Saturday, March 31, 2012

Quabbin Park in the snow

Greater Scaup, Quabbin Park, MA, Mar 31, 2012

Greater Scaup, Quabbin Park, MA, Mar 31, 2012

Greater Scaup, Quabbin Park, MA, Mar 31, 2012

Greater Scaup, Quabbin Park, MA, Mar 31, 2012
With the predictions of a bit of snow I decided I would stay close to home today.  Despite the predictions there was no snow until just after dawn.  Although a far cry from the near summer weather of a week ago it still was not too bad and the only real hassles from the snow were the occasional reduction in visibility and the snow getting on the optics.  I started and ended at Winsor Dam with a quick trip through Quabbin park itself.  First thing in the morning there were 16 Black Ducks, a Common Loon plus a single male Bufflehead and a pair each of Common and Hooded Mergansers as far as waterfowl goes at the dam plus the first of what would turn out to be at least ten calling Pine Warblers for the day.  The route 9 marsh was productive once again with ten Wood Ducks, a couple Hooded Mergansers and mallards and Canada Geese.  In addition the beavers were quite active and continue to add to one of the larger beaver lodges I have ever come across.  Quabbin Park itself produced my first of year Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, several Eastern Phoebes and a immature Bald Eagle feeding on a large fish while two crows looked on.  My return to Winsor Dam found a new selection of waterfowl present and an uptick in the amount of snow and sleet.  I found a Common Goldeneye female and then a scaup species that was initially on the water and then took off and flew past me a few times.  It turned out to be a Greater Scaup or so it would appear.  The overall structure and the coloration points to that ID but the best looks I got of it were in flight so I'm open to other suggestions.  The other birds of note here were a couple of Horned Grebes.  The birds were in an odd transitional plumage that I do not typically get to see here.  One of the birds was a bit odd and had me thinking it may be something besides a Horned Grebe but in the end they both appear to be Horned Grebes.  Again I'm open to others thoughts on the grebes.  The snow, light and distance made it tough to get good looks as well as good photos.  The grebe photos are below.
Horned Grebes, Quabbin Park, MA, Mar 31, 2012

Horned Grebes, Quabbin Park, MA, Mar 31, 2012

Horned Grebes, Quabbin Park, MA, Mar 31, 2012

Horned Grebes, Quabbin Park, MA, Mar 31, 2012

Friday, March 30, 2012

Amherst to Turners Falls and back

Song Sparrow singing at dawn, rail trial, Amherst, MA, Mar 30, 2012

Wood Duck, rail trial, Amherst, MA, Mar 30, 2012
I spent the morning travelling from Amherst/Hadley up through Hatfield to Turners Falls and back down through Amherst.  I began at dawn on the rail trail in Amherst beginning at Station Road and going up to Hop Brook and back.  The morning started off quite cool with a slight breeze.  The best bird was a Sora that whinnied once.  Oddly in the same area was a Starling that gave a perfect imitation of the short Sora call.  I believe the actual Sora used this call once in response to the Starling...very unusual to witness!  You don't need to use playback, you just need a starling with you!  I next travelled over to Hadley Cove and had a total of 33 Green-winged Teal here plus several Wood Ducks and a few mallards.

Rusty Blackbird, Great Pond, Hatfield, MA, Mar 30, 2012

I then crossed the river and headed up to Great Pond in Hatfield. There was little in the way of waterfowl here (a pair each of Green-winged Teal and Wood Ducks). There were however some good birds around. One of the first birds I saw was a Yellow-rumped Warbler (the third warbler species for the month of March). Once down at the pond I started hearing Rusty Blackbirds and had a few fairly close for a short time before they flew across the pond. There were at least sixteen rusties here and almost certainly more as they moved around quite a bit and the bad light made it tough to view some areas. Glad to see there are still some around. 

I then headed north up to Turner's Falls to check Barton's Cove and the power canal.  When I arrived on the Gill side I ran into James Smith.  There was a pair of Ring-necked Ducks, a few Mallards, a couple Mute and 80+ Canada Geese including a neck tagged individual.  It was too far away to see well from the Gill side so I headed over the bridge.  The goose had a red neck tag with white writing with the code "F5C4" plus a federal leg tag I was unable to read.  I reported the bird to the federal banding website  and will update when and if I get info back.  There was also a leg banded goose in the group that I could read partially.  The numbers on the aluminum band on that individual was "1078" but that was all I could see...not enough to report. 

A quick stop at the power canal produced little waterfowl but did find 49 Tree Swallows feeding low over the water.

