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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(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

On a short walk through Pulaski Park this morning I spotted my first-ever American Redstart. It was hanging out way up in a tree, so I only managed a few photos that were just good enough for a positive ID. When I made a return trip this afternoon, though, two more were flitting about near the train tracks behind the VFW post.

They don’t sit still for very long, so they’re difficult little birds to photograph. The dappled sunlight at the edge of the woods made getting a good exposure tricky, too, but the shot above and the two below are a few of the frames I managed to capture.

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

A few yards from the Redstarts, I almost walked right past this little guy, which I think is a juvenile Mourning Dove:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

After observing for a few minutes to see if an adult returned, a sibling popped up:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

 

Also in the park today was this Northern Parula. When I shot the photo below, the sky was extremely overcast and it was very hard to make out colors or field marks. The bird was very high in a tree, and all I could see were splashes of yellow and gray. I thought I was looking at one of the many Yellow-rumped Warblers I’ve seen in the park recently, until I got home and took a closer look.

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

Adding to the first-I’ve-seen-in-Holyoke streak was this Common Yellowthroat:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

And this female Scarlet Tanager:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

To round out what felt like a productive day of birding in the city, I think I found a White-breasted Nuthatch nest in the park:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

Two nuthatches were making frequent trips to this hole, bringing smalls insects and other morsels with each visit.

Today’s sightings bode well for Mass Audubon’s Bird-a-thon 2013, which I’ll be participating in next weekend. A tradition marking its 30th year, Bird-a-thon is a fundraiser that sees teams across the state attempting to log as many species as possible over the course of a weekend.

Last year’s winning team, from the Drumlin Farm sanctuary, logged an impressive 236 species in 24 hours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

Three chicks have hatched at downtown Holyoke’s Red-tailed Hawk nest.

I got my first look at one of them last Saturday morning, in a view from above the nest. The little chick was huddled close against its parent (above), its siblings hidden from view.

Today, though, was the first day I’ve been able to see the little ones from the ground. One tottered around the nest, craning its neck to see over the edge, with one sibling barely in view and the other hiding out toward the rear of the nest:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

It’s hard to believe these new arrivals will be ready to fly in just over a month, and ready to strike out on their own just a few weeks after that. I stopped seeing the young hawks from last year’s brood around mid-July. This year, that day will again come sooner than I’d like.

Today’s observation had another interesting twist: while watching the chicks on the nest, I heard a commotion on a nearby rooftop and turned to see two raptors taking flight. One of the other parents, of course, but what was the second bird?

It turned out to be a Peregrine Falcon, and the two sparred briefly before the falcon fled:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

I’ve been seeing the falcons very irregularly this year, but it’s good to know they’re still visiting the city.

 

 

 

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

I had the day off, which basically led to an all-out birding bender in downtown Holyoke.

The Black-throated Green Warbler above, which I spotted in Pulaski Park a little after 7 a.m., was one of many highlights. I took walks through the park in both the morning and afternoon, and saw a good variety of birds.

There were Black-and-white Warblers in the park both early in the morning and at mid-afternoon. This one was hanging around in a back corner of the park near VFW Post 351:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

There were several Yellow-rumped Warblers in the woods between the park and the river:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

A White-breasted Nuthatch was munching on spiders and other goodies:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

I was hoping to spot some of the Savannah Sparrows that I found in the park the other day, and this White-throated Sparrow almost tricked me — until I got close enough for a good look:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

There have been several Northern Cardinals in the park on my last few visits:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

And, today, there were quite a few Chipping Sparrows. This one was part of a small flock outside the VFW:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

Elsewhere in the city, Canada Geese were hanging around Slim Shad Point:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

There were House Finches in Heritage State Park:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

More Chipping Sparrows at a brownfield site that’s being cleaned up on Appleton Street:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

The male American Kestrel found a meal near the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

I spotted this Common Grackle near the old Parsons Paper Mill on Sargeant Street:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

And, this female Downy Woodpecker was foraging in a vacant lot on Lyman Street:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

Here’s my full list from Pulaski Park today: