Thursday, December 31, 2015

The highlights of the year as 2015 comes to a close

Bay headed Tanager, Rio Magnolia Lodge, Costa Rica, April 11, 2015
Chestnut headed Oropendola, Rio Magnolia Lodge, Costa Rica, April 11, 2015
Reddish Egret, Merritt Island NWR, FL, Feb 8, 2015
Now that another year comes to a close I will do a brief review of the highlights and trips during 2015. The first few months of the year were incredibly snowy and cold which limited birding to some degree but did produce some good birds. We took a quick trip down to Florida in February to escape the winter cold but then had to go back and endure the seemingly never ending cold. A much nicer reprieve came in April when we took our first of two trips down to Costa Rica for the year.  Highlights from that trip can be found at the following link:

House Wren banded, Belchertown, MA, June 2015

Ruby throated Hummingbird on nest, Prescott Peninsula, MA, June 20, 2015
Black Bear with Wild Turkey, Prescott Peninsula, June 13, 2015
During the spring and early summer I continued with various bird surveys including a couple Eastern Whip Poor Will surveys around Quabbin, field bird surveys on Prescott Peninsula, my breeding bird atlas route (with the aid of Devin and Aidan), the Poverty Mountain area bird census and the first year of participation in the neighborhood nestwatch program as well as others.
Red headed Woodpecker, Montezuma NWR, NY, Aug 1, 2015
Bird family mural, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, July 31, 2015
In late July/early August we made a trip out to the Finger Lakes of New York and I spent a couple mornings out birding with Ian and got to see the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  The lab was very impressive and it was not to get a behind the scenes tour although I was surprised there was not a stock exchange like running tally of eBird data!
Crimson rumped Toucanet, Tandayapa Lodge, Ecuador, Nov 18, 2015
Golden Tanager, Mashpi area, Ecuador, Nov 20, 2015
Andean Cock of the Rock, Refugio Paz de las Aves, Ecuador, Nov 22, 2015
In November I finally made a trip down to Ecuador (a trip I have talked about making for several years). The trip was a bird tour organized through Tropical Birding and it was a very productive trip with 389 species total including 275 life birds! Thankfully the group was nice and small (three of us plus the guide and driver) and we managed to find pretty much all of our target birds.  I'm sure I will make another journey down there sometime in the future to explore other areas.
Gartered Trogon, Rio Magnolia Lodge, Costa Rica, Dec 23, 2015
The final big trip of the year just ended a few days ago when we returned from our now annual December trip down to Costa Rica.  It was once again a relaxing and fun trip with loads of birds to be seen.  More can be found at the following link:
Pacific Loon, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, Nov 11, 2015 (first county record)
Franklin's Gulls, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Nov 13, 2015 (life bird and second county record)
Northern Harrier, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Dec 4, 2015
Short billed Dowitcher, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Aug 30, 2015
Great Egret with dark bill, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Aug 21, 2015
Yellow Warbler, Belchertown, June 12, 2015
White eyed Vireo, Belchertown, MA, June 19, 2015
Common Gallinules, Lake Wallace, Belchertown, MA, June 25, 2015
Worm Eating Warbler, Skinner SP, Hadley, MA, May 6, 2015
Bay breasted Warbler, home, May 15, 2015
Scarlet Tanager, Quabbin Park, MA, May 16, 2015
Clay colored Sparrow, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, May 21, 2015
Mourning Warbler, Prescott Peninsula, MA, May 23, 2015
Chestnut sided Warbler, Quabbin Gate 12, May 23, 2015
Northern Shrike, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Jan 16, 2015
Despite not really trying to I tied my year record for Hampshire County (set last year at 237) I managed to do it due to a lot of luck and a nice showing of unusual birds.  If I had started the year trying to beat the record I think I could have done it as I didn't chase down some species early on.  My county total this year included five new species for me in the county (Black crowned Night Heron, Summer Tanager, Purple Martin, Pacific Loon and Franklin's Gull) bringing my county total to 288.  One of the best birds of the year turned out to be a Pacific Loon I found at Winsor Dam on November 11 which was a first county record. It became the fourth first Hampshire County record I have found in the last several years (three have been at Winsor Dam...White tailed Tropicbird, King Eider and the other county first was a Pink footed Goose in Hatfield) to loon sighting here:
Winsor Dam also produced a second ever county record when I found a couple of Franklin's Gulls during an unprecedented invasion of this species into the east in mid November (eBird link here: . I then turned up singles of this species at the dam on a few more mornings after the initial ones showed up.

