Friday, April 21, 2017

Sightings in the third week of April

Palm Warbler, Rail trail, Amherst, MA, Apr 20, 2017
Louisiana Waterthrush, Quabbin Park, MA, Apr 20, 2017
Ruby crowned Kinglet, Rail trail, Amherst, MA, Apr 20, 2017
Pine Warbler, Lake Wallace, Belchertown, MA, Apr 19, 2017
Rusty Blackbird, Lake Wallace, Belchertown, MA, Apr 19, 2017
Carolina Wren, Quabbin Park, MA, Apr 18, 2017
Pileated Woodpeckers, Rail trail, Amherst, MA, Apr 18, 2017
As the third week of April comes to an end migration continues to pick up with new birds showing up everyday.  Some notables I have had over the last several days included both Blue headed Vireo and Broad winged Hawk on the 15th, Blue winged Teal and Black and White Warbler in Hadley on the 17th, an Eastern Whip Poor Will at Winsor Dam on the 18th (I had two there yesterday), House Wren at Mitch's Way also on the 18th and a Bonaparte's Gull at Winsor Dam on the 19th.  The warblers are just starting to arrive with decent numbers of Pine, Palm and Yellow rumped Warblers around plus a few Louisiana Waterthrushes and Black and White Warblers.  I was expecting some unusual stuff to be brought down by the raining weather overnight into this morning but no luck at the places I checked.  The next week into May should bring in a big influx of both numbers and variety.

In other news a tropical storm (Tropical Storm Arlene) has formed way out in the Atlantic, which is quite unusual for April.  It is no threat to any landmasses but certainly interesting to see this time of year.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Big Bend National Park produces lots of good stuff including Colima Warbler

Colima Warbler, Big Bend NP, TX, Apr 10, 2017
Colima Warbler, Big Bend NP, TX, Apr 10, 2017
Common Poorwill, Big Bend NP, TX, Apr 10, 2017
Mexican Jay, Big Bend NP, TX, Apr 10, 2017
Townsend's Warbler, Big Bend NP, TX, Apr 10, 2017
Townsend's Warbler (?) with limited yellow on breast, Big Bend NP, TX, Apr 10, 2017
Townsend's Warbler (?) with limited yellow on breast, Big Bend NP, TX, Apr 10, 2017
Blue gray Gnatcatcher with nest material, Big Bend NP, TX, Apr 10, 2017
Black crested Titmouse, Big Bend NP, TX, Apr 10, 2017
Vermilion Flycatcher, Fort Pena Colorado, Marathon, TX, Apr 10, 2017
Spotted Sandpiper, Fort Pena Colorado, Marathon, TX, Apr 10, 2017
Scaled Quail,  Marathon, TX, Apr 10, 2017
I was up and out the door bright and early on Monday to make the long run down to the Chisos Basin in Big Bend NP. The ride should take around 90 minutes but I took about two hours with frequent stops to let jackrabbits, deer and coyotes move out of the road. I also added some nocturnal birds including a number of Common Poorwills, a few Lesser Nighthawks and a couple Mexican Whip Poor Wills. I arrived in the basin before sunrise and started the hike up the Pinnacles trail to get to Boot Spring where my main target (Colima Warbler) can be found. The trail was steep but not too bad considering some of the horror stories I had heard regarding the difficulty. The scenery was truly spectacular with each new turn in the trail producing a new awe inspiring view. I made it up through the gap in the basin via the Pinnacles and then started down the Boot Spring trail where I ran across my first Colima Warbler which popped into view briefly but disappeared before I could get the camera on it. I continued down toward Boot Spring itself and continued to run across various mixed species flocks but I didn't have another Colima Warbler until I made it to Boot Spring where I had two more individuals which eventually showed but still not very well. I continued down the trail past the springs where I found another interesting warbler. The bird was in a mixed species and was singing an odd Black throated Green Warbler like song but did not appear to be a perfect BTGW. The mask of the bird was quite dark (much more like a Townsend's Warbler) but the belly was almost all white except for a hint of yellow just below the black throat, perhaps just an odd Townsend's Warbler.  A very interesting bird to be sure. Although it was still very comfortable in the shade of the upper mountains I knew I had a long walk back out through Laguna Meadow, much of which would be put in the open sun. I started down and while still up in the oaks I had two more singing Colima Warblers (bringing my total for the morning to five). I also got my best views of the species on my down as well as the best photos I was able to get. By the time I reached the parking lot in the basin it was early afternoon and very hot so I got rehydrated before making a short walk on the more level Window Trail before starting my way back toward Marathon arriving back there for an early dinner before making another stop to the nearby Colorado Park which produced some more new species for the trip but nothing too unusual.
Black throated Sparrow, South Llano River SP, Junction, TX, Apr 11, 2017
My last full day in Texas was the worst weather wise but was not totally lost as a large portion of the day was spent driving back to Austin. I had more and more clouds and eventually rain as I drove east. I made another stop at South Llano River SP but due to occasional rain I didn't stay as long as I had on the previous day there. I made it back to the Austin area by early afternoon where I tried my luck in finding a reported Yellow throated Warbler at Common Fords Park. A severe thunderstorm was rapidly approaching so I was unable to locate the bird but the small park was quite birdy and would certainly have been worth a bit more time exploring as it looked primed to produce good stuff but it was not to be on this trip. Overall for the trip I ended up with 120 species with six of those being life birds (Golden cheeked Warbler, Black capped Vireo, Scaled Quail, Colima Warbler, Black chinned Sparrow and Cassin's Sparrow) bringing my life list to 1305.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Texas hill country...Golden cheeked Warbler and Black capped Vireo

