Heading into this year’s edition of my Halloween trip, I had two concerns. First, the weather forecast was for rain all day and temperatures never exceeding the 40s. Second, I’d had the most interest in this trip ever; roughly 16 people had told me that they were going to try to join me this year. Birding in cold rain can be pretty fun if one does most of their birding in or near the car; but if the group gets too large, with too many cars, car-birding doesn’t work as well, so we were going to have to do more walking, making the cold rain more of a problem. Lucky for me, one problem solved another, as the weather apparently scared most birders into staying home, so only three of us - Harvey Allen, Peter Gagarin, and myself - showed up Sunday morning.
We met up at the power canal in Turners Falls, and took a walk there first. The birds were unremarkable, but at least it was not raining much… yet.
Our next stop was a little roadside marsh in Northfield. This place had an astounding number of sparrows, mostly Song, a few White-throats, a Chipping just as we arrived, a Field which appeared near the end, and several Swamp, one surprisingly approachable. The rain picked up and was chasing us back to the car when I saw a bird pop up, which turned out to be a Palm Warbler. I mentioned it to Peter and Harvey, who wanted to see it. As we pursued the warbler, we came across something even more noteworthy, a late Blue-headed Vireo.
A quick visit to Sawyer Ponds yielded a couple of dozen Wood Ducks before we continued to Hell’s Kitchen. We failed to find a Pectoral Sandpiper, a species that this trip had observed three years in a row. However, we did find one each of Solitary and Least Sandpiper, both flagged as unusually late by eBird. The place was alive with Green-winged Teal, at least two dozen of them, and and even larger number of Wood Ducks.
After the shorebirds and teal required us to stand outside using our spotting scopes for a while, we were pretty thoroughly cold and wet, and birded from my car for a while. Continuing into Satan’s Kingdom WMA, we added a Belted Kingfisher on the main pond, then a couple of Hermit Thrushes lurking along the road in the woods further north. A cruise through the fields along Caldwell Road and River Road in the intensifying rain did not add much.
We were very happy to find the Northfield House of Pizza open, and greatly enjoyed being somewhere warm and dry for a while, and eating a hot lunch. Then, with the rain letting up a bit, we continued up to Pauchaug Brook WMA. I’d birded this area several times before, but had thought that it only consisted of the area around the boat ramp; Harvey informed us that the WMA extended across the river and could be accessed via a driveway just a bit further north. As we pulled in, Peter said something about wanting to see a Rusty Blackbird. Sure enough, when we reached the end of the driveway down near a big cornfield, a flock of blackbirds were in the trees along the field edge; and while most were Red-winged, a few Rusties popped up for some nice spotting scope views!
We tentatively attempted to look for birds around the edges of the Northfield Meadows, but were barely able to drive 25 feet before my car’s tires started fishtailing on the rain-slicked farm roads and sinking alarmingly fast into the mud. Not wanting to have to convince a tow truck to come rescue us out in that mud in the cold rain, we quickly surrendered and retreated.
We finished our day by returning to Turners Falls. The power canal gate had been closed - the power company has gotten stricter about that this year - and we didn’t feel like walking that long of a distance as the rain continued. We did not have much luck in visits to the airport and Rod & Gun Club; our best find for this last stretch of the trip was a group of roughly 18 Ring-Necked Ducks on Barton Cove near the campground. We finished the day with 47 species.