The amazing Ben and Clarice have been volunteering with us for 21 years––way before we opened the Joppa Flats Education Center in 2003. Their initial training as volunteers happened at the Newburyport Police Station! Over the years, they’ve contributed in many different ways, including delivering educational programs from the back of a van in Essex County marshes, fashioning fishnets from a kitchen strainer and a pole to show kids what lived in the marsh, staffing the front desk, and designing and running the wonderful shop table every year at the Eagle Festival’s Newburyport City Hall location.
We’re endlessly grateful to them for all their contributions and for sticking with us through thick and thin over the decades, especially since Lisa accidentally left them behind on the refuge one time during a school program. Luckily a birder drove by, noticed them trudging up the refuge road, weighed down with backpacks, buckets, nets, and other materials, realized they weren’t out walking for fun, and gave them a ride.
Look for them most Tuesday afternoons at Joppa Flats and ask what they’ve been up to: between arts and crafts, travel, and gardening, they always have a good story to tell.
Susan Yurkus and I sallied forth from Joppa Flats Education Center with 20
or so game Wednesday Morning Birders. Skies were overcast with a hint of
sun here and there; temps were in the mid to upper 20s; and, most importantly,
winds were light and variable. How many times of late have we had such
benign conditions? Pretty nice!
Our first stop was Salisbury Beach State Reservation. Along the entry
road out in the marsh, sharp-eyed (dare I say, eagle-eyed?) Kim spotted a large
juvenile Bald Eagle perched on an upright of some sort. By its size, this
was probably a female (remember, female Bald Eagles are about 25 percent larger
than males) and the white triangle on its back made it a 2- to 3-year
old. Then, lo and behold, a binocular field’s width to the right, a pair
of adult Bald Eagles were perched side by side on a nesting platform.
That was a nice start to the morning!
From the boat ramp, we had excellent views of many sea ducks. There
were a number of White-winged Scoters with great comparisons between adult and
juvenile drakes. The juvs were evolving into their colorful adult bills,
but had not yet attained the white commas through and behind their eyes.
Several groups of 10 to 20 Common Goldeneyes could be seen along with small
groups of Long-tailed Ducks. Many of our group commented on how these
looks were the best that they had ever had, especially of the Long-tails.
With the somewhat windless conditions, we spent a long time watching these
duckies, enjoying the views and courtship behavior going on among a major share
of them. And, commonly seen in and along the edges of the marsh were many
American Black Ducks and Canada Geese. We were unable to pick up Brant
that had been seen earlier by a fellow birder. A few Red-breasted
Mergansers and Buffleheads were also seen along with a lone hen Black Scoter.
From parking lot #1, in the river channel were
more White-winged Scoters and several rafts of Common Eiders. Three
Common Loons were fishing there, too, and a few more Common Goldeneyes and Red-breasted
Mergansers were seen. Another Harp Seal was on the beach, being protected
by a warden. Several Turkey Vultures were lilting above us as we departed
the parking lot. On the way out of the reservation, we had another look
at the juvenile Bald Eagle and picked up two Red-tailed Hawks perched in trees
looking into the marsh as these “perch hunters” do with their
phenomenal eyesight. We spied another Red-tail en route to Plum Island,
this one on a nesting platform along Ferry Road.
While on the Plum Island Turnpike heading for PI, yet another Red-tailed Hawk was seen perched on the chimney of “the pink house.” Approaching Plum Island Bridge, the astronomical high tide generated by the “super snow moon” was at its peak and seemingly about to lap over the roadway — it was really high! Surely there would be many marsh rodents going to higher ground and readily available for predators like Northern Harriers, Rough-legged Hawks, and Snowy Owls. As we searched for the owls in the marsh, there was a critter with ears out in mid-marsh. One of our group was thinking owls like the rest of us, and thought “Great Horned Owl”?? Those ears were resolved into a furry kind of animal and not a feathered animal — a rather large Coyote! And just to the right of it, there was another smaller Coyote. They were just sitting there, getting their feet wet, I am sure, watching us from afar. They, too, were no doubt taking advantage of scurrying voles and other rodents. It’s been a while since Wednesday Morning Birding has had a Coyote to add to the list …
Approaching The Warden’s, I saw a flock of small birds fly overhead and
toward The Warden’s. Turning into the parking lot, we found 17 Snow
Buntings perched on the roof ridge of one of the maintenance buildings.
They afforded us outstanding looks before flying down to the ground to feed on
seeds near the pines. The photographers among us were able to approach
reasonably close for some photos. While there, a dark-morph Rough-legged
Hawk was spotted by one of us sitting atop the “lollipop” cedar on
the North Pool dike. Through a spotting scope, its relatively small head
and bill could be readily seen. In the same direction, “eagle-eyed”
Kim came up with a harrier that had perched low down in the shrubs just this
side of the dike. This beautiful adult female Northern Harrier soon took
flight and gave us a showy flyby at eye level through and behind the
pines. What a gorgeous bird!
