Saturday, May 31, 2014

Prescott Peninsula and stats so far this year

Yellow Warbler, Prescott Peninsula, May 31, 2014
Chestnut sided Warbler, Prescott Peninsula, May 31, 2014
Blackburnian Warbler, Prescott Peninsula, May 31, 2014
Blackburnian Warbler, Prescott Peninsula, May 31, 2014
Canada Warbler, Packardville Rd marsh, Pelham, MA, May 31, 2014
Moose, New Salem, MA, May 31, 2014
I decided to head up to Prescott Peninsula to scout out my whip poor will survey route to see if the road is passable all the way down to my first survey stop before trying the route some upcoming evening (I'll save you any more suspense, the road is not passable) plus I wanted to start some of my field surveys. I made it up to New Salem a little before six and just before heading in I came across a very cooperative Moose that crossed the road right in front of me and then stopped just off the road to feed in a marsh....always nice to see (as long as they don't cross in front of me on rt 202). I spent about three hours on the peninsula and had some good numbers of various breeding species although my counts are certainly minimum counts as I didn't spend a lot of time exploring in great detail. As mentioned above my survey route needs a little work as the road is blocked by a large tree a couple miles short of my first survey stop. I will let the powers that be about the tree and hope they can get it removed soon. No luck finding any crossbills on my trip in this time but the breezy conditions made it tough to hear any that might be around. The Prescott Peninsula is one of the few places in the state that this species has been known to breed so it would be nice to come across them again. I have included the eBird list for Prescott below:

On my way home to get Wilson I made a brief stop at the Packardville Rd marsh and had a few cooperative Canada Warblers among the other species present. The rest of the day continued to be breezy with a mix of clouds and sun and occasional showers.

Now that May has come to an end I will take a look at the bird numbers and stats for the month.  Overall I found a total of 175 species in Hampshire County just this month which I believe is probably my highest May total...a very good month!  I stand at 213 species for Hampshire County so far this year which is three ahead of last years record setting pace (I reached 213 last year in mid June).  Even though I had no intention to try another big county year I have been having such a great year in the county so far I figured I would try again although the chances of beating my record last year of 236 are slim for a variety of reason (at least without a well placed tropical system and some winter irruptives)...but more about that another time perhaps.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Various stops in the valley

Blue winged Warbler, Rail trail, Amherst, MA, May 30, 2014
Song Sparrow with leg bands, UMASS, Amherst, MA, May 30, 2014
Song Sparrow with leg bands, UMASS, Amherst, MA, May 30, 2014
Although it was another cool morning it eventually warmed nicely into the 70's again...certainly feeling more like September with cool mornings and days warming up with low humidity. I'm sure it will change soon but it is enjoyable now. I started off my morning over at UMASS trying to catch up with a reported Lawrence's Warbler but didn't have any luck tracking it down.  I tracked down every Blue winged Warbler today (like I always do) but no hybrids among them although it is neat to see some of the variation among individuals of a species.  I did run across a few leg tagged Song Sparrows on Orchard Hill which I managed to get a few marginal shots of as I was heading out. I assume it is someone's project at UMASS and if I hear any details about it I will post an update.  The northwest part of campus also held a nice variety of birds but nothing too unusual.  My next stop was over to the rail trail where I found the mudflats nearly devoid of birds with just a single Spotted Sandpiper and a couple Killdeer.

