Sunday, January 31, 2016

January comes to an end

Mute Swan, Connecticut River, Hadley, MA, Jan 31, 2016
White tailed Deer, Connecticut River, Hadley, MA, Jan 31, 2016
Today I headed back over along the river with early, quick visits to the East Meadows and the Honey Pot in search of owls and managed just a single Great Horned Owl.  After my owl search I spent a few hours looking for waterfowl and sparrows along the river.  No really notable waterfowl at all besides perhaps a single Mute Swan in Hadley (a species I thankfully do not get often in this section of the river.  No sign of the Barrow's Goldeneye from a couple days ago, just some Common Goldeneye.  The best sparrow of the morning was the continued 'Gambel's' White crowned Sparrow that showed itself very briefly at the Honey Pot.  Also had a male Ring necked Pheasant at the Honey Pot once again.  Otherwise a fairly average morning for late January.  Overall the month has been warmer than normal with way below the average for snow with just a few minor storms.  There is no appreciable snow anywhere in the local area and only small bodies of water are frozen with the Quabbin Reservoir and the Connecticut River mostly ice free.  The forecast for the next week features temperatures well above normal (perhaps reaching the mid 50's) and some rain but no frigid temperatures or large snow storms on the horizon for the beginning of February...quite a change from the last few years!
Bald Eagles, Quabbin Gate 8, Pelham, MA, Jan 30, 2016
Wild Turkeys, Quabbin Gate 8, Pelham, MA, Jan 30, 2016
Looking south toward Quabbin Tower (Left) and Winsor Dam (center), Quabbin Gate 8, Pelham, MA, Jan 30, 2016
Yesterday I stayed around the Quabbin area starting off before dawn checking the waterfowl roost (numbers were less than Friday but it was a lighter earlier and a bit breezy.  I had no luck relocating either the Gadwall or American Wigeon in the Swift River despite checking a few spots.  I then made a long hike down the Gate 8 road out to the boat launch area.  As expected for a hike in the deep woods of Quabbin in the winter it was overall quiet with just a few pockets of birds with the most down at the end of the road near the water.  Nothing way out of the ordinary but a nice walk nonetheless.  It was odd to make this hike at the end of January and have no snow and only a little ice around.

I ended the month with a total of 88 species in Hampshire County which fell just short of beating my best January last year when I had 89 species.  Trying to maximize my species in the first month of the year was a nice way to encourage myself to get out and bird in what is normally a slow birding month.  To keep myself motivated I may try to see if I can get to 100 species earlier this year than in any previous year.  The date to beat is March 15, set in 2014.  Below are the last few years showing how many species I had in January and what date I reached the one hundred species mark.

Year                       January total                   Date for 100 species
2015                       89                                  March 25
2014                       81                                  March 15
2013                       85                                  March 16
2012                       60                                  March 31

Friday, January 29, 2016

Barrow's Goldeneye in Hadley and lots of other good stuff in the valley

Barrow's Goldeneye (with Common Goldeneye), Connecticut River, Hadley, MA, Jan 29, 2016
Barrow's Goldeneye (with Common Goldeneye), Connecticut River, Hadley, MA, Jan 29, 2016
Barrow's Goldeneye (with Common Goldeneye), Connecticut River, Hadley, MA, Jan 29, 2016
Savannah Sparrow, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Jan 29, 2016
White crowned Sparrows, East Meadows, Northampton, MA, Jan 29, 2016
Dark eyed Junco, East Meadows, Northampton, MA, Jan 29, 2016
Northern Cardinal, East Meadows, Northampton, MA, Jan 29, 2016
American Wigeon (with Mallards), Swift River, Ware, MA, Jan 29, 2016
White crowned Sparrow, East Meadows, Northampton, MA, Jan 29, 2016
Winsor Dam as a snow shower moves through, Quabbin Park, MA, Jan 29, 2016
I hit a variety of areas this morning but kept my time in the elements to a minimum as I continue to fight a cold that just seems to never end.  I started at Quabbin Park and then over to the East Meadows, the Honey Pot and the Connecticut River in Hadley before coming back home and getting Wilson and heading to trails along the Swift River. Many highlights with the best being a female Barrow's Goldeneye (#87) in the river (a tough species to find in the county).  Others included loads of waterfowl at Quabbin Park early, two White crowned Sparrows in the East Meadows (plus lots of other sparrows) and a Gadwall (#88) and American Wigeon along the Swift River.  I'm now just one species shy of tying my all time total for species in the county in the first month of the year.  I have included a number of eBird lists from the day below:

