Monday, January 26, 2009

The Superbowl of Birding VI 1/24/2009

For the 2nd consecutive year we did Joppa Flat's Superbowl of Birding with the 5-sum of Dan Berard, Chuck Caron, Rod Jenkins, Paul Meleski and I (aka: "The Burger Kinglets"). The basic route, within Essex County, was more or less the same as previous years, with some tweaks. Starting in the south, Nahant/Lynn, Owling in Ipswich/Essex, Cape Ann, with strategic stops along Rte 133 as we move toward Salisbury/Plum Island and finishing along the lower Merrimac River.

This has proven to be a consistant route, over the past 3 years we've tallied 83/172, 88/191, and 82/168 ... species/points respectively.

We started at the Nahant causway for Brant, visible by street light at 5am, then hitting Flax Pond in Lynn for American Coot (again the street lights provide ample light to pick out coot, Hooded Mergs, Mallard, Black Duck and Canada Goose). This costs some time on owls and as dawn arrived we only had screech. While in route to Gloucester, Dan yelled "Wild Turkey on the telephone wire" we stopped quickly thinking of leaving Dan off...but sure enough, there was a turkey balancing on a wire (we let Dan back in)!

The first day-time stop nets us a few key birds Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Brown Creeper and Pine Siskin. At Halibut Point we got a "Chawink" out of an Eastern Towhee and added a few more common birds. At Andrew's Point were several Razorbills, a Black Guillemot, a few Black-legged Kittywake, Red-necked Grebe, Harlequin Ducks and uncountable fly-by Thick-billed Murres only seen by 2 of the 5 team members. Purple Sandpipers made it on our list at Catherdral Ledge, but the previously reported Bohemian Waxwings had moved on.

We missed the King Eider at Goodharbor Beach, but got Belted Kingfish on a wire as we drove toward Atlantic Drive. At the Elks Club (Atlantic Drive) my old scope, it might be older than Dan, was good enough to help pick out the drake King Eider up against the far side of Salt Island. The Ivory Gull seemed long gone from Eastern Point but one team seemed intend on walking the Dog Bar jetty, flushing most gulls off it. We manage Iceland and Glaucous Gull before they're spooked.

Rod picked out the bird of the day, a 1st year Thayer's gull, at Brace Cove. We spent several minutes studying this bird and I digi-scoped a few poor shots, as an offering to the judges (I will post here later, my son hijacked the cord for my SD card reader). As we left Cape Ann about 10:30AM, Chuck was reminding us we were already 77 minutes behind schedule, typically we are about ...77 minutes behind at this point...we had 60 species and 112 points. We make a schedule each year, down to the minute, its generally "shot" by 9AM...but that frame work keeps us moving with a purpose.

1st cycle Thayer's near 1st cycle Great Black-backed
1st cycle Thayer's zoomed in, these 2 poor quality shots were the best I could do.

Between Cape Ann and Salisbury we have a series of back road stops and manage to pickup Yellow-rumped Warbler, Hermit Thrush and Red-breasted Nuthatch on Comono Road. A previously reported White-crowned Sparrow shows nicely on Island Road (Essex), a few dozen Horned Larks are visiting a feeding station (and walking on the roof) at the adjacent house, and a Bald Eagle passes over.

Further into Ispwich we pickup Eastern Bluebird but missed the Flickers and American Kestrel that Chuck and I had seen the previous day on Labor in Vein Road. Near Stackyard Road we miss a few more key birds, seen the day before, Northern Shrike and Eastern Meadowlark but they are replaced by a Cooper's Hawk and Merlin. We'd see 4 accipitors during the day, all Coops:(

On Dock Lane, in Salisbury, we miss the previously reported Yellow-headed Blackbird and Dickcissle but add Brown-headed Cowbird and Common Redpoll (on our 2nd visit). We also have the good fortune of crossing paths with Wayne Petersen, Rod and Wayne had worked together years ago at Monomoy Island (Chatham, Ma.) and hadn't seen each other in some time.

Salisbury Beach State Park works out well for us, with great looks at several White-winged Crossbills, Lapland Longspur, Snow Bunting, Red-throated Loon, Black Scoter and what turns out to be our only Northern Harrier of the day.
Male White-winged Crossbill at Salisbury

Off to Plum Island, with 78 species, there are no shorebirds in Newbouryport Harbor but 3 Snow Geese, near Joppa Flats, is a nice exchange. The conditions on Parker River Refuge at 3PM are miserable with temps in the mid 20's and a NW wind between 20 and 30 MPH. NO Rough-legged hawk, NO Harrier, NO Short-eared owl, NO new birds on the ocean side, NO shorebirds and NO landbirds. As we are leaving the refuge its apparent this will be the first time, during 6 "Birdbowls" , we will add NO new birds on Parker River, we are 100 feet from the gatehouse and No Snowy ..... wait.....Snowy Owl a hundred yards out!! Thankfully, it was a very dark individual that showed just enough contrast with the ice and snow to be seen from the moving vehicle. We leave Plum island with 80 species, 168 points and 45 minutes to go.

