Sunday, November 30, 2014

Snowy Owl this morning beats my old Hampshire County record for number of species seen in the county in one year

Snowy Owl, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Nov 30, 2014
Snowy Owl, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Nov 30, 2014
Snowy Owl, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Nov 30, 2014
Snowy Owl, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Nov 30, 2014
Snowy Owl (my initial view in the predawn darkness as it sat on a telphone pole), Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Nov 30, 2014
I headed out this morning before it got light as I woke up early and couldn't fall back to sleep (yes I do sleep despite what some people think!).  I decided to head over to the Honey Pot to try to find a predawn Short eared Owl hunting the fields.  I arrived around 6:15 and started scanning the fields.  After a few minutes of not seeing anything on the fields I started scanning the tops of the various telephone poles between the dike and the river.  On the third pole I looked at I found a big white blob sitting on top of the pole...SNOWY OWL!  I sprinted back to the car to grab the scope to get better looks and try for some photos.  I shot off a few shots through the scope in the near darkness plus got some decent looks and posted the sighting to the facebook group (a little early to start calling people)  A car then came up the road and the owl flushed down into a nearby field.  I headed down off the dike and went to the field where the owl was sitting and I got a few more photos before it flew again to a much more distant field where it sat for about a minute.  It then flew almost right over me and disappeared back over the dike and out of my view.  I then headed back up to the dike and started scanning.  I found the bird fairly quickly in the middle of a distant field right up against a large tuft of grass.  Slowly but surely more and more people arrived to get views of the bird.  The bird stayed put and got tucked in really close to the grass tuft and if you didn't know where it was you could easily miss the well camouflaged bird.  The bird was still being seen when I left after a few hours of watching it and people continued to arrive to see it (it flew across the river to Hatfield a bit later from what I heard).  It was great finding the bird and also nice to share it with so many others.  How can you not like looking at a Snowy Owl?

The Snowy Owl became species #237 for Hampshire County this year which broke my previous record of 236 that I set last year.  I was not really sure I would ever break that record but finding three new species in four days in late November was enough to push me over the top (the other two included the Lark Sparrow and Common Redpoll).  Oddly enough Snowy Owl set my old record last year so I guess Snowy Owls are a bit lucky for me.  Other notables around the Honey Pot included two Northern Harriers and hundreds of Horned Larks and a few Snow Buntings.  Link to full album of photos:

After the owl I went in search of unusual geese in among the flocks of Canada Geese but didn't have much luck.  I covered lots of fields in Hadley and Amherst but found nothing but Canada Geese. 
Eastern Towhee, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Nov 29, 2014
Eastern Towhee, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Nov 29, 2014
Common Loon, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Nov 29, 2014
Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Nov 29, 2014
Yesterday I spent a very cold morning (around 15 degrees to start the day) around south Quabbin again.  I was finally able to make it in the Quabbin Park plus I made stops at Winsor Dam and Beaver Lake.  The cold morning made viewing a little tough early on as a low fog hung over the warmer water.  Yet again a decent flight of Mallards and Black Ducks leaving morning roost.  I had a fair number pass Winsor Dam a little before 7AM and another group heading south passing by Hank's Meadow a little later.  My totals for waterfowl between Quabbin Park and Winsor Dam were as follows: 71 Canada Geese, 20 Black Ducks, 324 Mallards, a Common Goldeneye, 8 Hooded Mergansers, 8 Common Mergansers, 3 Horned Grebe and 5 Common Loons.  Besides the waterfowl I had other notables including the best bird of the day which was a very cooperative male Eastern Towhee that was at the visitors center at Quabbin Park.  I heard it scratching under some of the bushes there and then it popped right out into view.  A little late for this species now so nice to see one again.  Also had a hooting Barred Owl at first light at Winsor Dam (had another Barred Owl at the house last night when I took Wilson out for his evening bathroom break)...oddly I had no heard one in weeks and then have two with a few hours of each other.

