Heritage State Park

A few common birds that I don’t see too often in Heritage State Park were hanging around this morning.


I saw the female Cardinal only; she spent a lot of time singing, but no male showed up while I watched her. I’ve seen a male Cardinal somewhat regularly near a vacant lot on Race Street, but I believe this is the first time I’ve seen either a male or female in the park.

A handful of Blue Jays have also been making appearances over the last few days:


And, in addition to the pair of Canada Geese nesting along one of the canals, I’ve seen a lot of geese using the canals as a sort of flyway. Here’s one half of a pair that flew through the city this morning:


Holyoke’s latest spring arrival appears to be an Eastern Phoebe that I’ve seen flitting around Heritage State Park the past two mornings:



I’ve also been hearing a woodpecker in the neighborhood, and this morning I finally tracked it down — it was a Downy, bashing away at a tree in Lyman Terrace:


Below, audio of the woodpecker:


Black-capped Chickadees present an interesting question. I’ve only observed them in Heritage State Park twice over the past year or so — but does that actually mean they’re infrequent visitors?

More likely, their periods of high activity haven’t coincided with my visits, or they’ve been out and about in one corner of the park while I’ve been distracted in another.

The one above was among a group of three last Sunday.

Also present were a few regulars: House Sparrows and a pair of Northern Mockingbirds:



(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.

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(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,

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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.

(c) Greg Saulmon 2012

(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

I found a pair of Downy Woodpeckers in Heritage State Park during a short walk Monday afternoon. Above, the female; and, below, the male:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2012

In other brief news, after a few months without seeing either of the Peregrine Falcons downtown, I noticed one perched atop City Hall this morning. I’m heading back out with a camera now for a longer observation.

After a winter full of juncos, starlings, and the downtown area’s resident hawks and falcons, last week’s record warm weather seems to have spurred the arrival of a few new feathered friends: grackles and mockingbirds.

Both birds have a year-round range that includes all of Massachusetts, and I did spot mockingbirds here and there over the winter — but now I’m seeing both species in numbers. The grackles, in particular, have been filling up Heritage State Park with their short, sometimes abrasive calls. They’re gorgeous birds, a little iridescent and colored like oil on wet pavement.

Below, photos I’ve shot over the past week, mostly in Heritage State Park and along the canal.

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