Thursday, April 1, 2021

MA - White-winged Crossbills and an early Barn Swallow

 

White-winged Crossbill - female, Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. April 1st, 2021.

The gradual warming trend experienced in the last few days of March came to an abrupt end this morning with sleet showers and a biting, blustery NW wind that remained in place all day. Indications of stalled migrants cropped up in many places with around 500 American Robins in the fields around Gill and a wide scatter of Eastern Phoebes searching for insects in the most sheltered nooks. Despite apparently favorable conditions, there was no obvious sign of a waterfowl arrival with 3 Lesser Scaup being the pick at Barton Cove. From there I headed (once more) for the Montague Plains and eventually found some Red Crossbills though they were quieter and fewer in number than in recent days. One flock was graced with an especially approachable female White-winged Crossbill and I must say it's fantastic to have these birds lingering into April. Other notables from the plains included nice daytime views of an American Woodcock and my first Palm Warbler of season, the nice bright yellow eastern form.

Red Crossbill - female, Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. April 1st, 2021.


Barn Swallow - Barton Cove, Gill , Franklin Co., MA. April 1st, 2021. 

The raw, windy conditions persisted into early evening and a further check of Barton Cove produced a nice early Barn Swallow hawking around with seven or so Tree Swallows. With temperatures forecast to drop well below freezing tonight, I'm sure that bird will be shivering wherever it decides to roost! 



MA - March migration and yet more crossbills!

 

Bonaparte's Gulls - three of eight present, Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 26th, 2021.

March 26th was one of those bigger migration days when warm conditions coupled with an occluded front brought rain, thunderstorms and a lot of avian action! Widespread arrivals of Eastern Phoebes and, to lesser degree, Tree Swallows occurred that day as well as 30 newly arrived Green-winged Teals at Barton Cove. Just upriver, Ted Gilliland was busy sorting through a smaller flock of 13 Green-winged Teal and ultimately found a nice example of the Eurasian sub-species, certainly the first that I've seen or even heard about in Franklin County! Later that day, eight Bonaparte's Gull graced Barton Cove, along with five (early) Double-crested Cormorants and a Common Loon in full breeding plumage. And....I would have loved to have seen the flock of five migrant Sandhill Cranes reported by Eric Huston migrating high over the cove a little earlier in the afternoon. Overall, that was a pretty decent haul of migrants for the 26th!

Bonaparte's Gulls - five of eight present, Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 26th, 2021.

Eurasian (Green-winged) Teal (left) - distant crop, taken from Barton Cove campground, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 26th, 2021.
Nice find by Ted Gilliland. First Franklin County record.

Barton Cove continued to host a fairly large flock of Ring-necked Ducks with over 100 present, often loafing around Barton Island and subsequently difficult to see at times. Up to two Lesser and seven Greater Scaup (on the 28th) were often present with or near the Ring-necked Ducks


White-winged Crossbills - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 29th & 30th, 2021.


Red Crossbills - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 29th & 30th, 2021.

Fox Sparrows - three of five in the Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 19th, 2021.

Field Sparrow - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 29th, 2021.

Waterbirds aside, the incursion of winter finch species continued to be a major attraction for me and over the last month or so I've been very drawn to the Montague Plains which continues to host large numbers of Red Crossbills, the numbers of which appear to fluctuate on a day-to-day basis as the birds roam, presumably in search of the most productive feeding spots. Red Crossbills peaked at a whopping 360 birds on March 25th, a day which also saw 55 Pine Siskins and over 200 Dark-eyed Juncos and the first local Pine Grosbeak that I've seen for weeks. The day before saw 22 White-winged Crossbills in the plains with smaller numbers continuing through to the end of the month including 17 on the 31st. The Montague Plains have also proven to be a good spot for migrant Fox Sparrows with up to five present on the 19th, and the first territorial Field Sparrows started to appear for another breeding season from March 28th. 

Red-shouldered Hawk - one of two first-summer birds over the Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 30th, 2021.
These birds flew off to the NW together and behaved like migrants.

Ring-necked Ducks and Double-crested Cormorants - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 31st, 2021.
A fairly typical early spring spring scene. 

The last two days of the month saw increasingly warm temperatures with first Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and Pine Warblers in the Montague Plains as well as some odd migrants such as two immature Red-shouldered Hawks and 5 Rusty Blackbirds on the 30th, and a Belted Kingfisher heading north on the 31st. The latter date also saw a late afternoon arrival of 17 Double-crested Cormorants at Barton Cove. 








