Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lakeville Ponds - 3/12/2017

I was joined by five club members for a trip to the Lakeville ponds complex on this unseasonably cold March day.   The temperature was only 13F when our group arrived at the meeting spot at 8:00am.  A little later in the morning, the northwest wind increased to 10-15 mph with gusts to 25 mph.  It was not the early March weather anyone had expected.  In fact, it looked and felt more like February 12th.  The conditions were challenging, but the ducks were abundant and unaffected by the wintry conditions.
    One of our first stops was at Tamarack Park at the junction of Assawompsett and Long ponds.  This early morning visit yielded a surprise American Woodcock.  The bird was inadvertently flushed and exploded from the tangles with wings whistling in hurried flight.  Despite its quick departure, everyone in the group got a glimpse of this harbinger of spring.
   Subsequently, our group drove to the causeway between Great Quittacas and Pocksha ponds.  We were happy to discover that the high numbers of Greater and Lesser scaup were present on Pocksha Pond again.  We speculated about the possibility that the drake Tufted Duck, observed at this location in late February, might be embedded in the rafts of scaup.  We diligently scanned the ducks with our scopes, but concluded that the Tufted Duck was not visible from the causeway.  However, we were pleased to have excellent looks at Common Goldeneyes, Hooded and Common mergansers, and Buffleheads before continuing to the western shore of Pocksha Pond.

    Within minutes of arriving at our next stop, a participant reported that the Tufted Duck was present.  The bird was very active and at times difficult to locate, but eventually everyone had satisfactory looks at this charismatic duck.  Although the bird was not too far from shore, it was associating with the Greater and Lesser scaup and was never conspicuous.  We estimated that there were over 170 scaup at the lakes today with Greater Scaup being the most numerous species observed.

    Our next stop was Little Quittacas Pond where we were pleased to find continuing high numbers of Ring-necked Ducks.  More than 250 birds spent the winter at Little Quittacas Pond this season.   In recent years, counts of 200 birds during the fall migration have been recorded, but numbers this high in winter are particularly noteworthy.  While watching the ducks at this location, we were fortunate to observe two immature Bald Eagles flying about the north end of the pond.  The excitement of the sighting distracted us from the fact that we had been facing the brisk northwest wind and had lost all feeling in our extremities.  At this point in the trip, nobody needed to be cajoled into patronizing a local coffee shop.  After warming up and regaining sensation in our faces, we decided to check out some areas on the north and east sides of Assawompsett and Pocksha ponds.   As we exited the coffee shop, we were greeted by the nasal caws of a Fish Crow while several small flocks of Common Grackles flew overhead and reminded us that it was actually early March.


    A brief stop at the Nemasket River (near Assawompsett Pond) produced a nice assortment of birds.  Several Northern Flickers and a Red-bellied Woodpecker made an appearance at this location.  We also observed another immature Bald Eagle soaring above the river.  At other locations on the perimeter of the ponds, we heard the peter-peter calls of a Tufted Titmouse and the faint vocalizations of White-breasted Nuthatches when the wind subsided.

  We also checked Snipatuit Pond in the town of Rochester.  Here we observed one Red-tailed Hawk, four Lesser Scaup, eight Hooded Mergansers, and five Common Mergansers. 

   Our last activity of the day was a leisurely stroll on Crooked Lane, a productive birding site north of Assawompsett Pond.  This mid day walk produced many of the expected species like Red-winged Blackbirds, American Crows, Song and Swamp sparrows, and American Goldfinches.  A highlight of this stop was a cooperative Winter Wren that gave us decent views as it was working the edge of the cattail marsh. We followed the bird as it called dit dit repeatedly and occasionally disappeared amongst the cattails and shrubby growth.  It was strange to see the bird in such unusual habitat since the more likely species would be a Marsh Wren (a species that has occasionally wintered at this location). 
   It was a fun, albeit bitterly cold, day to be afield.  The duck show was rewarding and we had great looks at ten species.  The trip description in the club bulletin had a caveat about bringing waterproof boots.   This suggestion was completely unwarranted since crampons would have been a more appropriate recommendation. Thanks to all who participated today and braved winter’s icy return. 

