Tuesday, September 28, 2021

MA - another Mourning Warbler!


Mourning Warbler - Deerfield Meadows, Franklin Co., MA. September 28th, 2021.

The Caldwell Road fields were admittedly quiet this morning although Common Yellowthroats were still present in good numbers along with Lincoln's Sparrows and Red-eyed Vireos. In the evening I found myself with enough time to try some birding around Deerfield. I don't normally search for passerine migrants in late afternoon/early evening but the calm, muggy and 'buggy' conditions looked promising and I soon found warblers insect gleaning around the overgrown dirt mounds in Deerfield's meadows. More Common Yellowthroats, five or so Tennessee Warblers and then a sharp, hard 'pik', clearly an interesting warbler, but which one? With my mind still wrapped around Connecticut Warblers I wondered about an alternate call for that species but it didn't seem right. After some patient waiting, the bird started calling again and eventually gave reasonable views in the evening light. It was a Mourning Warbler and an interesting looking bird to boot with a bold eye-ring, gray-brown hood and long, yellow undertail coverts, all similar features to those outlined for Connecticut Warbler. Either way, with the ID established I can admit to being thrilled with my second local Mourning Warbler of the fall. 

Monday, September 27, 2021

MA - a little more from Northfield


Red-eyed Vireo - Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 19th, 2021.

It's late September and the last few days have seen glorious autumnal days and cool, refreshingly comfortable nights. But the mostly stable air has allowed many migrants to pass through our area uninterrupted and this morning in particular there was a small but notable visible migration of southbound warblers along the Connecticut River in Northfield. Most were Blackpoll and Yellow-rumped Warblers but I was also able to pick out a couple of Tennessee Warblers and a single Nashville Warbler. Even better, I tallied my 7th Connecticut Warbler of the month when a single flew over giving buzzy 'zeet' flight calls before landing at the edge of a belt of deciduous trees and giving a loud, emphatic 'pwik' call, difficult to describe but distinctive once learned. Unfortunately, this particular Connecticut Warbler got away without being documented but I was very comfortable with what I heard, comfortable enough in fact to add it to the six I've already seen and heard in the Caldwell Road fields in September; photos and audio of two, plus audio of at least two more unseen, and three others heard well enough to be certain but simply too fast to be recorded. However, I do get the impression that we're well past the peak for Connecticut Warblers and this morning's bird was my first since the well photographed bird on Sep 16th.  The middle part of the month did host a very good showing of fairly late Yellow Warblers with five still present on the 19th. 

Yellow Warbler - Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 19th, 2021.

Yellow Warbler - Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 19th, 2021.

Blue-headed Vireo - Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 21st, 2021.

Red-eyed Vireos have certainly been present and passing through in numbers, often in tight flocks of 3 - 4 birds but I've yet to have any luck with a Philadelphia Vireo this fall. 

While the warbler numbers may have been dwindling we are in the midst of several major waves of White-throated Sparrows, the first of which occurred on Sep 19th with 80-100 in the fields around Caldwell Road. With them have come modest numbers of Savannah, Swamp and Lincoln's Sparrows though today (Sep 27th) saw a major incursion of migrant Song Sparrows as well. Meanwhile, I did hear and sound record a lonely Dickcissel on North Cross Road, Gill on Sep 17th but decided against entering the cornfield where is was feeding to try for photos. Dickcissel is a pretty scarce migrant in Franklin County but September is probable the single most productive month to find them. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

MA - more Connecticut Warblers


Connecticut Warbler - Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 16th, 2021.