I then headed home early to pick up Wilson and we went for a long walk along the land trust trail in Belchertown and managed to come across a great bird when we were off on a side trail in some deeper woods...a Gray cheeked Thrush seen in direct compassion to a nearby Hermit Thrush (which eventually it chased). The bird had no hint of rufous at all so I feel confident it was not a Bicknell's although the bird was silent. Usually I get Gray cheeked Thrush as a nocturnal migrant by flight call so it is always fun to actually get to see it during the day.  The thrush became species #213 for the county this year.  No photo as I only had my binos and phone and the bird didn't stay still long enough to grab a shot.  Also had another Black billed Cuckoo which allowed for some great views...seems like a good year for this species.
Broad winged Hawk, Covey WMA, May 30, 2014
Blue winged Warbler, Covey WMA, May 30, 2014
Blue winged Warbler, Quabbin Park, May 30, 2014
After our long walk I dropped Wilson off at home and I headed out again with stops at Covey WMA and a small part of Quabbin Park.  I did catch a snippet of a call from a large marsh at Covey WMA that sounded a lot like a Common Gallinule but I only heard it once and lots of searching didn't turn up anything...probably just a frog, but who knows?  Also had a Peregrine Falcon flying by quite high.  I don't know of any nesting falcons anywhere close by so I wonder where the bird came from.

Overall not too many obvious migrants with most birds seemingly on territory. The exception to that would of course be the previously mentioned Gray cheeked Thrush as well as several Blackpoll Warblers at a few different stops.  Migration is rapidly coming to a close but there are always birds moving so interesting stuff could still show up at any time.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The last few days and the hurricane outlook

Horned Grebe, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, May 28, 2014
Horned Grebe, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, May 28, 2014
Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, May 28, 2014
Certainly a change in the weather from yesterday to today with sun and clouds yesterday with temperatures in the 80’s and low clouds, drizzle with temperatures in the low 50’s.  Yesterday I made a brief stop at Silvio Conte NWR in Hadley trying in vain to catch up with the reported Blue Grosbeak there.  I did have the continued Olive sided Flycatcher as well as at least three Orchard Orioles (adult male, adult female and 1st year male) plus a cooperative Black billed Cuckoo among the just over 50 species present.  This morning I decided to head over to Winsor Dam in the hopes the bad weather grounded some birds.  The first bird I found there was a late Horned Grebe in breeding plumage.  Not quite my latest record for the species but it is getting close.  Wish I had more time to check other areas for other stuff but no time today.  I imagine some other good stuff was just out there waiting to be found.

With June rapidly approaching so begins the start of hurricane season in the Atlantic and the predictions are for an average to below average season with El Nino being one of the big factors in potentially limiting the number of storms.  Even with the likelihood of an average to below average season there will certainly be storms and it only takes one to create havoc (and the silver lining of potentially great birding).  Will this year bring us a bounty of storm related birds like 2011 with Irene (  or a late season fallout of waterfowl in 2012 with Sandy ( ( or will it be another year with no tropical impact here?…time will tell.  I will update on any storms that do occur as the season develops. 

Link to NOAA’s prediction for the hurricane season can be found here:


Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day birding

Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, May 26, 2014
Olive sided Flycatcher, Silvio Conte NWR, Hadley, MA, May 26, 2014
Olive sided Flycatcher, Silvio Conte NWR, Hadley, MA, May 26, 2014
Double crested Cormorants, Silvio Conte NWR, Hadley, MA, May 26, 2014
My plans for the morning included a trip up to Prescott Peninsula to check out my whip poor will survey route but when I got up it was raining lightlyand cool...what the hell happened to sunny and in the mid 80's? I took a quick look at the radar and noticed quite a bit of rain around so I ditched my original plan and headed over to Quabbin Park instead. I dodged rain showers on and off through the first few hours of the morning as I made various stops trying to turn up some good stuff. I also made a couple brief diversions to Lake Wallace and Covey WMA in the hopes of running across an Olive sided Flycatcher but no luck. I think the rain and cooler temperatures kept the activity a bit lower than usual and the rain didn't result in any unusual birds getting grounded (if only the rain had hit a few hours earlier). Around 8:30 or so I got a call from Bob Z. that he had a Blue Grosbeak at Silvio Conte NWR but he no longer had the bird and had just brief looks at it. As I was a distance out on one of the trails at Quabbin I decided I would probably not go after it today. As I was getting close to the car Bob called again and said he also had an Olive sided Flycatcher there too so I decided that was enough to get me to make the trip over there. I arrived there just before 9:30 and met up with Bob and we searched in vain for the grosbeak but I was able to find the Olive sided Flycatcher teed up quite a distance away. The Olive sided Flycatcher became species #212 for Hampshire County this year. Lots of other flycatchers around too as well as the continued Orchard Orioles and several species of warblers. With more rain threatening I headed back to the car and made my way back home where the rain continued through midday.

In other news the Massachusetts big day record was recently broken by a team made up of Ian Davies, Luke Seitz, Vern Laux and Peter Trimble when they reached a total of 195 species in 24 hours on May 24th. 

Ian has posted a great recounting of the day on his blog:

Glad I was able to help with the scouting of areas before the attempt and look forward to next year when I can give some assistance once again and help them reach 200 species.
Bay breasted Warbler, Home, Belchertown, MA, May 26, 2014
Among the 13 species of warbler in the yard today was my fifth Bay breasted Warbler at the house and my ninth in Hampshire County this spring....what a great spring for this species!  Also at least seventeen Common Nighthawks moving northeast including a group of 16 together at just after 5PM.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Poverty Mountain bird census and a tame Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse, rail trail, Amherst, MA, May 25, 2014
Ruffed Grouse, rail trail, Amherst, MA, May 25, 2014
Ruffed Grouse, rail trail, Amherst, MA, May 25, 2014
This morning was the annual Poverty Mountain bird census up at Kevin Weirs property in Shutesbury and Amherst. As we were not starting until 7am I had a bit of time before hand to check a few spots nearby including the rail trail and Orchard Hill at UMASS. The morning was very foggy which limited visibility a bit but the birds were still singing. Highlights along the rail trail included the continued Ruffed Grouse which is quite tame and I had a fun time just standing there as it came up to me and occasionally pecked at my idea how this bird has not been picked off by a predator or someone on a bike. I also had a calling Black billed Cuckoo among the other more typical species. Orchard Hill held the typical assortment of birds with a total of 38 species but nothing out of the ordinary.  Below are links to video of the grouse from along the rail trail:

I arrived at Kevin's place just before seven and we split up into smaller groups to scour the acreage up there looking for various species. I still don't have the total numbers yet but our group had good numbers of a few species of warbler including Blackburnian, Black throated Green, Black throated Blue Warblers and Ovenbirds plus a few other usual ones including Blackpoll, Nashville and Wilson's Warblers. Also a good showing of thrushes in our mainly forested section. After a couple hours there I had to head back home.
Common Nighthawk, Belchertown, MA, May 25, 2014
Common Nighthawk, Belchertown, MA, May 25, 2014
Common Nighthawk, Belchertown, MA, May 25, 2014
Common Nighthawk, Belchertown, MA, May 25, 2014
I spent the vast majority of the rest of the day around the house and had a nice selection of birds totalling almost sixty species.  Mostly resident breeding birds but a nice show of at least a dozen Common Nighthawks migrating north.

With the south winds overnight we should see a push of migrants come in but the overall variety is starting to get low as May rapidly comes to an end.  We shall see what tomorrow morning brings us.