Other brief stops on my way south produced little of note.  There were oddly no groups of geese found in any of the fields I passed during my entire morning.  I assume a large number of the geese have already moved north.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Hurricane Irene and swifts -with a look at the possibility of displacement of Caribbean Black Swifts

As the upcoming report of the Massachusetts Avian records Committee (MARC) should be coming out in a month or so I thought I would delve into greater detail on one of the reports I submitted this year.  I will review my other submissions after the latest report comes out but wanted to take this time before the report is issued to look at my report of a large swift species seen following Hurricane Irene.  I will look at the various reports of large swift species seen during and after Irene as well as a few other reports related to other storms.  I will look at the possibility of these large swift species being the Caribbean subspecies of Black Swift (Cypseloides niger niger). 
I submitted my report to MARC as a large swift species which was seen on August 29, a day after the passage of Irene.  I cannot say with certainty what species of swift it was beyond it was not a Chimney Swift and given the hurricane and other reports of large swift species it is possible (perhaps probable) it was a Black Swift from the Caribbean population that was displaced by Irene.  The eBird Hurricane Irene wrap up summed up these swift reports nicely:
·         A large swift, now believed to be Black Swift (very likely of the Caribbean population, which may represent a species distinct from western North American ones), was seen and photographed at Cape May. Most agree it was not a European Apus swift (e.g., Common Swift), so whatever it is, it will represent a new record for the East Coast (the nearest Black Swift is from Point Pelee, ON). See Tony Leukering's report.
·         Large swifts or suspected large swifts were reported from three other locations, but not conclusively documented. These were seen off Manhattan 28 Aug; at Charleston, SC, 30 Aug (two birds); and in western Massachusetts, moving south with nighthawks (!), on 29 Aug. It seems possible, if not likely, that a decent number of Caribbean Black Swifts were displaced by this storm!

A bit of additional information regarding the possibility of Black Swifts of the Caribbean subspecies being displaced by Irene is in order at this time.  As mentioned in the eBird wrap up of the storm there was a minimum of four separate locations that reported either a possible Black Swift or a large swift species with only one of those documented with photographs (an additional sighting following TS Lee is included also).   The locations and dates of sightings followed the path of the storm and will be detailed here. 

Aug 28                Cape May, NJ                1
Aug 28                Manhattan, NY               1
Aug 29                Belchertown, MA            1
Aug 30                Charleston, SC               2
Using eBird I researched these sightings more in depth and found the following information.  As far as the Cape May sighting is concerned here is the eBird list report submitted by several people viewing in Cape May, NJ (specifically Cape Island-Sunset Beach).  The report from eBird shows the following observers present including David La Puma, Glen Davis, Louise Zemaitis, Michael Fritz, Michael O'Brien, Samuel Paul Galick, Tom Johnson, Tony Leukering.  Here is the eBird report of the sighting of this individual:
large swift sp.
Pix at; Around 2:24 pm, I was standing in the parking lot in front of the Sunset Grille when I noticed a dark, long- and narrow-winged bird north of the gift shop across the parking lot from the Grille that I first thought was a small falcon. However, I quickly realized that it was a SWIFT. Wow, a two-swift day! I turned and shouted for everyone to "GET ON THIS BIRD!" This big, apparently-all-dark swift with very long wings that were pinched in at the base, an attenuated rear end, and a flaring and notched tail exhibited wing beats that were quite slow and deep for a swift as it was drifted north away from us by the wind. Our collective opinion was that the bird was probably either a White-collared Swift (Streptoprocne zonaris) or a member of one of the species of Old World swift in the genus Apus. Alpine Swift (Apus melba) has occurred on Bermuda, so that was in the mix, but that species sports a bright white throat and belly. Though none of us had experience with Old World swifts, most Apus have more-deeply notched tails than exhibited by the Sunset Beach swift. Those of us with Middle American experience all considered that the bird was not inconsistent with an identification of White-collared Swift, a species with a few ABA-area records, including one from the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Tom Johnson obtained a number of semi-reasonable pictures of the bird that we have sent off to various experts for their thoughts. The pictures prove that the bird was not an adult White-collared Swift, but the white on juveniles is restricted to the nape. Personally, until I hear otherwise, I consider the bird to most likely be referable to White-collared Swift. Should that ID be correct and should the New Jersey Bird Records Committee accept the record, it would be a first for the state and for the northeastern United States. ADDENDUM: various reviewers (including Steve Howell, Marshall Iliff, and Brian Sullivan all question the tentative ID and, though none are willing to ID specifically, question whether Black Swift is ruled out by pix.