Thursday, March 18, 2021

MA - fringillid morning

 

Red Crossbills - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 16th, 2021.

Last Tuesday (March 16th) I ran into an embarrassment of avian riches in the Montague Plains WMA. It was was bitterly cold at the start of the day, well below freezing in fact but by mid-morning the warmth of the spring sunshine began to make a real difference and the Montague Pitch Pines became a frenzy of finch activity once again. What made this morning particularly special wasn't so much the simple presence of lots of fringillids but more to do with having them gather together in one especially sweet spot. The place was full of them with Red Crossbills (85) White-winged Crossbills (7), Pine Siskins (12), Common Redpolls (7) and other commoner species such as American Goldfinch, Dark-eyed Junco, American Tree Sparrow, Song Sparrow and a handful of White-throated Sparrows.

White-winged Crossbill (female) - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 16th, 2021.
Finally a chance to catch up with proper views female White-winged Crossbills!


Red and White-winged Crossbills (males) - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 16th, 2021.


White-winged Crossbill (pair) - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 16th, 2021.
Two birds from a party of five feeding in the same Pitch Pine.

Common Redpoll with Red Crossbills - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 16th, 2021.


Red Crossbill - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 16th, 2021.


Red-breasted Nuthatch - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 16th, 2021.
Still good numbers around though far fewer than in the autumn and early winter. 
A few will breed in the plains even in non-incursion years. 



















Tuesday, March 16, 2021

MA - Snow Goose and a good selection of other waterfowl

 

Snow Goose - (first-spring), Turner's Falls power canal, Franklin Co., MA. March 16th, 2021.

Migration appears stalled for a few days, perhaps held up by four straight days of very cold, blustery North-westerlies, certainly a shock to the system after last week's warm southerlies. Aside from a steady build up of Ring-necked Ducks (c.140 between Barton Cove and the Turner's Falls Rod and Gun club) and Buffleheads (9 Barton Cove and at least 5 at the Turner's Falls power canal), the last few days have seen several species simply 'staging' in the area presumably waiting for more favorable weather conditions to continue migrating. A combined total of at least 1400 Canada Geese has been present at Barton Cove and the Turner's Falls power canal, seemingly ripe for the discovery of a good rarity? Alas, the most unusual geese so far have been single Snow and Cackling Geese, both of which have been present at the power canal from the 14th - 16th. The power canal also produced a welcome surprise with the appearance of the long staying (but often aloof) first-winter male Barrow's Goldeneye on the 13th. Barton Cove hosted a female Lesser Scaup (11th - 13th) and a female Greater Scaup (14th - 16th) as well as up to 30 each of Common and Hooded Mergansers. Gull migration has definitely been light over the last few days but an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull was new at Barton Cove on the 13th. 

Cackling Goose -  Turner's Falls power canal, Franklin Co., MA. March 15th, 2021.


Barrow's Goldeneye - (first-spring male), Turner's Falls power canal, Franklin Co., MA. March 13th, 2021.
Mercurial, with sporadic appearances at the power canal throughout the winter since December 25th, 2020.


Ring-necked Ducks - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 15th, 2021.


Lesser Scaup (female) - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 13th, 2021.


Greater Scaup (center) - female, Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 15th, 2021.


Black Vultures - Turner's Falls power canal, Franklin Co., MA. March 13th, 2021.
Continued arrivals in Montague with four over the power canal on the 13th.  














Thursday, March 11, 2021

MA - Harlequin plus White-fronted and Cackling Geese

 

Harlequin Duck (first-winter male) and Ring-necked Duck (adult male) - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 11th, 2021. 
This Harlequin was first discovered by Anne Jemas on the Millers River, January 1st, 2021.

Yesterday's Greater White-fronted Geese offered a clear indication that waterfowl diversity is picking up locally. With that in mind I checked Barton Cove fairly early this morning hoping for the white-fronts and anything else that might have dropped in with the Canada Geese. On arrival at cove I was greeted with an obvious increase in waterfowl numbers, especially diving ducks with 27 Ring-necked Ducks, 8 Hooded and 5 Common Mergansers, a dozen Common Goldeneye and a male Harlequin Duck....What?!! After rubbing my eyes a couple of times, sure enough, there indeed was a Harlequin, undoubtedly the same immature male that had been wintering a few miles upstream on the Millers River. Despite multiple birders checking, myself included, the Harlequin hadn't been seen on the Millers River since February 5th with that particular sighting coming from Jeremiah Trimble. A cool five weeks later, and there it was off Riverview Drive, Gill consorting with a couple of Common Goldeneyes. It was flighty this morning and rarely settled for long, and I last saw it around noon. 