Jim Sweeney

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Plum Island & vicinity

On a somewhat breezy, but sunny day, eight birders join me for my annual January trip to Plum Island. As always, you never know what you might find, somewhere between feast and famine.

We started the trip by scanning the ocean from parking lot #1 for sea duck and alcids. Unfortunately, the recent alcid influx had subsided, at least from here. The ocean was flat calm, with only a few species and individuals. Three species of Scoters were seen along several loons of both the Common and Red-Throated variety. Single individuals of other species were seen. But not a single Common Eider was found.

We turned our backs to the ocean to scan down the island for snowy owl. A steady West/North Westerly wind made the eyes water and the cheeks rosy. No white blobs on a brown landscape were found. We did see the first of a handful of Northern Harriers encountered during the day.

Traveling down the island, we stopped occasionally, scanning the marsh for owls (without success) viewing only Mallads, Black Ducks and several Gadwall.

It was not until we hit the Wardens did we find our first good bird of the day (but aren't they all!), a Rough-legged Hawk . Watching it for 5-15 minutes, while scanning the area, this bird hovered in place, seemingly not moving more than a foot or two in any direction. Moving down to the overlook stop, the bird was still hovering in the wind.

The next stop, Hellcat/Bill Forward Pool complex was our best and most productive of the day! Heading out on the dike separating the two bodies of water, we were greeted by a Red-tailed Hawk perched on a signpost, only 20 feet way. We watched it for a minute or two, when it took flight to fly up to the top of the tower, startling a family already there.

Turning to the ducks, we found a large group of Northern Pintails, probably the largest group I've seen of the island. Along with them were Hoodies, Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead. We would get better looks at these birds later from the "New" bird blind.

Steven Whitebread then let the group know he had found one of our target birds, a Snowy Owl. It was out in the marsh to the far right end of the dike. We walked out as far as we could to get the best looks. It was a large, very white bird with little coloration noticed.

With all satisfied with their looks at the owl, we headed back to the car to drop off scopes. We headed to the board walk to search for another reported owl. We walk to the road without nearly a bird seen or heard. Land birds were near nonexistent.

We crossed the road heading up toward the top of the dunes. We stopped at the Ludlow Griscom memorial. I asked Bob Fox if he had any stories about the renown ornithologist. He regaled us with several anecdotes which left the group with a laugh and a smile.
The only good bird on this side of the road, was a brief view by some, of a male Northern Harrier. That aside, it was more of the same, not much. We backtracked the boardwalk, retracing our steps toward the parking lot. We then headed out towards the Marsh trail boardwalk. We came up upon a group of photographers which had found a roosting Barred Owl. Although it was somewhat hidden, all managed to set satisfying looks.

After viewing the previously mentioned ducks from the blind, we headed off island to view the harbor. The best bird was a Bonaparte's Gull found by Bob Fox. This bird was nearly in Salisbury when first spotted. Next we went to Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm to chase and watch a flock of +/-200 Horned Lark. The flock split up several times, leaving us looks at 20 or so birds.

Next we headed to Scotland road to search for and found, three Greater White-fronted Goose. The last stop for the day was Cherry Hill Reservoir. We found a flock of Common Mergansers. For the last bird of the day, Dotty spotted a bird on the top of a tree. It was identified as a Northern Shrike. It only stayed for a minute, but all got a look.

All in all it was a good day!! Below is a list of what I loosely tallied, the location is where the bulk of a species was seen.