Working the Merrimac River toward the chain bridge has always been kind to us, even late in the day when its difficult to add new species. We decide to hit the chain bridge, we already have Bald Eagle but need Common Merganser (there were 50 yesterday), Great Blue Heron (we've gotten it nearly every year and one was there yesterday), Red-winged Blackbirds (we've "Caught'em" going into roost across the river in the past) and maybe a Barrow's Goldeneye (they don't seem as common here as 10+ years ago).

At the Chain Bridge there is only 2 or 3 Common Mergs, we only need 1, a moment later one of our team gets us on a flock of Red-winged Blackbirds flying over head (3 points). But, no Great Blue Heron, we look up, down and across the river even under the bridge, we've missed it. With little time remaining we head to Cashman Park and are fortunate a pair of Ring-necked Ducks decided to end their day here too. So the 3 point Great Blue is replaced by the 4 point Ring-necks and still about 10 minutes to go.

We decide to race to the Newburyport seawall, famous for THE 1975 Ross' Gull, today we'd be happy with the previously reported Black-headed Gull or even a Mute Swan. Our last effort is a good one, but we come up empty and end the day with 83 species and 176 points. We were very pleased with the effort but ended up falling 2 points short of the winner (David Bates' team "Return of the Great Auks") who finished with a fine total of 87 species and 178 points.

Our list:
Sepcies (points)
Red-throated Loon (2)
Common Loon (1)
Horned Grebe (1)
Red-necked Grebe (2)
Great Cormorant (1)
Snow Goose (4)
Canada Goose (1)
Brant (3)
Gadwall (2)
American Black Duck (1)
Mallard (1)
Ring-necked Duck (4)
Lesser Scaup (3)
King Eider (4)
Common Eider (1)
Harlequin Duck (2)
Surf Scoter (1)
White-winged Scoter (1)
Black Scoter (2)
Oldsquaw (1)
Bufflehead (1)
Common Goldeneye (1)
Hooded Merganser (2)
Red-breasted Merganser (1)
Common Merganser (1)
Bald Eagle (2)
Northern Harrier (1)
Cooper's Hawk (3)
Red-tailed Hawk (1)
Merlin (4)
Wild Turkey (3)
American Coot (4)
Purple Sandpiper (2)
Ring-billed Gull (1)
Herring Gull (1)
Thayer's Gull (5 + 3 bonus)
Iceland Gull (2)
Glaucous Gull (3)
Great Black-backed Gull (1)
Black-legged Kittiwake (3)
Razorbill (3)
Black Guillemot (2)
Rock Dove (1)
Mourning Dove (1)
Eastern Screech-Owl (2)
Snowy Owl (3)
Belted Kingfisher (3)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (3)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (5 + 3 bonus)
Downy Woodpecker (1)
Blue Jay (1)
American Crow (1)
Horned Lark (2)
Black-capped Chickadee (1)
Tufted Titmouse (1)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (2)
White-breasted Nuthatch (1)
Brown Creeper (3)
Carolina Wren (2)
Eastern Bluebird (3)
Hermit Thrush (3)
American Robin (1)
Northern Mockingbird (1)
European Starling (1)
Cedar Waxwing (2)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (3)
Eastern Towhee (4)
American Tree Sparrow (1)
Song Sparrow (1)
White-throated Sparrow (1)
White-crowned Sparrow (4)
Dark-eyed Junco (1)
Lapland Longspur (3)
Snow Bunting (3)
Northern Cardinal (1)
Red-winged Blackbird (3)
Brown-headed Cowbird (3)
House Finch (1)
White-winged Crossbill (4)
Common Redpoll (3)
Pine Siskin (3)
American Goldfinch (1)
House Sparrow(1)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Luck of the Ivory!

