Wednesday Morning Birding Report, December 4, 2019

In lieu of our usual birding venue, Plum Island, because of the annual deer culling on Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, David Larson and I led today’s Wednesday Morning Birding program from Joppa Flats up along the New Hampshire coast, Seabrook to Rye.  The sky was overcast to mostly cloudy; temps in low 30s F; winds W/0-5 mph.  Due to the falling tide, we drove directly to Seabrook to check out the bathhouse cupola, where oftentimes at this time of year, we will find “the” Glaucous Gull.  Instead of the Glaucous Gull, atop the cupola was a Herring Gull.  No doubt any chance for the Glaucous was precluded by the already-exposed mudflats and rocks — foraging grounds for this white-winged gull from the Arctic.

From our Seabrook parking area vantage point, we did see a number of gulls — mostly Herring Gulls, a few Ring-billeds, and a Great Black-backed Gull or two.  There was also a pretty good number of Red-breasted Mergansers, a few Buffleheads in the distance, and some Common Loons.  On the mudflat in front of us, we found a lone, late migrant — a juvenile Black-bellied Plover picking its way across the flat.  But, alas, no Glaucous Gull . . . .

1st winter Great Black-backed Gull (note all black, very large bill and “salt-&-pepper-looking” plumage, indicative of 1st W Black-back) – Tom Schreffler
Red-breasted Mergansers – Patti Wood
Drake Red-breasted Merganser – Mike Densmore
Common Loons – Bob Minton
Juvenile Black-bellied Plover – Tom Schreffler

Our next stop was across the bridge at Hampton Beach State Park where we usually find the ground-feeding Horned Larks and Snow Buntings with perhaps a longspur or two.  With the snow cover, there were no larks or longspurs, but we did spot a flock of about 20 Snow Buntings flitting about the park’s parking area.  We visited the beach and were rewarded with a small flock of Sanderlings doing their wave-running thing.  This is our most common wintertime shorebird — it’s always fun to see them as they chase after the food being left by retreating waves and then to run before the oncoming waves lest they should get wet.  One of our sharp-eyed birders found a Horned Grebe out on the bounding main, and there were a number of Common Eiders near the rocks of the jetty. While exiting the Hampton Beach parking area, David spied an adult Cooper’s Hawk perched atop a utility pole.  We had rather good looks at this bird of prey, an Accipiter that oftentimes frequents your bird feeders. 

Sanderlings – Stan Deutsch
Adult Cooper’s Hawk – Stan Deutsch

Continuing north along the New Hampshire coastline, from the vicinity of North Hampton State Beach, a flock of 300-400 Canada Geese flew over headed south.  Could this be a migrating flock or could these birds have been coaxed south by the recent snow or newly frozen conditions?  By the time our Wednesday Morning Birding was concluded, while at Rye Harbor State Park, we saw plus-or-minus 1200 Canada Geese moving south — quite the scene!

Canada Geese – Tom Schreffler

Also at Rye Harbor, we had wonderful looks at a couple of drake Surf Scoters and a Long-tailed Duck or two.  There was also an adult female White-winged Scoter fairly close by.  According to The Crossley ID Guide – Waterfowl, “Adult [female]: uniform dark brown in winter. Most developing pale loral and cheek patches in summer, occasionally in winter.”  In among the rocks and wrack line, David found an American Pipit.  Usually, in winter, pipits are found in small flocks, so having a single was a bit out of the ordinary.  Must have been a migrating straggler . . . .   Off the Rye Harbor State Park point, we had the pleasure of seeing a flyby of a flock of 11 Black Scoters — such handsome birds!

Adult drake Surf Scoter – Tom Schreffler
Adult drake Surf Scoter – Mike Densmore
Adult drake Long-tailed Duck – Tom Schreffler
Adult hen White-winged Scoter with what appears to be a crab – Stan Deutsch
Black Scoters – Stan Deutsch
American Pipit (note long hind toe, the “hallux,” typical of many grassland species) – Stan Deutsch

Time was growing short, so we made our way back to Joppa Flats.  The morning wasn’t overly productive, but pleasurable, nonetheless.  Please be reminded that next week’s Wednesday Morning Birding will mark our second visit of the season to Cape Ann.  Once again, we will gather by 9:30 in the Gloucester Crossing mall parking area near Marshall’s.  Joppa vans will depart the education center at 8:30.   I hope you will join us.