Greater White-fronted Goose  3        Scotland Road                
Canada Goose                 40       Plum Island                             
Mute Swan                    7        Plum Island                             
Gadwall                      10       Plum Island                             
American Black Duck          230      Plum Island                             
Mallard                      25       Plum Island                             
Northern Pintail             72       Plum Island                             
Green-winged Teal            20       Plum Island                             
Surf Scoter                  1        Plum Island                             
White-winged Scoter          25       Plum Island                             
Black Scoter                 5        Plum Island                             
Long-tailed Duck             5        Plum Island                             
Bufflehead                   15       Plum Island                             
Common Goldeneye             12       Plum Island                             
Hooded Merganser             7        Plum Island                             
Common Merganser             93       Cherry Hill Reservoir        
Red-breasted Merganser       30       Newburyport Harbor           
Red-throated Loon            2        Plum Island                             
Common Loon                  8        Plum Island                             
Horned Grebe                 1        Plum Island                             
Red-necked Grebe             1        Plum Island  
Northern Harrier             5        Plum Island                           
Red-tailed Hawk              2        Plum Island                             
Rough-legged Hawk            1        Plum Island                             
Bonaparte's Gull             1        Newburyport Harbor           
Ring-billed Gull             30       Newburyport Harbor                              
Herring Gull                 5        Newburyport Harbor                            
Great Black-backed Gull      3        Newburyport Harbor                             
Rock Pigeon                  5        Plum Island                             
Mourning Dove                2        Plum Island                             
Snowy Owl                    1        Plum Island                             
Barred Owl                   1        Plum Island                             
Downy Woodpecker             1        Plum Island                             
Northern Shrike              1        Cherry Hill Reservoir        
Blue Jay                     2        Plum Island                             
American Crow                5        Plum Island                             
Horned Lark                  200      Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm   
Black-capped Chickadee       2        Plum Island                             
Northern Mockingbird         1        Plum Island                             
European Starling            5        Plum Island                             
Snow Bunting                 25       Plum Island                             
Song Sparrow                 2        Plum Island                             
Northern Cardinal            1        Plum Island                             
American Goldfinch           1        Plum Island   

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

7th Annual Plymouth County Waterfowl Survey

22 birders turned out for the 7th annual Waterfowl Survey in Plymouth County. Birders spread out in 4 teams to check on every freshwater lake or pond that could be found. At sundown, the tally was held at Finna's Tavern in Kingston, where both the food and the fellowship was at a high standard. 

Total number of Ducks, and total number of Waterfowl are both at record numbers this year. This is partly due to healthy duck populations but also due to the great effort that was made this year to check out new ponds and lakes in addition to the usual haunts. Start times were earlier, teams split up to cover more bodies of water, and the effort showed in the results. 
  • Record high - Canada Geese in the water
  • Record high - American Wigeon
  • Record high - Mallards
  • Record high - Green Wing Teal
  • Record high - Greater Scaup
  • Record high - Bufflehead
  • 2nd highest on record - American Black Duck
  • 50% lower than average - Lesser Scaup
  • 50% lower than average - Common Merganser
  • Coot are a boom or bust species, and this year was one of the bust years.
  • Notable waterfowl - 11 Pintail, 1 Long-tailed duck, 1 Barrow's Goldeneye, 1 Red-necked Grebe
Other Notable Birds always shows the benefit of "just getting out there", and this year was no exception. The 25 Ceremonial Doves (22 white) seen by the SW team certainly topped the list, and others included a White-winged Crossbill, Red-shouldered Hawk, a late Osprey, Bald Eagle, Fox Sparrows, Common Raven, Marsh Wren and five species of shorebirds. 

Next year's Duck Count will be on Saturday November 18 2017 - join the fun!

Joe Scott

A male Pintail on Triphammer Pond in Hingham and a Red-shouldered Hawk posing at the entrance of Wompatuck State Park were pleasant surprises.
Photos by Steven Whitebread

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Passanegest Park at Broad Meadows in Quincy

This recently restored habitat has proven to be very attractive as a coastal stopover place for many migrating birds. Especially numerous are sparrows; Savannah, Song and Swamp Sparrows can be observed in good numbers. The ebird list for the hotspot now lists 133 species (in just only about 1.5 years of entries)

The easy walking on wide paths helps to make this a favorite place to go birding with a group. We saw a total of 54 species on this gorgeous fall morning.

