April 2021

Vol. 49, No. 2

Bird Sightings: November–December 2020

Neil Hayward and Robert H. Stymeist

The temperature for the first 17 days of November was above average. For six days, during a stretch from November 5 to 12, the temperature in Boston was 70 degrees or higher. Worcester tied a record for five consecutive days of 70 degrees or higher. The high temperature in Boston for the month was 76 degrees on November 10. There were 11 rainy days in November, with precipitation in Boston totaling 3.9 inches—the third highest monthly rainfall for 2020. Heavy rain and damaging winds swept through the state on the last day of the month, with wind speeds in eastern Massachusetts exceeding 50 mph and with much stronger gusts in southeastern Massachusetts. The Blue Hill weather observatory in Canton reported a gust of 80 mph.


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There are eight species of geese on the Massachusetts state list and all eight were reported this period. The first record of Ross’s Goose for the state was a pair in Sunderland in March 1997. The species has been undergoing a range expansion as well as an increase in population. Twenty-three years later, in December 2020, a bird in Lakeville, Bristol County, completed the county set: this species has now been recorded in each of the state’s 14 counties. Pink-footed Geese were reported from Outer Cape Cod and Newburyport. This species was first added to the state list in 1999 by a sighting in Dennis and is still unrecorded on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. Barnacle Geese were reported in three counties. A new high count for Snow Geese was set on the afternoon of December 15, when one observer logged 7,215 geese flying south along the Housatonic Valley. Flocks numbered from 40 to 1,200 and included four blue morphs. Another goose high was set at Oak Bluffs on December 12 when 212 Brant eclipsed the previous Dukes County high of 160 birds recorded in January 2019. Tundra Swans were well represented with birds in three counties. The flock of 12 in Westport on November 28 is only the fifth record of a double-digit flock this century.

The duck highlight of the period was the spectacular raft of scoters off Revere Beach. A careful count on November 8 recorded 13,500 Black Scoters—which smashed the previous Suffolk County high of 5,000 set in January 2019—as well as 2,400 White-winged Scoters and 1,200 Surf Scoters. A count of 175 Green-winged Teals on Martha’s Vineyard on November 22 ties the high count for the county set in 1994. Nantucket hosted record numbers of Canvasbacks and Redheads; the 185 Canvasbacks on November 6 is the highest period count for the state this century, and a flock of 56 Redheads at the end of the period is the highest count of the species this century, beating the previous high of 44 on Nantucket the previous year.


October and November have historically been the best months to encounter Golden Eagles in the state. This year, there were ten reports in October and six reports in November. The majority of observations were from western Massachusetts, although a surprise flyover in Concord was especially welcome for one birder who added it to his state life list. Many birders are accustomed to seeing Red-tailed Hawks on almost all of our outings and may not notice that they are at their peak migration during this period. Blueberry Hill in Granville, for example, logged 58 Red-tailed Hawks during November. Other dedicated hawkwatch stations continued their observations into November, logging Red-tailed Hawks and hoping for those Golden Eagles. The first Snowy Owl of the season was reported at Logan Airport on November 5 and a total of five were seen at Logan during the Greater Boston Christmas Bird Count (CBC) on December 19.

Birders have come to expect a flurry of rare bird sightings during November and December, and this season was a banner year. The second state record of Pacific-slope Flycatcher was discovered at Fresh Pond in Cambridge on November 24, and was last seen on December 16. The first record for Massachusetts was discovered just last year in Hadley on October 25. A major snowstorm on the night of December 16 dumped over a foot of snow in the area and the flycatcher was never seen again; it was missing for the Greater Boston CBC held on Sunday, December 20. Other notable flycatchers included a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at Manomet, an Ash-throated Flycatcher photographed in Salisbury, four reports of Western Kingbirds, and late records of both Least and Yellow-bellied flycatchers.

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