Tuesday, November 18, 2014

West Island and Fairhaven - 11/8/2014

Autumn Birding at West Island, Fairhaven

   West Island is a beautiful part of Fairhaven located just east of the southern tip of Sconticut Neck. While the area is well know to local birders, it does not receive much in the way of coverage from birders beyond southern Bristol County.
On November 8th, I was joined by fifteen birders – some from as far away as Walpole, Quincy, and Pembroke – for a day of mid autumn coastal birding with excellent weather.

"Ipswich" Savannah Sparrow

   We started the morning a the southern tip of West Island and immediately noticed the tern-like Bonaparte’s Gulls flying just offshore. In the same area, we flushed an “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow. This large and pale subspecies of Savannah Sparrow winters on the Massachusetts coast and prefers dune habitat and sandy areas close to shore. The bird resembles a nominate Savannah Sparrow, but appears as though it has been stuffed with a golf ball and dipped in bleach for twenty seconds. The bird’s overall frosty appearance and larger size are perhaps the most diagnostic field marks. As we walked north along the beach we were also treated to scope views of Surf and White-winged scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, Red-throated and Common loons, and Horned Grebes.
   While walking on the beach, one member of the group noticed a large dark raptor perched at the top of a tree at the eastern end of the island. As the group scrambled to get their scopes on the bird, another participant yelled out “Golden Eagle!” Our group watched in amazement as a juvenile Golden Eagle – with its broad white tail band and golden nape – sat unfazed while being mobbed by a group of unhappy American Crows. We watched and photographed the bird and agreed that this species was a great surprise for everyone in the group since this species is rare in the southeastern portion of Massachusetts. Although it is of annual occurance at traditional hawk watching sites in Massachusetts (usually in early November), it is much rarer on the coastal plain of the eastern part of the commonwealth.

Golden Eagle

   After viewing the Golden Eagle in beautiful morning light, we continued to the eastern point of West Island. In this area our group encountered fifteen Dunlin and five Ruddy Turnstones on the large rocks near the beach. We also observed an immature Red-shouldered Hawk lazily soaring overhead as scads of Yellow-rumped Warblers jumped from the sand to nearby Bayberry bushes and back. The air was still and the sun was warm, so the warblers were flycatching frequently. One particularly determined Yellow-rump pursued a flying insect high above the shore. Some participants witnessed the bird deftly seize its prey before sailing back down to the protective cover of the Bayberry thickets nearby.
   On our return trip along the beach, we observed a flock of nine Snow Buntings in flight. The Golden Eagle had moved on while we on the opposite side of the eastern point of the island, so we decided to walk the edge of the saltmarsh to see what might be tucked away in the dense Spartina grass. In a small shrub at the edge of the marsh, we had a brief look at another “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow (one of three for the day at this location). While squeaking at the edge of the marsh, some participants had brief but clear views of a Nelson’s Sparrow as it perched near the top of the grass.
   Our next stop was at the small ponds at Egypt Lane in Fairhaven. Our group hoped to see the continuing immature Common Gallinule that has been present here for several weeks. We observed the bird as it paddled about in the dense vegetation. In addition to the Common Gallinule, there was nice variety of ducks at the ponds including Gadwalls, American Wigeons, Green-winged Teal, and Hooded Mergansers. Nine American Coot entertained us with their odd chuckling vocalizations and awkward movements.
   A subsequent visit to Shaw Road yielded a nice mix of birds of open field and thicket habitats. One thicket between fields produced a Golden-crowned Kinglet, nine White-throated Sparrows, a single Swamp Sparrow, and a Palm Warbler (western). A nearby field hosted thirty five Horned Larks and a flock of fifteen American Pipits. An adult Cooper’s Hawk flew into the area and stirred up the birds for a few minutes giving everyone in the group an opportunity to observe the larks and pipits in flight.
Our last stop of the day was Little Bay Conservation Area. This area is loaded with thickets and contains Red Oak/White Pine forest habitat. We observed typical late lingering thicket species like Gray Catbird and Hermit Thrush as we birded on the bike path. Furthermore, our group sighted two Greater Yellowlegs at the edge of Little Bay. By this time, it was late in the afternoon and the sun was getting low on the horizon. It was still warm and pleasant and everyone was still riding the adrenaline rush of the Golden Eagle sighting earlier in the day. Everyone agreed that it was a great day to be out in the field with great birds and great company at a great location.

Hermit Thrush
*Thanks to Steven Whitebread for providing these fine photos.

160 Canada Goose
4 Mute Swan
2 Gadwall
2 American Wigeon
44 American Black Duck
12 Mallard
6 Green-winged Teal (American)
12 Greater/Lesser Scaup
1 Common Eider (Atlantic) - *Very low?
125 Surf Scoter
12 White-winged Scoter
125 Long-tailed Duck
55 Bufflehead
5 Common Goldeneye
2 Hooded Merganser
40 Red-breasted Merganser
5 Red-throated Loon
8 Common Loon
1 Pied-billed Grebe
6 Horned Grebe
12 Double-crested Cormorant
7 Great Cormorant
2 Great Blue Heron
1 Turkey Vulture
1 GOLDEN EAGLE - juvenile
1 Northern Harrier
1 Cooper's Hawk
1 Red-shouldered Hawk
4 Red-tailed Hawk
1 Common Gallinule - continuing immature at Egypt Lane Pond.
9 American Coot
2 Greater Yellowlegs
5 Ruddy Turnstone
3 Sanderling
15 Dunlin
30 Bonaparte's Gull
1 Laughing Gull
55 Ring-billed Gull
117 Herring Gull (American)
7 Great Black-backed Gull
3 Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
4 Mourning Dove
1 Eastern Screech-Owl
2 Red-bellied Woodpecker
9 Downy Woodpecker
1 Hairy Woodpecker
3 Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted)
9 Blue Jay
16 American Crow
35 Horned Lark
21 Black-capped Chickadee
7 Tufted Titmouse
6 Carolina Wren
3 Golden-crowned Kinglet
2 Eastern Bluebird
2 Hermit Thrush
7 American Robin
2 Gray Catbird
1 Northern Mockingbird
200 European Starling
15 American Pipit
9 Snow Bunting
1 Palm Warbler (Western)
51 Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle)
1 Eastern Towhee
2 Savannah Sparrow
3 Savannah Sparrow (Ipswich) - West Island
1 Nelson's Sparrow (Atlantic Coast) - West Island
13 Song Sparrow
3 Swamp Sparrow
21 White-throated Sparrow
12 Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)
8 Northern Cardinal
1 Red-winged Blackbird
3 House Finch
7 American Goldfinch
15 House Sparrow

This trip summary was created using the BirdLog app for iPhone and iPad.
See BirdLog for more information.

Jim Sweeney

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