February 2017

Vol. 45, No. 1

Bird Sightings: September-October 2016

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

The continuing drought was the major weather highlight. Rainfall has been below normal since January and many communities have established mandatory water restrictions. Hurricane Hermine arrived in Massachusetts on Labor Day with heavy winds and strong seas. Sustained winds reached 39 mph on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket and gusted to 59 mph at Gay Head. The storm was about 120 miles south of Nantucket and brought heavy rain on Cape Cod, but little away from the coast. The high temperature in September was 93˚ in Boston on September 9; the low was 48˚ on September 26. Precipitation in Boston was 1.38 inches, 2.06 inches below normal.

Barnacle Goose, Concord, by Richard Johnson

The temperature averaged 55˚ in Boston in October, close to normal. The high for the month was 81˚ on October 24 and the low was 34˚ on October 27. Rainfall was 5.46 inches, 1.52 inches above normal, the first month since January with above-normal precipitation.

R. Stymeist


Greater White-fronted Goose and Cackling Goose are now regular if uncommon, although the latter is by far more regularly seen in the western part of the state. Given its similarity to Canada Goose, it is possible that western Massachusetts birders are just more attuned to this tricky species. A Tufted Duck was discovered in Groveland on October 23; it is most likely the same individual that has wandered around Essex County ponds over the past two years. Sea ducks were well reported from western Massachusetts ponds, but oddly not from the eastern part of the state.

Pacific Loons were reported from Plymouth and Provincetown. As usual, the Brookline Bird Club pelagic trip south of Cape Cod was productive, featuring three White-faced Storm-Petrels. Seawatching on outer Cape Cod was particularly exciting this period. Exceptional numbers of shearwaters were reported, particularly Cory’s and Manx, with high numbers possibly setting state records. The most exciting sighting was a Yellow-nosed Albatross that was initially seen on October 10 and again by its lucky observer on October 14. A Brown Booby was reported off Provincetown on October 5.

An American White Pelican was photographed at the Oxbow in Northampton on September 15, one of only a handful of western Massachusetts records for this species. Despite searches by birders it was not relocated there, but was rediscovered three days later about 15 miles south in Longmeadow, where it stayed for six days to the delight of many birders.

Normally a count of 19 Great Egrets at the Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge would have been an impressive inland total, but numbers much farther inland at the Longmeadow Flats on the Connecticut River peaked at 39 individuals. Cattle Egrets are relatively regular in Essex County, but sightings in Sharon and Cambridge were unusual.

Although Mississippi Kite is now annual in spring migration, it is rare in fall, so a sighting at the Shatterack Mountain hawkwatch on September 21 was exciting. A Swainson’s Hawk on September 20 at Mount Wachusett was also an impressive find.

A Yellow Rail was discovered at Fort Hill in Eastham on October 29. This species is rarely spotted in Massachusetts due to its cryptic nature. Sandhill Cranes were well reported throughout the state.

While the drought was bad for crops and lawns, it created good conditions for shorebirding in many inland locations. Of particular note was a Marbled Godwit that made a brief visit to Horn Pond in Woburn, an exceptionally rare inland visitor. The American Avocet originally discovered at Plum Island in July continued through September 24. A Ruff was discovered in Newburyport Harbor on September 2 and stayed for three days. Ruff is uncommon at any time of year but particularly so in the fall.

Seawatchers at Race Point in Provincetown reported a wide variety of gull species, highlighted by two sightings of Sabine’s Gull. A single Sabine’s was also spotted at Stellwagen Bank on September 17. The Laughing Gull that was initially spotted at Wachusett Reservoir on August 17 lingered through September 5. This species rarely wanders away from the coast.

M. Rines


This period features the peak movement of Northern Saw-whet Owls. The best conditions for observing this are during a dark night with cold temperatures and a light north wind. Halloween night was such a night. While trick-or-treaters were roaming neighborhoods, so were the owls; a total of 74 Saw-whets were caught and banded between sites in Lincoln and Northbridge. The Drumlin Farm site had a record season with a total of 371 Saw-whets, 300 of which were banded during October. The previous high was 296 in 2010 and 2012. There was a good flight of Common Nighthawks in early September, especially in Northampton with counts of 368 on September 1 and 269 on September 8; late reports included October reports from Wayland and Princeton. The last Whip-poor-will heard on Plum Island was on September 12, the same date as in 2015.

Hummingbirds that show up in October and beyond need special scrutiny for possible vagrants. This year there were two confirmed records of Rufous Hummingbirds. Another Rufous or Allen’s hummingbird was photographed in Essex in late September, and an unidentified hummingbird was seen at Dunback Meadow in Lexington on October 14. A Ruby-throated Hummingbird was carefully documented October 23 on Nantucket.

Two Red-headed Woodpeckers, both adults, were reported during this period from Bolton Flats and Belchertown. Some exceptional late records included an Olive-sided Flycatcher on September 25, an Acadian Flycatcher banded in Brewster on September 8, a Philadelphia Vireo in Westborough on October 30, a Swainson’s Thrush on October 18, and a Yellow Warbler on October 31.

Sparrow highlights during this period included 14 Clay-colored Sparrows, down from 24 during the same period last year, eight Larks, four Grasshoppers, and 28 Nelson’s, 12 of which were found in Newbury during a high tide. In Huntington, observers tallied 96 Savannah, 25 Lincoln’s, and 136 Swamp sparrows on October 2. A Harris’s Sparrow was found in the Westborough WMA on October 26 where it continued through the end of October. There are over 20 records of Harris’s Sparrow in the state; the most recent was at a Wenham feeder from November 28, 2013, until March 16, 2014.

This season was a banner year for vagrants and less common birds. A Gray Kingbird took up a short residency at Ocean Avenue Beach in Hyannis to the delight of many birders. This was the fifth record for the state, the last being on September 8, 2006, at Aquinnah on the Vineyard. Bell’s Vireo has become an annual vagrant since 2005; this year they were located at Fort Hill in Eastham and at Manomet. A total of 24 Philadelphia Vireos were reported. A Cave Swallow was carefully identified along Nahant Beach, the first September record for Massachusetts. A Northern Wheatear put in a brief appearance in Sandwich and a Townsend’s Solitaire was photographed on Plum Island. A total of 32 warbler species were noted during the period, highlighted by a Black-throated Gray in Aquinnah, a Golden-winged in Amherst, and at least 44 Orange-crowned Warblers and 44 Connecticut Warblers. Manomet banded 293 Blackpolls during October.

R. Stymeist

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