New England: Fall 2021

Fall 2021: 1 Aug–30 Nov

Greg Hanisek

Recommended citation: 

Hanisek, G. 2021. Fall 2021: New England. <> North American Birds.

Declines in New England’s – and the continent’s – breeding species rightfully generate concern, much of it centered on nesting season. Fall draws attention to another trend—species that have undergone significant, and in some cases remarkable, increases. The reasons vary from eastward range extensions to enhanced reverse migration. In some cases improved birding skills probably also play a role. Here are some changes of note, gleaned from eBird reports this fall (first number) and fall 2001 (second number):

Sandhill Crane (50+, many of multiple birds vs. c. 10); Clay-colored Sparrow (100+ vs. 0); Lark Sparrow (c. 30 vs. 7); Orange-crowned Warbler (c. 100 vs. c. 20); Blue Grosbeak (c. 30 vs. 12).

Sub-regional Compilers
L. Bevier (Maine), S. Williams (Massachusetts), S. Mirick (New Hampshire), R. Farrell (Rhode Island), K. MacFarland (Vermont).

Abbreviations L. Champlain (Vermont side of L. Champlain); Hammonasset (Hammonassett Beach S.P., Madison, New Haven Co, CT); Manomet (Manomet Center for Conservation Studies, Plymouth, Plymouth Co, MA); Monhegan (Monhegan I., Lincoln Co, ME); Nantucket (Nantucket I., MA); Plum I. (Newburyport, Newbury, Rowley, Ipswich, including Parker River N.W.R., Essex Co, MA).

Geese through Swans
A flock of five Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks was found on 28 Aug at Rocky Hill Meadows, Hartford Co, CT, and remained there and at nearby wetlands through 10 Sep (Jamie Meyers, m. ob., phs.). These may have been the remains of a flock of six present in June in Litchfield Co, CT, and then in Rockingham Co, NH. Others included up to two at two locations in southeastern NH on 8–9 Aug (Gael Mazella, Christian Robinson et al., phs.), and one on 8 Aug at Apponaug Cove, Kent Co, RI (m. ob., phs.).

The only Ross’s Goose was found on 31 Oct at the well-known Snow Goose staging area at Dead  Creek WMA, Addison Co, VT (Jon Erickson et al., phs.). It was present though 18 Nov. Pink-footed Geese, now regular, included one on 21–23 Oct at Malabeam Lake, Aroostook Co, ME, (Bill Sheehan et al., phs,) and two in Connecticut (separated by bill pattern), one on 27 Oct at Broad Book Mill Pond, Hartford Co (Jeff Fengler, Kris Scully, phs.) and one nearby on 31 Oct in farm fields in Somers, Tolland Co (David Mathieu et al., phs.). It was present though 18 Nov. A Barnacle Goose found on 5 Nov in Rockland, Knox Co, ME, stayed for about three weeks (Don Reimer, m. ob., phs.). The only report of Trumpeter Swan was a single present 21–24 Aug at Missisquoi NWR, Franklin Co, VT (Tom Hargy, Bruce MacPherson). Despite many Tundra Swans just to the west, New England had its usual meager complement—a total of five at three locations.

Doves through Phalaropes                                                                                                                                           The only White-winged Dove was at Provincetown, Barnstable Co, MA, on 11 Aug (Cape Cod Rarities). Vermont’s first Mexican Violetear, and New England’s third, was present 19–24 Sep at a feeder in Hartland, Windsor Co (fide Nick Tepper, phs.). Vermont also had an adult male Rufous Hummingbird 5–10 Oct at a feeder in Glover, Oleans Co (Scott Chelemer et al., phs.). The only other report was a banded HY female 28 Oct to 22 Nov at a feeder and Salvia blossoms in Brookline, Norfolk Co, MA (Matthew Garvey, m. ob., phs.). A Purple Gallinule was at two Norfolk Co, MA, locations from 4–14 Aug (phs.).

