Monday, February 25, 2013

Various stops in the valley

Common Mergansers, Quabbin Park, Feb 25, 2013
I tried for the Gyrfalcon this morning but had no luck.  Several other birders present were also unsuccessful in their search.

After my unsuccessful bid to find the Gyrfalcon I headed to the East Meadows to try to catch up with some of the Lapland Longspurs that have been seen there in the company of Horned Larks and Snow Buntings down near the red barn.  I had a few flyover Horned Larks but no big groups.  On my way out I stopped along the road near the airport when I noticed a group of sparrows.  I believe this is the same group that Jacob Drucker had a White crowned Sparrow in but I could not find one (although I thought I heard a chip that sounded like a White crowned Sparrow a few times but the road noise was terrible).  I did have singing Song Sparrows and at least 21 Savannah Sparrows.

I then headed over the river to the Coolidge Bridge, Aqua Vitae Road, the Honey Pot, North Lane, and eventually South Maple Street.  The Vesper and Clay colored Sparrow were in their typical spots.  Not many other highlights at these locations.

In the afternoon I headed over to Quabbin and found the area fairly quiet with the only waterfowl around a few Common Mergansers.

Hooded Merganser chicks in nest box last year, April 30, 2012
Hooded Merganser egg in nest box last year, April 30, 2012
Later in the afternoon I spent some time cleaning up and preparing the three wood duck boxes I have here at home.  I put them up last year and had one box that hosted a successful brood of Hooded Mergansers.  Hopefully this year will be even more productive. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Quabbin Park

Barred Owl, Quabbin Park, Feb 23, 2013
Barred Owl, Quabbin Park, Feb 23, 2013

Barred Owl, Quabbin Park, Feb 23, 2013

Common Goldeneye, Quabbin Park, Feb 23, 2013 (a little imagination is likely needed!)

Common Loon, Quabbin Park, Feb 23, 2013

Common Loon, Quabbin Park, Feb 23, 2013
Barred Owl, Quabbin Park, Feb 23, 2013
I decided to stick close to home today as I was unsure when the snow would actually begin and I wanted to stay somewhat close to home plus I wanted to hit areas without crowds.  I started off at dawn at Covey WMA where I had a Winter Wren singing at 6:20...a sure sign of spring!  I then headed over to Quabbin Park where I hit the areas of Goodnough Dike, Hanks Meadow and Winsor Dam.  At Goodnough Dike I had a very interesting looking Common Loon.  It seemed a little smaller than most Common Loons and the neck markings seemed a little off but I could not make it into anything more unusual.  I then headed over to Hanks Meadow where I had a handful of Common Mergansers and a Common Goldeneye in the open water there as well as a flyby Bald Eagle.  One of the best sightings occurred as I walked back to my car and I looked up to see a Barred Owl perched right above me.  I got the scope on him and managed a few full frame shots at 20x magnification.  I couldn't zoom in any further without cutting off part of the body.  The owl eventually flew to a few other nearby perches seemingly oblivious to my presence or the vocal anger coming from a variety of nearby birds.  My final stop was Winsor Dam where I had three Common Loons with one close to shore and two other together way out toward the fishing area.  The Bald Eagle nest continued to be occupied and there were two other eagle elsewhere in the area bringing the total in the park to four.

Common Loon, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, Feb 23, 2013
Common Loon, Quabbin Park, Feb 23, 2013 (tough viewing in drizzle/fog)
Despite the ongoing drizzle and low clouds/fog I decided to return to Quabbin Park in the afternoon to get another look at the odd loon at Goodnough.  The bird was still there but the viewing conditions were less than ideal.  A brief stop at Winsor Dam turned up the continued Common Loon near the dam as well as a few Common Mergansers.  The visibility made it impossible to see if the other loons present earlier far out on the water were still around.  The rest of the afternoon continued to be cool, damp and drizzle filled until the light snow started after 4pm....and then ended a few minutes later.  Hard to believe that the foot plus predictions made over a week ago didn't play out.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A search for rarities in the valley

Clay colored Sparrow, Honeypot, Hadley, MA, Feb 22, 2013
I decided to spend this last day before our next snowpocalypse destroys my ability to get outside for weeks on end by trying to catch up with a few of the overwintering rarities (and hopefully find some new ones).  I had good luck but missed out on a few (including...of course...the Gyrfalcon). 

I started at Quabbin Park at dawn  and had a Horned Grebe at Hanks Meadow.  Other noteworthy birds included at least three Common Ravens and a pair of Bald Eagles with one sitting on nest.  Only other waterfowl around were a handful of Common Mergansers.

Mute Swans and Hooded Mergansers, North Lane Conservation Area, Hadley, MA, Feb 22, 2013

I then headed over toward Hadley where I made a brief stop at the North Lane Conservation Area where I had a few Common and Hooded Mergansers and a couple Mute Swans.
Clay colored Sparrow, Honeypot, Hadley, MA, Feb 22, 2013

Clay colored Sparrow, Honeypot, Hadley, MA, Feb 22, 2013

Savannah Sparrow, Honeypot, Hadley, MA, Feb 22, 2013
American Tree Sparrow, Honeypot, Hadley, MA, Feb 22, 2013
Clay colored Sparrow, Honeypot, Hadley, MA, Feb 22, 2013

I then spent some time at the Honeypot in Hadley and ran across a few pockets of birds including a group of sparrows near the transfer station that included a Clay colored Sparrow, at least seven Savannah Sparrows, a White throated Sparrow, a few Song Sparrows, a dozen American Tree Sparrows and a junco.  Not much else of note in other sections of the Honeypot.

Common Merganser, Coolidge Bridge, Hadley, MA, Feb 22, 2013

I then stopped briefly at the Coolidge Bridge to try to catch up with the Greater Scaup that has been hanging around there.  No luck with the scaup today but did have Common Mergansers as well as hundreds of Canada Geese.

Vesper Sparrow, Aqua Vitae Road, Hadley, MA, Feb 22, 2013
Horned Lark, Aqua Vitae Road, Hadley, MA, Feb 22, 2013
A short ride over to Aqua Vitae Road eventually produced the continuing Vesper Sparrow  near a group of 30+ Horned Larks.  Oddly the only sparrow species here was the Vesper Sparrow.  I managed a couple of photos of the bird before a car came by and flushed the birds.  I returned back to the Honeypot and checked on the Clay colored Sparrow once again and it showed well once again.  A ride down South Maple Street and down East Hadley Road produced more Horned Larks but little else.

After returning home and picking up Wilson we headed over to the Covey WMA with the highlight being a group of 31 Hooded Mergansers together.  A brief stop at Winsor Dam on my way home produced a Common Loon way out  (too far out to photograph).  Overall a very successful day out poking around the area.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Gyrfalcon roost location found

Gyrfalcon, East Hadley Rd, Hadley, MA, Jan 31, 2013 (my only sighting of this elusive bird)
The roosting location of the famed and long staying (but painfully difficult to find...see many, many earlier posts about my struggle) Gyrfalcon has been found.  I cannot and will not divulge the exact location or even a general area beyond stating the following clues:  it is within the state of Massachusetts, there are trees nearby and snow can be seen nearby.  The bird was found a few days ago but the sighting was held back until a plan could be made to insure access for the many birders, while making sure the rare bird does not get stressed and leave the area as well as maintaining good relations with the non birding public (muggles if you will).  A further (and real) threat to the bird comes from a falconer that would attempt to capture the bird...a Gyrfalcon would be a very good prize for the falconer.

 After the details were worked out the word was put out to the birding public.  It may not be a perfect plan but it is a measured plan that will hopefully balance all competing interests.  Those that found the bird, developed the viewing plan and managed the information deserve a hand.  I tried for the bird on a few evenings as well as a morning but have had no luck yet.  This evening at the secret viewing location at least 35 birders gathered to attempt to get a look at the bird.  Always nice to see a large group of like minded individuals freezing their asses off trying to get a glimpse of a bird! 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Covey WMA and various spots along the Connecticut River

Horned Lark, Aqua Vitae Rd, Hadley, MA, Feb 18, 2013
Although today was sunny it was far from warm with temperatures starting off in the low teens and warming into the 20's with a strong wind all day.  I started this President's Day checking out Covey WMA with Wilson.  Not too much in the way of noteworthy sightings here despite covering a lot of distance.  At least we had complete peace and quite because no one else was crazy enough to be outside!

Greater Scaup, Connecticut River, Hadley, MA, Feb 18, 2013
Greater Scaup (L) and Common Merganser (R), Connecticut River, Hadley, MA, Feb 18, 2013
Late in the morning I headed over to the Connecticut River to check a few areas from Northampton south to South Hadley.  I started at the Coolidge Bridge where I caught back up with the male Greater Scaup that is still present.  In addition to the scaup the river had a few Common Mergansers plus around 150 Canada Geese and a few Mallards.

