Wednesday Morning Birding Report, December 19, 2018

It was great to get back to Plum Island this Wednesday, as the past three weeks took us away to Cape Ann and up the New Hampshire Coast. We started at the north end of the island as we often do in the winter because of the abundance of seabirds that forage in the mouth of the Merrimack River. Just as we arrived, a young (second-year) Bald Eagle flew over us and across the river, almost landing on the beach in Salisbury, but then it drifted off. The day was classic in regard to foraging seabirds, though the mix of birds was not typical. The diving ducks in the river were dominated by Black Scoters, which we saw on Cape Ann as well last week.

Bald Eagle second winter – Mike Densmore

The scoters and Common Eiders were diving onto a presumed mussel bed about 2/3 of the way across the river, in a strong outgoing current. The birds dive down to swallow the mollusks whole, and then are swept out toward the sea as they surface. From there, they must fly back to the beginning of this cold, watery “conveyor belt” of seaduck-feeding activity. We see this pattern there often, with differing mixes of birds, through each winter season. We did see a few Common Loons, but no Common Goldeneyes and not many Long-tailed Ducks. There were a few of the latter across the river and here and there, but not the numbers of both species that we usually see by this time of year. We did, however, have a merry time with two Razorbills that briefly appeared as they floated out toward the ocean.

White-winged Scoter female – Mike Densmore

Our outing had a chilly start, but the sun and gentleness of the wind made us feel we could survive up on the dune platform at parking lot #1 on Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. The sea there looked empty at first, but as is often the case, things gradually appeared. Two Horned Grebes kept popping up out in front of us, and four Razorbills spent scant time on the surface not far off the beach a bit north of the platform. Eventually, we spied a few Red-necked Grebes, and flocks of a few White-winged and many Black Scoters moved about. We found a few Red-throated Loons at some distance. Two Northern Harriers foraged and perched on the dunes.

Red-necked Grebes – Stan Deutsch

The salt pannes were frozen over, and the thickets yielded nothing more than Black-capped Chickadees as we drove south on the refuge road. We arrived at parking lot #7, however, to a very excited Dave Adrien and another birder with a huge lens, who told us that there were not just one, but two King Eiders at Emerson Rocks. When we reached the platform, the birds were both sitting on the same rock. One that we think was an adult male had his bill tucked most of the time, but the unmistakable blue of his crown showed up. The other bird, a “subadult” male, did not have the pretty looks he will eventually have, but was well on his way to full adult plumage and soft parts. He swam around in the water a bit for better views.

King Eider – John Linn


Black Scoters – John Linn

We also saw many Black Scoters and Common Eiders, and more White-winged Scoters than we had seen at the previous locations. A flock of Purple Sandpipers that we rushed to identify, since they were on the rocks, sat very still on a large boulder. Dave Weaver was careful to confirm their relatively straight bills that help distinguish them at a distance from Dunlins. Later, a big flock of Sanderlings with a few Dunlins mixed in arrived and settled on the rocks near the Purple Sandpipers. That goes to show that, just because sandpipers are on rocks in the winter doesn’t mean you don’t have to look at them carefully!

Sanderlings and Dunlins join Purple Sandpipers – Mike Densmore


Common Eiders erupt from Ipswich Bay – Mike Densmore

We enjoyed a much closer Horned Grebe and struggled to get good looks at a few more Razorbills that actually did breathe the air for tiny moments off the rocks. Then, out of the mouth of the Ipswich Bay, a giant flock of more than a thousand Common Eiders came flying in to settle all up and down the seascape in front of us. What a show of health and fecundity in our ocean to see all those big ducks out there! We hear much about loss in our seas, so it is a great solace to observe any moment of such abundance, even if they do not occur as often or at the scale they once did.

Black Scoters – Stan Deutsch


Northern Mockingbird sings near winter solstice – Kathy Ilowiecki

After all that excitement, the thickets, pools, dikes, and marsh at Hellcat were a contrast in bird quietude, unlike the crescendo we sometimes find there. Not even some redpolls that others had seen in the area would show themselves. We did find a pair of adult Bald Eagles near the North Pool Overlook and The Warden’s. We encountered a Cooper’s Hawk cruising the edge of the marsh as we drove toward home at Joppa Flats, where Dave Larson was preparing his brown-bag lunch lecture on bird flight. Many stayed to enjoy this special perk of the season.