Good birding, and all the best!

Dave Weaver

Our list:

Canada Goose (~ 1200+) – several large flocks moving south along coast (migrating or frozen/snowed out?).
American Black Duck (~ 6)
Common Eider – common.
Surf Scoter (~ 30) – various.
White-winged Scoter (1) – juv. male; Rye Harbor State Park.
Black Scoter (~ 15) – single flock flying north off of Rye Harbor State Park.
Long-tailed Duck (~ 10) – various.
Bufflehead (a few) – Seabrook.
Red-breasted Merganser (~ 100) – Seabrook.
Horned Grebe (1) – off Hampton Beach.
Rock Pigeon
Black-bellied Plover (1) – juv., Seabrook.
Sanderling (~ 30) – Hampton Beach.
Ring-billed Gull (~ 15) – various.
Herring Gull – common.
Great Black-backed Gull (~ 12) – various.
Common Loon – common.
Great Blue Heron (1) – flyby, Hampton Beach.
Cooper’s Hawk (1) – utility pole, Hampton Beach State Park parking area.
Red-tailed Hawk (1) – Salisbury en route Joppa.
Blue Jay (2)
American Crow (5)
European Starling
American Pipit (1) – Rye Harbor State Park.
Snow Bunting (~ 20) – Hampton Beach State Park parking area.
Dark-eyed Junco (1)

Wednesday Morning Birding Report, November 27, 2019

Last Wednesday, before any hint of snow had fallen, Dave Weaver and I took our Wednesday Morning Birding audience from one end of Plum Island to the other. So many waterfowl had appeared in the Merrimack River off of Joppa Flats that we thought it would be wise to check the island’s North End. Were we glad we did! The incoming tide set up the usual eddy right on the beach near the Captain’s Lady dock, and two beautiful, basic-plumaged Red-necked Grebes were foraging right off shore along the eddy line. Since they didn’t mind us, we enjoyed them for as long as we wished. We also saw White-winged Scoters, mostly females, scattered around in the channel.

Red-necked Grebes – Tom Schreffler
Red-necked Grebe – Stan Deutsch
White-winged Scoter over the eddy line – John Linn

A raft of 20 or more Common Eiders loitered near the seal rocks on the Salisbury side of the river. Many more eiders, upwards of a hundred, were stretched along the jetty farther out. The mouth of the basin, often a place for “less seaworthy” ducks, was fairly empty, but way off near town, probably easily visible from Joppa Flats Education Center, we could see a tight flock of Common Goldeneyes. One Red-throated and two Common Loons helped to complete what we expect as the core of the winter avifauna in the mouth of the river, although the large number of Long-tailed Ducks we await has yet to appear.

Red-breasted Merganser – Mike Densmore

Our next site was the Main Panne pull-off on Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, where many American Black Ducks were in the company of a good contingent of Northern Pintails, several Gadwalls, and a drake American Wigeon. A couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers voiced their characteristic checks invisibly from the thicket, a phenomenon that continued at other sites. From there, we decided to skedaddle all the way south, with occasional pauses along the way to spy a sparrow, a Northern Harrier, and even an American Coot for a brief moment in Stage Island Pool.

American Black Duck – Mike Densmore
Northern Pintail – Bob Minton

We completed our north-to-south run of the entire island in anticipation of seeing a reported rare Lesser Black-backed Gull at Sandy Point. We easily walked along the wind-beaten wrack line towards an area where gulls were roosting as the high tide continued to rise. We scanned a group of Great Black-backed Gulls and Herring Gulls, then a bigger bunch of Herring and Ring-billed Gulls farther around the point. Our first surveys yielded no more than these three species among the shifting arrivals and departures. Then, suddenly, something got all of the birds up, and we clearly saw one that showed the proper in-between coloration of a Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Lesser Black-backed Gull – Tom Schreffler

Our target bird had the good sense to sit down on the water next to a Herring Gull, so we could easily compare them. Everybody was able to get a look at this uncommon species. As a Lesser Black-backed Gull was reported at Sandy Point throughout last winter, we can conjecture that it is the same bird, returned to its accustomed wintering spot. After all, the (presumably) same Glaucous Gull has appeared for many years at the Seabrook Harbor bathroom cupola, and a marked Ring-billed Gull has returned to Sandy Point for many years. It may be reasonable to assume that roosting adult gulls we see on rooftops, wharves, and beaches are the same birds, day after day. It’s only when we see individuals that are marked, or conspicuous as uncommon species, that we can conclude that we’re seeing a behavioral pattern.

