October 2019

Vol. 47, No. 5

Bird Sightings: May–June 2019

Neil Hayward and Robert H. Stymeist

The dismal, wet weather of April continued into the first week of May. A total of 3.35 inches of rain fell over 19 days which is average for Boston. A pattern of wintery weather settled in mid-month, bringing nearly 2 inches of rain and a low of just 48 degrees on May 14, prompting one Boston television meteorologist to describe May as "the new March." During that cold snap, some higher elevation areas, such as the Worcester hills and the Berkshire foothills, recorded small accumulations of snow. Only two days in May broke 80 degrees, with the high for the month being 89 degrees set on May 26.

Whimbrel by Neil Dowling

Temperatures during June averaged 68 degrees in Boston, which is consistent with historical data. The high temperature for the month was 87 degrees, recorded on June 23 and 29. Rainfall totaled 5.15 inches in Boston, 1.47 inches above normal for June. The most rain in any 24-hour period was 1.81 inches on the last day of the month, when a number of severe thunderstorms were noted throughout the state.

R. Stymeist


Nantucket added a new bird to the island list when a Black-bellied Whistling-Duck was found at Madaket on June 10. It stayed for three days and represents the tenth record for the state. The eleventh record came just over a week later, on June 19, when six birds were observed in Plymouth. Intriguingly, a flock of six birds had also been recorded in Nova Scotia the previous month—a pattern similar to that of the first sighting of the species in Massachusetts in 2008, when that group of nine birds arrived after first visiting Nova Scotia. Black-bellied Whistling-Duck populations in the south and southeast of the country have been expanding in recent decades resulting in greater vagrancy to eastern states and provinces.

Brant typically depart for their breeding grounds in Arctic Canada by Memorial Day. The only stragglers this year were an amazing count of 162 birds at Bolton Flats on May 31. The species is a regular, albeit uncommon, spring and fall migrant away from the coast (see Figure 1), and this flock represents a new high count for Worcester County. The previous record of 100 birds was at Wachusett Reservoir on May 23, 2011.

Ring-necked Ducks made the birding headlines last year when they bred in the state for the first time since 1979. This year 13 ducks were present at the same site in Royalston, with many seemingly paired up, although breeding was not confirmed. Duck highlights for the period this year were lingering birds. A Harlequin Duck at Rockport and a Common Goldeneye at Plum Island were the first June records for these species since 2014. King Eiders were reported from four locations during May, with an immature male at Westport staying long enough to become the first June record for Bristol County. Berkshire County recorded its first June record of Greater Scaup (per

Pied-billed Grebe is a state-listed endangered species. Last year a pair bred successfully at Richmond, close to the New York state line. This year a pair raised two young at nearby Parsons Marsh in Lenox. Despite multiple reports of individuals this period, another state-listed species, the Common Gallinule, showed no evidence of breeding. Sandhill Cranes, now a regular breeder in the state, successfully raised young in Tolland and Burrage Pond. A pair was also found nesting at Worthington, where the species first bred in 2016.

Chuck-will's-widows were heard calling from five locations. A bird at Plum Island represented the first Essex County record since 2010.

Rare shorebirds this period included a Black-necked Stilt at Nantucket, June 20–30, and a Curlew Sandpiper at Chatham, May 19–30. The latter is the first record of the species since a one-day wonder at Plum Island on August 11, 2013. This year was unusual for reports of shorebirds that we typically only see on their fall migration. A Western Sandpiper at Plymouth Beach on May 8 is only the fourth spring record this century. Marbled Godwit is an uncommon fall migrant typically observed between July and October. This year was exceptional with spring birds reported in May from Plum Island and Eastham. Two records of Red Phalarope are rare for the spring: a single bird in South Deerfield on May 10, and 27 birds south of Nantucket on May 27. These are the first May records for the state since 2011, with the South Deerfield record being only the third record for Franklin County. On the late side for spring shorebirds were White-rumped Sandpiper and Wilson's Phalarope, neither appearing until May 16, the latest arrival dates for these species this century.