American Avocets were at Milford Point, New Haven Co, CT on 13 Aug (Jeremy Nance et al., phs.) and at the tip of Cape Cod, from Race Point to Truro, Barnstable Co, MA from 22 Aug to 1 Sep (Peter Flood et al., phs.). A Pacific Golden Plover drew crowds of observers to Spencer Pierce Little Farm in Newburyport, Essex Co, MA, from 25–28 Sep (Suzanne Sullivan, m. ob., phs.). In the wake of Tropical Storm Henri, 23 Aug produced a stunning flight of 194 Hudsonian Godwits passing over Stamford, Fairfield Co, CT (Patrick Dugan, David Winston), with that exact number also counted at the east end of Long Island, NY. Unique for this season, and seldom found in fall, a molting adult Curlew Sandpiper was in Hampton Harbor, Rockingham Co, NH, on 30–31 Aug (Steve Mirick et al., phs.). Massachusetts got its ninth record of Little Stint on 13–15 Aug at Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary, Bristol Co (Joel Eckerson et al. phs.). About 240 Red-necked Phalaropes were at Mount Desert Rock, Hancock Co, ME, on 8 Sep (Nathan Dubrow). Single Red Phalaropes, far north and inland, were at Charlotte Town Beach, Chittenden Co, VT on 4 Sep (Scott Morrical) and at Lake Francis, Pittsburg, Coos Co, NH, on 3 Oct (Todd Quinn).                                                                                                                                         

Alcids through Pelicans

Lake Champlain produced Vermont’s first Razorbill on 3 Nov at Whiskey Bay, Chittenden Co (John Peckham et al., phs.). Reports of at least one continued through at least 19 Nov at various locations. A juvenile Sabine’s Gull was unexpected far inside Long Island Sound off New Haven, New Haven Co, CT on 3 Sep (Nick Bonomo, phs.). It was attracted by huge schools of small Menhaden (“peanut bunker”), which also pulled in another Sound rarity, one or more Black-legged Kittiwakes from 4–8 Sep in East Haven and Madison, New Haven Co, CT (Caroline Cimino, Nick Bonomo, phs.). Single Franklin’s Gulls were at Sanford Lagoons, York Co, ME on 9 Sep (Robert Dixon, phs.); at Conimicut Point Park, Kent Co, RI, on 16 Oct (Patrick Felker, phs.);  at King’s Beach, Lynn, Essex Co, MA, on 17 Oct (Suzanne Sullivan, John Keeley, phs.); and at Race Point, Barnstable Co, MA, on 12 Nov (Brendan Fogarty, Pete Morris, phs.) and 20 Nov (Peter Flood, phs). The only Sandwich Tern was reported on 22 Aug at Fairhaven, Bristol Co, MA (Benjamin Griffith). 

Three Pacific Loons consisted of two in MA and one in ME. Deepwater pelagic trips in August in Massachusetts waters produced one to two White-faced Storm-Petrels at four locations (Tom Johnson, Allison Black, Doug Gochfeld, Marshall J. Iliff) and one in Rhode Island waters (Tom Johnson). The same trips produced up to five Band-rumped Storm-Petrels (Tom Johnson et al.), and two trips produced single Barolo Shearwaters on 1 Aug (Tom Johnson) and 8 Aug (Allison Black, Doug Gochfeld). The only Wood Stork reports, all in Massachusetts, started with one on 4–5 Nov at Horn Pond, Middlesex Co (Mike Ross et al., phs.). The next reports were 7–22 Nov in the Gloucester area, Essex Co (Joe De Haan et al., phs.). The last reports were from the New Bedford area, Bristol Co, on 29 Nov (Carol Molander, Carolyn Longworth).