The only photographs of any of these large swift species were taken by Tom Johnson at Cape May and can be found at the following link. 
The second sighting was from Charleston, SC (specifically Eastwood, James Island on the south side of Charleston Harbor).  There were two large swift species noted from that location in the company of Chimney Swifts.  Here is the eBird report of that sighting submitted by Dennis Forsythe:
large swift sp.
At Sunrise Park at harbor.2 all dark, large swifts with Chimney Swift, much larger than
Chimney Swifts, "cigar butt" shape, and a uniform all black, flew NW with Chimney Swifts out of sight.. Wings did a slight flutter when flapping. Viewed for less than 1 min with 10.5x40 bino in good light.Thanks for the reply. After reviewing my notes and memory, I would feel more comfortable with changing the sighting to "large swift sp" The birds were seen about 8AM EDT, with good light. While the color was a uniform black seen as they flew left with the sun to the right, I only saw the front for a split second and had more time ca. 30sec look after the birds flew past and had the best views when they were flying away. I did not notice a white color but I only had a brief view so I could have missed that. The birds seems a uniform black on top and bottom w/o any noticeable color differences. And I did not notice any fork in the tail as it was closed the whole time. They flew "purposefully" away from me with shallow strokes and a slight "flutter" in the outer 1/3 of the wings once or twice.with sickle shaped all dark wings. I am not confident to add any additional details w/o additional notes or memories of the sighting. Let me know what to do with these sighting. I think these were Caribbean race Black Swifts cf. Cape May, NJ record during Hurricane Irene.

The sighting from Manhattan I could not find further information on at this point.
The final sighting of a large swift species either during or immediately after Irene comes from myself and occurred at Herman Covey WMA in Belchertown, MA.  Here is my eBird report of the sighting:
large swift sp.
I was standing at the edge of a marsh area and had a group of Common Nighthawks moving from north to south at 9:40am. I would estimate them at a few hundred feet. After snapping a few photos of the lead birds I put the camera down and noticed three more birds appear. Two were nighthawks but the other immediately struck me as odd. It had the typical swift shape but the bird was quite bulky and I would estimate the size as about 1/2 to 2/3 that of the nighthawks. The tail was longer than a Chimney Swift and the wings were much bulkier. I got no color beyond dark overall. The wing beats to me were slower than a Chimney Swift and then it was in a glide as it went over top of me. The bird was in view for only a few seconds and then it disappeared behind trees. It did fly directly overhead of me. I was unable to get the camera up quick enough. I hobbled out to a more open area beyond the tree line but I could not relocate it. I really do not know what to make of the bird beyond it being a different swift. I looked for the bird for the rest of my time there but had no luck.

I have included my submitted report to MARC regarding this bird.  As I have had no prior experience with Black Swifts I cannot say for sure that was the species and I felt uneasy at the time as submitting it as anything other than a large swift species.  As I have stated previously I can be 100% certain the bird I saw was not a Chimney Swift and was not a swift species I was familiar with.   Following the submission of my report I was able to view White-collared Swifts in Costa Rica and the swift I saw was smaller than these swifts but certainly different in size and behavior to a Chimney Swift.  Here is my report submitted to MARC.

Rare Bird Report

Species:  Large swift species                                        Sex: unknown                                                   Age: unknown

Date of initial sighting: 9/1/2011

Time of initial sighting: 9:40am                                               

Date and Time of additional sightings:  N/A

Location: Herman Covey WMA, Belchertown, MA

Discovery info:  Bird seen flying with Common Nighthawks

Other observers: None

Complete narrative: 

I was standing at the edge of a marsh area and had a group of Common Nighthawks moving from north to south at 9:40am. I would estimate them at a few hundred feet. After snapping a few photos of the lead birds I put the camera down and noticed three more birds appear. Two were nighthawks but the other immediately struck me as odd. It had typical swift shape but the bird was quite bulky and I would estimate the size as about 1/2 to 2/3 that of the nighthawks. The tail was somewhat broad and was neither forked nor tapered. The tail did seem to me to be a little longer than Chimney Swifts would be in relation to the body. The wings were bulkier and the bird overall was just more solid looking. I got no color beyond dark overall. The wing beats were slower than a Chimney Swift and did not seem as deep.  The bird was in a glide as it went over top of me. The bird was in view for only a few seconds (approx 5 seconds) and then it disappeared behind trees.  I was unable to get the camera up quick enough to get a photo. I moved about 75 feet to a more open area beyond the tree line but I was unable to relocate it.  I continued to look for the bird following the initial sighting but had no luck.  I believe Black Swift comes the closest to matching the bird I was but I cannot say for certain.  Given the hurricane that had moved through on Aug 28 the possibilities are many.

Nearby species: It was moving with a group of Common Nighthawks as well as at least one Chimney Swift.  There were also Tree Swallows in the general area.

Vocalizations: None

Habitat and behavior:  seen over marshy area moving north to south moving with Common Nighthawks.

Other species considered and reasons for eliminating them:

As I’m not sure what the bird was I cannot eliminate several possible species.  I considered several swift species such as White collared Swift but the tail was not right and the color was dark overall.    Common Swift also does not match the bird in overall shape.  Black Swift is certainly a good candidate as it matches several attributes of my bird but I cannot be certain.