Horned Lark, Aqua Vitae Rd, Hadley, MA, Feb 18, 2013

My next stop was Aqua Vitae Road where I found a flock of around 30 Horned Larks and little else.

Common Merganser, Holyoke Dam, South Hadley, MA, Feb 18, 2013

A few more stops along the river moving south turned up a handful of Mute Swans up above the Holyoke Dam.  Below the dam there was more activity with five Common Goldeneyes, 11 Common Mergansers, a pair of Hooded Mergansers, 62 Mallards and 145 Canada Geese plus all three expected gull species.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Windy and cold

Greater Scaup, Connecticut River near Coolidge Bridge, Northampton, MA, Feb 17, 2013
Common Loon in among the waves at Quabbin, Winsor Dam, Feb 17, 2013
Common Loon, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, Feb 17, 2013
A windy and cold day made being outside a bit tough but at least we were lucky to have missed out on the snow that hit the eastern part of the state with several more inches.  I made a quick swing by Winsor Dam which took on the appearance of the ocean with white caps kicked up by the strong northerly wind.  Despite the less than ideal viewing conditions I still managed to find a Common Loon, a couple Hooded Mergansers and a Common Merganser in among the waves plus a handful of Bald Eagles flying around and a group of 13 Wild Turkeys feeding under the crabapple trees.  I then headed over to Covey WMA to try to get out of the wind.  Highlights here included 18 Hooded Mergansers and a couple more Bald Eagles.  A return trip to Covey WMA late in the morning produced bird #90 for the county this year, a Pine Siskin with a group of American Goldfinches.

In the afternoon I went back out with Ian Davies to check a few areas around the Connecticut River.  We made a quick ride through the honeypot and had 30+ Horned Larks and an American Kestrel.  We then went over to the river near the Coolidge Bridge and found the male Greater Scaup that has been there for a few days (a county bird for Ian).  In addition we found a handful of Common Mergansers, some Mallards and a flock of 800+ Canada Geese well south of the dam including at least one neck tagged individual (18MA -which has been around and was tagged in 2005).  In addition we had some great looks at a pair of Peregrine Falcons flying upriver and chasing the pigeons near the bridge.  The rest of the afternoon didn't turn up anything too noteworthy.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Lots of good stuff today including Northern Shrike and 'Oregon' Junco

Northern Shrike, North Hadley, MA, Feb 16, 2013
Common Loon, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, Feb 16, 2013
Snow Buntings in flight, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, Feb 16, 2013

I spent a good portion of the day birding various areas starting out at Quabbin near dawn. We got a few inches of snow overnight and it continued to snow for the first few hours after dawn. The snow kept Quabbin Park closed initially but it opened up later in the morning once it was plowed. The Winsor Dam area was still accessible and a few different including a Common Loon, a Common Goldeneye, two Ring necked Ducks, several Common Mergansers and 27 Snow Buntings.

Swift River with Hooded Mergansers in distance, Covey WMA, Feb 16, 2013

I then headed for Covey WMA and walked through the freshly fallen snow.   Along the way I found a Winter Wren, a Common Redpoll, 21 Hooded Mergansers and a Barred Owl.  I then made another stop back at Winsor Dam and most of the same birds seen earlier were still present. After almost an hour at the dam I headed home to get Wilson to take for a walk and we returned to Covey WMA. No new birds here this time but a handful of waterfowl were still hanging out in the Swift River. Once I dropped off Wilson I returned back over to Quabbin and headed into the now open Quabbin Park. Although most of the Goodnough Dike area was frozen and about 50% of the water at Hanks Meadow was frozen too a few birds were still to be found including a half dozen Common Mergansers, a Black Duck, two juvenile Bald Eagles, a couple Common Redpolls.

