Tag Archives: bird sightings

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