Below is the list from our morning at this suburban oasis.
Christine Whitebread

Passanageset Park at Broad Meadows Marsh, Norfolk, Massachusetts, US
Oct 12, 2016 8:03 AM - 11:23 AM
Protocol: Traveling
2.0 mile(s)
Comments:     SSBC walk.
54 species (+1 other taxa)

Canada Goose  8
American Black Duck  12
Mallard  5
Northern Pintail  1     Female-type flew over at least three times with black ducks and Mallards.
Wild Turkey  7
Double-crested Cormorant  150
Great Blue Heron  3
Great Egret  4
Snowy Egret  2     *In saltmarsh with GREG and GBHE where they have been.
Cooper's Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Greater Yellowlegs  2
Herring Gull  11
Great Black-backed Gull  1
Mourning Dove  19
Belted Kingfisher  2
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  1     Nice immature working a tree on the edge of the parking lot.
Downy Woodpecker  2
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted)  3
American Kestrel  2
Merlin (Taiga)  1
Blue Jay  7
American Crow  220
Fish Crow  7
Common Raven  2
Black-capped Chickadee  2
Tufted Titmouse  8
White-breasted Nuthatch  2
Marsh Wren  1     **Not an easy bird in the county; in shrub-line out in the saltmarsh.
Carolina Wren  1
Golden-crowned Kinglet  2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
American Robin  15
Northern Mockingbird  4
European Starling  13
American Pipit  1
Nashville Warbler  5
Common Yellowthroat  1
Blackpoll Warbler  10
Palm Warbler (Western)  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle)  2
Field Sparrow  1
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)  2
White-crowned Sparrow  1
White-throated Sparrow  8
Savannah Sparrow (Savannah)  70     *Not unusual numbers for here.
Savannah Sparrow (Ipswich)  1     Dead phragmites berm in the saltmarsh. Looked like the one with the yellowish malar.
Song Sparrow  48
Swamp Sparrow  25
Northern Cardinal  1
Red-winged Blackbird  4
Common Grackle  1
House Finch  8
American Goldfinch  6
House Sparrow  10

View this checklist online at

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary, September 10, 2016

Eight club members met at the sanctuary in hopes of seeing some migration action, but the cold fronts have not moved through yet to bring any warblers, vireos, and the like to the woodlands and edges of the property.  Nevertheless, we did have some endearing sightings like this young Red-tailed Hawk that buzzed us repeatedly during the first part of our walk.  Thanks to Terry MacAskill for the great photos.

With almost no water in the panne, bird sightings from the blinds were limited.  Virtually no shorebirds were present and the main action came from frogs jumping onto the mud from the small pool near the east blind.  At the mud flats along the River loop, Least Sandpipers were seen foraging, but were hard to pick out. Much to our amusement, a Great Blue Heron went strolling down the boardwalk in front of us. Two Northern Harriers were tumbling through the air seen from Fox Hill, and one later was seen cruising over the fields.  Tree Swallows, Grey Catbirds, Northern Mockingbirds, and Starlings were seen abundantly everywhere.

14 Canada Goose
2 Mute Swan
3 Mallard
2 Wild Turkey
4 Great Blue Heron
2 Great Egret
2 Northern Harrier
3 Red-tailed Hawk
7 Least Sandpiper
24 Mourning Dove
1 Downy Woodpecker
2 Northern Flicker
7 Eastern Phoebe
11 Blue Jay
30 American Crow
100 Tree Swallow
15 Black-capped Chickadee
2 Tufted Titmouse
2 White-breasted Nuthatch
10 American Robin
22 Gray Catbird
12 Northern Mockingbird
150 European Starling
4 Song Sparrow
3 Northern Cardinal
1 Red-winged Blackbird
15 Common Grackle
30 Brown-headed Cowbird
5 House Finch
16 American Goldfinch
12 House Sparrow

Number of Taxa: 31

Sally Avery

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Squantum section of Quincy - 8/28/2016

Nine of us poked around Squantum during the morning hours and enjoyed some nice weather and a few noteworthy birds. The skies were fair, with bright sunshine on the shorebirds in salt pans along East Quantum Street. Temperatures were comfortable and ranged from 66-79F.

