Category Archives: Birding

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, October 2, 2019

Wednesday Morning Birding this week was missing its two stalwarts, David Moon and David Weaver, and had to settle for David Larson and David Williams (if that is all clear to you, then you are ahead of the game.) Nonetheless we had a pretty good day. We started out checking the mudflats in Newburyport Harbor from the boat ramp on Water Street. Yellowlegs were everywhere on the low/incoming tide. The stars of the show were six Black Skimmers (4 adult and 2 immature) flying around and skimming in front of us, a good number of Bonaparte’s Gulls, at least one Long-billed Dowitcher, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers, and more of the usual suspects.

Greater Yellowlegs by Bob Minton
Black Skimmers by Mike Densmore
Great Egret and Bonaparte’s Gulls by Mike Densmore

Once the mudflats were mostly covered, we headed to Plum Island and the Parker River NWR. We spent a few minutes at the Parking Lot #1 boat ramp, but sparrows were uncooperative with the tide so low. Not much was happening at the main pannes and a stop at the North Pool Overlook yielded Long-billed Dowitcher, Eastern Phoebe, and Belted Kingfisher. While there, Doug Chickering passed on a hot tip about a Great Horned Owl near the Bill Forward blind so we scooted off only to find that the owl had departed. Oh well. We joined a small group in the blind and were treated to lots of Green-winged Teal, a couple of Northern Shovelers, 4 Northern Pintail, American Black Ducks s and Mallards. Among the shorebirds present were a Hudsonian Godwit, an American Golden-Plover, a few Dunlin, and lots of plovers and yellowlegs. In the pines overhead, there were several Golden-crowned Kinglets squeaking away.

Mixed shorebird flock by Mike Densmore: Semipalmated Plovers, Dunlins, Semipalmated Sandpiper, and an American Golden-Plover.
Black-bellied Plovers, Dunlin, Hudsonian Godwit by Patti Wood

We next headed to the Pines Trail, in hopes of finding that Great Horned Owl, but it was not to be. We did find more Golden-crowned Kinglets, a Black-and-white Warbler, a Nashville Warbler, a seemingly inexhaustible supply of Eastern Towhees, and general dampness.

We called it a good morning.
–One of the Daves

Gadwall – at least 2
American Black Duck, Mallard, Green-winged Teal – all common
Northern Shoveler – 2
Northern Pintail – 4
Wild Turkey – 6
Double-crested Cormorant – more than 115 (several migrating skeins)
Great Blue Heron – 2
Great Egret – 15
Snowy Egret – 2
Black-bellied Plover – 120
American Golden Plover – 1
Semipalmated Plover – 70
Greater Yellowlegs – 250
Lesser Yellowlegs – 5
Hudsonian Godwit – 1
Semipalmated Sandpiper – 40
Dunlin – 14
Short-billed Dowitcher – 1
Long-billed Dowitcher – 2
dowitcher sp. – 12
Bonaparte’s Gull – 75
Ring-billed and Herring gulls – common
Great Black-backed Gull – 5
Black Skimmer – 6
Rock Pigeon – 12
Mourning Dove – 8
Belted Kingfisher – 1
Eastern Phoebe – 1
Blue Jay – 4
American Crow – 10
Black-capped Chickadee – 2
Golden-crowned Kinglet – 10
American Robin – 15
Gray Catbird – 1
Northern Mockingbird – 1
European Starling 30
Black-and-white Warbler – 1
Nashville Warbler – 1
Eastern Towhee – 10
Savannah Sparrow – 4
Song Sparrow – 2

We will meet again next week back at Joppa Flats at 0930 for Wednesday Morning Birding. For more information about Joppa Flats programs, call David Moon or me at 978-462-9998.

Wednesday Morning Birding Report, September 25, 2019

Hello, Joppa birders!

Steve Walch and I led today’s edition of Wednesday Morning Birding out of Joppa Flats Education Center and on to Plum Island. With high tide around 9:00 a.m., we headed immediately to Sandy Point and were fortunate enough to find parking for our caravan. Skies were partly cloudy; temps in low to upper 60s; and winds NW-SW/5-10 mph.

By the time we arrived at Sandy Point, the tide had fallen a bit, enough so that we did not find any roosting shorebirds before the bend to the beach. Around the bend, other birders were intent on shorebirds present around and in a muddy inlet. There was a good mix, including many Semipalmated Plovers and Sandpipers, along with some Sanderlings and a few Dunlins, the latter two species in their nonbreeding, winter plumage. A few of us were able to pick out a single Western Sandpiper, evident by its russet scapulars and crown. No doubt, there was another species or two as the shorebird migration winds down. Being careful not to disturb these energy-conserving birds making their long movement south, we were able to creep fairly close without alarming them. However, the bane to all shorebird-watching birders, a Peregrine Falcon, made its presence known as all of the pipers and plovers took flight — there had to be a good 200 to 300 birds in the air all at once after the falcon made its strafing run and then continued on its way north out over Stage Island Pool. Of course, these birds expended a lot of energy with their falcon alarm, which, needless to say, offered us some spectacular views of jinking and swirling shorebirds — amazing stuff; lots of “Oooos and ahhhhhs!” How do they do that?! All very nice, but that Peregrine episode meant the end of our shorebird watching on Sandy Point as they all eventually flew off after several passes and potential landings. Initially, some of us thought that Turkey Vultures soaring above were the reason some shorebirds spooked and took off, but then, the real culprit showed up . . . .

