Wednesday, April 30, 2014

April ends cold and rainy

Swallows resting on sandbar, The Oxbow, Northampton, MA, Apr 30, 2014
Horned Grebe, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Apr 30, 2014 (blurry distant shot taken during heavy rain)
As predicted today was rainy and cool.  I decided to try my luck before work at finding something grounded by the weather.  I stopped briefly at Winsor Dam and had a somewhat late Horned Grebe in breeding plumage as well as four female Bufflehead.  I tried to get some photos but the rain made it quite difficult.  No sign of the swallow show seen there last evening.  I then headed over to the Oxbow in Northampton and had around 225 swallows mostly sitting on the sandbar with the vast majority Tree Swallows but also double digit counts of Barn and Bank Swallows plus at least one Cliff Swallow.  Other reports from today found more Horned Grebes, double digit counts of Red necked Grebes (not sure I have ever seen such a good year for this species in the valley), Long tailed Ducks and more Bufflehead plus a possible Clark's/Western Grebe.  Wish I had the time to check areas more completely but not today.  A stop back at Winsor Dam in the evening produced a Red necked Grebe, a close flyby Merlin and a very interesting bird way out that defied identification.  Elsewhere today I had a partially leucistic American Robin fly past me near the community gardens in Northampton...wish I had had time to go back and look at it a bit more...very cool looking bird with lots of white.

As April ends I will take a look at where migration stands at this point and how it compares to the last few years.  This spring has certainly been cool with less than ideal migration conditions so far.  I have only managed to find 149 species so far this year in Hampshire County compared to 167 species at the end of April last year (I only had 130 total species by this date in April in 2012 but I was not trying as hard to maximize species that year).    The number of warbler species seen so far this year total only five while last year at this time I had already tallied 16 species (last year was a very good year!)…2012 featured nine species of warbler by the end of April (I actually had seen three warbler species before the end of March that year!).  What does it all mean?  Basically it means that we have a big influx coming in sometime very soon and my best guess is that day will be either Friday or Saturday. 
As an update on the influx of European birds into Newfoundland I'm including a post from Alvan Buckley from the ABA Rare Bird Alert facebook page....really cool stuff!
"As the west coast of Newfoundland is now infamously enjoying the stench of several beached and decaying whales, we on the east coast are enjoying hundreds upon hundreds of icebergs and what is one of the largest incursions of Icelandic/European birds to Newfoundland in living memory.
Today the first NORTHERN WHEATEARS were found. 1 in St. Anthony, and 3 in one spot in the East end of St. John's - with 20+ icebergs in view from the same location!!
The count of EUROPEAN GOLDEN-...PLOVERS is currently at 92, the 4 BLACK-TAILED GODWITS continue to be seen in Renews & St. Paul's, and the ROSS'S GULL was in Torbay today for the second day in a row.
Every day continues to outdo the previous day.
Finally, after a 5 and a half month hiatus, Northeast winds are back and Newfoundland is regaining its status as Attu East.
Links to check if you want information ASAP, weather forecasts, and more pictures & insight:"!forum/nf.birds

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

More cloudy, cool, rainy weather starts

Swallows feeding over the Quabbin, Winsor Dam, Apr 29, 2014
Winsor Dam, Apr 29, 2014
Today the weather continued to be less than ideal for migrants this spring as it was cloudy with occasional drizzle all day and temperatures in the upper 40's to low 50's and a breeze out of the northeast to east. Tomorrow promises to be even worse with rain, sometimes heavy, with temperatures struggling to get to the mid 40's and a fairly strong wind out of the east. The rain should be heaviest in the late afternoon through evening with up to two inches possible. Thursday morning should find rain still coming down but it is suppose to taper off fairly early and the winds should switch to the southwest and the temperatures should shoot up into the upper 60's which should get some birds moving (and may result in some thunderstorms and additional showers).  Hopefully some birds will move on Thursday night into Friday...time will tell.  This evening I stopped by Winsor Dam briefly in the hopes of finding something interesting and I had 325+ swallows feeding low over the water trying to find insects in less than ideal conditions.  Most where Tree Swallows but I also had the four other expected swallow species in small numbers.  Perhaps something unusual will show up among the more common species.  Below are a few links to video of the swallow feeding frenzy:
On Monday I took advantage of a sunny day to take an early morning walk at the Silvio Conte NWR. The biggest surprise of the morning was finding no warblers at all. Very unusual to not find a warbler in great habitat on a sunny (but cold) morning on April 28th. Hopefully I will be out looking on the day the flood of birds finally arrives!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

