Author Archives: David M.

Wednesday Morning Birding Report, October 16, 2019

On Wednesday, October 16, Dave Weaver and I hosted a group of our regular birders for this week’s visit to Plum Island. As we passed the Main Panne, we were arrested by the sight of a dozen Great Egrets foraging together in the south end of the pool. They were surrounded by Greater Yellowlegs, which we found consistently throughout the refuge in most of the pannes and pools we visited. This week was our annual walk along the dike from The Warden’s to North Pool Overlook, a welcome opportunity offered every year during National Wildlife Refuge Week. While there were sparrows, as expected, in the open areas by the utility sheds, most were Song Sparrows, and none gave us the chance to work on identification of the genus Spizella, which has been notably lacking on Plum Island this fall. Although our group bypassed the back of the north shed, Joyce Spencer decided to take a look, and she had a lovely time on her own with three Field Sparrows (Spizella pusilla). In the patches of thicket near North Pool, things got lively with large flocks of Yellow-rumped Warblers actively feeding and calling. Other birds mixed in: a cardinal, some sparrows, mockingbirds, robins, but no other warbler species.

Great Egrets – Bob Minton

Mike Densmore got a bit ahead and was able to observe five Wood Ducks on North Pool, which our less stealthy crowd flushed immediately. We found the dowitchers that had been reported from the day before by Tom Wetmore and others. We proceeded to stare at them to try and discern which species they were. One or two in particular appeared to have the hump-backed look of Long-billed Dowitchers, but most were roosting with bills tucked, and even when they did move about some, we decided to go with “sp.” on the rest. I wrote to Tom about his i.d., and he told me that this year in particular, he agrees with Rick Heil that all of the dowitchers that have been on the refuge since early September are Long-billed, because he never hears the vocalizations that Short-billed make when they are not foraging. Sigh. A beautiful Northern Harrier foraged close by over the rising thicket formerly known as North Field.

Northern Harrier – Mike Densmore

After a refreshing stroll, we went to Emerson Rocks/parking lot #7, where the tide was just covering the last rocks. While that was less ideal for seeing the birds that like to forage and roost among the rocks, we were delighted to see the ocean covered with all three species of scoters, all up and down the beach and as far out as we could see. A Red-throated Loon flew off just as we arrived, and Northern Gannets were also scattered everywhere. We could see them near and far, sitting on the water, diving for fish, and soaring about in the fresh breeze. A ragged flock of Common Eiders was bunched near the rocks. The sense of excitement at the recent arrival of a large wintering population of seabirds was terrific. A Common Loon sat near shore in basic plumage, ready for what winter will bring.

White-winged Scoters – Stan Deutsch
Ring-Billed Gull – John Linn

Heading back up to Hellcat, we found more egrets scattered in the South Marsh. On the Hellcat dike, we found more yellowlegs and dowitchers roosting, lots of young Double-crested Cormorants, and plenty of Mallards. Way out on Bill Forward Pool, in the glare, there were hundreds of ducks, mostly Green-winged Teal, which we could discern by their size. American Black Ducks were everywhere we saw water in the salt marsh this week, another notable increase in wintering waterfowl. Two Northern Harriers foraged over BFP and the marsh.

Mallards – Bob Minton
White-rumped Sandpiper – Bob Minton

We thought we were through, but as we passed the Main Panne on our return voyage, the tide had pushed a large flock of shorebirds in. About a hundred Dunlin were mostly roosting, mixed with almost as many Semipalmated Plovers right near the road. They didn’t mind us as we carefully disembarked, and we were able to get very close to them. We could see a few Semipalmated Sandpipers foraging among the flock, and with some persistence found a White-rumped and a Least Sandpiper, as well. In the bright sun and cool fall air, finding such a late flock of migrating shorebirds was a welcome bonus. The sense of abundance of winter arrivals and fall migrants in that fine weather was a welcome upper in the face of the drumbeat of troubling stories we are being bombarded with on the national stage, and I think all of us felt buoyed by the shear goodness of our dear, beautiful earth.

