A Red-breasted Nuthatch on the Holyoke Community College campus. (c) Greg Saulmon 2012
On Saturday I participated in my first Christmas Bird Count.
The annual census organized by the National Audubon Society is a 113-year-old tradition that sends volunteers into the field to count — well, every single bird they see over the course of a day. Audubon and other organizations use the data, collected this year between Dec. 14, 2012 and Jan. 5, 2013, to monitor bird populations and set strategies for conservation.
I had the good luck of joining up with Tom Gagnon of Florence, who’s been doing this for 40 years and has somewhere around 150 Christmas Bird Counts under his belt. For his first of several CBC outings this year, he was scheduled to survey the birds around the Ashley Reservoir neighborhood in Holyoke. Our effort took us to several spots around the ponds, through the campus of Holyoke Community College, along a rail line and even to the KMart Plaza on Route 5 to check on the neighborhood gulls.
Some highlights included a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a Golden-crowned Kinglet and a few of the many Red-breasted Nuthatches that have been turning up in Western Massachusetts this season. In all, we logged 37 species for the day, including the pair of Peregrine Falcons up on City Hall that I saw when I was leaving my apartment in the morning.
Below, our tally sheet for the day. A second group checked out another area of Holyoke, and I’ll post those numbers when I get them.
A Cooper’s Hawk roosts in Springfield’s South End. (c) Greg Saulmon 2012
After several sightings of Cooper’s Hawks in Holyoke in November and early December, I wasn’t too surprised to see one perched in a tree on Margaret Street in Springfield’s South End the other morning.
A man stopped his car as I peered up into a tree, where two crows were scolding the hawk.
“You see a bird?” he said.
“Cooper’s Hawk,” I said.
He asked what the differences were between Red-tailed and Cooper’s Hawks. I rattled off a few field marks to watch for.
“I could tell you saw something. I’m a bird guy, too,” he said before driving off.
So, are we seeing an influx of Cooper’s Hawks in Massachusetts as we head into winter?
I posed the question to Mass Audubon, via Twitter.
“Not really,” was the reply. “Cooper’s hawks are increasing their overall population to the point where they’re just becoming more conspicuous.”
(c) Greg Saulmon 2012
Right after I posted earlier today about the Cooper’s Hawks I’ve been seeing in Holyoke, I took a short walk to see what birds would be out and about in today’s light snow.
Within about 10 minutes I found this male Cooper’s Hawk in Heritage State Park. He was perched up near the top of a tree, and stayed there for about an hour while I watched him.
This is about the fourth or fifth consecutive time I’ve seen a Cooper’s Hawk in downtown Holyoke when I’ve gone out to look for birds.
(c) Greg Saulmon 2012
Over the past few weeks I’ve been seeing at least two different Cooper’s Hawks in the city with some regularity.
I’ve spotted a juvenile, above, hunting in Pulaski Park and perched atop the Canal Gallery on Dwight Street.
There’s also an adult male that I haven’t managed to photograph yet. I’ve seen him flying over Hampden Street just downhill from the Stop & Shop, and hanging around out behind the Crocker paper mill by the river.
I’m curious to see whether they’re just passing through, or if they’ll be permanent residents around town.