New England Region: Spring 2017
The Spring 2017, Mar. 1–May 31
175 Circuit Avenue
Waterbury, Connecticut 06708
Hanisek, G. 2017. The spring 2017: New England. North American Birds 71(3).
A somewhat colder than normal Mar. was punctuated by a 13–14 Mar. nor’easter that dumped more than two feet of snow on areas west of Boston. Apr. averaged warmer than the norm, and strong southwest winds 27–28 Apr. produced significant fallouts in the southern tier. In CT, 28–30 Apr. produced 20 first-of-year sightings ranging from Semipalmated Sandpipers and Common Nighthawks to two Prothonotary Warblers. The first half of May was generally cool, but warmed up during the second half, which included a heat wave of three consecutive 90-degree-plus days in the Boston area.
Jim Berry, Louis Bevier, Nick Bonomo, Paul Desjardins, Rachel Farrell, Tina Green, Don Heitzmann, Neil Hayward, Doug Hitchhcox (DHi), David Hoag (DHo), Frank Mantlik, Steve Mirick (SMr), Shai Mitra (SMi), Ted Murin, Dylan Pedro, Chris Raithel, Bob Stymiest, Jeremiah Trimble, Glenn Williams, Ian Worley, Keenan Yakola.
L. Champlain (VT side of L. Champlain); Hammonasset (Hammonassett Beach S. P., Madison, New Haven, CT); Manomet (Manomet Center for Conservation Studies, Plymouth, Plymouth, MA); Monhegan (Monhegan I., Lincoln, ME); Nantucket (Nantucket I., MA); Plum I. (Newburyport, Newbury, Rowley, and Ipswich, including Parker River N. W. R., Essex, MA).
Geese through Gallinules
The region experienced another good season for rare geese. A Ross’s Goose wandered around the Westport, Fairfield, CT, area 6–15 Mar. (TG et al., phs). MA hosted one for about a week in Lexington, Middlesex, starting 3 Mar. (John Andrews et al.), and another was found later in the month between Westborough and Southborough, Worcester (Justin Lawson et al.). Greater White-fronted Geese are now something less than rare, with reports from ca. 15 locations regionwide, including high counts of up to five on 8–9 Apr. at Weekapaug Breachway, Washington, RI (Mathew Schenck et al., ph.); four on 24 Mar. at Leetes I., Guilford, New Haven, CT (Christine Howe, ph.); and three at Champlain Bridge, Addison, VT, 12–20 Mar. (Don Jones, Alison Wagner et al., phs.). A wintering Pink-footed Goose carried over to 10 Mar. in the Enfield, Hartford, CT, area near the MA border (m. ob.). Then one appeared 11–13 Mar. on the coast at Southport Beach, Fairfield, CT. Another appearance 15 Mar. in Enfield suggested two scenarios: either two birds or one very wide-ranging goose. Reports of single birds came from Ipswich, Essex, MA, 1–10 Mar. (Nathan Dubrow, MJI et al., phs.) and Rockport, Knox, ME, on 2 Apr. (Magill Weber, ph.). CT’s fourth Black Brant was at Seaside Park in Bridgeport, Fairfield, 26 Mar. (NB). Two Barnacle Geese, the only ones this season, were together along the Connecticut R. in Enfield, Hartford, CT, 5–19 Mar. (John Marshall et al., phs.).
VT’s second record of Trumpeter Swan, found 5 Mar. in Brandon, Rutland, was present to at least 1 Apr. (Robert Reynolds et al., phs.). Four Tundra Swans 24–25 Mar. in Cheshire, Berkshire, were the first for MA since 2014 (Gael Hurley et al.). They likely were the same four that continued from winter through 22 Mar. at Trustom Pond, Washington, RI (DH et al.). There were at least seven Common [Green-winged] Teal for the season—four in MA and one each in CT, NH, and ME. MA’s four Tufted Ducks represented half of all of this species reported for the season in the eastern U. S. Others in the region were singles in RI and VT.
Eared Grebe went unreported outside of three CT records: 8 Mar. at Greenwich Point, Fairfield, (Kevin McGrath, Stefan Martin); 5 Mar.–11 Apr. at Nathan Hale Park in New Haven (Russ Smiley, m. ob., phs.); and 15–29 Mar. in Stonington, New London (GW et al., phs.).
Two White-winged Doves, an apparent pair that had been present since Dec. 2016 at Fenway & Gardens, Boston, Suffolk, were last seen together 5 Apr., but one was present to at least 24 Apr. (MJI et al. phs.). Singles were reported from East Haven, New Haven, CT, on 9 May (TG) and from Seal Island N. W. R., Knox, ME, on 18 May (KY, Will Kennerley). For a second year, a Chuck-will’s-Widow was present, with no evidence of breeding, from 29 Apr. to 18 May at Tillinghast Pond Management Area in West Greenwich, Kent, RI (Carlos Pedro et al.). There were also May reports from two locations on Cape Cod (Sean Williams, John Pratt et al.) and up to four on Nantucket (Ginger Andrews et al.). A male Rufous Hummingbird present in Falmouth, Barnstable, since Oct. 2016 was last seen on 3 Apr. (Peter Trimble et al.). Unique for the season was a Purple Gallinule at Miacomet Pond, Nantucket, on 28–30 May (Libby Buck et al., ph.).
