Sunday, February 28, 2016

The last few days around the valley add a couple more species for the year

Common Mergansers, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Feb 28, 2016
Common Loon, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Feb 28, 2016
Bald Eagle, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Feb 28, 2016
Got up bright and early this morning to head out to try to find an early American Woodcock over at Covey WMA. I arrived there just after 5:30 and had a woodcock almost immediately fluttering around and added another new species for the county becoming #98. I then made the walk out to the larger fields where I typically find numerous woodcocks but oddly I didn't have any there. I then headed over to Winsor Dam where I had another American Woodcock plus a couple Common Loons and a nice roost of gulls including 228 Ring billed Gulls. I then spent a few hours exploring the fields and a few bodies of water from Amherst to Hadley and manage to turn up a few species of waterfowl but nothing really unexpected and the goose flocks I came across were relatively small. Although the conditions and weather look and feel more like mid March the birds still know it is the end of February. Without too much to speak of over near the river I headed back to the south Quabbin area with stops at Quabbin Park and Beaver Lake but once again low numbers of waterfowl with nothing out of the ordinary. Another nice day to be outside in February with above normal temperatures and no snow. 
Common Mergansers, Beaver Lake, Ware, MA, Feb 26, 2016
Ring necked Ducks, Beaver Lake, Ware, MA, Feb 26, 2016
Common Loon, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Feb 27, 2016
After getting in late from work early Saturday morning I didn't have much energy to get out early so when I finally did get out I stayed local covering a few areas around south Quabbin. Not too much noteworthy stuff but I had three Common Loons at Winsor Dam and a pair of Common Goldeneye at Hank's Meadow.

On Friday I had some time in the morning to explore a few spots before work and I managed to catch up with another new species for the year when I found a Rusty Blackbird (#97) at Arcadia. The area was quite flooded but was fairly quiet waterfowl wise despite some great looking flooded fields. A brief check for geese in the Hadley/Amherst fields turned up several hundred Canada Geese but not much else.

Elsewhere in the state it appears that another new species has been added to the state bird list with the sighting of a Yellow billed Loon at Race Point out on the cape yesterday by Steve Arena (and relocated today)...I have attached his eBird list here:  There was also a Pacific Loon (which increased to two Pacific Loons today!) in the same area which resulted in four loon species in one day.  Yellow billed Loon is a species that has been overdue to show up in the state and I actually had a sighting of an interesting loon that may have been a Yellow billed Loon but more likely an odd Common Loon or some hybrid...

Thursday, February 25, 2016

More waterfowl continue to arrive with more warm weather

Winter Wren, Ware, MA, Feb 25, 2016
Winter Wren, Ware, MA, Feb 25, 2016
Snow Goose, Amherst, MA, Feb 25, 2016
Common Loon, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Feb 25, 2016
Ring necked Duck, Quabbin Park, MA, Feb 25, 2016
I enjoyed a day off today which coincided with warm weather and strong southerly winds through midday which certainly got some birds moving with some obvious raptor movement (Red tailed Hawks, Northern Harrier and Turkey Vulture) as well as crows.  I spent a good portion of my morning checking fields in Amherst and Hadley for geese and I eventually caught up with a group of almost 1100 birds along Meadow St which included a Snow Goose.  The area also held at least a couple Killdeer. Lots of other fields looked great to host a variety of species but they were empty today.  I also checked the river briefly but it was running fast and was very muddy so very few species of waterfowl were around.  I also stopped at Quabbin on my way home and had a couple Common Loons as well as a Ring necked Duck and both expected species of mergansers.  The Swift River also held a few species of waterfowl but nothing unexpected.  I did run across a vocal Winter Wren there that allowed for some photos but it would never pop out into the open for a good shot.  Most bodies of water have now thawed at least partially with some totally ice free...very different from the last few years when the ice hung on for most of March (or later).
Wood Ducks, Connecticut River, Northampton, MA, Feb 22, 2016
Canada Goose with white spot on head, Connecticut River, Northampton, MA, Feb 22, 2016
I made a few stops in the morning (and one in the evening) earlier this week that produced a fair number of waterfowl but nothing too unusual. On Monday I stopped to check below the Coolidge Bridge and found 800+ Canada Geese (with one having extra white on its head), five Wood Ducks, 7 Black Ducks, 34 Mallards, four Northern Pintails, four Common Goldeneyes and a pair of Common Mergansers. During the day on Monday I saw a report of a Snow Goose and Cackling Goose among the other geese at the UMASS pond but I did not get a chance to check the pond until Tuesday morning. Neither unusual goose showed itself predawn and I checked the river once again below the bridge and they were not roosting at that location either (the Snow Goose did show again later on Tuesday so it must be roosting elsewhere along the river). I also tried without success to relocate the Long eared Owl in the spot I heard it a few days ago. On my way home on Tuesday I made a stop off at the Wentworth Conservation Area and was able to relocate a Field Sparrow (#96) that Keenan found earlier in the day. A stop on Wednesday morning below the bridge in the rain produced lesser numbers and variety compared to earlier in the week with nothing too notable.

