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A New Year

I started the year off on January 1st with a full day of birding. Patty O'Neill and I planned on finding a few of the local rarities which have been sticking around. We started off with the Grasshopper Sparrow in Mattapan, one of many great finds by Paul Peterson. Near Mass Audubon's Boston Nature Center, the bird has been hanging out next to an old gravel parking lot behind a Mass Biologics building. It proved very easy to find, flushing from a hidden spot in the mown grass up to a short pine tree. This is exactly what it did when I saw it the first time. It even flushed into the same tree. Thankfully, this bird is cooperative and reliable, as I've been duped by Grasshopper Sparrows in the past. We had some short but good views of the bird as it perched in the tree and then it flew back down to another hidden spot in the taller grasses and weeds and we moved on. We stopped at Milton Landing but had no luck with the eagles. Even with the early morning sun shining from the direction of the trees in which they normally perch, there clearly weren't any eagles. Several Common Mergansers, two Double-crested Cormorants, and a calling Northern Flicker made up for their absence, the latter two species being relatively good finds for January. The cormorants are regular at this spot in winter, often roosting on the docks. From here we drove to Weymouth for the continuing King Eider but unfortunately had no such luck even though it was seen later in the day. We did however, pick up an assortment of seabirds including Long-tailed Duck, Common Eider, Surf Scoter, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Loon, and Horned Grebe. Passerines were scarce as usual at this spot with three Northern Mockingbirds being the highlight. To the nearby Stodder's Neck in Hingham we picked up the Lark Sparrow almost immediately upon entering the park. There was some obvious sparrow action when we pulled into the lot and upon entering the gate, there were several Song Sparrows and I caught a very brief view of the continuing Audubon's Warbler. We were discussing where in the park the Lark Sparrow had been hanging out recently when it literally flushed from our feet. It flew only a few meters before it settled down into the grass again. We took a few minutes to enjoy the front-lit bird in front of us before we headed back to the car. At that moment I got a call from Dan Burton that there was a slew of postings on Massbird about a Prairie Falcon on Plum Island. Without much hesitation (as it would be a state bird for Patty, and certainly a life bird for me), Patty and I were back in the car and headed north.  From Hingham, it took approximately an hour to reach Plum Island where upon asking the throngs of birders it was clear the falcon hadn't been seen for several hours after it had taken off in a southerly direction. Nonetheless, we birded the island and picked up Snowy Owl, Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Harrier, Greater Scaup, Black Scoter, Red-throated Loon, and Red-necked Grebe among other birds. We ended the day by checking Cherry Hill Reservoir for the Greater White-fronted Goose, but came up empty with a mostly frozen pond and no birds in sight. The tally for the day was about 45 species.

In the morning on the 2nd I started out to check a couple of my local spots. A quick pass by Turner's Pond revealed a completely frozen pond with only a few Ring-billed Gulls roosting in the middle. Walking from there to the Milton Cemetery, I passed through Milton Academy where I was happy to add a calling Fish Crow. Entering the cemetery from Gun Hill St I had a Winter Wren calling in the creek just where I was hoping to find it. In the cemetery I soon had a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, which was an unexpected bonus. On the far side of the cemetery I found an unfrozen area of flooded creek with produced four shy Wood Ducks and eight even shyer Mallards. I tallied a few other birds for the year including Red-bellied and Downy Woodpecker (which we surprisingly didn't get on the 1st), Golden-crowned Kinglet, Carolina Wren, Mourning Dove, White-breasted Nuthatch (another surprise miss on the 1st), and American Goldfinch. Later in the day I was able to bird Jamaica and Leverett Ponds. Jamaica Pond was full of ducks with the new freeze. I imagine quite a few smaller ponds were frozen which tends to concentrate birds on the open ponds. American Coot, Pied-billed Grebe, Ruddy Duck, Hooded Merganser, Ring-necked Duck and Gadwall(!) were all new birds. A Mute Swan at Leverett was the only unique bird there. These tallies bring me to today with the addition of Hairy Woodpecker and Brown Creeper two days ago for a total of 65 species so far. Not entirely shabby.

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