On New Year’s Day, Anne Jemas found a Harlequin Duck on the Miller’s River, between Erving and Millers Falls. While the species occurs regularly on the MA coast, this might be the first record for western MA. Veit and Peterson mention only three inland records, all east of I-495, all before 1965. And one of them is from Lynn, which sorta stretches the definition of “inland” (ha ha). eBird shows no other records at all away from the coast in MA, though there is another Valley record, about 10 years ago near Hartford CT.
Anyway, it is a first-winter male. Several local birders were initially skeptical of Anne’s post, suggesting that the bird was a female or immature scoter, or Bufflehead, etc., but James Smith followed up on her report and got brilliant photos confirming her ID. Yet another lesson that, just because a birder is not one of the widely recognized names, and is reporting a locally rare species, and didn’t get a photo, doesn’t always mean that they misidentified the bird! Numerous other local birders have seen the duck since, swimming on the Millers River just upstream of its confluence with the Connecticut, and occasionally crawling out on rocks in the river. Most have observed it from the pedestrian bridge at Cabot Camp, an eBird hotspot:
Note that access to this pedestrian bridge involves a somewhat steep downhill approach, on foot from the east side, by car from the west, so could be treacherous if there is any ice or snow on the pavement. The approach from the east is via Dorsey Road, on the south side of Route 2, a little ways east of the French King Bridge. From the west it is at the end of East Mineral Road from Millers Falls.
Also: for the past few weeks, birders have been seeing a Sage Thrasher near Hatfield. I’m somewhat shocked that this apparently has not been posted on MassBird yet, beyond two brief mentions buried within posts mainly about other topics. However, the location is a bit dicey: poor-quality roads where cars can get hopelessly stuck in mud, surrounded by private property, some with owners irritated by birders who park carelessly or trespass off the road. So I would not necessarily recommend chasing it, and have not yet done so myself. But it has been an amazing season for eastward vagrant Sage Thrashers - one just across the state line in Vermont was present at least through New Year’s Day, and another was in eastern New York state just up the Pike from Stockbridge for about half of November, both mentioned here on MassBird - so this one seemed worth adding to the picture. Given that this is not the easiest species in the world to detect or identify (the birder who found the one in Hatfield was unfamiliar with the species, and posted a photo on FaceBook asking for help identifying it), there easily could be others around.