Author Archives: David M.

Wednesday Morning Birding Report March 13, 2019

David Larson and I led this week’s Wednesday Morning Birding program around a share of Cape Ann. This was our final trip for the season to Cape Ann, ergo, no more Harlequins until November. In the meantime, we will continue to enjoy scoters, Long-tails, Buffleheads, and goldeneyes, at least for a little while, from Plum Island. On this absolutely gorgeous morning, from Jodrey Fish Pier, we saw a few Common Eiders, a Red-breasted Merganser or two, a Common Loon, and a small group of eight Surf Scoters within good viewing distance. Gulls were, of course, present, but not in big numbers as in times past. Oh, my, it’s not very often that we have calm conditions on Cape Ann, but this time around there was minimal wind. The flat-calm water, at this low tide, allowed us to actually see the bottom of the harbor from the pier.

Common Loon – John Linn
Common Eider female – Mike Densmore
Great Black-backed Gull and Common Eider juveniles Mike Densmore

Eastern Point was wonderful with the variety of birds present. We saw big flocks of Black Scoters, Common Eiders, and Long-tailed Ducks. There were lesser numbers of Surf and White-winged Scoters, but impressive numbers, nonetheless. This spectacle was indicative of a gathering of the various seaducks preparatory to their migration to their northern nesting grounds. On the far side of the outer harbor, we were able to find five Razorbills, their smaller black-and-white bodies evident in the bright sunshine. Near the end of the Dog Bar — the big Gloucester Harbor jetty — keen eyes with good scopes found a small flock of Purple Sandpipers loafing in the morning sun. A few Gadwalls were present nearby, as they usually are. Other dabbling ducks present were a pair of Mallards and a few American Black Ducks, one pair included a “Blallard” drake — a black duck-Mallard hybrid, with some Mallard green evident in its head and one of its tail feathers showing the typical Mallard curl. Otherwise, it looked very much like a black duck. Other divers in view were some Buffleheads and Red-breasted Mergansers. In the marsh to the north of us, a few Red-winged Blackbirds could be heard singing and there were several Common Grackles.

Gadwall female, Patti Wood

Making our way along Atlantic Road, we made a stop at “Cormorant Rock” where we usually find Great Cormorants loafing. We were not disappointed. Sitting atop the rock were five adult Great Cormorants and two immatures. The adults displayed their nuptial plumage with their white flank patches and heads and necks turning a frosty white. The dark chests and white bellies of the immatures were evident. In the vicinity of the rock was a pair of Harlequin Ducks, which we don’t normally see on this stretch of coastline. There were also a few Common Eiders and White-winged Scoters. For those not entirely focused on the ocean, two Song Sparrow were heard singing in the background.

Great Cormorants – Patti Wood

From our Elks Club vantage point, we managed to locate two Black Guillemots — one in nearly complete black breeding plumage and the other still in its dominantly white winter plumage. Four Red-necked Grebes and a single Horned Grebe were also present along with the usual duckies. A few Purple Sandpipers right in front of us presented great views as the incoming tide approached them.

Purple Sandpipers – Bob Minton
Thacher Island Light – Patti Wood

Following the requisite pit stop at the Rockport public loos, we visited Cathedral Ledge. Here we had stunning views of Harlequins directly below us. The sun height and angle made the drake plumages utterly breathtaking — absolutely gorgeous. Their wintering numbers are dwindling as they make their way north for the breeding season, so we were very happy to have these birds giving us a show, the last of our season.

Harlequin Ducks – Mike Densmore
Harlequin Duck splashdown – Patti Wood
Harlequin Ducks – Bob Minton

David Moon and I look forward to seeing you next week back at Joppa Flats Education Center. The arrival of early spring migrants is underway and resident bird song is being heard!

