Tag Archives: bird sightings

Last Month in Birding: February 2016

Here are five incredible bird sightings from last month as suggested by Mass Audubon’s experts.

Yellow-billed Loon (Gavia adamsii)

The largest loon species in the world, this bird breeds on the high Arctic tundra, farther north than our familiar common loon. Scientists still have much to learn about its habits. Outside of certain Arctic and west coast locations, it’s only rarely observed, and sightings from the east coast are almost unheard-of. In fact, it had never before been recorded in Massachusetts—until this February and March, when a yellow-billed loon was found bobbing in the waves off of Provincetown.

Yellow-billed loon at Provincetown © Steve Arena

Yellow-billed loon at Provincetown © Steve Arena

Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana)

One of our most vividly colored bird species is the scarlet tanager; breeding males are cherry-red and black, and females are greenish-yellow. In the west, the scarlet tanager is replaced by the western tanager. Male western tanagers are yellow and black and only have red pigment on their heads; uniquely, this red pigment comes directly from the insects in their diet. In January and February a western tanager visited a private feeder in Rowley.


Western tanager in Rowley (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) nebirdsplus

Yellow-throated Warbler (Setophaga dominica)

This strikingly patterned bird is a common warbler in the southeastern US. It typically builds its nest in Spanish moss that hangs from tree branches in the open southern woodlands where it lives. The yellow-throated warbler normally winters along the Gulf coast and in Central America and the Caribbean islands—but one was spotted in Amesbury.

Amesbury © Amy

Yellow-throated warbler in Amesbury © Amy

Bullock’s Oriole (Icterus bullockii)

This species is similar to the familiar Baltimore oriole, except that the male Bullock’s oriole has a mostly orange face with a striking black eye stripe and a white wing patch. It’s a bird of the western US, but it occasionally interbreeds with the Baltimore oriole on the Great Plains where their ranges overlap. At one time the two species were lumped into one—the northern oriole—before scientists determined that they were genetically distinct. A Bullock’s oriole visited a bird feeder at a private residence in Newburyport.

Western Tanager (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) nebirdsplus

Bullock’s oriole in California (CC BY-ND 2.0) Jan Arendtsz

Mystery Gull

Now and then a bird appears that confounds the experts. Among the gulls standing on the ice last month at Turners Falls, one individual really stood out: a herring gull-sized bird with yellow legs. Experts proposed two possible identities. It could have been a yellow-legged gull (Larus michahellis), a European species that breeds in the Mediterranean and the Azores. If so, the bird had wandered way out of range! The other option was that it was a hybrid—a mix of two species, in this case possibly herring and a lesser black-backed gulls. Either way, it was an unusual sighting and brought some much-needed excitement to sleepy February.

Gull at Turner's Falls © James P. Smith

Gull at Turner’s Falls © James P. Smith

Last Month in Birding: January 2016

Every month we share five amazing bird sightings as suggested by our experts. Here are a few interesting observations from January.

Smith’s Longspur (Calcarius pictus)

Like other longspurs, Smith’s longspur has a long claw (“spur”) on its hind toe. This bird breeds across parts of the western subarctic tundra. Its romantic life is complex. It’s polygynandrous: each male and female pairs with several others during the breeding season. Typically, all Smith’s longspurs spend the winter in a relatively confined region of the central US, so an individual spotted last month in Saugus was a special find—and only the second record ever for the state!

Smith's longspur © Oliver Burton

Smith’s longspur in Saugus © Oliver Burton

Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris)

The male Painted Bunting is one of our country’s most colorful birds. This finch is primarily a southern species, breeding in the southern and central US and Mexico, and generally overwintering farther south. This range, combined with its splash of bright colors, makes the painted bunting a birders’ favorite whenever it appears in the north. It’s usually a shy bird; however, it becomes conspicuous when it visits a feeder. Last month, a male was sighted at a bird feeder in Nantucket.