Harlequin Duck (first-winter male) - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 11th, 2021. 


Harlequin Duck (first-winter male) - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 11th, 2021. 


Harlequin Duck (first-winter male, left) - with Common Goldeneyes, Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 11th, 2021. 


Greater White-fronted Goose - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 11th, 2021. 

Greater White-fronted Goose - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 11th, 2021. 
Just right of center, taken from Unity Park, Turner's Falls.

Cackling Goose - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 11th, 2021. 
Bathing just in front of the American Black Duck. Taken from Unity Park.

Canada Geese - Barton Cove, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. March 11th, 2021. 
Numbers increased again today with over 1000 feeding in Bernardston in the evening. 

Aside from the Harlequin, two Greater-fronted Geese did eventually show up at the cove in mid-morning. Oddly though, they were not associating with each other and things even got a little testy between them when they got too close. A quick check from Unity Park in mid-afternoon found only one Greater White-fronted Goose but with a wide scatter of reports from around the region in the last few days, I'm slightly hesitant to regard these and yesterday's birds as definitely relating to the same individuals. The two white-fronts yesterday did appear to be moving around together, quite different from the behavior of the two observed today. The afternoon search also turned up a Cackling Goose off Riverview Drive, my first of the season. 

Back at the Montague Plains, a thirty minute stop along Old Northfield Road rustled up a further 70 Red Crossbills and my first Fox Sparrow of the year giving bursts of song among the stands of young Pitch Pines.  

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

MA - white-fronts, waterfowl and more crossbills

 

Greater White-fronted Geese (2) - Unity Park, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. March 10th, 2021.

Over the last couple of days immaculate weather, warm air and southern winds have produced a distinct uptick in waterfowl migrants passing through Franklin County. Small flocks of Canada Geese passed over the Montague Plains all morning on the 9th and by the evening some 800-900 had gathered in a well hidden cornfield in Bernardston. While visible migration was less evident on the 10th, a Greater White-fronted Goose was discovered at Barton Cove/Unity Park by David Sibley and by the time that I got to Unity Park at noon there were two, both of them adults! Having carefully scrutinized the geese at Unity Park the evening before I feel confident that these were brand new arrivals. Ring-necked Ducks too have increased over the last two days with 4 at Unity Park and 17 at the Turner's Falls power canal. The latter site also produced a whopping 26 Hooded Mergansers on the evening of the 10th!

Greater White-fronted Geese (2) - Unity Park, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. March 10th, 2021.

Greater White-fronted Goose - Unity Park, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. March 10th, 2021.


Ring-necked Ducks - Unity Park, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. March 9th, 2021.

Gull migration can be a more discrete event but the evening of the 10th saw an impressive surge in Ring-billed Gull numbers to almost 200 birds. A Lesser Black-backed (adult) and two Iceland Gulls (first-winters) continue amid the Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls roosting at Unity Park. 

Black Vultures - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 10th, 2021.

Turkey Vultures were already widespread by the 8th but on the 10th, a northward movement of some 12 Black Vultures over the Montague Plains was rather more impressive. 

White-winged Crossbill (male) - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 9th, 2021.

White-winged Crossbill (male) - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 10th, 2021.

Finally, the Montague Plains have been 'heaving' under the weight of some 75 - 100 Red Crossbills with these birds being well north of the more heavily watched site of Old Northfield Road. Small scattered groups of singing/calling birds have been found throughout the plains over the last two days with an especially impressive concentration of about 60 in one spot. As expected, most identified to Type have been Type 10 but, thanks to Tim Spahr's help and guidance, I've also managed to identify and record Type 2 and Type 3. Of course, the prize for scanning through all those crossbills has been the continued presence of White-winged Crossbills, all of them have been males and around 7 or 8 individuals in all, maybe more. They're not especially vocal either and finding them usually involves careful checking of each individual crossbill that just happens to show itself. 

With several more days of warmth in the forecast I think it would be reasonable to expect a few more migrants of interest before the forecast colder snap in the early part of next week. 