A Magnificent Frigatebird was found in coastal Rockingham Co, NH, on 19 Aug (Joanne O’Shaughnessey) and seen the next two days at nearby Isles of Shoals in both NH and ME (Henry Stevens). It appeared on 22 Aug at several locations south of Boston (Squantum/Dorchester area) in Suffolk Co, MA (Jeremiah Trimble et al., phs.). A Masked Booby, a first record for Maine, was spotted from a back porch at Mount Desert Rock, Hancock Co, on 9 Aug (Nathan Dubrow, Georgia Lattig, phs.). Another was in pelagic waters off MA on 9 Aug (Tom Johnson). A Brown Booby was found on 30 Aug at Lake Paran in Bennington, Benningtion Co, VT, and then moved to nearby Emerald Lake, Dorset, Bennington Co 1–6 Sep (Andrew Knafel et al., m. ob., phs.). One was at Mount Desert Rock, Hancock Co, ME, from 2–8 Aug (Georgia Lattig et al.). That was just the beginning for this increasing visitor; there were single reports from mid-Sep and late Nov in RI and on 9 & 28 Oct on Cape Cod and 11–14 Nov on Nantucket. There were five reports of American White Pelicans during the season.

Egrets through Hawks                                                                                                                                                     An eruption of Cattle Egrets, a species in recent decline, resulted in more than 40 reports throughout all six states, primarily in late October to mid-November. Most reports ranged from one to four, but a remarkable 19 were present on 1 Nov in North Hampton, Rockingham Co, NH (Steve Mirick et al., phs.). Presumably the same White Ibis was seen on 16-17 Aug in Middlesex Co, MA (Ron Schlegel et al., phs.) and the next day in Bristol Co, MA (Joel Eckerson, phs). A wide-ranging explosion of Roseate Spoonbills included records of single birds along the Connecticut coast throughout August and into late September. One found in Canaan, Litchfield Co, CT on 7 Aug (Buzz Devine at al., phs.) quickly hopped across the state line to Sheffield, Berkshire Co, MA, on 8-11 Aug  (Greg War et al., phs.). One ranged far to the north on 1 Aug at Gorham, Coos Co, NH (Steve Bennett et al., phs.). The last record was on 22 Sep in Branford, New Haven Co, CT (Mark Aronson). Two Swainson’s Hawks were reported. A dark immature was found on 18 Oct at Dead Creek WMA, Addison Co, VT, and was seen though 22 Oct (Stacy Robinson et al., phs.). A sub-adult light morph passed over the Lighthouse Point Park hawk watch, New Haven Co, CT on 19 Sep (Alex Lin-Moore, Severin Uebbing et al., phs.).

Flycatchers through Blue Grosbeak                                                                                                                                                      Typical late season Ash-throated Flycatchers were at Biddeford Pool, York Co, ME, on 7-15 Nov (Taj Schottland et al., phs.) and at Belle Isle Marsh, Suffolk Co, MA, on 15-16 Nov (Moss Lynch et al., phs.). A Tropical Kingbird was present 11-17 Nov at Wellfleet Bay Sanctuary, Barnstable Co, MA (Megan Miller et al., phs.). Twelve Western Kingbirds for the season consisted of eight in MA, three in CT and one in ME. Lark Sparrows were widely reported, most of them on the coast, with 11 in ME (including four on offshore islands), nine in MA,  three in CT and two in NH.

The only Loggerhead Shrike was on Tuckernuck Island, Nantucket, on 16-18 Sep (Richard Veit). Townsend’s Solitaires were at Pleasant Hobby Farm, Bristol Co, MA on 22 Oct (Alison Cembalisty) and at Halibut Point SP, Essex Co, MA, on 3 Nov (Dave Young, phs.). Northern Wheatear reports came from Yarmouth, Barnstable Co, MA, on 21 Sep (Alex Burdo et al., phs.) and a bit west in the Sandwich area on 28-29 Sep (Justin Lawson et al., phs.). Single Harris’s Sparrows were at Great Bay Farm, Greenland, Rockingham Co, NH, on 20 Oct to 3 Nov (Steve Mirick, m. ob., phs.) and at Allen’s Meadow Park, Weston, Fairfield Co, CT on 22-26 Oct (Alan Welby, Joe Bear, m. ob., phs.). Three LeConte’s Sparrows were well-distributed, with singles 23-27 Oct at Smith-Richardson Preserve in Fairfield, Fairfield Co, CT (Mary Walsh, m. ob., phs).; on 23-24 Oct in Hollis, Hillsborough Co, NH (Christopher McPherson et al., phs.); and on 14-28 Sep at Unity, Waldo Co, ME (Tom Aversa, Louis Bevier). 