Other noteworthy happenings around Hampshire County included a few unusual species that stuck around for an extended period of time and may have tried to breed. These unusual species included a pair of Common Gallinules that hung out at Lake Wallace for several weeks as well as a White eyed Vireo that stayed around in another location in Belchertown for several weeks also.  It was a great year for gulls in the valley with nine species as well as for waders with half a dozen species.  Warblers were well represented with 31 species.
Beautiful Jay, Tandayapa Lodge, Ecuador, Nov 18, 2015 (Life bird #1000)
Overall for the year I found 804 species with 275 of those being life birds bringing my life time total to 1186. The vast majority of the new birds came during my Ecuador trip (with 265 life birds).  I ended the year with 2530 eBird lists bringing my total to 17767.  I encourage everyone to enter there sightings to eBird as it is an easy way to keep track of your data while adding to science.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Back from Costa Rica again

Spot crowned Woodcreeper, San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica, Dec 26, 2015
Gartered Trogon, Rio Magnolia Lodge, Costa Rica, Dec 23, 2015
Sunset, Rio Magnolia Lodge, Costa Rica, Dec 21, 2015
Just back from another relaxing trip to Costa Rica where we spent about a week and a half at Rio Magnolia Lodge in the southern Pacific foothills. We were joined for about a week of our stay by our friends Devin, Rae, Aidan and Carole. As always the hundreds of acres around the lodge provided loads of birds including three life birds for me (Pale breasted Spinetail, Solitary Eagle and White throated Spadebill). I managed to find a total of 161 species at the lodge during my time there. Even after eight trips down to the lodge it is amazing to still find new species there. The vast majority of the time we stayed around the lodge but we did also take two trips away from the lodge with one trip to the coast at Hacienda Baru and another to the mountains up to San Gerardo de Dota. The half day trip to Hacienda Baru was hot but productive and I managed to add another life bird there when we had several Brown Noddy just off shore. The all day trip up to San Gerardo de Dota produced a total of species including another life bird (Ochraceous Wren).  Overall the trip produced 229 species with five new life birds.  Of the total species seen during the trip nine new for me in Costa Rica (bringing my CR list to 470)...thanks to eBird for making all this data so easy to access.

I have started uploading photos from the trip which can be found at the following link:
(Just cell phone shots so far but I will add more photos as I get them downloaded and edited)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Trip along the valley and then to Quabbin

Red necked Grebe, UMASS pond, Amherst, MA, Dec 12, 2015
Red necked Grebe, UMASS pond, Amherst, MA, Dec 12, 2015
Black Ducks and Mallards, Hadley, MA, Dec 12, 2015
Horned Grebes, Quabbin Park, MA, Dec 12, 2015
I made numerous stops this morning trying my luck at catching up with waterfowl in the valley and ended the morning with eleven species.  I started off before sunrise quickly hitting the Honey Pot to check for owls (came up empty).  I then headed over to the UMASS campus pond to see if the Red necked Grebe found yesterday by Devin was still around.  A quick scan around in the first light of the day revealed the grebe in among 130+ Canada Geese and 40+ Mallards.  Very odd to have this species on such a small pond (a first record for the UMASS campus list apparently...bringing the list to 250).  I then spent the next few hours working my way south along the Connecticut River in Hadley and into South Hadley down to the Holyoke Dam.  I turned up more waterfowl species including Mute Swan, Black Duck (a group of 24 together), Green winged Teal, Common Goldeneye and Common Merganser.  I then headed back toward Quabbin and made stops at Lake Wallace, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park and Beaver Lake which produced new species including Hooded Merganser, Common Loon and Horned Grebe.  Very odd to have no ice at all on any body of water during my travels today...certainly unusual in mid December.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Warm weather continues (with warmer air to come)

Hooded Merganser, Beaver Lake, Ware, MA, Dec 11, 2015
Common Merganser, Quabbin Park, MA, Dec 11, 2015
White tailed Deer swimming in reservoir, Quabbin Park, MA, Dec 11, 2015
Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Dec 11, 2015

This morning started off foggy but I figured I would head out anyway in the hopes of finding some holes in the fog.  I started off at Quabbin Park and headed to Hank's Meadow which looked like it would be too foggy to see anything but I could hear some ducks so I headed down to the waters edge and I was able to see a bit of the water which produced some decent waterfowl including 16 Black Ducks, 22 Mallards, 17 Hooded Mergansers, 8 Common Mergansers and 11 Horned Grebes.  I'm sure there were more birds further out lost to me in the fog.  The nearby route 9 marsh produced three more Hooded Mergansers.  Beaver Lake was as busy as I have seen it yet this season with seven Canada Geese, a couple Black Ducks, 19 Mallards, 68 Hooded Mergansers and 7 Common Mergansers.  When I stopped by Winsor Dam it was fogged in and I had just a few flyby Canada Geese and Common Mergansers.  Lake Metacomet was completely empty of waterfowl (at least the part of the lake I could see).  As I was watching the activity at Hank's Meadow I noticed three deer swimming in the reservoir heading north from Gate 52.  Not much else of note around but it was nice to get some waterfowl as well as enjoy the above average temperatures.

I also made some early morning stops this week on my way to work but found just the typical waterfowl along the river and at Arcadia.  I tried for the Short eared Owls at Arcadia yesterday too but came up empty.