A South Polar Skua photographed from a boat 90 miles east northeast of Wellfleet on May 29 is only the third May record for the state this century. Since the scattering of May sightings is earlier than most dedicated pelagic trips, the early dates in part probably reflect a lack of data for this period. Indeed, when Soviet fishing vessels were once a common sight off the eastern seaboard, skuas (often unidentified or misidentified to species) were a much more common sight. A study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at the time indicated that South Polar Skuas were present off our shores from May to October (Powers, 1983). The same vessel that intercepted the skua also logged the earliest record of Cory's Shearwater this century on May 27; the Cory's was 88 miles south of Nantucket. A rare, spring Long-tailed Jaeger was photographed at Race Point on June 30. Parasitic Jaegers were also noted from Provincetown, although in lower numbers than have typically been reported in recent years.

Apart from an impressive count of seven Little Gulls at Provincetown on May 7, gulls were a disappointment at the tip of Cape Cod this period. Glaucous Gulls have been loafing at Race Point each May since 2014, but were absent this year. In May 2018, up to 30 Iceland Gulls were at Race Point with 35 the year before, and since 2013 birds have lingered into June. This year, the high count was 10 on May 1 with the last one reported on May 17. Black-legged Kittiwakes were similarly thin on the ground although perhaps this is a return to form. These birds usually leave our pelagic waters by mid-April, but in recent years young birds have been spending the summer in Provincetown, though in highly variable numbers and with some evidence of an alternating cycle. Starting in 2015, the May–June maxima have been: 180 (2015), 34 (2016), 200 (2017) and 13 (2018). A similar two-year periodicity of peaks and troughs was observed between 1978–1982. The current cycle seems to have ended; this year only four birds could be found.

June continues to be the best month to see Royal Terns in Massachusetts, with four records from three counties. Caspian Terns were reported from 14 locations this period, covering a record nine counties. A pair of Black Skimmers found on a beach in Edgartown on May 4 were early by about a week.

A Brown Pelican, photographed sitting on a sand bar at Morris Island on May 11, is only the second May record for the state. Most of the recent sightings of this southern vagrant have spanned the period June–November.

A Little Egret was observed at Rowley on May 4 and June 24. Last period we reported that a bird photographed at Plum Island on April 25 was likely a returning bird to the Portland, Maine area. Since then, it appears there are now two birds in Maine. A bird present in Rye, New Hampshire, between June 8–19 was likely one of these birds, and it may have been this wandering bird that hopped the border during this period to visit Massachusetts. This is the first year Massachusetts has hosted a Little Egret since June 2014. Cattle Egrets and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons each were recorded in five counties. A White-faced Ibis was reported in the Essex area, extending the annual streak of this species in Essex County to 13 years.

N. Hayward


The raptor highlight for the period was Mississippi Kite, with a surge of reports primarily from outer Cape Cod and Plymouth. Strong southerly winds on May 19–20, which switched to the northwest on the night of May 20, brought the first of at least 24 reports this period as compared with just two reports in 2018 and 2017, and five reports in 2016. This species has experienced a recent population expansion with its range extending northward and is now a regular migrant each spring at the Pilgrim Heights hawkwatch site in North Truro. From May 22–June 23, there were numerous sightings of Mississippi Kites in the Plymouth area. Without photographs, it is impossible to know if these reports involved more than one or two wandering individuals. A Swallow-tailed Kite was photographed over the Gay Head Cliffs on Martha's Vineyard on May 21.

When Birds of Massachusetts was published in 1993, the Black Vulture was listed as a rare visitor. Now you can reasonably expect to see a Black Vulture any month of the year. During June, many sightings of this species were reported from across the state, resulting in a "ho-hum" attitude among birders. A survey of nesting Ospreys in the Ipswich and Rowley area found a total of 14 adults and 14 young. Reports of Snowy Owls in June are unusual, but one was noted on Duxbury Beach on June 2. The latest record for a Snowy Owl in the state was from Logan Airport on July 7, 1990.

