It's a New Day

February 2020

Vol. 48, No. 1

Bird Sightings: September-October 2019

Neil Hayward and Robert H. Stymeist

Abstract: This period features one new bird for the state list, another that got away, a slew of pelagic goodies from an "extreme pelagic," well-chased plovers, and a purple yard bird.

September was warm and dry—about as perfect as could be and quite the opposite of the same month last year. The high temperature for the month was 92 degrees recorded on September 23, the first day of fall. This was actually 10 degrees higher than the first day of summer earlier in the year. The average temperature for the month was 76 degrees, four degrees above the historical average. There were seven days when temperatures exceeded 80 degrees and it was not until the last day of the month before the temperature in Boston dropped to a high of 62 degrees. Rainfall totaled 2.16 inches, more than an inch below normal. Rain was recorded on just eight days during the month, with the highest single day rainfall of 1.11 inches falling on September 2.

Black Vultures, Somerset, Mass. Photograph by Neil Dowling.

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The fall hawk migration in our region gets underway in earnest during this period. Hawkwatchers congregate at favorite sites, such as Mount Watatic in Ashburnham and Wachusett Mountain in Princeton, where they hope for a big flight, especially of Broad-winged Hawks. This year was yet another disappointment; Wachusett totaled only 2,832 Broad-wings, which was 2,210 less than last year and just barely above the lowest seasonal count of 2,364 in 2011. The hawkwatch at Mount Watatic reported 2,069 Broad-wings for the period and the Russell hawkwatch logged 2,565. Other noteworthy reports from Wachusett included 125 Bald Eagles, 136 American Kestrels, and 26 Peregrine Falcons. A new record count of 52 Merlins was tallied, surpassing the previous high of 42 set just last year. Golden Eagles were noted from four locations, including two different individuals from the hawkwatch site in Russell.

The big birding story this season, which made national headlines, was the disappearance of three billion birds. This disturbing report, published in the September issue of the journal Science, found that wild bird populations in the United States and Canada have declined by almost 30 percent since 1970 (Rosenberg et al, 2019). That certainly felt true this fall, when many of my birding friends and I commented that this year's migration was lackluster, particularly the numbers of warblers. Trevor Lloyd-Evans of Manomet noted that new bandings of Neotropical migrants were down significantly, with this fall producing the lowest total since Manomet first started banding in 1966. Mark Blazis, a birdbander in Auburn, reported that for the first time in over 30 years of banding, he did not mist-net a single warbler during the fall migration. The wet weather that prevailed over much of October may have also contributed to lower numbers.

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