Cheers and warmest regards!
Dave Weaver

Our list:
Canada Goose – common.
Gadwall (3) – Eastern Pt.
American Black Duck (~ 15) – various.
Mallard (2) – Eastern Pt.
Common Eider – common.
Harlequin Duck (12) – 2, “Cormorant Rock,” Atlantic Rd.; 10, Cathedral Ledge.
Surf Scoter – common.
White-winged Scoter – common.
Black Scoter – common.
Long-tailed Duck – common.
Bufflehead – common.
Common Goldeneye (~ 20)
Red-breasted Merganser (~ 10)
Common Loon (~ 15)
Horned Grebe (1) – Elks Club.
Red-necked Grebe (4) – Elks Club.
Great Cormorant (7) – “Cormorant Rock,” Atlantic Rd.
Purple Sandpiper (~ 20) – ~ 16, Eastern Pt. Dog Bar; 4, Elks Club.
Ring-billed Gull (~ 10)
Herring Gull – common.
Great Black-backed Gull (~ 12)
Razorbill (5) – Eastern Pt.
Black Guillemot (2) – Elks Club.
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
American Crow (~ 15)
Northern Mockingbird (1) – Cathedral Ledge.
European Starling (~ 6) – Eastern Pt.
Song Sparrow (3) – singing; 2, Atlantic Rd.
Northern Cardinal (1) – Cathedral Ledge.
Red-winged Blackbird (3) – Eastern Pt.
Common Grackle (~ 6) – Eastern Pt.
House Sparrow

Wednesday Morning Birding Report, February 27, 2019

It was bitter cold, but sunny, for our outing this week, and a small but hardy group showed up to join me and Dave Weaver for Wednesday Morning Birding. The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge road is closed beyond Hellcat, so we started our excursion at Salisbury Beach State Reservation. Even though the marsh was empty and frozen, we found plenty of ducks near the boat ramp, perhaps in greater numbers due to the flats being covered by ice. American Black Ducks and a few Mallards huddled at the edge of the frozen marsh. White-winged Scoters, Greater Scaup, and a Red-breasted Merganser or two lounged in the creek, while more scoters and some Common Goldeneyes rested on the river. Stopping to look at the rocks along the river bank, we found several little groups of Gadwalls dabbling and exploring around the rocks, along with a big raft of Common Eiders and more scoters foraging along the eddy lines in the river. A few Long-tailed Ducks and Black Scoters flew by as well, and a Red-throated Loon, which have been scarce this year, floated out with the tide.

White-winged Scoter with crab – Stan Deutsch

Greater Scaup – Stan Deutsch
Resting Harp Seal – Stan Deutsch

At Salisbury Beach, we found an ocean that looked quite empty, until we saw another Red-throated Loon and the usual raft of sea ducks off the end of the north jetty. Gulls sat rather than stood in the parking lot, conserving heat carefully. This unremarkable result sent us back to Plum Island. We bypassed the many Canada Geese and American Black Ducks in the river along its south bank at Joppa Flats. From the Plum Island bridge, we noticed a young Bald Eagle soaring over the Plum Island River, then found three more sitting on a large tree that had washed up on the marsh. When one of the eagles took off to tussle with another in the air, another young eagle joined the group, making a total of four subadult birds and one adult all at once!

Bald Eagles on a log – Stan Deutsch

After that record-breaking mini Eagle Festival, we walked away from the wind, up the parking lot #1 boardwalk, and down a few steps from the dune platform to get out of the breeze. As often happens, the sea looked empty, but birds appeared with closer inspection. There were lots of scoters far out, and now and then we would see the white on the wings of one, or a big orange knob on the face to identify the bird as a Black Scoter. A Horned Grebe eventually came into view, then a Common Loon. We turned our faces to the frigid wind and squinted our way back to the wonderfully sheltering vans.

Hoping for an owl or even a hawk to look at, we made our way to The Warden’s as that was all the time we had left. We were delighted, therefore, to find a flock of Snow Buntings vigorously feeding on grist and maybe little seeds along the side of the road near the S-Curves. The sight of winter seed eaters gathering on the roadsides is a striking feature of the season, and you never know if such a flock will contain something uncommon or even rare. These were purely beautiful SNBUs.

Snow Buntings – Stan Deutcsh

At The Warden’s, we faced another short march into the wind, but it was the last one, so off we went. There was little avian activity, but another small flock of Snow Buntings was skittishly alighting on the roof of one of the sheds, dropping onto the ground, flying off in a panic, and repeating the whole process. And that was it for a bitter cold day, where we confirmed our ability to withstand the elements for a little while, and were rewarded with a few brilliant moments with birds.

