Vol. 44, No. 6
For the first ten days of February 2016, the attention of the Massachusetts birding community focused on a bend in the Connecticut River in Franklin County. James Smith had photographed a gull there that turned out to be the state’s best prospect so far for a documented Yellow-legged Gull—pending consideration by the Massachusetts Avian Records Committee (MARC). Hundreds of birders crowded both sides of the river, Gill to the east and Turners Falls (a village in Montague) to the west, scanning the resident roosting gull flock for this oddball. It was a level of interest that the county rarely receives from birders.
Franklin County is perhaps the least-birded county in Massachusetts, with fewer eBird checklists submitted than any other except for the two island counties. Its habitat is relatively monotonous, mostly forest with a few scattered pockets of grassland or wetland. Less densely populated than most of the state, farthest from any coast, it rarely hosts the sort of species that attract listers from the rest of the state. But it has had a few rarities: Great Gray Owl in Gill (1973), Brambling in Montague (2000), Cassin’s Kingbird in Whately (2002), Varied Thrush in New Salem (2005), and Henslow’s Sparrow in Montague (2009).
Within the county, Gill, Turners Falls, and Montague are usually the main hotbeds of birding activity. The main attraction here is the Connecticut River, including a series of bays and a canal, which draw in a variety of water-associated bird species impressive for a location so far inland. Rare waterbirds often hop from one local spot to another, disappearing from their initial location to be refound nearby. The area’s list includes Barnacle Goose (2003), Whimbrel (2006), Tundra Swan (2007), Little Gull (2008), and Slaty-backed Gull (2009). Iceland, Glaucous, and Lesser Black-backed gulls are an almost annual occurrence, as are Cackling Geese and Barrow’s Goldeneye. Bald Eagles have at least two active nests in the immediate area and are seen daily year-round, often flying over the outdoor tables of various restaurants (including the Wagon Wheel and Ken’s Roadside Diner on Route 2 in Gill, and the 2nd Street Bakery on 4th Street in Turners Falls; the author eats regularly at all three).