A high pressure system currently settled over much of the region brought cooler temperatures with chilly, foggy dawns and delightful fall-like days. September is surely one of the most beautiful months of the year to be out birding! Such conditions generally don't see the larger scale fall-outs associated with more active weather systems but often see a steady turnover of newly arrived migrants along with the departure of the few remaining summer migrants. This particular month I've been engrossed in the day to day changes playing out in the fields near the Northfield transfer station no more than five minutes from my home. The highlight has unquestionably been the discovery of several more Connecticut Warblers. After the personal excitement surrounding the bird that showed so well on Sep 10th, I would never have imagined being gifted even better views of a different bird on Sep 16th. The latter bird showed off and posed around me for a solid five minutes having flown in totally unsolicited following a 'Trail's' Flycatcher and a Tennessee Warbler. And, much like the Connecticut Warbler that I saw in the same fields on the 10th, it seemed to be naturally inquisitive about my presence in the hedgerow as the images appear to show. While I was watching this bird I'm pretty sure another Connecticut Warbler called from farther down the hedgerow and thirty minutes earlier I succeeded in getting marginal but conclusive audio of a calling bird in a completely different spot in the fields, so certainly a minimum of two Connecticut Warblers present on the 16th. I also heard, but did not see, a further individual bird on the 15th and may have a sound recording of that one too. So, I'm reasonably happy with at least five individual Connecticut Warblers passing through the Caldwell Road fields between Sep 10th - 16th, pretty remarkable considering how difficult the species has been in previous years. 

Habitat favored by migrant Connecticut Warblers, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 16th, 2021.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

MA - Mourning Warbler.....Northfield


Mourning Warbler - Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 14th, 2021.

The last two days have seen a distinct swing towards slightly later season migrants in Northfield with Swainson's Thrush, Northern Waterthrush, Yellow-rumped Warbler and White-throated Sparrow (8) all making their first appearances at Caldwell Road fields. In addition, up to 25 Common Yellowthroats and 5 Lincoln's Sparrows both showed obvious increases over the 13th and 14th. A couple of late migrants also turned up with two Yellow Warblers (together) and a Willow Flycatcher on the 13th. 

Lincoln's Sparrow - Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 13th, 2021.

Mourning Warbler - Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 14th, 2021.

But in general, warbler numbers and diversity remain quite low for this time of year. All the more rewarding then to have good views of a calling Mourning Warbler on the 14th, in my view something of a county rarity on fall migration. In fact, I've actually had more luck with Connecticut Warbler over the years though the tiny handful of Mourning Warblers I've encountered tended to be bolder and more cooperative. 

Mourning Warbler - Northfield Meadows, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 18th, 2020.
Historical image, also from Northfield in mid-September. 

The 14th also produced a 'heard-only' Connecticut Warbler that called just once from a dense patch of Jewelweed, totally catching me off guard as I walked a mere five paces from my car at the start of the day. Despite much effort and patience, it couldn't be coaxed into view. While I'm pretty hesitant to call Connecticut Warbler by sound only the loud, distinct 'pwik' call was close enough to be sure and I'm not at all surprised that the bird didn't show given the mercurial nature of the species. 

Friday, September 10, 2021

MA - Connecticut Warbler.....in Northfield!

Connecticut Warbler - Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 10th, 2021. Probably first-winter. 

September brings many avian riches to Massachusetts and has to be one of the most keenly anticipated months of the year for local birders. Whether it be the mass migration of Broad-winged Hawks at established hawk watch sites, or the ever present chance of finding Buff-breasted Sandpipers and other cool shorebirds among local flocks of Killdeer, every day of the month has something to offer and even just an hour outside can be time well spent. But for me, September in Western Massachusetts can only mean one thing - migration of Connecticut Warblers! The species is not an especially rare transient but can certainly be regarded as a scarce passage migrant. It's overall status coupled with skulking and unpredictable behavior make it one of the most sought-after warblers at this time of year. Within the Pioneer Valley, the flood plains of Hadley and Hatfield in Hampshire County receive the lion's share, almost all of them in reported in September. 

