Saturday, February 21, 2009

Gulls, Alcids, Eagles, Snowies, Finches and Good Times: Volunteer Naturalists' Massachusetts Expedition

[Above: Gray Ghost vs. Snowy Owl: one of many highlights on last week's CMBO Volunteer Naturalists' trip to Cape Ann and Newburyport, MA. All photos by Don Freiday; click to enlarge these, as well as most photos below.]

Made famous by the "bird of the century Ross's Gull back in 1975, northeastern Massachusetts is still a mecca for winter birders. Ten CMBO volunteers and I made the 7 hour drive from Cape May and birded Cape Ann on Thursday and Plum Island/Newburyport on Friday. We've threatened to hold a winter birding workshop here, and perhaps someday we will - for obvious reasons.

In the completely unbelievable category, a second-year Bald Eagle over the Merrimac River dazzled us by casually grabbing a European Starling with its right talon and eating it on the wing, like a giant Merlin with a dragonfly!! Other highlights from the trip included 3 alcids (Black Guillemots, Razorbills, and a single Thick-billed Murre); White-winged Crossbills and Common Redpolls on Plum Island, and many white-winged gulls.

We also enjoyed the simple abundance of some birds that are scarce in Cape May - scenes like over 200 Common Eiders in a single flock, or a raft of Red-necked Grebes, or the chance to study many Iceland Gulls. Photo highlights and eBird lists from the trip follow.

[Above, scanning for guillemots from Dog Bar. Below, waves crashing on Eastern Point.]
[Karen Johnson somehow spotted this Snowy Owl (perched on machinery in the top center of the photo) from the Gloucester fishing pier. A repeated theme on our trip was, what happens when you get 11 good birders with good optics together in one place? The answer is, you find WAY more birds than a single birder ever could.]

[Karl Lukens first detected this adult "Kumlien's" Iceland Gull. Note the bright pink legs and the gray markings on the primaries characteristic of "our" race of Iceland Gull.]

[This Glaucous Gull seems to tower over the other gulls on Dog Bar.]

[I spent a lot of time photographing gulls for the CMBO's Gull Workshop next Saturday, like this first year Iceland. At one point we had over 10 Iceland Gulls in view at once.]

[Standing on a snowy Plum Island beach, trying to determine if Red-necked Grebes normally sleep with their bills tucked in their breast feathers, rather than with their heads turned over their backs.]

Location: Gloucester - Rockport
Observation date: 2/19/09
Number of species: 50
Snow Goose 1
Mute Swan 2
Gadwall 20
American Black Duck 50
Mallard 100
Greater Scaup 20
Common Eider 500
Harlequin Duck 20
Surf Scoter 20
White-winged Scoter 100
Black Scoter 10
Long-tailed Duck 20
Bufflehead 30
Common Goldeneye 30
Red-breasted Merganser 30
Wild Turkey 10
Common Loon 30
Horned Grebe 5
Red-necked Grebe 10
Great Cormorant 10
Red-tailed Hawk 2
Peregrine Falcon 1
Purple Sandpiper 30
Bonaparte's Gull 1
Ring-billed Gull X
Herring Gull X
Iceland Gull 20
Lesser Black-backed Gull 1
Glaucous Gull 3
Great Black-backed Gull X
Thick-billed Murre 1
Razorbill 7
Black Guillemot 15
Rock Pigeon X
Mourning Dove X
Blue Jay X
American Crow X
Black-capped Chickadee 5
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
Brown Creeper 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet 1
American Robin X
European Starling X
Song Sparrow 5
White-throated Sparrow 5
Snow Bunting 1
Northern Cardinal 5
House Finch 5
American Goldfinch 5
House Sparrow X

Location: Plum Island
Observation date: 2/20/09
Number of species: 51
Canada Goose X
Mute Swan X
American Black Duck 300
Mallard X
Common Eider 20
Surf Scoter 10
White-winged Scoter 10
Black Scoter 5
Long-tailed Duck 10
Bufflehead 50
Common Goldeneye 50
Hooded Merganser 2
Red-breasted Merganser 10
Red-throated Loon 1
Common Loon 30
Red-necked Grebe 15
Great Cormorant 2
Bald Eagle 2
Northern Harrier 5
Red-tailed Hawk 5
Rough-legged Hawk 1
American Kestrel 1
Peregrine Falcon 1
Sanderling 2
Ring-billed Gull X
Herring Gull X
Iceland Gull X
Great Black-backed Gull X
Rock Pigeon X
Mourning Dove X
Snowy Owl 1
Blue Jay X
American Crow X
Horned Lark 10
Black-capped Chickadee 10
American Robin 40
European Starling X
Cedar Waxwing X
Yellow-rumped Warbler 1
American Tree Sparrow 10
Song Sparrow 5
White-throated Sparrow 5
Snow Bunting 2
Northern Cardinal 2
Red-winged Blackbird X
House Finch X
White-winged Crossbill 10
Common Redpoll 60
Pine Siskin 1
American Goldfinch 10
House Sparrow X

Location: Cashman Park, Newburyport
Observation date: 2/20/09
Number of species: 2
Barrow's Goldeneye 1
Bald Eagle 1 2nd year bird was observed to grab a starling with right talon and eat on the wing like a merlin eating a dragonfly!!!!

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