NEW ENGLAND 2010
Birdfinders ventured to New England for the first time in 2010. The tour was a perfect combination of the famous fall foliage, for which New England in justly renowned, and some very dynamic birding at the peak of autumn migration.
After arriving in Boston, we stayed on the beautiful Rye Coast in New Hampshire where we found seabirds, shorebirds, passerine migration and some much sough-after species such as Northern Saw-whet Owl and Saltmarsh Sparrow. We even had a Northern Saw-whet Owl right behind our hotel one evening after dinner! And there were also two sparrow sub-species endemic to the North-east Atlantic Coast with the subvirgatus form of Nelson's Sparrow, and the large, pale 'Ipswich' form of Savannah Sparrow. We enjoyed large numbers of Common and Red-throated Loons, swirls of Snow Buntings over the dunes, and even a couple of rarities with Curlew Sandpiper and White-winged Crossbill both seen at the famous Plum Island.
After three days we transferred to the Pioneer Valley spending three nights inland at South Deerfield. On the way we successfully 'twitched' a Barnacle Goose, extremely rare in North America.
Our base in South Deerfield served as a natural stepping stone for a full day in the north-east kingdom of Vermont, just a few miles shy of the Canadian border. We hoped for boreal zone species and found them all – Spruce Grouse, Black-backed Woodpecker, Gray Jay and Boreal Chickadee. As if that wasn't enough there was also a brief Northern Shrike, a flock of Pine Siskins and a Ruffed Grouse feeding furtively on the dirt road in front of us – just fantastic!
Leaving the Pioneer Valley for Outer Cape Cod amid squally conditions, birding opportunities were few on the long drive but we found late season swallows (Tree and Cliff Swallows and Sand Martin) and a nice range of sparrows including White-crowned and Lincoln's, all at Cumberland Farm fields near Middleboro. Our first morning on the Outer Cape dawned extremely foggy but curiously this worked to our advantage. When the fog rolled back we found Great Shearwaters, Northern Gannets, and Arctic and Long-tailed Skuas just yards offshore. Close examination of the terns revealed a few late Roseate Terns amongst the many Common and Forster's Terns. Our base in Eastham provided a superb hub for exploring the Cape with many fine birding spots close to the motel. It also provided a brilliant evening with an on-site Eastern Screech-owl! At First Encounter beach we saw huge flights of American Eiders, with some Razorbills and a couple of Manx Shearwaters close to shore and even had to look up at passing Northern Gannets flying overhead! Despite the late date, we found wood-warblers including tens of Yellow-rumped, a few Blackpoll, Palm, Orange-crowned, a very handsome Prairie Warbler, and most intriguing of all, a likely Connecticut Warbler.
For the most part the weather was agreeable but rather unpredictable. After all the locals do say, "if you don't like the weather in New England….wait a minute!" That's actually a pretty good summary of our experience as the weather ranged from cold with snow showers on the first morning to positively balmy on our day in Vermont.
In terms of highlights, well the group consensus leaned towards to the autumnal scenery of New England and the owls. We found five species: Great Horned, Short-eared, Northern Saw-whet, Eastern Screech and a Barred Owl that gave us all a heart-stopping a moment when it called incredibly close to us after we'd just heard a Northern Saw-whet Owl. Other highlights that spring to mind and not mentioned above include: Great Cormorant, American Bittern, Snow Goose, Black, White-winged and Surf Scoters, Bald Eagle, Northern Goshawk, American Woodcock (in off the sea!), White-rumped Sandpiper, Bonaparte's, Lesser Black-backed and Nelson's Gulls, Bobolink, Rusty Blackbird and Dickcissel.
This was an extremely successful first time tour and I'm grateful to all of our tour participants for making it so enjoyable. The next New England tour will take place in October 2011. Please enjoy this gallery of images taken by Bob Bailey and me on the 2010 Birdfinders tour of New England.
James P. Smith