Getting into overtime, we headed back to Joppa. Our list was not
overwhelming, but the quality of the birds and mammals (!) seen was satisfying
. . . .
David Moon and I hope to see you next week back at Joppa Flats Education
Center ready for another edition of Wednesday Morning Birding. Y’all
Cheers and warmest regards!
Canada Goose – common.
American Black Duck – common.
Mallard (4) – boat ramp.
Common Eider – common.
White-winged Scoter (~ 40)
Black Scoter (1) – hen.
Long-tailed Duck (~ 25)
Common Goldeneye (~ 35)
Red-breasted Merganser (~ 10)
Common Loon (3)
Turkey Vulture (3)
Bald Eagle (3) – 2 ads, 1 2-3-yr old.
Red-tailed Hawk (2)
[Red-tailed Hawk (1) – perched on nesting platform, Ferry Rd.]
Great Black-backed Gull
American Crow (1)
Plum Island —
Canada Goose – common.
American Black Duck – common.
Mallard (~ 6) – hay marsh.
Bufflehead (4) – from The Warden’s (PI River).
Common Goldeneye (1) – from The Warden’s (PI River).
Northern Harrier (1) – ad female; The Warden’s.
[Red-tailed Hawk (1) – atop chimney, Pink House, PI Tpk.]
Rough-legged Hawk (1) – dark morph atop N. Pool dike “lollipop”
Great Black-backed Gull (1) – hay marsh.
Rock Pigeon (~ 25) – on lines n. refuge gate.
American Robin (3) – S-curves.
Northern Mockingbird (2)
European Starling (1)
Snow Bunting (17) – The Warden’s.
Coyote (2) – in astronomical high tide, mid-marsh, sw Main Panne.
Johnny and I started our day at 5 am with my son Danny to do some unofficial owling–something he and I had never done before, and we let Johnny take the lead. We visited Daniel Boone Park, Hamlin Reservation, and Cranes Beach in Ipswich, MA then off to Dow Brook Conservation Area and Rough Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary in Rowley MA and then back to Joppa Flats. No owls, however, we did get very close to a small pack of coyote pups howling just before sunrise!
My co-captain and Johnny kept a perfect list of every bird or call we encountered throughout the event. We headed back to Joppa so we could meet our teammates and officially start counting birds.
We joined Johnathon Benson and his 4 teen birders and headed out to Cape Ann. We pulled over in Essex MA to spy a Green-winged Teal, a Hooded Merganser, and other waterfowl. Then it was off to Jodrey State Fish Pier in Gloucester where we were harassed by a large flock of Rock Doves, entertained by a large flock of Red-breasted Mergansers diving, and I got a long-distance glance at my first Surf Scoter. From there, we headed out to Rockport where we stopped at Folly Cove to add a Red-throated Loon to our list and then spent over an hour at Halibut Point State Reservation. This is where Johnny spotted a large flock of Black Scoter, and our team captain Johnathon with his scope and infinite amounts of patience and skills, pointed out a small flock of Harlequin Ducks and a Dovekie–a 5 point bird that we got to call in!
The teens all really wanted to be the first to complete one of the special bird checklists: The Seekers List. They all gave 110% and asked wonderful questions throughout the day. All the grebe species on the list eluded us but we almost found all 30 species so overall we were all very pleased with our efforts. Johnny and I really enjoyed birding with Johnathon and the Drumlin Farm teens and we hope we get the chance to bird with them again some day.
We couldn’t believe how quickly the time had passed so we didn’t get to Ipswich River until almost 2pm. It was there that we ran into a very animated and colorful group of birders known as the “Bird Ladies of Paradise” who had fashioned home-made hats with cups of birdseed on top! We had to take their photo and then we added more than 12 species to our list including a Carolina Wren, another life bird for me.
From there, we headed to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge with the hopes of finding a Snowy Owl and a few more species before the sun set. The wind really picked up, the temps plummeted, and the snow started to fly. Our last bird of the event was a lovely female Snowy Owl. We finished the day with 55 species and then we said goodbye to the Drumlin Farm team who had to get back to Lincoln, MA before the weather got worse.
Now, it was time to party! Johnny and I met up with Jonathan Brooks from the The Accidentals team, and he helped us fill out our report and told us what to expect in the judging room. Then it was time for pizza and raffles…lots and lots of great raffle prizes!
To make the event even better, our team was awarded the prize for nearly completing the Seekers List with gift certificates for all the teens!
By then, it was really snowing, and it was almost 7 pm. We had been up since 3:30 am, so it was time to go home. Johnny was the perfect co-pilot, and he and I spent a lot of time chatting about Bird-a-thon strategies, and how we definitely need to get our own team for Joppa next Superbowl in 2020!