This week’s “I can’t believe it’s snowing!” weather event not withstanding, migration definitely is happening throughout the Upper Valley! Reports enumerating the latest arrivals are growing in number and length. The lists include sightings of early returning spring migrants of all types such as waterfowl, raptors, waders, and passerines (perching birds aka songbirds).
In the Hanover/Norwich area, large numbers of robins, sometimes in flocks numbering as many as 150 individuals, are passing through. The red-winged blackbird and common grackle counts have gone from small numbers of “scouts” last week to flocks including scores of them. I had my first red-winged blackbird at the feeders last Friday. Yesterday on Lyme’s N. River Rd near the Orford line, I encountered a mixed flock of grackles and red-wingeds that easily topped 120 birds.
Waterfowl sightings include growing numbers of Canada geese as well as hooded and common mergansers. A stop yesterday morning at the Kendall Station - Ompompanoosuc River area yesterday morning turned up 19 hooded mergansers. It also was an opportunity to see the celebrated horned grebe, an uncommon visitor in our area that has been drawing a steady flow of camera toting birders to the inlet at Kendall Station Road.
For me, American kestrels are the most eagerly anticipated "returners." These diminutive, strikingly patterned falcons return to the same sites every year. I started searching the utility lines that pass through the hay fields that line Lyme’s N. Thetford and E. Thetford Roads about ten days ago. Monday I got separate kestrel sighting reports for each road, and Tuesday I went out to see for myself. Sure enough, there was one kestrel on N. Thetford Rd. and a pair on E. Thetford Rd. just as in years past. But there was an unexpected bonus; a single kestrel was perched on a wire overlooking a field on N. River Rd. just north of Parsons Farm.
For those readers who would like to get out and see the annual spring migration spectacle, there are numerous opportunities along the Connecticut River from the Massachusetts line up through the Thetford/Lyme area, and that area of opportunity will expand northward as the migrants make their passage farther upriver.
Interested in waterfowl? On the Connecticut’s Vermont side some ten miles north of the Mass line, the Vernon Dam on VT Rt. 142 is a fruitful destination. Scores of ducks, geese and mergansers like the large impoundment behind the dam. Nearby, in the shadow of the Vermont Yankee power plant are the fields of Miller’s Farm, a popular foraging spot for geese and sometimes exotic waterfowl. Indeed, a Eurasian wigeon, rarely seen in this region, was reported from there on Wednesday.
Staying on the Connecticut’s VT side, there are several good waterfowl viewing areas going north on US Rt. 5 from I-91’s Exit 7. The Black River’s outflow into the Connecticut usually turns out a good variety of waterfowl species such as common mergansers and wood ducks. Just up the road, Springfield Meadows is a popular goose stopover. Occasionally some rarities show up there too. Sara Eisenhauer of VINS located four greater white-fronted geese there last weekend, a species seen here only in migration.
Windsor’s Lake Runnemede has been mentioned here before and rightfully so. It offers an opportunity to see not only waterfowl like northern shovelers and ring-necked ducks, but the park’s fields and brushy perimeter bring in a variety of songbirds. The first yellow-rumped warblers were reported on Tuesday, and eastern bluebirds, northern cardinals and a song sparrow also have been reported.
The New Hampshire side of the river offers several good waterfowl viewing sites going north from the Vernon Dam. The dam’s impoundment also is viewable from the NH side. A bit farther north on NH Rt. 119 are the Hinsdale “setbacks.” Up near Rt. 63’s junction with Rt. 12 is the Chickering Farm Complex is worth a look as are the agricultural fields at Walpole’s Malnati Farm just across the road from where Main St. merges with Rt. 12.
Great Meadow off of Rt. 12A in Charlestown gets high marks right now. A report yesterday on the NH Birds list-serv listed ten different waterfowl species including northern pintails, bufflehead and ring-necked ducks.
Don’t have time to make those drives? Just get out locally. There is so much activity, it is almost a certainty you’ll see something of interest. Yesterday, VT VT Center for Ecostudies Director Chris Rimmer recorded a remarkable number of killdeer, 39 individuals, just visiting a few sites in Norwich!
Not sure where to go? Consider participating in a birding outing. The Mascoma Chapter of NH Audubon will be hosting one on Saturday, April 18 that will travel up the Connecticut's NH side from Hanover to Lyme. See www.masomabirds.org for details.Maybe seeing the spectacular male American woodcock mating display is something you've wanted to see. The Hanover Conservancy and the Mascoma Chapter are both sponsoring woodcock outings. Particulars can be found at the above mentioned Mascoma site or at www.hanoverconservancy.org.
And that’s the key, getting out. The first wave of spring migration comes and goes in a big rush. The birds are in a hurry to get to their nesting grounds, and they are not going to hang around to accommodate our schedules. That’s why you’ll see use birders “playing hooky” from work or household chores. When it’s over it’s over. But what fun to be part of the chase when “the game’s afoot!”
Note: To locate some of the"hotspots" mentioned above, click on the eBird links and scroll up and down the Connecticut River. Click on the markers to identify the site.