A nice variety of shorebirds were present in these salt pans at high tide including several Greater Yellowlegs and Semipalmated Sandpipers. Also in the mix were Short-billed Dowitchers, Lesser Yellowlegs, Killdeer, and a few Least Sandpipers. Out of nowhere a Merlin made a quick pass at the shorebirds and was gone in a flash.

As the tide started to wane a bit we checked out some of the sand spits in the area for additional species. Birds of note included a few American Oystercatchers, a Ruddy Turnstone, Semipalmated Plovers, and 2 Sanderlings. The highlight of the trip was seeing 5 Caspian Terns together in flight from Squaw Rock Park. We were alerted to their presence by the very unique and loud "grating" call. The birds eventually circled back around and settled on the Thompson Island spit and nice scope views were had by all.

Not much in the way of landbird migrants, although the group heard a Black-billed Cuckoo call a couple of times.

Complete list:
51 species

American Black Duck  6
Double-crested Cormorant  90
Great Blue Heron  8
Great Egret  10
Snowy Egret  20    Estimate
Osprey  5
American Oystercatcher  3
Black-bellied Plover  2
Semipalmated Plover  10
Killdeer  4
Ruddy Turnstone  1    Uncommon; Thompson's Island spit
Sanderling  2    Uncommon here; Thompson's Island spit
Least Sandpiper  4
Semipalmated Sandpiper  150
Short-billed Dowitcher  12
Greater Yellowlegs  55
Lesser Yellowlegs  6
Laughing Gull  120    Estimate; typical numbers for late summer
Ring-billed Gull  35
Herring Gull (American)  150
Great Black-backed Gull  7
Caspian Tern  5    Thompson's Island spit. Local in MA; but regular here during fall migration. All were adults. These bird were quite vocal while in flight. Photo.
Common Tern  2
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  25
Mourning Dove  18
Black-billed Cuckoo  1    Heard only; Squaw Rock Park
Chimney Swift  2
Downy Woodpecker (Eastern)  2
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted)  1
Merlin (Taiga)  1    Made a pass at the shorebirds at Squantum salt pans.
Eastern Wood-Pewee  1    Squaw Rock Park
Eastern Kingbird  1
Blue Jay  2
American Crow  4
Tree Swallow  17
Barn Swallow (American)  1
Black-capped Chickadee  3
Tufted Titmouse  1
American Robin  15
Gray Catbird  15
Northern Mockingbird  2
European Starling  300
Cedar Waxwing  6
Yellow Warbler (Northern)  1
Song Sparrow  5
Northern Cardinal  8
Common Grackle  5
Baltimore Oriole  3
House Finch  2
American Goldfinch  5
House Sparrow  100

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

Vin Zollo

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

South Shore Shorebirding 8/7/2016

      On August 7th, ten club members joined me on a quest for shorebirds in the communities of Scituate, Quincy, and Easton.  A weak cold front passed through  the area overnight  so conditions were optimal for observing southbound migrants from arctic and subarctic latitudes as well as resident species like Killdeer and Spotted Sandpipers.

     We started the morning at the mud flat near Judge Cushing Rd. in Scituate and were instantly rewarded with looks at ninety two Semipalmated Sandpipers, four Greater Yellowlegs, six Lesser Yellowlegs, and six Least Sandpipers.  Our group pored over the “peep” (i.e., the word used to describe Least, Semipalmated, Western, White-rumped, and Baird’s sandpipers collectively) hoping to find something uncommon or rare in the mixed flock of birds.  For the uninitiated, this can be a bit like trying to find a Susan B. Anthony dollar in a bucket full of quarters scattered about your feet.  Everyone in our group was up for the challenge as they scoped the muddy flats in earnest.