A very odd roller coaster of weather this week with cold mornings Monday and Tuesday, some snow/sleet/rain Tuesday night into Wednesday morning and then heavy rain later Wednesday into Thursday with temperatures that climbed up to the mid 60's overnight plus severe thunderstorms.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

A spring like weekend with some good stuff including a Long eared Owl and the beginnings of waterfowl migration

Peregrine Falcon eating Black Duck, UMASS campus pond, Amherst, MA, Feb 21, 2016
Peregrine Falcon eating Black Duck, UMASS campus pond, Amherst, MA, Feb 21, 2016
Canada Goose with extensive white on head and neck, UMASS campus pond, Amherst, MA, Feb 21, 2016
Canada Goose with extensive white on head and neck, UMASS campus pond, Amherst, MA, Feb 21, 2016
It once again felt and looked more like mid March today with most of the snow gone and morning temperatures that started out in the mid 40's and warmed into the 50's.  I got up well before dawn and decided to try my luck at catching up with an early woodcock. I tried a couple spots and had about given up in finding anything interesting when I pulled into a small dirt track near some fields in Amherst and almost immediately had a Long eared Owl calling! It called four times with a single hoot and then went silent. I tried to call it in but it would not respond. The area where I had it is not a known spot for the species (before today anyway) but it looks good with a series of fields and some nearby dense woods. For the owls safety and the fact that the area is posted as private the exact location will be left undisclosed. I have spent a lot of time over the past several weeks trying to catch up with this species so I was very happy to find it. It was another new species for the county this year, bringing the total to 94 (a big miss for me last year).

I then headed over to the campus pond and found the typical Mallards plus around fifty Canada Geese but no sign of any of the unusual ducks that have been around lately. I then headed out toward Hadley trying to track down any geese that might be around as well as some early Killdeer or meadowlarks. As I was checking one spot I noticed hundreds of geese heading toward UMASS so I turned around and went back to catch up with them. After checking a few fields I finally found them on the campus pond with the total numbering at least 660. Although I could not turn up any other goose species I did find two unique individuals that had more extensive white on their neck and head. The other highlight (unless you were the duck!) was a Peregrine Falcon chowing down a Black Duck on the lawn near the pond while its mate hung out near the nestbox...very neat to see.
Canada Goose, Stockbridge Rd, Hadley, MA, Feb 21, 2016
Canada Goose with white on neck and head (one of two), Stockbridge Rd, Hadley, MA, Feb 21, 2016
Canada Goose with white on neck (one of two), Stockbridge Rd, Hadley, MA, Feb 21, 2016
Gadwall and American Wigeon, Swift River, Ware, MA, Feb 21, 2016
Gadwall and American Wigeon, Swift River, Ware, MA, Feb 21, 2016
After checking the campus pond I moved back over to Hadley to look for additional geese and I eventually found a group of 965+ along Stockbridge Road. Once again no luck with any other species beyond Canada Goose but I did turn up a couple more individuals with extensive white on the head and neck. I didn't have any luck turning up any additional geese in other fields I checked right along the river but I did have a flock of 55+ Common Grackles. One of my last stops in the morning checking fields produced a flyby Killdeer (#95) as well as a flock of at least 110 Horned Larks along Moody Bridge Road.  A swing through a few spots near Quabbin produced a Gadwall, an American Wigeon and 24 Hooded Mergansers along the Swift River plus a handful of Common Mergansers at Hank's Meadow.

