New England: Spring 2021

The Spring 2021, Mar. 1–May 31

Greg Hanisek

Recommended citation:

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


The winter season’s significant irruption of boreal finches continued into early spring. Major passerine fallouts were unimpressive, but gulls provided a series of highlights with species from across the continent and beyond.

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 (Hammonasset 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). 

Waterfowl through Hummingbirds

Now-annual Pink-footed Geese carried over from winter in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, with most records in March, but a late date of 25 Apr in Bristol Co, MA (Marshall Iliff et al., phs.). Vermont registered the only Trumpeter Swan reports, centering on one present at Fairfield Swamp WMA, Franklin Co, from 26 Apr to 8 May, with a final report 23 May (Charlotte Bill, Ken Copenhaver m.ob., phs.). One on 6 May at Lake Lamoille, Lamoille Co, was judged to be a different individual (Liz Lackey), and two were seen on 24 May at Missisquoi NWR, Franklin Co (Matthew Bode phs.).

Tufted Ducks were reported from six locations, three in MA and one each in CT, RI, and VT. The only Eared Grebes were two in Massachusetts: one continuing through at least 18 Apr at Marblehead, Essex Co (Alex Lamoreaux et al., phs.) and one frequenting Cohasset, Norfolk Co, and neighboring Hull, Plymouth Co (Vincent Zollo et al., phs.) from 28 Mar through at least 14 Apr.

 The region’s only White-winged Dove visited a yard in Gardiner, Kennebec Co, ME, on 22 Apr (Jeff Wells et al.). In keeping with recent trends, Chuck-will’s-widows were present for extended periods in May at Bourne and North Falmouth in inner Barnstable Co, MA (Karen Fiske, Peter Trimble et al.) and at Tillinghast Pond, Kent Co, RI (Carlos Pedo et al.). The Bay State also had single reports in May from farther out on Cape Cod (Jaden Salett) and from both Martha’s Vineyard (Shea Fee) and Nantucket (Trish Pastuszak). An apparent migrant was heard one night only in a residential neighborhood in Stamford, Fairfield Co, CT (Al Collins). Most unusual was one present for the second year in a row at Hothole Valley, Hancock Co, ME, on 1522 May (Michael J. Good). The only Rufous Hummingbird continued at a private feeder in Orleans, Barnstable Co, MA, through 30 Mar (Susan Finnegan phs.).

Shorebirds through Gulls                                                         

Black-necked Stilt reports, some of which may involve the same individual, came from Nantucket on 1727 May (Jim Olney et al.); Bristol Co, RI, on 18 May (Liam Corcoran); Sandy Neck, Barnstable Co, MA, on 28 May (Karen Fiske et al., phs.); and Barn Island WMA, Stonington, New London Co, CT, on 31 May (Glenn Williams et al., phs.). A state-first European Golden-Plover was present 518 Apr at Duxbury Beach, Plymouth Co, MA (Frederick Bowes et al.); the only other New England record is from March 2008 in Scarborough, ME. Wilson’s Plover reports came from Napatree Point, Washington Co, RI, on 6–8 May (Jessica Szpila et al., phs.) and 21 May at Ogunquit Beach, York Co, ME (Carolyn Grimes phs.). Two Ruffs, a black male and a female (Reeve), were at Plum Island on 1 May (Sean Williams et al., phs.), and an apparent female was a county first in Clinton, Kennebec Co, ME, on 5 May (Tom Aversa et al., phs.)

Pelagic trips in Bay State waters produced a total of four South Polar Skuas on 26 May off Nantucket (Doug Gochfeld) and one on 24 May off Essex Co (Doug Gochfeld). Up to two Long-tailed Jaegers were seen from Race Point, Provincetown, Barnstable Co, MA, on 2931 May (Peter Flood, Blair Nikula et al., phs.). The same Race Point vigil turned up a Sabine’s Gull on 2930 May (Keelin Miller et al., phs.).

A first for both Massachusetts and Rhode Island, an adult Heermann’s Gull was found on 27 May at Horseneck Beach, Bristol Co, MA (Nicole Kirkos, Tyler Tomassone et al.) and at Sakonnet Point, Newport Co, RI (Joel Eckerson et al.). Although its New England stay was limited to one day, it was no doubt the same bird wandering up the East Coast from Georgia to Virginia. A Mew (Kamchatka) Gull found 1 Apr at Seaside Park in Bridgeport, Fairfield Co, CT (Jeremy Nance phs.) was relocated 5 Apr and seen through 8 Apr at Bradley Point in West Haven, New Haven Co, CT (Frank Gallo, John Oshlick et al., phs.). One found in late February on Nantucket was present to at least 3 Mar (Skyler Kardell et al., phs.). An adult California Gull found during the winter season in West Haven, New Haven Co, CT, was seen through at least 30 Mar (Julian Hough et al., phs.). 

Pelicans through Caracara

Two reports of American White Pelicans were both from Connecticut: 30 Mar at Hammonasset (Jannie Shapiro) and 28 Apr at Southport Beach, Fairfield Co (Jory Teltser, Alex Burdo). The venerable Red-billed Tropicbird returned for the 17th consecutive year to Seal Island NWR, Knox Co, ME, on 6 May (Keenan Yakola et al.). 

