Neil Hayward and Robert H. Stymeist
May 2021 was pleasant; the average temperature was 67 degrees, one degree above average for the month. The high was 92 degrees on May 26. There were only four days during the month that saw any precipitation. The total rainfall in Boston was 4.92 inches, 1.43 inches above normal. Most of the rain occurred over Memorial Day weekend. Beginning on Friday May 29, two inches of rain were recorded in Boston and the temperature on Saturday reached only 50 degrees, just one degree shy of setting a record low for that day’s high temperature. Saturday’s storm brought downpours and strong northeast winds along the coast. Cape Cod and the Islands were especially impacted, with gusts over 50 miles per hour that continued through to Monday. Birders along the coast were rewarded with great days of spring sea watching.
BALD EAGLE BY SANDY SELESKY
June 2021 was the hottest June on record for Boston. The temperature averaged 74.4 degrees, beating the previous record of 73.4 degrees set in June 1976. There were nine days in June when the temperature reached 90 degrees or higher. On June 30, the mercury hit 100 degrees, which is rare for June; the last June record was in 1952. The last time Boston experienced triple-digit weather at any point during the summer was July 22, 2011, when the temperature was 103 degrees. The temperature dipped below average for just six days during the month. There were eight days of precipitation totaling 2.57 inches in Boston, 1.32 inches below the average for June.
WHISTLING-DUCKS THROUGH IBISES
A Black-bellied Whistling-Duck was photographed on Tuckernuck and Nantucket islands in June. This species, first recorded in Massachusetts in 2008, has been expanding its range northward. This is the first record for the state since the pandemic—the last being in September 2019, also on Nantucket. The Franklin Park Cackling Goose, first found on April 26, continued until May 1, when it qualified as only the second May record for the state—the first, also present on May 1, was at Plum Island in 1999.
A male Northern Shoveler in Pittsfield at the start of June was the first June eBird record for Berkshire County. A male Eurasian Wigeon, found on Penikese Island, is only the second June record for the state this century, after a bird in Dorchester on June 3, 2006. Notable for their absence were Green-winged Teals; this was the first year since 2009 that the species was not reported in Berkshire County in June. This duck is a rare breeder in the state and has nested successfully on October Mountain in recent years. Breeding was again confirmed for Ring-necked Ducks in Royalston—the third year in four that the species has bred at this location. A female King Eider at Mattapoisett on June 6 is the first June record for Plymouth County.
Chuck-will’s-widows were reported from Barnstable, Dukes, and Nantucket counties, all areas in which this species is suspected of breeding.
Sandhill Crane nesting was confirmed at Worthington, Hardwick, Burrage Pond in Hanson, and the area around Ashfield and Plainfield—a record four families in four counties. This species was first confirmed nesting in the state at New Marlborough in 2007 and then again in 2016 in Worthington, after which reports and breeding records have increased steadily.
Single Black-necked Stilts were photographed in Sandwich on May 28 and on Nantucket in May and June. A pair of Ruffs was found at Plum Island on May 1. Although this shorebird is annual to the state, this is the first record of two birds together since 2015. Most records involving multiple birds have come from the Plum Island and Rowley area. A single female Ruff (Reeve) was found at Allens Pond, South Dartmouth, at the end of the period. An American Golden-Plover at Duxbury Beach in mid-June is the first June record for the state since 2010. The species is a rare spring migrant in April and May and a more common fall migrant from August to October. Short-billed Dowitchers in June are uncommon away from Barnstable and Essex counties; a flock at Bolton Flats Wildlife Management Area this year was just the second Worcester County record for June after a pair on June 10, 2005, also at Bolton Flats. Norfolk County also logged its second June record for Short-billed Dowitcher with a single bird in Quincy on June 15.