At the nearly frozen over Beaver Lake (80-90% of surface) I managed to find just 16 Mallards and 11 Hooded Mergansers. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Lark Sparrow at the Honey Pot plus lots of other birds around the valley

Lark Sparrow, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Nov 28, 2014
Lark Sparrow, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Nov 28, 2014
Lark Sparrow, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Nov 28, 2014
Lark Sparrow, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Nov 28, 2014
White throated Sparrow, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Nov 28, 2014
After spending the early morning birding (more about that below) I was at home when I got a call from Scott S. telling me he had spotted a Lark Sparrow in the Honey Pot in Hadley.  As this would be a great bird to catch up with I headed right over, arriving around 10:30.  Scott was still there when I arrived but the bird had flown away and was not being seen at the moment.  After a bit of scanning around we were still having no luck finding the bird so I decided to walk one of the hedgerows trying to find it.  I spent about a half hour looking without success.  I then headed back to my car with the intention of checking a few other spots before I headed for home.  Thankfully the bird was waiting for me when I returned to my car as it happily fed near, and at times, under my car.  It was a very cooperative bird that fed right along the edge of the busy Cemetery Road.  I enjoyed close up looks of this species of the west.  Not only did this bird add a new species to my Hampshire County list for this year it was a new county bird (#283) overall as well as a new state bird (#315).  I have seen the species out west at numerous times but never out east.  The Lark Sparrow became species #236 for Hampshire County this year, matching my previous best year.  What (if any) species will be #237 and break my old record?  Who knows?  Besides the Lark Sparrow highlights at the Honey Pot included a Merlin, 85+ Horned Larks, a dozen Snow Buntings, a Savannah Sparrow, 11 White thoated Sparrows and an immature White crowned Sparrow.
Savannah Sparrow, Aqua Vitae Road, Hadley, MA, Nov 28, 2014
Canada Geese and Mallards, Hadley Cove, Hadley, MA, Nov 28, 2014
After my time at the Honey Pot I made a swing through Aqua Vitae Road and then over to Hadley Cove.  Aqua Vitae Road had a dozen Horned Larks, three Snow Buntings and 13 Savannah Sparrows.  Hadley Cove had some decent waterfowl numbers but nothing unusual.  My totals there included 428 Canada Geese, 8 Black Ducks, 118 Mallards and a few MallardxBlack Duck hybrids.
Pine Siskins, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Nov 28, 2014
Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Nov 28, 2014
Hooded Merganser, Beaver Lake, Ware, MA, Nov 28, 2014
Before heading over to Hadley to go after the Lark Sparrow I spent a few hours this morning around the south Quabbin area with stops at Winsor Dam and Beaver Lake.  Quabbin Park itself remains closed as the roads have still not been plowed as of this morning.  Winsor Dam featured some waterfowl over the course of the morning including 140 Canada Geese (90+ on the water way out in the distance), 28 Black Ducks, 169 Mallards, a Hooded Merganser and a few Common Loons. Other species of interest included half a dozen Snow Buntings and around 50 Pine Siskins.  Beaver Lake held four Mallards, a female Bufflehead, 83 Hooded Mergansers and a lucky 13 Common Mergansers.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Early Thanksgiving birding

Mallards and a few Black Ducks, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Nov 27, 2014
Canada Geese (two small individuals among flock), Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Nov 27, 2014
Common Loon, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Nov 27, 2014
Bald Eagle with long central tail feathers, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Nov 27, 2014
Bald Eagles, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Nov 27, 2014
Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Nov 27, 2014
I managed to make it out briefly this morning before returning home to clean up a bit more from the snow storm that ended overnight and then on to a Thanksgiving gathering.  As always following storms I had my mind on finding something unusual blown in from the storm but it was not to be today.  Thankfully the roads were cleared fairly well so I had no trouble making it over to Winsor Dam (Quabbin Park itself was still closed as the roads had not yet been plowed there).  I arrived there around 6:30 and stayed just over a half hour during which I had a nice flight of ducks coming out of a roost with at least 32 Black Ducks and 143 Mallards.  I also had a couple groups of Canada Geese heading southwest totalling 30 birds including two much smaller individuals (not quite right for Cackling but certainly runt Canada Geese) plus a couple Common Loons, three Bald Eagles (including one with some oddly long central tail feathers) and four Snow Buntings.  I then made a quick ride over to Beaver Lake where I found a couple Mallards, 61 Hooded Mergansers and five Common Mergansers.  Hopefully the next few days I have off will produce something noteworthy...I will certainly be out there looking.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Morning birding before the storm starts produces some good stuff