'Oregon' Junco, North Hadley, MA, Feb 16, 2013
'Oregon' Junco, North Hadley, MA, Feb 16, 2013
House Finch killed by Northern Shrike, North Hadley, MA, Feb 16, 2013
Northern Shrike, North Hadley, MA, Feb 16, 2013

Just after midday I met up with Ian Davies and Keenan Yakola to head over to a private residence in Hadley to try to catch up with an 'Oregon' Junco (sub species of Dark eyed Junco normally found in the western US). The homeowner was gracious enough to allow us to attempt to view the bird but did not want the location made public. After almost an hour of waiting the male finally appeared and provided some great looks. This is the first 'Oregon' Junco I have ever seen on the east coast (seen many out west where they are common).  The homeowner had a great set up for feeding and was surprised the birds were so quiet and low in number compared to usual. Only after we were about to leave and were heading back to our cars did we figure out why the birds were skittish. A Northern Shrike was in the front yard and had recently killed a House Finch that was now stuck in a bush outside. The shrike flushed up to a tall tree and sat there allowing some fantastic looks.  The Northern Shrike made species #89 for Hampshire county so far this year.  A big 'thank you' to the homeowner for allowing us to check out the birds there.

I was very happy to take advantage of the nicer weather today as the next two days are forecast to be cold and windy with the chance of a little more snow.


Friday, February 15, 2013

A brief warm up...and some astronomy news

The last few days have seen sunny weather with temperatures climbing into the 40's and approaching 50 today.  The warm up will be short lived and we are forecast to get a few inches of snow tomorrow and the temperatures will continue to drop all weekend with strong winds on Sunday into Monday.  Not sure why the good weather always seems to be on days I'm working and my days off always seem to have cold/snowy/windy weather...a mystery indeed!  At least the days are getting longer and I have started hearing birds in the morning when I take Wilson for a walk before work.  The highlights this week have included a couple of Winter Wrens and a Great Horned Owl.

Today was also a big day in the world of astronomy, especially as far as asteroids and meteors are concerned.  The morning found a meteor explode in the air over Russia with over 1000 people injured (mostly by falling glass after lots of windows scattered).  Links to various videos and photos can be found here:
In addition an asteroid half the size of a football field made a very close pass by earth later in the day passing just over 17,000 miles away.  A very close call and one of the closest approaches of an asteroid of that size in quite some time.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Winsor Dam after the snow storm

Common Mergansers, Winsor Dam, Feb 10, 2013
Winsor Dam area at dawn, Feb 10, 2013
Common Merganser, Winsor Dam, Feb 10, 2013
Common Mergansers, Winsor Dam, Feb 10, 2013
After spending Friday evening and all day yesterday at home due to the snow I was ready to get out to Quabbin so I headed over to Winsor Dam near dawn.  It was a very cold morning with the temperature starting off at a very chilly -1.  The water had a skim coat of ice out to perhaps 1000 feet or a bit more.  The only birds of note were half a dozen Common Mergansers, a pair of Hooded Mergansers and a handful of Wild Turkeys.  There were some impressive drifts and accumulations of ice along the shore thanks to the nearly two feet of snow and strong northerly winds.  Many of the areas were completely blown clear of snow.  I then headed over to Quabbin Park itself but the roads remained closed and had not yet been plowed at all.  I also tried Covey WMA but that area also remained inaccessible.  I then headed for home until later when it warmed up.  I stopped back at Winsor Dam in the early afternoon and had a total of 16 Common Mergansers but little else of note.  The mergansers gave great looks as they worked the edge of the ice that had moved to just offshore of the HQ building.  The weather had also warmed up substantial with the high reaching to just above freezing in the 30's with lots of sun.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The snow arrives!

Red bellied Woodpecker, Belchertown, MA, Feb 9, 2013
Red breasted Nuthatch (two of at least six), Belchertown, MA, Feb 9, 2013
Although the snow started off slowly it really cranked up overnight and we got around two feet.  At 10pm last night we had maybe 4-5 inches and it was really starting to pick up.  We got the remainder of the snow between then and before 6am...some really intense snow overnight!  It took a few hours to shovel out, including around the feeders.  The birds have been hitting the feeders hard all has actually been the busiest I have seen it around the feeders so far this season.  Nothing super unusual but good numbers of the typical birds plus a flyby group of around ten Cedar Waxwings and a late in the day (5:20) flyover Red winged Blackbird.

Wilson checks out the snowy scene
A lot of snow to shovel!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Storm begins slowly

Snowfall forecast from the National Weather Service as of evening of Feb 8, 2013
So far the storm has been less than impressive with just about an inch of snow so far as of 5pm.  The predictions are still for 'historic' snowfall totals.  The totals are suppose to approach two feet with blowing and drifting snow...perhaps even some 'thundersnow'....we shall see!  Will all the adjectives used for the storm measure up?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Impending storm....