I wish I would have gotten a longer look at the swift I saw and managed a photo but it all happened so fast and I was unable to get any photos.  It will likely be one of the best birds I ever came across while birding in western Massachusetts that I was unable to conclusively identify. 
A further report of large swift species around the time of Irene comes from Derek Aldrich at Reedy River Falls Park, Greenville County, SC on September 7, 2011 following the passage of the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee. Here is Derek Aldrich’s eBird report:

large swift sp.
Seen during the remnants of Lee passing through. Both were larger than the nearby swifts with similar structure. I had no binoculars or camera and they were gone back in the clouds not to be seen again. The first thing to stick out was their size.

2011 hurricane season tracks (Lee-yellow and Irene-red)
I have included a map of the course taken by Lee as well as tropical storms for a few weeks previous that may have had an impact on the sightings of the large swift species.  The course of Lee does not lend itself to displacement of Black Swifts from the Caribbean.  However given the proximity in dates of Irene and Lee perhaps the large swift species seen here were indeed holdovers from Irene displacement and only discovered by coincidence after the passage of the remnants of Lee.  Again determining the exact species of this large swift species is difficult if not impossible at this point but there is at least a strong possibility that these two birds could also have been Black Swifts.
Black Swift is noted as a common breeder on various islands in the northern Caribbean including several islands that were impacted by Irene.  As this species is noted as highly aerial and migratory they are certainly a species that could be displaced by a strong hurricane and seems likely that at least several large swifts, likely Black Swifts, were displaced by Irene.  According to the typical departure dates for Black Swifts from Puerto Rico is between August 16-September 5 which would correspond with the dates of Irene and would lend to the maximum number of available birds available for displacement as it right at the end of breeding season. The question now becomes can the specific species be determined to any great confidence?  There are several other large swift species that could be possible but Black Swift seems the most likely candidate. 

Hurricane Irene track with strength

Although there are few hurricanes/tropical storms that have taken the exact route of Irene and impacted the east coast as heavily, there have been many storms taking the same route as Irene in the Caribbean and then impacting further south then Irene did but where there are other documented reports of large dark swifts.  As I searched through the other bird records committee’s of the various states with reports of large dark swifts following other hurricanes the following info came to light.
There are at least two more state reports of large swift species in Massachusetts with one seen following the passage of Hurricane Bertha.  As mentioned in the post below there is also a report from Florida (Dry Tortugas) of a sighting in the eye of a hurricane of several large swift species that may also have been Caribbean Black Swifts.  The hurricane in Florida that led to this sighting was Hurricane Inez that formed in late September and tracked through Greater Antilles then south of Puerto Rico through the southern side of Haiti, then Cuba and finally Florida.   The storm passed over the Dry Tortugas in early October.  Below is the route map of Hurricane Inez.
Hurricane Inez route map

Here is the report from “Field Notes” from 1996 relating to the swift species seen in Massachusetts related to Hurricane Bertha.
Field Notes, Winter 1996, Vol 50, Number 5 by Wayne R Petersen

The  most unusual and problematic report of the season was of a large, dark, forked-tailed swift seen and photographed at Cape Pogue, C Chappaquiddick I., M.V., July 14 (G.Daniels, A. Keith, V. Laux, P. Nden et al.). Discovered the morning after the passage of hurricane Bertha, a storm whose track included the Greater Antilles, the bird apparently showed many of the characteristics of a Black Swift, a polytypic Cypseloide species that maintains a Caribbean subspecies (C. n. niger}.  Based upon body and wing shape, tail configuration, an apparently dark throat, and at least one observer's impression of white frosting on the forehead, some observers were convinced that the swift could only be a Black Swift, most probably of Caribbean origin. Perhaps not surprisingly a 1966 sight report of several large, dark swifts seen in the eye of a hurricane over Florida's Dry Tortugas was also thought to pertain to C. n. niger (Robertson & Woolfenden1, 992, Florida Bird Species).  Observers  watching the Massachusetts swift later the same day, however failed to note white about the forehead and lores and had the impression that the bird's shape, proportions and behavior were more like those of a swift in the genus Apus, possibly A . apus,  the wide-ranging Com.Swift of the Old World, for which there is an accepted Alaskan vagrant record and a questionable sight record from Barbados (A.O.U. Checklist, 1983). Based upon the difficulty of distinguishing certain large swift species, especially in this case the Caribbean race of the Black Swift, as well as the disparity in the impressions of the various experienced observers who saw the M.V. bird, at the moment the report is most conservatively categorized as "a large swift, almost certainly belonging to the genus Cypseloides or Apus" Detailed original notes and photos of the swift are being circulated among a number of authorities, whose collective knowledge will hopefully shed further light on the correct identification of this remarkable vagrant. In any event, the M.A.R.C. really has its work cut out on this one!