Painted bunting in Houston (CC BY 2.0) Ralph Arvesen

Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius)

This is another bird with striking colors. The varied thrush has a complex pattern of rusty orange, black, and stormy grey-blue. It’s about the same size and shape as the American robin, and the two species are related. It lives in parts of the western US and Canada, preferring dense old-growth coniferous forests. It eats insects in the warm months and seeds and berries in the winter. A varied thrush appeared last month in Rutland.


Varied thrush (CC BY-NC 2.0) Sylvia Wright

Hammond’s Flycatcher (Empidonax hammondii)

This little flycatcher breeds in the western US and Canada and overwinters in Mexico and Central America. Flycatchers of the genus Empidonax are notoriously difficult to tell apart, but voice is a useful clue. A Hammond’s flycatcher was observed last month in Fairhaven, and luckily observers were able to gather both pictures and audio recordings to confirm its identity. It was only the second-ever record for Massachusetts.

Hammond's flycatcher in © Jeremiah Trimble

Hammond’s flycatcher in Fairhaven © Jeremiah Trimble

Pink-footed Goose (Anser brachyrhynchus)

This bird is slightly smaller than our familiar Canada goose, and true to its name, it has bubblegum-pink feet and legs. It breeds in Iceland, Greenland, and Svalbard, and winters in parts of Europe. Rarely, a few individuals head in the wrong direction and wind up in Canada and the US. A pink-footed goose was observed last month on the Connecticut River at Agawam in the company of Canada geese.

Pink footed goose

Pink-footed goose in Sweden (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Magnus Larsson

Last Month in Birding: October 2015

Every month we feature a few the past month’s bird sightings as suggested by our experts. Here are five notable observations from October.

Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio martinicus)

A living rainbow, this bird has enormous feet that enable it to walk across floating wetland plants such as lily pads. It can also swim. The purple gallinule is essentially a tropical species, and in the US it is typically found only in the far south and southeast. However, individuals regularly wander and turn up in odd places during migration—such as this one found at the Westborough WMA in Worcester County.

Purple gallinule at Westborough WMA © Justin Lawson

Purple gallinule at Westborough WMA © Justin Lawson

Bell’s Vireo (Vireo bellii)

Another southern species, the Bell’s vireo breeds in the central and western US and parts of Mexico, and winters in Mexico. A small, fairly plain-looking songbird, it has a remarkably loud song. Researchers at the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences banded a Bell’s vireo last month. It was the third such occurrence since 2005.

Bell's vireo in Manomet © Lauren diBiccari, Manomet Staff

Bell’s vireo in Manomet © Lauren diBiccari, Manomet Staff

Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus)

Native to the western US, the rufous hummingbird breeds as far north as Alaska. It is a speedy, vibrant species, and makes up for its small size with tenacity and aggression. The male’s throat is orange but the female only shows a spot of orange. Last month a rufous hummingbird was seen in Great Barrington. The Allen’s hummingbird, a very similar species, can be very hard to distinguish from the rufous. Fortunately, the bird in Great Barrington was an adult male with a distinctive, completely rufous-colored back.

Rufous hummingbird in Seattle (CC BY-NC 2.0) Minette Layne

Rufous hummingbird in Seattle (CC BY-NC 2.0) Minette Layne

Say’s Phoebe (Sayornis saya)

Last month we shared a report of a Say’s phoebe on Nantucket. In October, another individual was spotted in Eastham. This western flycatcher is at home on ranches, and in badlands, desert edges, and other open arid habitats. It breeds all the way to northern Alaska and winters in parts of the southwestern US and Mexico. Individuals sometimes wander East during fall migration, and when they do, they inevitably make an eastern birder’s day.

Say's phoebe in Eastham © Ben Lagasse

Say’s phoebe in Eastham © Ben Lagasse

Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)

This songbird is master traveler. It nests in Europe and Asia—with some birds entering North America in the high north from both the east and west—and winters in sub-Saharan Africa. Researchers have found that Alaskan northern wheatears travel an average of over 9000 miles to reach their wintering grounds! Stragglers sometimes find their way south to Massachusetts, where one was spotted at the Wachusett Reservoir in Worcester County last month.

Northern wheatear at Wachusett Reservoir © Justin Lawson

Northern wheatear at Wachusett Reservoir © Justin Lawson

Last Month in Birding: September 2015

Every month we feature five of the past month’s bird sightings as suggested by our experts. Here are a few remarkable observations from September.

