Greetings Manomet Bird-a-thon supporters and enthusiasts!

As promised, here is a write-up of my birding exploits this past weekend. Blurry photographic evidence courtesy of my phone. Thanks so much for your tremendous support. Regardless of your level of support, your interest in my experience means a lot to me!

 

As I write this a cool breeze is blowing through my window. Fall has finally seemed to arrive. The weather leading up to, and including this weekend, has felt like the last throes of summer and the birds I saw (and didn’t see) reflected that in some ways. Many species had mostly moved out of the area for the year, and some hadn’t made it to Massachusetts yet. All-in-all, I had a great time birding and enjoyed many highlights. In case you missed it, I wore a teal and tailored sports coat the entire weekend and must have looked rather odd to most folks as I birded about (particularly the whale watch)! The coat brought me some incredible luck though, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be wearing it much more often! 

 

Now, the details of my weekend. I started early, traveling up to the North Shore of Massachusetts in the late afternoon on Friday. My goal was to scout out a few spots for owls and rails in daylight as well as get a feel for what birds were doing at Plum Island. Since this was Friday, none of these birds counted and, of course, I saw several species (notably Black Tern, Magnolia Warbler and Chestnut-sided Warbler) that I never saw on Saturday or Sunday. But such is life! I had dinner at my aunt’s house in Boxford (thanks Alice!) with my cousin Yoshi and hit the hay around 9pm.

 

 

Upon waking at 2:45AM I was greeted by a pair of Barred Owls calling from above my parked car! Thrilled to have my first species out of the way, I set out in the dark (with ‘Evening Jams’ playing) to several forested areas in Ipswich, MA playing tape for owls and rails. Many coyotes seemed to like my tape as well, which is always a bit unsettling to hear in the inky blackness of a moonless night. I did pick up Great Horned Owl and Virginia Rail as well as several thrushes migrating overhead making distinctive call-notes. Although I had boned-up on my nocturnal flight calls, I wasn’t able to identify any of the few warblers I heard overhead. Oh well, I would just pick them up later when they landed…or not! One of the more disappointing aspects of birding this weekend was a distinct lack of migrant songbirds. I had a few uncommon songbirds, but very low numbers overall.

 

 

 

 

I arrived at Plum Island and entered Parker River National Wildlife Refuge (PRNWR) at 5:30, just as the automated gates opened. For the uninitiated, PRNWR is a six-mile long barrier beach with many diverse habitats and a bird list to match! A link to the map is here:

http://www.fws.gov/uploadedFiles/Region_5/NWRS/North_Zone/Parker_River_Complex/Parker_River/ParkerRiverMap.pdf

 

As the sun rose over the dunes, I had a couple Black-crowned Night-Herons fly over, heading to their roost after some midnight noshing. I later caught up with them and their gangly Yellow-crowned cousins at the Hellcat dike. There I had my first glimpses of wintering waterfowl (American Wigeon, Northern Pintail) and I had a pair of Pine Siskins (finches from the orth) flyover as well. These fall birds were seen along with some lingering (summer breeding) Least Terns. The warbler composition at Hellcat was also a mixed bag. Late season Myrtle and Blackpoll were mixed with earlier Black-throated Blue and Black-throated Green Warblers. The best flock consisted of a lingering Baltimore Oriole, Purple Finches and a beautiful Yellow-throated Vireo!

 

Shorebirds were phenomenal at the refuge. Of note were, Buff-breasted, Western and Baird’s Sandpipers as well as Marbled Godwit, Whimbrel and American Golden Plovers. Another highlight was (briefly) seeing a Seaside Sparrow fly over a channel in the saltmarsh. I’m pretty sure that was my first one seen in Massachusetts! I also picked up my only Belted Kingfisher (an elusive bird as Bill Buskirk will attest to) as it flew over the road in one of the more wooded areas of the refuge…strange.

 

I left Plum Island with around 80 species and headed inland for some more landbirds! A few quick stops and I was able to fill in the expected birds not common on Plum Island (Red-bellied Woodpecker, Mute Swan, Tufted Titmouse) as well as my 100th species: wait for it…Red-winged Blackbird! From Ipswich I headed south towards home, picking up Broad-winged Hawk while stuck in traffic on 95 south. Once in Easton I picked up Fish Crow at the local Shaws and Marie and I taped in Red-breasted Nuthatch #110 before getting Mexican food for dinner (up until then it had been trail mix and pepsi, truly gourmet).