Golden cheeked Warbler, Balcones Canyonlands NWR, TX, Apr 8, 2017
Golden cheeked Warbler, Balcones Canyonlands NWR, TX, Apr 8, 2017
Golden cheeked Warbler, Balcones Canyonlands NWR, TX, Apr 8, 2017
Looking west from Warbler Vista, Balcones Canyonlands NWR, TX, Apr 8, 2017
I headed down to Texas for a brief trip starting on Saturday the 8th and began in Austin to visit the hill country before making the long ride down to Big Bend National Park. The main targets for the trip included Golden cheeked Warbler and Black capped Vireo in the hill country and Colima Warbler at Big Bend NP. All three of these species have limited range in the US with the first two being endangered species due to ongoing habitat destruction. Colima Warblers are not as rare overall but the only spot they nest in the US is within Big Bend NP. I had to make some changes to my plans in regard to more intense hiking as I hurt my back at work again and I almost didn't get to make the trip but thankfully I managed to salvage the trip. I arrived in Austin around midday and after a quick lunch headed over to St. Edwards Park northwest of the city to try to catch up with some Golden cheeked Warblers that had recently been seen there.  Unfortunately due to it being the weekend and the park being quite crowded there were no warblers to be found.  Without too much luck at St Edwards Park I decided to make a run out to Balcones Canyonlands NWR to try my luck there. I arrived there late in the afternoon and despite the late hour and a near continuous wind I found first one and eventually four Golden cheeked Warbler including at least three males singing, all in the area of the appropriately named Warbler Vista. The Golden cheeked Warbler became life bird #1300 for me as well as my 69th new world warbler species. A beautiful, sunny start to the trip to be sure.
Black capped Vireo, South Llano River SP, Junction, TX, Apr 9, 2017
Black capped Vireo, South Llano River SP, Junction, TX, Apr 9, 2017
Yellow breasted Chat, South Llano River SP, Junction, TX, Apr 9, 2017
Black throated Sparrow, South Llano River SP, Junction, TX, Apr 9, 2017
Black tailed Prairie Dog, Marathon, TX, Apr 9, 2017
Burrowing Owl, Marathon, TX, Apr 9, 2017
I was up before dawn on Sunday and was greeted with clouds, a decent breeze and occasional drizzle as I drove back out to Balcones Canyonlands NWR again. I waited outside the gate for the park to open and added a calling Common Poorwill for the trip. Once the gate opened I drove back up to the same area I had the Golden cheeked Warblers and once again had one singing despite the less than ideal conditions. I was certainly happy I made it up the previous day when the weather was nicer and the birds more photogenic. After my time in the Warbler Vista section of the refuge I drove further north to visit the Shin Oak area in the quest to find some Black capped Vireos. This area is known for the species but is typically closed to the public in the early part of the nesting season. Thankfully the area just opened up the day before to the public and upon my arrival was rewarded right away with at least a couple calling vireos. True to their reputation of staying well hidden I never managed to get more than fleeting glimpses of the birds despite them being mere feet away at times. Nonetheless I was still quite happy to find them even if the looks were less than stellar. As the morning wore on and the weather did not seem to be improving in the area I was in I decided to begin my long drive over to Big Bend (with frequent stops to stretch my legs). My best stop along the way was at South Llano River SP just south of Junction which had recent reports of both Golden winged Warbler and Black capped Vireo. It turned out to be a very active place with both of the above species present (including much better views of the vireos). In addition the bird blinds and trails there were quite productive for a wide range of species both resident and migrants. It was tough to tear myself away from the area but I still had a lot of driving to make it to my lodging near Big Bend. Another neat stop on my way was just outside the town of Marathon at a large prairie dog town, which produced several Burrowing Owls, Scaled Quail (life bird), various raptors and lots of prairie dogs.

