Pulaski Park

Last weekend marked MassAudubon’s 30th-annual ‘Bird-a-thon‘ fundraiser. The idea: log as many species as possible within a 24-hour period. The event runs from 6 p.m. Friday through 6 p.m. Saturday.

I set a goal of logging 50 species within walking distance of Holyoke’s downtown neighborhoods. Friday evening and Saturday morning were promising — but despite the good weather, new sightings slowed down Saturday afternoon. My little team, which also included Holyoke resident and fellow blogger Sonia Barrera, ended up logging a total of 45 species. Not bad, considering most of the habitat we surveyed included urban parks and industrial tracts.

A few highlights included my first-ever Yellow Warblers in Holyoke; a Killdeer (also a Holyoke first for me) that landed near my feet by an electrical substation on Water Street; a Ruby-throated Hummingbird that paid a visit as dozens of shad fishermen tended to their hobby nearby; and an Eastern Kingbird, seen at a distance, that briefly confounded us until Sonia nailed the ID.

In addition to a multitude of Yellow Warblers, we spotted a Black-and-white Warbler, a few Yellow-rumped Warblers and an American Redstart. There were a number of Warbling Vireos out, too, as well as a male and female Baltimore Oriole out behind the paper mills near the river.

Missing from the list were the woodpeckers (mostly Downy and Red-bellied) that I often see, as well as the Belted Kingfisher that’s almost always a sure bet out near the river.

While we didn’t hit my 50-species goal, sticking so close to home reinforced the idea that you don’t have to go anywhere fancy to see really interesting birds. At one point, a Yellow Warbler perched on a utility line right by Water Street. Any kid living in the Flats could see that bird, and that’s awesome.

Below, a slideshow of photos I shot during our time in the field. I’ll post the full list in the days ahead.

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After wondering on Sunday whether Holyoke had habitat suitable for Savannah Sparrows, I was able to answer my own question pretty quickly.

I found about 6 Savannahs in Pulaski Park yesterday, near the canal:

savannah-sparrow-424-250 savannah-sparrow-424-file000374

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

There was also a Chipping Sparrow hanging around:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

It’s shaping up to be a very interesting spring here in the city.



This gallery contains 11 photos.

While I do most of my birding in the heart of Holyoke, I find it helpful to take regular trips to more traditional birding hotspots around the Pioneer Valley. Checking in at places like Arcadia, where the bird populations tend to be a bit more robust and varied, helps me keep tabs on when migratory …

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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

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.

A pair of House Finches on Maple Street. (c) Greg Saulmon 2011

The streets were all shade but the late afternoon light filled the treetops and sparked the crosses atop the steeples at St. Jerome and Mater Dolorosa. All the sounds of approaching evening in Holyoke were there, too: the buses, the Pentecostal church band rehearsing in the building next door, and bird songs.

I shot the photo above at 5:25 p.m. outside Czelusniak Funeral Home near the corner of Hampden and Maple streets. I had to look this bird up; at first I thought it was a Purple Finch, but after reading Cornell’s comparison of Purple, Cassin’s and House Finches I’m leaning toward the latter. Purple Finches have a “deeply notched” tail while House Finches sport a tail that’s only “slightly” notched. That notch looks slight to me.

I walked through Pulaski Park next, from the American Legion Post down to the spray park. Two kids with a football were running passing patterns next to the basketball court.

It’s hard to say what they were thinking as I walked in circles under a honey locust tree, putting a cramp in my neck as I tried to get a clear shot of a Downy Woodpecker way up in the branches. The bird was tapping away at the tree’s banana-shaped seed pods, offering its distinctive “pik” call every so often. It was approaching 6 p.m. Click the photo to enlarge, for what it’s worth.

Soon a Mockingbird burst into song in a nearby tree, and I followed it over to Lyman Street. It sat on a strand of barbed wire outside Taft Power Equipment as a group of gulls flew high overhead.

I shot the photo at right from the opposite side of the street. After getting a “safety” shot I crossed, lined up a good closeup shot and watched as the bird disappeared just as I pressed the shutter.

My route home took me by Open Square, where I saw two Red-tailed Hawks. I’ll have a gallery from that sighting in my next post.