Wednesday Morning Birding Report, February 19, 2020

Dave Weaver and I had one thing going for us as we prepared for Wednesday Morning Birding this week: lots of eagles! The reason we have so many Bald Eagles in the Great Marsh and along the lower Merrimack River this year is unknown. We assume they come to our area when they are forced away from frozen lakes and rivers, but there have been colder winters than this one, with fewer eagles. The influx of eagles in our area, or the lack of one, may have to do with the timing of freezes, or maybe the timing of freezes in a given region. But so far, no one has trackers on all of the eagles of North America, so we can only speculate. In any scenario, we really enjoy them!

We started at the north end of Plum Island to leave time for the falling tide to expose Emerson Rocks, which helps draw sea birds to that spot. The wind had picked up to a frenzy; we estimated 20 – 30 mph! While it was not very cold, the wind chill was real. The tide was going out, so there was no eddy on our side of the river, which on incoming tides will bring birds close to the Newburyport bank. Therefore, we squinted over at the Common Eiders and Red-breasted Mergansers sheltering on the Salisbury side of the river, and squinted even more tightly at a few scoters out on the wide section toward Joppa Flats. Yikes!

Bald Eagles – Tom Schreffler

All speculative avoidance of authoritative statements about Bald Eagles aside, just after we entered Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, we spotted two young ones standing in the marsh fairly close to the refuge road. Soon they were being buzzed by a Northern Harrier, and we wondered if there was a kill there that we could not see. As we got out of the vans, someone pointed out an adult eagle, also on the ground a bit farther south.

Bald Eagle with brush – John Linn

Before we left, one of the young birds flew off clutching some rather wispy vegetation. Since Bald Eagles use sticks to build nests, and do not breed before they attain definitive adult plumage in their 5th year, we again can only speculate that the bird was “practicing.” To make the scene even more interesting, a Peregrine Falcon flew through, making a little false dive at the young eagle. The poor kid couldn’t catch a break!

Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon – Tom Schreffler

After our refuge visit started with such picturesque activity, we proceeded south past the salt pannes, where the surface was frozen, so no ducks were present. We looked for birds in North Field and didn’t see any. We looked for a wintering Northern Shrike in the thicket, but couldn’t find one, and continued all the way south to parking lot #7. By the time we headed out to the beach, a good amount of the rocks had appeared, and there were some birds present, but only a few loons and other sea birds. Common Eiders and Horned Grebes, one Common Loon, and a couple of Common Goldeneyes and Long-tailed Ducks were the tally in the water. A group of Sanderlings landed on the exposed rocks; another flock of 11 performed classic Sanderling foraging in the edge of the wash in front of us.

Sanderlings – John Linn

Stage Island Pool had a good amount of open water, but only a couple of small groups of Buffleheads took advantage of it. An adult Bald Eagle flew over Grape Island out past the South Marsh, but we don’t know if it was a different bird than the first one we saw. Hellcat was really quiet this week. As we sometimes do, we imagined that standing repeatedly in the rather chilly gale was enough suffering, what with the lack of birds, to build metaphysical credit for future outings. Everybody needs a story to tell themselves when the birds don’t show up! Here’s another one: standing in these open coastal areas in the teeth of fierce wind makes one feel very alive; nature is wild and wonderful, even when people are misguided or acting in other unfortunate ways.

Herring Gull with meal- Bob Minton

We got another dose of eagles when we arrived at the salt pannes, where two young Bald Eagles, but older young eagles than the first ones we found, were also standing, then flying about. One took off over the marsh, giving us good views of the white marks on its back and in the axillaries, which told us it was a 2nd- or 3rd-year bird. The individuals we first encountered had the dark bodies of 1st-year birds.

Bald Eagle 3rd or 4th year – Tom Schreffler

We still had a bit of time, and we decided to try one more spot on the ocean at parking lot #1. Often when you arrive there and see very little, birds soon begin to appear as you look carefully. Not this week. We saw not one individual floating on the surface. So we called it a day, all of us looking forward to that future trip where the birds just fill the trees or cover the sea. We hope that you can get out there now too and find joy in the beauty in spite of the effort and sometimes even pain: it will make those easy days feel all the more luxurious!

OurList:
Canada Goose – common.
Mute Swan (1) – marsh sw. pannes.
Mallard (~ 10) – mostly marsh w. Hellcat.
American Black Duck – common.
Common Eider (~ 40) – ~ 30, north end; ~ 10, Emerson Rocks.
White-winged Scoter (2) – north end.
Long-tailed Duck (2) – seven ocean.
Bufflehead (~ 15) – Stage Island Pool.
Common Goldeneye (2) – seven ocean.
Red-breasted Merganser (5) – north end.
Horned Grebe (3) – seven ocean.
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Sanderling (~ 26) – 11, seven beach; ~ 15, Emerson Rocks.
Ring-billed Gull (2)
Herring Gull – common.
Great Black-backed Gull (2) – seven beach.
Common Loon (1) – north end.
Great Cormorant (2) – probable, perched on marker at end of Salisbury
jetty; seen from lot #1 platform.
Northern Harrier (3) – 2 females, 1 male.
Bald Eagle (5-6) – 1 ad, 2 juvs – initially on ground in marsh just s.
lot #2; 1 ad (possibly same ad cited first) flying s. adjacent to Grape
Is.; 2 2- to 3-yr-old birds in marsh n. pannes.
[Red-tailed Hawk (1) – on power line along Plum Is Tpk, n. PI Airport.]
Peregrine Falcon (1) – flyby, marsh n. pannes.
Blue Jay (2) – vicinity Stage Island Pool.
Northern Mockingbird (1) – vicinity s. Cross Farm Hill.
European Starling
House Finch (2) – in housing while en route north end.

Wednesday Morning Birding Report, February 12, 2020

Our next-to-last Cape Ann trip of the season went very well this week, with new bird experiences for just about everyone! Dave Weaver and I toured the rocky coast with 35 birders, who behaved reasonably well, for the most part, and from whom we got some new ideas about managing groups there due to some mildly novel behavior! More on that later.

Bald Eagle, second-year, basic molt I – Stan Deutsch

We began as always, at Jodrey State Fish Pier, which was interesting enough with eiders, scoters, mergansers, and loons visible on the harbor, with gulls flying everywhere, and with reports of alcids and uncommon gulls in our heads. Then some folks who had been there either earlier in the day or previous days walked over to check the south channel for one or more Thick-billed Murres that have been there. Sure enough, we eventually spotted three of them! We enjoyed the big show of flying gulls that erupted with a high fly-over of a 2nd-year Bald Eagle. We were about to leave, and in fact a few people did leave for our next destination, when sharp eyes spotted a Dovekie out on the harbor near the shrink-wrapped Schooner Adventure.

Thick-billed Murre – Stan Deutsch
Common Eider female – Stan Deutsch

With multiple individuals and two species of alcids under our lids, we moved on, intending to stop at Rocky Neck, what with all the alcids in the harbor, when we heard from a group that had left ahead of the caravan that there were no new species at Rocky Neck. Since we often have large and at times unwieldy caravans on Cape Ann, it might be good to intentionally send some ahead to scout! The little salt marsh and intertidal cove at Eastern Point was filled with clear morning light and Gadwalls, who have freshly molted into their gorgeous alternate plumage. Buffleheads and Red-breasted Mergansers were scattered all over the more protected parts of the harbor nearby, and a handful of Surf Scoters were easily spotted about half-way out. One Greater Scaup joined a raft of eiders.

Bufflehead- Bob Minton

At Niles Pond, a big flock of scaup, in which we found a couple of Lessers among the Greaters, greeted us near shore. As they drifted away from us, we found a Ring-necked Duck among them as well. The large raft of gulls out on the pond contained all three of our common species, but none that were “white-winged.” Few passerines jumped onto our list there, and come to think of it, we heard just one spring song, a Tufted Titmouse, singing on the far side of the pond. Many singers are becoming stronger every day in more protected inland areas. Then it was on to Atlantic Road, where we paused at Cormorant Rock to appreciate the newly alternate plumage and soft-part color of the Great Cormorants there.

Greater and Lesser-Scaup – John Linn
Greater Scaup – Stan Deutsch
Ring-necked Duck – Mike Densmore
Great Cormerants – Bob Minton

As we disembarked at the Elks Club, some participants spoke in hushed tones of seeing sandpipers along the road, but no definitive suggestion such as “Add 25 Purple Sandpipers” emerged. Fortunately, one, then two, then a third Purple Sandpiper did emerge into view on a rock in front of us, seemingly by mitosis, or as if they had oozed out of a crack. The sea was dotted liberally with White-winged Scoters. We searched in vain for alcids there, but just hang on to your hat.

Purple Sandpipers- Bob Minton
White-winged scoter – Stan Deutsch

After stopping for self-care in the Rockport municipal parking lot, we made it to Cathedral Ledge. The sea was calm, the light was bright, and Harlequin Ducks were all up and down the shoreline for great views. A handsome drake Black Scoter floated calmly out on the water, and became a reference point for one, then two, then three Dovekies, which surfaced for only seconds between long dives. Later, at least two more of them joined in on our game of “Dovekie Whack-a-mole.” We stayed playing that game long enough for a big flock, fifty or more, of Brants to hurry by low over the ocean. Their rapid headlong flight was nothing like that of their larger goose cousin. Alas, we ran out the clock with not enough time for Andrews Point, though some of our group did stay to continue there. We have one more Cape Ann trip scheduled for this winter on March 11. Don’t miss Cape Ann this year, whether with us or on your own. The alcid show is really great!

Black Scoter – John Linn
Harlequin Duck – David Moon
Brant – John Linn

Our list:
Brant (~ 50) – flock flying low over water off of Cathedral Ledge, heading north.
Canada Goose (~ 65) – mostly Good Harbor marsh.
Gadwall (16) – cove, Eastern Point; drakes were strikingly beautiful in morning sun.
Mallard (~ 8) – Good Harbor marsh.
Ring-necked Duck (1) – drake, Niles Pond.
Greater Scaup (~ 50) – Niles Pond.
Lesser Scaup (2) – Niles Pond.
Common Eider – common.
Harlequin Duck (~ 30) – Cathedral Ledge.
Surf Scoter (6) – 1, inner Gloucester Harbor; 5, Eastern Point.
White-winged Scoter – common.
Black Scoter (~ 13) – ~ 12, Elks Club; 1 drake, Cathedral Ledge.
Long-tailed Duck (2) – Eastern Point.
Bufflehead – common; various.
Common Goldeneye (5) – 1, Eastern Point; 1, Niles Pond; 3, Elks Club.
Red-breasted Merganser – common.
Wild Turkey (4) – Rt 127, Rockport.
Red-necked Grebe (1) – Cathedral Ledge.
Rock Pigeon – mostly Motif #1.
Purple Sandpiper (3) – Elks Club.
Dovekie (6) – 1, Gloucester Harbor; 5, Cathedral Ledge.
Thick-billed Murre (3) – inner Gloucester Harbor.
Ring-billed Gull (~ 20) – Niles Pond.
Herring Gull – common.
Great Black-backed Gull (~ 20) – 5, Gloucester Harbor; ~ 15, Niles Pond.
Common Loon (~ 20) – various.
Great Cormorant (6) – “Cormorant Rock,” Atlantic Road.
Bald Eagle (1) – immature soaring high over inner Gloucester Harbor.
American Crow ( ~ 15) – various.
Tufted Titmouse (1) – singing, Niles Pond.
Northern Mockingbird (1) – Good Harbor Beach entrance.
European Starling
House Sparrow

Wednesday Morning Birding Report, February 5, 2020

This past Wednesday, Dave Weaver and I once again led the Wednesday Morning Birders to search for birds from one end of Plum Island to the other. We got off to a good start with an adult Bald Eagle standing in the marsh right before we entered Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. Our first planned stop was just south of the Middens, which are the mounds composed of sand- and vegetation-covered oyster shells that look like small dunes on the right side of the refuge road just south of parking lot #1. Among the 25 or so Canada Geese in Plumbush Creek, we found the immature Greater White-fronted Goose that had been repeatedly reported there. The weather had thawed ice on the salt pannes, where we found plenty of wintering ducks. The majority were American Black Ducks, but as we arrived at the Main Panne we saw that a good number of Northern Pintails were mixed in. A few Red-breasted Mergansers added diversity in the largest of the South Pannes.

Bald Eagle – Tom Schreffler
Canada and Greater White-fronted Goose – Patti Wood

We had few reasons to stop on the drive to Sandy Point, other than to check briefly for any possible Short-eared Owl activity near Cross Farm Hill. Stage Island Pool had none of the waterfowl action we had seen in the natural pools/pannes further north. We went to Sandy Point first to give Emerson Rocks more time to emerge in the falling tide. This week the point from the area near the platform was quiet. I wanted to see if the gyre of sea ducks that formed on strong outgoing tides would happen this season, and found a definitive negative. The shoals that created good hunting grounds for the thousands of birds that regularly arrived there last year have moved and seem to be devoid of enough food to attract a crowd.

Sanderling over the surf – Mike Densmore
Horned Grebe – Tom Schreffler

Emerson Rocks did host the expected Common Eiders and at least one Horned Grebe, but we saw very few scoters there, which is strange, as it has always been a good spot for them. Later we had better luck at the river, but scoter numbers are way down in our area this year. Things picked up when we stopped to examine a Rough-legged Hawk in the trees out on Cross Farm Hill. The bird looked dark through binoculars and scopes, but the photos show that the bird was molting into plumage that will make it a dark-morph bird, unusual for our area. As we approached the Pines Trail area, we spotted a young Bald Eagle sitting on the Osprey platform perch-pole.

Rough-legged Hawk – Mike Densmore

As we passed by the Bill Forward Blind, a group of Yellow-rumped Warblers dashed across the road, barely identifiable from our vans. Hellcat was quiet, with some numbers of waterfowl on Bill Forward Pool, and one American Tree Sparrow and a Song Sparrow pecking around on the dike. Then we perked up with an almost adult-plumaged Bald Eagle again standing quietly on the edge of the marsh out near the sound. While we sometimes stand around enjoying the scenery on Hellcat dike, this week the weather did not call for that, so we hustled north to see what was on the Merrimack River. We did have to stop, however, to enjoy a young Bald Eagle flying near the road, landing near a kill (goose?), and being harassed by a harrier who was in turn harassed by a crow.

Northern Pintails – Bob Minton
Buffleheads – Bob Minton

A Cooper’s Hawk flew across the road while we were on the way to the north end of the island. We were rewarded for going the distance by a nice array of waterfowl and seals in the river and on the rocks over on the Salisbury side. Some of the birds by and on the rocks included Brants and Red-breasted Mergansers, and we could identify both Harbor and Gray Seals. We had good looks at several White-winged Scoters, a handful of Common Loons, some Long-tailed Ducks, and lots of Common Eiders. Once again, the North End provided a slight sense of abundance in an otherwise low year for wintering waterfowl around Plum island.  We can only hope that they are having great foraging somewhere else, and that things will pick up later in the season or next year.

Brant’s – Mike Densmore
Seals – Rick Cliche
Common Loon – Bob Minton

Our list:
Greater White-fronted Goose (1) – juv with Canada Geese on river just s. second midden (thanks, Tom!).
Brant (8) – north end on seal rocks toward Salisbury side of river.
Canada Goose – common.
Mute Swan(1) – Bill Forward Pool (BFP).
Mallard (2) – BFP.
American Black Duck – common.
Northern Pintail (20) – 14, pannes; 6, BFP.
Common Eider – common; seven ocean & north end.
White-winged Scoter (7) – 1, seven ocean; 6, north end.
Long-tailed Duck (4) – 3, seven ocean; 1, north end.
Bufflehead (3) – 2 hens, drake; BFP.
Common Goldeneye (5) – seven ocean.
Red-breasted Merganser (6) – 2, pannes; 4, north end.
Horned Grebe (1) – seven ocean.
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Sanderling (5) – 3, Sandy Point; 2, seven beach.
Herring Gull – common.
Great Black-backed Gull (3) – 1, Sandy Point; 2, north end.
Common Loon (5) – 1, seven ocean; 4, north end.
Northern Harrier (3)
Cooper’s Hawk (1) – residents while en route north end.
Bald Eagle (4) – 1 ad, marsh n. refuge entrance; 1 4-yr-old; 2 Imm.
Rough-legged Hawk (1) – perched in tree at w. end Cross Farm Hill; blackish face, photo shows dark underwing coverts, the coverts of a dark-morph RLHA – could this be an “intermediate” showing plumage of both light & dark morph birds, or perhaps an imm. dark morph transitioning to ad.?
American Crow (~ 18) – various.
Black-capped Chickadee (2) – refuge gate.
American Robin (2) – parking lot #7.
European Starling
American Tree Sparrow (1) – Hellcat dike.
Song Sparrow (2)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (~ 12) – crossing road in vicinity of new blind.