By Robert H. Stymeist, Statistician
During 2015, the Brookline Bird Club listed 295 species of birds on 182 reported trips, six species less than last year. A total of 257 trips were scheduled, just two less than last year; however, this year 27 trips were cancelled by weather, most of them during late January, most of February and even into March due to the four big snowstorms that gave Boston and most of the state the distinction of the snowiest winter on record. There were 48 trips that unfortunately went unreported. In Massachusetts the Club listed a total of 280 species. The additional 15 birds seen out of state were: Spruce Grouse, Gray Jay, and Boreal Chickadee from both Vermont and Maine, Black-backed Woodpecker from Vermont, and Arctic and Black tern, Atlantic Puffin, Nelson’s and Seaside sparrows from Maine. In New Hampshire, Bob Petersen extended his Newburyport trip to Seabrook for the Gyrfalcon, Laura de la Flor logged in Bicknell’s Thrush on her summer solstice trip, and on Steve Mirick’s coastal New Hampshire trip on November 1 they added four species not seen in Massachusetts: Redhead, Cattle Egret, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Orange-crowned Warbler! Overall 2015 was about average in terms of the number of trips scheduled and a little less in the number of birds reported. This year the Club scheduled 46 all day, 182 morning, 20 afternoon or evening, five pelagic, and four weekend trips.
One new species, a White-tailed Tropicbird, was added to the overall Brookline Bird Club list of birds. Imagine two species of tropicbirds on the August 22 Extreme Pelagic! The Red-billed Tropicbird was the second record for the Club, the first just last August from Hydrographer Canyon. The Prairie Falcon found on New Year’s Day on Plum Island would have been the first state record but was rejected when several photographs showed the bird had falconer’s jesses attached to one leg. Nonetheless birders on the trip were pretty excited, getting exceptional views.
Some of the more unusual species noted in 2015 included Greater White-fronted Goose in Ipswich, an American Avocet, a Sabine’s Gull at Race Point, an Ash-throated Flycatcher from Rockport, a Townsend’s Solitaire and a Summer Tanager from Plum Island. The extreme pelagic trips added, besides the the tropicbirds, the only sightings of Black-capped Petrel, Audubon’s Shearwater, White-faced, Leach’s and Band-rumped Storm-Petrels, Red-necked Phalarope, Long-tailed Jaeger, South Polar Skua, and Bridled Tern.
Missing from the Club list of routinely seen species in 2015 were Canvasback, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Little Blue Heron, Black Vulture, Sora Rail, Marbled Godwit, Northern Shrike, and Lapland Longspur. Five other species that are often found on Massachusetts trips—Redhead, Cattle Egret, Lesser-black-backed Gull, Orange-crowned Warbler and Seaside Sparrow—were noted from New Hampshire.
The Club visited Essex County most often, with a total of 84 trips (48 to Newburyport and Plum Island area, 24 to Cape Ann, as well trips to Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, three trips to Ipswich, and three to Nahant, and visits to Boxford, Manchester, and Topsfield). The trips in Essex County accounted for 219 species, which is 78% of all the birds reported on Club trips. Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge was second with 43 trips totaling 109 species, 24 of them warblers including a very cooperative Yellow-breasted Chat. There were 27 trips scheduled in the Metropolitan Boston area. Twenty-eight trips to Cape Cod and the South Shore recorded 185 species. There were 14 trips in the Sudbury River Valley area, which includes Great Meadows NWR, Oxbow NWR, and the Assabet NWR and 14 trips to areas in both central and western Massachusetts. There were five pelagic trips scheduled for a combined total of 37 species including twelve species that were not found anywhere else but on the high seas.