Stilts through Kites
A Black-necked Stilt was found 12 Apr. in Edgartown, Dukes, MA (Digg Caliri et al., ph.). A Snowy Plover, a RI first, was an exciting find on 17 Apr. during a Piping Plover survey at Goosewing Beach, Little Compton, Newport (Geoff Dennis, ph.). CT experienced a remarkable flight of Whimbrels, which began with at least 50 flying by Hammonasset on 22 May (Sol Satin); the same day, 11 were at Milford Point, New Haven (Russ Smiley). Then on 24 May a flock of 40+ flew by Compo Beach in Westport, Fairfield, (TG). Three Ruffs for the season included one in RI on 20 May in Weekapaug, Washington (Dan Finizia, Sue Talbot); one in NH 30 Apr.–1 May at Hampton, Rockingham (SMi et al.); and one in MA 11–16 May at Wells Beach, Bristol, (Steven Whitebread et al.). One of RI’s highest counts in the past decade for Red Knot—25 birds—was recorded 27 May at Napatree Point, Westerly, Washington (CR). Five reports of Wilson’s Phalaropes—three in ME, two in MA, and one in RI—were all singles in the second half of May, with one exception: Two were at salt pans in Essex, MA, on 5 May (Steve Babbit).
For the second year in a row, an Ancient Murrelet was found off the coast of ME. The initial sighting was 21 May from a boat at Machias Seal Island, Washington (Kyle Lima et al.). What was presumably the same bird was at Matinicus Rock, Knox, on 24 May (John Drury, Frank Mayer, phs.). In 2016 this or another Ancient Murrelet was seen 13–27 May at Seal Island N. W. R., Petit Manan N. W. R. and Machias Seal Island, respectively. A South Polar Skua was 86 miles southeast of Nantucket on 24 May (John Loch, ph.).
A Mew Gull of the large Asiatic subspecies kamtschatschensis was found 20 Mar. at Russian Beach, Stratford, Fairfield, CT (NB, ph.). It was a second state record for that subspecies, but the observer, who saw both birds and submitted detailed rare records analyses, believes that one individual is likely responsible for both sightings, along with reports from the winters of 2013–2014 and 2014–2015 from Nantucket. Another kamtschatschensis (Will Sweet, ph.) along with a nominate canus Mew Gull (Alan Kneidel, ph.; Nathan Marchessault) were both at Race Point at the tip of Cape Cod on 15 Apr. Another canus report came from the same location on 26 Mar. (Blair Nikula). NH’s second canus record came from Salem, Rockingham, on 1 Mar. (Kyle Wilmarth, ph.).
The only reports of Gull-billed Terns were singles on 18 May in Stratford, Fairfield, CT (FM, ph.) and the next day at Ninigret Pond, Charlestown, Washington, RI (Paul L’Etoile). The Red-billed Tropicbird returned 7 May to Seal Island N. W. R., Knox, ME, for the 13th consecutive year and continued through the season (KY). Race Point remains the hot spot for Pacific Loon, with up to two present to at least 21 May (JT et al. phs.). Other reports came from Plum Island on 23 May (Rick Heil) and Biddeford Pool, York, ME, to 30 May (Josh Fecteau et al.). Manx Shearwater, appearing at Revere Beach, Suffolk, MA, since 2006 without proof of nesting, arrived 29 Mar., the earliest date by four days (BS et al.).
An American White Pelican, always a bit of a heart-stopper, visited the Thames R. in Groton, New London, CT, 6–7 Apr. (Anthony Vicciarelli et al.). The first May record for Brown Pelican in MA, and the only report this season in the region, involved a bird first seen 6 May in Essex at both Crane Beach (Nathan Dubrow, ph.) and Annisquam (Robert Sherman, ph.). The last report was 11 May at Winthrop Beach (Bird Observer). The only inland report, and noteworthy for VT, was two Tricolored Herons present 27–28 Apr. at L. Bomoseen, Casleton, Rutland, with one remaining to 7 May (Kathleen Guinness et al., phs.). Fitting the same parameters was an adult Little Blue Heron 2–12 May at Shelburne Chittenden, VT (Graham Rice et al.). Cattle Egret, on a long-term decline reflected by just five reports in spring 2016, staged an explosive comeback with ca. 20 reports spread around all six states. Typically the now annual arrival of White-faced Ibises centered on coastal CT and Essex, MA, where a high of four were present after a first arrival 16 Apr. There were also singles in RI and ME.
