Salem Birds 2016: Highlights & Numbers

It was another good year for the Salem patch! Although this was the first year we hadn’t reached our previous year’s number or higher, we had some very noteworthy sightings and added several new birds to our Salem list — even a state first!

Since February of 2016 Amanda and I have moved out of Salem, and this is likely part of the reason we didn’t reach last years number. At my parents house on Highland Ave, we would get many migrants moving through including warblers, vireos, cuckoos, and others that we otherwise would have a hard time finding at our other haunts. We miss the early mornings there for this reason alone. Though it presented a new challenge in finding more at places like World End Pond and Hawkin’s Farm, and other previously under-birded spots.

Something else worth mentioning is an addition to the local patch…and one location that I probably should have added a while ago – Canobie Lake. I always wrestled with adding Canobie to the patch due to the fact that half of the lake is in Windham, but after some self-coercion I added the lake. This added 3 species that were not on our Salem Life list prior to 2016 (Common Tern, Red-necked Grebe, and American Wigeon). Of the three additions, Common Tern and Red-necked Grebe have ONLY been recorded at Canobie Lake.

New Birds included:
Clay-colored Sparrow
Tufted Duck!
Sandhill Crane
Willet
Brown Thrasher
Sanderling

This year a total of 162 species were seen in Salem – of which, there were 6 new birds added (not including Ring-necked Pheasant and the 3 aforementioned additions from Canobie Lake). This brings the total number of bird species that Amanda and or I have seen in Salem to 205.

2016 Highlights

Brown Thrashers

BROWN THRASHERS aren’t necessarily considered ‘rare’, but for whatever reason it took me nearly 4 years to find one in Salem! Despite looking in many places around town with suitable habitat over the years, I came across 2 thrashers at a more unlikely place – World End Pond, go figure!

Brown Thrasher

Apparently this area next to the pond used to be an old ‘Gravel Pit’ — exactly the type of habitat Steve Mirick told me to look for them in the past — so in retrospect it wasn’t as unlikely as I’d first thought! Bonus — I believe they may have nested a little ways down the trail along the pond edge – I had 1 bird singing from a perch right above a silent bird, presumably a pair.

Birdathon

For NH Audubon’s 2016 Birdathon, we changed our typical ‘Salem and then to the Coast’ strategy and focused solely on World End Pond. Starting before sunrise we hit the marshes in search of rails and bitterns and continued throughout the day until after dark. It was a long day of paddling but well worth it in the end, when we ended with 74 species total – the highest number of species we’ve had at the pond in one day. On a typical visit we spend no more than 4 or 5 hours on the pond and usually net somewhere around 40-50 species on a good day, so it was interesting to see how much more we got by spending 12+ hours out there.

Highlights included beautiful early morning looks at a male LEAST BITTERN, COMMON NIGHTHAWKS strafing the water, and also two new birds for our World End Pond list — a (long overdue) SCARLET TANAGER and the last bird of the day and also our first for the pond – an AMERICAN WOODCOCK.

Rusty Blackbird flock

One of the spectacles of the year had to be the enormous flock of RUSTY BLACKBIRDS that spent a few days at World End Pond this fall. Nearly 100 Rusty’s were seen perusing the pond’s muddy edges and erupting into short flights from one part of the pond to the other.

We see good numbers of Rusty Blackbirds at World End Pond every year and it appears to be an important migration stop for these threatened blackbirds.

Redhead…in Summer?

This one was a headscratcher…a REDHEAD at World End Pond is rare any time of the year but an August sighting was exceptionally rare, and one of the only August records in all of New England!

This map is eBird output for Redhead sightings during the month of August for all years. Pretty amazing to think of all places in New England that we happened to catch it in our little patch! World End Pond continues to pump out unusual and rare records, as you’ll see from other highlights this year…

Clay-colored Sparrow

This was an awesome surprise on my way into work one morning back in January — as I drove up to the top of the Rockingham Park parking lot (now closed) I noticed several small birds working the grassy strips in the decrepit, snow covered parking lot. As I drove up to the birds I noted several American Tree Sparrow, Song Sparrows and this sweet little CLAY-COLORED SPARROW. A first for me in Salem and a long anticipated bird for the local patch. The bird stuck around for 3 days before moving off with the rest of the sparrows.

Clay-colored Sparrow

Clay-colored Sparrow

Sandhill Crane

Let’s just say I am glad I picked up my camera for this one — while kayaking at World End one evening I noted what I first thought was a Great Blue Heron heading directly towards me about 50 feet off the surface of the water — as it approached closer I saw a big red patch on the forehead…and almost tipped over….it was a freakin’ SANDHILL CRANE coming in hot!

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane on flats

The bird flew directly over my head and landed on the flats at the far south end of the pond for about 2 minutes before lifting back off, circling high over the pond and continued south toward Methuen, MA. An exciting addition to the pond — and a very unexpected sighting!

Willet

This was probably the most unexpected bird of the year — a WILLET took a trip by World End Pond early one morning. This is apparently the only record of Willet away from the immediate coastline in New Hampshire.

Willet

Luckily I was able to get Skip on it as it flew by and somehow managed some identifiable photos as I took photos through the trees. The bird flew from west to east and we never did see it touch down. World End Pond strikes again!

Tufted Duck

This was indeed the bird of the year…on Friday March 4 I decided to take the ‘scenic’ route to work for no apparent reason. This route takes me along Captain(‘s) Pond in Salem where I noticed a group of Ring-necked Ducks as I drove by. I almost didn’t stop but something told me to take a look. I picked up the bins and almost immediately I noticed an oddball sleeping among the group – clean black back, bright white flanks….”no way” I said to myself…then it raised its head….TUFTED DUCK! I called Amanda and informed Steve Mirick and off to work I went…The bird was associating primarily with 2 female Greater Scaup (even displaying at one of them a couple of times), and loosely with the flock of 20~ Ring-necks along the north west shore of the pond.

Tufted Duck

This marked New Hampshire’s long-awaited 1st State Record for Tufted Duck! What’s more is that almost 2 months later, the same bird (more than likely) showed up at World End Pond! This was the place I thought I might find a Tufted Duck first, so I was excited for the bird to show up there for a few days.

Looking Forward…

We have fun creating birding goals for our local patch and beyond each year. We believe there are many more birds to be found in our patch — even some that we SHOULD have already! Aside from the rarities that have been seen within Salem’s borders already, there are several more common species that have yet to be recorded (or documented). While it is certainly possible these birds have been seen or heard by others in town – we have no knowledge of them being recorded. Here is a short list of possibilities…

Northern Saw-whet Owl
Yellow-throated Vireo
Louisiana Waterthrush
Eastern Whip-poor-will
Purple Martin
Dunlin
Canvasback
Acadian Flycatcher
Philadelphia Vireo
Black Tern
Snowy Egret

Which will be the next one?
Stay tuned for the next article on this very topic – Salem’s Most Wanted Birds.

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