Sunday, August 30, 2015

Shorebirds in the valley this weekend including Short billed Dowitcher and Upland Sandpiper

Short billed Dowitcher, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Aug 30, 2015
Short billed Dowitcher, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Aug 30, 2015
Short billed Dowitcher andLeast Sandpipers, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Aug 30, 2015
Spotted Sandpiper, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Aug 30, 2015
Least Sandpipers, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Aug 30, 2015
Lesser Yellowlegs, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Aug 30, 2015
Great Egret, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Aug 30, 2015
Song Sparrow, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Aug 30, 2015
Bobolinks, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Aug 30, 2015
My original plan for today was to stick closer to home but after talking to Bob Z. about his luck with herons and shorebirds yesterday at Arcadia I headed back over that way bright and early. I was certainly glad I took the trip over by the river this morning as I managed to find lots of good stuff. I started out at Arcadia and spent the next three plus hours there with the best bird by far being a Short billed Dowitcher that showed up after scanning the marsh for about thirty minutes. I was not sure I would find anything there as when I arrived a Cooper's Hawk was making repeated runs at the shorebirds that were present. This was my first Short billed Dowitcher in fall in the county and only the fourth time I have run across this species in the county (previous records including twice at Winsor Dam in May during inclement weather and once at Pilgrim Airport in Hatfield)  The Short billed Dowitcher became species #220 for Hampshire County this year. After quite a bit of time at the marsh I walked a bit through some of the fields before returning to the marsh once again before I headed back across the river. No luck finding the Black crowned Night Heron that Bob Z. had yesterday but still managed three wader species. Overall I had eight shorebird species at Arcadia (and added another species later at the Honey Pot making it nine shorebird species for the fall day yet for shorebirds). Numerous other highlights among 66 species at Arcadia this morning with the full list attached below:
Solitary Sandpiper, CT River, Hadley, MA, Aug 30, 2015
Once I finished up at Arcadia I made it across the river to the Honey Pot to scan the fields for more shorebirds. I started at the dike and as I was walking up with my binoculars and scope I heard a three part call overhead and started scanning and picked up a small headed, short billed streamlined shorebird heading away...Upland Sandpiper! I immediately regretted my decision to leave the good camera in the car. I watched the bird disappear to the southwest toward the East Meadows. Not long after a Cooper's Hawk zipped through making me think the Upland Sandpiper probably flushed because of the raptor moving through....right place at the right time for me. The Upland Sandpiper becomes species #221 for Hampshire County this year which actually puts me ahead of my record setting year of 2014 (only for a day probably as I hit 222 on August 31 last year). Although not really trying to break my previous record this year looks prime to come very close. It will be interesting to see what the next week brings. The forecast calls for warmer weather through Thursday with a cold front moving through then meaning that Friday into next weekend could be quite good.  Full list from the Honey Pot  and the nearby CT river below:

As far as the tropics are concerned Erika has been reduced to an unnamed tropical low pressure system and no longer even a remote threat to the northeast at this point. There is always the chance for regeneration at this point but not really likely. A new storm has formed way out near the Cape Verde Islands named Fred. It is a tropical storm at this time but will likely soon become a hurricane. It is forecast to move westward eventually but the threat to the US is unlikely and a long way off.
Solitary Sandpiper and Killdeer hunkered down as Merlins pass by, Arcadia, Northampton, Aug 29, 2015
Great Egret, Arcadia, Northampton, Aug 29, 2015
Merlin, Arcadia, Northampton, Aug 29, 2015
Yesterday I headed over to a few spots along the river in search of shorebirds. As is typical this time of year early morning fog made viewing difficult in some spots. My initial stop at the Honey Pot found the fog thick so I decided to head over toward Arcadia in the hopes that the fog would be less intense over that way. As I drove over the fog lifted a bit in downtown Northampton so I stopped at Paradise Pond before continuing over to Arcadia. Just a few shorebirds at the pond including a couple each of Solitary Sandpiper and Killdeer.  Arcadia was a little foggy but the marsh was visible and I had a couple each of Great Egret and Great Blue Heron plus a Green Heron. Shorebirds were present on the ever increasing mud and I had Killdeer, Solitary Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs and Least Sandpiper. After just a few minutes of trying to find more shorebirds a couple of Merlins came in and repeatedly strafed the marsh until a bird flushed. They managed to get a Least Sandpiper to flush and they just barely missed the bird on several occasions. The Merlins seemed to be hunting together...not something I have seen with this species before. The hunting style was more reminiscent of Peregrine Falcons I have seen cooperatively hunting. Once the Least Sandpiper made it out of the area unscathed the next bird to flush was a Solitary Sandpiper that also managed to escape but had to dive into the water a couple times to get away. As the rest of the birds stayed crouched down the Merlins continued to make passes through the marsh. As it seemed unlikely anything new would show itself with the Merlins around I headed back over to the Honey Pot where the fog was a bit thinner and allowed closer inspection of several good looking fields. Alas no shorebirds were in them, at least that I could see. The only shorebirds around were along the mudflats in the river but these were quickly flushed by boats.