Winsor Dam before the storm, Nov 26, 2014
Common Loon, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Nov 26, 2014
I had just a little time this morning to get out before the arrival of the first real snow storm of the season and I managed to find some good stuff. With the forecast of rain changing to snow starting between 7-9AM and an appointment at 9AM my time for birding was somewhat limited. I started off a Winsor Dam before daybreak but the wind had already made viewing tough there with a gusty northwest wind. I then headed over to Beaver Lake where I had 49 Hooded Merganser (certainly less than the last few visits there but still decent numbers), three Common Mergansers and a few Mallards plus a continued Belted Kingfisher.  I then headed back over to Quabbin with stops at Goodnough Dike and the Route 9 marsh. The dike was slow with nothing visible on the water but the marsh was a bit more active with 63 Canada Geese as well as 11 Hooded Mergansers plus a very active River Otter. My final stop before picking up Wilson for a quick walk was back to Winsor Dam where I turned up a couple Common Loons plus a flyby Common Goldeneye. Once I got Wilson we headed over to the land trust trail off Route 181 and that is were we had the best birds of the day with the highlight wing four Common Redpolls that flew by heading south. I first heard them and then saw them briefly as they rocketed past. I thought I had heard a redpoll about a week and a half ago but I was not totally certain as I never saw the bird and heard it briefly. The small group this morning was much closer and actually seen. Hopefully the first of many to come of this irruptive species that sometimes can show up in really good numbers (along with its less common cousin, the Hoary Redpoll). The Common Redpolls become species #235 for Hampshire County this year...just one away from tying my old record set last year....if only that Gray Jay and Eared Grebe seen nearby recently had been in the county I would have already broken the old record..oh well. There is still a month plus until the end of the year but I don't have many days available to bird around here so it will take a lot of luck to break the record at this point.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Another cold morning around south Quabbin looking for waterfowl

'Lesser' Canada Goose, Goodnough Dike, Quabbin Park, MA, Nov 22, 2014
'Lesser' Canada Goose, Goodnough Dike, Quabbin Park, MA, Nov 22, 2014
'Lesser' Canada Goose, Goodnough Dike, Quabbin Park, MA, Nov 22, 2014
Hooded Mergansers, Beaver Lake, Ware, MA, Nov 22, 2014
Common Mergansers, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Nov 22, 2014
Black Ducks, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Nov 22, 2014
Canada Geese, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Nov 22, 2014
Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Nov 22, 2014
I spent another very cold morning (low around 17) around the south Quabbin area mainly searching for unusual waterfowl.  Although  didn't find anything extreme a very small 'Lesser' Canada Goose in among its more normal sized brothers was an interesting find at Goodnough Dike.

I made my typical stops in the morning starting at Winsor Dam and then through Quabbin Park, a detour to Beaver Lake and then back to Winsor Dam. Predawn at Winsor Dam featured a group of at least 87 ducks way out on the water...just too far out to ID given the lack of light, the low level fog and the distance. I believe they were Mallards but really not 100% sure. Hundreds of gulls were also around but most just too far out to identify. My stops within Quabbin Park included Hank's Meadow and Goodnough Dike. Between the two stops I found 141 Canada Geese (97 flying south from Hank's Meadow and the rest, including the 'lesser', on the water at Goodnough Dike), five Black Ducks, five Hooded Mergansers, four Horned Grebe and three Common Loons.

Beaver Lake was more iced out than yesterday with over 50% of the lake frozen. The open water featured some waterfowl including 12 Canada Geese, 7 Mallards, three Common Mergansers and 57 Hooded Mergansers.