Connecticut’s second Little Egret was at Grace Salmon Memorial Park, Westport, Fairfield Co, from 1215 May (Frank Mantlik et al., phs.). There were single reports from Cumberland and York Cos, ME, on 23 and 31 May respectively (Justin Lawson, Luke Seitz et al., phs.). Cattle Egret reports from 10 locations, including one as far north as Penobscot Co, ME, countered what has been a long-term downward trend. The first report of White-faced Ibis, now regular in spring and summer at favored locations as far north as Scarborough Marsh, Cumberland Co, ME, was first reported 30 Mar at another regular location, Hammonasset (Sara Zagroski et al., phs.). 

There were six reports of Swallow-tailed Kites, all from the three southern-tier states except for one in NH. Mississippi Kites returned in May to breeding locations in Strafford Co, NH; Fairfield Co, CT; and Washington Co, RI. There were a handful of other reports from CT and MA. Connecticut’s first Crested Caracara was seen by a single observer, both perched and in flight, on 7 Mar in West Haven, New Haven Co (Amy Peck phs). This sighting continues a recent series of records from the region and the Northeast. 

Flycatchers through Sparrows

A Fork-tailed Flycatcher was at Goose Rocks Beach, York Co, ME, on 2122 May (Laura Zitske et al., phs.). A Tropical Kingbird, believed to be the first spring record for the Northeast, was found on 15 May at Provincetown Airport, Barnstable Co, MA (Peter Trimble et al., phs.). Most records are from the fall, but there are also some June sightings. An unusual spring Cave Swallow was seen from 18 Apr to at least 1 May at Cherry Hill Reservoir, Essex Co, MA (Andy Sanford et al., phs.). It was identified as the Caribbean race; the more numerous late fall records generally involve birds from the Southwest.

A Sage Thrasher that wintered in Hatfield, Hampshire Co, MA, remained to at least 8 Mar (Janice Jorgensen et al., phs.). The only Townsend’s Solitaire report came from Mount Auburn Cemetery in Middlesex Co, MA, on 19 Apr (Robert Parker, Clara Easter phs.). A wintering Varied Thrush was on private property in Sudbury, Middlesex Co, MA, through 8 Apr (Christine Goddard phs.); another was seen 56 Apr in West Brookfield, Worcester Co, MA (Bette Robo et al., phs.).

There were six reports of Clay-colored Sparrows, three from CT, two from ME, and one from MA. An adult Golden-crowned Sparrow was a stellar find 28 Apr1 May on Martha’s Vineyard, Edgartown, Dukes Co, MA (Brendan Burke et al., phs). An adult male Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco that appeared in February at feeder in Chaplin, Windham Co, CT, remained to 22 Mar (Phil Rusch et al., phs.). Another adult male stayed to at least 6 Mar at a feeder in Bethany, New Haven Co, CT (Ann Fiske et al., phs). There were two reports of Spotted Towhees, on 6 Mar at Allen’s Pond, Bristol Co, MA (Joel Eckerson) and on 3 Apr at Brenton Point State Park, Newport Co, RI (Sue Palmer phs.).

Icterids through Buntings

Single adult male Yellow-headed Blackbirds were in North Plymouth, Plymouth Co, MA, from 37 Apr (Brian Vigorito et al., phs.); in Raymond, Rockingham Co, NH, on 15 May (Rebecca Suomala et al., phs.); and at Corundel Lake, Penobscot Co, ME, from 30 Apr to 4 May (Jessica Brainard et al., phs.). The once-anticipated invasion of the region by Great-tailed Grackles as they expanded their range northward never materialized, but one was an exciting and carefully documented find on 910 Apr in North Plymouth, Plymouth Co, MA (Leslie Gomes, Sean Williams phs., audio). There is one East Coast record from Nov 1983 to Feb 1984 in Nova Scotia, and single records from Indiana, Ohio, and Alabama. The region has four records of Boat-tailed/Great-tailed Grackles.

Away from their last regional stronghold in western Vermont, the vanishing Golden-winged Warbler was reported from only four locations. The presence of one at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Middlesex Co, MA, caused so much of a stir that c. 40 observers reported it on eBird checklists on 19 May (Brookline Bird Club et al., phs.).

Summer Tanagers continued their stroll into regularity, with at least 14 records on a coastal arc that touched all states but Vermont. Three Western Tanagers for the season, all at feeders, included a female on 4 Mar in Hamden, New Haven Co, CT (Arthur Shippee phs.); a male on 45 May in Simsbury, Hartford Co, CT (fide Matthew Bell phs.); and a male on 6 May at Green Point WMA, Lincoln Co, ME (Howie Nielsen phs.). There were at least 10 reports of Blue Grosbeaks. Painted Buntings are beginning to approach the regularity of Summer Tanagers as reverse migrants/overshoots. This season there were four in MA, one in CT, and one in far Down East Washington Co, ME.

Report processed by Joshua Malbin, 28 Jul 2021

Photos–New England: Spring 2021

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