Our List:
Canada Goose (~ 75) – large flock flying south over The Warden’s marsh.
Wood Duck (5) – NPO; flew out to sw.
Gadwall (2) – North Pool Overlook (NPO).
American Black Duck – common.
Mallard (~ 50) – most in North Pool from Hellcat Dike.
Green-winged Teal (~ 150) – Bill Forward Pool (BFP).
Common Eider (~ 20) – Emerson Rocks.
Surf Scoter (13) – seven ocean.
White-winged Scoter – many; seven ocean.
Black Scoter (50+) – seven ocean.
Red-throated Loon (1) – seven ocean.
Common Loon (1) – seven ocean.
Northern Gannet (~ 25) – seven ocean.
Double-crested Cormorant (~ 40) – various.
Great Blue Heron (3) – 1, marsh n. Cross Farm Hill; 2, vicinity of hay marsh n. refuge entrance.
Great Egret (~ 15) – 12, Main Panne (MP); 3, various.
Turkey Vulture (3) – e. New Pines.
Northern Harrier (3) – various.
Red-tailed Hawk (1) – atop siren, e. end PI Bridge.
Semipalmated Plover (~ 75) – MP.
Greater Yellowlegs – common; various.
Lesser Yellowlegs (4) – North Pool from Hellcat Dike.
Sanderling (4) – seven beach.
Semipalmated Sandpiper (5) – MP.
Least Sandpiper (1) – MP.
White-rumped Sandpiper (1) – MP.
Dunlin (~ 105) – 5, North Pool from Hellcat Dike; ~ 100, MP.
Dowitcher sp. (22) – 18, NPO; 4, North Pool from Hellcat Dike.
Long-billed Dowitcher (1) – NPO.
Ring-billed Gull (4) – seven beach.
Herring Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Eastern Phoebe (2) – 1, The Warden’s; 1, Hellcat restrooms.
Blue Jay (2) – while walking dikes from The Warden’s to NPO.
American Crow (1)
American Robin (5) – The Warden’s to NPO walk.
Northern Mockingbird (2) – 1, The Warden’s; 1, NPO.
European Starling
Yellow-rumped Warbler – common; The Warden’s to NPO walk.
Field Sparrow (3) – The Warden’s.
Song Sparrow – common; roadside.
White-throated Sparrow (5) – The Warden’s to NPO walk.
Northern Cardinal (1) – The Warden’s to NPO walk.
American Goldfinch (1) – The Warden’s to NPO walk.

Wednesday Morning Birding Report, September 4, 2019

On Wednesday, September 4, the tide was falling as we began our outing. So, we took our caravan down Water Street to Joppa Park, where from the boat ramp we could view the flats as they were revealed. There was a good variety of shorebirds and gulls visible from there, and hundreds if not thousands more shorebirds way out toward Plum Island. There are definite areas on the flats that attract particular species such as Black-bellied Plovers, which prefer the outer edges. We saw Greater Yellowlegs patrolling the shallows in the pool that forms close to shore, and a large contingent of Bonaparte’s Gulls in the water near the upstream edges of the flats. Oh, how we wish we could be transported to the inaccessible far edges to seek the rarities we know must be there beyond our scopes’ reach!

Double-crested Cormorant – Stan Deutsch

MaryMargaret Halsey kindly sent us texts telling of unusual birds at parking lot # 7 on the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, so we made the long trek down Plum Island with little stopping. It was nice to see the beginning of the winter waterbird crowd with a Common Loon and a couple of Common Eiders, but the rarer species had moved on. The South Marsh area near Stage Island was dotted with Great Egrets, which are done with nesting and dispersed throughout the Great Marsh. The roost that has been seen at Bill Forward Pool in past years is not forming this year, but lots of birds are being seen at Stage Island Pool and at Perkins Park in town. I am told that if you go to the ball field on Beacon Avenue at dusk, you can see egrets arrive, and up to two dozen night-herons leaving for their evening meal.

Sanderlings – Bob Minton
Great Black-backed Gulls – John Linn

Our next stop was on Hellcat Dike, where despite the tide there were lots of shorebirds and waterfowl to sift through. A nice moment was when a Blue-winged Teal dashed across the dike into Bill Forward Pool, with baby-blue wing-coverts flashing. The male American Avocet that has been at Bill Forward Pool for some time foraged near the point on the west side of the pool. Dowitchers were assumed to be Short-billed, and none proved otherwise. Lesser Yellowlegs sat contrasting with Greater Yellowlegs at some points. Gene Dogget spied a suspicious plover way down on the dry parts of the flats near the south end of Bill Forward Pool, and we started feeling optimistic that it was an American Golden-Plover – until it flew and displayed black axillaries (wing-pits).