This was a good period for phalaropes. Wilson’s Phalaropes were recorded from a record six counties, including the first Hampshire record—at East Meadows, Northampton—since May 2004. Red-necked Phalaropes were reported from an above-average five counties, with the first Plymouth County record for the period since 2006. Nantucket scored a new period high count of 75 Red Phalaropes on May 20.
Our knowledge of pelagic birds in our state waters is poor. Observations are limited to a handful of dedicated trips each year—predominantly in the fall—with a real paucity of data in the spring. This year we gained a better insight into the status and distribution of deep-water species from a research survey conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter was at sea from May 14 to May 25, embarking from and returning to Newport, Rhode Island, and passing through New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Maine state waters. Bird counts were performed by onboard ornithologists Allison Black and Doug Gochfeld, who logged high counts and late dates for a number of species in Massachusetts.
The ship encountered one South Polar Skua in Essex County waters, and four south of Nantucket, the latter being a new high count for May. Most Massachusetts sightings of this Antarctic-nesting seabird have come between July and September, and this is only the fourth year this century in which May birds have been recorded—almost certainly a reflection of the lack of birder access to deep waters at this time of year. A Long-tailed Jaeger seen from the boat in Nantucket waters on May 19 is five days shy of the earliest state record on May 14, 2006. Birds were also seen from Race Point, Provincetown, at the end of the month. Long-tailed Jaegers are typically seen later in the summer, and this is only the fifth year this century in which they have been found in May. The research vessel logged 14 Leach’s Storm-Petrels south of Nantucket on May 20, which is the highest count for May since 2005, when 627 were seen from Sandy Neck. And a count of 95 Northern Fulmars on May 25 in waters east of Cape Cod is the highest period count since May 20, 1995.
Alcids were surprisingly abundant this period. A count of 16 Common Murres past Race Point on May 2 is a new high count for May. Stellwagen Bank scored a new high count for Thick-billed Murres in May with two seen on May 3, as well as a new late date for the species with a single bird seen by the NOAA crew on May 24—eclipsing the previous late date of May 19 set in 2007 and 2013. A count of 40 Razorbills off Race Point on May 2 is a new eBird high count for May, and a bird east of Chatham on June 16 was the only June record south of Maine. A count of five Atlantic Puffins off Andrews Point, Rockport, on May 29 and from Race Point on May 31 beat the previous high count of two for the month. The NOAA crew also reported up to five puffins on separate half-hour checklists on May 19, with a potential total that day of up to 20 birds.
Figure 1. Annual high count of Arctic Terns in Massachusetts, 2000–2021. Data from eBird.org.
Sabine’s Gull became a regular visitor to Race Point last year from July through November. This year, a first-year bird was photographed there on May 29–30. This is the fifth year this century in which this Arctic breeder has been recorded in May. It is typically more common as a fall migrant. Berkshire and Norfolk counties recorded their first May records of Lesser Black-backed Gull.
This was a good period for rare and uncommon terns. A Gull-billed Tern was a one-day wonder at Eastham on June 12, and a Sandwich Tern was photographed at Race Point on June 20. Both species are less than annual to the state. Black Terns were reported from a period-high nine counties. Arctic Terns were reported in exceptional numbers from Race Point at the end of May; up to 450 birds were counted on May 30, which is the second-highest count this century, after 500 birds at Plum Island in 2005 (see Figure 1). To put this extraordinary number into context, the high counts for this species in 2019 and 2020 were only nine and four, respectively. Another tern highlight also happened on May 30, when a possible White-winged Tern was sighted from Race Point. Unfortunately, the bird disappeared among a large flock of gulls and terns and was not photographed. There are only two prior records of this species in Massachusetts: in Plymouth May 25–27, 1954, and at Provincetown on May 8, 2016.
Yellow-crowned Night-Herons were reported from a period-high seven counties, including a first period record for Suffolk County— an adult near the Fenway Victory Gardens in Boston on May 8. A count of seven birds—six adults and one immature—at Yarmouth on June 26 set a new high count for the period.