Another spot along the river in Hadley produced two Lesser Yellowlegs and a Solitary Sandpiper.
Full lists from the day:
Olive sided Flycatcher, Jabish Canal, Belchertown, MA, Aug 29, 2015
Once I got home I picked up Wilson and we went for a walk along the Jabish Canal once again and once again found an Olive sided Flycatcher successfully hunting in the large marsh.

I got a text from Steve later in the morning that Bob Z had a juvenile Black crowned Night Heron at Arcadia as well as additional shorebirds that were not there earlier in the morning. I guess once you take away a couple of hungry Merlins more birds arrive. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Various stops around the valley, TS Erika starts to fizzle and the fourth anniversary of Irene

Common Yellowthroat, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Aug 28, 2015
Bobolink, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Aug 28, 2015
Song Sparrow, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Aug 28, 2015
Merlin, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Aug 28, 2015
Olive sided Flycatcher, Jabish Canal, Belchertown, MA, Aug 28, 2015
East Meadows at dawn, Northampton, MA, Aug 28, 2015
House Wren, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Aug 28, 2015
I spent this morning covering a wide variety of areas starting before dawn at Winsor Dam where I had at least two calling Eastern Whip Poor Wills and ending along the Jabish Canal with two Olive sided Flycatchers. Between these stops I had lots of other stuff but nothing too unexpected. The early morning fog made viewing a bit difficult as I checked the Honey Pot and East Meadows for shorebirds but eventually the fog burned off (I still didn't have much luck with shorebirds even after the fog burned off). Full lists from the various stops are attached below:

Winsor Dam:
Honey Pot:
East Meadows:
Lower Mill Pond:
Honey Pot:
CT River in Hadley:
Moody Bridge Rd Hadley:
Lake Wallace:
Jabish Canal trail:

It now appears that Tropical Storm Erika has taken a more southern track then originally forecast and will move over Hispaniola which will weaken the storm and possibly dissipate it. The storm is not expected to reach hurricane strength now but should still produce some wind and rains for Florida. What happens after it reaches Florida is another question. There is still a chance of it getting back over water and strengthening again but who knows at this point? 
Sooty Tern, Winsor Dam, Aug 28, 2011

Sooty Tern, Winsor Dam, Aug 28, 2011
Today also marks the fourth anniversary of the arrival of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene to western Massachusetts. It was likely a once in a lifetime storm that brought a bounty of unusual birds with it. Easily one of my most memorable birding days in western Massachusetts. I have attached the list from that epic day.
Winsor Dam on August 28, 2011:

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Common Nighthawks (and others) plus a look a Tropical Storm Erika