The weather this month has continued to be warm with no snow as of yet (and none in the near future).  The forecast through the weekend into next week shows even warmer temperatures with highs approaching or exceeding 60 degrees (record breaking warmth).  The lows over the next week will be closer to what the average high should be (low to mid 40's).  Hopefully this will be a trend through the remainder of the winter, which is certainly possible given the strong El Nino that has developed.  Time will tell but it is enjoyable weather for now.  In another weather item the initial look (not a forecast but a trend) at the 2016 hurricane season for the Atlantic is out and it could be a very active year or a very slow year depending on a number of variables with one major being how fast the current strong El Nino weakens...a faster weakening would favor a busier season.  More about this can be found at the following link:

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Morning with freezing fog today along the river

House Finches, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Dec 6, 2015
Song Sparrow, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Dec 6, 2015
Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Dec 6, 2015
I had plans today to make it over to Arcadia and then work back east over the course of the morning looking for owls early on and then waterfowl.  As I drove over before dawn the fog greatly limited visibility and caused some slick spots as the temperatures were a bit below freezing (freezing fog).  I arrived at Arcadia before dawn and drove a few of the roads and was lucky to have a Short eared Owl fly past me and then disappear into the fog not to be seen again.  I checked the Arcadia marsh but the fog limited my ability to see everything that was in the marsh.  Nonetheless I had 270+ Canada Geese, a couple Wood Ducks, three Black Ducks, 27 Mallards and one each of Common and Hooded Merganser.  I then checked a few spots along the river in Hadley but again the fog made viewing tough and I had just some Canada Geese and Mallards.  The Honey Pot featured some sparrows as well as a good number of House Finches but nothing really unusual.  With the fog hanging tough I drove past fields in Amherst and Hadley but didn't have any luck finding anything in them.  The campus pond at UMASS held about 150 Canada Geese plus Mallards and a single Black Duck.  I tried the river and some fields again but the fog just would not lift so I headed back toward home with a brief stop at Winsor Dam which is where the fog finally lifted around 10AM.  Unfortunately the reservoir was completely empty of birds.
Wild Turkeys, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Dec 5, 2015

Yesterday I stayed around the south Quabbin area which was fairly quiet with the highlights being 29 Hooded Mergansers at Beaver Lake a group of 22 Wild Turkeys at Winsor Dam and eight Horned Grebes together at Hank's Meadow.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Ecuador Day 8, Guango Lodge then over the Andes to Quito plus totals for the trip

Great Conebill, Papallacta, Ecuador, Nov 24, 2015
Great Conebill, Papallacta, Ecuador, Nov 24, 2015
White chinned Thistletail,  Papallacta, Ecuador, Nov 24, 2015
Black chested Buzzard Eagle, Papallacta, Ecuador, Nov 24, 2015
Collard Inca, Guango Lodge, Ecuador, Nov 24, 2015
My last full day in Ecuador started off at Guango Lodge and then moved up to the high Andes once again. The first few hours were spent around Guango Lodge and turned up a very nice mixed species flock that produced even more new species. Just before nine we left to make the drive up over the Andes with a few stops along the way that proved productive once again despite some early light rain and some cold (but much better conditions then what commonly occur there). Our final stop of the day in the early afternoon produced a couple more sought after species, Great Conebill and White chinned Thistletail. Not only did we find these two species but both allowed some great photo ops. A perfect way to end the official tour.

Full lists:
Scrub Tanager, Rincon de Puembo, Ecuador, Nov 24, 2015
We made it to the hotel late in the afternoon and I spent some time trying to find reported Scrub Tanagers in the various small gardens. After a few trips around I came across two Scrub Tanagers, adding another new species for the trip. I caught up with a few other birders a bit later and tried to show them where the tanagers were but they were gone but were replaced by another new species...a Rusty Flowerpiecer.

The final species count for the trip turned out to be 389 with 265 of them being life birds for me, bringing my total life birds to 1181 (thank you eBird for easily keeping track of it for me). There were many highlights from many different bird families but hummingbirds and tanagers were very well represented and I'll probably post about them in the future.  We also found half a dozen mammal species with the highlight by far being the Spectacled Bear.  It was a great trip with a nice small group that made it all quite fun...thanks to Jose, Antonio, Arnaud and Mary.

Arcadia and the CT river in the morning plus south Quabbin

Northern Harrier, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Dec 4, 2015
House Finch, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Dec 4, 2015
Canada Goose with dark cheek, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Dec 4, 2015
Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Dec 4, 2015
I spent a good portion of the morning today out exploring various areas primarily in search of waterfowl.  I started off along the Connecticut River where I stopped at Arcadia as well as a few spots in Hadley.  Arcadia had a decent number of Canada Geese (380+) including an individual with a dark cheek on both sides of its sign of any Cackling Geese this morning.  Arcadia also had a smattering of Black Ducks, Mallards and three Green winged Teal.  The meadows featured at least three Northern Harriers plus other more expected species.  The river in Hadley had some Canada Geese, Mallards and Black Ducks but nothing more unusual.  None of the fields in the area featured any geese but not really surprising given the hunting pressure.  Quabbin Park produced a Common Goldeneye, a couple Horned Grebes and a Common Loon on the reservoir plus a few Black Ducks on the route 9 marsh.  Nearby Beaver Lake had just a couple each of Hooded Merganser and Canada Geese.  Overall a fairly quiet morning but at least it was not unbearably cold.