August 2019

Vol. 47, No. 4

Bird Sightings: March–April 2019

Neil Hayward and Robert H. Stymeist

They say meteorological spring starts on March 1, but this year the month came in like a lion with a weekend storm bringing over a foot of snow to Boston. Despite the unseasonably cold weather and the subzero wind chills in the first eight days of the month, the average temperature for March ended up near average at 39 degrees. A high temperature of 70 degrees on the last day of the month coincided with a peak gust of 53 mph from the south. Rainfall in March totaled 2.95 inches, 1.37 inches below normal. Snowfall in Boston was 13.5 inches with most of that—12.6 inches—noted on the first weekend of the month.


Sandhill Cranes by Neil Dowling

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GEESE THROUGH HERONS

A Ross's Goose was photographed on the western bank of the Connecticut River in mid-March. This has been a good winter for this diminutive goose, with records in January and February in Marblehead and Plum Island, respectively. In contrast, despite being reported in three counties in March, this has been a poor winter for Greater White-fronted Goose. The species was unrecorded in April for the first time since 2012.

Brant is a familiar visitor to our winter shores. The pale-bellied hrota subspecies breeds on Baffin Island and neighboring eastern Nunavut Province and winters on the Atlantic Coast south to the Carolinas. The less familiar nigricans or "Black Brant" breeds in northwestern Canada and Alaska and winters on the Pacific coast and is a rare visitor to Massachusetts. Black Brant has a much darker belly than hrota with a more prominent white neck collar. This year up to two birds were photographed between April 18–19 at Plymouth Beach. While currently a subspecies, Black Brant may be a future candidate for full species status. Genetic analysis suggests that hrota and nigricans are more distinct from each other than, for example, Ross's and Snow geese.

VULTURES THROUGH DICKCISSEL

Parking lot 1 at Plum Island is one of a number of traditional hawkwatch sites where volunteers monitor spring raptor migration. This year hawkwatchers reported good numbers of Turkey Vultures from mid-March. During the month of April, 132 Northern Harriers and 48 Sharp-shinned Hawks were tallied passing over Plum Island. American Kestrel is perhaps the most anticipated species at this coastal hawkwatch, where this year a total of 341 were logged. Broad-winged Hawk migration was well under way in the state in mid-April, although numbers are typically much lower than in the fall. The hawkwatch at Barre Falls, in Central Massachusetts, tallied over one hundred Broadwingeds on April 23. Other noteworthy reports included sightings of Golden Eagle in Barre, Newbury, and Ipswich. Photographs of the Ipswich and Newbury birds suggest they were the same individual. A pair of Bald Eagles took up residency in Brewster. This was the first documented nest found on Cape Cod since the last known breeding Bald Eagles in Sandwich in 1905.

Barred Owls continued to be reported from many locations during the day with sightings from over 40 localities. There were reports of nesting Great Horned Owls in several towns. The last reported Snowy Owl was a bird at Logan Airport on April 16.