The exodus of Brant—both winter visitors and migrants—is usually complete by Memorial Day, although a few straggled into June. There were four birds in Orleans on June 2, and seven at Plum Island on June 5. Other late-departing waterfowl included a male Harlequin Duck at Martha’s Vineyard until May 30, a Ring-necked Duck in Andover on June 7, and a male King Eider in Gloucester until June 28. A pair of American Wigeon was in suitable breeding habitat at Plum Island at the start of June. The baldpate, as American Widgeons used to be known, is a rare state breeder, with only three confirmed breeding records, the most recent of which was at Monomoy in 1983. Green-winged Teals are uncommon breeders in the state. This year, pairs were present in June at Bolton Flats, Plum Island, and Monomoy.
Pacific Loon—a rarity for us, but probably the most abundant loon in the rest of the continent—has become almost annual in May. This year, a basic-plumaged bird was spied from the tower at Stage Island Pool at Plum Island on May 23. Another bird, seen at Race Point on May 21, had already molted into attractive alternate plumage, and the same, or a different bird, was reported there on June 7. The latter sighting marks the first June record for the species since 2011.
Horned Grebes usually linger into early May before hot-winging it to their breeding grounds in mid-Canada west to central Alaska. This year’s dawdlers, many in colorful, golden-horned alternate plumage, were all in western Massachusetts, including seven birds at Pittsfield on May 1. Pied-billed Grebes also had another good year in 2017, with breeding confirmed at Fairhaven and Monomoy NWR. Pied-billed Grebe is a state-listed species (endangered), and 2017 is only the fifth year this century that breeding has been confirmed. Such scarcity wasn’t always the case. In the 1890s, local ornithologist William Brewster commented on the species’ abundance at Great Meadows. More recently, Plum Island was the go-to place for this secretive summer breeder, with multiple families raised in the 1970s. (The most recent breeding record from Plum Island dates from 2005.) This year’s success, following confirmed breeding last year in Royalston, gives some hope for this diminutive species.