Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Four heron/egret species today including a continued Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret, Connecticut River, Hadley, MA, July 29, 2015
Snowy Egret, Connecticut River, Hadley, MA, July 29, 2015
Great Blue Heron, Connecticut River, Hadley, MA, July 29, 2015
Great Egret, Paradise Pond at Smith College, Northampton, MA, July, 29, 2015
Solitary Sandpiper, Connecticut River, Hadley, MA, July 29, 2015
Painted Turtle on back of Snapping Turtle, Connecticut River, Hadley, MA, July 29, 2015
I managed to catch up once again this morning with a Snowy Egret along the river in the same place I found one a couple days ago. Although the early morning fog once again made it tough to see more distant areas I still managed to get some other good birds. In addition to the egret I had a Solitary Sandpiper, seven Spotted Sandpipers and a Great Blue Heron. A bit later in the morning while at work I passed by Paradise Pond at Smith College and noticed a Great Egret fishing along the large area of exposed mud flats as well as a Double crested Cormorant plus at least one each of Solitary and Spotted Sandpiper. I wish I had binoculars and a scope to scour through the large areas of mud as I'm sure some other birds were there.  Late in the day I stopped back by the river and the Snowy Egret was still there along with a couple Solitary Sandpipers and a single Spotted Sandpiper.  Also had a Painted Turtle climbing on the back of a Snapping Turtle...odd stuff.  I also made a late day stop over to Lake Wallace and found a Green Heron as well as other typical stuff.  Ended the very hot (95 degrees) day with four heron/egret species, which is not easy to do in western mass.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Snowy Egret along the river

Snowy Egret, Hadley, MA, July 27, 2015
Snowy Egret, Hadley, MA, July 27, 2015
Snowy Egret, Hadley, MA, July 27, 2015
Snowy Egret, Hadley, MA, July 27, 2015
Snowy Egret, Hadley, MA, July 27, 2015
Although I made several stops over the weekend in search of an unusual heron or egret it took me just a few minutes along the Connecticut River this morning to finally have some luck. I originally thought the river would be running too high after some showers yesterday but when I checked on my way to work I noticed it was down enough to expose some mud. I made a quick stop and noticed a half dozen Spotted Sandpipers and then glanced around some trees and noticed a small white bird moving through the shallows...a Snowy Egret. The bird successfully grabbed a large number of small fish before it abruptly took off to the north. It returned about ten minutes later and then continued to feed. Despite the prevalence of this species along the coast it is quite unusual in Hampshire County with only a handful of records. This is only the second one I have ever seen in Hampshire County (the other was in the marsh behind the house back in 2007).

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The last full weekend of July

Green Heron in the fog, Old Deerfield, MA, July 25, 2015
Great Blue Heron, Great Pond, Hatfield, MA, July 25, 2015
Winsor Dam before dawn, Quabbin Park, MA, July 25, 2015
As is typical for the end of July the amount of bird song has dropped off substantially and the chances of finding something unusual around here is fairly low.  Nonetheless I still made it out a little this weekend (as well as on Friday).  On Saturday I decided to try my luck in finding unusual egrets/herons in a variety of spots as I travelled from Quabbin to Nothampton and then heading up the west side of the Connecticut River ending up in Deerfield (where a small pond has a history of attracting Black crowned Night Herons...none on Saturday) before heading back across the river and coming back south.  Despite much effort I managed to just find just a number of Great Blue Herons and Green Herons but nothing more unusual.  Before heading out on my quest for herons I made a predawn stop at Winsor Dam where I found at least one Eastern Whip Poor Will still calling.  Other highlights of the morning included a couple Black Vultures in among the Turkey Vultures at a roost in Hadley.

Sunday morning started out with occasional rain showers that I managed to mostly dodge as I checked a few spots in town including Lake Wallace, Covey WMA and Winsor Dam.  The best bird of the morning was a Merlin that came in low over the water heading north to south at Winsor Dam at first light.  Other highlights included a decent number of waterfowl at Lake Wallace ( 
Virginia Rail, Covey WMA, Belchertown, MA, July 24, 2015
Virginia Rail juveniles, Covey WMA, Belchertown, MA, July 24, 2015
River Otter eating frog, Lake Wallace, Belchertown, MA, July 24, 2015
Friday was a beautiful day and I made several stops including Lake Wallace and Covey WMA.  Some good stuff including at least six Virginia Rails at Covey WMA including at least three dark juveniles with an adult plus a River Otter munching down on a frog at Lake Wallace  (video link here: )....full lists with photos below:

Lake Wallace:
Covey WMA:

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The last few hot days and a look at the hurricane season so far

Spotted Sandpiper fledgling, East Meadows, Northampton, July 20, 2015
Indigo Bunting, East Meadows, Northampton, July 21, 2015
Vesper Sparrow, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, July 22, 2015
I have attempted to catch up with more shorebirds and herons/egrets the last few days this week but the conditions have not been great. We have not had enough rain in the immediate area to leave any big puddles and the ones that have formed have been quickly dried out by our temperatures in the 90's. In addition areas to our north and west have gotten much more rain which has swelled the Connecticut River enough to cover any mud flats.  Nonetheless there are still birds to be seen but nothing unusual.
As the month of July rolls on I thought it would be time to look at the tropical season so far and what the future might bring. The long range forecasts continue to show a below average hurricane season for a variety of reasons including a strengthening El Nino, dry air over the Atlantic and high wind shear (among a number of other reasons). So far this season the Atlantic has featured three named storms with no development expected in the near term. The highest likelihood of development is in closer to shore where the conditions are more conducive at this time for tropical development. As fronts pass off the coast of the U.S. the potential is there for a tropical system to develop either along the east coast or in the gulf as opposed to development from a tropical wave coming off of Africa and travelling across the Atlantic. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few months but overall the season looks to be below average but that doesn't mean we will not see impact from a tropical system only takes one storm with the right conditions to have a impact here. How it will relate to birding is also a tough question to answer and involves lots of speculation. If a storm were to develop in close to shore there are a number of birds that could be displaced. Along the coast of Massachusetts there has been a large (and growing number) of pelagic birds including a number of rarities. Whale watching trips and dedicated pelagic trips off of Massachusetts have been seeing large numbers of Cory's Shearwaters as well as Great, Manx, Sooty and Audubon's Shearwaters and Leach's, Wilson's and Band rumped Storm Petrels. At times some of these species have been seen in very large numbers from shore too. A storm moving through this area could easily displace these birds inland if the right conditions occurred. The list of rarities seen off the coast lately have included Fea's Petrel, a probable Yellow nosed Albatross and a number of unusual terns (including Bridled Tern). The warm water (and the species associated with it) are we just need a tropical system to occur to move them around to unusual locations inland. Although the chances are low for a storm to have the right conditions to bring birds into western Massachusetts at this time, a more likely scenario would see the Maritimes of Canada (and possibly Maine) getting a bounty of pelagic birds from a tropical system moving through.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Birds during week including numbers of shorebirds, herons and egrets

Great Egret, Hadley, MA, July 17, 2015
Great Egret, Hadley, MA, July 17, 2015
Great Blue Herons, Hadley, MA, July 17, 2015
Great Egrets and Great Blue Heron, Hadley, MA, July 17, 2015
Green Heron, Lake Wallace, Belchertown, MA, July 17, 2015
Belted Kingfisher, Lake Wallace, Belchertown, MA, July 17, 2015
As July rolls on the focus starts slowly turning to the beginning of migration with the arrival of early migrant shorebirds as well as dispersing waders (herons and egrets). As mentioned in the past the toughest part of finding shorebirds this time of year in the valley is finding suitable habitat where they could stop during migration (muddy fields or exposed edges of rivers and ponds).  Throughout the last five weekdays I have tried to catch up with these species (and other stuff too).  Overall managed to half a dozen species of shorebird and three species of egrets/ too bad for mid July.