Once I made it back to Winsor Dam the low level fog had disappeared but so had most of the birds seen there earlier. I stayed at Winsor Dam for about an hour just seeing what was coming by and managed to find the following waterfowl: 46  Canada Geese (all moving southwest), 7 Black Ducks, 4 Mallards, a Bufflehead, 7 Hooded Mergansers, 4 Common Mergansers, two Horned Grebes and two Common Loons.  Other notables at the dam included a flyby American Pipit and a few Snow Buntings out along the dam.

The next few days feature some warming temperatures that will eventually result in temps in the low 60's on Monday. The winds will be out of the southwest for a few days and although not perfect conditions and getting a little late in the season the setup could send some Cave Swallows north. So far this season only a handful have made it out of the south and all of those have been seen in New Jersey.

Friday, November 21, 2014

A cold morning around south Quabbin

Fox Sparrow, Quabbin Gate 5, Belchertown, MA, Nov 21, 2014
Fox Sparrow, Quabbin Gate 5, Belchertown, MA, Nov 21, 2014
Fox Sparrow, Quabbin Gate 5, Belchertown, MA, Nov 21, 2014
Hooded Mergansers, Beaver Lake, Ware, MA, Nov 21, 2014
Porcupine climbing a stone wall, Quabbin Park, MA, Nov 21, 2014
Another winter like morning with temperatures around 20 with a breeze out of the northwest. I stuck around the south Quabbin area with stops at Winsor Dam, Hank's Meadow, Beaver Lake and Gate 5. The edges of Beaver Lake and almost all of the Route 9 marsh had ice already forming. Winsor Dam had only a smattering of waterfowl with two Long tailed Ducks, a flyby Common Merganser and a Common Loon. Hank's Meadow had a flyby group of 48 Canada Geese, three Common Loons, four Horned Grebes and three Bald Eagles.  As I was driving out of Quabbin Park I ran across a Porcupine crossing the road.  Beaver Lake was actually the most productive spot for a change this morning with a Bufflehead, 46 Hooded Mergasners, three Common Mergansers and 36 Canada Geese.  Quabbin Gate 5 produced a Common Loon and a Horned Grebe for waterfowl plus some flyover Pine Siskins and close up looks at a Fox Sparrow.  Overall a fairly quiet morning which I guess is not surprising given how cold it was.  Really looking forward to some warmer weather forecast for the end of the weekend.
A walk with Wilson along the Jabish Canal produced almost forty American Robins feeding on Winterberry plus a close look at a Winter Wren.
A stop back at Winsor Dam around midday produced a couple more Common Mergansers flying south but not much else.  The winds increased quite a bit from early in the morning and continued out of the west/northwest making for some really cold wind chills.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Early cold blast

We are in the midst of a cold outbreak here with recording breaking cold making it feel more like the middle of winter than the middle of November.  The cause of all this cold weather can be linked back to a very powerful typhoon in the pacific that morphed into one of the most powerful extra tropical storms that then hit Alaska and caused a major ripple effect on the jet stream that caused the jet stream to make a deep dive south allowing for record setting cold to pour in to the eastern 2/3 of the United States.  The cold snap is not only noteworthy for the low temperatures but also for the duration of the event.  It has already been below normal for several days and it won’t truly moderate until the weekend here.  The entire week here will feature highs just above freezing and lows in the teens.  To illustrate just how cold it is over such a large area, all 50 states had a location below freezing this morning.  A couple other stats I heard this morning to illustrate just how cold and snowy it is...this morning was the coldest morning in November in the US with an average low of just over 19 degrees and snow covers over 50% of the US...crazy for middle November!
The cold air blowing across the warmer waters of the Great Lakes has resulted in a major lake effect snow event with totals being measured in feet with snowfall rates of 3-5” per hour being reported at times.  Thankfully we will not have to deal with that!
How will the weather impact birding here?  Tough to say with certainty but the cold weather will likely freeze out lakes and ponds to our north and west which may result in waterfowl being pushed toward us (a report of ten Northern Shovelers on Lake Metacomet in Belchertown could be related to this).  The cold will also make it tough for some lingering species (especially insectivores) to make it through the long duration cold snap. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Eared Grebe in Brookfield and other stuff around the valley