A cool and at times rainy weekend but some great birds

Bonaparte's Gull, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, Apr 26, 2014
Bonaparte's Gull, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, Apr 26, 2014
Bonaparte's Gull, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, Apr 26, 2014
Bufflehead, Beaver Lake, Ware, MA, Apr 26, 2014
Red necked Grebe, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, Apr 26, 2014
As predicted (I do get it right sometimes!) the rain on Friday night into Saturday downed some migrants but unfortunately the vast majority on Saturday were not at Quabbin where I was.  Other large bodies of water to the east and west featured decent numbers of both Red necked and Horned Grebes as well as Long tailed Ducks plus Bonaparte's Gulls.  I managed to make up for it a bit today at Winsor Dam when I had a flyby Red throated Loon (very rare inland in spring), at least half a dozen Common Loons (four migrating north), a Red necked Grebe, a Bonaparte's Gull and nearly a hundred swallows feeding low over the reservoir.  A check of Quabbin Park itself didn't turn up much at all.  A check of nearby Beaver Lake in Ware produced five Bufflehead.  With other obligations for the day I had to cut my time short in order to get home and take Wilson for a walk.  Beyond quite a few deer ticks we managed to see some hawk movement starting around 9:30 with almost fifty Broad winged Hawks seen as well as a few others including Osprey, Red tailed Hawk, Red shouldered Hawk and Cooper's Hawk. With the continued cool, raw weather the number of migrant passerines continues to be way below average for this time of year. 
Winsor Dam, Apr 26, 2014
The only unusual species I could turn up at south Quabbin on Saturday was a group of three Red breasted Mergansers.  I also had a couple Common Mergansers, three Common Loons and a Double crested Cormorant.  I think part of the lack of 'good stuff' at Quabbin had to do with Saturday being the start of boat fishing at Quabbin and there was a lot of activity even before sunrise.  Although the fishing boats can't come down too far south the Environmental Police boat was heading out from the dam early to babysit the fisherman to make sure they followed the rules so anything uncommon got flushed early.  I also checked Beaver Lake in Ware and had a pair of Bufflehead and a Common Merganser.  Lake Wallace was also quiet with the highlight being almost 150 swallows hunkered down against the cold, rainy weather.

The forecast for the week doesn't look great for a big push of migrants either but given the time of year the birds will just start pushing in anyway just not in big numbers until the weather pattern changes.  Although somewhat out of the area (for now) the current weather pattern has resulted in a major influx of European birds into Newfoundland with double digit counts of European Golden Plover and several Black tailed Godwits.  As the conditions that brought these species in are forecast to continue and actually become more conducive for more European birds to get impacted it is worth keeping an eye out for some unusual species especially near the coast here in New England.  Love seeing how weather and bird migration interacts.  Here are a few very interesting links regarding this event as it has developed since April 25th:

Friday, April 25, 2014

Sandhill Cranes for my birthday

Sandhill Cranes, Worthington, MA, Apr 25, 2014
Sandhill Cranes, Worthington, MA, Apr 25, 2014
Sandhill Cranes, Worthington, MA, Apr 25, 2014
For my birthday I headed back into the hill towns again this morning in search of the Sandhill Cranes that have been seen for the second year in a row up in Worthington.  I arrived there fairly early and almost immediately found the two cranes feeding in a field and giving some fantastic looks.  Hopefully this year they will successfully nest.  A nice birthday present as far as I'm concerned!
Great Horned Owls at nest, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Apr 25, 2014
Eastern Coyote, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Apr 25, 2014

Barn Swallow, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Apr 25, 2014

Yellow rumped Warbler 'Myrtle Warbler', Rail Trail, Amherst, MA, Apr 25, 2014
After my luck with finding the cranes I headed back down out of the hills and headed over to Arcadia. The area is now accessible following the recent flooding but the roads are in very poor condition. Nothing too unusual but it was nice to get some looks at the heron rookery (at least 31 Great Blue Herons) as well as the nesting Great Horned Owls and Bald Eagles.  Also had a very pale Eastern Coyote walking along the edge of one of the fields.  I then headed across the river again and took a walk along the rail trail where I had a couple more new birds for the year in the county including House Wren and Black and White Warbler.  The marsh near the Hop Brook bridge looks perfect to host some shorebirds as it appears the beaver dam must have failed and the area is now extensive mudflats.  It will be interesting to see if anything of note shows up.

