New England: Spring 2020

The Spring 2020, Mar. 1–May 31

Greg Hanisek
175 Circuit Avenue
Waterbury, Connecticut 06708

Recommended citation:
Hanisek, G. 2020. The spring 2020: New England. <> North American Birds.

In spring 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic encroached, upending birder’s normal activities. Starting in March, field trips were canceled, sanctuaries and parks were closed, and even cemeteries—such as the popular Mount Auburn Cemetery in Massachusetts—restricted access. Plum Island was closed to vehicles until June 4. Birders, always resourceful, began solitary explorations, in some cases discovering good sites close to home that had been overlooked. News stories began to explore another collateral effect of the pandemic: the discovery of birding by people seeking solitary outdoor pursuits.

Access to Maine’s Monhegan Island, a prime destination for New England birders during spring migration, was restricted to only “essential” visitors through the end of May. Despite the lack of coverage, Hitchcox said island residents still reported bits of the migration spectacle that has made Monhegan famous, with “dozens each” of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Baltimore Orioles at a single feeder on 15 May. Spring overshoots included several Orchard Orioles and a male Blue Grosbeak, the latter being the only record of this species for Maine this spring.

In New Hampshire, Mirick reported that state and local parks and beaches along the coastline were essentially closed to birders. The entire coast was closed to parking, and barricades were placed at pull-offs along coastal Route 1A to discourage out of state visitors. Birders could not even look out over the ocean from a parked car. Frustration was the bottom line for many birders as they were forced to venture inland where even there, access to the more popular birding spots was either restricted or closed. Secondary birding spots which previously had been visited inconsistently became significant sites in spring 2020. Deer Hill Wildlife Management Area in Rockingham highlights this: between 2006 and 2019, the site had accrued a total of 168 complete eBird checklists. During May alone of 2020, 210 complete eBird checklists were submitted and 145 species were recorded, making it the most active and productive birding site in the entire state for that month!

In Massachusetts, Stymiest noted that from mid-April north winds and frequent rains stalled migration, frustrating birders all over the Northeast. Then, on the night of 2 May, radar lit up with migrating birds. In Connecticut 2 May brought the most first arrivals, with 9 species making their seasonal debuts. A wind shift and rain precipitated a major fallout on Plum Island 3 May; there, unusually early White-eyed Vireo and Orchard Oriole were recorded among large numbers of common species. 15 May produced big fallouts on Cape Cod and widely across Connecticut.

Abbreviations: L. Champlain (Vermont side of L. Champlain); Hammonassett (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, Ipswich, including Parker River N.W.R., Essex, MA).

Contributing observers (others cited by name within the text): Louis Bevier, Rachel Farrell, Peter Flood, Tina Green, Greg Hanisek, Neil Hayward, Rick Heil, Doug Hitchcox, Frank Mantlik, Steve Mirick, Wayne Petersen, Robert Stymeist, Sean Williams, Keenan Yakola.

Geese to Tropicbirds

Ross’s Goose, though becoming increasingly recorded, was recorded this season only at Newbury, Essex, MA 13—17 Mar (Steve Grinley et al. ph.). 2 Barnacle Geese continued 1—18 Mar in Rochester, Plymouth Co., MA (N. Dowling et al. ph.). They were joined on 14 Mar by a Pink-footed Goose (B. Vigorito et al.) that was seen there and in Dartmouth, Bristol Co., through 28 Mar (Z. Moser et al. ph.). In all, 5 Pink-footed Geese were recorded this season in the region—a noteworthy trend for this Eurasian species, first fully documented for the Lower 48 in 1998 in CT. The others this spring were in Wiscasset, Lincoln Co., ME, on 22 Mar (Rhonda Hamlin et al. ph.); at Mount Desert, Hancock Co., ME, on 27—30 May (Craig Kesselheim et al. ph.); at Dead Creek WMA, Addison Co., VT on 15 Mar (Henry Trombley et al.  ph.); and at Concord, Merrimack Co., NH, on 22—29 Mar (David Lipsy, Rebecca Suomala et al. ph.). Adding to the usual smattering of Eurasian Wigeon on the coast were 3 inland reports: on 5 April at Lake Otona in Pittsfield, MA—a 2nd record for Berkshire (Jonathan Pierce et al, ph.); on 7 April at Messalonskee L., Kennebec Co., ME (LB et al. ph.); and from 10—19 April at Jones Pond in Morris, CT, a 2nd record for Litchfield Co. (GH et al. phs.). 4 reports of Green-winged Teal (Eurasian), 3 in MA and the other in CT, included one far inland on Pontoosuc L., Pittsfield—another 2nd record for Berkshire Co. (Jonathan Pierce et al, ph.).