American Avocet and others – Bob Minton
Greater Yellowlegs – John Linn

So it is in late-summer/fall migration, depending on tides and who comes through when. It will be nice to see if we can hear Long-billed Dowitchers talking to each other, or spy a dry-footed shorebird of some sort next week, when we will once again enjoy the long southward migration period in the Great Marsh.

Red-tailed Hawk kiting – Tom Schreffler

Joppa Park —
Black-bellied Plover (~ 50)
Semipalmated Plover – common.
Greater Yellowlegs – common.
Semipalmated Sandpiper – common.
Least Sandpiper (1)
Short-billed Dowitcher (~ 12)
Bonaparte’s Gull (~ 50)
Ring-billed Gull (~ 30)
Herring Gull (~ 25)
Rock Pigeon
Plum Island —
Canada Goose (~ 35) – Bill Forward Pool (BFP).
Gadwall (5) – continuing hen with 3 young; 1, North Pool from Hellcat dike.
Mallard – many; BFP.
Blue-winged Teal (3) – BFP.
Green-winged Teal (4) – BFP.
Common Eider (2) – Emerson Rocks.
Common Loon (1) – seven ocean.
Double-crested Cormorant – common.
Great Blue Heron (2) – 1, marsh n. Main Panne; 1, North Pool from Hellcat dike.
Great Egret (~ 15) – various, throughout marsh.
Osprey (3) – 1, Pines Trail pole.
Red-tailed Hawk (1) – kiting just east of BFP.
[Red-tailed Hawk (1) – atop utility pole, Plum Island Turnpike.]
American Avocet (1) – BFP.
Black-bellied Plover (1) – BFP.
Semipalmated Plover – common; BFP.
Greater Yellowlegs – common; BFP & North Pool from Hellcat dike.
Lesser Yellowlegs (5) – North Pool from Hellcat dike.
Sanderling (~ 20) – seven beach.
Semipalmated Sandpiper (~ 20) – BFP.
White-rumped Sandpiper (1) – BFP.
Short-billed Dowitcher (~ 25) – BFP & North Pool from Hellcat dike.
Ring-billed Gull (5) – seven beach.
Herring Gull (2) – seven beach.
Great Black-backed Gull (5) – seven beach.
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove (~ 10) – n. refuge gate house.
Eastern Kingbird (1)
Tree Swallow (1,000s)
Barn Swallow (1)
Gray Catbird (3) – roadside.
Northern Mockingbird (1) – seven boardwalk.
Brown Thrasher (1) – seven boardwalk.
European Starling – not the usual numbers.
Cedar Waxwing (3) – vicinity of lot #7.
Song Sparrow (~ 5) – roadside.
House Finch (4) – lot #7.

Wednesday Morning Birding Report, August 14, 2019

On August 14, Dave Weaver and I led the Wednesday Morning Birders to Plum Island, where the high tide had pushed shorebirds to roosts where they could rest and forage. The first thing we noticed after passing through the gatehouse was a swarm of Tree Swallows that sashayed back and forth across the road from the Middens on the right to the patchy thickets on the left. The most impressive flocks we saw yesterday were there at the north end of the refuge road, but in all, with big numbers in the Phragmites stands of North Pool and in North Field, we estimated the hordes at somewhere near 10,000 swallows, now staging for the southward migration. Those numbers are likely to peak at some point above 100,000.

Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers – Tom Shreffler

Our first shorebird encounter was at the Main Panne, where we pulled off the road and enjoyed looking through scores of peeps. The many Semipalmated Sandpipers were joined by a couple of Least Sandpipers, a White-rumped Sandpiper, and at least a few Semipalmated Plovers. A couple of Least Terns foraged where the water was open. The shorebirds were foraging on the mats of algae that are covered noticeably by large black fly-like insects. Managers at the Refuge have opened channels that let a more natural flow of tidal water enter and exit the Main Panne, and it appears that the water level has dropped. We certainly are enjoying the common sights and sounds of shorebirds close to the road.

White-rumped vs Semipalmated Sandpipers – Patti Wood

From there we went to see the many birds at Stage Island Pool, where the water level has been dropped to expose sizable mudflats. A couple of groups of five or more Greater Yellowlegs were scattered on the shoreline and in the shallows, and we got some short views of cooperative feeding. A small number of Great and Snowy Egrets and Double-crested Cormorants roosted in the middle distance, as they usually do when exposed mud is available. Shorebirds were scattered along the shoreline and in the distance, including one Pectoral Sandpiper and a Baird’s Sandpiper that unfortunately was only visible through a narrow window when it was close. Some Short-billed Dowitchers roosted near the road with yellowlegs, mostly Greaters.