The situation in Franklin County is a little different with far fewer reports and only one (that I know of) actually photographed (by Josh Layfield on Sep 29, 2019). This morning I finally laid a personal ghost to rest when I shared three fantastic minutes with a Connecticut Warbler in Northfield. It flushed up simultaneously with a Common Yellowthroat providing a perfect comparison in flight. Thankfully my eyes tracked the larger, more hulking, shorter tailed bird until it perched in the shade and simply looked at me as if it were offended that I'd accidentally flushed it! Moreover, after three or so minutes of perching silently it suddenly began calling allowing me to grab a few audio clips of the distinctive, yelping 'pwik' calls. Shortly afterwards it dropped down never to be seen again.....but I still lingered hoping for more views.

Ironically, it wasn't a busy morning for landbird migrants with Common Yellowthroat and Connecticut Warbler being the only migrant warblers that I could find during a solid hour of effort.  I have seen Connecticut Warbler in Franklin County before but never well enough to attempt record shots making this morning a different experience altogether. 

In the evening a quick check of the flats at Hell's Kitchen found 7 Least Sandpipers and single Pectoral and Solitary Sandpipers amid half a dozen Killdeer, plus 15 or so Wood Ducks

Thursday, September 9, 2021

MA - early September


Nashville Warbler. Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 9th, 2021.

The first ten days of September saw a welcome drop in the heat and humidity of August but, certainly from a Franklin County perspective, it's been pretty quiet for migration. Even the passage of Hurricane Ida on the 2nd did little to stir things up though did bring a small number of shorebirds to Northfield and an increase in shorebird diversity. The Baird's Sandpiper that had showed so well at Caldwell Road in late August lingered until September 3rd though became increasingly difficult to see spending most of its time with Killdeers on the plowed section of the fields rather than feeding out in the open grass. Two Semipalmated Plovers, two Least Sandpipers and my first Wilson's Snipe of the fall were also at Caldwell Road on the 2nd. On the 9th, heavy overnight rain brought a further 21 Least Sandpipers and 4 Lesser Yellowlegs to the Caldwell Road sod fields though the yellowlegs stayed only briefly and flew off purposefully to the south after just a few minutes never to return. 

Killdeer. Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 9th, 2021.

Least Sandpipers. Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 9th, 2021.
Part of a single flock of 21 birds.

Aside from an excellent showing of Common Yellowthroats along the Connecticut River, warbler migration and diversity has been slow so far, or at least in the places that I've been able to check. A few Cape May Warblers, a couple of Northern Parulas and a Nashville Warbler (on the 9th) is all I have to show for my efforts so far! On the plus side, checking for warblers has revealed an excellent passage of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds feeding in wild habitat while taking advantage of the flowering Jewelweed along the banks of the Connecticut River, and there was an early Lincoln's Sparrow in the same habitat on the 3rd, I'm pretty sure my earliest fall record for Franklin County.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 9th, 2021. 

Lincoln's Sparrow. Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 3rd, 2021.

Common Yellowthroat. Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. September 9th, 2021.

Abundant along the field edges flanking the Connecticut River.


Thursday, September 2, 2021

VT - Brown Booby in Bennington County!


Brown Booby - Emerald Lake State Park, East Dorset, Bennington Co., VT. September 2nd, 2021.

A couple of days ago I learned of a Brown Booby being seen at Lake Paran near Bennington in Vermont. Being deep in the interior and a mere 80 minutes from our house in Northfield I was quite intrigued but, judging by reports, the bird seemed quite mobile and soon disappeared only to be relocated about 25 miles north at Emerald Lake State Park a day or so later. After quickly checking the Caldwell Road fields in Northfield for shorebirds (2 Semipalmated Plovers, 2 Least Sandpipers and a Wilson's Snipe were new arrivals) I buckled up for the 90 minute drive to East Dorset hot on the heels of Hurricane Ida which had just passed south of us overnight. 

Just me, the booby and a mountain lake....

On arrival I found Emerald Lake to be relatively small surrounded by mature woodland, neatly positioned between the Green Mountains to the east and the Taconic Mountains to the west. Moreover, the lake appeared to be relatively shallow and not quite what I was expecting. The booby soon appeared and put on the most fabulous display working circuits around the lake and plunge diving frequently. To some degree the experience recalled the Brown Booby at Onota Lake in the Berkshires back in August 2018, but this bird was brighter, more mature in terms of plumage and an awful lot closer!