Our list:
Salisbury Beach —
Canada Goose – common.
Gadwall (~ 15)
American Black Duck – common.
Mallard (2)
Northern Pintail (1) – drake with black ducks.
Greater Scaup (3) – 2 drakes, 1 hen; boat ramp.
Common Eider – common.
White-winged Scoter – common.
Black Scoter (2)
Long-tailed Duck (5)
Common Goldeneye – common.
Red-breasted Merganser (5)
Red-throated Loon (2)
Common Loon (1)
Red-tailed Hawk (1) – cedar grove.
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull Blue Jay (1)
American Crow (4)
Black-capped Chickadee (1)
Northern Cardinal (1)

Plum Island —
Canada Goose – common.
American Black Duck – common.
Common Eider – common; one ocean.
White-winged Scoter – common; one ocean.
Black Scoter (4) – one ocean.
Scoter spp. – many; one ocean.
Long-tailed Duck (2) – pr; one ocean.
Common Loon (1) – one ocean.
Horned Grebe (1) – one ocean.
Bald Eagle (5) – 1 ad, 4 imm; hay marsh, n refuge gate; latter interacting.
Northern Harrier (2) – 1 at distance over North Marsh; 1 ad female over marsh w pannes.
[Red-tailed Hawk (1) – PI Tpk.]
Herring Gull – many.
American Crow (3) – hay marsh.
Black-capped Chickadee (1) – S-curves.
Snow Bunting (~ 33) – ~ 25 roadside, n S-curves; 8, The Warden’s.

Wednesday Morning Birding, February 6, 2019

In my message about returning to Plum Island this week, I noted that it has been very interesting birding there lately. This week, Dave Weaver, our 30 companions, and I found that the excitement continues! Arriving at the north end of Plum Island on February 6, we found a good-sized gyre of sea ducks and loons very near the shore, in an eddy on the island side. Normally, we find rafts of sea birds either in the center of the river or over near the far side. It was rewarding to be so close to many Common Eiders and both Black and White-winged Scoters. The eiders were very noisy, with a constant chorus of grunt-clucks as they actively courted. Three Common Loons foraged nearby, and finally a Red-throated Loon made an appearance for Wednesday Morning Birding. We haven’t recorded one of those for a long time. Common Goldeneyes were scattered all over the tide covering Joppa Flats, all the way to the western shore of the north end. Notably absent this week were Long-tailed Ducks, which have lately been the big show.

Red-throated Loon – Bob Minton
Black Scoters – Stan Deutsch
Common Loon – John Linn
Common Eider females – Mike Densmore

After searching the river for rarities without luck, and enjoying close-up views of our typical winter species, we moved on to the platform at parking lot #1 on Parker River NWR. Birding was tough up there, with a strong onshore wind and heavy chop. Scoters could be spotted briefly, and one skilled member of the crew had a view of a Horned Grebe, but really only birds in flight could be seen enough to identify them well. The prize for our effort was a flying Razorbill, visible long enough for folks to try to discern why that bird looked different in flight than any duck out there. No owls could be seen from the dune top, so we moved on to the road.

White-winged Scoter in flight – Stan Deutsch

One of us had found Snowy Owls earlier, so we were happy, but not surprised, to find two in one binocular field near the Main Panne. One of them was the completely white bird we assume is the same individual we saw last week. Not a speck on him (her?). The S-curves were very quiet, with only a few individual birds appearing on either pass that day. We had more than enough time for Hellcat. But since Emerson Rocks would be covered by the tide, we made a “Hail Mary” trip south, with a stop at Stage Island Pool. Once again we found a Rough-legged Hawk perched in the copse of trees on the south side of Cross Farm Hill. It took off and disappeared, though we did find it later on an Osprey platform, and then watched it perform satisfying RLHA behaviors over the hill. This week we also found more Mute Swans than usual, with an entire family near Stage Island.

Snowy Owl – the white one – Mike Densmore

As we walked up the road toward Stage Island, participant Katherine Morrison touched my shoulder and said quietly that she thought she had found an alcid of some kind on the ice! Sure enough, out there in the glare, a Razorbill sat still in one spot, only moving its head, seeming alert. Of course we were both amazed and delighted, while simultaneously worried about its ability to take off from that strange and inhospitable spot. Some thought they saw it try to fly a bit, without making any progress. I texted an image of the bird to the refuge biologist, but we didn’t try to intervene in any way. The bird was on ice of unknown thickness, well behind the signs that keep us corralled and away from wildlife on the refuge. We watched the bird for some time, feeling a range of responses from bemused to worried. When I returned to check on it in the afternoon, the Razorbill was gone without a trace – fortunately for the Razorbill, not leaving an apparent “kill site.”

Razorbill on ice at Stage island pool – Stan Deutsch
Mute Swan – Bob Minton

After enjoying the family of swans flying over us, and the antics of the Rough-legged Hawk, we left for Hellcat, satisfied that sometimes a whim pays off. The dike at Hellcat was as desolate as we expected it to be. Tire tracks led us to discover a pile of sections of the old Marsh Loop boardwalk, which is now being replaced with a wider boardwalk. Perhaps the new boardwalk will be wide enough to accommodate a group the size of WMB, but it will certainly allow people in wheelchairs and those who use other walking assistance to enjoy strolling and birding in the forest and marsh.

Peregrine Falcon – Mike Densmore

Because it is what we do, we began marching out onto the dike and into the wind, at varying rates of speed, as not everybody relishes a blast of cold wind and few-to-no birds. But this week we were treated quickly to the sight of a young female Peregrine Falcon, sitting in the grass on the outer stretch of dike that contains North Pool. When I caught up with the folks standing near the tower, some who happen to have experience at rehabilitation centers said that the bird had made some moves as if it were injured. We walked out to the gate, pausing for better looks. After we observed the bird for a few moments from the gate, perhaps a bit closer than we normally would or should due to concern for the bird, she took off and landed nearby on the post of a staddle. No more fears about an injury. What a thrilling manner of flight, just powerful mastery, even on a little jaunt!

Common Loon wrassles a Green Crab – Stan Deutsch

That was pretty much it for WMB this week. In North Field, however, we again found an adult male Northern Harrier, who was magnificent, and we got glimpses of the two Snowy Owls again. I hesitate to report that one flew right over our van after we rounded a corner, so I was the only one who saw it, but so it goes. The list of species we saw is not very long, but the birds were spectacular this week. How completely precious is the rhythmic life of birds on Plum Island! It reminds us of how grateful we are that the folks at Mass Audubon had the vision and foresight to put Joppa Flats Education Center here. We are endlessly enriched with our regular immersion in the birds of the Great Marsh, and we welcome you to join us whenever you can.

Our list:
Canada Goose – common.
Mute Swan (11!) – 6, PI River, north of pannes; 5, marsh just north of Stage Island Pool, moving onto Stage Island Pool ice.
American Black Duck – common.
Mallard – common.
Common Eider – common; north end.
White-winged Scoter (~ 16) – ~ 10, north end; ~ 6, parking lot #1 (one) ocean.
Black Scoter (~ 30) – ~ 25, north end; 5, one ocean.
Long-tailed Duck (2) – one ocean.
Common Goldeneye (~ 45) – ~ 35, north end; ~ 10, Plum Island River, north of pannes.
Red-breasted Merganser (2) – north end.
Red-throated Loon (1) – north end; showing color in head.
Common Loon (3) – north end.
Northern Harrier (2) – including 1 male.
Red-tailed Hawk (1) – The Old Pines.
Rough-legged Hawk (1) – light morph; Cross Farm Hill.
Herring Gull – common.
Great Black-backed Gull (~ 10) – various.
Razorbill (2) – 1, one ocean; 1, on Stage Island Pool ice.
Rock Pigeon
Snowy Owl (2) – 1 very white individual near west shore of Main Panne; 1 in marsh further west of Main Panne.
Peregrine Falcon (1) – 1st-yr bird, probable female; North Pool dike just north of Hellcat dike.
American Crow (~ 9) – various.
American Robin (3) – S-curves.
Northern Mockingbird (2) – 1, parking lot #1; 1, Hellcat.
European Starling – large flock on wires n. refuge gate.
House Sparrow (1) – refuge gate.