I then headed for home to pick up Wilson to take him for a walk.  On my walk with Wilson along the Jabish Canal I had a very intriguing bird fly past that appeared to be a kite species of some sort and likely a Mississippi Kite. I only noticed the bird after it had flown past us heading west. The bird was in bad light but the shape and flight pattern was kite like. It was dark overall with a long tail but I could not get any color at all off the trailing edge of the wings nor did I get a look at the head. It disappeared out of view after being in view for less than ten seconds. It could have been a different kite species but given the rarity of any kite species (especially at the end of April) and my brief look in bad light I cannot say for certain the species. Certainly 'the one that got away' for the day! Another bird of note along the way was a singing Blue headed Vireo, another new species for the year.

The weather over the last few days has not been great for migration with cool weather and fairly strong north winds.  This morning continued the cold weather with a near record setting low in the upper 20's.  Usually by this time of year the migrants are really starting to show up but this year it is a bit slow.  I have a feeling once the conditions change they will change in a big way and there will be a flood of birds.  The winds switched around to the south during the day today and should stay that way until some rain moves in overnight tonight which may lead to some grounding of migrants...time will tell.  I will certainly be out in the rain looking around to see what I might be able to find.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Another week in Costa Rica -Mar 29-Apr 5

Cherrie's Tanager, Rio Magnolia Lodge, Mar 31, 2014
Blue gray Tanager, Rio Magnolia Lodge, Mar 30, 2014
Insect, Rio Magnolia Lodge, Mar 31, 2014

Blue crowned Motmot, Bosque del Tolomuco, Costa Rica, Apr 3, 2014
The next posting from the trip to Costa Rica covers the week we spent down around Rio Magnolia Lodge with a couple of trips away from the lodge (one to the coast at Hacienda Baru and another into the mountains outside San Isidro). 

I spent the first few days around the lodge adding more and more species to the trip list and getting reacquainted with the bird life of the southern Pacific foothills.  No life birds the first few days but some great birding nonetheless.  During a walk in the early afternoon on one of the rainforest trails I came across a swarm (hundreds) of lightning bug type insects flashing away in the forest around 3pm. Very cool stuff to see...I tried to capture it on video but the videos do not do the experience justice. No idea on the exact species but they were quite small.
Link to videos:
Beach at Hacienda Baru, Apr 1, 2014
After a few days at the lodge we headed down for a half day at the coast with a visit to Hacienda Baru. As expected it was very hot with temperatures around 90 and no clouds. Despite drinking copious amounts of water after the few hours down there I was wiped out. The entire area down there was also quite dry with many areas that normally hold some water and feature related birds were completely dry. I did manage to run across a few pockets of birds but other areas of the forest were very quiet. I did run across an army ant swarm but the only species of bird around with that group were a few Gray headed Tanagers.  During a few miles of walking I did manage quite a few species with one life bird, a Slate headed Tody Flycatcher.
Scintillant Hummingbird, Bosque del Tolomuco, Costa Rica, Apr 3, 2014
Emerald Toucanet, Bosque del Tolomuco, Costa Rica, Apr 3, 2014
Silver throated Tanager on nest, Bosque del Tolomuco, Costa Rica, Apr 3, 2014
My last day away from the lodge was a day long trip with the guide Andres to Bosque del Tolomuco in the Cerro de la Muerte at an elevation around 1650m.   We started around dawn and went through until around 3pm.  Another hot but productive day and I managed to find nine life birds there with some spectacular looks at many species plus I added two species to the list for the site (an Osprey and a recently dead Fiery throated Hummingbird).
Swallow tailed Kite, Rio Magnolia Lodge, Apr 2, 2014
Another beautiful, sunny hot day around the lodge on April 2 produced more great birds including two lifers (Brown billed Scythebill and Yellow billed Cacique).  I spent a good portion of the morning exploring the various trails before it got too hot. Besides the birds I once again ran across a family group of Howler Monkeys including a young one with a couple adults. I then spent the late morning through afternoon sky watching for various raptors, swifts,etc (plus taking some time out for a swim!). Nothing like having Swallow tailed Kites skim past you not even fifteen feet away as you swim in the pool.

The last full day I spent at the lodge exploring all the trails once again and yet again I ran across some new birds including a life bird, a Yellow Flycatcher.  The diversity of the tropics always amazes me as I have spent weeks at the lodge and I still manage to turn up new stuff. As always it is tough to leave the tropics to go back home but at least Wilson is always happy to see me.

