Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Waterfowl (and others) to be on the lookout for when at Quabbin

Winsor Dam area of Quabbin
As the fall waterfowl migration continues to roll on I will take time to post about some of the really unusual species I keep my eye out for every time I make a trip over to Quabbin to scan the waters there.  I have a list of species of waterfowl that are all possible but have occurred only a few times (or perhaps not at all, yet).  Here are the seven species in no particular order.  The first is King Eider which has occurred in western Massachusetts just once when a flock of ten(!) was seen and photographed in spring in Pittsfield.  A recently accepted record of a male from Worester County in November shows the birds do indeed move through on occasion.  The next species is Common Eider which generally migrates along the coast and very rarely occurs inland.  Western Mass has just five or six records occurring in both spring and fall with two of those occurring at Quabbin and both in fall.  The next species on my list is Pacific Loon, which has been reported in the general area only about a half dozen times with some of those records not accepted by the Mass Avian Records Committee (MARC).  Most records have occurred from late October-December and usually on large bodies of water so Quabbin is certainly a good place to look for this species.  Another loon species that I have in mind when looking for rare waterfowl would be a Yellow billed Loon.  The species has never been confirmed in Massachusetts but Quabbin certainly would be a great spot for one to turn up.  Both loons are quite distinctive in breeding plumage but tough to ID when in the typical plumage they would have when likely occurring in the state.  The next two species are both grebes with Eared Grebe being the first.  Only one record for Eared Grebe exists for western Massachusetts and it occurred in late November at Winsor Dam at Quabbin.  The other grebe is Western Grebe which has two old records from late Dec-Feb in the early 1930’s during an incursion of the species into New England.  Other reports have surfaced recently of the species inland but none have been accepted by MARC.  The species may have indeed occurred more recently but without supporting documentation the records have not been officially accepted.  The other species of waterfowl I keep my eyes out for has not yet occurred in western Massachusetts but is at least possible.  The next species is Harlequin Duck.  There are a few inland records but none this far west.  Any of the above mentioned species would be a banner day if found while scanning the waters of Quabbin but would need to be documented in detail to assure the record is accepted.  Hopefully sometime in the future I can come across at least one of these species.
There are other waterfowl species that I would love to find at Quabbin that I have not yet turned up including ducks such as Tufted Duck, Redhead, Canvasback, Eurasian Wigeon as well as geese including Greater white fronted, Ross’s, Barnacle and Cackling.  Overall at Quabbin I have found the following waterfowl: three species of geese, two species of swan, 23 species of duck, two species of loons, three species of grebes and two species of cormorant.

In addition to the waterfowl mentioned above as the fall progresses I also have the long shot hope of finding an inland alcid species.  So far four species have occurred in western Massachusetts and they include Thick billed Murre,  Razorbill, Black Guillemot, and Atlantic Puffin.  There are three records for Thick billed Murre (totaling five individuals) with all occurring in December with a record of two birds from 1932 and records of two birds and a single from 1950.  Both Razorbill and Black Guillemot have only occurred once in western Mass and both records are from Quabbin with the Razorbill seen at Gate 16 in early November 1973 and the Black Guillemot seen near Goodnough Dike in late December 1971.  The only Atlantic Puffin  record occurred in November 1970 and the bird was found in the company of Ruddy Ducks out in the Berkshires.  As always you never know what birds will show up and trying to keep your eyes and ears open at all times will hopefully lead to something unusual being found.

All the information contained in the above post comes from the “Western Massachusetts Rarities” article written by James Smith and Seth Kellogg in the February 2007 issue of Bird Observer or from “Birds of Massachusetts” by Veit and Petersen.  Additional information was also collected from the Massachusetts Avian Records Committee website:

Bonaparte's Gull and Surf Scoters, Quabbin Park, Oct 23, 2013
Bonaparte's Gull and Surf Scoters, Quabbin Park, Oct 23, 2013
Bonaparte's Gull and Surf Scoters, Quabbin Park, Oct 23, 2013
Bonaparte's Gull and Surf Scoters, Quabbin Park, Oct 23, 2013
On my way to get more cold medicine I stopped by Winsor Dam and had a few decent birds including a couple Surf Scoters, three Common Loons and a Bonaparte's Gull. 


  1. Hello,

    As a CT birder who birds in and around Hadley and Amherst whenever I visit my daughter at Hampshire College (great excuse for birdin!), I read your blog frequently and with pleasure. Thanks to you, I've found some great places to bird in the Valley, and renewed my acquaintance with places I knew when I lived in the area about 30 years ago.

    Regarding inland records of Harlequin Duck in this region: On January 12, 2010, I found a first-year male Harlequin Duck on the (fresh) Farmington River in Farmington, CT. It had found a stretch of turbulent water on this stretch of river that suited its habits. Lucky for me that the turbulent area was right on my daily “patch” birding route, and it was a place that I had been checking every day for ducks. (I had all three mergansers there one day!) The Harlequin stayed on through the winter in company with several Common Mergansers, a few Canada Geese, Mallards, and other waterfowl that stopped in from time to time. It took off, presumably for northern climes, in early March. What a privilege to observe this bird every day over the course of several weeks! Birders flocked from CT, MA, and NY to see it – the first Hartford County record. . I blogged about it here: never know what might turn up, as you have written many times. As you say, the trick to finding the rare bird is to look for them...often!

    Continued good birding to you! And thanks again for your most enjoyable blog. I read every post!

    P.S. I don't generally like dogs, but Wilson looks charming. :-)

    1. Glad you enjoy my posts.

      Interesting posts about your inland Harlequin Duck. I'm sure you did at least a double take when a scan through revealed that duck! A truly great species to find inland anywhere in the northeast. Although Quabbin is always a possible stop for one I more expect to turn one up along the Connecticut River, especially in the rapids below one of the dams (specifically the holyoke dam). Perhaps one will show here someday.

      Perhaps we will one day cross paths while never knows!

      ...Wilson certainly is a charmer at times!