Hooded Merganser eggs in box #1, Home, Belchertown, MA, Apr 13, 2017
Eggs in box #2, Home, Belchertown, MA, Apr 13, 2017
American Robin with leg bands, Home, Belchertown, MA, Apr 11, 2017
While I was gone from home for several days the area experienced some record setting heat (85 degrees) brought in by southerly winds. The winds also brought in a number of early season migrants and I spent some time this morning tracking some of them down including my first Yellow rumped Warblers, Louisiana Waterthush, Barn Swallow, Blue gray Gnatcatcher, Field Sparrow and Eastern Towhee. I also checked the duck boxes again and this time found a Hooded Merganser sitting on eggs in one of the boxes...still not sure what species is in the second box. Also while I was away I had one of my motion camera set on the water feature and I had 220+ shots to go through! Most were Gray Squirrels and Dark eyed Juncos but I also managed to get Song Sparrow, Mourning Dove, American Goldfinch, Black capped Chickadee and American Robin (including a banded individual I had not seen since last fall) plus a mouse.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Some waterfowl movement despite less than ideal conditions plus eggs in duck boxes at home

American Robin (partially leucistic), Hatfield/Whately line, MA, Apr 3, 2017
American Robin (partially leucistic), Hatfield/Whately line, MA, Apr 3, 2017
Canada Goose with extensive white on neck, Hatfield/Whately line, MA, Apr 3, 2017
Horned Grebe, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Apr 3, 2017
Overall conditions around here have been less than ideal for migration but some new stuff has continued to arrive with an obvious movement of birds yesterday when we had a brief period of warmer weather with slightly better conditions.  I have included a couple of lists from yesterday showing the decent numbers of a few species moving.  I also had a couple of partially leucistic birds yesterday including an American Robin and a Canada Goose.

Lesser Scaup and Black Ducks, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Apr 4, 2017
Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Apr 4, 2017
Ring necked Ducks, Beaver Lake, MA, Apr 4, 2017
Today was rainy and cool and the only notable species brought down by the rain were three Lesser Scaup at Winsor Dam first thing in the morning.

Eggs in duck box #1, home, Belchertown, MA, Apr 3, 2017
Eggs in duck box #2, home, Belchertown, MA, Apr 3, 2017
I also checked the duck boxes at home once again and for the first time I have two boxes being used with full clutches of eggs.  I still don't know what species I have but I have always had Hooded Mergansers but Wood Ducks are certainly a good possibility.    

Monday, March 27, 2017

Below average temperatures and rain continues

Common Goldeneyes, Quabbin Park, MA, Mar 25, 2017
Hooded Mergansers, Quabbin Park, MA, Mar 25, 2017
Ring necked Ducks, American Wigeon and Mallards, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Mar 19, 2017
Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Mar 17, 2017
The weather continues to be cooler than normal with occasional rain the last several days.  We actually had record cold a few days ago with lows in the single digits.  Given the conditions migration has slowed but stuff is still moving through with the majority being waterfowl (13 species in the last week).  In addition I did have my first Eastern Meadowlark early this week, my first Great Blue Heron yesterday and also had an apparent migrant group of five Eastern Phoebes moving through the yard this afternoon.  Several other species (Tree Swallows, Pine Warblers, etc) are due to show up at any time but will probably not show up for a few more days when migration conditions improve a bit.
Eggs in duck box (Hooded Merganser?), home, Belchertown, MA, Mar 24, 2017
I also have my first eggs of the season in my duck boxes at home with a few eggs in one of the boxes as of a few days ago

Friday, March 17, 2017

Jamaica trip (March 9-12)