The MARC has reviewed the above report on a few occasions with the first review in report #4 (Feb 2000).  The report was accepted as follows:
Large, fork-tailed swift, #96-21, Chappaquiddick Is. (Dukes), 14 July, 1996 (A. Keith, G. Daniels, et al), This intriguing bird was seen by a number of experienced birders, yet there was no consensus as to species. The original observers identified it as a Black Swift (Cypseloides niger) of the West Indian subspecies, but later observers believed it to be an apus swift, most probably Common Swift (Apus apus). Photos were taken, but the Committee felt there was not enough resolution in the photographs to make a clear identification. This record remains frustrating, since whatever species was involved, it was clearly new to Massachusetts
The MARC reviewed the same report in a subsequent report and made the following observations:
Apus species, #96-21R, July 14, 1996, Chappaquiddick (Dukes), resubmitted by W. Petersen. (Third ballot. 8-1). This controversial record involved a large swift seen and photographed at the lighthouse on Chappaquiddick Island in the wake of Hurricane Bertha. The bird was originally accepted as a “Large, fork-tailed swift species” (see Report Four), but further analysis of the photographs revealed a tail shape that eight Committee members believed could only be that of an Apus swift. Common Swift (Apus apus) has been recorded from St. Pierre et Miquelon and quite likely was represented by this record; however, the Committee could not rule out Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus).

In the end the report from July 1996 will likely never be conclusively identified beyond a large species of swift. 
Here is the route map for Hurricane Bertha:
Hurricane Bertha route map
The tracks of Hurricane Inez (category 4), Bertha (category 3) and Irene (category 3) were all very similar in that they tracked through the breeding area of Black Swifts and likely displaced these birds.  I have included tracks of these three hurricanes for comparison.  All three of these hurricanes were major hurricanes with Inez reaching category 4 status and Bertha and Irene both peaking at category 3 storms.   Typically displacement of birds occurs more readily with more severe storms and all three of these storms reached ‘major’ hurricane status (category 3 or above).  Although these three storms all produced reports of large swift species there are other storms with similar tracks that did not produce reports of unidentified swifts…why?  There are probably a variety of reasons.  Some of the storms on similar tracks were even more powerful and created such devastation birders were not able to get out to the same degree as in less destructive storms.  There are more birders out and about looking before, during and after storms than ever before and they are more connected now with cell phones, internet, etc.  Perhaps some of these swift reports were overlooked as identification of various swift species can be quite difficult even under adequate viewing conditions.

There certainly is a history of swifts being blown off course by hurricanes.  One great (but sad) example can be found at the following link:  , and  The text is French but the photos speak volumes.  The photos certainly illustrate the potential for swifts to be displaced by hurricanes.  The article mentions the arrival of hundreds of Chimney Swifts blown to the isles of Saint-Pierre et Miquelon off the Canadian coast as well as to Nova Scotia and other areas of Canada following Hurricane Wilma in late October and November of 2005.  The storm formed in the Gulf of Mexico travelled across Florida and then off the east coast before landfall in Canada.  These swifts were likely transported a long distance by Wilma before being dumped out by the storm along the Atlantic provinces of Canada.

Given all this information can an accurate conclusion be reached regarding these birds?  Perhaps but we cannot be certain of the exact species of these various sightings.  Swifts can be difficult birds to identify even in good light and if you have time to study them but many of these sightings occurred in less than ideal conditions and were short in duration.  The circumstantial evidence is certainly there pointing toward the identification of these swifts being Black Swift of the Caribbean subspecies.  It will be interesting to see how the various state bird record committees handle these reports.  Certainly better photographic documentation would help but in the latest storm only a handful of photo were obtained of one of the birds so the committees will have to rely on the written description of the birds in question.  I would certainly love to have one of the only records of Black Swifts in the eastern US but I’m not entirely certain we will ever be able to determine the exact id of the bird with any true confidence. 

If anyone has any comments, questions, additional information or other observations please feel free to leave it below.
I would like to thank the creators of eBird for providing the ability to research these various reports.  I would also like to acknowledge the information I found on the MARC website, the SORA website, Weather Underground website, The Weather Channel website, and other sources mentioned within the article.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Long-tailed Duck at Quabbin

Quabbin in the morning, a screen grab from the quabbin cam about 30 minutes after I left but before the winds kicked up, Mar 26, 2012

I stopped briefly this morning at Winsor Dam to see if there was any waterfowl on the reservoir and I was rewarded with a adult male Long-tailed Duck.  This species is a bit unusual inland in spring and is a little earlier than normal.  I attempted a few digiscoped shots with my phone but the distance was just too much to get much out of the photos...the light fog and the low megapixels of the camera didn't help either.  I saw a report of a handful of other Long-tailed Ducks on a lake in Worcester so there certainly were a few of this species migrating through.  The day started calm but quickly turned windy and cooler with temperatures around 50 with 30+ MPH winds.  The above image taken from the quabbin reservoir cam shows the early morning glass like conditions before the winds kicked from about 30 minutes after I was there and the fog had lifted a bit.  I include one of my 'photos' below of the you can see the image is just too far to make any could just as easily be a loon or a rock or a log or the Loch Ness Monster but it was indeed a Long-tailed Duck.  Hopefully the next ones will be a little closer and I'll have my good camera with me!