Cooper’s Hawk – Stan Deutsch

How blessed are we to revel in this natural beauty by the sea, to delve into the details of all these spectacular birds and how they accomplish their feats of every day existence! The marvelous spirit of friendship, inquiry, and love of nature that happens at Joppa Flats every day is because of all of you. With gratitude, we wish you continuing joy as the solstice comes to turn the dark into light again.

Wednesday Morning Birding at parking lot #7 platform, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge – Kathy Ilowiecki

Our list:
Canada Goose – common.
American Black Duck (4)
Mallard (4)
KING EIDER (2!) – both males – 1 adult & 1 subadult; Emerson Rocks.
Common Eider (1500+) – a few on river north end; major share flying from Ipswich Bay to parkling lot #7 (seven) ocean.
White-winged Scoter (~ 35) – parking lot #1 (one) & seven oceans.
Black Scoter – abundant; one & seven oceans.
Scoter sp. (abundant) – far out at sea, especially off seven.
Long-tailed Duck (~ 15) – ~ 12, north end; 3, seven ocean.
Bufflehead (1) – seven ocean.
Common Goldeneye (4) – 2 Plumbush River; pr., seven ocean.
Red-breasted Merganser (1) – hen, North Pool; from Hellcat dike.
Red-throated Loon (3) – one ocean.
Common Loon (5) – 3, north end; 1, one ocean; 1, seven ocean.
Horned Grebe (3) – 2, one ocean; 1, seven ocean.
Red-necked Grebe (5) – one ocean.
Bald Eagle (3) – 1 immature., north end; 2 ads – 1 perched, lollypop cedar, North Pool dike, & 1 soaring high above pannes.
Northern Harrier (4) – various.
Cooper’s Hawk (1) – flying s., w. lot #2.
Red-tailed Hawk (1) – perched atop cedar just s. entrance Hellcat parking lot.
Sanderling (~ 30) – Emerson Rocks.
Purple Sandpiper (12) – Emerson Rocks.
Dunlin (4) – Emerson Rocks.
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Razorbill (8) – 2, north end; 4, one ocean; 2, seven ocean.
Rock Pigeon (~ 30) – on wires n. refuge entrance.
American Crow (~ 5)
Black-capped Chickadee (~ 8) – various.
American Robin (5) – Hellcat.
Northern Mockingbird (2)
Dark-eyed Junco (1)

Wednesday Morning Birding Report, December 12, 2018

This Wednesday, Dave Weaver and I were back on Cape Ann with Wednesday Morning Birding. The weather was fine with lots of sun, appropriately cold temperatures, and not too much wind. Our new meeting place puts us just down the street from the Jodrey State Fish Pier, our traditional first stop. The flock of Common Eiders that was loitering there was composed almost entirely of adult birds of an even mix of males and females. They swam about in a tight raft as the males performed vigorous courtship displays. Excellent light made their show a real treat. The harbor did not have a great diversity beyond the Red-breasted Mergansers and gulls that were scattered everywhere, though several Common Loons appeared singly far out from the pier. We examined many gulls for anomalies, but nothing definitive showed up.

Common Eiders display – Bob Minton

Eastern Point was busy with Gadwalls, eiders, a few Buffleheads, and scoters. Out near the raft of ducks by the breakwater, we found one Black Guillemot that was hard to get a look at. We moved on to Niles Pond, where a medium sized flock of gulls was roosting on the ice near a bit of remaining open water. Two Iceland Gulls were mixed in with the Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls, and a flock of 12 Greater Scaup fit tightly in the little patch of open water. After we examined the gulls and ducks for a little while, a small flock of American Wigeons and a Ring-necked Duck flew in.

Gadwall – Barbara Merrill
Bufflehead – Mike Densmore

As we began searching the coast along Atlantic Road, “Cormorant Rock” delivered an even 10 Great Cormorants, which clearly displayed their different field marks and plumages in the good light. Two Northern Gannets flew too far out for many of us to get decent looks at them. There were a couple of female Common Goldeneyes near the rock, and we began seeing lots of Black Scoters and some White-winged Scoters, with an unusual preponderance of the former. In the ocean off the Elks Club, we found the usual array of Buffleheads and scoters, and this week we were lucky with a nearby and cooperative Black Guillemot in its somewhat dazzling white winter plumage. After I had found some nice big flocks of Purple Sandpipers there earlier in the week, it was odd to see only two of them perched on a rock in the cove near Bass Rocks.

