Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Timing Crucial to Seeing Rare Birds
November 18, 2017
By Steve Grinley

     November brings colder weather and the wintering birds begin to arrive. The first snowy owls of the season have arrived in Massachusetts. Three were found in various locations in the western part of the state near the Quabbin Reservoir a week ago. Locally, one was seen midweek perched on the Salisbury jetty and in the marsh on the Salisbury Beach State Reservation. Flocks of snow buntings have also been seen in Salisbury, on Plum Island, and on Crane Beach in Ipswich. 

     More ducks are arriving in area lakes and ponds and they will stay until the fresh water areas start to freeze over. Eiders, scoters and other sea ducks, along with both common and red-throated loons are arriving off the coast to spend the winter on the open ocean. Juncos and tree sparrows are moving in, with many visiting area feeders already.

     November is also the month that historically brings rare or unusual vagrants to Massachusetts and this year is no exception. Along with the flocks of Canada geese migrating through the state have been a few rare geese. A pink-footed goose appeared in Turner’s Fall’s earlier in the month and more recently a barnacle goose and a cackling goose have been seen frequently with Canada geese in Westfield.

     A western tanager was found in Winthrop this month and there was also one at the Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton. Cave swallows were seen moving through Manomet on the South Shore. These birds were “one day wonders” and didn’t stay around for others to see. Contrarily, a MacGillvray’s warbler was discovered in Hadley and a Townsend’s Solitaire was found in South Dartmouth, both of which were still being seen a week later.

     The frustration of seeing rare birds once they are found is whether they will stay long enough for others to see. Even those birds that stick around aren’t always easy to find. I know people that have driven two hours or more to look for the cackling and barnacle goose in western Massachusetts only to come up empty – sometimes more than once! Margo went to South Dartmouth, also a two-hour drive, with our friend Marymargaret without finding the Townsend’s solitaire, even though it was seen the day before and the day after. Birds have wings and they move around, so timing can be everything.

     Such was the case for Strickland Wheelock of Uxbridge, who tells about the Mass Audubon trip that he led last week:

     “Sometimes good fortune plays a big role in the success of a trip – Sunday, November12, a trip from Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary was delayed leaving for the Connecticut River Valley so we birded Flint Pond in Lincoln finding seven species of ducks – Ruddy, Ring-necked, Am. Wigeon, Hooded & Common Mergansers, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead]- a nice start. Once on the road we arrived at the water treatment plant in Westfield and found out all the geese had just flown in about 20 minutes earlier and quickly we had excellent looks at the Barnacle & Cackling Geese resting on shore. If we had left Drumlin Farm on time, we would have had no geese.

     “From here to Arcadia WS where we walked to the Horseshoe Trail with all its fruiting trees and again found large numbers of Cedar Waxwings, Robins, White-throated Sparrows, Cardinals, but with them we found a very late White-eyed Vireo, Fox Sparrow, Catbird. The Western Tanager from last week was not seen unfortunately. Some other species seen at Arcadia were Golden-crowned Kinglet, Bluebirds, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Mockingbird, American Goldfinches, and American Tree Sparrow

     “Next stop was in Hadley visiting the Honey Pot Rd and checking the fields we were treated to White-crowned, Chipping, Savannah & Song Sparrows when we met the gentleman who had just discovered the MacGillivray’s Warbler. A few got to see this western rarity as it had buried itself in the weeds – good fortune being there at that time

    “After a quick stop at Barton Cove which was very quiet with only a pair of Lesser Scaup, we proceeded to the location of the Snowy Owl that had been reported – just as we arrived, we found the owl sitting in the back yard of this house in full sun. We all quickly scanned the owl for a few minutes in the scopes before it flew off – good fortune getting there when we did again.

     “In all we had 50 species for the day that included the Barnacle & Cackling Geese, White-eyed Vireo, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Fox & White-crowned Sparrow, Catbird, 10 species of ducks, a Snowy Owl, fly over Raven and Pileated Woodpecker, Kingfisher, large numbers of Cedar Waxwings, Golden-crowned Kinglet & more – a very successful trip but good fortune played a big role on this beautiful sunny, non-windy day.”

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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