Quabbin Park

East Meadows

Honey Pot

CT River-Hadley

Swift River-Ware

American Kestrel, Hadley, MA, Jan 27, 2016 (phone photo through binoculars)

I did not have much of an opportunity to get out much but I nonetheless still found a few decent birds including a few that were new for the county this year. On Wednesday I had either a Long eared or Short eared Owl at the Honey Pot very early in the morning. The bird was flying past but the light was too bad and the view too brief to say for certain what it was. I also had just over a hundred Canada Geese (including one small individual), 16 Black Ducks and 137 Mallards in the river below the bridge. Later in the day I had three Common Grackles (#84) in a neighborhood in Northampton off Bridge Road. Later in the week I finally caught up with an American Kestrel (#85) as well as Ring necked Pheasant (#86) in Hadley on my way home.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

'Gambel's' White crowned Sparrow relocated and lots of other stuff along the river this morning

'Gambel's' White crowned Sparrow, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Jan 24, 2016
Northern Harrier (one of three), Arcadia, Northampton, MA, Jan 24, 2016
Today I headed over to Arcadia predawn to try to catch up with the Short eared Owl over there once again and I got some decent looks as it hunted the fields around 6:30 before heading to roost.  I also had a couple Great Horned Owls calling but had no luck getting a screech owl to respond.  As it got a bit brighter the Northern Harriers came out to hunt the same fields and I had at least three around (a nice count for this species in January).  Other highlights there included a Hermit Thrush and a flyby Snow Bunting.
Bald Eagle, East Meadows, Northampton, MA, Jan 24, 2016
Northern Harrier, East Meadows, Northampton, MA, Jan 24, 2016

I then headed over to the East Meadows hoping to relocate the 'Ipswich' Savannah Sparrow that was present there in early January but I didn't have any luck finding it.  It may still be around as I had no luck finding any Savannah Sparrows and the 'Ipswich' was associating with them.  I had a few pockets of sparrows but nothing too unusual.  Highlights included a male Northern Harrier rocketing through, at least 85 Horned Larks and a couple Snow Buntings.
'Gambel's' White crowned Sparrow, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Jan 24, 2016
'Gambel's' White crowned Sparrow, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Jan 24, 2016
'Gambel's' White crowned Sparrow, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Jan 24, 2016
American Tree Sparrow, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Jan 24, 2016
After the East Meadows I headed across the river to Hadley and checked the river near Huntington Road and found a few Common Goldeneyes and some Common Mergansers plus a few hundred Canada Geese and lots of ice.  I then made a stop at the Honey Pot where I had another Northern Harrier, 55+ Horned Larks and best of all I was able to relocate the "Gambel's" White crowned Sparrow.  This unusual western subspecies was first found by James Smith back in early January and I first got to see it on January 8th.  It had not been seen again until today (as far as I know).  Glad to see it is still alive and kicking.
Canada Goose with white at base of bill, Meadow St, Amherst, MA, Jan 24, 2016
Canada Goose with white at base of bill,  Amherst, MA, Jan 24, 2016
I then moved north up through the fields of Hadley and Amherst and finally found a large group of geese (738) in one field which unfortunately contained just Canada Geese but did contain one unique individual white white at the base of the bill.  The best bird I had there was quite distant as it cruised away from me heading toward the river...a light morph Rough legged Hawk.  I was unable to relocate it but with so much good habitat it could be anywhere.  The Rough legged Hawk became species #83 for Hampshire County this year.  I also had another flock (65+) of Horned Larks moving around the fields.

The rest of the morning was spent at a few spots close to home but these stops didn't feature too much out of the ordinary but it was nice to be outside nonetheless enjoying sunny and temperatures near freezing.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The last couple days around the valley

Common Mergansers, Quabbin Park, MA, Jan 23, 2016
Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Jan 23, 2016
With the forecast calling for some late morning snow arriving in the area (part of a large snow storm hitting just to our south) I headed out early to explore areas close to home.  I started out at Quabbin Park and once again had some decent waterfowl at a nighttime roost including 90+ Black Ducks, 76 Mallards, two Hooded Mergansers, 131 Common Mergansers and a Red breasted Merganser.  I tried to get some photos early but the light was just too low and wind too strong.  Just as it was getting a bit lighter an adult Bald Eagle made a couple passes on the birds and they all scattered in various directions.  I then made stops at various spots along the Swift River and turned up a total of at least 31 Hooded Mergansers as well as smaller numbers of Mallards, Black Ducks, Canada Geese and Common Mergansers.  As I explored one area along the river in Ware I came across a nice flock of birds feeding in some thickets that included a Hermit Thrush which became species #82 for Hampshire County this year.  I still need seven more birds in the next ten days to tie my previous January record but I still well ahead of an average January.  I also managed to add my 18,000th eBird checklist today while out with Wilson at Covey WMA.