Common Nighthawk, Home, Belchertown, MA, Aug 25, 2015
Common Nighthawk, Home, Belchertown, MA, Aug 25, 2015
Ruby throated Hummingbird, Home, Belchertown, MA, Aug 24, 2015
Ruby throated Hummingbird, Home, Belchertown, MA, Aug 25, 2015
Ruby throated Hummingbird, Home, Belchertown, MA, Aug 25, 2015
At home the Common Nighthawks continue to show well as their migration nears its peak. My numbers at home have been a bit lower than usual but others in the local area have had some really good numbers. My view of the sky is quite limited so I have to be happy with quality vs. quantity. I also have my motion activated camera up and running to try to catch late season hummingbirds and I'm getting lots of photos of a variety of plumage of Ruby throated Hummingbirds but hopefully something unusual will show itself this fall season.
Tropical Storm Erika forecast track map, Aug 26, 2015 (courtesy of NOAA)
The tropics continue to be active with the formation of Tropical Storm Erika east of the Lesser Antilles and moving west fairly quickly. The storm is expected to follow roughly the same path as the now dissipated Hurricane/Tropical Storm Danny. Erika will face some of the same obstacles to strengthening that Danny faced including wind shear and dry air. The advantage that Erika has over Danny is a larger size and slightly less hostile conditions but the long range prognosis is far from certain. Some guidance models show the storm pushing west, northwest and impacting some of the northern Lesser Antilles and then tracking past Puerto Rico and into the Bahamas as a strong tropical storm/weak hurricane. Other guidance shows the storm tracking a little more to the south and getting weakened quite a bit as the hostile weather conditions and impact with larger islands take their toll.  The storm is still forecast to eventually reach hurricane strength but there is also the distinct possibility that the combination of dry air, high wind shear and interaction of the storm with land with dissipate the storm resulting in a fate similar to Danny but the chances of this occurring is lower than with Danny but still very possible. Time will tell. If the storm manages to hold together and make it into the Bahamas the storm will almost certainly gain strength and become a threat to Florida and/or somewhere else on the east coast.  As always there are so many factors at play trying to get an accurate handle on where the storm will be and how strong it will be several days out is very difficult to say with any amount of certainty but the storm certainly deserves to be watched.

It is probably way too soon to start thinking of an impact here but if it were to occur the chances are there for some unusual birds to be impacted by the storm. The waters just offshore of Massachusetts have featured some really good variety and numbers of pelagic birds lately so any storm striking the northeast could result in some unusual sightings. A recent pelagic trip out to the deeper waters of Massachusetts produced some amazing numbers of birds including multiple tropicbirds of two species, loads of Audubon's Shearwaters and various other storm petrels. The nearshore continues to feature lots of shearwaters, among many others (more on all of this if the storm indeed looks more likely to have an impact here).

Semipalmated Plover, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Aug 25, 2015
Least Sandpiper, Hadley, MA, Aug 24, 2015
Meanwhile I have spent a little time the last few mornings checking out areas for shorebirds with some individuals found but nothing spectacular. On Monday I stopped along the river in Hadley and turned up 3 Lesser Yellowlegs and 13 Least Sandpipers plus a couple Eastern Screech Owl trilling back and forth. A brief stop at the Honey Pot found a few Killdeer but nothing else.  On Tuesday I made it over to Arcadia just after a thunderstorm moved through and found a Semiplamated Plover 5 Killdeer, a couple Spotted Sandpipers, 5 Solitary Sandpipers and two Least Sandpipers. Also had a Peregrine Falcon sweep through and head toward the Oxbow as well as a single Great Egret. The water levels were already up a bit from some overnight heavy rain to the north and I suspect by tomorrow all the exposed mud will be covered with water.  I set out this morning to check a few fields after yesterdays rain to look for shorebirds but brief rides through both the Honey Pot and the East Meadows turned up just a few Killdeer and nothing else. Granted the amount of decent looking fields is fairly low, there are still some areas that look to be ready to host some shorebirds....perhaps the next few mornings will be productive? 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