Many migrants arrived in good numbers in late April and that trend continued into the first week of May, with a major fallout occurring on May 3. Dave McLain, who was birding at Arcadia Sanctuary in Easthampton, noted the following on his Facebook page, "Huge fallout day. Birds everywhere. Get outside. Even in the rain—87 species." Paul Peterson, birding at Franklin Park in Boston, echoed that excitement by describing the morning as a "Wowie Zowie Wave." Some of the most productive birding happens in the rain, which was the case again with significant fallouts on the mornings of May 9 and May 11. At Plum Island on May 11, Jeff Offermann tallied 157 Black-and-white Warblers and 143 Northern Parulas.

A total of 33 species of warblers were reported during the period including a Townsend's Warbler found at the Beech Forest in Provincetown on May 5, just the fifth spring record for the state. Other noteworthy reports included four Prothonotary and 11 Kentucky warblers. Four Cerulean Warblers were found in Skinner Park, Hadley, where they have nested in recent years. Significant numbers of northern, boreal species such as Tennessee, Cape May and Bay-breasted warblers were reported, as was the case in the spring of 2018. The favorite food of these species is the larvae of the spruce budworm, an invasive moth that attacks conifers. The last three years have seen an infestation of budworm caterpillars in the northern forests, resulting in an abundance of food for these boreal warblers.

The anticipation of discovering a rare bird is never far from the minds of most birders. We can thus appreciate the excitement felt by Nancy Blake, who was birding at Daniel Webster Sanctuary, Marshfield, on the morning of June 14, when she spotted a Tropical Kingbird AND a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in the SAME tree! The Tropical Kingbird was just the third state record and was very cooperative for the many visiting birders, lingering 20 days until July 4. The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was seen only on June 14 and 15. There were two reports of Loggerhead Shrikes, one at Gay Head on Martha's Vineyard and another at Turners Falls airport. This was the first report of this species in Massachusetts since a bird at Chatham on September 6, 2012. Red-headed Woodpeckers were recorded in six locations. Reports of Acadian Flycatchers were up from 11 locations last year to 21 this year. Philadelphia Vireo, an uncommon spring migrant, was reported from 11 locations. Other notables included Yellow-headed Blackbirds on Plum Island and Nantucket and a Painted Bunting in North Truro.

Reproductive success in birds can be measured by complete area surveys during the breeding season. Mark Lynch and Sheila Carroll covered the town of Hawley on June 28 and tallied impressive numbers of breeding birds: 103 Red-eyed Vireos, 12 Winter Wrens, 43 Veerys, 22 Hermit Thrushes, and 73 Ovenbirds. Rick Heil conducted a thorough survey of the marsh on Plum Island on June 27 and tallied a total of 71 Saltmarsh Sparrows. Clay-colored Sparrow and Blue Grosbeak were present again this year at the Crane Wildlife Management Area in Falmouth, where breeding is suspected.

Winter finches, especially crossbills, are nomadic and can occur at any time of the year. Red Crossbills were reported from at least 16 locations during the period with as many as 20 individuals present at Moose Hill Sanctuary in Sharon. Most of those identified to call type were Type 10, the Sitka Spruce race. Evening Grosbeaks were reported from all areas of the state with a high count of 75 in Royalston. A report of two juvenile Evening Grosbeaks in Hawley indicated successful breeding.

R. Stymeist


  • Veit, R. R., and W. R. Petersen. 1993. Birds of Massachusetts. Lincoln, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Audubon Society.
  • Powers, K. D. 1983. Pelagic Distributions of Marine Birds Off the Northeastern United States. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-F/NEC-27. Woods Hole, Massachusetts: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, United States Department of Commerce.

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