Friday, March 1, 2013

A Winter New England Trip

Every other year we { that being the Queens County Bird Club } do this great trip to a beautiful part of the country. Led by Junco Llins, we do a tour of the quintessentially New England locations around Cape Ann Massachusetts.

We got off to a great start on Saturday, the forecast weather not arriving as predicted.  AvIan and I met at 6am for the ride up, one shy as Capt'n Bob was still recuperating from a recent bad cold. No traffic to speak of and an uncomplicated trip was a nice feeling.

That is if you don't count disturbing car messages. We made a pit-stop in Sturbridge to fuel up, and something made the security light and service engine light come on. I was not happy. In the past this happened after a security sensor went bad and would prevent the key from starting the car!

We were still in the lot of the station with the car running as we cleaned the wipers, windows, and otherwise prepped the car for the rest of the journey, when this occurred. I decided to not attend to it but rather get to the hotel first. The amber messages on the dash gnawed at me, but we arrived unscathed, and upon trying the car later the problem did not resurface. Yay!

We were the first ones to arrive, but the others joined us shortly thereafter, and we car poodled to our first stop along the Merrimack river. Viewing from the bridge, we were looking for Bald Eagles. Sethophaga Ausubel alerted us to a raptor sitting in a tree over the river, and at first glance man\y of us thought it was an immature Bald Eagle. A closer look revealed that it was actually a Rough-legged Hawk. A short while later I located another bird next to it that was also a RL Hawk, though I was surprised that they were located where they were.

Other goodies seen here were a Great Blue Heron who caught a large catfish that we watched it do its best to consume. The spiny dorsal fin may have put the kibosh on the dinner plans though.  Takers of more modest fish included Great Cormorants replete with white lateral spots, Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser, and White-winged Scoter. 

An overly ambitious Great Blue Heron
Moving down the river we stopped at a number of vantage points and got some more of the usual suspects, like Gadwall, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, and common Loon.

We also diverted a wee bit to an industrial park so that we could enjoy a flock of Pine Grosbeaks! There were no males amongst them, and the lighting was bad in almost all respects, but we got nice looks and that's what really matters anyway.

Resuming our original course down river, we made our way to Joppa Flats. At the visitor center we found a person who looked strikingly like our own Mary Normandia, and who was in fact her brother Paul. The feeders there provided nice looks at Am. Tree Sparrows, and the facility was a good pit stop.

Across the street we were enticed by a flock of what turned out to be House Sparrows, and an empty feeder, but at least two of us got on a flock of Snow Bunting wheeling  about before they departed.

Moving on to Parker River NWR there were numerous targets we wanted and we set out to find them. One such target was a drake King Eider, which we looked for to no avail. Stopping and scanning at a number of reported locations did not reveal the beast.

Similarly, we tried to track down the Bittern, and it was a no show. We stopped at a number of locations on the way out, what with light fading and another stop planned.  With a plea for Junco Llins to stop one last time, he did. We got lucky as a woman with a scope asked HellOnWheel Lark if she would like to see it. Yes!

Turns out the duck was just out of sight behind the marsh grass. We were looking at the right location earlier, but the duck was out of view. Someone had climbed the stairway that goes way up and over the dunes and from that vantage was easily able to see the duck. Of course, after running up there and seeing it, it came into view for those who moved a bit more slowly.

Drake King Eider too far away for a decent photo.

Elated, we made haste for our final stop, er final birding stop at Salisbury. We couldn't find the Crossbills in the pines, but we more than made up for it at the inlet.

Razorbill and Red-throated Loons, followed by one two three four Red-necked Grebes! Two Iceland Gulls were on the jetty, and then not be inconsequential, Sethophaga picked out a Dovekie in the Inlet. Wow. What a great cap to the day, justly rewarded by an excellent meal at the Black Cow. { Junco Llins would never let us eat at anything but a great restaurant }

We returned to our hotel, and turned in early for the next days events... ...which began with meeting for breakfast before our caravan up to Rockport. It began to snow lightly, and for the most part was not much of a hindrance until we actually got to Rockport, where the snow was really accumulating.