White-faced Storm-petrel (Pelagodroma marina)

This small seabird bird often hovers low over the surface of the water, searching for food by gliding back and forth and bouncing along on its feet (see an amazing video). It nests on small islands in parts of the Atlantic, Indian, and South Pacific oceans, but otherwise spends all its time far out at sea. Several birds were seen at sea far off of Martha’s Vineyard this past month.

White-faced storm petrel © Lanny McDowell

White-faced storm-petrel off Martha’s Vineyard © Lanny McDowell

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)

Here’s a truly odd sighting: a young brown pelican was found under a truck in Southboro. It was malnourished and unfortunately passed away at Tufts Wildlife Clinic. These birds are typically found farther south, and are very rarely seen so far inland; perhaps a storm or illness caused this individual to become disoriented. Though the pelican’s death is a sad event, its appearance is intriguing. Brown pelicans were once almost eliminated from North America due to the pesticide DDT. However, they’ve made an incredible comeback. They are still an unusual sight in Massachusetts, although they have become increasingly common in recent years as far north as New Jersey.

Juvenile brown pelican in Mexico

Juvenile brown pelican in Mexico (CC BY-SA 2.0) Kurt Bauschardt

Bell’s Vireo (Vireo bellii)

John James Audubon named the Bell’s vireo after the gifted taxidermist John Graham Bell who accompanied him on his trip up the Missouri River. In the US, this olive-gray songbird is typically found in the central and southeastern parts of the country. Interestingly, individuals tend to be more yellow in the eastern parts of the species’ range and grayer in the west. A bird observed and photographed in Newbury was one of very few records for Massachusetts.

Bell's vireo (CC BY 2.0) Andy Reago and Chrissy McClarren

Bell’s vireo in MIssouri (CC BY 2.0) Andy Reago and Chrissy McClarren

Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster)

Related to the northern gannet, this large bird is found in many tropical oceans where one of its preferred foods is flying fish. It currently does not breed on the US mainland. Nonetheless, there were several sightings off of Provincetown this late summer and right up through the month of September. Brown boobies have long, pointed beaks for capturing fish, and adults have bright yellow feet that play a key role in their their courtship display.

Brown booby off Provincetown © Steve Arena

Brown booby off Provincetown © Steve Arena

Say’s Phoebe (Sayornis saya)

The Say’s phoebe inhabits open, arid regions and is seldom found in deep forest. It is a true bird of the west, where it breeds all the way from Alaska south to the Mexican border. During fall migration, however, a few birds often go astray and wander east as far as Massachusetts. Last month an individual was spotted on the island of Nantucket.

Say's phoebe © Lee H. Dunn

Say’s phoebe on Nantucket © Lee H. Dunn

Last Month in Birding: July 2015

In July, Massachusetts birders enjoyed another month of unusual sightings. Here are five of the most exciting of these observations as suggested by our experts.

Bridled tern (Onychoprion anaethetus)

A bird of tropical and subtropical oceans, the bridled tern is similar in size to our common tern, but is stouter and has striking black and white facial markings. Outside of the breeding period it spends most of its time over the open ocean, hovering over the surface and dipping its beak into the water to snag fish and other small sea creatures. A bridled tern was sighted in Nantucket in July.

Bridled tern © Lee H. Dunn

Bridled tern in Nantucket © Lee H. Dunn

Ruff (Philomachus pugnax)

A ruff observed on Plum Island last month was a long way from home: the species is native to parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa, breeding in the north and overwintering in the south. Though female and non-breeding male ruffs have an unremarkable appearance, during the breeding season the males display large feathery “ruffs” and battle vigorously for dominance on special display areas called leks. The species’ scientific name means “pugnacious lover of battle”.

Ruff © Steve Arena

Ruff at Plum Island © Steve Arena

White-winged dove (Zenaida asiatica)

This species looks somewhat like a mourning dove, but it has a chunkier body and a tail that is square rather than pointed. Though primarily a species of southern deserts, it is equally comfortable in suburban areas and frequently wanders quite far. Through the years its range has been gradually expanding northward; it often takes advantage of backyard feeders. One bird was briefly observed in Newburyport.