Jamaican Tody, Blue Mountains NP, Jamaica, Mar 10, 2017
Arrowhead Warbler, Ecclesdown Road, Jamaica, Mar 10, 2017
Just back from a whirlwind trip down to Jamaica to briefly escape the cold and try to see as many of the 27 endemic species there in two full days as I could with a big target being the Arrowhead Warbler. I flew down to Kingston on Thursday the 9th arriving there after dark and getting picked up by my guide for the next few days, Ricardo Miller. Although we originally were going to do a little late night birding before going to my lodging I was beat from traveling and knew I had a very early wake up call coming the next morning so instead we went right to my lodging. All was not lost as we found a roosting Northern Potoo atop a power pole right next to the inn. The potoo would be the first lifer for the trip but far from the last.
Jamaican Spindalis, Blue Mountains NP, Jamaica, Mar 10, 2017
Jamaican Becard, Blue Mountains NP, Jamaica, Mar 10, 2017
Jamaican Tody, Blue Mountains NP, Jamaica, Mar 10, 2017
Jamaican Euphonia, Blue Mountains NP, Jamaica, Mar 10, 2017
Yellow shouldered Grassquit, Blue Mountains NP, Jamaica, Mar 10, 2017
Rufous throated Solitaire, Blue Mountains NP, Jamaica, Mar 10, 2017
Jamaican Oriole, Blue Mountains NP, Jamaica, Mar 10, 2017
Vervain Hummingbird, Blue Mountains NP, Jamaica, Mar 10, 2017
Jamaican Vireo, Blue Mountains NP, Jamaica, Mar 10, 2017
Blue Mountain Vireo, Blue Mountains NP, Jamaica, Mar 10, 2017
Jamaican Woodpecker, Blue Mountains NP, Jamaica, Mar 10, 2017
Chestnut bellied Cuckoo, Blue Mountains NP, Jamaica, Mar 10, 2017
Orangequit, Blue Mountains NP, Jamaica, Mar 10, 2017
Blue Mountains, Jamaica, Mar 10, 2017
We started our first day with a 5 AM departure from the lodge to head into the Blue Mountains. Our first stop was a spot right along the road where we had our first calling Jamaican Owls but we never got a look at one despite having them calling with their odd barking call from quite close in. This predawn stop also added two additional life birds besides the owl with Jamaican Woodpeckers and White chinned Thrushes calling. The next several hours through midday were spent exploring the Blue Mountains were we had great luck catching up with 21 new species with 17 endemics including one of my main targets, the Arrowhead Warbler.  Some of the other species seen there included the diminutive Jamaican Tody to the red billed variant of the Streamertail to the colorful Jamaican Spindalis to a pair of nest building Jamaican Becard plus many others.
Jamaican Lizard Cuckoo, Ecclesdown Rd, Jamaica, Mar 10, 2017
Streamertail (black billed), Ecclesdown Rd, Jamaica, Mar 10, 2017
Olive throated Parakeet, Ecclesdown Rd, Jamaica, Mar 10, 2017
Looking north toward ocean, Ecclesdown Rd, Jamaica, Mar 10, 2017
After a late lunch we made it up to Ecclesdown Road in the late afternoon where we stayed until sundown. We caught up with many of the species we had seen up in the Blue Mountains as well as four new species including both endemic parrot species (Yellow billed Parrot and Black billed Parrot) plus Caribbean Dove and Rufous tailed Flycatcher (also endemic). We finished our time there with spectacular looks at a Jamaican Owl that flew right in after dusk.  By the end of the first day we had caught up with all but three of the endemic species on the island with the species not yet seen being Sad Flycatcher, Jamaica Mango and Jamaican Crow but we had great confidence we would find them the next day.
Jamaican Mango, Ecclesdown Rd, Jamaica, Mar 11, 2017
Crested Quail Dove, Ecclesdown Rd, Jamaica, Mar 11, 2017
Jamaican Crows, Ecclesdown Rd, Jamaica, Mar 11, 2017
We started out once again before dawn along Ecclesdown Road but were met with a bit of heavy rain which lasted for the first hour we were there but we nevertheless still managed to catch up with one of our three previously unseen endemics with a pair of Sad Flycatchers. We dodged some remaining showers for another hour as we searched various spots for our remaining two endemics. We eventually caught up with a few Jamaican Crows which showed nicely (but distantly) in some bare trees. Our final endemic took a bit more time to get good looks at but we eventually got a Jamaican Mango feeding on some banana flowers. We had now seen all the endemics but we still needed some better looks at the Crested Quail Dove that we had seen flying across the road in the Blue Mountains the previous morning. As we drove down Ecclesdown Road we approached an area that Ricardo mentioned look good for the species but it never produced one before. Within a minute of him saying that he spotted one perched in a tree and we got fantastic looks at it. As we were running ahead of schedule having seen every endemic well by late morning we headed out to make the trip back toward Kingston to look for some other Caribbean species I had not yet seen. On our way there we made a number of stops along the north coast looking for waders and shorebirds and added a few more species to the trip list.