Eared Grebe and Horned Grebe, Lake Quaboag, Brookfield, MA, Nov 16, 2014
Eared Grebe,, Lake Quaboag, Brookfield, MA, Nov 16, 2014
Eared Grebe and Horned Grebe, Lake Quaboag, Brookfield, MA, Nov 16, 2014
Eared Grebe and Horned Grebe, Lake Quaboag, Brookfield, MA, Nov 16, 2014
Another cold morning (around 20 degrees) found me headed over to south Quabbin once again.  I arrived at Winsor Dam a little after six but found very little there (the anti gull patrols appear to have gone to seven days a week now so waterfowl here is scarce).  I then headed over to Hank's Meadow where I found some waterfowl including a dozen Canada Geese, a few Black Ducks, 138 Mallards (most flew in from the north before settling on the water), half a dozen Ring necked Ducks, half a dozen Hooded Mergansers, a couple Common Loons and a couple of Horned Grebes.  Other species of note there included an Eastern Screech Owl calling and a Ruffed Grouse that exploded out of the edge of the woods as I walked past.  I added a few of the usual species at the marsh on route 9.  
Mallards and a Black Duck, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, Nov 16, 2014
I then stopped back at Winsor Dam which produced just one Common Loon on the water plus some flyby waterfowl including 47 Canada Geese, 42 Mallards and a Black Duck.  I gave some thought to going east to try for the Eared Grebe seen yesterday in Brookfield but without any reports of it so far today I decided instead to head west and try to catch up with some unusual geese on this non hunting day.  
American Coot, UMASS campus pond, Amherst, MA, Nov 16, 2014
I stopped by the UMASS campus pond which held a few geese plus the usual Mallards and a continued American Coot (a fairly unusual species in the county).  The nearby athletic fields produced 171 Canada Geese but not much else.  The various fields off Meadow St and west produced a few more small groups of Canada Geese plus some Horned Larks.  Lake Warner was totally empty of waterfowl.  I then saw a report that the Eared Grebe was once again being seen in Brookfield at Lake Quaboag so I made the decision to head that way and try my luck in finding it.  Although a bit more driving then I wanted to do, it was a scenic ride.  
Eared Grebe and Horned Grebe, Lake Quaboag, Brookfield, MA, Nov 16, 2014
Eared Grebe and Horned Grebe, Lake Quaboag, Brookfield, MA, Nov 16, 2014
Eared Grebe, Lake Quaboag, Brookfield, MA, Nov 16, 2014
Long tailed Duck, Lake Quaboag, Brookfield, MA, Nov 16, 2014
Hooded Mergansers, Lake Quaboag, Brookfield, MA, Nov 16, 2014
I arrived at Lake Quaboag around 9:30 and found several birders already there including Scott and Bob Z.  The Eared Grebe was a bit distant but not nearly as distant as a lot of waterfowl I get a Quabbin.  The Eared Grebe spent almost all its time with a Horned Grebe and gave great comparisons of these two similar species.  I also got to meet Ed K. who introduced himself right after I arrived (thanks for the kind words about the blog...glad to hear from people who enjoy it and can share in my obsession).  Other waterfowl around included a couple Pied billed Grebes, a Long tailed Duck, four Common Goldeneyes, a pair of Hooded Mergansers, some Black Ducks and Mallards and Canada Geese.  Overall I added three Worcester County species this morning (Long tailed Duck, Mute Swan and Eared Grebe).  Although I rarely venture away from Hampshire County or the Quabbin when in Massachusetts, it was well worth the trip over (plus I gave a few people another rare out of my usual areas!)  I was really hoping to convince the grebe to follow me back to Quabbin but it seemed quite content with its current location.