Sunday, January 29, 2017

Plum Island & vicinity

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