Sunday, May 9, 2010

Bony bonanza

The running joke with the Hitchcock Centers Spring Birding class is, if there’s going to be one raining day in seven…it will be on the day the class is scheduled to meet. Such was the case yesterday (May 8, 2010) morning when we headed out around 6:30am. I was awaken around 4:45am with the flash of lighting and thunder, lying in bed and wondering if the lighting would at least cease, because the forecast for the morning was for on and off downpours.

Our trip was originally schedule to go to Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, but the Boston area forecast was no better. So I decided to keep it local and perhaps the rains would put something down along the river. I arrive at the Hitchcock Center just after 6:30am and found three hardy veteran’s of the spring class, who knew there leader would go out in just about anything. We birded Larch Hill conservation area and had about 10 species of Warblers, Black-throated blue, Magnolia and Wilson’s gave us the best views.

We left the center and drove around the back roads of Hadley hoping for a Cattle Egret in one of the many fields, but this was not meant to be today. A quick stop at the Doughnut Man in Hadley, (Unofficial favorite pit stop of the spring birding class) and then onto the Oxbow in Northampton. The Oxbow had a nice gathering of Bank and Tree Swallows, a flyby Double-crested Cormorant and a distant belted kingfisher.

After the Oxbow, we made our way up to Stillwater Rd in Deerfield to check out what was left of a small pool and to see if any migrating shorebirds had settled in. Historically this “spring” pool has produced some good spring shorebirds, Red-necked Phalarope, White-rumped Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover to mention a few. Helga’s sharp eye caught a Solitary Sandpiper; we enjoyed nice views in the scope as we huddled under the hatchback of the car, trying to keep some what dry.

Next on the hit parade was the Deerfield Marsh, I played Virginia and Sora Rail recordings, but to my disappointment nobody called back. We just started driving out into the Deerfield Meadows when I noticed a smaller gull standing next to the ring-billed Gull- “Bonaparte’s” I said. A beautiful breeding plumaged bird that gave us a beyond believable looks at this very uncommon bird. Bonaparte’s are reported each spring, but one can easily go a few springs without encountering one. Although we didn’t know it at the time, this would be the first of seven that we would see in the next hour.

After Deerfield, we drove straight to Barton’s Cove in Turner’s Falls hoping for more storm related birds. Our first stop at the cove produced (2) Lesser Scaup, (4) Ring-necked Ducks and (6) Double-crested Cormorants, in the distance I could seen more Bonaparte’s Gulls on the nearby boat docks. We drove to this private marina and had great looks at (5) more Bonaparte’s Gulls! (3ad-2-1st yr) Certainly the most Bonaparte’s Gulls I’ve had at one time in many, many years of valley birding. From here we made our way back across the bridge to the Rod & Gun Club.

The Rod & Gun Club, although private has always allowed birders to visit and scan this section of the Connecticut River. We pulled up and had another Bonaparte’s Gull way out on a large dead stump on the other side of a tiny island. This made seven in less than an hour! But this outbreak was not just confined to the Franklin county area of Massachusetts. Later in the evening I read on Massbird that other inland sightings of Bonaparte’s Gulls had occurred in Worcester County and even in inland Connecticut.

Despite my excitement with the gulls, the best bird of the day was the breeding plumage White-winged Scoter we also came across at the Rod & Gun Club. For me at least, I’ve had less than five spring sightings of White-winged Scoter over the last thirty plus years of birding in the valley. Well, it was getting towards the end of the trip and we were just a stones throw from the Turner’s Falls Airport, so I said, lets see if the Grasshopper Sparrows had come back. Now, I wasn’t particularly hopeful, on – off rain, not real warm, but what the hell, were here! We pulled up to the gate, got out of the car and it’s teed up and singing his little heart out. Put it in the scope, stayed there until everyone had a killer look.

Ended the day on a high note……

Bonaparte's Gull- Deerfield Meadows

The Group @ Barton's Cove- Turner's Falls

Double-crested Cormorants- Barton's Cove.
Bonaparte's Gulls- Barton's Cove.
White-winged Scoter- Rod & Gun club/Turner's Falls.
Grasshopper Sparrow- Turner's Falls Airport.
Brown Thrasher- Montague Plains
Closer to home- Red-bellied Woodpecker.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak-female.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak- feeder.
Trying to get the perfect head shot....
Rainy Day Dreamer
Wild Turkey- Quabbin Park.