As mentioned above a large snow storm just missed us to the south today with very heavy snow as close as lower Connecticut with blizzard conditions.  The dry, cold air over us managed to evaporate the snow as it closed in on us and we ended up with no snow through mid afternoon, just lots of northeast winds.
White crowned Sparrow, East Meadows, Northampton, MA, Jan 22, 2016
White crowned Sparrow, East Meadows, Northampton, MA, Jan 22, 2016
White throated Sparrow, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Jan 22, 2016
Ring necked Duck, Quabbin Park, MA, Jan 22, 2016
Blowing dust over the fields, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Jan 22, 2016
I spent a good portion of the morning Friday exploring many areas throughout the county on a sunny but cold and windy day.  I started off before dawn at Quabbin Park where I wanted to check on the waterfowl roost that has hosted hundreds of birds.  The wind made viewing quite tough but I still managed to find over two hundred individuals (170+ Mallards, 33 Black Ducks, 3 Hooded Mergansers and 14 Common Mergansers).  I then headed over to the various farm fields along the river hitting the North Hadley fields, the Honey Pot and the East Meadows.  I hoped to find some raptors I have not yet had this year (mainly American Kestrel and Rough legged Hawk) but no luck.  I also had no luck relocating the 'Gambel's' White crowned Sparrow in the Honey Pot or the 'Ipswich' Savannah Sparrow in the East Meadows.  The wind made viewing anything quite tough as the morning moved on.  I did manage to find a few pockets of sparrows and one contained a typical eastern White crowned Sparrow in the East Meadows.  With the increasing winds and blowing dust I instead concentrated on finding waterfowl and/or gulls along the river down to South Hadley.  I did not have anything beyond the usual stuff on the increasingly frozen river.  I then headed back home to pick up Wilson and go for a walk along the Swift River.  Again nothing too unusual but a brief stop back at Quabbin Park produced a male Ring necked Duck.  

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Short trip to Florida

Florida Scrub Jay, Canaveral National Seashore, FL, Jan 18, 2016
Just back from a short trip down to the Orlando Florida area arriving there last Friday and staying until Wednesday morning giving me a total of four full days down there. Overall fairly decent weather (or at least a lot nicer than the weather at home!).
Yellow rumped Warbler, Southport Rd, Poinciana, FL, Jan 16, 2016
Yellow throated Warbler, Disney Wilderness Preserve, FL, Jan 16, 2016
Eastern Meadowlark, Southport Rd, Poinciana, FL, Jan 16, 2016
Pine Warbler, Disney Wilderness Preserve, FL, Jan 16, 2016
Brown headed Nuthatch, Disney Wilderness Preserve, FL, Jan 16, 2016
On Saturday I headed south to a few different spots. My first stop around sunrise was to the Southport Road area and out to the south part of Lake Toho. I had the typical open country birds on the drive down the road but the lake itself was fairly quiet. Always nice to see birds like Eastern Meadowlarks, Sandhill Cranes, Crested Caracara and many others. Once it hit nine I headed over to the Disney Wilderness Preserve and spent a few hours walking several miles of trails in among the longleaf pine savannah habitat. I had some good birds including three Red cockaded Woodpeckers, a pair of Brown headed Nuthatches excavating a nest hole and a total of seven species of warblers with most in a large mixed species flock that contained Black and White, Orange crowned, Yellow throated, Yellow rumped, Pine and Palm Warblers (added Common Yellowthroat elsewhere). As it got close to noon time I arrived at the north end of Lake Toho at the Lakeshore Park but there was some festival going on and the place was mobbed with hardly any parking available.

