Sunday, January 24, 2016

Plum Island & vicinity (or Birding Ducks in a Barrel), January 23, 2016

Being on the brink of the Blizzard of 2016, a few ambitious birders made the journey north to Plum Island for what turned out to be a shortened day of birding. We started birding from parking lot one. The ocean was roaring with full tube waves crashing onto the beach just north of us. A scan of the ocean, produced little in the way of birds. A few Scoter specie types, probably Black, were seen all but briefly in between the waves. A few members of the group did manage to see some Sanderling(?) down the beach.

With a temperature in the low 30's and an in your face wind of 30 mph, the low to mid teen wind chill made conditions for birding difficult. Being prepared, I wore a face mask, which typically does not work too well for me. I can't hear what others are saying, my eyes water and my optics fog up. I consider this one of the worst ways to bird.

We continued down the island, stopping and scanning the marsh for non existent birds of prey and owls. (We were later told of a Rough-legged Hawk, but we never caught up to it). The frozen panes, were long since abandoned. The Warden's produced just two Song Sparrows. Typically, it is a place to get something of interest during the winter. Not this non-finch year. Onward and southward, we next stopped at Hellcat, to walk the wind exposed dike.

We met with two birders coming off the dike. They reported see a variety of ducks in the sound. But our goal here was to see the previously reported Lapland Longspurs. The other birders did not report seeing any. I subconsciously didn't think we would see anything and had left my scope in the car. So I scanned the sound with my binocs and found little in waterfowl. Even with the wind to our backs, it was somewhat uncomfortable, standing exposed, just past the watchtower. Returning to our intended goal, I looked northward and found a flock of nine birds in the dike path just before the do not enter fence. Getting Christine Whitebread's scope on the birds, we determined we had found our goal. Eight Longspurs and a song sparrow. Steven Whitebread, with camera in hand, crept closer to get a few pictures.

Lapland Longspur, photo by Steven Whitebread

Having achieved our goal, we continued down the island again scanning for any signs of life. We found flocks of Black Ducks, with a few Northern Pintails mixed in and a group of Mallards a Stage Island. At this point, the decision was to turn around and get away from the coast.

We headed a half hour inland to Haverhill's Kenoza Lake, where a variety of birds had been reported over the past several weeks. Our goal here was Tufted Duck, which up to recently had been moving from pond to pond as each was frozen out. What we found was AMAZING!!
With the exception of a tiny corner of the lake, the remainder of the lake was frozen. But in this tiny space were hundreds of ducks, coot, geese and swans. It was like birding ducks in a barrel.
Assorted waterfowl, photo by Steven Whitebread
It took a few minutes, but we found the Tufted Duck. It was often diving near the ice edge spending what appeared to be more time underwater than on the surface.
Tufted Duck, photo by Steven Whitebread

There was 15 species of waterfowl, one of which, Eurasian Wigeon, was identified after the fact from photos taken.

Eurasian Wigeon, photo by Steven Whitebread

Below is a summary of the birds seen during the trip.The first number is for Plum Island the second is for Kenoza Lake.

Canada Goose                     150       110
Mute Swan                                         12
Eurasian Wigeon                                 1 (Found later via photo above.)
American Wigeon                               5
American Black Duck        300           2
Mallard                                 50       100
Northern Pintail                      4
Tufted Duck                                         1
Redhead                                               1
Ring-necked Duck                           150
Greater Scaup                                      2
Scoter Sp. Black??                  1
Bufflehead                              8           6
Hooded Merganser                              7
Common Merganser                            2
Ruddy Duck                                       25
Common Loon                       2
Red-tailed Hawk 1 going to Kenoza Lake
American Coot                                   20
Sanderling                            ??
Herring Gull                          X          26
Great Black-backed Gull       X
Rock Pigeon                         12
American Crow                    12            6
American Robin                   10
European Starlings             300
Cedar Waxwings                  15
Lapland Longspurs                8
American Tree Sparrow        5
Song Sparrow                        8
Dark-eyed Junco                    3
Northern Cardinal                 2 

Mike Emmons   

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