    Our next stop was the Scituate Reservoir.  The continuing drought has created excellent shorebird foraging habitat at this location.  Muddy areas with shallow pools of water are hard to come by this summer due to the exceptionally dry conditions.  Several small groups of shorebirds were observed on the mucky expanse busily feeding and preening in the increasing heat of the day.  We were able to study a particularly confiding White-rumped Sandpiper as it plunged its head into the water repeatedly in search of prey.
       We noted the long primaries extending beyond the tail tip (an adaptation for long distance migration) on this large and relatively long-billed peep as it continued feeding.  The adult bird exhibited a grayish head and breast (giving it a somewhat hooded appearance), a prominent white supercilium, and fine streaking along the flanks.  Although we were close enough to the bird at times, we were not able to discern the reddish base of the lower mandible that is sometimes visible in better lighting.   The bird even emitted its incredibly high pitched mouse-like call on several occasions.  Lastly, the least conspicuous field mark – the white rump – was noted as the bird made several short distance flights away from us. 

White-rumped Sandpiper

     Subsequently,  we made a brief stop at Musquashicut Pond in Scituate.  The tide was too high at this location, but we still observed eleven Semipalmated Plovers and fifteen Semipalmated Sandpipers.  Our group also enjoyed five Snowy Egrets crowded amongst some Double-crested Cormorants on nearby rocks.  In addition, adult and juvenile Least Terns were flying about the pond and alighting on a stony bar in the vicinity of the egrets.  Despite the forecast for cooler weather, the temperature soared towards the ninety degree mark.  Shorebirding and shade are a rare combination, but we were committed to our search regardless of the heat and glare.

     Continuing, we drove to the pannes near the Kennedy Center in the Squantum section of Quincy.  We timed our visit to correspond with high tide since shorebirds in the immediate area are frequently pushed off any exposed flats available at low tide and concentrated in the salt pannes as the tide rises.  The salt pannes were productive as is typical at this site in the first half of August.  Eighteen Greater Yellowlegs huddled amongst the Spartina grass and Salicornia while their smaller congeners – the Lesser Yellowlegs – gleaned aquatic prey nearby.  Club members were happy to add five Short-billed Dowitchers from this location to the shorebird trip tally.  The dowitchers probed the mud in their characteristic sewing machine manner and provided excellent opportunities for studying shorebird behavior.

    While most of the group opted to end the day in Quincy (home to the majority of participants today), several club members decided to check the wet and muddy flats at Wheaton Farm in Easton.  The water level in the pond that is adjacent to this conservation area has been altered and the recently exposed wet areas, with attendant vegetation and tree stumps, has been a boon for migrant shorebirds in recent weeks.

    Today was no exception and the shorebird show was impressive.  The most interesting observation was an unusually high count of Solitary Sandpipers.  We counted fifteen Solitary Sandpipers in a single scan of the flats.  This close relative of both yellowlegs species prefers freshwater habitat during its migration, but is usually encountered in small numbers that typically do not exceed two or three individuals.  The Solitary Sandpiper breeds in boreal forest habitat and has the unique breeding strategy (among North American shorebirds) of nesting in trees and utilizing remnant songbird nests. 

    In addition to the Solitary Sandpipers, we observed an estimated one hundred and twenty Least Sandpipers darting  in and out of the vegetation for brief scope views.  Killdeer vocalized and flew about the flats nervously as Lesser Yellowlegs and a lone Greater Yellowlegs bobbed and dipped in the wetter sections of the flats.  Occasionally, an unknown source of anxiety startled some of the shorebirds and gave us a better sense of the numbers of individuals we were observing.   The rolling breeps of Least Sandpipers mixed with the softer tu-tus of Lesser Yellowlegs as the emphatic two part cries of the Killdeer echoed throughout the flats whenever the shorebirds were spooked by something. 

   We also observed eleven Great Egrets and a single Snowy Egret foraging in the vicinity of the shorebirds.  Semipalmated Plovers ran and paused repeatedly on the sparsely vegetated section of the flats while Spotted Sandpipers teetered and alighted on some of the tree stumps dotting the mucky landscape.
   Our group had an enjoyable day exploring a number of productive shorebirding sites on the South Shore and beyond.  Some of us will be looking at these shorebird hotspots in the coming weeks to see what drops in for some rest and sustenance before continuing on to an island in the Caribbean, the coast of Brazil, or a final destination at Tierra del Fuego.

Jim Sweeney