Now for the numbers from the latest trip as of now (still reviewing some photos which may add something new).  I managed a total of 59 life birds bringing my life list up to 878.   I found a total of 294 species on this trip and added 66 to my Costa Rica list bringing my total there up to over four hundred to a total of 414 species.

Even more photos can be found here:

Saturday, April 19, 2014

American Coots in Hatfield

American Coot, Great Pond, Hatfield, MA, Apr 19, 2014
American Coot, Great Pond, Hatfield, MA, Apr 19, 2014
American Coot, Great Pond, Hatfield, MA, Apr 19, 2014
Sunrise over the fields, Hatfield, MA, Apr 19, 2014
The string of unusual birds continued today when I managed to catch up with a couple American Coots up at Great Pond in Hatfield.  This species is surprisingly difficult to find around here and is missed most years.  This is actually my first spring record and my first away from Quabbin (most of my records come from mid October to early November).  My last sighting of this species was back in October of 2011.  My plan for the morning was not to make the trip over that way but I woke up earlier than planned and saw a post from eBird that Bob B. had a couple coots at Great Pond yesterday morning so I figured why not try for them?  I made it over there just as the sun was coming up following a brief stop at Aqua Vitae Road to check on things there (just the typical stuff there with continued good numbers of Ring necked Ducks and Green winged Teal).  The pond continues to be quite high due to flooding with lots of places for coots to hide.  Luckily one of the first birds I saw driving in was a coot...if only all birds were so easy!  I managed to get a few pictures before it moved deeper into the flooded brushy areas.  I eventually found both coots but the other one was even more distant.  I also had a calling Virginia Rail there which brought me up to 140 species for the year in Hampshire County...still ahead of last years pace.
Killdeer, Old Pilgrim Airport, Hatfield, MA, Apr 19, 2014
Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Apr 19, 2014
After my luck with the coots I made a few other stops for the morning.  My first was to the Old Pilgrim Airport looking for shorebirds.  I only found a few Killdeer there and not much else.  I then headed down to the Silvio Conte NWR in Hadley and found another new bird for the year when I came across at least three Brown Thrashers.  Other birds of note there included at least three Hermit Thrushes, three singing Field Sparrows and a Eastern Meadowlark.

A brief stop at Winsor Dam produced a couple Common Loons, a distant Red necked Grebe and a Porcupine sitting in a tree on the far western shore.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Around south Quabbin

Red breasted Mergansers, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, Apr 18, 2014
Red breasted Mergansers, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, Apr 18, 2014
Red breasted Merganser, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, Apr 18, 2014
After running some errands I decided to make another stop by Winsor Dam and I managed to find a few decent birds including a couple Red breasted Mergansers including a oddly plumage bird that appeared to be a juvenile male in a transitional plumage...looking like it had a couple black eyes.  Other birds of note included a couple Common Loons, a Spotted Sandpiper that flew along the shore calling but never stopped and a few migrant raptors.
Mallard at the top of tree, Covey WMA, Belchertown, MA, Apr 18, 2014
Rusty Blackbird, Lake Wallace, Belchertown, MA, Apr 18, 2014
Tree Swallows, Lake Wallace, Belchertown, MA, Apr 18, 2014
Earlier in the day I spent my morning visiting various areas around Quabbin with stops at Covey WMA, Beaver Lake, Lake Wallace and Quabbin Park.  Highlights included the following:  Covey WMA- a female Mallard sitting at the top of a 50' tree, a couple Blue gray Gnatcatchers, Palm and Pine Warblers and an Eastern Towhee.  I tried for both Virginia Rail and American Bittern but no luck this time.  Beaver Lake- a pair of Bufflehead. Quabbin Park- four Bufflehead, three Common Loons, a few Ruby crowned Kinglet, a few Pine and Yellow rumped Warblers and a couple Eastern Towhee.  Lake Wallace- a Northern Rough winged Swallow, 525+ Tree Swallows (a minimum count...they were everywhere), a Bank Swallow, a Barn Swallow, a Gray Catbird, a Louisiana Waterthrush, three Palm Warblers, 9 Yellow rumped Warblers and four Rusty Blackbirds.

