Wednesday Morning Birding Report, January 15, 2020

This Wednesday, Susan Yurkus and I met a group of fifty birders in Gloucester for our monthly winter excursion around Cape Ann. Was it reports of alcids? Lovely, mild weather? The alignment of the stars? Having seen such a crowd four years ago on my first such outing, I decided that we would stay calm and bird on, which turned out to be a great strategy.

common eiders – Richard Cliche
Common Eider – Stan Deutsch
Red-breasted Merganser diving – Stan Deutsch

The harbor was busy from the fish pier, with plenty of gulls and eiders all about, smattered with Red-breasted Mergansers and eventually some scoters and a Dovekie. The Peregrine Falcons of City Hall’s roof were foraging or roosting elsewhere, and we had no sightings. At this point in the year, the motley appearance of male mergansers has sharpened into beautiful alternate plumage. For those kind birders who tried to point out the Dovekie, it gave a merry chase, and unfortunately we were not able to get everyone on the bird before we had to move on.

Buffleheads – Bob Minton
Buffleheads – John Linn

With such a big caravan, we could only slow a bit to check Niles Beach, and only saw Buffleheads, but plenty of them. Eastern Point was more interesting, with a close flock of resplendent Gadwall drakes in perfect light, some close Buffeheads and mergansers, and not too far off, gorgeous drake Surf Scoters. White-winged Scoters stayed farther out.

Red-breasted Mergansers – Bob Minton
Common Loon – Tom Schreffler

Moving along to Atlantic Road, Cormorant Rock was festooned with a little crowd of Great Cormorants, including some juveniles, and adults in alternate plumage with soft-part colors appearing. As “great” as they were, they still slouched just like “DCs” (Double-crested Cormorants). The Elks Club is a good place for alcids; we particularly hoped for Black Guillemots there, but instead we saw more Dovekies, one of which took a dive with some Buffleheads the moment we stepped across the road. I was starting to suspect hungry sharks, when a Dovekie finally surfaced far away from the first close-in spot. Par for the course. Another Dovekie eventually joined that first one. As usual, White-winged Scoters showed off just off shore there, and around the corner the cove hosted plenty of Buffleheads.

Dovekie – Stan Deutsch
Surf Scoter – John Linn

Cruising through the marsh behind Good Harbor Beach, we picked up a flock of Canada Geese, a few American Black Ducks, and a soaring Red-tailed Hawk that we have seen there on many other occasions. Rockport Harbor was quiet, but afforded us Rock Pigeons and a huge chorus of unseen House Sparrows. I wonder, if House Sparrows were to start to decline in the US as they have in Europe, would we begin counting them with more attention? The coves on the way to Cathedral Ledge held only gulls, so we were ready for something special. Sure enough, one lone Purple Sandpiper gave us views of every feather as it cavorted on the nearby rocks. Harlequin Ducks were visible very nearby shortly, and at all times farther off.

Purple Sandpiper – Bob Minton
Common Eider – Mike Densmore

At Andrews Point, a group of birders from western Massachusetts reported Razorbills as they trudged off. After enjoying great views of more “Harleys” and some handsome drake Black Scoters, some of us caught views of those reported Razorbills flying in a characteristic headlong, rushing line out over the sea. It was a sweet day to be out in a place that often numbs us to the bone at this time of year. There are a couple of more chances to suffer aching fingers and watering eyes, but with joyful views of really cool birds. Future Cape Ann Wednesdays are February 12 and March 11. And then, spring!

Harlequin Ducks – Tom Schreffler
Black Scoter female – Stan Deutsch
Harlequin Duck – Mike Densmore

Our list:
Canada Goose (45) – Good Harbor Marsh.
Gadwall (11) – Eastern Point marsh.
Mallard (20) – Niles Pond.
American Black Duck (7) – Good Harbor marsh.
Greater Scaup (30) – Niles Pond.
Common Eider – common.
Harlequin Duck (20) – 12, Cathedral Ledge; 8, Andrews Point.
Surf Scoter (18) – various.
White-winged Scoter – common.
Black Scoter (8) – 4, Cathedral Ledge; 4, Andrews Point.
Long-tailed Duck (3) – 2, eastern, 1Andrews Point.
Bufflehead – common.
Common Goldeneye (2) – Elks Club.
Red-breasted Merganser – common.
Wild Turkey (1) – Roadside yard, Gloucester.
Rock Pigeon
Dunlin – probable flock of 200 on Sandy Bay Breakwater (from Cathedral Ledge).
Purple Sandpiper (1) – Cathedral Ledge.
Dovekie (3) – 1, Gloucester Harbor from Jodrey Fish Pier; 2, Elks Club.
Razorbill – (3) Andrews Point.
Ring-billed Gull (25) – Niles Pond.
Herring Gull – common.
Iceland Gull (1) – Niles Pond.
Great Black-backed Gull – common.
Common Loon (6) – 3, Eastern Point; 1, Bass rocks; 2, Andrews Point.
Great Cormorant (7) – Cormorant Rock, Atlantic Road.
Red-tailed Hawk (2) – 1, Niles Pond; 1, Good Harbor Beach parking lot.
Blue Jay (1) – Eastern point.
American Crow – common.
Black-capped Chickadee (1) – Niles Pond.
European Starling
House Sparrow

Wednesday Morning Birding Report, January 8, 2020

Hello, Wednesday Morning Birders!

Dave Williams joined me in leading this week’s Wednesday Morning Birding program on to Plum Island — the north end and points south. Skies were cloudy to partly cloudy to clear; temps 32-40 F.; and winds SW-NW/5-15 mph and freshening. Passerines were in short supply, but outside of that, we had some pretty “good” birds.

Based on Dave’s recent experience conducting a winter raptor workshop for Joppa volunteers, our first stop was in the parking lot immediately west of Plum Island Bridge — and to good effect. In rather poor light, one of our group found the silhouette of a Bald Eagle perched just below the Osprey nesting platform west of the Parker River Refuge boat ramp. It was quite large, no doubt a female, and appeared to be an immature bird. Another eagle was seen perched on a snag to the southwest at the edge of the marsh. In addition, three Northern Harriers were hunting at the western edge of the marsh. Far to the south, over the marsh, a bird of prey was seen kiting on the wind or hovering — either a Red-tailed Hawk or Rough-legged Hawk. It’s silhouette with a longer tail and, with some imagination, smaller head, ID’d this bird as a Rough-leg.

On the north end of Plum Island, we had a number of waterbirds drifting toward the ocean on the outgoing tide, but many of them would return opposite us for what must have been the better feeding grounds. We didn’t have great numbers, but there were Common Eiders, a few White-winged Scoters, a single Black Scoter, three Red-breasted Mergansers, a Common Goldeneye, and about 10 Long-tailed Ducks, the latter in what can be confusing plumages. One field mark to remember in differentiating male Long-tails from females — all males have a pink and black bill, and females do not. In addition to the ducks, there was a Red-throated Loon and a Common Loon, and the three common gull species — Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed. For a change, standing on the beach at the north end was a rather pleasant experience; we normally must deal with uncomfortable strong, northwesterly breezes. The winds were forecasted to increase out of the northwest in the afternoon. Ahhh, timing is everything!

Drake White-winged Scoter – Mike Densmore
Drake Long-tailed Duck – Stan Deutsch
Long-tailed Ducks (1st-winter drakes) – Bob Minton
Red-throated Loon – Patti Wood
Adult Herring Gull (note head & neck “schmutziness” & black encroaching on red spot on lower mandible — indicative of adult Herring Gull winter plumage) – Bob Minton

Our caravan made its way on to Parker River Refuge in search of the winter species often found there. As we moved into the S-curves, Kathy spotted a raptor perched in a tree at the edge of the marsh. There were cars parked on the edge of the road with folks out and looking at that same raptor — a Snowy Owl! What great looks we had, as you can see from the photo below. We spent a good deal of time there, as you can imagine. The owl was facing away from us into the light breeze from the southwest. So, the photographers in our group waited patiently for this Arctic denizen to turn its head for a better picture.

Snowy Owl – John Linn

Next stop was Hellcat where construction of the new boardwalk has begun. The construction activity is occupying a number of spaces there in parking lot #4, so this popular spot will become a bit more difficult to access as 2020 moves along. From Hellcat dike, we watched as sizeable flock of American Black Ducks lift off from the marsh to the west. Whenever we see ducks or shorebirds all get up and move, we are programmed to immediately look around for a bird of prey, the catalyst for these birds to exit the area, avoiding becoming a predator’s meal. Sure enough, the catalyst this time was an adult Bald Eagle. The eagle did take, we presume, a duck. It landed in the marsh and busily ate whatever the hapless prey was. We could not get an identifying look.

Adult Bald Eagle – Tom Schreffler
Adult Bald Eagle & American Black Ducks – Mike Densmore

In the meantime, we found a second Snowy Owl, this one sitting in the marsh to the west of Bill Forward Pool. Another great look at this predominantly white bird. The eagle was soon up and on the wing. It flew closely to the owl, which spooked and took off to the east toward the Bill Forward Blind when we lost track of it — at least for a little while. Little else at Hellcat, aside from a few Mallards on Bill Forward Pool. And, as I write this, I realize that we had a couple of Red-breasted Mergansers on BFP that I failed to include in “Our list.”

From Hellcat, with the time remaining, we headed for parking lot #7 to see what there was to see on Emerson Rocks and the ocean. After we drove by the Bill Forward Blind, the sharp-eyed Isabelle spotted what she thought might be a shrike in flight. We pulled over and, indeed, located an adult Northern Shrike perched atop a Red Cedar behind some birches at the north edge of South Field, right at the south end of the “Old Pines” in which the blind is found. The shrike then dropped down and was not seen again. However, we relocated the Hellcat Snowy Owl — it was perched atop one of the Old Pines. With the dark green of the pine and the clear, blue-gray sky as a backdrop — stunning!

Snowy Owl – Stan Deutsch

Approaching Cross Farm Hill, a Rough-legged Hawk was hovering over the hill’s west end, a common spot during the winter for this Arctic species. On the beach at lot #7, we were greeted by a large mixed flock of Sanderlings and Dunlin — we figured around 50 Sanderlings and 80 Dunlin — all busily feeding in the pools created by the receding tide. Quite the sight! A number of times, they all got up and spread out along the beach’s water edge. Yes, that was a treat, but then another treat flew in before our eyes — a small flock of seven Brant, which landed in and among Emerson Rocks. “In my humble opinion,” this is our most beautiful goose — just love seeing these guys!

Sanderlings & Dunlin – Tom Schreffler
Sanderlings & Dunlin (can you pick out the Dunlin??) – Tom Schreffler
Sanderlings & Dunlin – Stan Deutsch
Sanderlings – John Linn
Brant – Patti Wood
Brant – Stan Deutsch

On the ocean there at lot #7, we also had Common Eiders, a couple of Black Scoters, a few Long-tailed Ducks, and a pair of Common Goldeneyes. Also present were four Horned Grebes, a Common Loon, and some Herring Gulls and a lone Ring-billed Gull.

Horned Grebe – Bob Minton

Making our way back to the north, we had great looks at a female Northern Harrier coursing to the south ever so low over “the Middens,” across from parking lot #1. Dave Williams and I agreed that it was a pretty good morning of birding — once again, quality over quantity.

Next Wednesday, January 15, we will meet at 9:30 at Gloucester Crossing in front of Marshalls for a visit to Cape Ann. Anyone wanting a ride from Joppa, please be there no later than 8:30. Hope to see you then.

Best regards!
Dave Weaver

Our list:
Brant (7) – Emerson Rocks.
Canada Goose – common.
Mallard (6) – Bill Forward Pool (BFP).
American Black Duck – common.
Common Eider (~ 40) – ~ 15, north end; ~ 25, seven ocean.
White-winged Scoter (4) – north end.
Black Scoter (3) – 1, north end; 2, seven ocean.
Long-tailed Duck (~ 15) – ~ 10, north end; 5, seven ocean.
Common Goldeneye (3) – 1, north end; 2, Bar Head ocean.
Red-breasted Merganser (4) – 3, north end; 1, seven ocean.
Horned Grebe (4) – seven ocean.
Sanderling (~ 50) – seven beach.
Dunlin (~ 80) – seven beach.
Ring-billed Gull (2) – 1, north end; 1, seven beach.
Herring Gull (6) – 3, north end; 3, seven beach.
Great Black-backed Gull (1) – north end.
Red-throated Loon (1) – north end.
Common Loon (2) – 1, north end; 1, seven ocean.
[Northern Harrier (3) – marsh sw PI Bridge w. parking lot.]
Northern Harrier (1) – over Middens.
[Bald Eagle (2) – imm., 1 perched beneath refuge boat ramp Osprey
platform, 1 perched on snag edge of marsh; both sw PI Bridge w. parking
Bald Eagle (1) – ad. on prey in marsh w. North Pool dike (presumably a
duck) after having put up a sizeable flock of black ducks; seen from
Hellcat dike.
[Rough-legged Hawk (1) – hovering over marsh s. PI Bridge w. parking lot.]
Rough-legged Hawk (1) – hovering over Cross Farm Hill.
Snowy Owl (2) – 1, perched in tree on edge of marsh, S-curves; 1, first
seen in marsh immediately w. BFP (later spooked by aforementioned eagle
on a flyby; owl landed atop one of BFP blind pines).
Northern Shrike (1) – n. edge South Field atop red cedar, ~ 50 yards from refuge road.
European Starling – large flock on wires leading to PI Bridge from east.

Wednesday Morning Birding on a Thursday Report, January 2, 2020

Happy New Year, all you Wednesday Morning Birders!

With New Year’s Day falling on a Wednesday, we opted to move Wednesday Morning Birding to Thursday, January 2. We had a great turnout on a beautiful day for birding as David Larson and I led the group on to Plum Island in search of recently seen Snowy Owls and, perhaps, a Northern Shrike somewhere on the island. Skies were cloudy to partly cloudy; temps in the mid to upper 30s; and winds W-SW/10-15 mph. Those winds did put a bite in the air, especially, as usual, when we were on the Hellcat dike . . . .

While moving south along the refuge road, a north-bound vehicle stopped and let us know that they had seen a shrike atop one of the trees in the more-southern copse in North Field. We continued south in great anticipation. When we arrived at the appointed spot, we were disappointed — no shrike visible. Nonetheless, we all got out of our vehicles and patiently awaited the possibility of the shrike appearing. David Larson’s sharp eyes found this adult Northern Shrike actively moving around the south end of the copse. It had a vole in its bill. As Chris Leahy describes in his The Birdwatcher’s Companion to North American Birdlife (2004), “Shrikes are medium-sized songbirds . . . with short, heavy, strongly hooked bills; proportionately large heads . . . . The shrikes are the only songbirds that prey habitually on vertebrate animals [including small rodents and birds]. They are birds of open country and forest edge and tend to seek prominent perches where they can scan for their prey, which also includes large insects and crustaceans. Both of our species of ‘butcher birds’ [Loggerhead and Northern Shrikes] practice the famous shrike habit of hanging ‘meat’ on thorns or in narrow crotches, sometimes returning to the mummified remains as long as months afterward.”

Northern Shrike – Tom Schreffler
Northern Shrike – John Linn
Northern Shrike – Tom Schreffler

At one point, the sky to the west was filled with ducks — American Black Ducks and a few Mallards. There were in the vicinity of 700 or so duckies in the air moving south over Plum Island Sound — quite the sight! Below the flight of ducks, we found an immature Bald Eagle slowly flying south, no doubt the reason the ducks were up and moving . . . .

American Black Ducks – Tom Schreffler

We were thoroughly entertained while watching the Northern Shrike for some time before moving on. A couple of Blue Jays were also keeping a watch on the shrike, although I do believe a jay would be a mite too large to be shrike prey.

Approaching Hellcat, we were pleased to find that the gate across the gravel road to the south had been opened. Next stop — parking lot #7 and a visit to calm seas. And, what to our wondering eyes should appear at this low tide but a Snowy Owl ensconced in the middle of Emerson Rocks. The owl along with the shrike were life birds for a number of our party, and were nice contributions to everyone’s list for 2020, at least for those keeping an annual list — Happy New Year! Also seen from our vantage point were Common Eiders, a few Surf Scoters, some White-winged Scoters, a lone Black Scoter, a number of Long-tailed Ducks, some Buffleheads, and several Common Goldeneyes — a nice collection of seaducks. There were also about eight Horned Grebes and as many Common Loons. As we readied to leave lot #7, a few of us saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk flying swiftly above the dunes.

Snowy Owl – Tom Schreffler
Common Eiders – Tom Schreffler
Common Goldeneye & Black Scoter – Tom Schreffler

Aside from some black ducks seen in the marsh to the west of Hellcat dike, birds were absent. Even the usually trustworthy Black-capped Chickadees were missing in the parking area. We headed north to The Warden’s in search of a Rough-legged Hawk seen earlier in the distance. Bingo! A light-morph Rough-leg was spotted hunting over North Field. Remember, this is the only wintering bird of prey that regularly hovers while hunting, and that’s exactly what this bird was doing. Notice in Tom’s photo below, the dark wrists and a glimpse of the white base to the tail, indicative of a light-morph Rough-legged Hawk. Also note the smaller bill and head of a Rough-leg as compared to a larger bill and head of a Red-tailed Hawk.

Rough-legged Hawk – Tom Schreffler

The Warden’s was no more birdier than Hellcat — the dearth of sparrows was especially noticeable. We had a lone American Tree Sparrow along with about eight American Goldfinches, and that was it! An earlier text from Melissa prompted us to get back to Joppa to see, if still present, an out-of-the-ordinary bird hanging out with some Canada Geese in the marsh behind the education center. Indeed, it was still there — an immature Snow Goose. Most of us gathered there in “the back 40” to have a look. At the same time, we were treated to a Red-tailed Hawk soaring just above us. When all said and done, we had only 26 species of birds. I guess you could say, we sacrificed quantity for quality.

Immature Snow Goose – John Linn
Immature Snow Goose – Tom Schreffler
Red-tailed Hawk – Tom Schreffler

Hope to see you next Wednesday as we move into this new year — same time, same station! Our next Cape Ann adventure will be on January 15.

Cheers and all the best!

Dave Weaver

Our list:

[Snow Goose (1) – immature w/ Canada Geese behind Joppa Flats Education
Canada Goose – common.
Mallard (~ 20) – no doubt there were more.
American Black Duck – common; at one time, 700+ in air with imm. Bald
Eagle below.
Common Eider (~ 30) – seven ocean.
Surf Scoter (3) – seven ocean.
White-winged Scoter (~ 20) – seven ocean.
Black Scoter (1) – seven ocean.
Long-tailed Duck (~ 10) – seven ocean.
Bufflehead (~ 11) – seven ocean.
Common Goldeneye (6) – seven ocean.
[Red-breasted Merganser (6) – Merrimack River behind Joppa Flats.]
Horned Grebe (8) – seven ocean.
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull (~ 6)
Common Loon (7) – seven ocean.
Northern Harrier (1) – North Field.
Sharp-shinned Hawk (1) – over dunes seven.
Bald Eagle (1) – flying over PI River, w. North Pool dike.
[Red-tailed Hawk (1) – soaring above Joppa Flats.]
Rough-legged Hawk (1) – hovering above s. end North Field.
Snowy Owl (1) – hunkered down in middle of Emerson Rocks.
Northern Shrike (1) – ad., quite active in and among shrubs and trees of
s. copse North Field (first seen with vole in mouth).
Blue Jay (2) – s. copse North Field.
American Goldfinch (~ 8) – The Warden’s.
American Tree Sparrow (1) – The Warden’s.