April 2017

Vol. 45, No. 2

Bird Sightings: November-December 2016

Seth Kellogg, Marjorie W. Rines, and Robert H. Stymeist

Pink-footed Goose by Richard Johnson.

Temperature and precipitation were near average in November and December. Total snowfall was 5.9 inches in Boston, most of which fell on December 17, which, unfortunately, was also the date of several Christmas Bird Counts. November averaged 46°, one degree above normal. The high temperature of 70° was on November 2 and an additional six days during the month had readings in the 60s. The first frost in Boston was on November 21 when the high temperature reached only 38°. Rainfall totaled 2.7 inches in Boston, 1.29 inches less than average, most of which fell on just two days.

The average temperature in December was 35°. In Boston, the high was 58° on December 27 and the low was a cold 4° on December 16. Most areas outside of Boston experienced below zero readings that day along with wind that made it unbearable to be out. Total precipitation for the month was 3.25 inches in Boston, just about a half inch below average.

R. Stymeist


The first Pink-footed Goose in Massachusetts occurred less than 20 years ago, an individual that spent several months in Dennis from January 16 to April 11, 1999. Several more have been reported since then, but never as many as were seen during this reporting period. The first was discovered in West Newbury on November 6 and was seen in the same area until December 2. Presumably the same individual was regularly seen in Ipswich through the end of the month. On December 4, one was seen flying over Cape Cod, but was not relocated. Also on December 4, one was discovered at Cambridge Reservoir in Waltham, and presumably the same bird was relocated in Concord on the 7th and seen sporadically through the 15th. Connecticut River Valley birders weren’t left out, as a Pink-footed Goose was seen in the Hadley area December 6–19.

These geese were not the only exciting waterfowl. The Greater White-fronted Goose reports in Hampden, Southwick, and Agawam surely represented the same individual, and one reported from Amherst, although a significant distance away, appeared in a hiatus in sightings from farther south along the Connecticut River, so it was probably the same bird. On December 28 there was a report of two Ross’s Geese on Plum Island, but subsequent examination determined that one was a Snow x Ross’s Goose hybrid. A flock of 32 Brant flying over Quabbin Park was interesting. Cackling Geese were well reported during this period.

There was a time when Fresh Pond in Cambridge was one of the best places in the state to find Canvasbacks, with counts over 100 in the 1990s. Numbers have dwindled since then, with only one seen during this reporting period.

On November 15 there was a remarkable fallout of 38 Red-throated Loons on Pontoosuc Lake in Pittsfield but this number was eclipsed the following morning when 53 were counted. While single Red-throated Loons are regular inland at this time of year, this number is apparently the second largest tally, topped only by 150 at Turners Falls in November 1985.

Sandhill Cranes are becoming more common in Massachusetts, and in this reporting period there were several reports of large flocks.

Sea watchers at outer Cape Cod were treated to some spectacular birding during this period. Several Black-headed Gulls were reported, and up to seven Little Gulls was a high count for recent years. On December 4 a Franklin’s Gull was photographed off Truro and as many as 68 Iceland Gulls were reported at Race Point. The most exciting sighting was of an Elegant Tern off Wellfleet on November 19. This is only the third record for this species in Massachusetts; the first spent most of August 2002 off Chatham, the second seen for only a single day at Plum Island on July 23, 2011.

M. Rines


White-winged Doves were noted from Nantucket and Edgartown, and two individuals were found in the Fenway Victory Gardens in Boston. These reports follow sightings of two White-winged Doves that visited a feeder on Nantucket this past August. Last year there were good numbers of Snowy Owls found during this period, but this year there were reports from only two locations, one on Nantucket and five at Logan Airport. Short-eared Owls fared better this year compared to last year: a total of 21 individuals were noted including an amazing seven on Tuckernuck Island. The banders at Drumlin Farm had a record season with a total of 371 Saw-whet Owls captured, with 71 banded in the first 19 days of November; another 48 Saw-whets were banded during November at Lookout Farm in Northbridge.

There were two reports of Rufous Hummingbirds including one continuing from last month in Westboro and another banded in Falmouth. Red-headed Woodpeckers were reported from Northampton, Belchertown, and in the Quabog IBA in central Massachusetts.

A Hammond’s Flycatcher was discovered in the Middlesex Fells reservation in Medford, only the fifth record for the state and a first record for Middlesex County. Excellent photographs as well as several audio recordings clinched the identification; the previous record was from Fairhaven on New Year’s Day 2016. The cooperative Gray Kingbird first noted on October 23 continued in Hyannis until November 2. There were two Ash-throated Flycatchers, one in Osterville and the other at the Gay Head area of Aquinnah. Late reports of Least Flycatchers came from Cambridge and Westboro. The Bell’s Vireo first noted on October 12 when it was netted and banded at Manomet was seen by many birders at nearby Holmes Farm until November 25.

A Sedge Wren continued at Fort Hill in Eastham and another was located in Sandwich. Townsend’s Solitaires were discovered in Somerset and Essex. A Mountain Bluebird, a first record for Franklin County, was discovered at Turners Falls on November 13. A Swainson’s Thrush was photographed and confirmed on the late date of November 6 in Boston. The 21 species of warblers noted during this period included Yellow-throated Warblers from Orleans and Marblehead. Some late December reports included a Yellow Warbler in Brewster and a Prairie Warbler in Chatham. Rounding out the rarities was the continuing Harris’s Sparrow in Westboro, another Harris’s at a feeder in Dalton in Berkshire County, Western Tanagers in Gloucester and Lexington, and Painted Buntings in Melrose and Nantucket.

The winter finch flight was for the most part lukewarm with reports of just single Pine Grosbeaks and only one White-winged Crossbill, but Red Crossbills were seen regularly at Plum Island and Salisbury State Park.

R. Stymeist

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