Friday, February 27, 2015

Yet another cold week

Red necked Grebe, picked up from Springfield area parking lot (story below), Feb 26, 2015
The weather the last week has continued to be extremely cold with more record cold lows (up to -19 one morning).  Luckily we didn't get any major snowfalls for a change.  The winter has been tough on everyone, including the local bird population.  The deep snow pack and lack of open water has made survival difficult for many species.  I got a text on Thursday to help identify a bird picked up by someone in a Springfield area parking lot and brought to the Dakin Humane Society.  The bird appeared to not be injured but obviously was having difficulty.  The bird was likely displaced from further north as more areas ice up completely and the bird likely mistook the parking lot as open water.  Even if the bird didn't suffer any injuries hitting the parking lot he would be unable to take back off as this species need a bit of open water in order to get airborne again.  The bird was eventually transported down to Tufts Wildlife Clinic ( to be checked more thoroughly.  Hopefully the bird is able to get some rehab and make it back into the wild.

I have not be able to get out to do much birding the last week but had a few noteworthy sightings including my first of the season Yellow bellied Sapsucker in Northampton on Tuesday, a Northern Pintail near the Coolidge Bridge on Thursday.  Today I managed to run across multiple Common Redpolls in a few spots in Belchertown, 41 Cedar Waxwings feeding on crabapples at the HQ building at Quabbin and at least 42 Wild Turkeys in a yard in Belchertown plus a Fish Crow along King Street in Northampton.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Snow and cold continues

Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Feb 21, 2015
Not much in the way of bird life to report on yet another cold and snowy weekend.  Yesterday morning was one of the coldest morning in a long time with a low of -18!  Overnight into this morning we picked up another 4-5" of snow so the morning was spent cleaning it all up...again.  At least it warmed a bit today and actually made it above freezing for the first time in several weeks...probably the warmest day since early January!  I managed to get out a little late morning yesterday once it warmed above zero and headed over briefly to the south Quabbin area.  Highlights included a single Common Merganser in the short stretch of open water in the Swift River and a group of 13 Cedar Waxwings at Winsor Dam (sadly no Bohemian Waxwings with them).  While out shoveling and playing with Wilson at home today the highlights among the usual feeder birds included a Sharp shinned Hawk that unsuccessfully tried to take a bird at the feeders and a Red breasted Nuthatch.  The next week looks to feature continued very cold weather but hopefully little new snow.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The very cold weather continues with no end in sight

Common Goldeneyes, Connecticut River, Hadley, MA, Feb 20, 2015
The extreme cold and snowy weather continues unabated with lows the last few mornings below zero and highs in the teens to 20's with a strong wind overnight into the day today.  The forecast does not show any break in this pattern with more snow (and possibly freezing rain) forecast for tomorrow into Sunday and then another cold blast.  It has got to end at some point but not any time soon.  Despite the cold temperatures I just wanted to get out a little this morning before doing work around the house.  I headed over to the Connecticut River in Hadley and then went up along the river in Hatfield and then back down the east side of the river through the Honey Pot before heading home.  The amount of open water available for waterfowl is probably as low as I have ever seen it around here.  The water below the Coolidge Bridge held 16 Canada Geese, a Black Duck, 53 Mallards, five Common Goldeneyes, a pair of Bald Eagles and a Peregrine Falcon.  All the areas I was able to check as I worked north along the river were frozen solid.  I didn't find any more waterfowl until I made it down to the Honey Pot where I found half a dozen Common Goldeneyes but little else.  The fields all along the river were very quiet with just a few Horned Larks at the Honey Pot.  Overall a very quiet morning but not unexpected given the current weather conditions.
Wilson in the snow
Wilson in the snow
Wilson in the snow
I think Wilson may be the only one who really enjoys this weather.  He never seems to tire of being out in in it and eating as much snow as he can!

Monday, February 16, 2015

A look at tropical storm related species in western Massachusetts

As the weather pattern continues to bring us more snow (another 7" yesterday), cold temperatures (high today around 10 with lows tonight -10) and wind (wind chills down to -35) I have more free time indoors to spend on researching some interesting (at least in my mind) local bird related topics.  My first topic will involve one of my favorite topics of hurricane related bird sightings.  I will look at a variety of systems that have impacted the area, the tracks the storms took and the unusual species they produced.  As I'm sure over time I will find additional information concerning storm related birds in western Massachusetts as I do more research, I will add to this post as I find info.

