Wednesday Morning Birding Report, November 28, 2018

The sun greeted us in the Gloucester Crossing shopping center parking lot on Wednesday, as Susan Yurkus and I got ready to lead a cheery group of birders around Cape Ann. It was easy to get to the Jodrey State Fish Pier from there, and we found lots of birds in Gloucester Harbor. There were rafts of adult Common Eiders, with Double-crested Cormorants on the raft, and Red-breasted Mergansers scattered all over. Participant Hazel Hewitt picked out a female Common Merganser among them, making good use of our lesson on the differences between those species as “quiz birds” last week. After one particularly big explosion of gulls from the fishermen’s warehouse, we had a happy result to my plea that people look for an unusual gull: we found a first-cycle Iceland Gull, which then spent a good amount of time paddling serenely around in the protected area near the pier.

Common Eider with Green Crab – Mike Densmore

Iceland Gull – Bob Minton

As we wound through the thicket at Eastern Point, a Hermit Thrush did what they often do, dashing in front of the lead van into the brush, after which no one else could get a look. The view of the outer harbor and nearby cove from Eastern Point Wildlife Sanctuary was very birdy, especially with Red-breasted Mergansers. Lots of Bufflehead bobbed and dove near the shore. A female Green-winged Teal joined them on the open water, allowing us to see both the smallest dabbler and the smallest diver together. Not far out was a group of five or so beautiful drake Surf Scoters in a boys’ club gathering. Mostly female Black Scoters and a Red-necked Grebe mixed in with a raft of eiders against the seawall.

Bufflehead – Mike Densmore

Surf Scoters – Patti Wood

Red-necked Grebe near Eastern Point – Patti Wood

Green-winged Teal female – Mike Densmore

Niles Pond continued the theme of Red-breasted Mergansers, with one more Common Merganser female. A Ring-necked Duck and a pair of Greater Scaup added diversity. We can’t say that a Mute Swan didn’t contribute as well. That is the spot where we usually find the few passerines we can report on Cape Ann. This week all that showed up was a Downy Woodpecker and a Song Sparrow, with cheeping from House Sparrows in the hedges.

Ring-necked Duck female – Bob Minton

Greater Scaup female – Stan Deutch

Driving up Atlantic Road begins with Cormorant Rock, which this time was devoid of Great Cormorants. But the sea was covered with eiders and mostly White-winged Scoters. A charming aspect of the rocks and cove near the Elks Club is that Buffleheads are usually there in numbers, and this week was no exception. They made it more challenging for everyone to find a Razorbill; Hazel got even more kudos for finding one among them. Before we left, a Great Cormorant flew north way out at sea, not a bird easy to identify for most of us. Northern Gannets also patrolled in ones and twos on the distant stretches of ocean.

White-winged Scoter – Stan Deutsch

Razorbill – Patti Wood

Northern Gannet – Stan Deautsch

With not much time to spare, we made an efficient stop for the public restrooms at Rockport Harbor and found four American Black Ducks mixed in with the Mallards among the boats. The weather was changing by the time we reached Andrews Point, with a rising wind and gray sky that eventually produced a driving sleet. Still, it was wonderful to watch the big beautiful waves rolling in from the southeast and highlighting the many Harlequin Ducks and eiders below the point. Before climbing back into the vans, we worked on differentiating female Black Scoters from female Harlequin Ducks and found a lone Long-tailed Duck in the dramatic sea. What spectacular frigid energy we experienced this day on our coast, decorated so unforgettably with the seabirds that call it home for the winter.

Common Eider – John Linn

Harlequin Ducks – Barbara Merrill

Black Scoter hens and Harlequin Duck hen- Bob Minton

Our List:
Canada Goose (~120) – various.
Mute Swan (1) – Niles Pond.
American Black Duck (4) – Rockport Harbor
Mallard – common
Green-winged Teal (1) – Eastern Point.
Ring-necked Duck (1) – Niles Pond.
Greater Scaup (2) – Niles Pond.
Common Eider – common.
Harlequin Duck (~25) – Andrews Point.
Surf Scoter (~10) – Eastern Point.
White-winged Scoter – common.
Black Scoter – common.
Long-tailed Duck (1) – Andrews Point.
Bufflehead – common.
Common Merganser (2) – 1, Gloucester Harbor female: 1, Niles Pond female.
Red-breasted Merganser – common.
Common Loon (4) – various.
Red-necked Grebe (1) – Eastern Point
Northern Gannet (5) – Atlantic road.
Double-crested Cormorant (15) – mostly Gloucester Harbor.
Great Cormorant (1) – Atlantic Road.
Cooper’s Hawk (1) – Over Rt. 133 Ipswich.
Red-tailed Hawk (1) – Gloucester Crossing Shopping Center.
Herring Gull – common.
Iceland Gull (1) – Gloucester Harbor, from Jodrey State Fish Pier.
Great Black-backed Gull – common.
Razorbill (1) – Elks Club.
Rock Pigeon – common.
Mourning Dove – common.
Downy Woodpecker (1) – Niles Pond
Blue Jay (1) – Eastern Point.
American Crow (8) – various.
Hermit Thrush (1) – Eastern Point.
Northern Mockingbird (1) – Rt. 133 Ipswich.
European Starling – common.
Snow Bunting (8) – Over Rt. 133 Rowley.
Song Sparrow (1) – Niles Pond
House Sparrow – yes.