Semipalmated Sandpiper & Plover – John Linn
Dunlins, Sanderlings, & Semipalmated Sandpiper – Mike Densmore
Peregrine Falcon (adult) – Mike Densmore
Semipalmated Plovers & Sandpipers, & no doubt more – Tom Schreffler

A number of gulls were loafing at the edge of the beach, including a number of Ring-billed Gulls, some Herring Gulls, and a few Great Black-backed Gulls. We looked in vain for the Lesser Black-backed Gull and Black Skimmers seen a few days earlier. And, nary a tern did we see . . . . there was a Caspian Tern seen in the last day or two.

Great Black-backed Gulls (adult & 1st winter; looks like they come a purpose!) – John Linn

From Sandy Point, we made a brief visit to Stage Island Pool, but saw very little of interest and continued on to Hellcat. Scattered about in the marsh along the way, a few Great Egrets were still present. At Bill Forward Pool, the young Gadwalls we have been watching over the past couple of months, now fully grown, were looking very spiffy in their juvenile plumage. Also present were a number of juvenile Green-winged Teal, the smallest of the dabbling ducks. Their size is an excellent aid to identification, especially when they are near a larger species like a Gadwall — remarkable size difference. While we were looking at yellowlegs and dowitchers in the North Pool from Hellcat Dike, Susan Yurkus alerted us to the bird of the day, a Whimbrel! It turned out to be a very accommodating bird as it foraged for insects on the Bill Forward Pool dike just south of the observation tower. This curlew, genus Numenius, was in the crisp, uniform plumage of a juvenile. It’s a member of the large shorebird family Scolopacidae. According to Wikipedia, it is one of the most widespread of the curlews, breeding across much of subarctic North America, Asia, and Europe as far south as Scotland.

Gadwalls & Green-winged Teal – Bob Minton
Yellowlegs – Barbara Merrill
Greater Yellowlegs & Short-billed Dowitchers – Tom Schreffler
Whimbrel – Bob Minton

As we readied to head back to the parking lot and then on back to Joppa, a Snowy Egret flew into the North Pool. Surely, this must be one of the only Snowies, if not the only one, remaining on Plum Island. We could tell that it was a juvenile from the color of its legs — yellowish-green on the back and black on the front.

Snowy Egret (juvenile) – Tom Schreffler

Next Wednesday is October 2 – yup, already! I hope that you will join us for another fun morning of birding . . . .

Cheers and warmest regards!
Dave Weaver

Our list:

Gadwall (5) – Bill Forward Pool (BFP).
Green-winged Teal (~ 15) – BFP.
Double-crested Cormorant (~ 6) – various.
Great Blue Heron (3) – BFP & North Pool from Hellcat Dike.
Great Egret (5) – various.
Snowy Egret (1) – North Pool from Hellcat Dike.
Turkey Vulture (12) – overhead, Sandy Point.
Semipalmated Plover – common, Sandy Point.
Greater Yellowlegs (~ 25) – North Pool from Hellcat Dike.
Lesser Yellowlegs (~ 8) – North Pool from Hellcat Dike.
Whimbrel (1) – BFP dike.
Sanderling (~ 5) – Sandy Point.
Semipalmated Sandpiper – common, Sandy Point.
Western Sandpiper (2) – 1, Sandy Point; 1, North Pool from Hellcat Dike.
Least Sandpiper (1) – North Pool from Hellcat Dike.
White-rumped Sandpiper (1) – North Pool from Hellcat Dike.
Pectoral Sandpiper (1) – Sandy Point.
Dunlin (3) – Sandy Point.
Short-billed Dowitcher (9) – North Pool from Hellcat Dike.
Ring-billed Gull (~ 20) – Sandy Point.
Herring Gull (~ 15) – Sandy Point.
Great Black-backed Gull (6) – Sandy Point.
Peregrine Falcon (1) – Sandy Point.
Blue Jay (1)
American Robin (~ 10) – Sandy Point & roadside.
Northern Mockingbird (3)
European Starling
[Cedar Waxwing – several, Joppa Flats Education Center.]
Savannah Sparrow (1) – Sandy Point.
Song Sparrow (5) – Hellcat.
Northern Cardinal (1)