On Sunday morning the expected severe thunderstorms rolled through but were mainly over by daybreak. I headed a bit north to Tibet Butler Preserve after dawn to check out the area. Unfortunately the heavy rain made all the trails I tried to take totally flooded out. I tried a few other areas but they were also flooded.
Osprey, Merritt Island NWR, FL, Jan 18, 2016
Congregation of waders, Merritt Island NWR, FL, Jan 18, 2016
Roseate Spoonbill, Merritt Island NWR, FL, Jan 18, 2016
Roseate Spoonbill, Merritt Island NWR, FL, Jan 18, 2016
Glossy Ibis, Merritt Island NWR, FL, Jan 18, 2016
Monday morning I headed out before dawn to make the drive out to Merritt Island NWR along the coast. I arrived there just before dawn and took the Blackpoint Wildlife Drive. The water throughout the various impoundments was quite high which kept shorebird numbers lower than usual. Loads of other birds around including lots of waders and waterfowl. Although it started out fairly cool it warmed up a bit but the increasing breezy kept it feeling cold. Some good photo ops over the course of the drive as always. Also had a run in with a couple of fine examples of the Florida education system. I stopped at a spot about half way out on the one way wildlife drive and noticed a pick up pulled out on the side of the road under a sign saying "No boat launching, no fishing from wildlife drive". As you can guess the two teenagers had unloaded their boat and fishing gear right under the sign and were trying to figure out how to get all their gear in the boats. I asked them if they knew there was no boat launching or fishing from the drive. They answered no, they had no idea (perhaps the ten foot long sign was too big or contained too many words). They loaded up their there stuff and then passed by me several minutes later going the wrong one on the wildlife drive. I watched as they tried to get by all the other cars going the correct way on the one way road and they nearly backed over the one way road signs. On the upside they were not rude just not too swift on the uptake.
Florida Scrub Jay, Canaveral National Seashore, FL, Jan 18, 2016
Loggerhead Shrike, Canaveral National Seashore, FL, Jan 18, 2016
Bobcat, Merritt Island NWR, FL, Jan 18, 2016
After the wildlife drive I headed over to the Canaveral National Seashore but not before running across a Bobcat running across the road. The road into the national seashore featured a family group of the endemic Florida Scrub Jay and they poised nicely for some photos. The beach itself was very windy and cool with some in waves but did feature some birds not seen elsewhere plus a few dolphins just off shore. On my way back out of the seashore I took a detour down Biolab Road which looks like it could be great at low tide for shorebirds but I hit the area around high tide...maybe next time I will hit it at the right time.

After my time in the Merritt Island area I headed a bit south to the Blue Heron Wetland and spent a little time there before heading back to the Orlando area. The wetland area was fairly quiet but had a decent selection of waders as well as hundreds of coots and good numbers of Common Gallinules. Overall a nice day with some really good birds and lots of sun.

Tuesday I was feeling a bit under the weather so I didn't venture too far away from the hotel so I didn't add much to my sightings for the trip.

The weather here at home continues to be more January like with some fairly cold temperatures but still not as bad as last year and still no major storms.  I managed to add a single new species for the county this year when I had a Yellow bellied Sapsucker (#81) in Florence today.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Large waterfowl roost at Quabbin Park (including a Red breasted Merganser) plus a flyover group of Common Redpolls

Red breasted Merganser (center) with Common and Hooded Mergansers, Quabbin Park, MA, Jan 15, 2016
Red breasted Merganser (center) with Common and Hooded Mergansers, Quabbin Park, MA, Jan 15, 2016
Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Jan 15, 2016
I had just a small window of time to get out this morning but it was still quite productive adding two new species for the year.  I headed over to Quabbin Park and came across a very impressive waterfowl roost that contained around a thousand individuals!  I'm sure this is a result of the freezing out of most small water bodies in the area and forcing the birds to move to the still ice free reservoir.  The breakdown of birds there included the following:  88 Black Ducks, 790 Mallards, two Common Goldeneye, 63 Hooded Mergansers, 42 Common Mergansers, a single Red breasted Merganser female (#79), 30+ unidentified ducks and a couple Horned Grebes.  I added a couple of Common Loons at Goodnough Dike.  A truly impressive congregation of waterfowl which I'm sure contained some other goodies I was just unable to find due to the low light conditions early on.  Hardly any of the birds stayed in the area much past sunrise.  As I was scanning the Goodnough area I heard some birds that sounded odd and then noticed three birds flying just over the trees heading southeast...Common Redpolls (#80)!  Hopefully this is just a sign of more redpolls (and perhaps other irruptives) to come as the winter moves along.