Saturday, May 24, 2014


Red necked Phalarope, Goodnough Dike area, Quabbin Park, MA, May 24, 2014
Red necked Phalarope, Goodnough Dike area, Quabbin Park, MA, May 24, 2014
Red necked Phalarope, Goodnough Dike area, Quabbin Park, MA, May 24, 2014
Red necked Phalarope, Goodnough Dike area, Quabbin Park, MA, May 24, 2014
Red necked Phalarope, Goodnough Dike area, Quabbin Park, MA, May 24, 2014
Red necked Phalarope, Goodnough Dike area, Quabbin Park, MA, May 24, 2014
Red necked Phalarope, Goodnough Dike area, Quabbin Park, MA, May 24, 2014
Red necked Phalarope, Goodnough Dike area, Quabbin Park, MA, May 24, 2014
After finishing up some work around the house I had a few spare minutes so I checked out the Quabbin camera and the waters looked calm so I decided to try my luck once again there trying to turn up something unusual.  My goal was to try to turn up a Black Tern but what I eventually found instead was even better!  I arrived at Winsor Dam and did a quick scan but noticed the state police out playing with their new boat again so I didn't have much expectation in finding anything there.  I expected the area to be crawling with people but it was not too bad for an early afternoon on a holiday weekend.  With this in mind I decided I would head over to Quabbin Park itself and check the waters at Goodnough Dike and Hank's Meadow (usually I would avoid this area on the weekend like the plague).  I hiked down to a view point northwest of Goodnough Dike and scanned around.  I found a few loons and a Spotted Sandpiper but not much else.  I stayed there for awhile scanning when I caught sight of a bird on the water way out.  I got the scope on it and immediately noticed the bird spinning in the water...spinning like a phalarope!  Even at 60X power the bird was small and tough to pick features off of but I saw enough to identify it as a Red necked Phalarope.  A truly rare bird inland in Massachusetts and one I mentioned as a possibility a few days ago given the on and off rain.  The bird became not only #211 for the county this year but it was also a new Hampshire County bird for me (#280) and one of the few recent records of this species in the county.  The phalarope also became 223 for Quabbin Park and number 233 overall for Quabbin (yeah...I keep lists for lots of places).  It also became the third (and final) phalarope species for me in the county (my other sightings included a Red Phalarope found at Quabbin Park on May 20, 2011 and a Wilson's Phalarope near Arcadia on May 26, 2004). I watched the bird for several minutes and it would occasionally make short flights before settling back down to feed again.  I thought I could get a better view by moving down closer to Goodnough which was indeed the case although the bird was still way out there.  I watched the bird for 20+ minutes and despite spotty cell service managed to get word out about the bird.  It eventually made a few more flights as it moved north and west and eventually out of my view around 2:30pm.  I tried to relocate it after that but didn't have any luck.  Before the bird left I took many photos (and a few videos) with my iPhone through the scope and a few came out OK.  Although distant the photos show the field marks to ID the bird including the rufous neck, white throat, dark cap and dark markings on wings.  And to think I almost didn't head out at all again this afternoon and if activity had been different at my earlier stop at Winsor Dam I probably would not have headed over to Goodnough.  In the end it was a quite a bit of luck and timing and proved once again sometimes it just pays to go back out! 

A few links to video of the bird:

The last few gloomy days

Blue winged Warbler, Quabbin Park, May 24, 2014
Blue winged Warbler, Quabbin Park, May 24, 2014
Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, May 24, 2014
I spent the rather cool morning today around Quabbin Park (with a brief detour over to Lake Wallace).  I hoped to find some unusual stuff but nothing too crazy around this morning.  I did manage to find both species of cuckoo at Quabbin but not too many obvious migrants with most birds appearing to be residents.  I did have a few Blackpoll Warblers at Lake Wallace but otherwise all resident birds there too.  I headed home around 9am to pick up Wilson and head out for a walk.
Double crested Cormorants, Quabbin Park, May 23, 2014
Least Sandpipers (right bird with white patch on back), Hop Brook at the rail trail, Amherst, MA, May 23, 2014
Least Sandpipers (right bird with white patch on back), Hop Brook at the rail trail, Amherst, MA, May 23, 2014
Yesterday morning started off rather gloomy with low clouds and occasional drizzle and light showers. I had high hopes for something of interest being grounded by the weather but the conditions were not optimal for this to happen but figured I would try anyway. I got to Winsor Dam before five and had a couple Eastern Whip Poor Wills calling plus a couple Common Nighthawks feeding over the water. Out on the water I had seven Common Loons, a couple Wood Ducks, five Common Mergansers and a distant Mute Swan plus at least two Spotted Sandpipers working the shoreline.  Also had at least two young eagles in the nest but there may have been a third. Without too much at Winsor Dam and the gates to the park not open yet I decided to head elsewhere. A brief stop at Beaver Lake in Ware was fairly unproductive with geese being the only waterfowl.  I then decided to make the trip across the river and try my luck up at the Old Pilgrim Airport. Unfortunately that long trip over there was not really worth it with the only shorebirds around being a Spotted Sandpiper and a Killdeer...oh well.  I then headed back across the river after checking a few fields in Hatfield without anything of note found. My next stop was over to the rail trail in Amherst with the main focus being possible shorebirds on the mudflats at Hop Brook and perhaps an Olive sided Flycatcher somewhere along the trail. The mudflats produced five species of shorebird including three Killdeer, a couple Spotted Sandpiper, a Solitary Sandpiper, 16 Least Sandpipers (including one with a bright white patch on its back that I couldn't tell for certain what it was) plus a single Semipalmated Sandpiper. I tried to make the Semipalmated Sandpiper into something more unusual but could not....nonetheless it was still a new species for the county this year, #210. Lots of other flycatchers around but not the one I hoped to find. After the rail trail it was another stop back at Winsor Dam but the water was fairly quiet although I did have a Black billed Cuckoo calling behind the admin building. Although it was still somewhat early I decided to head home and pick up Wilson to head out for a walk. We headed down to the land trust trail and walked up to a small field that did have an unusual species in it the other day, a Clay colored Sparrow found by Devin. We actually ran across him there and despite quite a bit of looking we could not turn the bird up...perhaps it left or it was just being stealthy? Other good stuff around there but nothing too unusual. Once I dropped Wilson back off at home I headed over to Quabbin Park but due to the road being closed for work I couldn't check some good areas. Nevertheless I still had good stuff including a single flock of 19 Double crested Cormorants on the water west of Goodnough Dike. I also had a Great Horned Owl calling at the same area at just after noon...odd.  A few other migrants noted but the vast majority of birds appeared to be on territory.

The later afternoon I spent at home produced a decent show of birds around the yard including another Tennessee Warbler, a Blackpoll Warbler and a Blackburnian Warbler among the 13 species of warblers around plus loads of other stuff.  Also had a brief look at one the Gray Foxes as it ran back in under the shed when I walked by.
Orchard Oriole, rail trail, Amherst, MA, May 22, 2014
Orchard Oriole, rail trail, Amherst, MA, May 22, 2014
Eastern Kingbird, rail trail, Amherst, MA, May 22, 2014

Before work on Thursday I took a walk along the rail trail before getting rained out.  Nothing too extreme but a singing first year Orchard Oriole was nice to see and hear.  With the continued on and off showers and low clouds I made a brief stop at Winsor Dam on my way home.  Highlight there was eight Common Loons in a few small groups.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The last few days...shorebirds, cuckoo, and foxes

Semipalmated Plover (with Least Sandpiper), Old Pilgrim Airport, Hatfield, MA, May 21, 2014
Semipalmated Plover (with Least Sandpiper), Old Pilgrim Airport, Hatfield, MA, May 21, 2014
Green Heron, Old Pilgrim Airport, Hatfield, MA, May 21, 2014
After seeing the reports yesterday of various shorebird species including Black bellied Plovers and Short billed Dowitchers at the old Pilgrim Airport in Hatfield I decided to head up there early this morning to see what I could find.  I arrived there just before sunrise and started scanning around the field and found a few shorebirds.  I then noticed a coyote walking the edge of the field and headed in my direction.  The coyote started flushing birds including a group of three Short billed Dowitchers that flew around and I believed settled back down way back in the field.  The dowitchers became species # 209 for the count this year.  The coyote continued to flush birds as it moved through which actually got me views of some birds I probably would have missed.  I also had a very brief view of an interesting shorebird that got flushed by a Red tailed Hawk that may have been an Upland Sandpiper but the view was very brief and I was not able to relocate it during my hour looking around up there.  I managed to find at least nine species of shorebird including the following: a Semipalmated Plover, five Killdeer, a Spotted Sandpiper, three Solitary Sandpipers, two Greater Yellowlegs, two Lesser Yellowlegs, 22 Least Sandpipers, three Short billed Dowitchers and a Wilson’s Snipe.  No luck with the Black bellied Plovers this morning but with the upcoming rainy weather more of them could show. 
A bit about the upcoming rainy weather and what impact it could have on birds.  The rain should begin sometime overnight tonight and continue on and off through early Saturday.  The wind direction will change from south to east to northeast during this period and the temperatures will not get much above 60.  Given the dates the chance is there yet again for some unusual birds to be grounded by the weather including terns, gulls, shorebirds and waterfowl.   Some specific unusual species to keep an eye out for would include Arctic Tern and Red Phalarope (or even Red necked Phalarope) among others.  It could once again be well worth the effort to check bodies of water and fields to see what might be out there.  The cool temperatures will also impact swallows and swifts and in similar conditions in the past these species could congregate in sheltered areas of river and lakes as they attempt to find food in the cool, damp weather.  Areas to check would include Quabbin, the Connecticut River (most anywhere could be productive), the oxbow in Northampton, the Old Pilgrim Airport and any of a number of farm fields along the river. 
Gray Foxes, home, Belchertown, MA, May 20, 2014
Meanwhile at home, besides the various birds around, I have a family of Gray Foxes living under one of our sheds including at least six pups.  I watched the pups play for an hour last night near dusk…really cool stuff.