Elsewhere today in the local area a couple really good species of waterfowl showed up including a Pink footed Goose along the river in Agawam and a male Eurasian Wigeon in the Berkshires...true migration looks to be starting!
Common Loon, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Feb 21, 2016
Common Loons, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Feb 21, 2016
Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Feb 21, 2016
Saturday started off cool and rainy so I decided to stick closer to home spending a few hours around the south Quabbin area. Before dawn at Winsor Dam I had a record high count for February of five Common Loons plus a handful of Common Mergansers on the water and small groups of Mallards and Black Ducks moving south from their nighttime roost. As the rain continued I drove through Quabbin Park with a walk down to Hank's Meadow. The reservoir was still mostly frozen in that area but the open sections featured a single Common Goldeneye as well as a few more Common Mergansers. Various stops along the Swift River in Ware produced a male Wood Duck, a pair of American Wigeon, a dozen Hooded Mergansers, numerous Mallards and a few Canada Geese. A final stop back at Winsor Dam found a couple of loons still around as well as at least 33 Cedar Waxwings feeding in the crabapple trees (no Bohemian Waxwings with them). Overall I had a total of nine species of waterfowl and the day certainly felt more like March with the ice and snow rapidly retreating, some rain and a decent showing of waterfowl with temperatures eventually making it to around 60.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Another fruitless search for Long eared Owls but did find a Northern Shrike and some unusual waterfowl (at least unusual for winter)

Cedar Waxwing, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Feb 19, 2016
Ring necked Pheasant, Hatfield, MA, Feb 19, 2016

I started off a rather cold morning in southern Hatfield looking for any Long eared Owls that might be around. Despite a lot of looking over the course of a few hours I didn't have any luck but there is so much good habitat for a roosting bird to hang out in I may have just missed them. The best I could come up with was an old owl pellet but no new ones. The best bird I had there was a male Ring necked Pheasant that called a few times and gave brief looks. I worked my way north up through Whately but didn't see anything noteworthy although a few of the fields look ripe to welcome geese as they move north in a few weeks. I then crossed back across the river and headed south on Route 47. When I was just past the Hadley/Sunderland line I had a Northern Shrike (#93) sitting at the top of a small tree just off the road. I got a great but brief look at it before I had to move due to traffic. I turned back around and came back but the bird was gone. I could not find a good spot to park in the area so I couldn't spend more time trying to relocate it.
Green winged Teal, UMASS campus pond, Amherst, MA, Feb 19, 2016
Gadwall, UMASS campus pond, Amherst, MA, Feb 19, 2016
Canada Geese on fields, UMASS, Amherst, MA, Feb 19, 2016
I checked numerous fields in northern Hadley and Amherst but didn't find any geese until I stopped at UMASS where I had 1300+ geese on the athletic fields near the Mullins Center. I scanned through them all three times but couldn't find anything besides Canada Geese although some birds were hidden from view, others were tucked in and the heat shimmer was a bit of an issue. My biggest group of geese so far this year and hopefully a good sign of more to come. I also stopped by the nearby campus pond and the Green winged Teal and Gadwall continue along with a few Black Ducks and hundreds of Mallards (much better looks at the birds today compared to a few days ago in a wind swept rain). I searched a few more fields to the south for geese or some other notable species but no luck.