Wednesday Morning Birding Report, November 21, 2018

Wednesday’s sloppy beginning turned into a fine day to go out with a bunch of loyal (if mildly unruly) birders. It’s duck season, so Dave Weaver and I decided to take the gang over to Cherry Hill Reservoir first. On the way, we stopped at the bridge over the Upper Artichoke Reservoir, where a few forest birds could be heard, and where a raft of Ring-necked Ducks paddled around near one Northern Pintail and some Mallards. At Cherry Hill Reservoir, we rolled up on a small flock of Hooded Mergansers and a Bufflehead. The mergansers flew off to join others, about 50 all told. Ruddy Ducks were scattered over the entire reservoir, and a flock of 100 or so Common Mergansers paraded up and down the lake.

Bufflehead female on Cherry Hill Reservoir – Mike Densmore

A flock of Eastern Bluebirds burst on the scene, landing with a couple of American Goldfinches in nearby trees. A Belted Kingfisher also made his way noisily around the scene, keeping some of us busy trying for photos. Farther down the road along the shore, we found a big flock of Ring-necked Ducks comprising about 60 birds.

This satisfying freshwater survey got us excited to get back out to Plum Island, where we found the ocean off parking lot #1 strewn with loons and grebes. Mostly we found Red-throated Loons, with about three Common Loons mixed in. North of the platform, Red-necked Grebes were all about, in small groups or alone. We didn’t find any eiders, but Long-tailed Ducks and scoters of all three species showed up in pairs or small flocks. A flock of Rock Pigeons flew up the beach, prompting some in our group to try to make them into some other more exotic species. Just because they thrive in cities, however, one should remember what a robust bird the pigeon is, replete with many stunning capacities, especially in the area of navigation and orientation.

Red-throated Loon – Mike Densmore

The Main Panne made for a good stop, with two pairs of Northern Shovelers and another two of Gadwalls, along with the American Black Ducks that will winter with us. A Northern Harrier spent some time over the marsh and pannes just south of us. Just before we left, I spotted an American Bittern as it flew across a stretch of marsh and then disappeared down into it. Neither my shouts nor my gesticulations helped others to find the fleeting thing, however, and the jolly crew decided to cast all kinds of aspersions upon their leader regarding the honesty, clear-headedness, vision, or other faculties I apparently lacked in reporting a desirable bird of which there was no trace. All mockery rolled off my back, though, oiled with the idea that if it were really that bad, it would be too embarrassing for them to joke about, and as far as I was concerned, order was restored.

American Black Ducks – Mike Densmore

Next, we went to use our remaining time in the increasing breeze on Hellcat dike. We were very happily surprised by American Coots on both sides! A number of Buffleheads, a Hooded Merganser, and a Ruddy Duck made it a day of unusual ducks for the refuge impoundments. Northern Pintails flew over a couple of times, and a big flock of Snow Buntings made several dashes across Bill Forward Pool to settle well down the dike south of the tower.

Snow Buntings over Bill Forward Pool – Mike Densmore

We charged out to try to see the Snow Buntings on the ground  and look for any other species that might be mixed in with them. Habitually, the buntings took inexplicable flights to and fro, then settled densely in a spot on the dike road. On one of their many forays, four darker birds separated to fly by us, and I suggested how nice it would be if they were Lapland Longspurs. Well, they could have been. They just as easily could have been Horned Larks; no corresponding vocalizations occurred. My “friends” met my conjecture with general derision, however, and the rolling ball of “tease the leader” that I thought I’d stopped was back in play. This was a jolly group of WMB regulars indeed – but we are here to make people who love nature happy, no matter what it takes, right?!