4 Tufted Ducks, most these at now-annual locations, were in CT, MA, RI and VT. A  Tufted Duck × scaup sp. on 4 Apr in Sharon, Norfolk Co. MA (Will Sweet et al. ph.) was noteworthy, as was the Tufted Duck × Lesser Scaup reported in mid-Mar from Lake Massabesic in Rockingham Co. NH (Leo McKillop phs.). Another Bay State hybrid of note was a Bufflehead × Common Goldeneye in Rock Harbor Marsh, Orleans, Barnstable Co. from 21 Mar—13 Apr (David Clapp et al. ph.). This individual, first noted there in 2017, is the only state record. A Western Grebe, Connecticut’s 5th and the first since 2016, was unique for the region at Cove Island Park in Stamford, Fairfield Co. on 5 May (Patrick Dugan et al. ph.). Maine’s 3rd Eurasian Collared Dove, a species whose extensive colonization of North America has largely excluded New England, was noteworthy on 14 May at Pemaquid Point, Lincoln Co. (Zeke Smith, Sean Hatch ph.). Within the region, total records for this species do not exceed a dozen; however, each state has at least one. The season’s only White-winged Dove visited a feeder in Old Saybrook, Middlesex Co., CT, on 10 April (James Sherwonit ph.). Massachusetts reported one of those implausibly early Common Nighthawks for which there are scattered records in New England and the Middle Atlantic states. This one appeared 24 Apr in Hadley, Hampshire Co., and would be the earliest state arrival this century (M. Cozine, L. Waters). The region’s very limited Chuck-will’s-widow population included calling birds from the first week of May on Nantucket (Skylar Kardell) and North Falmouth, Barnstable Co., MA (Keelin Miller, Elizabeth Hill-Gest et al.). In Rhode Island a calling bird was present for a 5th consecutive year at Tillinghast Pond, Kent Co. (Matthew Schenck et al.).

The region’s only recorded Purple Gallinules were in MA at Dennis Pond, Yarmouth, Barnstable Co., from 21 April—20 May (Nancy Villone et al. ph.) and at Manomet from 14—17 May (E. Dalton et al.). New Hampshire’s first wintering Semipalmated Plover remained in Rye Harbor, Rockingham Co. to at least 31 Apr (SM et al.). Single Wilson’s Plovers 16—23 Mar at Scarborough State Beach, Washington Co., RI (Jessica Kiamco et al. ph.) and 5—7 May at Eastham, Barnstable Co., MA (Adele Sullivan et al. ph.) drew significant attention. A Black-necked Stilt made a quick stop 25 April at Allen’s Pond, Bristol Co. MA (Spencer Lott ph.), and on 30 May, 2 turned up not far away at Barn Island WMA in Stonington, New London Co., CT (Glenn Williams et al. ph.). It was a good season for Wilson’s Phalarope: 4 states produced 9 records (5 in MA, 2 in CT and 1 each in RI an ME, all in May).  A handful of Red Phalarope sightings in coastal MA and RI, all in April, consisted of 1-2 birds with the exception of 12 on 4 Apr at Race Point, Provincetown, Barnstable Co., MA (PF). A Sandwich Tern 25—27 May at Race Point was the first in Massachusetts since 2018 (T. Bradford ph.). For the 15th consecutive year, the faithful Red-billed Tropicbird returned 17 May to the waters off Seal Island, Knox Co., ME (KY et al.).

Loons to Buntings

Pacific Loon records in the region have accumulated as its identification becomes better understood. This season, reports came from Rockport, Essex Co., MA, on 1—8 Mar (RH et al); Race Point, Provincetown, Barnstable Co., MA, on 5—26 Apr (PF); and at Harkness Memorial State Park, Waterford, New London Co., CT on 12 May (Dave Provencher). The spring’s Gavia prize was the immature Yellow-billed Loon, just the 2nd record for MA, present 19 April at Race Point (PF). 3 American White Pelicans, always an eye-opener regionally dropped in at Lake Morey in Fairlee, VT on 16 May (Wayne Scott et al. ph.). 2 others were recorded this season, on the Connecticut coast 6 April (Jannie Shapiro) and 5 May (Stephanie Stewart), both at Hammonasset. A Brown Pelican off Wellfleet, Barnstable Co., on 10 April was MA’s 1st record for that month (Brad Kaplan, Mark Griffin ph.). 3 were off Little Compton, Newport Co., RI from 7—11 May, where video was taken from a fishing boat (Eric Todd ph.). The region’s Yellow-crowned Night-Heron population centers on coastal Fairfield Co., CT, where they now outnumber Black-crowned Night-Heron. While the latter’s island rookeries dwindle, Yellow-crowneds thrive in well-wooded residential areas. Eastward expansion is underway: about a dozen scattered records came from southeast CT through RI to northeast MA. But there were none reported from the 3 northern-tier states. White-faced Ibis, once rare, is today regularly recorded. Individuals were seen at 3 locations from early April through May: the central and eastern coast of CT from Hammonasset to New London Co.; the Plum Island area of Essex Co., MA; and the Scarborough Marsh area south of Portland, Cumberland Co., ME.