White-winged dove in Florida (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Kenneth Cole Schneider

White-winged dove in Florida (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Kenneth Cole Schneider

Fea’s petrel (Pterodroma feae)

This relatively rare seabird was named for Italian artist and zoologist Leonardo Fea, and its name is pronounced FAY-ah. It is a member of the tubenose order of birds (Procellariformes), and like other members of this group has the ability to excrete excess salt through tubes on its bill from special salt glands located above of its eyes. This petrel breeds on just a few islands in the Eastern Atlantic. When not nesting, it spends all of its time at sea. One bird was spotted over Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary—only the second record ever in Massachusetts and one of very few for North America!

Fea's Petrel © Steve Arena

Fea’s Petrel off Truro © Steve Arena

Sandwich tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis)

It’s easy to remember what a sandwich tern looks like: its beak has a yellow tip, which gives it the appearance of having been dipped in mustard. Juveniles may lack the yellow marking—perhaps they haven’t yet developed a taste for Dijon? The species is native to the southeastern US and the coasts of Central and South America. However, one wandered north to Nauset Marsh in Eastham this past month.

Sandwich Tern in Mexico  (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)  Sergey Yeliseev

Sandwich Tern in Mexico (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Sergey Yeliseev

Last Month in Birding: June 2015

It was another interesting month in Massachusetts birding. Let’s take a look at a few of the most exciting bird sightings as suggested by our experts.

“Brewster’s warbler” (Vermivora pinus x chrysoptera)

This beautiful animal is the fertile hybrid of two closely-related birds, the blue-winged warbler (Vermivora pinus) and the golden-winged warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera). The offspring of these species generally fall within two categories: the predominately yellow and rarer “Lawrence’s warbler” and the white and blue-grey “Brewster’s warbler.” In April we reported the sighting of a Lawrence’s warbler, and this past month a Brewster’s was seen at Westboro Wildlife Management Area.

Blue-winged warbler (left), golden-winged warbler (right) by John Sill

Blue-winged warbler (left), golden-winged warbler (right) by John Sill

"Brewster's" warbler ©  Steve Arena

“Brewster’s warbler” in Westboro © Steve Arena

Black skimmer (Rynchops niger)

The black skimmer has an amazingly mismatched bill: the lower half is much longer than the upper half. When looking for food, it skims the surface with its lower bill in the water, snapping up any suitable prey it touches. Also remarkable: black skimmers have a slit-like pupils similar to those of a cat. This is primarily a southern species, typically breeding south of Massachusetts, though one or two pairs often nest as far north as Massachusetts. Two were spotted at Duxbury beach last month.

Black skimmer in Florida CC BY-ND 2.0 Florida Fish and Wildlife

Black skimmer in Florida CC BY-ND 2.0 Florida Fish and Wildlife

Gull-billed tern (Gelochelidon nilotica)

This unique tern has a thicker beak than most other tern species, giving it a somewhat gull-like appearance. Its diet is less specialized than most of its relatives; it will happily eat fish, crustaceans, insects, lizards, and more. Its broad range includes parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, and Australia, as well as portions of coastal North America. One was observed last month on Plum Island. That’s slightly north of its regular range.

Gull-billed tern © Dave Williams

Gull-billed tern at Plum Island © Dave Williams

Yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea)

Night-herons are stout, relatively short-necked birds that often hunt at night, capturing a broad range of prey. They have startling red eyes. The black-crowned night-heron is more commonly spotted in our area than the yellow-crowned night-heron, and the latter typically spends the summer in the southeastern United States. Several were seen in the eastern part of the state.

Yellow-crowned night heron in Ipswich © Nathan Dubrow

Yellow-crowned night heron in Ipswich © Nathan Dubrow

Stilt sandpiper (Calidris himantopus)

This rather long-necked sandpiper has a bill that is slightly downturned at the tip, and it feeds by probing in mud, using a similar feeding style to that of a snipe a dowitcher. It breeds on the Arctic tundra and winters in the Caribbean and South America, generally appearing in Massachusetts in small numbers only during its fall migration. That’s why a sighting on June 16 on Plum Island was a nice surprise for this date.