Monday, March 8, 2021

MA - another Hoary Redpoll


Hoary Redpoll - Whately, Franklin Co., MA. March 8th, 2021.
A contrasty image yes,  but it appeared every bit as striking in the field.

Flocks of redpolls are still with us for the time being though I imagine with increasingly spring-like conditions we'll see them departing quite soon. Today I came across two flocks, 65 in Whately and about 28 at the Turner's Falls power canal. The Whately birds again surprised me by perching unobtrusively in the sumac thickets while the Turner's Falls flock gave no indication of their presence until I saw them disappearing in flight. On the plus side, the Whately flock contained an absolute spanking Hoary Redpoll and, despite the Common Redpolls within the flock appearing increasingly pale and worn, the Hoary jumped out like the proverbial sore thumb! After admittedly grumbling about how few Hoaries appeared to be involved in the current incursion, I do feel that discovery of this bird in Buckland on January 31st marked a personal turning point in the winter with some really classic individuals showing up after that bird. Overall I've been pretty satisfied with appearance of birds like the one featured here and I'm quite happy to leave the more ambiguous individuals for another day. 



Hoary Redpoll - Whately, Franklin Co., MA. March 8th, 2021.
Three images of the same individual at various perching spots within the thickets. 

Common Redpoll (male) - Whately, Franklin Co., MA. March 8th, 2021.

Common Redpolls - Whately, Franklin Co., MA. March 8th, 2021.







Saturday, March 6, 2021

MA - White-winged Crossbills and other 'winter finches' this week

White-winged Crossbill (male) - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 4th, 2021.

The White-winged Crossbills first noted on Feb 25th continued into the first week of March at the Montague Plains WMA . While it's possible there may have been some turnover, after spending a couple of hours each morning following crossbill flocks, I came away with the distinct impression that the numbers of both crossbill species were about the same as they were last week, roughly 70 Red Crossbills and 3 - 5 White-winged Crossbills. The latter included two males consorting together, a duo that I first noted back on Feb 25th, plus several single males with random flocks of Red Crossbills occasionally dropping down to the road for 'gritting'. Almost all the activity has been concentrated along Old Northfield Road in the southern portion of the WMA with crossbills occurring on both sides of Old Northfield Road and sometimes actually on the road itself. New (for me) in the plains this week were a single Common Redpoll and 3 Pine Siskins, the latter in song and particularly noteworthy since they haven't occurred on the same sort of scale locally as other wither finch species. 





White-winged Crossbill (males) - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 3rd - 4th, 2021. 

Looking at White-winged Crossbills, I don't mind admitting that I'm still smitten and wanted to make the most of them while they're here. In a couple of weeks they'll almost certainly be heading back to the boreal forests and long gone from the Montague Plains.  I'm hoping/expecting that at least some pairs of Red Crossbills will remain in the plains to breed but after hours of carefully watching them this week I've yet to see any actual breeding activity such as nest building.






 Red Crossbills - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 3rd - 4th, 2021. 
Another fantastic week for this species with up to 70 exceptionally vocal birds present mid-week.

 Common Redpoll - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 3rd, 2021. 

Pine Siskin - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 4th, 2021. 


 Common Redpoll (male) - Whately, Franklin Co., MA. March 5th, 2021. 
The 'Whately Redpolls' surprised me this week both in terms of numbers (85) and the volume of song/calls coming from the thickets alongside the fields.


Hoary Redpoll - Whately, Franklin Co., MA. March 5th, 2021. 


Red-breasted Nuthatch - Montague Plains WMA, Franklin Co., MA. March 4th, 2021. 

Migration Notes; small numbers of American Crows heading north through much of the day on the 3rd occurring in flocks of 5 - 8 birds over Montague Plains, Turner's Falls and Greenfield. Also the first 'hints' of Canada Geese moving north with 6 over Turner's Falls on the 3rd and 5 over Montague Plains on the 4th, both flocks of highflyers heading purposefully north. Two first-winter Iceland Gulls joined the small gull roost at Unity Park on March 3rd-6th with an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull (new) present on the 6th. Over 100 American Robins together along Meadow Road, Montague on March 5th, and Turkey Vultures over Sunderland on the 5th (Brian Kane) and Main Road, Gill and Turner's Falls (4) on the 6th. 

Lesser Black-backed Gull (center) - adult with Herring, Great Black-backed and Iceland Gulls, Unity Park, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. March 6th, 2021.

Lesser Black-backed Gull  - adult, Unity Park, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. March 6th, 2021.