VULTURES THROUGH DICKCISSEL
The hawk movement this spring was special, with six reports of Swallow-tailed Kites, all but one documented by excellent photographs. Several birds were present for multiple days, affording many birders a chance to add this species to their state or life lists. During this period there were seven reports of Mississippi Kites compared with just two last year—a reflection of how the range of this species has been expanding in recent years. One individual was photographed at the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, a first record for Boston and Suffolk County.
The hawkwatch at Lot 1 at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, Plum Island, wrapped up the spring migration count on May 13. Nearly 40 percent of hawks were reported on just one day—May 2. It was a banner day for hawkwatchers, who tallied 699 raptors, an all-time spring high for Plum Island. A total of 461 Sharp-shinned Hawks were counted, a record one-day total that exceeded all spring hawk counts since 2006, when the annual spring site was established. Other high counts that day included 169 American Kestrels and 23 Merlins. A late-season Rough-legged Hawk was present on Plum Island May 11–13. There have been only three prior May records for Massachusetts during the last 10 years. The single Snowy Owl present throughout April was last seen on Plum Island on May 11. A Long-eared Owl was found there on May 21.
The first fallout of migrants during this period occurred early on May 2, when the temperature reached into the low 70s. Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Palm and Yellow-rumped warblers were everywhere. An early Lincoln’s Sparrow was noted in Boston. During the next 10 days, the temperatures hovered in the mid-50s to low 60s and migrants dribbled into our area. A warm front arrived just in time for the annual Mass Audubon Bird-a-thon when the floodgates opened on Friday May 14. Doug Chickering spent the day on Plum Island and thought it was one of the top five spring days he had experienced on the island. Doug posted to Massbird, “The sheer volume of birds was staggering and overwhelming. Parulas were everywhere.” John Nelson agreed. He counted 32 Northern Parulas within just 100 yards of Parking Lot 1 and ended up with 84 by the time he got to Hellcat. Major fallouts were also noted at Nahant Thicket, Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, Halibut Point in Rockport, and Franklin Park in Boston. Trevor Lloyd-Evans at Manomet had a big day of banding on May 14 and reported of the season, “The spring total of new bandings was the highest in raw numbers since 1992. A bit like the medium-old days; but not the old-old days of the 1960s and 70s.”
Spring migration, unlike fall migration, does not generally send vagrants to our area. Nonetheless, several unusual birds were discovered. A Golden-crowned Sparrow was found and photographed at Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard, on May 1, perhaps a wintering bird that was finally located. The Cave Swallow that was found on April 18—and the first state record of the Caribbean race—was still present on May 1. A Western Kingbird, just the fifth June record for the state, was photographed at Plymouth Airport. The most recent June sighting of this species was last year in Gardner. A Western Meadowlark was heard singing in Northampton on May 9. The species has an interesting history in Massachusetts. According to Veit and Petersen (1993), between 1957 and 1974 there were 23 reports of Western Meadowlarks in the state, with most of those coming from the Connecticut River Valley. Since 1974, occurrences have been rare, and since 2000, only three have been reported, the most recent of which was on Cuttyhunk Island on October 24, 2020.
Thirty-four warbler species were reported during the period, including three Golden-winged Warblers, with one cooperative individual enjoyed by many birders at Mount Auburn Cemetery on May 19. Prothonotary Warblers were found in Sandwich and Plymouth; Yellow-throated Warblers were reported from five locations. Worm-eating Warblers were noted in many areas, with as many as seven at Skinner State Park in Hadley. Kentucky Warblers were found in eight localities compared with just two last year. Interestingly, a possible hybrid between a Mourning Warbler and a Common Yellowthroat was photographed and videotaped in Leicester.
Winter finches were reported well into the end of May, with Red Crossbills continuing in good numbers into early June.
- Veit, R. R., and W. R. Petersen. 1993. Birds of Massachusetts. Lincoln, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Audubon Society.