 

Rain and clouds came in overnight, but I still ventured out to Cumberland Farms’ fields (a very birdy complex of farm fields, wetlands and woods) in Halifax. Before dawn I heard a few Veeries fly overhead and I was able to get a Screech Owl to respond to my playback. There wasn’t much of a sunrise for the clouds, but the distant call of a Sandhill Crane was a huge surprise and certainly woke me up! The fields didn’t hold any of the warblers I was hoping they would, but I was able to pick up Coopers Hawk, Indigo Bunting and Eastern Bluebird, as well as a pair of Northern Bobwhite calling back and forth!  

 

A light rain began to fall as I headed to the Tidmarsh property in Plymouth where I didn’t find the Kestrel that had been there three days prior, but I did encounter a Clay-colored Sparrow! At Manomet the surrounding woods and net lanes held virtually no birds, but off the bluff I scoped my first Black Scoter and Great Cormorant of the season. Plymouth Beach had an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull and at least one Forster’s Tern mixed in with a huge flock of Common Terns. 

 

The weather broke around noon as I boarded my highly anticipated whale watch. With my list sitting just above 120 I was hoping for four or five new species from this boat ride out to Stellwagen Bank. As we passed, I was able to pick out a lingering Roseate Tern’s distinctive wingbeats amongst a flock of 300+ Common Terns wheeling about the tip of Plymouth Beach. A couple White-winged Scoters flew by, then the Shearwaters started appearing in the droves. Supreme aerialists, shearwaters use their long wings and keen sense of smell to find feeding whales, or tuna where they pick bits of food off of the ocean’s surface. Seeing shearwaters glide effortlessly over the waves is one of the great birding joys on the open ocean!

 

Among the whales and waves were Great, Cory’s, Sooty and Manx Shearwaters. Having already picked up a half-dozen new species, I was more than satisfied, but the birding coat was bringing me some serious luck. An adult Pomarine Jaeger, complete with gaudy tail-streamers, flew right alongside the boat for what seemed like days (…probably a couple minutes). Turns out the northeast winds that had been stunting my landbird game had blown in some serious seabirds! I ended the trip with over a dozen Pomarine and Parasitic Jaegers (many distant ones went unidentified as well). Happier than a pig in poop, I though this trip couldn’t get any better…until a mixed flock of Red and Red-necked Phalaropes settled down next to the boat…and a first winter Black-legged Kittiwake settled on to the water … and we passed a small group of Wilson’s Storm-petrels…then a Leach’s Storm-petrel…then the grand finale!

 

I noticed a very dark, bulky bird chasing a small gull around. Upon closer inspection this dark bird had a short tail, bold white on the wings and was obviously something I had never seen before: a Skua! But what was the odd bird it was chasing? A juvenile Sabine’s Gull (lifer #2)! I got amazing looks at both birds, and at one point the gull hit the water in its attempts to escape the Skua (upon review of my notes, I believe this bird to have been a South Polar Skua) until the Skua lost interest and they flew off in opposite directions.

 

Later, on the way back in to port, an adult Sabine’s flew right across the bow of the boat and set down on the water! This bird has been a nemesis of mine since I began birding and to see them the way I did, truly resonated with me in a way that birds haven’t for a long time. Suffice it to say, the whale watch was a raving success.

 

The rain started almost exactly as I got back to land and my attempts to pick up any significant additions to the list were waning. I ended up finishing the day at Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary in Marshfield where I made the final additions of American Redstart, Hairy Woodpecker and Blue-winged Teal.

 

I ended the weekend with 148 species, which should bring in over $1,700 to the Landbird Conservation program's Banding Lab at Manomet! Thank you all so much for your generosity in the form of contributions and pledges! As of late, I have not been able to bird as often or intently as I would like. I truly enjoyed getting out and thank you all for motivating me to do so for such a great cause! The pessimist would say my success was due to the fact that I had no camera, an optimist would say it was because I was wearing that stupid jacket!

 

All the best,

 

Evan

 

Click here to view Evan's Species List.

 

Directions for donations:

Contributions can be made directly through my wedidit (wedidit does subtract a small fee from your payment), or you could send a check made out to ‘Manomet’ with bird-a-thon in the memo field to this address:

 

Evan Dalton c/o

Manomet

P.O. Box 1770

Manomet, MA

02345

 

Thanks again for your enthusiastic support!