Monthly Archives: January 2013

I’ll be giving a talk about my adventures birding here in Holyoke on Wednesday, Jan. 30 at MassAudubon’s Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton.

The talk is scheduled for 7-9 p.m. and the cost is $5 for MassAudubon members, $7 for nonmembers.

You can register online and find a program description at Arcadia’s website.

I’m looking forward to sharing some of my favorite images appearing on the blog over the past year, and sharing some of my thoughts about why birding in a city matters.

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

A small group of Golden-crowned Kinglets brought a little color to an otherwise gloomy day. I photographed the one above behind the factory that was once home to the Gill division of American Writing Paper, between Water Street and the Connecticut River.

The tiny birds — weighing about as much as two pennies — are one of the miracles of animal survival. Somehow, they can withstand the freezing winter nights of the north, huddling together in conifers.

What else do they do to survive? From an episode of BirdNote:

Bernd Heinrich, a biologist at the University of Maine, tried to answer that question. He found that the kinglets move through the forest in small flocks and feed constantly, at almost one peck per second, throughout the short day. By this activity, they take in enough tiny caterpillars to keep their bodies going. [“Kinglets in Winter,” Dennis Paulson]

Heinrich’s 2003 book, Winter World, explores how a number of species weather the winter. Kinglets, it turns out, stick out the season of scarce food by relying on a species of moth larvae that spends the winter on tree branches instead of underground.

For more on Golden-crowned Kinglets, see Vermont blogger Chris Patrick’s excellent post on the species.

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

After I posted about the Pine Grosbeaks in Heritage State Park last Sunday, a local birder visited the park to look for them. While there, he found — to his surprise — a Black-and-white Warbler. He reported the sighting on a Facebook group devoted to birding in western Massachusetts.

After a week in which I managed a scant 10 minutes of birding while waiting for a city employee to copy some documents for me at Holyoke City Hall, I finally got out this afternoon.

I spotted the warbler within just a few minutes leaving my apartment. It was in a small row of trees bordering a walkway between the parking deck at City Hall and Holyoke District Court.

From there, I watched as the bird visited a number of trees in the parking, mingling with Juncos and at one point foraging just a few limbs away from a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk.

I’d gathered that Black-and-white Warblers were not an extremely common sight in Massachusetts in January. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s range map for the species shows the bird wintering no further north than the coast of South Carolina, with most of its winter range covering Florida, Mexico, Central America and parts of South America.

But just how uncommon is a sighting in Holyoke at this time of year?

Image provided by eBird ( and created Jan. 12, 2013.

Image provided by eBird ( and created Jan. 12, 2013. Click to enlarge. >>View interactive version

A map of data from eBird, at right, shows Black-and-white Warbler sightings reported during the month of January for the years 2009-2013.

The pale lavender squares represent eBird’s lowest level of frequency for sightings (0-2%).

From Virginia north into Canada, sightings have only been reported in Boston and the New York City and Washington, D.C. areas in January for the 2009-2013 span.

January sightings of the species, a ‘notable’ bird in eBird’s database, don’t pick up until well into South Carolina.

No western Massachusetts sightings are recorded in this data set.

That, of course, doesn’t mean that other people haven’t seen them, or that the birds haven’t been here. It only means they haven’t been reported through the eBird system.

Still, coupling the eBird data with the warbler’s range map suggests that seeing one in downtown Holyoke at this time of year is a rare treat.

Below, more photos from this afternoon.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I had an unexpected 10 minutes to kill on Tuesday while running an errand at City Hall; so, I took the opportunity to take a quick walk through Heritage State Park to see if I could find the Black-and-white Warbler spotted earlier this week.

No warbler was in sight, but the Pine Grosbeaks were back, in the same tree where I saw them Sunday. I’m looking forward to putting in some solid hours birding the city this weekend — there’s been a lot of interesting activity lately.

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

After several weeks of hearing reports of Pine Grosbeaks in the region — mostly over in the Quabbin area — I finally found a pair Sunday morning in Heritage State Park, gorging on berries.

Here’s another angle:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

Also on Sunday, I found two Common Redpolls mingling with a few American Goldfinches behind the former Albion Paper Mill, near the Connecticut River:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

After I posted about the grosbeaks in a Facebook group for Western Massachusetts birders, one member decided to scope out Heritage State Park and ended up spotting a Black-and-White Warbler — a rarity in the area at this time of year,

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

With a stiff wind wrestling an already weak sun into submission, I spent about two hours this afternoon to kick off 2013 with an inventory of the birds that are sticking out winter in the city. Here’s what I saw:

  • 60 European Starlings (estimate)
  • 30 Canada Geese (in flight)
  • 24 Mallards
  • 15 Dark-eyed Juncos
  • 12 Rock Pigeons
  • 5 House Sparrows
  • 5 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 3 American Robins
  • 2 Cooper’s Hawks (1 adult, 1 juvenile)
  • 1 Bald Eagle
  • 1 Red-tailed Hawk
  • 1 Northern Mockingbird

This was a fairly confined area: I started out in Heritage State Park, where I saw the Robins, Juncos, the immature Cooper’s Hawk, and several Mallards in the canal. One of the Red-tails was roosting up on City Hall. I then took a swing through Pulaski Park, where I found the adult Cooper’s Hawk and spotted the eagle out over the river.

Food seems to be getting scarce: Most of the berry trees in Heritage State Park have been picked over, with one or two still flush with a decent supply. A handful of the pine trees have cones. The Juncos were spending their time in the pines and in one of the trees that still had berries; several foraged on popcorn that someone had spilled outside the Children’s Museum.