On a somewhat breezy, but sunny day, eight birders join me for my annual January trip to Plum Island. As always, you never know what you might find, somewhere between feast and famine.
We started the trip by scanning the ocean from parking lot #1 for sea duck and alcids. Unfortunately, the recent alcid influx had subsided, at least from here. The ocean was flat calm, with only a few species and individuals. Three species of Scoters were seen along several loons of both the Common and Red-Throated variety. Single individuals of other species were seen. But not a single Common Eider was found.
We turned our backs to the ocean to scan down the island for snowy owl. A steady West/North Westerly wind made the eyes water and the cheeks rosy. No white blobs on a brown landscape were found. We did see the first of a handful of Northern Harriers encountered during the day.
Traveling down the island, we stopped occasionally, scanning the marsh for owls (without success) viewing only Mallads, Black Ducks and several Gadwall.
It was not until we hit the Wardens did we find our first good bird of the day (but aren't they all!), a Rough-legged Hawk . Watching it for 5-15 minutes, while scanning the area, this bird hovered in place, seemingly not moving more than a foot or two in any direction. Moving down to the overlook stop, the bird was still hovering in the wind.
The next stop, Hellcat/Bill Forward Pool complex was our best and most productive of the day! Heading out on the dike separating the two bodies of water, we were greeted by a Red-tailed Hawk perched on a signpost, only 20 feet way. We watched it for a minute or two, when it took flight to fly up to the top of the tower, startling a family already there.
Turning to the ducks, we found a large group of Northern Pintails, probably the largest group I've seen of the island. Along with them were Hoodies, Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead. We would get better looks at these birds later from the "New" bird blind.
Steven Whitebread then let the group know he had found one of our target birds, a Snowy Owl. It was out in the marsh to the far right end of the dike. We walked out as far as we could to get the best looks. It was a large, very white bird with little coloration noticed.
With all satisfied with their looks at the owl, we headed back to the car to drop off scopes. We headed to the board walk to search for another reported owl. We walk to the road without nearly a bird seen or heard. Land birds were near nonexistent.
We crossed the road heading up toward the top of the dunes. We stopped at the Ludlow Griscom memorial. I asked Bob Fox if he had any stories about the renown ornithologist. He regaled us with several anecdotes which left the group with a laugh and a smile.
The only good bird on this side of the road, was a brief view by some, of a male Northern Harrier. That aside, it was more of the same, not much. We backtracked the boardwalk, retracing our steps toward the parking lot. We then headed out towards the Marsh trail boardwalk. We came up upon a group of photographers which had found a roosting Barred Owl. Although it was somewhat hidden, all managed to set satisfying looks.
After viewing the previously mentioned ducks from the blind, we headed off island to view the harbor. The best bird was a Bonaparte's Gull found by Bob Fox. This bird was nearly in Salisbury when first spotted. Next we went to Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm to chase and watch a flock of +/-200 Horned Lark. The flock split up several times, leaving us looks at 20 or so birds.
Next we headed to Scotland road to search for and found, three Greater White-fronted Goose. The last stop for the day was Cherry Hill Reservoir. We found a flock of Common Mergansers. For the last bird of the day, Dotty spotted a bird on the top of a tree. It was identified as a Northern Shrike. It only stayed for a minute, but all got a look.
All in all it was a good day!! Below is a list of what I loosely tallied, the location is where the bulk of a species was seen.
Greater White-fronted Goose 3 Scotland Road Canada Goose 40 Plum Island Mute Swan 7 Plum Island Gadwall 10 Plum Island American Black Duck 230 Plum Island Mallard 25 Plum Island Northern Pintail 72 Plum Island Green-winged Teal 20 Plum Island Surf Scoter 1 Plum Island White-winged Scoter 25 Plum Island Black Scoter 5 Plum Island Long-tailed Duck 5 Plum Island Bufflehead 15 Plum Island Common Goldeneye 12 Plum Island Hooded Merganser 7 Plum Island Common Merganser 93 Cherry Hill Reservoir Red-breasted Merganser 30 Newburyport Harbor Red-throated Loon 2 Plum Island Common Loon 8 Plum Island Horned Grebe 1 Plum Island Red-necked Grebe 1 Plum Island Northern Harrier 5 Plum Island Red-tailed Hawk 2 Plum Island Rough-legged Hawk 1 Plum Island Bonaparte's Gull 1 Newburyport Harbor Ring-billed Gull 30 Newburyport Harbor Herring Gull 5 Newburyport Harbor Great Black-backed Gull 3 Newburyport Harbor Rock Pigeon 5 Plum Island Mourning Dove 2 Plum Island Snowy Owl 1 Plum Island Barred Owl 1 Plum Island Downy Woodpecker 1 Plum Island Northern Shrike 1 Cherry Hill Reservoir Blue Jay 2 Plum Island American Crow 5 Plum Island Horned Lark 200 Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm Black-capped Chickadee 2 Plum Island Northern Mockingbird 1 Plum Island European Starling 5 Plum Island Snow Bunting 25 Plum Island Song Sparrow 2 Plum Island Northern Cardinal 1 Plum Island American Goldfinch 1 Plum Island