Monday, January 25, 2010

Snow Buntings....Galore!

As others have posted in recent days on Massbird, (Tom Gagnon, Mark Fairbrother and most recently Chris Ellison) the Snow Bunting show has been very impressive around the Hadley, Northampton and Montague areas. I headed out this morning in hopes of catching up with one of these large flocks the others have reported, not knowing at the time I would hit the jackpot in Hadley. My first stop was on East Hadley Rd/South Maple Street- I began scanning the field for any sign of life when a huge flock of Snow Buntings went up on the other side of the field! A conservative estimate of 400 Buntings began heading in the direction of Amherst. (A very impressive sight)

Snow Buntings- Hundreds!

I was hoping the flock would return, but they just faded away against the gray sky. So I headed for Aqua Vitae Rd thinking maybe the Rough-legged Hawk that has been widely reported in the Hadley/Northampton area might make an appearance, but it decided not too. I continued down Aqua Vitae Rd heading towards Rte 9 to the point where the field ends, when all of a sudden another enormous flock of Snow Buntings takes to the sky.

This flock of buntings was constantly up and down along the road, I back tracked to try and get a few photos and a better estimate of this flock, when all was said and done I estimated this flock to be 1100 strong. The entire flock eventually headed towards the river, then turned around and headed back over me and last seen heading west. The interesting question is how many Snow Buntings are out in the fields of Hadley, Montague, and Northampton right now? My one hour of birding in the two locations mentioned produced 1500 Snow Buntings. Interestingly enough…No Horned Larks

                                more.....Snow Buntings.   

Snow Buntings heading towards the Connecticut River?

                                Buntings changing course again and flew right over me heading to other areas of Hadley.

Good Birding,


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Chasing the Thrasher...

Headed out to Salisbury State Park this morning with the hope of relocating the Sage Thrasher that had been seen as recently as Saturday afternoon. The Sage Thrasher is a resident of the western United States, but has shown a tendency to show up in the east from time to time. I believe this bird represents the third record for Massachusetts and I’m aware of one from Maine. As to when this bird actually made its way to Salisbury is anyone’s guess, but it was first discovered a week earlier.

I arrived around 8:30am to find several birders already fanned out in search of this western vagrant. Thrashers are interesting birds, they can be quite conspicuous when singing and defending a territory, but the minute you want to find one it’s like they tunnel underground and completely disappear. However, I was optimistic for a couple of reasons, one- the Thrasher was seen the day before (always a good thing) and two- I thought there would be a fair amount of birders in the area looking for it.

After about thirty minutes two birders found the Thrasher across the street where I had been looking. Everyone converged along the main road with spotting scopes, and were treated to excellent views of this wayward visitor. In fact, the Thrasher teed up for several minutes in a Cedar Tree eating berries.

After the Thrasher, I headed to the boat ramp and met up with Mark Lynch and Sheila Carroll. The harbor was pretty still, making it easy to scan the water and see what was out there. I found nice groups of Common Eiders, White-wing Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye and Red-breasted Mergansers. A nice winter plumage Red-throated Loon made an appearance along with a small group of Harbor Seals.

After Salisbury, I made my way over to the American Yacht Club in Newburyport. The main highlight was an Adult (Kumliens) Iceland Gull bathing on a small jetty. Also present was more of the same cast of characters that I encountered across the harbor.

From here I continued down the road and found Mark and Shelia heading back from the bridge. Shelia had pulled over to photograph an American kestrel that had been hanging out in the vicinity of the Plum Island Airport. I was just about to leave when the Kestrel came right in and teed up on the telephone lines and allowed me to get a couple of shots. Now, Kestrels in winter have gotten quite uncommon if not rare! In the last twenty years, their breeding and wintering numbers have just fallen off the chart! So I was pleased to see this female apparently doing well in the heart of a New England winter.

After leaving the Kestrel, or should I say when the Kestrel left me- I continued to Plum Island and entered the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. My main goal was to locate a Snowy Owl! Word was that one to two Owls were being seen down at the Wardens. I arrived at the Wardens parking area and walked out to the point and scanned through the thousands of ice chunks that had been created by the river. After about ten minutes of scanning I noticed a white blob on top of a post, I found the owl! Certainly this encounter would rate in the top ten as the most unsatisfying view ever, but it was a Snowy Owl. Other birds encountered from this area included, Canada Goose, American Black Ducks, Mallards, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded and Red-breasted Mergansers. The waterfowl were keeping a watchful eye on three Bald Eagles majestically riding the ice flows down the river.

All in all a nice day in the Newburyport/Salisbury area! Now if the Ivory Gull would only hang around for a couple of more weeks in Provincetown, life would be even better.

Good Birding,


Sage Thrasher-
Salisbury State Park.

Red-tailed Hawk- Salisbury.

Riding the Ice in Newburyport Harbor....Great Black-backed & Herring Gulls.

Bufflehead- Newburyport

Iceland Gull- Newburyport.

Iceland Gull- Adult

American Kestrel- on the road to Plum Island.

Hooded Mergansers on Plum Island.