Although this morning started out at near record low temps (upper 40's) it rapidly warmed up I to the 80's with low humidity...a very nice day. I decided to head over to the Connecticut River in Hadley to try my luck there before heading back home. I ran into Mike L. just as I arrived there and we quickly found a couple Great Egrets as well as four Great Blue Herons plus a single Solitary Sandpiper. The river level had dropped a bit the last few days and is has exposed some mudflats that look good to attract a variety of stuff. Although I originally intended to head back toward home after checking the river I thought that I might have some good luck at Arcadia seeing that the river level was so low. We both headed over that way to check out the marsh and found a couple Great Blue Herons, a few family groups of Wood Ducks and a very vocal American Kestrel but not much else. The river was low but the expected mudflats were mainly covered with grasses and did not feature any shorebirds at all. With Arcadia being quite quiet I decided to make a swing through the East Meadows and managed to catch up with three Killdeer and six Spotted Sandpipers (including four fledglings). Also a couple Horned Larks around as well as a few hundred Red winged Blackbirds. After my brief trip through the meadows I stopped back along the river and had the same herons and egrets plus three Spotted Sandpipers. My next stop was over to Lake Wallace where I once again failed to turn up the gallinules (I'm convinced they are now gone but still worth keeping an eye out for). Highlights at the lake included a Virginia Rail, four Green Herons (including one that I got video of catching a large tadpole, link here:, a decent number of the four species of expected waterfowl plus a single Least Sandpiper. At this point in the morning I headed home to pick up Wilson and we headed to the land trust trail where the best bird there was an American Woodcock that flushed up from the trail. 
Connecticut River-Hadley:
East Meadows:
Lake Wallace:
Spotted Sandpiper fledgling, East Meadows, Northampton, MA, July 16, 2015
Spotted Sandpiper fledgling, East Meadows, Northampton, MA, July 16, 2015
Spotted Sandpiper, East Meadows, Northampton, MA, July 16, 2015
On Thursday I had just a limited amount of time so I headed over to the East Meadows for a quick check for shorebirds. I had hoped rain forecast for the day before would produce some muddy areas but the rain (and therefore the mud) didn't materialize. Nonetheless there were still a few shorebirds around including two Killdeer, six Spotted Sandpiper (with at least a couple fledglings) and two Least Sandpiper.  Video clip of Spotted Sandpiper fledgling:

Spotted Sandpiper, East Meadows, Northampton, MA, July 15, 2015
Least Sandpiper, East Meadows, Northampton, MA, July 15, 2015
Wednesday I decided to hit the East Meadows again in search of shorebirds and found some including three Killdeer, 7 Spotted Sandpipers (including a two young birds), a flyby Lesser Yellowlegs and 9 Least Sandpipers (group of 7 together plus two more elsewhere). Also a couple Horned Larks and other expected species.

East Meadows:
Horned Lark, East Meadows, Northampton, MA, July 14, 2015
Least Sandpipers, East Meadows, Northampton, MA, July 14, 2015
Least Sandpiper, East Meadows, Northampton, MA, July 14, 2015
On Tuesday morning I made several stops with my first being Lake Wallace.  Still a decent amount of the expected four species of waterfowl. The vulture roost in Hadley contained a single Black Vulture plus 42 Turkey Vultures. My next stop of the morning was over to the East Meadows.  Despite only a few small open areas suitable for shorebirds there I nonetheless found a decent selection including six Killdeer (three almost grown youngsters among the adults), two Spotted Sandpipers, a Solitary Sandpiper and half a dozen Least Sandpipers. The shorebirds would disappear into the lines of crops and disappear from sight at times so tough to keep track of so there may have been more than what I have for numbers above. Other notables around the meadows included three Horned Larks and several hundred Red winged Blackbirds coming out of roost.
Vesper Sparrow, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, July 13, 2015
Vesper Sparrow, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, July 13, 2015
Monday morning I made a couple stops before work including the vulture roost in Hadley and then to the Honey Pot. The vulture roost featured a single Black Vulture in among 41 Turkey Vultures. The stop at the Honey Pot didn't find any shorebirds but I did find at least four Vesper Sparrows scattered around the area including this cooperative singing link here:

Moody Bridge Rd:

Honey Pot:

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Weekend birding around Belchertown and up to Prescott Peninsula

Ovenbird, Belchertown, MA, July 12, 2015
House Wren, Belchertown, MA, July 12, 2015
Great Blue Herons, Covey WMA, Belchertown, MA, July 12, 2015
Hooded Mergansers, Belchertown, MA, July 12, 2015
I spent this morning in the Belchertown area with stops at Lake Wallace, Covey WMA and the White eyed Vireo location. A beautiful morning with surprisingly few bugs. Once again no luck finding gallinules at Lake Wallace but lots of waterfowl around as well as a calling Virginia Rail and a couple of Great Horned Owls that flew across the marsh and created a loud panic among the many other species present.  Covey WMA had a decent amount of good stuff including a Virginia Rail, a calling Northern Bobwhite and my first gathering of post breeding swallows with well over a hundred individuals of four species present.  The area that has held the White eyed Vireo once again failed to produce it but I still had a nice assortment of more expected species.
Although there is still a chance the Common Gallinules or the White eyed Vireo might still be around, it appears both species may be gone now. It was a long run for both of these unusual species here with the Common Gallinules first being discovered on June 5th and staying until July 1 (almost four weeks) and the White eyed Vireo found a few days before I saw it on May 30th and still around through at least July 5th (about six weeks). 
I have included the full lists from my morning stops below:

Lake Wallace:

Covey WMA:

White eyed Vireo stop:
Moose, Prescott Peninsula, MA, July 11, 2015
Eastern Towhee, Prescott Peninsula, MA, July 11, 2015
Scarlet Tanager, Prescott Peninsula, MA, July 11, 2015
Banded Hairstreak, Prescott Peninsula, MA, July 11, 2015
Yellow Warbler, Belchertown, MA, July 11, 2015
I once again headed up to the Prescott Peninsula on Saturday morning to conduct a few field surveys, check on the hummingbird nest and hopefully run across some crossbills again. I managed to get a few more fields checked out and had a number of confirmed breeding species in the fields I checked. Sadly the hummingbird nest is no more, likely destroyed by some predator. It is a shame the nest didn't make it through as I'm sure the young would have been much more visible today compared to last weekend when they looked freshly hatched. No luck finding any crossbills either but that is not too surprising as they are quite nomadic and last week was the first time I heard them all season. Lots of other typical bird species around but the amount of song continues to drop as the breeding season marches on. Another notable sighting was when a Moose stepped out in front of me near a large pond and after checking me out for a few minutes trotted away down the road. At the same time there was another Moose on the opposite side of the pond feeding....always neat to have two Moose in view at the same time.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Various stops in the area following some rain overnight

Northern Mockingbird, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, July 10, 2015
Gray Catbird, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, July 10, 2015
Baltimore Orioles, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, July 10, 2015
House Finches, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, July 10, 2015
We had a decent dump of rain overnight and my original plan was to possibly head out in search of some shorebirds but when I got up and looked at the radar it looked like the rain was well past us so instead I headed over to Lake Wallace to try to locate the gallinules. After about a half hour of looking in vain to find them it started raining again so I switched back to my original plan and headed over to Hadley to check some fields for shorebirds and see what else I could find. Although it is a little on the early side to find shorebirds it is certainly possible but the tougher part is finding suitable habitat for them around here as most fields are full of crops now and the river is too high (and busy with boat traffic) to offer much to a migrating shorebird. Nevertheless I figured I would check a few spots and hope for some good luck. My first stop was over to the Honey Pot which actually had a few fields that looked good to attract some shorebirds but there were none to be found. Although there were no shorebirds there I found a decent variety of other good stuff including at least four Vesper Sparrow, several Indigo Buntings, 55+ House Finches and lots of birds enjoying the blueberries including a half dozen Orchard Orioles and 14 Baltimore Orioles. 
Killdeer, Aqua Vitae Rd, Hadley, MA, July 10, 2015
Killdeer, Aqua Vitae Rd, Hadley, MA, July 10, 2015
Turkey Vultures, Moody Bridge Rd, Hadley, MA, July 10, 2015
After the Honey Pot I swung over to Aqua Vitae Road found my only group of shorebirds for the morning....a dozen Killdeer. Once again a few good looking fields but most the area is covered with crops. Another stop along the Connecticut River to check for some muddy edges found none but did find a ton of mosquitoes. I then headed over to Moody Bridge Road to check out the vulture roost and found 36 Turkey Vultures plus another Killdeer.
Wood Ducks, Lake Wallace, Belchertown, MA, July 10, 2015
I made another stop at Lake Wallace but once again had no luck with the gallinules. They may have moved on but I'm still hoping they are still around and will attempt to nest. Typical stuff around there but no luck with any rails (I have had Sora and Virginia Rail there within the last few days). The stronger winds on my second stop there made it a bit tough to hear anything that was distant, so not surprised I didn't find any rails.

My final stop of the morning was over to the area that has held a White eyed Vireo for several weeks. No luck there this morning but the winds just kept getting stronger so the bird may indeed still be around. I'll hopefully check again later in the weekend when the winds are lighter.

Full lists from the morning-

Lake Wallace:

Honey Pot:

Aqua Vitae Road:

Moody Bridge Rd vulture roost:

Lake Wallace:

White eyed Vireo location: