Author Archives: David M.

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.

Wednesday Morning Birding Report, January 29, 2020

Last Wednesday, the conditions lined up just right for a full coverage of Plum Island. Our initial trip southward and through the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge was uneventful, until we were interrupted by a Rough-legged Hawk foraging low and near our edge of the marsh in the S-curves. Views of the bird there were spotty but dramatic, as it was close but moving behind the thickets. Those in the van bringing up the rear had fabulous looks at this light-morph Rough-legged Hawk as it perched in a nearby tree at the edge of the marsh. The pannes, which the day before had hosted some nice dabbling ducks, had frozen over, and not much else was stirring.

Northern Harrier – Stan Deutsch

We paused at Cross Farm Hill to see if any of the now-famous Short-eared Owls were roosting in view, but no birds were visible at that moment. We did find a collection of people waiting there, hoping, we presume, to take photos of the bird(s). We have been hearing that on some days this has become quite common: crowds park along the side of the road for long periods as they wait for owls to appear. Such human behavior can be disturbing to wildlife.

As it happens, that particular site may actually be a place where the regular, ongoing presence of hopeful photographers has little effect on owls or other wildlife. Short-eared Owls roost on the ground in the marsh, and usually are more or less invisible to us. The habitat at Cross Farm Hill is big and open, so if the people there are perceived as a disturbance by the owls, it may be that the owls can find plenty of other good places to go. Still, it’s important to realize that the habit of “camping out” at known owl roosts often has a horrible effect on both owls and on the ability of other people to enjoy them. We birders dearly wish that photographers would adopt similar ethics to those we encourage in the birding community.

Rough-legged Hawk young female – Patti Wood

A good protocol to follow is: go see if an owl is there, wait a bit, and then move on. Come back for short periods if you must, but we humans must try not to turn owl roosts into a carnival of bipeds. In the case of tree-roosting birds, crowds of people may disturb the birds to the point that they abandon a good roost. Or, land-owner “hosts” might become annoyed enough to shoo the roosting birds away to be done with the swarming audiences. A well-known roost tree in West Newbury was cut down for that reason. In addition to destroying the very thing that people hope to enjoy, the habit of staying for long periods at a roost degrades the experience of seeing the birds in an undisturbed natural setting. There is no firm guideline here. Moderation and common sense should prevail. We know that things can get really busy with hordes of spring birders for long stretches at famous spots on Plum Island in May. However, if all of us remember to discreetly move along, we will have the best chance of respecting the resource.

Back to our report! The sea at Emerson Rocks was smooth with nice, regular waves arriving to break on the rocks and shoals. Common Eiders were the most noticeable in the cove, though two pairs of Horned Grebes eventually revealed themselves, sometimes quite near to shore. Scoters were in short supply, but some White-winged and a few Black Scoters did eventually show up, along with some Long-tailed Ducks and a Common Goldeneye. There must be better beds of clams and mussels elsewhere this winter.

Horned Grebe – Tom Schreffler

We checked on the mouth of the sound at Sandy Point State Reservation. While not too much was out on the water, we did find a flock of a dozen or so Horned Larks foraging around in the wrack and low vegetation of the just-above-high-tide zone. Many of us found positions where the light was behind us, so we could really see and enjoy the unusual behavior the larks exhibit, walking about in a kind of sneaky way in the grasses and sand, poking here and there for seeds. It was hard to break away, as the birds seemed oblivious of us. But we had more ground to cover, and we headed north.

Horned Larks – Bob Minton
Horned Lark – Mike Densmore

While there were geese to examine for anomalous species in the south marsh, things did not pick up until we reached South Field, where a Rough-legged Hawk was putting on a master class in hovering and kiting above the thickets. We followed this bird all the way to Hellcat, where very little else was doing. We watched the arctic hawk move out over the sound and then back across the marsh along North Pool. After picking up one wintering Yellow-rumped Warbler near the parking lot, we caught up again with the Rough-legged Hawk at North Field. We had the time and wanted more birds, so we decided to continue north and finish the day at the mouth of the Merrimack River.

Rough-legged Hawk – Tom Schreffler

What a good decision! A sleeping Common Loon, plenty of White-winged Scoters, and soon a Red-necked Grebe made the end of the outing exciting. Common Eiders of all plumages ranged in big rafts and scattered around the river mouth, and Long-tailed Ducks foraged in and occasionally flew over the strong current. The close proximity of the grebe and the snazzy plumage of the male White-winged Scoters, seen in good light, made for a very satisfying conclusion to our end-to-end search for birds on Plum Island. Next week we will be in our neighborhood again, then off to Cape Ann on February 12.

Red-necked Grebe – Patti wood
Common Loon – Patti Wood
White-winged Scoter handles crab – Stan Deutsch
White-winged Scoter with prey – Mike Densmore

Our list:
Canada Goose (~ 85)
Gadwall (2) – Hellcat, marsh w. Bill Forward Pool (BFP).
Mallard (~ 20) – Hellcat, marsh w. BFP.
American Black Duck – common.
Common Eider (~ 60) – ~ 10, ocean seven; ~ 50, north end.
White-winged Scoter (~ 17) – 2, ocean seven; ~ 15, north end.
Black Scoter (3) – seven ocean.
Long-tailed Duck (~ 16) – ~ 12, seven ocean; 4, north end.
Bufflehead (1) – Stage Island Pool.
Common Goldeneye (3) – 2, seven ocean; 1, north end.
Red-breasted Merganser (2) – north end.
Horned Grebe (4) – seven ocean.
Red-necked Grebe (1) – north end.
Rock Pigeon
Sanderling (3) – seven beach.
Ring-billed Gull (3) – north end.
Herring Gull – common.
Great Black-backed Gull (1)
Common Loon (3) – north end.|
Northern Harrier (3) – 1, ad. female perched, Middens; 1, male over
North Field; 1, female moving across n. end S-curves toward dunes.
Red-tailed Hawk (1) – seen from north end over Salisbury.
Rough-legged Hawk (2) – 1, light morph perched at edge of marsh n. The
Warden’s; 1, light morph hunting over South Field/.
Blue Jay (1)
Horned Lark (~ 12) – Sandy Point.
Black-capped Chickadee (3)
Song Sparrow (2) – Hellcat.
Yellow-rumped Warbler (1) – Hellcat parking lot.