) and some Common Redpolls (85 on North Cross Road, Gill on Nov 13th), though numbers of both species seem to be tapering suggesting that they've already moved through to some extent. Purple Finches, having been so common in October are now only appearing in singles and small groups. Naturally it remains to be seen how the rest of the month will pan out but I do think we can look forward to more White-winged Crossbills, Pine Grosbeaks and perhaps a second 'wave' of redpolls - fingers firmly crossed!

Not quite 'winter finches' but certainly winter buntings, single Snow Buntings appeared at a wide scatter of sites in northern Franklin County early in the month though the first notable flocks turned up at the Quabbin Reservoir (New Salem) with 24 on Nov 10th and 27 at Turner's Falls Airfield on Nov 14th. Both of the larger flocks contained single Lapland Longspurs

Lapland Longspur with Snow Buntings - Turner's Falls Airfield, Franklin Co., MA. November 14th, 2020.

The most sobering sight early in the month was a Swainson's Thrush found freshly killed by road traffic on North Cross Road, Gill on Nov 1st. Though not especially rare on migration this was by far the latest I've come across in Franklin County and a sad end for a long distance migrant that should have been on its way to South America for the winter. 

Swainson's Thrush - North Cross Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 1st, 2020.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

MA - Boreal Chickadee in Franklin County


Boreal Chickadee - New Salem Vista, Franklin Co., MA. November 3rd, 2020. 

November keeps on giving, the month of so much possibility.  Hot on the heels of yesterday's MEGA Common Cuckoo in Rhode Island, a Boreal Chickadee graced a public vista point in New Salem as I carried out a watch for migrating raptors. While it was incredibly thrilling to hear it's wheezy, nasal 'tis-tchay' calls in Franklin County, it wasn't completely unexpected as I'd been following a number of out-of-range Boreal Chickadee reports from nearby South-west New Hampshire since mid-October. Hopefully this bird is the precursor to a greater 'irruption' and we could potentially see multiple reports over the forthcoming weeks. As to my personal experience, well this is an incredibly rare county bird and one that I haven't seen since Dec 2006. Ironically, that bird was present just five miles up the road where it visited a feeder for several days in the town of Orange. The current New Salem bird didn't linger and was (sadly) too quick for the camera but I traded blurry record shots for good views through binoculars and the pencil sketch is a pretty good representation of how I saw the bird in the field.  The raptor migration wasn't too shabby either, totally dominated by Red-shouldered Hawks with a tally of fifteen passing South-west before the Boreal Chickadee appeared. After that, I I left the hawk watching and focused on trying to relocate the chickadee. 

Red-shouldered Hawks - migrating over New Salem, Franklin Co., MA. November 3rd, 2020. 

These are exciting days to be in the field. I've focused most of my effort to within 20-25 minutes of home in Northfield. Irruptives such as Red-breasted Nuthatch, Red Crossbill, Evening Grosbeak, Pine Siskin and Purple Finch are present and passing through seemingly anywhere and there really hasn't been a dull moment. And just today, there's news of Pine Grosbeaks in Hampshire County to add yet another exciting element to the autumn migration. Bring it!

Monday, November 2, 2020


Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus - juvenile/first-winter. Snake Den Farm, Providence, Rhode Island. November 2nd, 2020. 

Rhode Island does it again! Yet another MEGA within comfortable driving distance of home. After the Terek Sandpiper at Napatree Point in late June, I could never have imagined driving two hours through snow flurries to view a Common Cuckoo in a field, in Rhode Island in November of the same year! Found by Al Schenck at Snake Den Farm on Nov 1st the cuckoo was courteous enough to stick around for another day, much to the enjoyment of the assembled masses and myself. While some Old World passerines have been on my 'radar' for the New England states for a while, Common Cuckoo most certainly wasn't one of them. Without being over dramatic, what seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity had cropped up less than a hundred miles from home in Northfield and I could hardly resist the chase. Moreover, once I arrived the bird put on the most fantastic show and the first views just happened to be the best of my forty minute visit. 

No problem finding the cuckoo on Brown Ave....

Looking back, all my recent experience of Common Cuckoo comes from Israel in spring migration and, to a lesser extent, the breeding birds there. Although I grew up watching and listening to Common Cuckoos in the UK it's probably decades since I saw a bird like the Rhode Island individual in juvenile plumage. Most of them depart early and I'm pretty sure that I never saw a juvenile in the UK after early September. All the more incredulous then to find one in a Rhode Island field when it should really be wintering in sub-Saharan Africa! This remarkable observation looks set to become only the third found in the lower 48 states after singles in Massachusetts in May 1981 and Santa Cruz County, California in September/October 2012. 

'Chapeau' to Rhode Island once more for another totally original rarity and gracious thanks to Tina Green, Jamie Meyers, Julian Hough, Frank Gallo and Jan St Jean all of whom shared tips and updates in one form or another. And of course, grateful thanks to the finder Allen Schenck. 

November is off to a cracking start and I just can't wait to see what other avian riches come our way during the remainder of the month. Bring it!