Killdeer (top), Wilson's phalarope (left), lesser yellowlegs (center), and stilt sandpiper (right) © Dave Williams

Clockwise from top: killdeer, stilt sandpiper, lesser yellowlegs, and Wilson’s phalarope at Plum Island © Dave Williams

Last Month in Birding: May 2015

Each month we take a look at a few of the previous month’s bird sightings as suggested by our experts. Here are five of May’s most exciting observations.

Little gull (Hydrocoloeus minutes)

True to its name, this bird is the world’s smallest gull. It is common across much of Europe and Asia. In North America, a few little gulls have been breeding on the east coast since at least 1960, but this bird is still a rare sight. Last month, Massachusetts birders were amazed to note this species at three locations, including at least 10 birds at Hatches Harbor in Provincetown.

Little gulls (and one Bonaparte's gull), Hatches Harbor, Race Point, Provincetown © Ryan Merrill

Little gulls (and one larger Bonaparte’s gull), Hatches Harbor, Provincetown © Ryan Merrill

“Lawrence’s warbler” (Vermivora pinus x chrysoptera)

This fascinating bird is a hybrid, the result of a pairing between a blue-winged warbler (Vermivora pinus) and a golden-winged warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera). The offspring of these closely-related birds are usually fertile, and they generally fall within two broad color categories: the grey and white “Brewster’s warbler” and the golden “Lawrence’s warbler”. The Lawrence’s is the rarest possible outcome, since its traits are recessive. Two of these stunning birds were seen in May—one in Petersham and one in West Newbury.

Lawrence's warbler in West Newbury © Margo and Steve, webirdtoo

Lawrence’s warbler in West Newbury © Margo and Steve, webirdtoo

Mississippi kite (Ictinia mississippiensis)

A graceful raptor, the Mississippi kite eats insects. It is most commonly found in the Great Plains and the US southeast, but its range has been expanding by leaps and bounds, and it is now spotted almost every year in Massachusetts. In fact, this species has even been found nesting in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire in recent years. The reasons for its spread are probably numerous, but here is one contributing factor: Mississippi kites like open areas with scattered trees, a landscape pattern that people frequently create. Last month, several birds were seen on the Outer Cape, and individuals were also seen in Westboro and Amesbury.

Mississippi kite, Westboro © Steve Arena

Mississippi kite, Westboro © Steve Arena

Brown booby (Sula leucogaster)

This sleek seabird lives in many tropical oceans throughout much of the world, where it executes dramatic plunge dives for its prey, especially flying fish. It is related to the famous blue-footed booby, but its feet are yellowish. It does not currently breed in the US mainland. Last month during our annual Bird-a-thon fundraiser, two participants on a whale watch trip were thrilled to spot a brown booby off of Gloucester. No doubt it was a prized addition to their lists, as well as to the whole Bird-a-thon!

Brown booby in a more tropical locale, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Mark Yokoyama

Brown booby in a more tropical locale, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Mark Yokoyama

Chuck-will’s-widow (Antrostomus carolinensis)

Perhaps you’ve heard the night call of this species’ better-known relative, the whip-poor-will. The chuck-will’s-widow breeds mostly in the southeastern US, and it is the largest North American member of the group of aerial insect-eaters known as nightjars. Despite its size, this bird is hard to spot. Its feathers match the pattern of bark and leaves. However, its namesake nocturnal “chuck-will’s-widow” call is loud and incessant. One was heard calling in East Orleans during Mass Audubon’s Bird-a-thon fundraiser.

"Chuck-wills-widow RWD7" CC BY-SA 3.0 Dick Daniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chuck-wills-widow_RWD7.jpg#/media/File:Chuck-wills-widow_RWD7.jpg

Chuck-will’s-widow CC BY-SA 3.0 Dick Daniels (carolinabirds.org)

Last Month in Birding: April 2015

Once again it’s time to take a look at a few of last month’s most exciting bird sightings as suggested by our experts.