Vermont’s second Crested Caracara attracted crowds to Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Woodstock, Windsor Co., 3—7 Mar (Kevin Rice, m.ob. ph.). This, along with the first record from March 2018 in Alburg await acceptance by the Vermont Bird Records Committee. The region’s nesting Mississippi Kites, 2 in NH and one in CT, were back on territory in late May (SM, Janet Holt). A Say’s Phoebe wintering at Allen Bros. Marsh in Windham Co., VT was seen through at least 8 Mar (Chris Roberts et al. ph.). Another, seen 15 Mar at Champlain Bridge, Addison Co., VT (Jane Ogilvie), was seemingly re-found in April in neighboring New York. Although the record nearly went undetected, Vermilion Flycatcher photos posted on a Facebook page were unearthed by a third party. This individual, recorded 18 Mar record from Charlestown, Washington Co., RI (Christine Comerford ph.) represents the Northeast’s 1st March record, and is just the 3rd spring record for New England (joining May 1994 and April 2017, both in Maine). RI has just one prior, unpublished, record. Loggerhead Shrike, now a significant rarity in the region, was recorded twice: on 24 May near Antrim, Hillsborough Co., NH (Robin Feustel ph.); and 25—26 May at Bargh Reservoir, Stamford, Fairfield Co., CT (Al Collins, Max Collins ph.). Cave Swallows are regular in the region on late autumn cold fronts; one on 9 May at Trustom Pond NWR, Washington Co., RI was New England’s only this spring (Bill Thomson, ph.). A Townsend’s Solitaire found in November 2019 at Halibut Point, Rockport, Essex Co., MA was last seen on 7 Mar (David Bates et al. ph.). The season’s other regional report involved a bird in Cookville, Orange Co., VT, from 8—18 Apr (Edward Cooper  et al., ph.).

The elusive Sedge Wren evaded birders everywhere except Connecticut. One was heard 16 April in Westport, Fairfield Co. (Jory Teltser), and another was heard in good breeding habitat for a few days, first on 9 May, in Southbury, New Haven Co., (Serena Pedane et al.). A Green-tailed Towhee that wintered in Merrimack Co., NH, was last reported 14 Mar (Jason Lambert). Chilly orioles of 2 species lingered in Rockingham Co., New Hampshire: the wintering Bullock’s, a young male, stayed to 21 April (Mary Weismann), and the young male Baltimore, the state’s 1st fully documented over-winterer, stayed to 28 Mar (SM). 5 Yellow-headed Blackbirds were recorded—2 each in CT and MA, and the other in NH. The adult male Boat-tailed Grackle reported 19 Apr from the west shore of Narragansett Bay, Washington Co., RI, was away from long-standing breeding sites in CT. (Matthew Schenck, Susan Schenck).  Only 4 Golden-winged Warblers were reported away from western Vermont’s breeding areas, and none of these individuals were suspected breeders. A MacGillivray’s Warbler, a 1st spring record for the Northeast, was seen and voice-recorded 29 Apr at Manomet during a scheduled survey of the property, closed because of Covid concerns (Evan Dalton, SW et al., ph.). It was a good season for Prothonotary Warblers, with a dozen reported in the southern tier states. The only one in the north was at South Portland, Cumberland Co., ME, from 22—29 April (Barry Hosmer et al., ph.).

A continuing spruce bud worm outbreak centering on Quebec is now causing forestry concerns in Maine, but the collateral boon to nesting warblers was enjoyed by birders farther south. Migrant Cape May Warblers have been on the increase, and this year Bay-breasted Warblers also flooded the region. At a well-known fallout spot in Kent, Litchfield Co., CT, at least 27 were tallied on 17 May (Gina Nichol). Yellow-throated Warblers followed a similar pattern to Prothonotary, with 8 in the southern tier; 3 in coastal Maine were the only ones to the north. Of these, the northernmost was at Blue Hill, Hancock, on 30 Apr—2 May (Leda Beth Gray). Connecticut birders had been waiting—forever—to add Townsend’s Warbler to the state list. On 17 April at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Wethersfield, Hartford Co., it finally happened; now, each state in the region has recorded the species. This was one of the first twitches of the pandemic; the bird, which remained through 20 Apr, drew many masked birders. (Paul Desjardins, m.ob. ph.). Southern passerines arriving in the region via overshoot and reverse migration have long been on the increase. Of these, Summer Tanagers are especially prominent. More than 40 were recorded this spring, penetrating as far north as the Burlington area, Chittenden Co., VT and Wiscasset, Lincoln Co., ME. 3 Western Tanagers were in MA, and CT, NH and ME all contributed individual records; the dates ranged from 2 Mar—10 May. The season’s only Black-headed Grosbeak was at Mount Desert, Hancock Co., ME, on 29—30 May (Tom Hayward et al. ph.). 2 wintering Painted Buntings lingered into spring—an adult male at a feeder in New Canaan, Fairfield Co., CT, to 6 Apr (Cleo Abrams-Horsburgh, TG ph.), and a female to 13 Mar at Albany, Carroll Co., NH (James Longo et al. ph.). Others were at Orleans, Barnstable Co., MA, on 6 Mar (R. Utt) and from 7—15 Apr (R. Davis).

Report processed by Alison Világ, 10 Dec 2020.

Photos–New England: Spring 2020
Hover or click on each image to read the caption.