Monday, March 1, 2010

Snowy First Class

Hitchcock Center- Amherst

The 2010 Spring Birding Class started off looking like anything but “SPRING”. An over night snow fall left about four inches of wet snow through out the Amherst-Hadley area. Traditionally the first trip of the course heads to Gloucester and Plum Island, to cash in the coastal specialties like Harlequin Ducks, Purple Sandpipers, Black Guillemots, Razorbill’s and maybe a Snowy Owl, but with the bleak weather forecasted, I changed the venue and decided to stay local. Outside of the lower valley was a different story, many areas in the higher elevations received much more snow and the result was far fewer people made the early morning trek to the Hitchcock Center. Despite the snow, the roads were in good shape and the mild temperature and calm conditions made for reasonable late February morning.

We left the center and headed out towards Hadley, my hope was the new snow cover would make it easier in locating Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings. The first hour and a half the theory was not playing out to well, only one Snow Bunting- and that was a flyover in the FOG. To this point the fields off of South Maple Street, East Hadley Rd, Aqua Vitae Rd in Hadley and the East Meadows in Northampton was a bust. When we headed into the Honey Pot section of Hadley, things turned around. Two decent flocks of Horned Larks and Snow Buntings put on a pretty good show for the small crown that braved the early morning elements. Also out there were several Red-tailed Hawks and one adult Bald Eagle.

From the Honey Pot to the “Donut Man” for tasty pastries, coffee and a restroom break, not necessarily in that order. From there we made our way north towards the Mt. Warner Road region, hoping for a Rough-legged Hawk at the end of Hawley Road, but it wasn’t meant to be. A consolation prize was a calling Common Raven, and then around the corner to an area known as the Pumping Station. This area has open fields along with a large area of thickets. Today this area proved to be quite active, (7) Northern Mockingbirds, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Flicker, Blue Jays, but the highlight, however brief was an adult Northern Shrike. A few members of the group were able to get a look through the scope before the bird flew behind the pump house and just disappeared?

All in all not a bad morning for the first class, we ended the trip with 35 species, but most importantly, we ended the day with happy birders. Some of the highlights....Ring-necked Pheasant (1), Bald Eagle (1), Belted Kingfisher (1), Northern Flicker (1), Northern Shrike (1), Common Raven (1), American Tree Sparrow (20), Savannah Sparrow (3) and Snow Buntings (65)

Mill Valley Rd-Hadley
Aqua Vitae Rd-Hadley- Snowy and Foggy
Red-tailed Hawk- East Hadley Rd- Hadley
Fresh Snow & Fresher Manure- A combination hard for Horned Larks & Snow Buntings to pass up.
Northern Mockingbird- Pump Station.
Mocker on the move!
Eastern bluebird- Pump Station.