Yellow-headed Blackbirds were scarce, with just two in ME and one in CT. A Western Meadowlark was in Hadley, Hampshire Co, MA, on 11-17 Nov (Greg Brown, Marcia Merithew et al., phs.). Massachusetts dug up two MacGillivray’s Warblers; one banded on 8 Oct at Monomoy NWR, Barnstable Co (Valerie Bourdeau, phs,) and one on 23 Oct at Eastham,  Barnstable Co (Tim Spahr). Black-throated Gray Warblers were tightly spaced on 3 Oct in Westport, Fairfield Co, CT (Chase McCabe, Aidan Kiley et al., phs.) and from 4-6 Oct at Chestnut Hill Reservoir, Boston, Suffolk Co, MA (Ryan Doherty, Marshall J. Iliff et al., phs.). Western Tanagers were at East Shore Park, New Haven Co, CT, on 18-21 Nov (John Oshlick et al., phs.) and on 13 Nov at Manomet (Megan Gray et al., phs.). The only inland report of Blue Grosbeak in the northern tier states was one on 1 Nov in Rutland, Rutland Co, VT (Roy Pilcher).

Start SA

The savvy Massachusetts birding community knows how to mobilize for a potentially productive Nor’easter. When conditions fell into place for 28 Oct, a talented and experienced contingent was assembled at First Encounter Beach in Eastham on Cape Cod, where northeasterly winds trap seabirds in Cape Cod Bay. They typically circle in a counterclockwise movement in quest of a return to the sea. When winds shift to the northwest, the birds are deflected to the east and become visible at First Encounter.

On 28 Oct, the second day of the frontal passage provided a spectacular parade of tubenoses, alcids and other species that were logged and photographed by a well-organized group of more than a dozen birders. The prize find, a species many thought was possible given the conditions, was two Great Skuas. Also notable for date and place was a single Long-tailed Jaeger. A Brown Booby was a nice addition.

But this was also a quantitative mega-event: 349 Pomerine Jaegers, 642 Red Phalaropes, 634 Dovekies, 2494 Northern Gannets. There were 11 species of shorebirds and eight species of gulls, including 273 Black-legged Kittiwakes and a single Little Gull. Also noteworthy were a Harlequin Duck, two Red-necked Grebes, seven Parasitic Jaegers, 38 jaeger sp., and nine Razorbills. The 14 species of waterfowl included some huge counts: 10,415 Common Eiders, 6465 Surf Scoters, 2719 White-winged Scoters, 3990 Black Scoters and 3830 Surf/Black Scoters.

The material here has been gleaned from a highly detailed eBird checklist assembled by Marshall J. Illif, which outlines the methods and roles of various observers in compiling these numbers.

End SA

Report processed by Andrew Keaveney, 12 Jan 2021.

Photos–New England: Fall 2021

A second for Connecticut, this Roseate Spoonbill, shown here on 31 Jul 2021 in New Haven, was present in the New Haven area until at least 22 Sep 2021 when last seen in Branford, New Haven Co. Photo © Frank Mantlik.

This Little Stint, a ninth for Massachusetts and third for Bristol Co, was present 13-15 Aug, 2021 (here 13 Aug) at Allen’s Pond, a Massachusetts Audubon Sanctuary. Photo © Joel Eckerson.

This Pacific Golden Plover, found on 25 Sep 2021 at Spencer Pierce Little Farm in Newburyport, Essex Co, Massachusetts, drew crowds of observers through 28 Sep. Photo © Suzanne Sullivan.

This Masked Booby, a first record for Maine, was spotted on 9 Aug 2021 from a cottage porch on Mount Desert Rock, Hancock Co. Photo © Nathan Dubrow.

This Harris’s Sparrow was found on 20 Oct 2021 in Greenland, Rockingham Co, New Hampshire. It was present through 3 Nov. Photo © Steve Mirick.

This LeConte’s Sparrow, Connecticut’s 12th, was present on 23–27 Oct 2021 at Smith-Richardson Sanctuary_Fairfield_Fairfield Co, CT. Photo © Mary Walsh