Two Red-tailed Hawks , a Cooper’s Hawk that once again elicited jokes as it was reported solely by me, the driver of the lead van, and a Peregrine Falcon made our ride back to Joppa mildly eventful. With the birds we saw on the way home, we finished up a time of feeling thankful for each other and for the magnificent feathered creatures we celebrate as often as we can. These moments of real joy, brought on by each other’s company, the land and seascapes, and by the birds, mark our lives with meaning. Thanks to all of you who share this  passion with us, no matter how near or far – especially when it gets silly!

Our list:
W. Newbury —
Mallard (4) – Upper Artichoke Reservoir.
Northern Pintail (1) – Upper Artichoke Reservoir.
Ring-necked Duck (~ 63) – 13, Upper Artichoke Reservoir.; ~ 50, Cherry Hill Res.
Bufflehead (~ 35) – Cherry Hill Reservoir.
Hooded Merganser (~ 50) – Cherry Hill Reservoir.
Common Merganser (~ 110) – Cherry Hill Reservoir.
Ruddy Duck (~ 40) – Cherry Hill Reservoir.
Ring-billed Gull (8) – Cherry Hill Reservoir.
Herring Gull (5) – Cherry Hill Reservoir.
Mourning Dove (4)
Belted Kingfisher (1) – Cherry Hill Reservoir.
Northern Flicker (2) – Cherry Hill Reservoir.
Pileated Woodpecker (1) – Cherry Hill Reservoir.
Blue Jay (4)
Eastern Bluebird (~ 8) – Cherry Hill Reservoir.
American Robin (1)
Dark-eyed Junco (4)
Northern Cardinal (1) – Cherry Hill Reservoir.
American Goldfinch (2) – Cherry Hill Reservoir.

Plum Island (Parker River NWR) —
Canada Goose – common.
Mute Swan (2) – small pannes.
Gadwall (5) – Main Panne.
American Black Duck – common.
Mallard – a few.
Northern Shoveler (4) – 2 pairs, main panne.
Northern Pintail (6) – Bill Forward Pool.
Surf Scoter (1) – parking lot #1 (one) ocean.
White-winged Scoter (2) – pr., one ocean.
Black Scoter (~ 20) – one ocean (no doubt more further out in ocean).
Long-tailed Duck (~ 25) – one ocean.
Bufflehead (8) – Bill Forward Pool.
Common Goldeneye (2) – one ocean.
Hooded Merganser (1) – male; Bill Forward Pool.
Ruddy Duck (1) – male; North Pool from Hellcat dike.
Red-throated Loon – common, one ocean.
Common Loon (3) – one ocean.
Red-necked Grebe (~ 15) – one ocean.
American Bittern (1) – marsh n. main panne.
Great Blue Heron (2) – hay marsh.
Northern Harrier (2)
Cooper’s Hawk (1) – n. end S-curves.
Red-tailed Hawk (2) – n. end S-curves.
American Coot (7) – 5, Bill Forward Pool; 2, North Pool from Hellcat dike.
Herring Gull – common, one ocean.
Great Black-backed Gull (5) – various.
Rock Pigeon – large flock, n. refuge gate.
Peregrine Falcon (1) – flyby, heading east from PI bridge.
Blue Jay (1) – between parking lot #s 1 & 2.
American Crow (1)
Black-capped Chickadee (2) – Hellcat.
American Robin (2) – Hellcat.
Northern Mockingbird (1) – parking lot #1.
European Starling
Snow Bunting (~ 30) – Bill Forward Pool dike.
Song Sparrow (3) – roadside.
Dark-eyed Junco (3) – roadside.

Wednesday Morning Birding Report, November 13, 2018

This Wednesday was a surprisingly violent day to go birding. We have been out when it was colder, and when it was wetter, but perhaps never when it was windier. This particular tempest restricted us to leeward microclimates from which we could look for birds. Dave Weaver said it was the worst that he’s ever seen. We went first to the north end of Plum Island, because there had been reports of many seabirds before the storm came, and we were hoping that the winter season had begun, when flocks of scoters, eiders, and others shelter in the mouth of the Merrimack River. I have to admit some personal folly as well, as I enjoy wild weather, and thought it might be a hoot out there. Instead, it was a rout, plain and simple. I tried using the crazy goggles I have, with which I can usually look into strong, cold wind, but they were not enough help. As we approached the steep berm at the edge of the water, the biggest pieces of beach sediment hit and stung our faces with their force, and there was just no way to look out at the water for any length of time, let alone search for birds with optics. The lenses would have been scoured. We’ve all been birding on beaches with the sand blowing around and nipping at ankles, but this was different. Dave Weaver estimated the wind at 25-30 knots with gusts of 40-50. I believe him! Birds to report on the river: zero.

