Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Review of rare Connecticut valley birds...first bird- Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl (Cape Coral, FL)

I'm going to branch out a little with an ongoing series of posts beyond my typical sightings and observations.  After reading through some old issues of bird observer (particularly the western Massachusetts centered February 2007 issue) and looking over the many rare records of birds from here in the valley and at Quabbin, I thought I would try to elaborate on some of these sightings both to capture something more of the record then the species, place and time.  I will include photos of the subject species if I have one available for illustrative purposes but will not be of the subject individual unless specifically noted.  If any one has additional information concerning any of the sightings I will mention or other information pertaining to other rare birds in the valley or around Quabbin please let me know.  Any feedback at all would be great.  Not only do I find these stories interesting but educational in that they capture a snapshot of how birding has evolved and changed as well as provide some insight into how the bird was discovered so perhaps others can repeat finding similar rare birds in the future.  I will begin with the many sightings from Tom Gagnon.  As a long time birder in the area (I will not say how long!) Tom has found many a rare bird in the valley and he has graciously agreed to share in more detail some of his finds over the years.  Thankfully Tom has also agreed to let me share them on here so others can enjoy the stories too.  I will begin with a review of a Burrowing Owl found in the East Meadows in Northampton on May 4, 1982.  Here is the recollection from Tom:
Ed Cotton (owner and founder of Cotton Tree Service) of Northampton and George and Helen Champoux of Holyoke and I had been over in Hadley looking for shore birds and decided to check out some of the low spots in the Northampton East Meadows. I was leading the way, just south of the Four Corners in the East Meadows when George tooted his horn at me. I stopped the car and jumped out and he yelled to me that I had just flushed a Short-eared Owl, (it flew BEHIND my car) and pointed to where it landed. I put my glasses up and screamed "BURROWING OWL!" We saw the bird fly four times, each time landing in a small, thick bunch of grass. (cover crop-rye or something like that). One time it landed where we could see it and put the scope on it. Very exciting.
Of course we all knew how RARE this find was and wanted to share it with as many as possible. We decided that George and Helen would meet people at 5:00 P.M. at the Four Corners of the East Meadows. We all went home and called everyone we knew. Everyone was instructed NOT to go looking for the owl until everyone was there at 5. (I really think there was better communication back then and no cell phones or computers were heard of) TO THIS DAY, I REGRET making the decision of going into work instead of calling in sick. They all told me the next day that at 5:00 P.M. there were about 50 cars all in the meadows and THEY GOT THE BIRD. I believe Scott Surner was there and I am sure he can tell you more details. I went back the next day and there were more people there looking for the bird but, it was never seen again.   
My journal entry for the next day reads, Northampton East Meadows: Water Pipits, 1 Upland Plover and one singing male Loggerhead Shrike trying to build a nest. Shrike still there on the 7th of May.
To my knowledge, this is still the ONLY WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS RECORD of a Burrowing Owl.
A truly amazing discovery that indeed has not been repeated since in western Massachusetts.  There are several other state records but all from the east and mainly at the coast.  I found Tom's mention of his journal entry for the next day also quite interesting in that he had an Upland Sandpiper as well as a singing male Loggerhead Shrike attempting to nest.

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