More shorebirds and a Black Tern over the weekend

Semipalmated Plover, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Aug 23, 2015
Lesser Yellowlegs, Hadley, MA, Aug 23, 2015
Least Sandpipers, Hadley, MA, Aug 23, 2015
Killdeer, Hadley, MA, Aug 23, 2015
Spotted Sandpiper and Solitary Sandpiper, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Aug 23, 2015
Common Nighthawk, Belchertown, MA, Aug 22, 2015
Red tailed Hawk, Quabbin Park, MA, Aug 22, 2015
Broad winged Hawk, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Aug 22, 2015
Winsor Dam (somewhere out there is a Black Tern), Quabbin Park, MA, Aug 23, 2015
I spent each morning this weekend out checking a variety of areas with the main focus being shorebirds and waders as well as looking for other migrants taking advantage of the northerly winds.  Lots of good stuff (93 species between Saturday and Sunday) with many highlights including seven shorebird species (including my first Semipalmated Plover of the fall...still no real activity in the fields with all the shorebirds along mudflats), a Black Tern way out at Winsor Dam today (species #219 for the county this year...oddly Black Tern on August 22 last year was also #219), continued Great Egrets, Common Nighthawks around in the evening as well as during the mid morning today plus eleven species of warblers in a few mixed flocks (I'm sure I could have turned up more with a bit more effort in the passerine department but didn't have the time this weekend).  I have attached the lists for the the two weekend days below...more details and photos within the lists.

Tropical Storm Danny continues to weaken and looks to meet its end around Puerto Rico or Hispaniola but will still bring some beneficial rain to that area.  The rest of the tropical Atlantic is getting a bit busier with two waves coming off Africa that look like they may develop into tropical systems but they will both face dry air to their north and increasing wind shear as they travel toward the Caribbean so long range prognosis for either system is tough to say at this point.  Another potential system exists off Bermuda but this looks to be waning and will likely not develop.

Honey Pot:
CT River, Hadley:
Quabbin Park:
Winsor Dam:

Honey Pot:
Lower Mill Pond:
East Meadows:
CT River Hadley:
Winsor Dam:
Belchertown Land Trust trail:

Friday, August 21, 2015

Rainy day produces a Purple Martin and some shorebirds and waders (plus lots of other stuff)

Great Egret with dark bill, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Aug 21, 2015
Great Egret with dark bill, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Aug 21, 2015
Great Egrets, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Aug 21, 2015
Solitary Sandpiper, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Aug 21, 2015
Least Sandpipers, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Aug 21, 2015
Great Blue Heron, Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Aug 21, 2015
Green winged Teal (with Wood Ducks and Canada Geese), Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Aug 21, 2015
The forecast for today called for heavy rain moving in sometime around daybreak or just before and with that in mind I headed out early in hopes of finding some migrants downed by the weather. It would not be perfect conditions for this to occur but worth a try nonetheless. I woke up and looked at the radar and noticed the line of heavy rain was just to the west moving very slowly east as the rain itself moved more south to north. As I was up early I made a stop a bit after five over to Winsor Dam where I had at least three Eastern Whip Poor Wills calling. After a brief time there I headed west and almost immediately ran into some light rain. My first stop once I got over to the area of the Connecticut River was to an area of the river in Hadley where I had three species of shorebirds (Killdeer, Lesser Yellowlegs and Least Sandpiper). As the rain picked up a bit I headed through a small portion of the East Meadows but did not have any luck in finding anything noteworthy. I then continued to work my way west with a quick stop at Paradise Pond (Great Egret, a couple each of Killdeer and Spotted Sandpiper plus a Solitary Sandpiper were present) before making my way to Arcadia where I stayed for an hour and a half in a now heavy rain. Most of my time there I spent under cover at the observation tower so I managed to stay one step away from totally soaked. A number of highlights here including 36 Wood Ducks, five Green winged Teal, nine Great Egrets including the dark billed individual which has been around for a couple weeks, four Killdeer, four Spotted Sandpipers, six Solitary Sandpipers, two Semipalmated Sandpipers and 27 Least Sandpipers. 
Killdeer, Solitary Sandpiper and Green Heron, Lower Mill Pond, Easthampton, MA, Aug 21, 2015
Great Egret and Great Blue Heron, Lower Mill Pond, Easthampton, MA, Aug 21, 2015