This is actually a Long-tailed Duck, believe it or not!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Eurasian Green-winged Teal and American Coot at Fannie Stebbins

Eurasian Green-winged Teal, Fannie Stebbins, Longmeadow, MA, Mar 25, 2012

Eurasian Green-winged Teal, Fannie Stebbins, Longmeadow, MA, Mar 25, 2012

Eurasian Green-winged Teal, Fannie Stebbins, Longmeadow, MA, Mar 25, 2012

American Coot, Fannie Stebbins, Longmeadow, MA, Mar 25, 2012

Although the forecast called for rain during the morning the weather was just overcast and a bit cool with temperatures in the 40's.  Given the better than predicted conditions I decided to try my luck trying to find the previously reported Eurasian Green-winged Teal and American Coot seen at Fannie Stebbins reserve in Longmeadow, MA.  I stopped briefly at Quabbin at dawn but had nothing beyond the usual.  I then made the trip down to Fannie Stebbins and immediately ran across the male Eurasian Green-winged Teal in with a dozen American Green-winged Teal.  The bird was a bit distant but I managed to get a few photos for identification purposes.  The bird was in the most southern pool right off Bark Haul Road.  I looked for the American Coot in the same pool but it instead was deep in the vegetation in the next pool to the north.  There were also a dozen Wilson's Snipe in the same area.  Besides the teal and coot there were Wood, Black and Ring-necked Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Mallard, Mute Swans, Canada Geese rounding out the waterfowl here.  Despite the overcast and cool conditions there was quite a bit of activity and I had great luck finding the birds I was after.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

More new (and early) arrivals-Chipping Sparrow, Ruddy Ducks, Palm Warbler and more

Common Goldeneyes, Quabbin Park, MA, Mar 24, 2012
Yesterday concluded our week long string of days with record setting temperatures with highs reaching the mid70’s to lower 80’s with lots of sun.  Today was a bit cooler with the high reaching (which is still well above normal).  The early arrival of several species including Eastern Phoebes, Tree Swallows, Pine Warblers and Song Sparrows were much in evidence.  Some great visual representations of the arrival of these species (and others) can be found on eBird at the following link:

Common Goldeneyes, Quabbin Park, MA, Mar 24, 2012

Common Goldeneyes, Quabbin Park, MA, Mar 24, 2012

Common Goldeneyes, Quabbin Park, MA, Mar 24, 2012
As I had some luck with waterfowl yesterday around dawn at Winsor Dam before I headed to work I decided to head over there again today.  I started predawn at the Route 9 marsh and had a pair of Great Horned Owls.  I then headed over to Winsor Dam.  There was not as much waterfowl on the water as yesterday here but I did find a pair of Bufflehead, a few Black Ducks plus a few Common Mergansers.  I then headed through Quabbin Park and had several singing Pine Warblers plus an early Chipping Sparrow.  At Hank's Meadow I had a few more Bufflehead way out along the shore of the Prescott Peninsula.  As I watched them I noticed some movement on the far shore and there was a Moose walking along the shore.  I tried a few photos but the distance was just too great.  The Moose disappeared back into the woods not to be seen again.  When I arrived at Goodnough Dike there were a few Ring-necked Ducks, a Common Loon and three Common Goldeneyes.  I originally sighted these birds from the administration road and then walked into Goodnough to get better looks.  The goldeneyes included an adult female and two 1st year males.  The odd part was variation in plumage of the two males.  I managed a few photos before a person walking the opposite way on the dike caused them to flush.  I got a few more distant flight shots as they left the area.  A stop back at the route 9 marsh on the way out produced several Wood Ducks, a few Hooded Mergansers and the typical Canada Geese and Mallards.
Ruddy Ducks (two of seven), Ludlow Reservoir, Ludlow, MA, Mar 24, 2012

Common Mergansers, Ludlow Reservoir, Ludlow, MA, Mar 24, 2012
I decided to head a bit south to the Ludlow Reservoir to see what that area might hold for waterfowl.  It is a great spot for Ruddy Ducks in the fall so I hoped to get some there in spring too.  I made it out to the open area and got a look out on the water.  A group of 50+ Common Mergansers came into view (oddly only two adult males).  I then spotted a Ruddy Duck and then a few more and then a few more.  A total of seven Ruddy Ducks were on the reservoir this morning and were the first ones of the season I have seen. Again more singing Pine Warblers and Eastern Phoebes here.
After my trips to Quabbin and Ludlow I came home to get Wilson and we headed to Covey WMA.  The clouds rapidly closed in for the day and the activity diminished as midday approached.  The best birds were a singing Winter Wren and more Pine Warblers.