On Tuesday morning I headed over to UMASS at first light to try to catch some birds enjoying the first rays of the sun on another cool morning.  I was rewarded with some great birds including an amazing seven Tennessee Warblers in just over an hour with up to three in one tree.  I also had my first of the year Yellow billed Cuckoo (#208) in some dense brush on the northwest end of campus.  Wish I had more time to poke around but reality got in the way.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

More migrants around

Wilson's Warbler, UMASS Amherst, MA, May 18, 2014
Bay breasted Warbler, UMASS Amherst, MA, May 18, 2014
Tennessee Warbler, UMASS Amherst, MA, May 18, 2014
Blackpoll Warbler, Warbler, UMASS Amherst, MA, May 18, 2014
Hop Brook at dawn, Warbler, Amherst, MA, May 18, 2014
Although it was not a huge migration night last night the radars showed some stuff moving plus the temperature was forecast to be down in the low 40's so I figured I could find some good stuff if I found a spot where the sun hit early on. One great spot for early morning activity on a morning like that can be Orchard Hill at UMASS. I headed out from the house early and figured I had a little time before the light would be right at Orchard Hill so I stopped briefly at Hop Brook along the rail trail in the hopes of finding some shorebirds. The mudflat is back covered again due to the rain from the previous day so only had a single Solitary Sandpiper. Hopefully the water level drops a bit in the next few days and the mud gets exposed again. Once I arrived at Orchard Hill the activity started right away with calling Blackpoll Warblers. I eventually found a total of twenty species of warblers between Orchard Hill, Sylvan Woods and the NW part of campus with highlights including two Bay breasted Warblers, four Tennessee Warblers and several Blackpoll Warblers. I have included the lists below for my time at UMASS.
Orchard Hill/Sylvan Woods UMASS:
Northwest campus UMASS:
Winsor Dam, May 18, 2014
I then headed back east to Quabbin with a brief stop at Winsor Dam which was very windy. I then hit just a couple spots between the Winsor Memorial and the Swift River and turned up more good birds but nothing too unexpected. No luck with the Cerulean Warbler once again so it may have moved on but I haven't given on it trying to nest here yet.  A total of 23 species of warblers today at my various stops and at home...not too bad considering the wind at time.

In addition to the weather related birds I saw yesterday morning (Caspian Tern, Black bellied Plover and various species of waterfowl) a few other interesting birds were noted including a very rare inland Red necked Phalarope in Williamstown on the Hoosic River, another Red necked Phalarope in Guilford, CT in a marsh and a Black bellied Plover in Deerfield. Makes me wonder what else was out there in out of the way places that got missed. You never know what you will find when you head out, especially when the weather is 'bad'.