Author Archives: David M.

Wednesday Morning Birding Report, January 22, 2020

The south end of Parker River National Wildlife Refuge was closed this week, so on Wednesday, January 22, Dave Weaver and I sandwiched our birders in a nicely compact caravan and headed over to Salisbury Beach State Reservation. The young Red-tailed Hawk that “owns” the entrance road was there and in good form. Almost no passerines were around in the little thickets north of the campground, possibly because of a probable Sharp-shinned Hawk lurking in the trees. As we entered the parking lots near the boat ramp, ground birds flew past us and then back over us. Horned Larks! Savannah Sparrows and Song Sparrows found what they could on the parking lot surfaces and floating docks stored there.

Red-tailed hawk – Stan Deutsch
Horned Lark – Bob Minton
Horned Larks – Mike Densmore

A young Bald Eagle sat on an ice floe headed for Portugal. It decided not to emigrate and took off to tour the river mouth instead. The Merrimack River and side creeks in Salisbury were fairly choked with ice, so we found few other birds at the ramp, other than a pretty little flock of Common Goldeneyes. In the marsh, Buffleheads and American Black Ducks abounded. There was much more to see at the jetty parking lot, with well over a hundred Common Eiders around the river mouth. Before long, we found a Snowy Owl perched way out on the north jetty. Some scoters and mergansers mixed together in the river near our spot, and a couple of Common Loons lounged and foraged in the ocean.

Bald Eagle and American Black Ducks approach drama – Tom Schreffler
Red-breasted Merganser and White-winged Scoter – Mike Densmore

I wish we had stopped at the top of Lime Street to view the Eastern Screech-Owl perched in the entrance to its cavity across High Street, because it was certainly visible later that afternoon! Instead, we all managed to find our way to parking lot #1 on the Wildlife Refuge. Checking on the sea at the platform, we found Black Scoters and a couple of Horned Grebes. From our perch, we saw a Cooper’s Hawk fly purposefully down the refuge road, and a Northern Harrier also went by.

Northern Harrier – Stan Deutsch

At this point we were pressed for time, and we had to hope something would happen between parking lot #1 and Hellcat. One American Robin in the S-curves. Nothing in the pannes. Nothing in The Warden’s field or North Field. And then, BOOM! The Northern Shrike wintering at the south end of North Field sat teed-up, moving among the small trees there. Some of us got great looks at that bird; others, sadly at the back of the group, just got glimpses before the bird dashed off to be the rambunctious creature it is meant to be.

Northern Shrike – Patti Wood

We did stroll up the dike at Hellcat, a bit sobered, I think, by all the elements of construction all around for the building of the new boardwalk. Some gritting of teeth will be necessary to get through this year of disruption, then to adjust to the changes in our familiar old haunts. After a few years of vegetation regrowth, the new facility will actually be much better for more people, and the sense of the thicket will return to what it always has been. I know I look forward to gliding out there with my friend who uses a walker. And I know someday I may need wheels and accommodated accessibility to the Hellcat boardwalk myself. Obviously, on Wednesday we did not find many birds up there, or I would have told you about that instead of subjecting you to these ramblings. We went home happy with sightings of the shrike and the owl and Horned Larks. Who knows what next week will bring?

Common Eiders – Mike Densmore

Our List:
Salisbury Beach —
American Black Duck – common.
Common Eider (~ 150) – mostly river mouth.
White-winged Scoter (6)
Bufflehead – common.
Common Goldeneye (5)
Red-breasted Merganser (~ 8)
Rock Pigeon
Purple Sandpiper (5) – jetty.
Ring-billed Gull – common.
Herring Gull – common.
Great Black-backed Gull (~ 6)
Common Loon (2)
Northern Harrier (1) – 1st-winter male.
Sharp-shinned Hawk (1)
Bald Eagle (1) – juv.
Red-tailed Hawk (1)
Snowy Owl (1) – on jetty, 75 yds from end.
American Crow (~ 5)
Horned Lark (7) – boat ramp parking area.
Northern Mockingbird (1)
European Starling
House Sparrow (1)
Savannah Sparrow (3) – boat ramp parking area.
Song Sparrow (5) – mostly boat ramp parking area.

Parker River NWR —
Canada Goose – common.
American Black Duck – common.
Common Eider (2) – one ocean.
White-winged Scoter (3) – one ocean.
Black Scoter (2) – one ocean.
Horned Grebe (2) – one ocean.
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Sanderling (9) – one beach.
Herring Gull – common.
Northern Harrier (1)
Cooper’s Hawk (1) – flying south, parking lot #1.
Snowy Owl (1) – Salisbury jetty bird seen from one platform. *
Northern Shrike (1) – s. end North Field.
American Robin (1)
Song Sparrow (4) – roadside.

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, December 18, 2019

Last week we had a beautiful, mild, early winter day for our outing. Because we knew that the south end of the island was closed, we headed over to Salisbury Beach State Reservation to maximize our chances for salty ducks and marsh species. At the beginning of the drive around the campground, there is a copse of conifers Dave Weaver is referring to as the “owl thicket”. The morning sun had melted snow at the base of a big cedar, and it was warmer and calmer near the trees of said thicket. Passerines were foraging actively there, enjoying access to the ground and the “microclimate.” Right off the bat we were excited to see a Hermit Thrush, and then a beautiful female Eastern Towhee joined the sparrows, juncos, and others there.

Eastern Towhee and Dark-eyed Junco – John Linn
American Tree Sparrow – Bob Minton

At the boat ramp, the river and creek were not very busy, but a couple of pairs of Long-tailed Ducks foraged fairly close to us for good views. We watched a raptor fly over and then land in the marsh for a long time, as it seemed to transmogrify back-and-forth between a Rough-legged Hawk and a Northern Harrier. Detailed examination of photos finally yielded the latter identification. The river was much busier nearer the mouth, where from the main parking lot we eventually found both Red-throated and Common Loons, and a few Horned Grebes, who joined many Common Eiders both in the river and the ocean. The number of scoters was lower than expected, however. An American Pipit made a brief, wan appearance as it flew over us in a rush to make landfall in the open areas past the parking lot.

Long-tailed Ducks – Tom Schreffler
Gadwalls – Mike Densmore
Common Loon – Bob Minton

Next it was time to skeedadle back to Plum Island, to see what we could scare up on the north half of the refuge. No shortage of definitive views of Rough-legged Hawks there! Soon after finding one at Hellcat, we ran into two more in the pannes/North Marsh zone. Walking up to the Hellcat dike, we took in the plan for construction of an all-new and fully accessible boardwalk system, which means the boardwalk will be closed for about a year. Finding patience for that opening will be hard, but the new boardwalk will be much safer, and available to anyone who needs wheeled assistance. I know a couple of birders who will be happy to make use of that, and we will no longer fall through holes opening under rotten boards, or be as likely to back off of the edge!

Northern Harrier – Tom Schreffler

The marshes and dikes were very very quiet in the bright sun, under a beautiful layer of snow. We stood and took in the height of sun for the day, not saying much, but that brief, still moment was peaceful and clear. A pair of harriers flew north over the dunes, and as we began to turn to see who else might be waiting in the thickets, two of our birders pointed out a lone little bird perched at the highest spot in the treeline. Could it be?? YES!! After chasing reports many times this fall, we found our first Northern Shrike for a WMB, and great merriment ensued. Hellcat magic is still strong!

Northern Shrike – John Linn
Northern Shrike – Tom Schreffler

Here we are, at the moment of the deepest darkness of the year, just as we celebrate the birth of lengthening light. At Joppa Flats, we hope that you are warm and snug during these frigid nights, hugged by the winter darkness like a sleeping bear. Welcome to this new season of growing light, as we cavort in the low winter sun with all our visiting and resident birds, witness the age-old stories that animals’ tracks tell, watch the traces of blowing weeds on the snow. We are so thankful for all of you, for your love of living things on our shore and beyond.

Joppa Flats Sunset – Melissa Vokey

Our list:
Salisbury —
Gadwall (2) -flyover, boat ramp.
Mallard (8)
American Black Duck – common.
Common Eider (~ 70)
White-winged Scoter (6)
Long-tailed Duck (5)
Bufflehead (~ 50)
Common Goldeneye (4)
Red-breasted Merganser (2)
Horned Grebe (3)
Mourning Dove (1)
Sanderling (1)
Ring-billed Gull (~ 10) – main parking lot.
Herring Gull – common.
Great Black-backed Gull (1)
Red-throated Loon (2)
Common Loon (2)
Red-tailed Hawk (1)
Northern Harrier (1)
American Crow (1)
Black-capped Chickadee (1)
Hermit Thrush (1) – “owl thicket.”
Northern Mockingbird (2)
European Starling (1)
American Pipit (1) – flyover.
American Tree Sparrow (3) – “owl thicket.”
Dark-eyed Junco (2) – “owl thicket.”
White-throated Sparrow (5) – “owl thicket.”
Song Sparrow (~ 8) – “owl thicket.”
Eastern Towhee (1) – female; “owl thicket.”
Northern Cardinal (4) – “owl thicket.”
Plum Island —
Canada Goose (12) – south end of Bill Forward Pool (BFP).
American Black Duck – common.
Red-breasted Merganser (1) – BFP.
Rock Pigeon (~ 30) – on wires n. refuge gate.
Northern Harrier (3)
Rough-legged Hawk (2)
Downy Woodpecker (2) – Hellcat parking area.
Northern Shrike (1) – adult; seen from Hellcat dike atop birch to east near refuge road.
American Crow (2)
American Robin (~ 15) – various, roadside.
White-throated Sparrow (~ 5) – Hellcat parking area.
Song Sparrow (3) – roadside.
Yellow-rumped Warbler (4) – Hellcat parking area.