WMB struggles to the North End, only to be rebuffed – David Moon

After such a defeat, one thinks, “Okay, so now what?” We didn’t push too hard to work our way down the road on Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, stopping to look for waterfowl in the salt pannes. There were a few American Black Ducks. The Northern Shrike from the day or two before was neither found nor expected at the top of a tree in the tempest, as it probably had better ideas of survival. As we passed the smaller pannes south of the Main Panne, three Snow Buntings flitted across the road in front of the lead van, and we and a few others were able to spot them from inside the warm confines of our glass and metal encasement as they landed on a strip of marsh.

No images made.

We had a tip from MaryMargaret Halsey of two American Bitterns at Hellcat, so we scurried past The Warden’s. Sure enough, one of those bitterns was hunched in the Common Reeds byBill Forward Pool, with an expression that seemed to say, “What did I do wrong? How did I miss that this was coming?”  No more birds appeared other than the gulls that we saw being tossed all morning, mile after mile, and one Great Blue Heron that somehow flew into the galeto reposition itself closer to the middle of the marsh. The parking lot was calmer, and looking back I realize we should have spent more time with the few surviving songbirds we might have found besides the one female cardinal we did see there.

American Bittern – Patti Wood

Things were not much better on the beach from parking lot #7, though the dunes did create little pockets of relatively calm, sunny space. A difference of a few feet one way or the other made standing there doable, and we spent some time to enjoy sighting Common Eiders, Red-throated Loons, and Red-breasted Mergansers moving around foraging areas near the exposed rocks. A few scoters went by, maybe even four. One Black-bellied Plover and one Sanderling still hung on. One each! Gannets were far out at sea, too far to see.

Thinking it would be kind to make restrooms available if nothing else, we returned north to The Warden’s. Hopping out of the vans and marching straight to the sheds to shelter in the lee of the gale worked pretty well,  allowing us to watch about 150 Canada Geese overhead struggling mightily to stay in any kind of formation and work their way south. They looked more likeDouble-crested Cormorants from a distance, with the sloppy, shifting formations they came up with. One hopes they had excess fuel for the journey.

Canada Geese struggle south – John Linn

Recently, we have heard that seabirds can be found off the beach at parking lot #3 due to deeper water there, so we gave it a try. It was pretty easy walking east, propelled by the northwesterly wind, and we spotted a couple of Northern Flickers inexplicably out and about. Behind the low dunes there, we found little protection, but we came up with only another loon, a couple of female Common Goldeneyes flying north, and an interesting flock of Dunlins foraging on the edge of the water. Individuals would stop their searching for prey in the sand to run behind another in the flock to get some shelter, which meant the flock faced the wind and kept drifting along as birds scurried so as not to be the one in the teeth of the driving, airborne sand. It was a beautiful if pitiable choreography.

Dunlins forage in gale – John Linn

As you will see from the short list below, that was about it. This fall continues to be one of feast and famine as far as finding birds on Plum Island is concerned, though every time we are there our spirits are wonderfully enriched by the changing natural scenes we find around the Great Marsh each week.

Our brief list:
Canada Goose (~ 200) – ~ 50, various; ~ 150, flock overhead at The Warden’s, moving south.
American Black Duck – common; throughout the marsh.
Mallard (9) – 7, South Pannes; 2, Stage Island Pool.
Northern Pintail (4) – South Pannes.
Common Eider (4) – Emerson Rocks.
White-winged Scoter (1) – parking lot #7 (seven), ocean.
Black Scoter (1) – seven, ocean.
Common Goldeneye (2) – hens; parking lot #3 (three) ocean.
Red-breasted Merganser (3) – Emerson Rocks.
Red-throated Loon (5) – 4, seven ocean; 1, three ocean.
American Bittern (1) – Bill Forward Pool, from Hellcat dike (thanks MaryMargaret & Dave Adrien).
Great Blue Heron (1) – North Pool from Hellcat dike.
Northern Harrier (1) – over marsh north of Cross Farm Hill.
Black-bellied Plover (1) – seven beach.
Sanderling (1) – seven beach.
Dunlin (~ 18) – three beach.
[Ring-billed Gull – common, Joppa Flats.]
Herring Gull – common.
Northern Flicker (2) – three boardwalk.
Northern Mockingbird (1) – parking lot #7.
European Starling – several medium-sized flocks
Snow Bunting (3) – small pannes.
[American Tree Sparrow (1) – Joppa Flats.]
Song Sparrow (1) – The Warden’s.
Dark-eyed Junco (2) – roadside between parking lots 1 & 2.
Northern Cardinal (1) – Hellcat parking lot.