All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience on a beautiful autumnal day and within comfortable driving distance of home. Surprisingly, I only encountered a couple of other birders during my time there and had the lake to myself most of the time. I also noted my first migrating Broad-winged Hawk of the season heading south. 

Brown Booby has been documented in Vermont before with multiple records of at least two individuals from the Lake Champlain area. 

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

MA - quiet summer.....or was it?


Baird's Sandpiper (juvenile) - Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. August 30th, 2021. 

On the eve of September, I was just reflecting on the months of July and August in Franklin County, the northern most county in the Pioneer Valley. For the most part it's been hot, humid and wet, difficult conditions for me personally, and as a result I ended up doing very little field birding. But as always, a few avian events stood out including a smattering of interesting shorebirds at the Caldwell Road sod fields in Northfield where single juvenile Baird's Sandpipers showed up on August 19th and 30th/31st, both birds lingering with local Killdeers. Baird's Sandpipers are scarce fall migrants in Franklin County, and late August/early September is the perfect time to find them.  Earlier in the season, on July 18th, the Caldwell Road sod fields also held 25 Least Sandpipers and 5 Semipalmated Plovers but they only lingered for the one morning. 

Baird's Sandpiper (juvenile) - Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. August 19th, 2021. 

Semipalmated Plovers - Caldwell Road, Northfield, Franklin Co., MA. July 18th, 2021. 

Late summer also produced a widespread influx of Great Egrets plus a couple of juvenile Little Blue Herons that initially showed up on private farmland in Sunderland and then went onto roam around the Connecticut River Valley near Hatfield, or at least one of them appeared to do so. I had the good fortune to run into a juvenile Little Blue Heron flying past the Golanka Farmstand in Whately and subsequently located it on a small marsh at the Black Birch Vineyard in Hatfield. August is probably the single best month of the year to find Little Blue Heron in the Pioneer Valley and this bird fell neatly into the sequence of August records, apparently having been present in the Hatfield area since the beginning of the month. 

Little Blue Heron (juvenile) - Black Birch Vineyard, Hatfield, Hampshire Co., MA. August 14th, 2021.

Gadwall (eclipse male at rear) - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. August 10th, 2021.

Other species that caught my attention included the returning drake Gadwall at Barton Cove/Unity Park, a bird that seems to enjoy loafing, virtually unnoticed, with the local Mallards and back for its seventh straight summer! And...the first 'real' feeding flock of the autumn that passed through our yard on August 7th included a Prairie Warbler, an unexpected yard 'first' watched and videoed through the kitchen window!

Prairie Warbler - Northfield yard, Franklin Co., MA. August 7th, 2021.
iphone shot taken through kitchen window.

Friday, July 2, 2021

MA - mid-summer Bonaparte's


Bonaparte's Gull (first-summer) - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. July 2nd, 2021.

July is off to a pretty good start. A very welcome break from late June's heatwave brought heavy, sustained rains all day on the 2nd resulting in a really good soaking and significantly cooler temperatures (62 F versus 95 F!). Although I wasn't expecting many birds to be on the move this early in July, a quick spin around Turner's Falls in torrential rain yielded at 4 Ring-billed Gulls, 2 Double-crested Cormorants and a Bonaparte's Gull. The latter was a first-summer sporting a nice 'patchy' hood and provided my first July record in Franklin County. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I don't have any previous records of Bonaparte's Gull between late May and early September. While it might be a stretch to call it an early fall migrant, there's little doubt that the day's horrendous weather conditions had an influence on it's appearance at the cove. The four Least Sandpipers that appeared at Turner's Falls Airfield later in the day were much more obvious southbound migrants and my earliest fall record by almost three weeks! Like the Bonaparte's Gull, the sandpipers were doubtless grounded by the heavy rain-soaked conditions and provided a clear signal that fall migration is under way. 