Although I had several great birds today one of the best waited until this evening at home to show itself.   I came across a Palm Warbler here at home. Initially heard as I walked the dog for his evening walk. I had no binoculars or camera with me but I kept hearing the bird chip and it came into a tree perhaps 10 feet away, providing great naked eye looks. It was a male with a continuously pumping tail. It was seen at 6:35 along Jabish Brook and then moved down the stream out of view and I continued with my walk. I then heard it chip a few more times before I headed back to the house to get my camera. Despite much effort I was unable to relocate and get a photo.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The heat continues

Yet another in a long string of unseasonably warm and record setting days.  Before dawn today the temperature was already at 55 with dense fog.  Even this low temperature is 10 degrees higher than the typical high temperature for this time of year.  Yesterday the temperature made it up to 78 and today made it to 80. The prediction is for tomorrow to be the warmest with temperatures reaching the mid 80’s.
I decided to take advantage of the great weather and I took a few hours of comp time today and came home early.  Wilson and I went for a long walk at Covey WMA.  Nothing too unusual for the day just
the usual suspects were around including a number of Eastern Phoebes, Tree Swallows, and a few pairs of Eastern Bluebirds staking out nest boxes.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Quabbin Park, rail trail and home

Eastern Phoebe, Rail Trail-Amherst, MA, Mar 19, 2012

Ring-necked Ducks, Quabbin Park, Mar 19, 2012
I intended to look for waterfowl first thing this morning but the dense fog of the last few days struck again.  I did manage a little birding at the Route 9 marsh and had the largest group yet of Ring-necked Ducks there (22) as well as Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Mallards and Canada Geese including the tagged individual first seen there in February (E878).  I added a flyby Tree Swallow and a pair of Belted Kingfishers chasing each other at Quabbin Park but the fog was tough to get through. 

Mallard in fog, Rail Trail-Amherst, MA, Mar 19, 2012

Downy Woodpecker, Rail Trail-Amherst, MA, Mar 19, 2012

Eastern Bluebird excavating nest hole, Rail Trail-Amherst, MA, Mar 19, 2012

Hermit Thrush, Rail Trail-Amherst, MA, Mar 19, 2012
I decided to try my luck in the Hadley/Amherst area.  The fog was only worse there and none of the fields or coves could be seen due to the fog.  I headed up toward UMASS and the fog lifted a bit, at least enough to check the pond there.  Little activity beyond the usual 'stuff' there.  I then decided to try the rail trail from Station Road.  The fog was not nearly as thick over there and it lifted after about 20 minutes there.  Lots of Tree Swallows, Northern Flickers and Eastern Phoebes around.  A pair of Eastern Bluebirds were busy excavating out a nest hole in an old stump, a White-throated Sparrow called a few times and Song Sparrows were everywhere.  There was a single Hermit Thrush near the Hop Brook bridge as well as at least two Eastern Meadowlarks singing.  I next headed back home to get Wilson and we headed over for a long walk at the Covey WMA.  Again lots of Tree Swallows and Eastern Phoebes around but the best bird there was a singing Pine Warbler.  The earliest date I have had them back here ever, beating my old record of April 1 in 2006.  A normal year finds the first one arriving the first week of April.  I also had two Winter Wrens with one singing a full song several times.
Turkey Vulture, Home-Belchertown, MA, Mar 19, 2012

Red-tailed Hawk, Home-Belchertown, MA, Mar 19, 2012

Common Raven, Home-Belchertown, MA, Mar 19, 2012
I spent the afternoon at home working outside and checking the birds coming overhead which included several Red-tailed Hawks, a few Turkey Vultures, a Sharpshinned Hawk and a pair of Cooper's Hawks doing their courtship flight over the house...very impressive to see as always.  Other birds of note around the yard included a Common Raven, at least two Eastern Phoebes and a couple Belted Kingfishers.  Also had my first Mourning Cloak butterfly of the season in the yard.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Saturday and Sunday

Ring-necked Ducks, Quabbin Park, MA, Mar 17, 2012

Ring-necked Ducks, Quabbin Park, MA, Mar 17, 2012
Yet another warm weekend in March found me exploring around various spots of Quabbin and the valley. On Saturday I started at Winsor Dam and then moved through Quabbin Park.  Just as dawn broke I ran across the first of two pairs of Great Horned Owls calling back and forth.  The first pair were near the Route 9 marsh and the other pair on the opposite side of Quabbin park.  In addition pre dawn I had at least two American Woodcocks displaying at Winsor Dam.
Common Goldeneye pair,  Quabbin Park, MA, Mar 17, 2012