Stolid Flycatcher, Hellshire Hills, Jamaica, Mar 11, 2017
Gray Kingbird, Hellshire Hills, Jamaica, Mar 11, 2017
Bahama Mockingbird, Hellshire Hills, Jamaica, Mar 11, 2017
Hellshire Hills looking toward ocean, Jamaica, Mar 11, 2017
Northern Potoo, Hope Gardens, Jamaica, Mar 11, 2017
Northern Potoo, Hope Gardens, Jamaica, Mar 11, 2017
Cape May Warbler, Hope Gardens, Jamaica, Mar 11, 2017
Bananaquit, Hope Gardens, Jamaica, Mar 11, 2017
We stopped for lunch in Kingston and turned up another new species with Antillean Palm Swifts nesting in the palms right in the parking lot of the restaurant.  Our main destination outside Kingston was the Hellshire Hills west of the city which as the name suggests is a very hot location, especially in the middle of the afternoon. It is a unique habitat looking like Arizona with low scrub, cactus and very dry hot weather but with the ocean providing a backdrop (very unlike Arizona!). Our main targets here included Bahama Mockingbird and Stolid Flycatcher which we managed to find despite the heat and strong winds. We also a few Gray Kingbirds which appeared to have just migrated in for the breeding season. With all the target birds in bag by mid afternoon we decided to make the drive back into Kingston and make a brief stop at Hope Gardens where we had the chance to get some better looks at a few species (mainly Yellow billed Parrots and some roosting Northern Potoo).  Despite lots of people around enjoying the park on the weekend and a loud music festival going on we indeed got good looks at Yellow billed Parrots and Northern Potto as well as other species including a mixed species flock of warblers that contained a few species we had not yet caught up with before on the trip.  If anyone is thinking of taking a trip down there I would highly recommend Ricardo Miller as a guide...very knowledgeable and super friendly.  He can be reached through his website at

After just two full days in Jamaica I headed to the airport early in the morning on Sunday the 12th for my flight back home. Managed to add a few new species along the causeway to the airport bringing my trip total to 93.  I found a total of 36 life birds for the trip including all 27 Jamaican endemics bringing my life list to 1299.  Additional photos from the trip can be found at the following link to my Flickr album from the trip: Below is a list of the life birds seen on the trip in the order they were seen.  Those with (E) are endemic species to Jamaica and those with an (I) are introduced species.

Northern Potoo
Jamaican Owl (E)
Jamaican Woodpecker (E)
White chinned Thrush (E)
Yellow shouldered Grassquit (E)
Orangequit (E)
Jamaican Becard (E)
Jamaican Spindalis (E)
White eyed Thrush (E)
Arrowhead Warbler (E)
Jamaican Vireo (E)
Ring tailed Pigeon (E)
Jamaican Blackbird (E)
Rufous throated Solitaire
Streamertail (E)
Crested Quail Dove (E)
Jamaican Tody (E)
Jamaican Euphonia (E)
Vervain Hummingbird
Jamaican Oriole
Blue Mountain Vireo (E)
Jamaican Pewee (E)
Jamaican Elaenia (E)
Chestnut bellied Cuckoo  (E)
Jamaican Lizard Cuckoo  (E)
Yellow billed Parrot (E)
Caribbean Dove
Black billed Parrot (E)
Rufous tailed Flycatcher (E)
Sad Flycatcher  (E)
Jamaican Crow  (E)
Jamaican Mango  (E)
Antillean Palm Swift
Stolid Flycatcher
Bahama Mockingbird
Green rumped Parrolet (I)

Unfortunately my return back home coincided with a return to winter like conditions with a blizzard dropping a foot and half of snow on Tuesday and then some cold and windy weather which made it feel more like mid winter then nearly spring time.