June 2018

Vol. 46, No. 3

Bird Sightings: January–February 2018

Neil Hayward and Robert H. Stymeist


Razorbills by Lanny McDowell

Birders who were geared up for a new year of birding awoke to some bone-chilling temperatures; in Boston, the high for the day was a raw 13 degrees, and the western part of the state and the hill towns of Worcester County saw in the New Year with temperatures below zero. A powerful winter storm on January 4 brought blizzard conditions up the East Coast from Virginia to Maine. Meteorologists dubbed this a "bomb cyclone": masses of cold air colliding with warm air to produce hurricane force winds. Gusts of 76 miles per hour were noted on Nantucket and 75 miles per hour in Wellfleet. Coastal areas experienced extreme high tides—associated with the super moon on January 1—and major flooding was noted in Scituate and Marshfield causing severe damage to homes. The high tide in Boston reached an all-time high of 15.16 feet, breaking the previous record of 15.1 feet set during the Blizzard of 1978. The bomb cyclone brought snow too: 13.4 inches in Boston, 16.6 inches in Worcester, and over 15 inches in parts of the south coast where Taunton exceeded 17 inches. Despite the cold start, temperatures for the month of January ended near normal with an average of 29 degrees. The high in Boston was 61 degrees on January 13 and the low was minus two on January 7. Rainfall totaled 4.92 inches in Boston, 1.56 inches above average, and the total snowfall was 17.8 inches, most of which fell during the January 4 storm.

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WATERFOWL THROUGH HERONS

No longer a news flash these days: all eight species of goose on the Massachusetts State List were reported this period. Ross's Geese were found in four counties, including the continuing Boston bird from December, which represented the first record for Suffolk County. The Barnacle Goose in Westfield held on for the first day of the year before disappearing and then possibly reappearing a couple of days later on the Connecticut coast. A Pink-footed Goose in Berkley/Dighton in January and February is the first record for Bristol County. This area, along the banks of the Taunton River, also hosted some of the many Greater White-fronted Geese reported this period as well as a Cackling Goose.

VULTURES THROUGH DICKCISSEL

Raptor highlights for the period included continuing high numbers of Black Vultures, especially in southwest Berkshire County where as many as 35 were counted in Sheffield. Cumberland Farms is a traditional winter hot spot for birds of prey and some high counts this period included: 11 Northern Harriers, five Rough-legged Hawks, and five Short-eared Owls. Golden Eagles were noted from four localities, three more than last year. It was a big year for Snowy Owls with reports from nearly 50 locations, with a maximum of seven noted on Plum Island during January. The most bizarre report involving a Snowy Owl was one struck by a car inside the Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, Jr. Tunnel in Boston; it was captured and taken to Tufts Wildlife Clinic where it unfortunately died a few hours later. In Lexington, up to eight Long-eared Owls continued through the period. This area has a history of hosting winter owl roosts; in 1977 and 1981 a total of 22 Long-eareds were tallied. For more information, see the 1982 article by John W. Andrews "A winter roost of Long-eared Owls" in Bird Observer 10 (1): 13–22. A dead Barn Owl was picked up in this same grove on January 8, a victim of the blizzard in early January.

A winter roost of crows is an impressive sight. In Lawrence, an estimated 14,300 were tallied in February. These communal roosts may return to a specific location for a few years or may shift elsewhere in response to changing conditions. The crow roost in Lawrence has been studied on many occasions; see the recent 2018 article "A History of Winter Crow Roosts and a Visit to a Roost in Lawrence, Massachusetts" by Dana Duxbury-Fox, Bird Observer 46(1): 22–31.