Common Eider makes landing – Stan Deutsch

With this singular gull under our belt, we headed for Hellcat, skipping Emerson Rocks due to the high tide and the many shotgun blasts we heard from over the dunes. Some hunters in a duck boat had decided to try their luck there. This is the one time of year, and that is the one spot on Plum Island, where birders and hunters can butt into each other a bit. Of course we want as many ducks as possible to be there! But, we always remember that it was hunters who paid the lion’s share of the cost of the refuge property in the first place. Hence, our grudging acceptance and agreement to “live and let hunt.”

On our way north, a flock of five American Pipits stood briefly on the wooden guard rail along the South Marsh. It was a bit futile for the people in the following vehicles to find them, though the birds did take to racing about the increasingly flooded edge of the marsh. The dike at Hellcat was both fun and a bit boring. The fun was in seeing the almost eerie disappearance of the marsh under a very high tide, almost the highest of the year. But the consequence was that the ducks that are normally confined to Bill Forward Pool were spread all over the inundated marsh, and there was not much to look at. Instead, we contented ourselves to take a quick look at some common passerines in the parking lot and head home.

American Black Ducks over flooded marsh – Bob Minton

This week, we will venture to areas north of Plum Island and inland, as the Parker River Refuge will be closed for the annual deer hunt. We anticipate plenty of Hooded Mergansers, and yesterday I found an Iceland Gull and Horned Larks at Hampton Beach State Park….

Northern Harrier perching during king tide- Tom Schreffler

Our List:
Canada Goose – common.
Mute Swan (2) – ads, Main Panne.
Gadwall (5) – Main Panne.
American Wigeon (4) – 1, Main Panne; 4, small pannes.
Mallard (~ 20) – mostly vicinity of Hellcat; a few, Main Panne.
American Black Duck – common.
Northern Pintail (~ 35) – ~ 25, Main Panne; balance small pannes & Bill
Forward Pool (BFP).
Common Eider – common; mostly north end, then various.
White-winged Scoter (~ 13) – ~ 12, north end; 1, Sandy Point.
Bufflehead – common; various.
Common Goldeneye (~ 30) – north end.
Hooded Merganser (1) – Hellcat flyover.
Red-breasted Merganser (2) – north end.
Red-necked Grebe (2) – north end.
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
American Coot (1) – Stage Island Pool (thanks, Doug!).
Ring-billed Gull (5) – Sandy Point.
Herring Gull – common.
Lesser Black-backed Gull (1) – Sandy Point.
Great Black-backed Gull (~ 22) – 7, north end; ~ 15, Sandy Point.
Red-throated Loon (1) – north end.
Common Loon (2) – north end.
Double-crested Cormorant (2) – north end.
Great Blue Heron (3) – 1, marsh s. of Cross Farm Hill; 1, BFP; 1, Hay Marsh..
[Great Blue Heron (1) – marsh across PI Tpk from Plum Bush.]
Great Egret (1) – marsh n. PI Tpk, e. PI Bridge.
Northern Harrier (3) – females; various.
[Red-tailed Hawk (1) – atop chimney of “Pink House.”]
Red-tailed Hawk (2)
Downy Woodpecker (1) – Hellcat.
Peregrine Falcon (1) – flying with just-caught duck (some thought it was
a black duck) over South Marsh.
Black-capped Chickadee (3) – Hellcat.
American Robin (2) – Hellcat.
Northern Mockingbird (2) – parking lot #1.
European Starling
House Sparrow
American Pipit (5) – at first, perched on roadside fence, n. South Marsh.
Song Sparrow (2)
Swamp Sparrow (1) – shrub n. South Field.
Yellow-rumped Warbler (5) – various.