Once finished with Arcadia I worked my way just a bit further west to Lower Mill Pond in Easthampton where I had three Great Blue Herons, two Great Egrets, three Green Herons, three Killdeer, a Spotted Sandpiper, half a dozen Solitary Sandpipers and four Least Sandpipers. The rain continued to fall fairly steadily at this point with occasional lulls in the action. I was thinking of heading up through Hatfield to check the farm fields on the west side of the river but decided instead to head back over the bridge and hit up some areas on the east side of the river instead. My first stop back across the river was to the Honey Pot where a few fields looked good to attract shorebirds but I found none (only shorebird around was a single Spotted Sandpiper along the river). Notables at the Honey Pot included 65+ Mourning Doves in one spot (tried to find something unusual among them but no luck), 150+ swallows feeding over the river as well as some Bobolinks flying around. 
Swallows and swifts, North Lane, Hadley, MA, Aug 21, 2015
Great Egret and Great Blue Heron, North Lane, Hadley, MA, Aug 21, 2015
Chimney Swifts, North Lane, Hadley, MA, Aug 21, 2015
Lesser Yellowlegs, Connecticut River, Hadley, MA, Aug 21, 2015
Lesser Yellowlegs, Connecticut River, Hadley, MA, Aug 21, 2015
Least Sandpiper,  Connecticut River, Hadley, MA, Aug 21, 2015
I next decided to make a quick stop along North Lane to check the river and I'm certainly glad I did! I made it up to the bank of the river and noticed yet another Great Egret as well as a Spotted Sandpiper but the real show was all swifts and swallows feeding along the river. I quickly counted over a hundred Chimney Swifts plus hundreds of swallows (mostly Tree and Bank Swallows). As I was scanning through the flocks I heard a 'chew, chew' call that made me immediately start scanning the birds up above me to find what I hoped would be a Purple Martin and there it was! The bird was working its way down river and I last saw it heading in a southerly direction over the Honey Pot. I tried to snap a few photos with the phone through the binoculars but no luck. The martin is quite rare in western mass and one species I had hoped to find at some point in the county and today was the day.  The martin became Hampshire County species #286 for me. I ran back to the car to get the good camera in hopes the bird would come back but no luck. Another interesting bird was a Common Nighthawk calling and flying around mid morning in among the swifts and swallows. As I was having a good day finding waders I decided to make a quick stop up to Lake Warner to try to find more Great Egrets (or something even more unusual) but no luck. I made another stop along the river on my way home and found the same species of shorebirds I had there earlier plus a Spotted Sandpiper. A stop over to Winsor Dam on my way home produced the typical birds but nothing unusual.  A quick stop at the Route 9 marsh produced yet another Great Egret hanging out bringing the total number of Great Egrets I had in the county today up to at least 14...a really good year for them.  
Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Aug 21, 2015
After taking Wilson for a walk and getting caught in another downpour I headed back over to Winsor Dam to try to turn up some other good stuff (hopeful for a Black Tern, but no luck...perhaps tomorrow?). Despite the meteorologists at noon saying that the heavy rain was all finished,  we somehow managed to have on and off heavy rain throughout the afternoon.  Later in the afternoon the rain finally stopped and the weather started to clear a bit so I tried Winsor Dam once again but no luck finding anything unusual.

The last several days have been good with two new species for Hampshire County this week (Summer Tanager and Purple Martin, #285 and #286 respectively.  So far for the year I stand at 218 which ties me at this point for my record setting year in 2014.
Hurricane Danny forecast map as of evening Aug 21, 2015
Meanwhile in the tropics Hurricane Danny strengthened today reaching category 3 strength and thus becoming a major hurricane. Given the compact size of the storm rapidly strengthening and weakening is expected and the long range outlook for the storm doesn't look good. The storm will be hitting a lot more wind shear as it gets closer to the Caribbean and the forecast is for the storm to weaken to tropical storm strength before reaching any of the islands. What happens to Danny after reaching the Caribbean is uncertain at this point but it may very well get torn apart and fail to maintain itself as a tropical storm. It is too far out to say with any certainty but the long range forecast does not look good for the storm maintaining strength but it still bears watching as there are many elements at work here and a change in any of them could have a big impact further down the line.