Away from breeding locations in NH and CT, Mississippi Kite reports—all in May—consisted of a high of two on 19 May at Provincetown, Barnstable, MA (Maryellen Stone et al., ph.) and singles at two locations in CT. MA produced the only Swallow-tailed Kite report, from Mashpee N. W. R, Barnstable, on 17 Apr. (Karen Fiske).
A male Vermilion Flycatcher found 17 Apr. at Todd Wildlife Sanctuary, Hog Island, Lincoln, provided the first photographic record for ME (Arlene Beech, DHi, LB et al. phs.), and therein lies a tale; see Special Attention within this report. A Scissor-tailed Flycatcher appeared on the early date of 17 Apr. in East Machias, Washington, ME (Susan Cline, ph.). Others made one-day appearances 17 May in Southbury, New Haven, CT (Donna Marschalk, ph.), and 19 May at Plum Island (Paul Roberts). A wintering Varied Thrush at Swanzey, Cheshire, NH, was last seen on 23 Mar. (Butch Thompson). ME’s first Fieldfare was found on 19 Apr. in New Castle, Lincoln, (Jeff Cherry, m. ob. phs.). It was present through 23 Apr.
The season’s four Yellow-headed Blackbirds were all in the southern tier, with three in CT and one in MA, ranging from 18 Mar. to 10 Apr. For the second year in a row, a Smith’s Longspur was found at Bear Creek Sanctuary, Saugus Essex, MA. It was present 15 Mar.–9 Apr. (Geoff Wilson et al., ph.). A Harris’s Sparrow, first seen in Nov. 2016 in Dalton, Berkshire, MA, was last reported on 11 May (Gael Hurley, ph.). Rare in spring, a Lark Sparrow was found 19 May at Chestnut Hill Reservoir, Boston, Suffolk (Ryan Doherty et al., ph.). The ABA Area’s first accepted Black-backed Oriole, a species native to central Mexico, was reported 7–8 May in Sutton, Worcester, MA, and photos showed it to be the same individual present 26 Jan.–10 Apr. in Reading, PA. What was likely the same bird was at Shippan Point, Stamford, Fairfield, CT, on 14 May (Patrick Dugan, Al Collins). The ABA Checklist Committee accepted the record (See 29th Report of ABA Checklist Committee, Birding, vol. 50, no. 6, Dec. 2018).
A good spring for overshooting Prothonotary Warblers produced 14 reports, with only VT and NH coming up short. The earliest date was 9 Apr. on Martha’s Vineyard, Dukes, MA (Ken Magnuson). The farthest north of about a dozen Yellow-throated Warblers were up to two on Monhegan 14–16 May (JT, Richard MacDonald) and a single bird first found there 7 May (DH). The earliest was 15 Apr. at Great Swamp, Washington, RI (SMi).
Summer Tanagers flooded the region. There were reports from at least 19 locations. These spanned all six states, including a few involving two individuals and the majority spread over multiple days, making for difficult accounting on a total number of individuals. The most locations were in MA (6) and ME (5). CT and RI had three each, and VT and NH one each. A wintering Western Tanager was present to 5 Apr. in Highland Lake, Cumberland, ME (Karen Doyle et al., ph.). About 15 reports of Blue Grosbeaks hugged the coast from New Haven, CT, eastward then north as far as Hancock, ME. Eight reports of Painted Buntings included one each from CT and NH, two from ME and four from MA, including one that remained to 14 Apr. in Orleans, Barnstable, after its discovery in early Feb. (Sue Finnegan et al., ph.).
A well-described male Vermilion Flycatcher was on Isle au Haut, ME, on 9 May 1994. Another male, apparently a first-year, visited Hog Island, Lincoln, 17 Apr. 2017. The Isle au Haut bird was previously published but long regarded as hypothetical, chiefly due to its being a sight report from a time of year outside the pattern of vagrancy for the species to the Northeast. The Hog Island bird provided fresh impetus to review the older report. This record was a remarkable find for other reasons too. It was first observed by a volunteer in the U. K. monitoring an Osprey nest camera hosted by National Audubon and Explore.org. News was shared, and a short video clip provided a close-up view of the bird. Given that most vagrants of Vermilion Flycatcher to eastern North America are immatures in fall, members discussed the potential that these spring records could involve austral migrants from populations that breed in southern South America (rubinus subspecies group) and that would be in migration to northern South America during the boreal spring, a pattern shared with Fork-tailed Flycatcher. These austral migrant Vermilion Flycatchers are regarded by some authors as a separate species, Scarlet Flycatcher. North American Vermilion Flycatchers (mexicanus subspecies group) are separable from Scarlet Flycatchers in the field only by vocalizations. Besides the ME birds, the only other spring record in the Northeast is a male photographed at Burton Island, DE, 2–5 May 1993.
—This S. A. has been excerpted from the Seventh Report of the ME Bird Records Committee, Bird Observer 46 (3): 169–179.
Pictorial Highlights–New England Region, Spring 2017
Hover or click on each image to read the caption.