It's a New Day

April 2019

Vol. 47, No. 2

Bird Sightings: November–December 2018

Neil Hayward and Robert H. Stymeist

November began with a high of 70 degrees on the second and went downhill from there. The average temperature for the month in Boston was 43 degrees, two degrees below normal. It rained on three of the four weekends, with the city recording 9.26 inches of rain for the month, 5.27 inches above normal. The season's first widespread winter storm on November 15–16 dumped more than half a foot of snow in many areas, including Easthampton with 9.5 inches and Concord with 9 inches. Plymouth escaped with 2.5 inches and Boston ended up with only a dusting before switching over to sleet and rain. A record-breaking cold snap swept through the region on the morning of November 22. It was the coldest Thanksgiving on record, with Worcester registering a frigid seven degrees, breaking the city's previous low temperature record of 11 degrees and Boston tying its lowest high temperature record for the day of 24 degrees.

Pine Grosbeak by Neil Dowling

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Of the seven species of goose on the Massachusetts state list, Brant was the rarest this period; it was the only one that wasn't recorded. A Ross's Goose that spent a day in Egremont is the second record for Berkshire County; the first was in April 2017. A Pink-footed Goose was more obliging, spending a week in Ipswich in November. Pink-footed Goose was added to the state list in 1999 and, excluding a miss in 2013, has been recorded annually since 2009, with the lion's share coming from Essex County. Cackling Geese were well distributed with records from 10 counties, which is a new high for the period.

Two family groups of Tundra Swans that were photographed this period are the first December records since 2014. This tundra-nesting species is less than annual to the state and generally appears any time from November through April, with March perhaps being your best chance of finding one.


November is traditionally one of the best months for eagle watching. On November 4, migratory conditions were ideal along the ridges of the Wapack Range, producing 38 Bald Eagles during a six-hour watch from the summit of Mount Watatic. An above-average six Golden Eagles were reported in November. According to Paul Roberts, founder of the New England Hawk Watch, there was an unusually heavy movement of Golden Eagles early in the season throughout eastern North America. Early and heavy snowfall in eastern Canada and northern New England were likely contributors to the higher than usual numbers. Most sightings of this species are typically flybys, with birds unlikely to stick around. Breaking tradition was a bird photographed at Dunback Meadow, Lexington, that was present for two days. The Greenfield Christmas Bird Count (CBC) tallied a record 27 Bald Eagles on December 30, almost double the previous high set in 2017. Other noteworthy raptor reports included a high count of 16 Red-shouldered Hawks over Mount Watatic, Rough-legged Hawks from nine locations with three present most of December on Plum Island, and a late Osprey in Marshfield on December 26.

This was another good flight year for Snowy Owls with reports from 11 coastal locations. The first Snowy Owl of the period was noted from Cuttyhunk Island on November 1, nearly two weeks before the others began appearing. Norman Smith tallied 10 Snowy Owls and banded four during the Greater Boston CBC on December 16. Barred Owls were reported from over 35 locations, many of them in poor condition; they could be seen hunting during the day, a behavior typically associated with extreme hunger. Not surprisingly, many were found along roadways, victims of vehicle collisions. The highlight for the period was the discovery of a Boreal Owl on Nantucket, the first sighting in the state since a bird found in Topsfield on January 28, 2017.

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