The forecast predicts a major snow storm impacting the area starting tomorrow morning and lasting through Friday.  The predictions vary a bit but even on the low end shows us with over a foot of snow and the upper end predicts 2 feet or more.  The wind is also suppose to kick up a bit and blow all this snow around.  There are blizzard warnings in nearby areas and we could end up with blizzard conditions too.  The big questions will be if this storm lives up to the hype (doubtful) or will it be yet another 'massive, historic, record breaking, once a life time storm' that ends up being no big deal.  Time will tell.  Even if we get the low end the snow predicted it should be enough to push birds that are around back to the edges of plowed roads and to other snow free areas...who knows what will turn up?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A couple new birds for the year

Although not really birding today I still managed to find some good stuff including two new species for the county this year.  This morning while walking Wilson at home I had an Eastern Screech Owl calling (#87) as well as a Winter Wren.  This afternoon I had a Turkey Vulture (#88) fly over in Florence.  You never know when you will find new stuff.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Early February birding in the valley

Red tailed Hawk, Covey WMA, Feb 4, 2013

I started the day at dawn at Covey WMA with Wilson.  It was a very chilly morning with temperatures around 15 with a steadily increasing breeze.  I hoped to catch up with some of the waterfowl seen there yesterday and although I could not relocate the Northern Pintail I did find the female Ring necked Duck plus a couple Hooded Mergansers,a Black Duck and a handful of Mallards.  I think some of the ducks had been flushed by a group of three River Otters before I arrived.  A Winter Wren was working the shore of the Swift River but there was little activity beyond that.  I then headed home to drop off Wilson before heading down to the Holyoke Dam and then to other areas along the river.

At the Holyoke Dam area I had a small selection of waterfowl with three Common Goldeneye (two males), 13 Mute Swans, a dozen Common Mergansers, three Hooded Mergansers, 200+ Canada Geese and nine Mallards.  The only gulls present were a few Ring billed Gulls and a single Great Black backed Gull.  The river was still running fairly high, at least compared to last week.  As I worked north I stopped at a few spots along the river but didn't find anything noteworthy.  I made it up to the Coolidge Bridge in Northampton and the wind really picked up.  The only waterfowl on the water below the bridge were two Common Mergansers.  I then headed across the river to Hadley.

American Wigeons, Honeypot, Hadley, MA, Feb 4, 2013
American Wigeons, Honeypot, Hadley, MA, Feb 4, 2013
American Wigeons, Honeypot, Hadley, MA, Feb 4, 2013

My final stop for the morning along the river was the most productive.  I checked out the river upstream from the Coolidge Bridge viewing it from the Honeypot.  The best birds were a pair of American Wigeon in among the other ducks.  The wigeons became species #86 for Hampshire County this year. Other waterfowl here included 172 Mallards, four Black Ducks, three Mallard x Black Duck hybrids and half a dozen Common Mergansers.  I quickly cruised through the Honeypot and didn't find anything else too unusual but the strong winds certainly kept some of the birds hunkered down.
Eastern Coyote, Mill Valley Rd, Hadley, MA, Feb 4, 2013

The area of South Maple Street, Mill Valley Road and Moody Bridge road did not produce a Gyrfalcon or any other raptor besides a few Red tailed Hawks.  I did have an Eastern Coyote in the middle of a large field off Mill Valley Road late in the morning.  Surprised to see it out in the open in such a busy area.  I managed a couple of blurry shots before it disappeared.

Red tailed Hawk, Covey WMA, Feb 4, 2013
Red tailed Hawk, Covey WMA, Feb 4, 2013
Eastern Bluebird chicks that didn't make it, Covey WMA, Feb 4, 2013
Eastern Bluebird chicks that didn't make it, Covey WMA, Feb 4, 2013
Wilson listening to a Winter Wren, Covey WMA, Feb 4, 2013
Swift River, Covey WMA, Feb 4, 2013

Once I got home I picked up Wilson and we went back to Covey WMA were we found the female Ring necked Duck in among a group of Hooded Mergansers and we also refound the Winter Wren that kept up quite a chatter...even Wilson was impressed and just sat there listening to it as it worked its way up the opposite shore of the Swift River.  Also came across a nest that looks to have been recently removed from one of the many nest boxes.  The remains of at least three Eastern Bluebirds could be seen nearby.  Hopefully the bluebirds have better luck this coming breeding season.   A brief stop at Winsor Dam produced a total of five Bald Eagles all up in the air at once.

Today also saw the 40,000th page view here...amazing.