A great background piece on general hurricane birding (and a bit of detail on Irene) can be found on the eBird website at the following link:

New England Hurricane of 1938 track (map courtesy of weatherunderground)
The great Hurricane of 1938 that hit the area on September 21, 1938 as a category 3 storm at landfall tracked over Long Island and then up through Connecticut and through the Berkshires.  The storm is legendary in its intensity at landfall and the speed at which it arrived here as well as the enormous damage that it caused. Although there were certainly many birds involved, the number of birders and flow of information was much lower than today so the records from the area include only the following: 
A Cory Shearwater was found in Peru in Berkshire County on September 28 (only western mass record ever).

A Greater Shearwater was found in Montgomery on the day of the storm (only western mass record ever).

A Sooty Tern was found on the day of the storm in Northampton.

Multiple reports of Leach's Storm Petrels in Southwick, Holyoke, Northampton and on the Mongomery/Huntington line.

An interesting article about the storm and the birds it deposited can be found in The Auk (The AOU's quarterly journal) from April 1939.  I have included an excerpt below about other species that arrived with the storm.

Nighthawks, swifts and swallows--none of which had been seen in western Massachusetts for several days before the hurricane--were indubitably blown back by it. At Northampton some were seen amidst the storm, and next morning; and "thousands" assembled together on September 23. At Williamsburg, two Purple Martins appeared at 8 a.m. on September 25 (and one in Marshfield, September 29)! One Nighthawk was seen as late as September 27. Gulls were blown up the Connecticut Valley in large numbers. On the morning of September 22, "a great many" were at Lake Congamond, Southwick (in the supposed path of the storm's very center), and A. C. Bagg at Holyoke saw not only Herring Gulls but five or six Laughing (very rare there), four or five Bonaparte's (rare), and two or three Ring-billed Gulls. Terns were visitors still more exciting. Just before sunset on September 21, when the worst of the hurricane had passed, one Northampton observer saw, besides one petrel, four terns, three of which struck him as immature Sooties. Of course they went by him too fast for any certainty; and the only hurricane record of that species (which other, past hurricanes have several times brought to us) that I have seen is from ManerviIle, Long Island, during the lull when the center of the storm was passing there (Bird-Lore, 1938, p. 459). For several days following September 21, terns were present at Hadley (flooded), too far away for specific identification; and at the Holyoke dam on September 24 I saw one adult and two immature Common Terns, and on September 26, one adult, one immature, and an adult Forster's Tern. Far to the north-east, at Athol, a Common Tern was seen on September 22. (The Auk, April 1939, pg 178).

Link to full article in The Auk below:

Hurricane Diane track (map courtesy of weatherunderground)
The next tropical system to bring some unusual birds into western Massachusetts was Hurricane Diane that hit the area on August 18, 1955 and brought a Sooty Tern to Pittsfield.  The track was not optimal for bringing storm related birds to western mass as the track was to our south but obviously the discovery of a Sooty Tern means birds can turn up even with a less than optimal track.

                                           Hurricane Belle track (map courtesy of weatherunderground)

Hurricane Belle hit on August 10, 1976 and brought with it a Wilson’s Storm Petrel to the Connecticut River in Longmeadow.  The bird was seen along with Leach’s Storm Petrels flying along the river.  This hurricane also brought in several Least Terns to the area including two at Congamond Ponds in Southwick, another along the river in Agawam and another to the oxbow in Northampton.  Besides the Least Terns associated with this storm the only other report of this species occurred in Longmeadow on August 26, 1971 which does not correspond with a tropical system on or before that date but Hurricane Doria came through the area just after August 26 so perhaps the date of the report is in error?  I will have to dig a bit more the try to figure this info out.

                                                   Hurricane David track (map courtesy of weatherunderground)
Hurricane David tracked through the area on September 6, 1979 and produced a Wilson’s Storm Petrel in Dalton on September 7.  It also brought a handful of Sooty Terns to the area including one in Holyoke and another n Longmeadow on the day of the arrival of the storm and another one to Middlefield on September 9.

