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Monday, November 17, 2014

Birding Plum Island and Cape Ann

Barred Owl at Plum Island
It was cold but beautiful for the North Branch Nature Center’s trip to the Massachusetts coast this past weekend. Seven participants scoured the seashore of Essex County, MA in search of ocean birds and discovered the surprising diversity of birds that are around in late-fall. As one season ends and another begins, birds of both fall and winter can be found along the New England coast in mid-November.

Winter birds complemented winter temperatures in our birding adventures. Snowy Owls had just begun arriving from the north over the past week, and one was seen at Plum Island. Loons, scoters, and others were seen migrating south along the coast. Snow Buntings and Horned Larks were active in the dunes at both Newburyport and Salisbury. And a variety of winter birds were seen off the coast, including Long-tailed Duck, Bufflehead, Horned and Red-necked Grebe, Harlequin Duck, and others.

Greater White-fronted Goose in Newbury
While many species of ‘winter birds’ were seen, a handful had not yet arrived to the wintering grounds. Iceland and Glaucous Gulls were notably absent. Common Goldeneye, which can be fairly common in winter, was represented by only a single individual at Brace Cove in Rockport. And Short-eared Owl sightings so far this season have been sparse; we weren’t able to locate any during our dusk attempt.

Snowy Owl at Plum Island
Yet other species we observed were species more typically associated with warmer weather. A Hermit Thrush was observed in Rowley and a Yellow-rumped Warbler in Rockport. An American Bittern put in an appearance at Plum Island and a Great Egret was observed in Salisbury. A few lingering shorebirds were also seen, including Black-bellied Plover and Greater Yellowlegs at several locations.

Perhaps the most unusual sighting was a Greater White-fronted Goose in Newbury, mixed in with a flock of about 250 Canada Geese. This one was a lifer for most of the group. The Eurasian Wigeon seen at Plum Island was another highlight. While not unusual in Vermont, the Barred Owl seen at Plum Island was a pretty atypical species for that location.

American Bittern at Plum Island
When all was said and done, a total of 84 species were observed during the three days of birding (and 1 day of scouting by trip leader Larry Clarfeld). In addition to all the birds, a trip to Cape Ann and Plum Island is enjoyable just for the ambience. The glowing sunsets, scenic vistas, and historic downtowns of the coastal New England towns we visited were all fantastically beautiful. NBNC will be back to the Massachusetts coast in January to participate in the Superbowl of Birding, where we’ll spend a day with youths and adults, participating in this birding competition for the seventh consecutive year.

Complete Species List

Greater White-fronted Goose Sanderling
Canada Goose Dunlin
Mute Swan Purple Sandpiper*
Gadwall Razorbill
Eurasian Wigeon Black Guillemot
American Wigeon Bonaparte's Gull
American Black Duck Ring-billed Gull
Mallard Herring Gull
Northern Pintail Great Black-backed Gull
Green-winged Teal Rock Pigeon
Ring-necked Duck Mourning Dove
Greater Scaup* Snowy Owl
Common Eider Barred Owl
Harlequin Duck Red-bellied Woodpecker*
Surf Scoter Downy Woodpecker
White-winged Scoter Hairy Woodpecker
Black Scoter Northern Flicker*
Long-tailed Duck Peregrine Falcon*
Bufflehead Blue Jay
Common Goldeneye American Crow
Hooded Merganser Horned Lark
Red-breasted Merganser Black-capped Chickadee
Wild Turkey Tufted Titmouse
Red-throated Loon Red-breasted Nuthatch
Common Loon White-breasted Nuthatch
Pied-billed Grebe* Carolina Wren
Horned Grebe Hermit Thrush
Red-necked Grebe American Robin
Northern Gannet Northern Mockingbird
Double-crested Cormorant European Starling
Great Cormorant* Snow Bunting
American Bittern Yellow-rumped Warbler
Great Blue Heron American Tree Sparrow
Great Egret Savannah Sparrow
Northern Harrier Song Sparrow
Cooper's Hawk White-throated Sparrow
Bald Eagle Dark-eyed Junco
Red-tailed Hawk Northern Cardinal
Rough-legged Hawk* Red-winged Blackbird
American Coot House Finch
Black-bellied Plover American Goldfinch
Greater Yellowlegs House Sparrow

*Seen only during scouting

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