Common Loons, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Feb 19, 2016
Common Loon, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Feb 19, 2016
Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Feb 19, 2016
Cedar Waxwing, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Feb 19, 2016
I then headed over to Winsor Dam where I had four Common Loons (the highest count ever for this species around here in February on eBird). The only other waterfowl I had there were 22 Common Mergansers. I then made it home to get Wilson and we went for a walk at Covey WMA and also stopped along the Swift River where we had a dozen each of Hooded Mergansers and Mallards. A pair of Mallards kept repeatedly diving under the water for up to ten seconds at a time....not very dabbling duck like behavior! Overall another nice morning out despite the cold start.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Wild weather day and some late day waterfowl at UMASS

Green winged Teal, UMASS campus pond, Amherst, MA, Feb 16, 2016
Gadwall, UMASS campus pond, Amherst, MA, Feb 16, 2016
The day started out with some snow/sleet/freezing rain with temperatures around freezing and ended with a windswept rain and temperatures in the mid 50's!  The swing in temperatures from yesterday morning (at -17) to early this afternoon (54) is quite extreme in this area...from near record lows to near record highs in a day and a half.  I saw a post about a nice selection of waterfowl at the UMASS campus pond and I made a brief stop there in the evening on my way home.  The conditions were far from ideal with the rain and wind (and the optics fogging due to the rapid temperatures change).  I eventually got looks at both a Gadwall and a Green winged Teal in among the 130+ Mallards, half a dozen Black Ducks and a couple Canada Geese.  The Green winged Teal was new for the year and became species #92.  I managed a few photos of both species despite the poor conditions but they are not my best work.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Very cold morning out on President's Day

American Robin, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Feb 15, 2016
Common Goldeneyes in the fog (part of flock of 54), Holyoke Dam, South Hadley, MA, Feb 15, 2016
Winsor Dam (iced over completely overnight), Quabbin Park, MA, Feb 15, 2016
Common Mergansers (part of flock of 71), Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Feb 15, 2016
Savannah Sparrow, East Meadows, Northampton, MA, Feb 15, 2016
Dark eyed Junco, Belchertown, MA, Feb 15, 2016
Winsor Dam (after a brief snow shower), Quabbin Park, MA, Feb 15, 2016
Despite near record cold temperatures (-15!) I headed out this morning to check various locations.  I started off predawn in Amherst looking for owls (Long eared Owls in particular) and found just a single Great Horned Owl.  As the sun started coming up I made it to the river which was almost totally ice covered and featured just a few Common Mergansers and Canada Geese.  A brief stop along Aqua Vitae Road turned up a few Savannah Sparrows and I ran into even more of them at the Honey Pot.  I then decided to head south to the area of the Holyoke Dam which usually has some open water when everything else is frozen solid.  I arrived to find some open water but the low fog caused by the very cold temperatures made viewing a bit of a challenge.  Nonetheless I turned up a feeding flock of at least 54 Common Goldeneyes plus the usually expected waterfowl.  Oddly there were very few gulls around (just four) and I had no luck finding any concentrations of gulls at all during the entire day despite hitting several spots that typical host decent flocks in past idea where they all are.  After the dam I worked back north to the snow filled East Meadows where I struck out on the White crowned Sparrows that have been around all winter but I did find another dozen Savannah Sparrows.  I then went back across the river and worked my way back to Quabbin.  When I arrived at Winsor Dam I was surprised to see the entire area frozen.  It was totally open water yesterday and frozen solid today.  As I was scanning the sky I noticed a large flock of Common Mergansers (at least 71 individuals) heading south and then east, probably searching for some open water to land in.  The nearby Swift River had just a couple small open spots of water and these held just a few Hooded Mergansers and Mallards.  Without much activity around the south Quabbin area I headed home and picked up the Wilson and headed to the land trust trail but not before making my first of a couple attempts to catch up with a Fox Sparrow that showed up the Griffith's house yesterday.  No luck finding the bird but with so many good bits of habitat around it may indeed still be around....hopefully it shows back up again.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A very cold weekend