                                     Hurricane Gloria track (map courtesy of weatherunderground)

The arrival of Hurricane Gloria on September 27, 1985 produced a few Wilson’s Storm Petrels including two (with Leach’s Storm Petrels) in Agawam and a single individual from Stockbridge.  The storm also produced a Royal Tern at Turners Falls (the only western mass record of this species). 
Hurricane Irene track (map courtesy of weatherunderground)
I have birded a couple of tropical systems including Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy with Irene being the most productive for displaced birds with a near perfect track for bringing stuff our way (the storm tracked near the Connecticut River putting Quabbin just east of the track).  The highlights from this storm were many and included the following: 

-Wilson's Storm Petrels in Pittsfield at Pontoosuc Lake and another found dead (and salvaged) in Northampton
-Leach's Storm Petrel at south Quabbin (which I sadly missed as I left just before it arrived)
-unidentified storm petrel species at Onota Lake in Pittsfield
-White tailed Tropicbird at south Quabbin and another one at Onota Lake
-Parasitic Jaeger at south Quabbin (plus at least one other unidentified jaeger at same location)
-Sooty Tern at south Quabbin and Onota Lake

Irene also produced a fabulous showing of shorebirds with following species and numbers noted at Winsor Dam:
-Black bellied Plover (7)
-American Golden Plover (2)
-Greater Yellowlegs (1)
-Whimbrel (1)
-Hudsonian Godwit (12)
-Ruddy Turnstone (4)
-Baird's Sandpiper (1)
-Red/Red necked Phalarope (1)
-small peep (1)
-large shorebird (11)

The full list for the day from Marshall gives a real feel for the excitement of the day-
A few days after the passage of Irene I was at Covey WMA in Belchertown and came across a large swift species flying south along with Common Nighthawks.  I was unable to definitively identify the bird but it may very well have been a Black Swift displaced by the storm. Below is a link to an earlier post regarding this sighting:

Hurricane Sandy track (map courtesy of weatherunderground)
Although Hurricane Sandy didn't have a major impact here it nevertheless produced a variety of birds in the area with the primary species being seaducks (scoters, long tailed ducks, etc) plus a couple of Black legged Kittiwakes (one of which I was able to find at Winsor Dam and the other seen by James Smith up in Turners to my blog post from that day-  A Red Phalarope was also seen in Turners Falls and another was found dead and collected at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley.

A link from eBird with some additional details on the lead up to Hurricane Sandy can be found at the following link:
Another link to sightings from Sandy can be found here: 

Besides the pelagic birds blown in or put down by the tropical systems these storms can also produce some fallouts of shorebirds as the birds migrate south or if the storm is late in the season, waterfowl.  Details on these occurrences with early storms is tough to find information on but shorebirds were well documented during Irene and Sandy (see info above). 

Here is a list of pelagic/coastal birds and the number of individual occurrences by county in western Massachusetts.  Many of these are storm related but some are not.  A few of these were counts of more than a single individual present at location.  (B=Berkshire,  F=Franklin, HD=Hampden, HP=Hampshire). 
Audubon Shearwater – 1 (HD)

Cory Shearwater  -1 (B)

Greater Shearwater -1 (HD)

Leach’s Storm Petrel –multiple reports from various storms
Wilson’s Storm Petrel – 2 (B), 3 (HD), 1 (HP)

American White Pelican – 1 (F), 1 (HD), 2 (HP)

Brown Pelican -1 (HD)

White tailed Tropicbird - 1 (B), 1 (HP)

Northern Gannet -2 (B), 1 (HP) + 1 in town of Enfield that now lies under the waters of Quabbin
Parasitic Jaeger -1 (B), 1 (HP)

Little Gull - 1 (B)

Franklin's Gull - 1 (B), 1 (F), 1 (HD), 1 (HP)

Laughing Gull- 2 (B), 2 (HP)

Mew Gull- 2 (HP)

Sabine's Gull- 1 (HP)

Black legged Kittiwake- 1 (B), 2 (F), 3 (HP)