Iceland Gull – Bob Minton
Great Cormorants – John Linn
Black Guillemot – John Linn
Purple Sandpipers – Barbara Merrill

Our pit stop at Rockport Harbor did yield that one odd duck that happens there sometimes, this time a Northern Pintail. One of those was regular there last winter, making us wonder if it is the same bird. Then, on the way out of the parking lot, lightning struck. As we were trying to identify a soaring bird as a Red-tailed hawk, we realized it was actually a Black Vulture circling around over the town. We did a bit of Keystone Cops-style chasing of that bird all over Rockport, and a number of us got good looks. If you want to look for it yourself, the bird has been seen a number of times at the Rockport Transfer Station. A Joppa birding group saw three Black Vultures in the western Massachusetts town of Montague last weekend, and it seems fair to say that the inevitable arrival and colonization of our state by this bellwether of climate change could be taking place at least a little bit more.

Northern Pintail – Barbara Merrill
Black Vulture – David Moon

With just a little time left, we went straight to Andrews Point, where again there were lots of Black Scoters. They were a nice mix of drakes and hens, all very close to shore for good photos. Plenty of Harlequin Ducks joined the many eiders cavorting in the surf to create a beautiful tableau of our rocky coast avifauna, capping off a lovely Cape Ann birding trip with some of our favorite species, nearby, well lit, and full of beans.

Black Scoter – Bob Minton


Harlequin Ducks – Mike Densmore

Our list:
Canada Goose (~ 15) – various.
Mute Swan (1) – Rockport inner harbor.
Gadwall (6) – Eastern Point.
American Wigeon (4) – Niles Pond (a small space of open water remaining).
American Black Duck (~ 50) – various.
Mallard (~ 30) – Rockport inner harbor.
Northern Pintail (1) – Rockport inner harbor.
Ring-necked Duck (1) – drake; Niles Pond.
Greater Scaup (12) – 1 drake, 11 hens; Niles Pond.
Common Eider – common.
Harlequin Duck (~ 20) – Andrews Point.
Surf Scoter (1) – Eastern Point.
White-winged Scoter (~ 20) – Atlantic Road.
Black Scoter – common; Atlantic Road & Andrews Point.
Long-tailed Duck (1) – Atlantic Road.
Bufflehead – common.
Red-breasted Merganser (~ 12) – various.
Common Loon (5) – outer Gloucester Harbor.
Northern Gannet (3)
Great Cormorant (10) – “Cormorant Rock”; Atlantic Road.
BLACK VULTURE (1) – seen high over downtown Rockport heading north.
Red-tailed Hawk (1) – over Good Harbor Beach parking lot.
Purple Sandpiper (2) – Bass Rocks, Atlantic Road.
Ring-billed Gull (2) – Niles Pond.
Herring Gull – common.
Iceland Gull (2) – 1st winter birds; Niles Pond.
Great Black-backed Gull – common.
Black Guillemot (2) – 1 at Eastern Point, and one near Elks Club on Atlantic Road.
Rock Pigeon
Blue Jay (2) – Niles Pond.
American Crow (~ 10) – various.
Black-capped Chickadee (2) – Niles Pond.
European Starling
Song Sparrow (2) – Niles Pond.

Wednesday Morning Birding Report, November 28, 2018

The sun greeted us in the Gloucester Crossing shopping center parking lot on Wednesday, as Susan Yurkus and I got ready to lead a cheery group of birders around Cape Ann. It was easy to get to the Jodrey State Fish Pier from there, and we found lots of birds in Gloucester Harbor. There were rafts of adult Common Eiders, with Double-crested Cormorants on the raft, and Red-breasted Mergansers scattered all over. Participant Hazel Hewitt picked out a female Common Merganser among them, making good use of our lesson on the differences between those species as “quiz birds” last week. After one particularly big explosion of gulls from the fishermen’s warehouse, we had a happy result to my plea that people look for an unusual gull: we found a first-cycle Iceland Gull, which then spent a good amount of time paddling serenely around in the protected area near the pier.