 Ring-billed Gulls - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. July 2nd, 2021.

Least Sandpipers - Turner's Falls Airfield, Franklin Co., MA. July 2nd, 2021.

Least Sandpipers - Turner's Falls Airfield, Franklin Co., MA. July 2nd, 2021.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

MA - catching up on a fine spring

Golden-winged Warbler - Montague, Franklin Co., MA. June 1st, 2021.

For one reason or another my blog features have been a little on the light side during the spring but that's not to say that it's especially been quiet, or that I haven't been active in the field. With so much uncertainty regarding travel and Covid-19 I made the decision to keep most of my birding relatively close to home and rarely ventured more than 20 minutes drive time from our house in Northfield. By the time the summer solstice had come around I couldn't help but notice that most of my spring birding had taken place almost exclusively within Franklin County. While that might sound limiting in some respects it did open up windows of discovery in others. In the event I carved out many hours of field time that I doubt can be repeated anytime in the future.  

Red Crossbill - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. April 30th, 2021.

In many respects the major avian event of the spring continued to be the remarkable concentrations of hundreds of Red Crossbills in the Montague Plains WMA, an influx that raged on well into late May. White-winged Crossbills lingered through to mid-April and a few could be heard singing towards the end of their stay. Crossbills ended up being a big attraction and I spent many hours recording them and attempting to learn, thanks to expert guidance from Tim Spahr, as many different call types as possible. More on those in a separate post sometime in the future. 

Upland Sandpiper - Orange Municipal Airport, Franklin Co., MA. April 19th, 2021.

Crossbills aside, a number of other species caught my attention during the spring, primarily because I'm often away tour during the key periods and regularly miss out on the occurrence of locally rare species. The first of the these was an Upland Sandpiper found by Scott Lachance by the public viewing area at Orange Municipal Airport on April 19th. This particular spot has become somewhat 'hallowed' turf having produced late fall records of Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and Northern Wheatear in years past. Matan was on April break that week but in recognizing that the Upland Sandpiper was probably going to be a one day event I dragged him along and bribed him with the promise of a mountain bike ride afterwards! We both had superb views and, although he'd never admit it, I think he secretly enjoyed the experience....and he still rode his bike that morning! Upland Sandpiper is a rare breeding bird in the Pioneer Valley with a small population inside the perimeters of Westover Air Base near Ludlow in Hampden County. However, it appears to be extremely rare in Franklin County and I couldn't find any local ebird reports more recent than September 2004! Certainly, I'd never heard of an Upland Sandpiper occurring in Franklin County since we moved here in 2010, least of all one that could be chased. So thank you Scott Lachance for the wonderful find! 

Wilson's Phalarope - two of three present, East Meadows, Northampton, Hampshire Co., MA. May 20th, 2021. 

Prolonged spells of warm dry weather coupled with clear blue skies in the last two weeks of May were not at all conducive to fall-outs at a time of year that traditionally produces quality shorebirds, often in full breeding plumage. With that in mind, and combined with the near-drought conditions, Theresa Gessing's discovery of three Wilson's Phalaropes Northampton's East Meadows on May 19th was a real shocker! The phalarope party delighted many, myself included, in a very dusty East Meadows, the birds seemingly finding the only damp patch in the meadows for miles around. Wilson's Phalarope has yet to be found in Franklin County (or at least logged in ebird) and is rare in the Pioneer Valley, and I had little trouble justifying the 30 minute drive south into Hampshire County to see these wonderful birds....and they put on quite the show!

American Woodcock - Montague, Franklin Co., MA. May 21st, 2021.

Golden-winged Warbler - Montague, Franklin Co., MA. June 19th, 2021.
Male carrying food to nestlings.

Golden-winged Warbler - Montague, Franklin Co., MA. June 19th, 2021.
Male approaching the nest which was on the ground about 10 inches below this perching spot. 