Out-of-state trips included a weekend trip to the Machias area and a weekend trip criss-crossing the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Ida Giriunas led her 32nd annual Club trip to the Machias area, which includes the famous Machias Seal Island, where an estimated 5,000 Atlantic Puffins are breeding. This island is fantastic; no matter where you stand thousands of birds surround you. In addition to the puffins the group tallied 1,500 Common Murre, almost 5,000 Razorbills, and 300 Arctic Terns. Other highlights of the Maine weekend were 24 Spruce Grouse, though most of those were tennis ball–sized young, several Boreal Chickadees, a Gray Jay, and ten Black Terns. A mid-June trip to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont logged in 109 species which included the “grand slam” of boreal birds: Spruce Grouse, Black-backed Woodpecker, Gray Jay, and Boreal Chickadee. In addition to 19 species of warblers, the group enjoyed pumping American Bitterns, winnowing Wilson’s Snipe, Olive-sided and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers and a chorus of Veery, Hermit, Swainson’s and Wood thrushes.
Highlights from the 2015 Brookline Bird Club Year
Laura de la Flor and Mark Burns as always opened up 2015 by leading their 19th annual New Year’s Day birding trip in the Newburyport area. Twenty-eight members enjoyed a mild of birding with temperatures in the upper 40s. During the customary welcoming toast of sparkling apple cider a hot line call came in that a probable Prairie Falcon was on the Refuge. Needless to say the trip bolted onto Plum Island. Everyone had great looks as the bird made several close approaches. Unfortunately, several photographs showed the bird had falconer’s jesses attached to one leg and was most likely an escaped bird. The group tallied 58 species including the only Greater White-fronted Goose seen during the year.
The weather turned nasty with the first bitter cold as early as January 8 when the temperature hit minus 1 in Boston, then the first of four major snow storms arrived dumping a record 108.6 inches of snow, surpassing the previous record of 107.6 inches set in 1995–96. A total of 21 trips during January-March were cancelled because of weather
The 2015 winter meeting of the Club was on Friday, February 27, at the John Glenn Middle School in Bedford. Mark Lynch and Sheila Carroll presented a comprehensive tour of birding as well as all other aspects of nature of Central Massachusetts and the Blackstone Valley, which continues into Rhode Island. The spring meeting at the Harvard Museum of Natural History on April 24 featured Massachusetts resident Dorian Anderson, who left a post-doctoral position at Mass General Hospital to pursue a yearlong biking and birding adventure. During 2014 he biked nearly 18,000 miles around the United States and recorded an amazing 617 species. Dorian was very entertaining as he relived this unique birding adventure. The guest speaker at the fall lecture meeting at Harvard on October 16 was Tom French, the assistant director of the Mass Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, who presented an informative history of the division’s work and his involvement with the Endangered Species Program.
Spring trips to Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge recorded 109 species including 24 species of warblers wwith great looks at several Cape May and a very cooperative Yellow-breasted Chat. Glenn d’Entremont led four Thursday morning trips to Moose Hill in Sharon and tallied 55 species and among the 14 species of warblers was a very cooperative Cape May on May 12. In June the Club focus is on breeding birds, and on June 6 Linda Ferraresso organized a trip to Westover Air Force Base in Chicopee to see nesting grassland species. The Club had great looks at 10 Upland Sandpipers, four Grasshopper Sparrows and over 15 Eastern Meadowlarks; all of these species are of critical concern in the Northeast. Mount Greylock is visited every year by the Club, and this year the Club tallied 82 Red-eyed Vireos and 32 Ovenbirds in those Berkshire Hills.
Summer trips are highlighted by morning and evening trips to Plum Island searching for early migrating shorebirds and flocks of herons flying to roost. On August 2 the Club recorded the only American Avocet of the year, and other noteworthy shorebirds found on the refuge included a Baird’s, Buff-breasted and Western sandpipers on August 29.
Two of the five scheduled pelagic trips had to be cancelled because of weather. The three trips that ran recorded 37 species; the Extreme Pelagic trips are the most exciting. The July 18 trip recorded nearly 200 Cory’s Shearwaters including at least two Scopoli’s type. A total of 196 Leach’s Storm-Petrels were tallied (the highest count ever on these trips) and two well-photographed Band-rumped Storm-Petrels. The marine mammal show was also fantastic, with three species of dolphin and close encounters with a Fin Whale. The August 22–23 Extreme Pelagic was an outstanding success. The Club recorded its first-ever White-tailed Tropicbird, with one on August 22 and three on August 23; a Red-billed Tropicbird was also seen. Both tropicbirds gave everyone on board fantastic views. A record number of at least 16 White-faced and as many as 17 Band-rumped Storm-Petrels were tallied.