Caspian Tern - multiple records during inclement weather during spring and fall migration
Royal Tern -1 (F)

Common Tern- multiple records during inclement weather during spring and fall migration
Arctic Tern- 1 (B), 1 (HD), 2 (HP)

Forster’s Tern- A handful of spring records with most records in fall (usually associated with tropical systems)...more details on these records later.
Least Tern- 4 (HD), 1 (HP)

Black Tern-  multiple records during inclement weather during spring and fall migration
Sooty Tern -1 (B), 3 (HD), 2 (HP)

Thick billed Murre- 4 (B), 1 (F)
Razorbill -1 (F)

Black Guillemot- 1 (HP)
Atlantic Puffin- 1 (B)

As you can see from these records there are many possibilities for pelagic/coastal birds to reach western Massachusetts with many of these associated with storms (both tropical and non tropical).  I will go into more detail on species associated with non tropical system in a future post.

When the next tropical system approaches the area the following websites can be quite helpful to check for updates and information (websites besides this one which will certainly have some info when a storm threatens!).

General websites with great forecasts and insight into Atlantic tropical weather can found at the following links:

I used a variety of sources for the information and maps included in this post including the following:
MARC website-

eBird website- website -

The Auk, April 1939 "Hurricane aftermath", pg 177-179.

Bird Observer article "Western Massachusetts Rarities", Kellogg, Seth and Smith, James, Feb 2007, pages 15-29.

North American Birds. "Changes Seasons: Driven", Farnsworth, Andrew and Iliff, Marshall, pg 23-28 and "New England", Ellison, Walter and Martin, Nancy, pg 37-42.

Birds of Massachusetts, Veit, Richard and Petersen, Wayne, 1993

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Back from a quick trip down to central Florida

Reddish Egret, Merritt Island NWR, FL, Feb 8, 2015
Just back from a short trip down to sunny, warm Florida and now back in the snow hell that is Massachusetts.  We headed down there on Saturday the 7th and returned late on Tuesday the 10th.  We stayed along the beach in Melbourne and I was able to get out to a variety of locations over the course of those few days.  Overall the weather was nice with temperatures in the 70’s the first three days and then the low 60’s the last day with a bit of wind.  Only one afternoon and evening of rain so not too bad at all, especially compared to the weather here at home. 
Belted Kingfishers, Viera Wetlands, FL, Feb 7, 2015
Great Egret, Viera Wetlands, FL, Feb 7, 2015
On our way to Melbourne on Saturday we stopped off for a few hours at the Viera Wetlands where we walked the berm roads that oddly were closed to vehicles until right before we left (made for a much more pleasant experience without cars around).  Loads of typical birds around but nothing too unusual.
Tricolored Heron, Merritt Island NWR, FL, Feb 8, 2015
I headed out early on Sunday to make the drive up to Merritt Island NWR where I spent the morning into the early afternoon exploring the area.  Thankfully it was not as dry as some past years so waterfowl and waders were around in decent numbers but somewhat lower numbers of shorebirds.  As always it was a productive trip up there and one that never gets old as the variety always manages to impress.
Great Blue Heron, Viera Wetlands, FL, Feb 9, 2015
Sora, Viera Wetlands, FL, Feb 9, 2015
On Monday I was thinking of heading southwest to get some pine land related birds but when I headed out I noticed some rain in that direction and right overhead so I changed my plans and headed back to the Viera Wetlands to stick a bit closer to the hotel in case I got rained out.  Thankfully the rain stopped when I arrived there.  The clouds gave way to sun fairly quickly and I spent the morning through mid afternoon exploring the area.  I found 68 species there including a King Rail which was actually a species I have somehow never found before so I added a life bird for the day (#912).  Lots of other good stuff around and I have included the list from the day below:
Rain arrived in the afternoon and I spent the later afternoon seawatching from the balcony but didn’t find anything too unusual.

Sandhill Crane, Orlando Wetlands Park, FL, Feb 10, 2015
On the final day we started our journey back toward Orlando for an early evening flight.  Despite the wind and cooler temperatures, it was still nice to be outside.  Our first stop late morning was to the Orlando Wetlands Park.  I have heard about this location for years but it is usually closed for hunting in January when I’m usually in Florida so this was my first visit to this spot.  It seems to have great potential and I could easily spend a good part of the day exploring the nearly 1500 acres.  There had been a Vermilion Flycatcher seen in the area but I could not find it which was not too surprising as the wind kept a lot of smaller birds hunkered down.  After a lunch stop we got a bit closer to the airport but still had some time to kill so made a brief stop over to the Split Oak Mitigation Park.  After a final gasp of warmer air we headed to the airport and then to home where another foot plus of snow that fell while we were gone awaited us.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Some unusual sparrows at the end of a snowy and cold week

Clay colored Sparrow, Belchertown, MA, Feb 6, 2015
Clay colored Sparrow, Belchertown, MA, Feb 6, 2015
Clay colored Sparrow, Belchertown, MA, Feb 6, 2015
Fox Sparrow, Belchertown, MA, Feb 6, 2015
American Tree Sparrow, Belchertown, MA, Feb 6, 2015
Song Sparrow, Belchertown, MA, Feb 6, 2015
White throated Sparrow, Belchertown, MA, Feb 6, 2015
Dark eyed Junco, Belchertown, MA, Feb 6, 2015
Mourning Dove, Belchertown, MA, Feb 6, 2015
Blue Jay, Belchertown, MA, Feb 6, 2015
The snow and cold have continued during the past week and I have not gotten out much at all.  Although today started off cold (around -10) it eventually 'warmed' to around 20 with some sun.  Unfortunately the forecast calls for continued snow and cold through the forecast period with the potential for several days of snow starting later tomorrow.  Winter may have started off a bit slow but it has certainly arrived with a vengeance now. 

After running some errands and taking the Wilson for a walk I headed over to the Griffith's where the Clay colored Sparrow that was present from late November until early January made a reappearance along with an unusual for winter Fox Sparrow.  I spent about an hour there watching both species as well as the many other feeder visitors coming in.  Makes you wonder where this Clay colored Sparrow has been for the last cold and snowy month.  Glad it decided to come back and grace us with its presence.  A bit more about the Clay colored Sparrow can be found at Devin's blog:
Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Feb 6, 2015
I made a run by Winsor Dam earlier in the day but it was nearly devoid of life...a frozen, arctic like wasteland.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

January ends and February begins

Dawn, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Feb 1, 2015
Horned Larks enjoying some fresh manure, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Feb 1, 2015
Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Feb 1, 2015
I spent a few cold hours this morning on the first day of February trying to find some good stuff in the valley but didn't have much luck.  I started off at the Honey Pot and had just a few Horned Larks and a small group of Canada Geese and 16 Common Mergansers in the river.  Oddly few sparrows around at all.  The nearby Coolidge Bridge produced just a handful of geese, 50+ Mallards and a few Common Mergansers.  Aqua Vitae Road was also quiet with very few birds to be had.  Another run through the Honey Pot turned up a few more birds but it was still quiet.  I then headed over to UMASS to try to catch up with the Bohemian Waxwings there or perhaps the Gray Catbird that has been hanging on despite the cold weather.  No luck with either species but did have 17 Black Ducks among the 230+ Mallards in the small patch of open water on the campus pond.

Later in the day I stopped by Quabbin but with the only open water way out north I didn't have much luck finding any waterfowl.  The trees nearby hold lots of fruit for a waxwing to enjoy and I had a few Cedar Waxwings enjoying them but nothing else unusual with them.
Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Jan 31, 2015
I ended the month of January with a total of 89 species in Hampshire County, breaking my previous best January back in 2013 by four species.  I had some really good stuff including some late waterfowl, a few lingering passerines and a few irruptives (including Common Redpoll, Bohemian Waxwing and White winged Crossbill).  Trying to best my previous best January made me get out a little more in the cold weather.   

Year           Jan 10              Jan 20                 Jan31
2015            74                      83                       89
2014            71                      75                       81
2013            75                      82                       85
2012            50                      52                       60

February is looking to continue to be cold and snowing with temperatures below freezing through at least the next week with lows below zero on several days.  We are also forecast to get another foot of snow tonight through tomorrow.  I have a feeling February will be a long month despite it being just 28 days long.