An Ivory Gull (adult) Eastern Point Gloucester, Ma.
Chuck Caron and I did a little scouting, for next week's Superbowl of Birding, in Essex County today. We checked out places down in Nahant, Lynn and then back roads of Essex that we'd never birded before. About 1:30PM we decided to head to Cape Ann rather than doing more scouting for land birds. We were eating lunch at Jodrey Pier, before getting out to bird, three cars pulled up with Connecticut plates.
As they got out of their vehicles I spotted a Black-headed Gull flying past, Chuck and I jumped out to get a better look and exchanged greetings with the Connecticut birders, mentioning the passing Black-headed Gull. One of their group said, "hey did you get the Ivory Gull". YOU HAVE OUR ATTENTION ! "Its down by the Eastern Point Lighthouse", which is only a few miles away.
We left Jodrey Pier in our "wake" and the Black-headed Gull "for dead" and were off. Ten minutes later, after being stuck behind seemly some of the slowest %$#&@! drivers in North America, we were watching an adult Ivory Gull, flying back and forth a mere 50 to 100 yards away from the Eastern Point parking lot, with about 30+ other birders. At times the bird would land on and pick at the ice and nearly dissappear, being white on white with the ice. The bird continued its back and forth flight pattern for an hour+, until we were almost....almost.... sick of watching the thing (well.....not really). I digi-binned the few photos here, but judging by the cameras and talented birder/photographers present, real photos will be posted on the web... check for addtional information and photo links.

A fuzzy digi-bin photo of the Ivory Gull.

The bird was initially found by Jeremiah Trimble, who quickly got the good news out.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Milford, NH Snowy Owl 1/10/09

A Snowy Owl was reported a few weeks ago in Milford, NH; which was found during the Nashua-Hollis CBC. Fortunately this bird has stuck around and has been enjoyed by many birders, and I arrived at Hayward's Icecream Stand about 10AM, got out of the car and began scanning the large fields. Nothing....I put the glasses down, looked up and realized while I had been concertrating on long distance scanning, the bird was only 50 yards away sitting atop a pile of old railroad ties...NICE!

Snowy Owl on a pile of Rail Road ties

I got back in the car and repositioned the vehicle so I could enjoy the bird from inside, better for both the owl and me. While watching the owl I noticed a flock of waterfowl, in flight, about 400 yards out and one stuck out as being different, either a drake Common Merganser or Northern Pintail. I watched the owl another few minutes as it sat tight and I decided to see if I could find those ducks.
Digi-binned photo

Digi-scoped Photo
After driving North River Road on of all places... the north side of the river, I decided to walk some conservation land with trails along the river. Many robins , some starlings and a few Cedar Waxwings were feeding on bittersweet along the river. After crossing a few foot bridges I was along a stream and noticed some movement in the water...there was a drake Northern Pintail, which immediately flushed and moved on, there was also a some of the Mallards and an Amercian Black Duck.

The Snowy was on a nearby roof top later in the afternoon, before it flew off and perch upon a dirt pile several hundred yards away.
A bit further on the trail I heard the call notes of a Winter Wren and got a 1/2 decent look at it too, but not good enough for a photo.
The Sharp-shinned Hawk below chased some of the many robins and missed them all and proceeded to perch in a birch tree. It sat tight and I got the photo below.
Digi-bin of the "shin".
I had not noticed there was a some Bittersweet below the Sharp-shinned, nor did I see the American Robin, that perhaps had frozen still when the hawk perched above it. But, the "shin" had and when I tried to get a better photo of the hawk, it flew toward me, did a "180" back into the thicket and nailed the robin. I could hear the robin's last calls as it was carried off, the "shin" finished off the robin on the snow before moving into the pine grove with its meal.
There was lots of Oriental Bittersweet, along the Souhegan River, which attrached the robin which attrached the hawk.

An American Robin, well....what was left after it "flew off".... attached to the above Sharp-shinned an uplanned dinner.
Another nice surprise was a Great Blue Heron that flushed from the stream. That pintail made another close pass, while watching it I was able to pickup a small group of 4 White-winged Crossbills, in flight and calling.
American Goldfinches, note the one to the right (reaching down to feed on a seed head) was a "white-capped" bird, having white were the normal black forhead would be in their alternate (breeding) plumage.
Besides having some nice birds, I had the good fortune to bump into some nice folks, including Jerry Coffee and Scott Spangenberg.
The complete bird list from the day:

Canada Goose....86
American Black Duck....1
Northern Pintail....1
Great Blue Heron....1
Sharp-shinned Hawk....1
Red-tailed Hawk....1
Rock Pigeon....35
Mourning Dove....24
Snowy Owl....1
Downy Woodpecker....2
Hairy Woodpecker....3
Blue Jay....15
American Crow....12
Black-capped Chickadee....20
Tufted Titmouse....4
White-breasted Nuthatch....6
Winter Wren....1
Golden-crowned Kinglet....3
American Robin....75
Northern Mockingbird....1
European Starling....75
Cedar Waxwing....2
American Tree Sparrow....8
Song Sparrow....1
White-throated Sparrow....1
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)....8
Northern Cardinal....3
House Finch....4
White-winged Crossbill....4
Pine Siskin....6
American Goldfinch....25
House Sparrow....30