May also brought a fantastic male Golden-winged Warbler to the bird-rich environs of Montague and was first found by Amasa and Genlyne Fiske-White during Global Big Day on May 8th. Surprisingly, this bold male lingered in the same area throughout May and entertained many throughout its stay. It could be decidedly tricky to detect at times and was most frequently heard (and recorded) singing a Blue-winged Warbler song. By early June the male Golden-winged Warbler had paired with a female Blue-winged Warbler and the pair nested successfully raising about five young to the fledgling stage. While not at all easy to track, the female Blue-winged Warbler was still feeding at least four hybrid fledglings on June 26th. 

Golden-winged Warbler - Montague, Franklin Co., MA. June 19th, 2021.
Male carrying food item to nest. 

Blue-winged Warbler - Montague, Franklin Co., MA. June 19th, 2021.
Female (paired with male Golden-winged Warbler) carrying food item to feed nestlings.

Recently fledged Golden-winged x Blue-winged Warbler - Montague, Franklin Co., MA. June 25th, 2021.
One of about five nestlings successfully fledged from the nest below. 

Golden-winged x Blue-winged Warbler nest - Montague, Franklin Co., MA. June 20th, 2021.
Ground nest containing about five nestlings being attended by male Golden-winged and female Blue-winged Warbler

While early June will see most species settling down for the breeding season, it can also produce (and often does!) one last 'toot' from the horn of spring and this year was no exception. Montague turned up a fine singing male Hooded Warbler on the 3rd only a few meters away from the Golden-winged Warbler's territory. The Hooded Warbler sang vigorously for about twenty minutes and then promptly disappeared just as suddenly as it first appeared. While pretty rare in Franklin County, Hooded Warbler records are increasing in the neighboring counties and I'm sure we can expect more of them in future springs. 

Hooded Warbler - Montague, Franklin Co., MA. June 3rd, 2021. 

June also turned up what must surely be one of the most overlooked and discrete migrant breeders in Franklin County?! I was fortunate enough to be standing in the exactly right place at one of the Deerfield Marshes when a female Least Bittern flew across the cattails, 'crash landed' and promptly disappeared. Long story short, I traded an attempt at photos for prolonged flight views and never relocated it. However, the experience provided a good excuse to get out the colored pencils and make a sketch from raw field impressions. 

Least Bittern (female) - Deerfield, Franklin Co., MA. June 15th, 2021.

Marsh Wren - Deerfield, Franklin Co., MA. June 15th, 2021. 

Virginia Rail - Deerfield, Franklin Co., MA. June 28th, 2021. 

Deerfield, Franklin Co., MA. June 29th, 2021.
Franklin County is full of small, majestic wetlands like this begging the question;
just how many pairs of Least Bitterns are out there?!

Least Bittern (male) - Deerfield, Franklin Co., MA. June 29th, 2021.

Least Bittern (male) - Deerfield, Franklin Co., MA. June 29th, 2021.

Green Heron - Deerfield, Franklin Co., MA. June 28th, 2021. 

Least Bitterns appear to have been rarely reported in Franklin County over the years and I could only find half-a-dozen records in ebird, the most recent coming from May 2013....and none of those appear to have been photographed or sound recorded. All that changed towards the end of June as at least two or three pairs of Least Bitterns settled down in the Deerfield marshes for the breeding season and several birders made sound recordings of the resonant, rhythmic 'cooing' of Least Bitterns alongside the Marsh Wrens, Green Herons and Virginia Rails present in the same area. 

There were, of course, many other highlights from the spring but these observations stand out as being some of the more memorable and satisfying. In terms of other fauna, well I had a fantastically close encounter with a Black Bear in May, a month that also produced my first ever Eastern Box Turtle in the Montague Plains. 

Black Bear - Greenfield, Franklin Co., MA. May 7th, 2021.

Eastern Box Turtle (male) - Montague. Franklin Co., MA. May 14th, 2021.

July is almost upon us and it's just about time to look forward to some autumn migration!