Tag Archives: bird sightings

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