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

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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.


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.

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