Tree-Swallow over Sandpiper – John Linn
Short-billed Dowitcher – Mike Densmore

It had been a long time since we could go to the platform at parking lot #7, so we took a quick look up there. On the way up the ramp, one of us noticed below us a bright orange bird, which turned out to be an older adult female Baltimore Oriole. Female Baltimore Orioles attain brighter plumage with age, sometimes approaching that of males. Cedar Waxwing juveniles called from the shrubs, and both adult and young Eastern Kingbirds cavorted about. The ocean was fairly empty, as Emerson Rocks were covered by the tide, but some juvenile Common Eiders loafed right off the beach. They were so dark, we first thought they were scoters. These motley birds are now in juvenile plumage, which they will lose most of as winter approaches to become the “immatures” we recognize.

Baltimore Oriole tricky plumage – David Moon
Tree Swallows fill the air – John Linn

We saved Hellcat for last, as we often do, particularly in order to maximize the chances of seeing shorebirds that roost there at high tide. There were hundreds of Semipalmated Plovers sitting quietly in the short vegetation on the flat in Bill Forward Pool. Hundreds of Semipalmated Sandpipers did the same thing further south on the flats there. Plenty of these birds and other less abundant ones foraged around for us to pick through, giving the group good views of the set of small shorebirds we expect to see. Another Pectoral Sandpiper was easier to see, as were dowitchers, yellowlegs, and Cedar Waxwings, which forage in an odd but regular way on those flats. Scores of Tree Swallows flew over the dike and dipped for drinks in North Pool. Two families of Gadwalls charmed everybody with their fluffy young.

Barn Swallow – Tom Schreffler

A note about Wednesday Evening Birding: The tide was low during our late-day outing, but we enjoyed a nice variety of birds at Hellcat Dike, including a juvenile Sora, which poked out of the reeds in North Pool for a while. We had been drawn to look that way by a couple of dowitchers, and, sharp-eyed as ever, co-leader Linda Hunnewell spotted that surprise. We also enjoyed a spectacular display of a Northern Harrier’s acrobatic foraging flight over the reeds in Bill Forward Pool. That is the first Northern Harrier we’ve seen since they departed in spring.

Great Egret and Great Blue Heron – Mike Densmore

Our list:
Canada Goose (~ 17) – Bill Forward Pool (BFP).
Gadwall (10) – 2 broods of 3 & 5, 2 hens; BFP.
American Black Duck (2) – Main Panne.
Mallard (~ 10) – various.
Common Eider (~ 12) – seven ocean.
Double-crested Cormorant (~ 25) – mostly BFP.
Great Blue Heron (2) – 1, Stage Island Pool (SIP); 1, BFP.
Great Egret – common; various.
Snowy Egret (~ 10) – SIP & BFP.
Osprey (2) – Pines platform/pole.
Black-bellied Plover (~ 25) – BFP.
Semipalmated Plover – common; mostly BFP.
Spotted Sandpiper (1) – SIP.
Greater Yellowlegs (~ 15) – SIP & BFP.
Lesser Yellowlegs (3) – SIP.
Semipalmated Sandpiper – common; various.
Least Sandpiper (6) – 2, Main Panne; 4, BFP.
White-rumped Sandpiper (5) – 1, Main Panne; 4, BFP.
Baird’s Sandpiper (1) – SIP.
Pectoral Sandpiper (2) – 1, SIP; 1, BFP.
Short-billed Dowitcher (~ 20) – ~ 10, SIP; ~ 10, BFP.
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull (2) – seven beach.
Least Tern (4) – 2, Main Panne; 2, BFP.
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Eastern Kingbird (~ 5) – various.
Tree Swallow (10K +/-)
Black-capped Chickadee (3) – S-curves.
American Robin (1)
Gray Catbird (4)
Brown Thrasher (1) – lot #7 boardwalk.
European Starling – common.
Cedar Waxwing – many; various.
Common Yellowthroat (1) – Hellcat dike.
Yellow Warbler (3)
Song Sparrow (2)
Bobolink (3) – Hellcat dike.
Baltimore Oriole (1) – lot #7 boardwalk.
Purple Finch (1) – Hellcat.
[House Finch (1) – Joppa.]