Swallow-tailed kite (Elanoides forficatus)

This spectacular raptor is named for the elegant tail with which it steers as it gracefully soars in search of flying insects and other prey. The species nests in the extreme southeastern United States, where today there are only about a thousand breeding pairs. Seeing even one swallow-tailed kite in Massachusetts is cause for excitement. A sighting of four swallow-tailed kites flying together over North Truro last month was unprecedented.

Swallow-tailed kite in Truro © Peter Flood

Swallow-tailed kite in Truro © Peter Flood

White-faced ibis (Plegadis chihi)

This bird is essentially the western version of the glossy ibis, a relatively uncommon wading bird that breeds along the east coast. The two species have a similar appearance, with rich burgundy and emerald feathers that shine with iridescence. However, the white-faced ibis has red legs, red eyes, and a reddish face thinly bordered in white. One individual was seen amongst a flock of glossy ibises, first in Essex and then later at various other locations nearby.

White-faced ibis in Essex CC Phil Brown

White-faced ibis (at right) in Essex CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Phil Brown

Crested caracara (Caracara cheriway)

Although it belongs to the falcon family, the crested caracara has a face that is partially naked like a vulture’s, and also has the vulture-like habit of often feeding on dead animals. The national bird of Mexico, it is usually only found in parts of Florida, Texas, and Arizona. Birders can only speculate about the origins of an individual photographed in flight over Chatham last month.

Crested caracara in Mexico Mark Watson

Crested caracara in Mexico CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Mark Watson

Wilson’s phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor)

Though it is a long-legged shorebird, the Wilson’s phalarope swims in open water, where it is sometimes seen spinning in circles to create a whirlpool that draws its invertebrate prey to the surface. Unusually, female phalaropes are more colorful than males. This species breeds in the northern US and southern Canada and migrates across the western part of the country. Two individuals seen in Rowley were at one of the locations where this species regularly pops up in Massachusetts.

Wilson's phalarope (flanked by greater yellowlegs) in Rowley © Steve Arena

Wilson’s phalarope (near the center, flanked by greater yellowlegs) in Rowley © Steve Arena

Yellow-throated warbler (Setophaga dominica)

This year’s spring influx of warblers is only just beginning, but in April one warbler in Carlisle managed to draw birders from quite a distance. This bird primarily breeds in the southeastern US, often preferring to nest in bald cypress swamps. Like a number of other species, it appears to be expanding its range northward. Hopefully this will translate into more frequent sightings in the future.

Yellow-throated warbler

Yellow-throated warbler in Arlington CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Jason Forbes


Last Month in Birding: March 2015

We take a look back at five of March’s most interesting bird sightings as suggested by our experts.

Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus)

This fast and powerful bird is the largest falcon in the world. It breeds in the arctic and irregularly winters farther south, but is rarely seen as far south as Massachusetts. The gyrfalcon comes in three variable color morphs: dark, intermediate gray, and white. A juvenile dark morph individual has been seen off and on at Salisbury and at several locations between New Hampshire and southern Maine for much of the winter.

Gyrfalcon in Salisbury © Margo & Steve, Flickr user webirdtoo

Gyrfalcon in Salisbury © Margo & Steve, Flickr user webirdtoo

Yellow-headed blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)

This large blackbird is typically found in wetlands in the central and western parts of the country. During the winter it may mix with other blackbird species as it searches for food in grain fields and wetlands. Males sport a brilliant yellow head and chest, and a male of this species was spotted in the Cumberland Farms fields off Route 105 in Middleboro.

Yellow-headed blackbird in Plymouth County © Justin Lawson

Yellow-headed blackbird, Cumberland Farms, Plymouth County © Justin Lawson

Greater white-fronted goose (Anser albifrons)

Though this species has a broad distribution across the Northern Hemisphere, it is not common east of the Mississippi River in the United States. In winter and during migration it may occasionally be seen foraging in fields and marshes in the company of other geese. Greater white-fronted geese tend to pair for life, and will often even migrate with their mate. This one was seen at Ellisville Harbor in South Plymouth.

