Tag Archives: bird sightings

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