Common Goldeneye pair with Wood Duck pair, Quabbin Park, MA, Mar 17, 2012
There was a bit of waterfowl around on Saturday with a noticeable increase in numbers and variety but still not overwhelming.  There were Common and Hooded Mergansers, Ring-necked Ducks, Wood Ducks, Common Goldeneye, Mallards and Canada Geese.  The viewing was great as several birds were close in at the route 9 marsh as well as fairly close at Winsor Dam.  Even the birds fairly far out could be seen quite well as the water was calm with no winds.  Other notable sightings from Quabbin included at least 3 Fox Sparrows including one singing and a few phoebes.

A walk down to the water from Gate 5 was quite productive with a pair of Barred Owls calling back and forth as well as a couple of Ruffed Grouse.  On the water there were several Common Mergansers as well as several Mallads.

After my trip to Quabbin I went home and picked up Wilson to go on a walk along the Jabish Canal in the hopes of finding some other good stuff.  I hoped for Rusty Blackbirds in a large wooded swamp along the canal and I got what I wanted.  At least four Rusty Blackbirds with three adult males.  They called the entire time I was there.  Lots of bird song today from Song Sparrows, American Robins, Brown Creepers and many others.  It is beginning to feel like spring. 

At home I had my first Eastern Phoebe at home as well as an Eastern Bluebird that will hopefully be enticed to stay and use one of my nest boxes.

Common Grackle flock (with a few Red-winged Blackbirds), Quabbin Park, MA, Mar 18, 2012

Common Grackle flock (with a few Red-winged Blackbirds), Quabbin Park, MA, Mar 18, 2012

Common Grackle flock (with a few Red-winged Blackbirds), Quabbin Park, MA, Mar 18, 2012
Sunday was yet another very warm and  (eventually) sunny day for the middle of March with temperatures making it up to the low 70's.  I started my day predawn at Covey WMA with temperatures in the mid 30's.  I tried for owls here and found a pair of Great Horned Owls as well as at least five displaying American Woodcocks.  I then headed over to Winsor Dam for dawn and had seven Common Mergansers and a single Common Goldeneye.  At this point there were low clouds but no fog.  I then went to Quabbin Park with a stop at the route 9 marsh first.  There was an enormous flock of grackles and blackbirds numbering at least 1400 with the vast majority Common Grackles.  They made quite a bit of noise as they perched in the surrounding trees and then dropped down to the marsh to feed.  Just after dawn the fog closed in and cut visibility down quite a bit.  In Quabbin Park the thick fog made it very difficult to find any birds on the water.  I did find a group of vocal Rusty Blackbirds near Quabbin Tower.  There were at least a half dozen but probably more.  I also ran across a Winter Wren near Gate 53 as well as several Eastern Phoebes in various locations around the park.   I then headed for home to get ready for a trip down to southern Connecticut for the day.  Although not a birding trip I still managed a few birds down there inlcuding a state bird for me...a Red-shouldered Hawk.  The rest of the week here is suppose to still be warm in the 70's with southerly winds on a few nights.  Perhaps some good stuff will come in on these winds?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Info on tagged goose and eggs in a nest box

Canada Goose (E878), Rt 9 marsh, Quabbin, March 12, 2012

I found a tagged Canada Goose at the Route 9 marsh on February 28 and March 12  and forwarded the information to the USGS bird banding site .   The bird had a yellow neck collar with the ID of "E878" written in black letters.  I just got some info back about the bird.  The female was banded in Berlin, Connecticut by the CT Dept. of Environmental Protection on 6/29/2004 and was an adult at that time (born in 2003 or earlier).  It was interesting to see the journey the bird has made so far.

My weekly check of my nest boxes here at home turned up two eggs in one of the wood duck boxes.  I suspect the eggs are Wood Duck eggs as there was a female nearby when I went down to check the boxes.  She should lay several more eggs over the next few days.  I'll check it next week and see what progress she has made.  Very happy to see the boxes being productive.  No other activity in the other boxes yet but stay tuned.  I'll try to get a few photos when I check them next week.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Purple Finch at home

I had my first Purple Finch of the entire winter today at home in the evening as I came home from work.  It was a male singing...a nice sound to start what will be a weekend of no work and warm temperatures.  The forecast for the next several days shows sun, temperatures in the upper 60's to upper 70's with overnight lows in the mid 40's....truly impressive when you consider the typical high temperature this time of year is the mid 40's.  It will be interesting to see what migrants get pushed up here with these warm southerly winds.