It was so bad that Sethophaga radioed in that he was heading to his hotel and calling it quits unless the snow stopped. And we did as well... except that the snow made travel above 10 mph ill advised, and upon arrival at our place, we discovered that the snow covered driveway and it's steep pitch meant there was no way we were getting up it.

Even after it was plowed it was too slippery, and I retreated to a shopping mall where I could move out of the way rather than staying on the narrow road. Junco Llins intrepidly walked up the hill to check in, and later joined us. And not too long later we were retrieved by the plow driver who had put down salt and offered either a ride or that we try again.

Success!  We got up the hill and to our rooms to settle in. Convening in my suite, Junco Llins, HellOnWheel Lark, AvIan and I contemplated what to do. I suggested that "beverages" might make a suitable way to pass the time, and Junco Llins let it slip that he had a bottle of wine. He appeared worried, and quickly stated it was for friends he planned to visit on his way home. Then with perfect synchrony we all replied: "oh, it's for your ~friends~". But AvIan doesn't imbibe, I avoid wine [ though I'm sure it was a fine one if he chose it ] and HellOnWheel Lark thought a nap would be a better use of her time. Junco Llins escaped unscathed.

After a boring interlude, we met for lunch at a small place that proved quite tasty. Afterwards, we attempted to see if we could actually see something despite the snowy and windy conditions. The roads were not too bad, as Massachusetts does not wait for the snow to stop or melt - they get right to it!

We went to the Jodrey Fish pier.  As predicted it was clear of snow so that the commercial activities could go on unencumbered. That had to do with the ground only though. the air was still filled with lots of white stuff that made viewing challenging. Not the least of the snow and wind's problem was that it would blow into your eyes and into your binos. Not fun!

The others seemed top withstand it better than I, and after a while I ducked back into the car to warm up and clear off the binos. Therein I found HellOnWheel Lark who did not think to bring her hat or binos. 'Semper Aucupium' I said, because 'don't leave home without them' is copyrighted.

Masses of gulls were there looking for an offal handout, in which we spotted a single Glaucous and single Iceland, both young birds. 2 Razorbill were also spotted amongst the RB Mergansers, Common Eiders, and the usual suspects.

When we returned to our cars, Sethophaga once again amazed by picking out in the far distance and through the swirling snow, a Black Guillemot! How he was able to pick out the speck with it constantly diving to boot, is remarkable. We set up scopes and some of us got a lifer. I got a life plumage - having only seen them in their white winter plumage in the past! Two Peregrine Falcons were also seen perched on the City Hall tower. 

Black Guillemot almost in full breeding Plumage

We made a few more stops and then returned to out rooms, but some of us stopped at the local package store and we sampled local products in anticipation of dinner later that evening.

Junco Llins ever vigilant about our having only the best meals, was notified by the Gloucester House with whom he had made reservations, that they would remain closed due to the storm. No matter, he set upon finding another locale, and we had a fine dinner at Passports. 

Cape Ann Light Station AKA Twin Light Houses

Monday morning you would never have thought the storm had ever occurred. We had our breakfast at the traditional  place, Lee's. We returned to Jodrey State Fish Pier where we saw all the birds we’d seen the other day but with much better conditions. At Niles Pond we added Ring-necked Ducks for the trip, then we headed to Rockport. Almost everywhere we stopped we found lots of Harlequin ducks, and Cathedral Rocks had Purple Sandpipers.

The definition of Picturesque

Massachusetts puts out 'caution' barrels to protect birders and promote birding in their state. 

An unexpected find was a Swamp Sparrow at one of the vistas, as well as more Harlequins

Swamp Sparrow

Harlequin Duck

After lunch, we all parted ways, and an uneventful trip home was punctuated by stopping to refuel the car. AvIan offered to fill it up, then was astounded that it used so little fuel. That felt curiously good for some reason.

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