December 2018

Vol. 46, No. 6

Bird Sightings: July–August 2018

Neil Hayward and Robert H. Stymeist

Figure 1. Fall migration of Common Nighthawk in Massachusetts. Daily maxima in August and September from 1993–2018. Data from

If you like heat and humidity, 2018 was your summer! It was the warmest meteorological summer (June-August) on record, surpassing the sweltering summer of 1983. The months of July and August were each the warmest on record for Boston. The summer was characterized by a seemingly persistent tropical air mass and dew points were above 70 degrees on many days.

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A Black-bellied Whistling-Duck was photographed at Westport at the end of July. This southern species has recently been increasing its range, and together with a propensity for wandering, has been turning up almost annually in the state since the first record in Ipswich ten years ago.

A Snow Goose was a rare summer sight in Hyannis for much of July and August. King Eiders were reported from Westport and Tuckernuck Island, only the second and fourth records this century for July and August, respectively. The family of Ring-necked Ducks in Royalston, the first documented breeding in the state since 1979, was doing well in July, although missing one of the original seven ducklings.

This was a good year for Pied-billed Grebes, which were recorded in seven counties this summer with breeding confirmed in at least two locations. Pied-billed Grebe is listed as endangered, together with eight other bird species, under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act (MESA).

Common Nighthawks begin their southern migration in the last weeks of August, typically peaking around September 1 (see Figure 1). Over the past fifty years this goatsucker has been suffering a massive population decline. This year, however, brought a welcome respite from the bad news: Tom Gagnon, Northampton nighthawk watcher, reported the numbers this fall to be his third best for the past 44 years. It was also the first time he'd had back-to-back nights of more than 1,000 birds. A Chuck-will's-widow continued into July in Plymouth.

Fairhaven has become the go-to place in the state for rail watching. This summer allowed for a good comparison of the two large rallids, with a King Rail present throughout July and the first half of August together with up to two Clapper Rails. Clappers were also reported from nearby Westport and locations around the Cape. Common Gallinules were present at five sites, including an impressive six individuals at Monomoy.


A few dedicated hawk-watchers were stationed at Mount Wachusett in late August to welcome the first of the migrating hawks. Although few raptors are on the move during this period (the bulk of the Broad-winged Hawks typically appear almost a month later) two Northern Goshawks and 73 Broad winged Hawks were a satisfying introduction. Significantly out of season were at least four Snowy Owls that were found throughout July and August. The previous late date for this species was set at Logan Airport on July 7, 1990. This year probably also set a new record for Snowy owl viewing temperature: it was 98 degrees when a bird was spotted on August 29!

Breeding songbirds are still relatively active in early- to mid-July. For the past several years the South Shore Bird Club has conducted a Breeding Bird Survey at Quabbin Reservoir. This year the Club surveyed Gate 10 in Pelham on July 7 with some impressive numbers: 26 Veeries, 47 Ovenbirds, 20 Chestnut-sided and 22 Black-throated Green warblers, and 94 Red-eyed Vireos. The latter is the most abundant vireo in the state. In July, Mark Lynch counted 174 Red-eyed Vireos in Petersham, 141 in Sandisfield, and 131 in Royalston. Some of the more interesting breeding records this year included: a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers in Manomet that fledged three young; and Blue Grosbeaks that successfully nested for the second year in a row at the Crane Wildlife Management Area in Falmouth. Purple Martins had another great year with 295 young fledged on Cape Cod. Mary Keleher reported 178 fledged from Mashpee alone, a significant increase from the 17 that fledged in 2008 when she first started working on Purple Martin conservation.

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