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Niantic, Ct. (Hooded Merganser X Common Goldeneye Hybrid 1/3)

On Saturday 1/3, I helped Chuck Caron cover a portion of the New London CBC on coastal Connecticut. While we were overlooking the water from a park in the village of Niantic, Chuck spotted an odd duck mixed in with a flock of 20 Common Goldeneye. These birds were about 200 meters off shore. The flock was busy feeding and spending more time under water than on the surface. After a good deal frustration I was able to capture a few digi-scope photos of the bird, once the flock finally setting down and stayed afloat.

This bird was about the same size as the nearby Common Goldeneye. There is a good deal of chromatic aberration, the most prevalent color is a purple cast. Chuck did note detecting a bit of purple while viewing the bird through his scope. Though, on my PC monitor I pickup a little bit of green on the head in one photo. To me this bird fits nicely into the Common GE X Hooded Merg hybrid.

Hybrid, upper right, with female Common Goldeneye and Herring Gull

A nice side view

Head tucked in, the purple cast is from the scope/camera.

Hybrid with Common Goldeneyes

Hybrid with Common Goldeneyes. On my monitor I can pickup a bit of green on the back of the bird's head.

Later in the day we had the good fortune of this American Pipit landing in front of us while we scanned the ocean

Digi-bin photo of American Pipit.

The sunset as we walked back form Black Point at the day's end.
The day's list from our section (Only) of the count:

Canada Goose...138
Mute Swan...9
American Black Duck...106
Northern Pintail...4
Ring-necked Duck...103
Surf Scoter...20
Black Scoter...18
Common Goldeneye...30
Common Goldeneye x Hooded Merganser (hybrid)...1
Hooded Merganser...14
Red-breasted Merganser...65
Red-throated Loon...5
Common Loon...21
Horned Grebe...16
Red-necked Grebe...1
Great Cormorant...2
Great Blue Heron...4
Turkey Vulture...3
Northern Harrier...1
Sharp-shinned Hawk...2
Cooper's Hawk...2
Red-tailed Hawk...2
American Coot...5
Ring-billed Gull...166
Herring Gull...753
Great Black-backed Gull...18
Rock Pigeon...33
Mourning Dove...21
Great Horned Owl...1
Red-bellied Woodpecker...4
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker...2
Downy Woodpecker...11
Hairy Woodpecker...1
Northern Flicker...3
Blue Jay...23
American Crow...39
Black-capped Chickadee...74
Tufted Titmouse...31
White-breasted Nuthatch...11
Carolina Wren...15
Winter Wren...1
Marsh Wren...1
Hermit Thrush...4
American Robin...10
Gray Catbird...5
Northern Mockingbird...16
Brown Thrasher...2
European Starling...25
American Pipit...1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle)...7
Eastern Towhee...1
American Tree Sparrow...4
Chipping Sparrow...1
Fox Sparrow...3
Song Sparrow...57
Swamp Sparrow...1
White-throated Sparrow...119
Dark-eyed Junco...28
Northern Cardinal...40
Red-winged Blackbird...14
Brown-headed Cowbird...1
House Finch...58
Pine Siskin...17
American Goldfinch...45
House Sparrow...269
Seen by Chuck and not me were Ruby-crowned Kinglet... 1 and American Kestrel... 1

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Lunenburg "Nelson's" Gull 1/1/2009

I had nice looks at this bird as it fed on "scraps" along the waterfront at Whalom Lake. Initially it was near a Great Black-backed Gull and was very close, if not equal in size and dwarfted the nearby Herring Gulls, clearly a large bulky gull.

I saw it head on and thought immediately it was a probable Glaucous, the dark primaries and tail where hidden. The lighting was harsh, bright sun light and not optimal for photos, the picture were all digi-binned except for one (perched on the lake) through my old Swift scope.

Seems to have the face and head of a Glaucous Gull
Showing a more rounded head, but large bill, in this pose. Note the dark primaries.

Fairly angular and "Glauc-y expression" in this pose.
None of the photos here show it, but the base of the bill was pinkish.
The tail is fair dark, but little else to see in this shot.
A more distant view, as it flew onto the partially frozen lake and perched by itself.

Fairly dark primaries
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