The fall migration started off with a two-day Cape Cod Blitz hitting the hot spots on the outer Cape from Wellfleet to Provincetown with a total of 117 species. Highlights included incredible numbers of shearwaters off Race Point; among them we found an adult Little Gull and an adult Sabine’s Gull. The passerine migration was lackluster and we found no Philadelphia Vireos, the first time this species was missed on this weekend. For the second year, Karsten Hartel led a combined Brookline and Menotomy Bird Club walk every Wednesday during September and October to Danehy Park in Cambridge. The combined total of the eight walks was 61 species including 11 species of warblers, a Philadelphia Vireo, and a Clay-colored Sparrow. October is the height of the sparrow migration, and the Club visits community gardens in Wayland and Newton as wells as the Cumberland Farms fields and Bolton Flats. A combined Owl Prowl with the South Shore Bird Club in mid-October logged in five Screech and four Barred Owls in the south shore towns of Halifax and Middleboro.
November and December found our members visiting Cape Ann six times and the Plum Island/Newburyport area six times. On November 21 Bill Drummond led seven members on a memorable trip around Cape Ann highlighted by re-finding the Townsend’s Solitaire at Halibut Point State Park that was first noted on November 12. On December 12 Bob Peterson found the Club’s only Common Murre of the year and added Ash-throated Flycatcher for the last new bird, the 295th bird of 2015.
At the end of the year the Club suspends scheduled trips so that our members can participate in the Christmas Bird Counts (CBC). There are 34 count circles in Massachusetts .
A total of 62 leaders guided our members around the state throughout the year. All of our dedicated leaders deserve a special thank-you including several leaders that deserve recognition for not only many years of leading but the number of trips each year they lead. Ida Giriunas, the energizer bunny that keeps going and going, led a total of 24 trips, including organizing the extreme pelagic trips that have put the Brookline Bird Club on the map as a premier destination for pelagic birding! Glenn d’Entremont led 17 trips, all south of Boston and many of which were co-sponsored with the South Shore Bird Club. Jonathan Center and Eddie Giles each led 11 trips, and another eight dedicated leaders accounted for eight or more trips each.
The biggest trip list this year was Glenn d’Entremont’s South Shore Century Run, recording 113 species on May 9. This trip, entirely within Plymouth County, recorded the Club’s only Upland Sandpiper and Worm-eating Warbler seen in Massachusetts in 2015. Other highlights included a late Red-necked Grebe, three Barred Owls, two Vesper Sparrows, and a Pine Siskin.
In the following table you can see which trip in each month recorded the most species; this may help in planning
for a big year of birding.
January 1 Essex County 58 species Laura de la Flor, leader
February n/a; ten trips cancelled because of record snowstorms
March n/a; seven trips cancelled due to several snowstorms
April 27 Nahant to Marblehead 55 species Linda Pivacek, leader
May 9 So. Shore Century Run 113 species Glenn d’Entremont, leader
June 20 Mt. Greylock area 68 species Glenn d’Entremont, leader
July 3 Quabbin area 63 species Glenn d’Entremont, leader
August 15 Plum Island 63 species Sabrina Hepburn, leader
September 20 P’town-Truro 99 species Bob Stymeist, leader
October 3 Outer Cape Cod 62 species Glenn d’Entremont, leader
November 28 Outer Cape Cod 73 species Glenn d’Entremont, leader
December 13 Plum Island 40 species Zack Weber, leader
The Club recorded nearly 75% of all the birds that were noted during 2015—pretty impressive! A total of at least 373 species were observed and reported by birders across the state during 2015.
Weather-wise 2015 was the warmest year world-wide on record, surpassing that record just last year!