Category Archives: Birding

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

Volunteer Spotlight: Ben and Clarice

Ben and Clarice staffing their wonderful table at the 2019 Eagle Festival.

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.

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.