Link to video of swallows:

Winsor Dam at sunset, Apr 18, 2014
Winsor Dam at sunset, Apr 18, 2014
Winsor Dam at sunset, Apr 18, 2014

I took a ride over to Winsor Dam at dusk and found the water dead calm allowing for nice views of the sunset and any bird life on the water.  In addition to a few loons, ducks and gulls I had a Cliff Swallow moving by with Tree Swallows.  The Cliff Swallow became my fifth new species today for the year for Hampshire County.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Snow overnight...

Wilson's Snipe, Aqua Vitae Rd, Hadley, MA, Apr 16, 2014
Greater Yellowlegs, Aqua Vitae Rd, Hadley, MA, Apr 16, 2014
Greater Yellowlegs, Aqua Vitae Rd, Hadley, MA, Apr 16, 2014
I awoke this morning to find the yard covered with an inch or so of snow (another unpredicted weather event this week).  It is like we went right back into winter yet again.  Despite the cold and icy weather I made a brief stop by Aqua Vitae Road to see if the Glossy Ibis were still around but no luck finding them so I was unable to realize my dream of seeing ibis in the snow…perhaps another time?  Other birds of note there included 22 Wood Ducks, 61 Green winged Teal (try as I might I could not find anything but American Green winged Teal), 69 Ring necked Ducks, four Killdeer, three Greater Yellowlegs, a couple Wilson’s Snipe and a couple American Pipits.  A brief stop in the evening find much the same birds with the addition of a fourth yellowlegs.  With the river continuing to rise the flooded conditions should persist here for several days and I would not be surprised if more unusual species show up.  Perhaps record cold tonight with a low around 20...ahhhh spring!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Five Glossy Ibis in Hadley

Glossy Ibis, Aqua Vitae Rd, Hadley, MA, Apr 15, 2014
Glossy Ibis, Aqua Vitae Rd, Hadley, MA, Apr 15, 2014
Glossy Ibis, Aqua Vitae Rd, Hadley, MA, Apr 15, 2014
Glossy Ibis, Aqua Vitae Rd, Hadley, MA, Apr 15, 2014
As predicted (sometime I get it right!) some unusual birds showed up on Aqua Vitae Road in Hadley today when five Glossy Ibis were found feeding along the edge of a flooded field.  I managed to catch up with them on my way home during a slight lull in the heavy rain of the day.  Also some decent waterfowl there including a few Canada Geese, 17 Wood Ducks, 7 Black Ducks, 34 Mallards, 43 Green winged Teal and 63 Ring necked Ducks.  A Pectoral Sandpiper and a few Killdeer made up the shorebirds seen.

I also stopped briefly at Winsor Dam this morning and evening and had a single Bonaparte's Gull there this morning but not much else.

I wouldn't be surprised if more unusual birds are found over the next few days as the strong south winds almost certainly brought other new birds in.  It will be less comfortable finding them however as the temperature is not suppose to break 45 tomorrow with a strong north wind and lows the next few nights in the lower 20's.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Flock of 14 Bonaparte's Gulls at Winsor Dam

Bonaparte's Gulls, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Apr 14, 2014
Bonaparte's Gulls, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Apr 14, 2014
Bonaparte's Gulls, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Apr 14, 2014
Bonaparte's Gulls, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Apr 14, 2014
Bonaparte's Gulls, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Apr 14, 2014
I stopped briefly at Winsor Dam on my way home and was rewarded with a flock of 14 Bonaparte's Gulls with a nice mix of plumage.  My largest flock of Bonaparte's Gulls I have ever had inland in Massachusetts with my previous high count of eleven back in early May of 2012...also at Winsor Dam.  I looked through the flock to try to pull out something even more unusual but no luck.  The gulls were in fairly close (at least for Quabbin) probably due to the very strong southern wind.  The wind has brought some unusual species to our south and east so perhaps something rare will show up around here too (besides the flock of Bonaparte's Gulls!)

In addition the Connecticut River continues to rise with the melting of the northern snows and I made a brief stop along the flooded Aqua Vitae Road in Hadley and had a nice assortment of waterfowl including 47 Wood Ducks, a few Black Ducks, 96 Mallards, a female Blue winged Teal, 36 Green winged Teal and 93 Ring necked Ducks (odd to see them diving in what is basically a farm field when the river is not in flood mode).  The only shorebird I could find were a few Killdeer but the area looks prime for shorebirds, waders and more waterfowl.  The area looks prime for something unusual to show up...hopefully I will be right.  The forecast calls for heavy rain tomorrow which will only add to the flooded conditions in the valley.  Hopefully some birds will be able to take advantage of the flooded fields.