Common Eider with Green Crab – Mike Densmore

Iceland Gull – Bob Minton

As we wound through the thicket at Eastern Point, a Hermit Thrush did what they often do, dashing in front of the lead van into the brush, after which no one else could get a look. The view of the outer harbor and nearby cove from Eastern Point Wildlife Sanctuary was very birdy, especially with Red-breasted Mergansers. Lots of Bufflehead bobbed and dove near the shore. A female Green-winged Teal joined them on the open water, allowing us to see both the smallest dabbler and the smallest diver together. Not far out was a group of five or so beautiful drake Surf Scoters in a boys’ club gathering. Mostly female Black Scoters and a Red-necked Grebe mixed in with a raft of eiders against the seawall.

Bufflehead – Mike Densmore

Surf Scoters – Patti Wood

Red-necked Grebe near Eastern Point – Patti Wood

Green-winged Teal female – Mike Densmore

Niles Pond continued the theme of Red-breasted Mergansers, with one more Common Merganser female. A Ring-necked Duck and a pair of Greater Scaup added diversity. We can’t say that a Mute Swan didn’t contribute as well. That is the spot where we usually find the few passerines we can report on Cape Ann. This week all that showed up was a Downy Woodpecker and a Song Sparrow, with cheeping from House Sparrows in the hedges.

Ring-necked Duck female – Bob Minton

Greater Scaup female – Stan Deutch

Driving up Atlantic Road begins with Cormorant Rock, which this time was devoid of Great Cormorants. But the sea was covered with eiders and mostly White-winged Scoters. A charming aspect of the rocks and cove near the Elks Club is that Buffleheads are usually there in numbers, and this week was no exception. They made it more challenging for everyone to find a Razorbill; Hazel got even more kudos for finding one among them. Before we left, a Great Cormorant flew north way out at sea, not a bird easy to identify for most of us. Northern Gannets also patrolled in ones and twos on the distant stretches of ocean.

White-winged Scoter – Stan Deutsch

Razorbill – Patti Wood

Northern Gannet – Stan Deautsch

With not much time to spare, we made an efficient stop for the public restrooms at Rockport Harbor and found four American Black Ducks mixed in with the Mallards among the boats. The weather was changing by the time we reached Andrews Point, with a rising wind and gray sky that eventually produced a driving sleet. Still, it was wonderful to watch the big beautiful waves rolling in from the southeast and highlighting the many Harlequin Ducks and eiders below the point. Before climbing back into the vans, we worked on differentiating female Black Scoters from female Harlequin Ducks and found a lone Long-tailed Duck in the dramatic sea. What spectacular frigid energy we experienced this day on our coast, decorated so unforgettably with the seabirds that call it home for the winter.

Common Eider – John Linn

Harlequin Ducks – Barbara Merrill

Black Scoter hens and Harlequin Duck hen- Bob Minton

Our List:
Canada Goose (~120) – various.
Mute Swan (1) – Niles Pond.
American Black Duck (4) – Rockport Harbor
Mallard – common
Green-winged Teal (1) – Eastern Point.
Ring-necked Duck (1) – Niles Pond.
Greater Scaup (2) – Niles Pond.
Common Eider – common.
Harlequin Duck (~25) – Andrews Point.
Surf Scoter (~10) – Eastern Point.
White-winged Scoter – common.
Black Scoter – common.
Long-tailed Duck (1) – Andrews Point.
Bufflehead – common.
Common Merganser (2) – 1, Gloucester Harbor female: 1, Niles Pond female.
Red-breasted Merganser – common.
Common Loon (4) – various.
Red-necked Grebe (1) – Eastern Point
Northern Gannet (5) – Atlantic road.
Double-crested Cormorant (15) – mostly Gloucester Harbor.
Great Cormorant (1) – Atlantic Road.
Cooper’s Hawk (1) – Over Rt. 133 Ipswich.
Red-tailed Hawk (1) – Gloucester Crossing Shopping Center.
Herring Gull – common.
Iceland Gull (1) – Gloucester Harbor, from Jodrey State Fish Pier.
Great Black-backed Gull – common.
Razorbill (1) – Elks Club.
Rock Pigeon – common.
Mourning Dove – common.
Downy Woodpecker (1) – Niles Pond
Blue Jay (1) – Eastern Point.
American Crow (8) – various.
Hermit Thrush (1) – Eastern Point.
Northern Mockingbird (1) – Rt. 133 Ipswich.
European Starling – common.
Snow Bunting (8) – Over Rt. 133 Rowley.
Song Sparrow (1) – Niles Pond
House Sparrow – yes.