June 2017

Vol. 45, No. 3

Bird Sightings: January-February 2017

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

King Eider by Sandy Selesky

Both January and February were warmer than usual with near normal rainfall and normal snow amounts. A warm front arrived in New England on January 11, setting record-high temperatures across the state. Temperatures in Boston reached 61°, tying previous records set in 1913 and 1975, and Worcester’s high of 57° surpassed 55° in 1980. In Boston the temperature averaged 35° for January, 6.6° above normal. Rainfall totaled 3.9 inches in Boston during January, and snowfall totaled 8.9 inches. Most of the snow came on a nor’easter January 6–7. It dumped seven inches in Boston, but hit the south shore hard with 14–19 inches and 9–11 inches on Cape Ann, where gusts were reported at 65 mph in Rockport.

February was a mixed bag, from frequent snow to record warm temperatures. The temperature averaged 37°, five degrees above normal. The high of 73° on February 24 set a new record for the month of February, and Worcester also experienced an all-time high of 68° that day. Rainfall for the month totaled 3.22 inches. Snow turned to rain on February 7–8 bringing hazardous conditions that caused multiple road accidents. A blizzard on February 9 dumped as much as 18 inches of snow in some areas. Nantucket reported winds out of the northeast at 68 mph, and a burst of 55 mph was reported from the Blue Hills in Milton.

R. Stymeist


It was another great month for geese, with reports of several rarities. The Pink-footed Goose that spent most of the previous reporting period in northeast Essex County lingered through January and February. There was an exceptional number of reports of Ross’s Goose. The individual originally found on Plum Island at the end of December along with a Ross’s X Snow Goose hybrid, continued in nearby Ipswich through January 6. It was followed by reports of single birds from Saugus (Essex County), Longmeadow (Hampden County), Northbridge (Worcester County), and Concord (Middlesex County). It is impossible to determine how many individuals were involved since only one date overlapped, but given the distance between the different reports, it is likely that multiple birds were involved. Good numbers of Cackling Geese were reported; as usual most were in the western part of the state.

The Tufted Duck that lingered in Essex County through the end of 2016 was not reported, but the Nantucket bird discovered on December 31 stayed through February, and another bird was reported from New Bedford and nearby Lakeville. Impressive numbers of Barrow’s Goldeneye were seen throughout the state. Pacific Loons were sighted from Nantucket, Rockport, and Provincetown.

Shearwaters are rarely reported in winter, but regular sea watchers at Andrews Point in Rockport and Race Point in Provincetown were lucky to see a few. Rick Heil has been sea watching at Andrews Point for many years but tallied his first January records for both Great and Sooty shearwaters. A regular sea watcher at Race Point, Peter Flood, reported a single Sooty Shearwater on January 1 and two Manx Shearwaters on January 15.

A Yellow Rail on the Nantucket Christmas Bird Count was exceptional as was a Purple Gallinule found dead in South Truro. The only Sandhill Cranes reported during this period were two in East Bridgewater, possibly the breeding pair from nearby Burrage Pond.

A Mew Gull is always an exciting find, but the one discovered in Nahant on February 25 was banded. It turned out to have been banded as a chick in Iceland on June 23, 2013.

The late January storm brought conditions ideal for viewing sea birds at coastal locations. Nathan Dubrow and Miles Brengle took advantage of school cancellation on January 24 to go to Andrew’s Point in Rockport, where they reported a good Dovekie flight with 29 individuals. On January 25 Blair Nikula spent the morning at First Encounter Beach in Eastham and reported:

highlights (from 6:50 11:20 a.m.) included 3 very late jaegers (2 Pomarine and one unidentified), 58 Dovekies (some at almost point-blank range), 10 Thick-billed Murres (plus an additional 15 unidentified murres, most of which appeared to be Thick-billeds), 22 puffins, and 330 kittiwakes. . . The diversity of alcids that has been around for the past week or so is quite amazing - I can’t recall anything quite like it before. To have a shot at seeing all six Atlantic alcids in a day is quite a treat.

Sadly, the storm that was exciting for birders was tough on a number of alcids that were forced onto land, in particular Dovekies. Wild Care on Cape Cod reported 35 Dovekies brought in for rehabilitation, the highest number they had ever received. More than half died, but they were able to release 14 on January 26. A single living individual was photographed inland in Lincoln on January 24 but was not seen again, likely the victim of exhaustion.

M. Rines


The two White-winged Doves, first noted on December 11, continued throughout the period at the Fenway Victory Gardens in Boston. Long-eared Owls were noted from five locations; this species may be more common but often goes unnoticed as it roosts in dense vegetation. Short-eared Owls were found in four areas with as many as five individuals noted from Bear Creek in Saugus.

Tim Spahr and Sean Williams had an amazing night of owling in the Desert Natural Area in Marlboro. The object was to record Northern Saw-whet Owls using playback calls. They estimated an impressive 41 Saw-Whets and five Barred Owls. Other good numbers of Saw-whets were noted in Lincoln and Concord. Another owl initially identified as a Saw-whet turned out to be a Boreal Owl; it was found at the Ipswich River Audubon Sanctuary during the Super Bowl of Birding. This was the first sighting report of a Boreal Owl in Massachusetts since October 2000 in Boston. A Rufous Hummingbird, first noted in November 2016, continued at a feeder in Falmouth through the end of this period.

Boreal Chickadee, a very irregular migrant to our area, was reported from Peru in western Massachusetts. It remained for most of the period to the delight of many observers. This was the first report since December 2010. Other unusual birds in Berkshire County included a Bohemian Waxwing in Dalton and a Harris’s Sparrow, which spent most of January at a feeder, also in Dalton. A Sedge Wren, first discovered on October 29 at Fort Hill in Eastham, continued through January 26. Rounding out the unusual were two reports of Painted Buntings at feeders on Nantucket and East Orleans.

The continued mild weather into January and February certainly benefitted several lingering passerines such as Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Gray Catbirds, Eastern Towhees, and Chipping and Lincoln sparrows. An Ovenbird, first noted on December 10 at Horn Pond in Woburn, was able to survive through several snowstorms at a feeder set in the woods. Other unusual birds for the period included a Northern Waterthrush in Wellfleet, a Lark Sparrow in Eastham, and a Grasshopper Sparrow in Barnstable. There were reports of Audubon’s Yellow-rumped Warbler in North Truro and Orleans. Winter finch reports were few and far between with the exception of Red Crossbills that were noted in good numbers in Salisbury–Plum Island and in Royalston.

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