Sunday, January 11, 2015

Cold weekend of birding

American Kestrel, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Jan 11, 2015
Rough legged Hawk (dark phase), Arcadia meadows, Northampton, MA, Jan 11, 2015
Rough legged Hawk (dark phase), Arcadia meadows, Northampton, MA, Jan 11, 2015
Lapland Longspurs (middle right and middle left), Arcadia meadows, Northampton, MA, Jan 11, 2015
Lapland Longspur, Arcadia meadows, Northampton, MA, Jan 11, 2015
Today was yet another cold day in a string of cold days with a low temperature this morning at -6.  I headed over to the Connecticut River in South Hadley and then worked my way north along the river finally ending at the Honey Pot.  The open waters below the Holyoke Dam featured some very cold looking waterfowl including 827 Canada Geese, two Mute Swans, five Black Ducks, 69 Mallards, 37 Common Goldeneye (no barrows found despite a lot of looking), a Hooded Merganser and 11 Common Mergansers.  Other notable species there included a Sharpshinned Hawk harassing a vocal Cooper's Hawk, a Peregrine Falcon sitting on a lightpole on the bridge and at least one Fish Crow mixed in with the American Crows leaving their morning roost.  I then headed north along the largely frozen Connecticut River and ended up at the Aracdia meadows looking for the dark phase Rough legged Hawk that has been reported there the last few days.  I found the striking individual fairly quickly as it was perched along the road as I arrived.  Rough legged Hawks are always a fun bird to catch up with in winter around here and having a cooperative dark phase bird makes it even better.  Probably the best looks I have had of this color phase in years.  In the same area of the hawk was a large flock (240+) of Horned Larks.  Mixed in with the large flock of larks were at least four Lapland Longspurs as well as a couple Snow Buntings.  Once I finished scanning through the flock and checking out the groups of nearby sparrows, I headed over to the East Meadows to check the river for waterfowl.  I only managed to turn up 160 Canada Geese, 43 Mallards and a pair Hooded Mergansers in the open water areas.  The couple of Bald Eagles as well as a Peregrine Falcon kept the birds on edge as the raptors moved around.  My final stop over at the Honey Pot turned up my first of the year American Kestrel as well as 80+ Horned Larks, a Snow Bunting with the larks, half a dozen Savannah Sparrows among the other more typical sparrows.  Overall a very good morning for raptors as well as other species despite the frigid temperatures.  I added three more species for the month this morning: Fish Crow, Rough legged Hawk and American Kestrel bringing my total for the month in Hampshire County to a respectable 77.
Horned Lark, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Jan 10, 2015
Horned Lark, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Jan 10, 2015
Song Sparrow, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Jan 10, 2015
Low hanging fog, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Jan 10, 2015
Morning frost, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Jan 10, 2015
I woke up well before dawn yesterday so thought I would use my time before sunrise to try to catch up with some owls along the river in Hadley. It was a frosty 8 degrees when I left the house but clear with moonlit skies. As I arrived at the Honey Pot the temperature dropped down to zero and there was a narrow layer of fog covering the fields. It was an odd sight as the layer varied between hugging the ground and being just above the ground. I scanned below the fog where I could and checked the few open areas but no luck finding a long eared or short eared owl hunting the fields. My efforts to get a screech owl calling back to me also failed so no luck with any owls at all. I even tried a few spots to find roosting owls but none were found. The fog lifted rapidly just before dawn but left behind a thick layer of frost on all the weeds, trees and grasses. I did manage to find some flocks of larks as well as groups of sparrows but did not turn up the Vesper Sparrow seen there yesterday. Highlights during the two hours there included 120+ Horned Larks, a single Lapland Longspur (with larks), a single Snow Bunting, half a dozen Savannah Sparrows and numbers of American Tree Sparrows, Song Sparrows, White throated Sparrows and juncos. The river was largely frozen but there were still open areas with the only waterfowl there being a few Common Mergansers. Raptors were oddly low in number with just a single Sharpshinned Hawk and a Red tailed Hawk but the sharpie was a new species for the year. The area near the Coolidge Bridge produced a few more Common Mergansers plus around 35 Mallards. Without too much activity happening along the river I decided to head toward Quabbin to see if any birds were taking advantage of the largely open water there. On my way over there I stopped along South Maple St at Flavors Farm and found a Brown headed Cowbird mixed in with hundreds of starlings. With the cowbird I made it to 74 species for the first ten days in Hampshire County.
Black Ducks and Mallards, Quabbin Park, MA, Jan 10, 2015
I then made a few stops at Quabbin Park with the most productive being at Hank's Meadow where I had 24 Black Ducks, 13 Mallards, six Common Mergansers and half a dozen Horned Grebes. A stop at Winsor Dam produced 12 Hooded Mergansers. The reservoir is still mainly open with just coves and shallow areas beginning to ice up. With the continued cold weather I would expect large areas to freeze up over the next week or so.

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