Greater white-fronted goose in Plymouth © Stefanie Paventy

Greater white-fronted goose in Plymouth © Stefanie Paventy

Tufted duck (Aythya fuligula)

This duck derives its name from the ponytail-like tuft on the back of its head. An Old World species, it is common in Europe and Asia where it occupies a niche similar to the ring-necked duck in North America. Though sightings are still rare, they are becoming increasingly frequent winter wanders into North America on both the east and west coasts. This beautiful male was seen on the Merrimac River in Lowell and Newburyport.

Tufted duck in Lowell © Christine Sheridan

Tufted duck in Lowell © Christine Sheridan

Mew gull (Larus canus)

To add to the interesting mix of unusual gulls along our shores this winter, at least two mew gulls were spotted on the Lynn/Swampscott line at King’s Beach for several weeks this winter. This species is similar in many respects to the abundant North American ring-billed gull. Remarkably, two different mew gull subspecies from different geographic regions were present in Lynn. One was the western European race, and the other belonged to a population from northeastern Asia.

Mew gull at King's Beach  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0Phil Brown

Mew gull (right) at King’s Beach CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Phil Brown


Last Month in Birding: February 2015

We’re excited to announce a new blog feature that highlights some of the previous month’s most interesting bird sightings as suggested by our experts. Here are five discoveries from February.

Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) x Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) Hybrid

A hybrid of these two species appeared in the Annisquam River in Gloucester. Bearing a mix of characteristics, it is an intriguing and very unusual duck; not only do its parents belong to different species, but they also belong to two different scientific genera. Previously suspected hybrids of these birds have occasionally appeared in other parts of the country, including New York and Minnesota.

Common goldeneye x hooded merganser hybrid © Richard S. Heil

Common goldeneye x hooded merganser hybrid © Richard S. Heil

Male common goldeneye (left) and male hooded merganser (right). Credits NPS and R Mosco

Male common goldeneye (left) and male hooded merganser (right). Credits NPS and R Mosco

Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides)

This pale gull with white wingtips breeds in the high Arctic and typically winters in small numbers along the Atlantic Coast of the United States as far south as the mid-Atlantic states. Birdwatchers noted a major influx of these birds following the severe cold spell in February. Frostier temperatures further north may have pushed somewhat greater numbers than usual into southern New England. For example, over 130 were tallied in one day in East Gloucester alone.

Iceland gull © Ryan Schain

Iceland gull in Winthrop © Ryan Schain

Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena)

This medium-sized waterbird has a sharp, slender, yellowish beak and a white chin. It is seldom spotted inland during this season; recently, however, one was seen at Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Concord. Cold temperatures are likely to blame for its presence here: the hapless bird was likely frozen out of a large inland water body such as one of the Great Lakes or Lake Champlain.

Red-necked grebe CC BY 2.0 by Fyn Kynd

Red-necked grebe (photo taken in Maine) CC BY 2.0 by Fyn Kynd

Pacific Loon (Gavia pacifica)

This bird is smaller than our more familiar common loon, and in winter often displays a dark chinstrap, a more rounded head, and a sharper contrast between the dark sides of its neck and the white of its throat. This species breeds in the Arctic, and, true to its name, it is mostly seen on the Pacific Ocean. It is an unusual but not unheard-of visitor to the Massachusetts coast. This winter, one was spotted and photographed at Cathedral Ledge in Rockport.

Pacific loon in Rockport © Got Birds?

Pacific loon in Rockport © Flickr user Got Birds?

Bohemian Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulous)

Two waxwing species can be seen in the northeast: the smaller and more common cedar waxwing, which breeds in Massachusetts, and the larger Bohemian waxwing, which breeds in Canada and the northwestern US. The Bohemian waxwing is an erratic winter visitor that only rarely appears in the Commonwealth. A small influx of Bohemian waxwings began taking place early in the month. Keep an eye out for a larger and grayer waxwing with rusty feathers under the tail amid flocks of the more common cedar waxwings.

Bohemian waxwing in Quincy © Steven Whitebread

Bohemian waxwing in Quincy © Steven Whitebread