Winsor Dam (with ice forming), Quabbin Park, MA, Feb 13, 2016
Mallards, Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Feb 13, 2016
Belted Kingfisher, Mass Wildlife fish hatchery, Belchertown, MA, Feb 14, 2016
Winsor Dam (with low fog as strong northwest winds blow over open water), Quabbin Park, MA, Feb 14, 2016
The arctic chill certainly arrive for the weekend as predicted. Saturday morning was thankfully quite calm and not extremely cold to start (around 10 degrees) so I managed to get out a little before the winds picks up by mid morning. I stayed around the south Quabbin area and managed to find a few noteworthy birds including an adult Iceland Gull at Winsor Dam sitting on the rapidly forming ice with a small group of Ring billed Gulls. All the gulls took flight and headed southeast before I could get any photos. The Iceland Gull becomes species #90 for the county so far this year. Other notable birds around included at least 92 Common Mergansers around Quabbin as well as a calling Common Loon. The rest of the day just got colder and windier with the temperature in the low single digits by nightfall. Overnight lows bottomed out around -12 with wind chills down near -40.  I didn't even venture out on Sunday until midday when the winds slackened up a bit and the temperatures reached a toasty 5 degrees.  Winsor Dam was fairly quiet but it was neat to see the low fog being created by the cold winds blowing across the open water.  A check along the Swift River produced a Belted Kingfisher at the fish hatchery and seven each of Hooded Merganser and Mallard in a small section of open water.  Late in the afternoon while driving to Northampton I came across a group of at least 42 Wild Turkeys along Bay Road in Belchertown and also spotted two Turkey Vultures circling over the area of Bay Rd/East Hadley Rd/ South Maple St in Hadley.  The Turkey Vultures became species #91 for Hampshire County this year so far.  The cold weather looks to continue overnight with lows tomorrow bottoming out between -10 and -15.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Various stops in the valley before the arctic chill

Black capped Chickadee, Swift River, Ware, MA, Feb 12, 2016
American Robin, Swift River, Ware, MA, Feb 12, 2016
Dark eyed Junco, rail trail near mall, Hadley, MA, Feb 12, 2016
American Tree Sparrow, Honey Pot, Hadley, MA, Feb 12, 2016
White crowned Sparrow (adult), East Meadows, Northampton, MA, Feb 12, 2016
White crowned Sparrow (juvenile), East Meadows, Northampton, MA, Feb 12, 2016
Winsor Dam, Quabbin Park, MA, Feb 12, 2016
I figured I would get out a bit this morning before the real arctic chill and strong winds arrive for the weekend.  It ended up being colder this morning then forecast with a low just below zero.  Thankfully there was light wind and it eventually warmed into the 20's.  The weekend looks to feature highs around ten (or less) and lows possibly getting to -15 on Sunday morning plus winds throughout the period with wind chills to -40...cold stuff!  I covered quite a bit of territory during the morning with stops in the East Meadows, the Honey Pot, fields throughout Hadley, a small area of the rail trail near the malls (looking in vain again for a Pine Warbler seen there early this month), then over to Quabbin Park and few spots along the Swift River.  All the small bodies of water were ice covered and the rivers were mostly frozen too.  Quabbin itself remains mostly ice free although some of the coves have started to ice up.  Not many highlights this morning but some decent sightings nonetheless.  The two White crowned Sparrows continue in the East Meadows among a mixed sparrow flock.  A number of Savannah Sparrows were in another mixed flock along Aqua Vitae Road in Hadley.  Quabbin Park produced a lingering Common Loon as well as 40+ Common Mergansers but no other waterfowl.  I could only find one open spot along the Swift River that contained waterfowl (Mallards and seven Hooded Mergansers).

I was going to try for 'the gull' in Turner's Falls yesterday evening but couldn't make it there (and it was apparently a no show so I guess I didn't miss anything!).  I gave some thought to going up that way late this morning but with negative reports from the night before and the bird seldom being seen before early evening I decided against it.  Perhaps I will make another try for it next week if it reappears.
Wilson in the snow, Belchertown, MA, Feb 12, 2016
Wilson in search of something under the snow, Belchertown, MA, Feb 12, 2016
Once I got back home I picked up Wilson and we went for a walk along the Jabish Canal.  Fairly quiet as far as birds go but Wilson had a great time trying to find critters under the snow.