Wednesday Morning Birding Report, November 20, 2019

Last week Dave Weaver and I met a group of excited WMB folks at the parking lot in Gloucester for our first Cape Ann trip of the season. We began birding, as we usually do, at the Jodrey State Fish Pier, from where we always check on the view of City Hall’s cupola, where the resident Peregrine Falcon(s) often roost. Last week they were evidently off hunting, but one has been seen there this fall. The inner harbor was quiet, with a smattering of eiders, cormorants, a couple of Common Loons, and plenty of gulls. No gulls sat on the grass-topped warehouse; in fact, all the grass is gone, because the roof was being resurfaced that very day! Sharp-eyed birders found one, then another Red-necked Grebe off to the south and west of the pier, and a small flock of Surf Scoters way out toward Ten Pound Island.

Common Eiders at Jodrey Fish Pier – Bob Minton
Red-necked Grebe in Gloucester Harbor – Patti Wood

Eastern Point was next, where previously many gannets were seen foraging. On Wednesday, they had moved offshore for the most part, so we scanned through the small numbers of scoters, Buffleheads, and mergansers.

Common Loons – Patti Wood

With not too much action there, we moved on to Niles Pond, where lots of migrating waterfowl have been found lately. Last Wednesday, there were over 50 Ring-necked Ducks, some American Coots, a female Greater Scaup, and a couple of female Hooded Mergansers in with the Red-breasted Mergansers. The nearly resident crowd of Mallards was there, along with plenty of Buffleheads. An Iceland Gull we saw with a different group the previous week was not around.

American Coot at Niles Pond – Mike Densmore

After seeing both Great and Double-crested Cormorants on Cormorant Rock with another group the previous week, I was surprised that no cormorants were there this time. We did get to scan the sea from the side of the Elks Club, where the crowd of Buffleheads in “Bufflehead Cove” was present, and wintering White-winged Scoters ranged here and there in small numbers.

White-winged Scoter – John Linn
Harlequin Ducks -Tom Schreffler

At Cathedral Ledge, the Harlequin Ducks were split between rocky points that jut out both north and south of the viewing area. Northern Gannets appeared near and far over the sea. At Andrews Point, the Harlequin Ducks and Common Eiders were much closer, along with some Black Scoters and more White-winged Scoters. Two Red-throated Loons flew by and some Northern Gannets came closer as well. Len Cawley delighted everyone by pointing out a first-year Iceland Gull that then flew over us, giving us that fun “cherry on top” to the outing. So it was a fine day to be out on Cape Ann. Although the wind was not challenging us by whipping at our eyes with frigid temperatures and the odd stinging particle of ice or sand, we certainly have that to look forward to! We’ll have plenty of opportunities to prove our mettle in the coming months, which will also bring, we hope, some of the less common rocky shore birds we crave.

Northern Gannet at Andrews Point – Tom Schreffler
Iceland Gull at Andrews Point – Mike Densmore

Our List:
American Black Duck – common.
Ring-necked Duck (~ 50) – Niles Pond.
Greater Scaup (1) – hen; Niles Pond.
Common Eider – common.
Harlequin Duck (~ 60) – ~ 30, Cathedral Ledge; ~ 30, Andrew’s Pt.
Surf Scoter (8) – 6, Jodrey Fish Pier; 2, Eastern Pt.
White-winged Scoter – common.
Black Scoter (7) – Andrew’s Pt.
Bufflehead – common.
Hooded Merganser (2) – Niles Pond.
Red-breasted Merganser (~ 35) – a few Eastern Pt; ~ 25, Niles Pond.
Red-necked Grebe (2) – Jodrey Fish Pier.
Rock Pigeon
American Coot (3) – Niles Pond.
Purple Sandpiper – probable; small flock flew into “Bufflehead Cove” as we drove by – could not stop.
Ring-billed Gull (~ 15) – Niles Pond.
Herring Gull – common.
Iceland Gull (1) – 1w.; Andrew’s Point.
Great Black-backed Gull – common.
Red-throated Loon (2) – flybys, Andrew’s Pt.
Common Loon (12+) – various.
Northern Gannet (~ 15) – Cathedral Ledge & Andrew’s Pt.
Double-crested Cormorant (4)
Red-tailed Hawk (1) – Niles Pond.
American Crow – Eastern Pt. & downtown Rockport.
Black-capped Chickadee (4) – Niles Pond.
European Starling
American Goldfinch (1) – Niles Pond.
Song Sparrow (3) – Cathedral Ledge.