Friday, January 8, 2010

Gloucester - Plum Island - Salisbury: Snow Buntings, Harlequin Ducks and more

Yesterday with the temperature nominally in the low thirties Chris Petrak and I took off for the coast hoping to see a good selection of sea ducks and other coastal winter species. We arrived in a deep freeze; with the wind chill factor the temperature was closer to 10 degrees. The tide had just gone out carrying with it many of the birds that we were hoping to see, but despite the cold and the paucity of birds we had a great day.

At Eastern Point near the Lighthouse in Gloucester we saw this American Pipit, which had been reported there, foraging among the rocks.

Heading north we saw small flocks of Red-breasted Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, and Buffleheads. There were also countless Common Eiders, both juveniles and adults, but not the King Eider that we had wanted to see.

Two male Red-breasted Mergansers displaying?

A large flock of Great Cormorants resting, sleeping or preening on a large rock in the bay.

This White-winged Scoter further out at sea was just at the limit of my telephoto lens' resolution. I had to do quite a bit of post-prosessing to get a recognizable image.

At Andrew's Point a flock of Harlequin Ducks was fairly close to shore

Male HD

Juvenile HD

Skipping lunch we drove on to Plum Island to look for raptors and the Snowy Owl that had been reported there. However a wasteland of broken up ice all along the bay side of the peninsula made looking for the owl impossible. The stop there was not quite for nothing though: a Northern Harrier was winging it low over the trees showing off his white rump patch.

On to Salisbury Beach State Reservation, and the high point of our trip: when we arrived at the park near the boat launch a flock of about 40 to 50 Snow Buntings flew over us,  filling the air with their sweet warble. They settled on the ground some distance away but lifted up again as we tried to approach them. They did this several times and finally flew off. We got close enough though to get some photos.

Lastly there were gulls aplenty, mostly ring-bills.This third-winter Herring Gull caught a nice fat crab --- It did better than us though as there was just too much to see to take the time to stop for a meal.

Well chilled through and through we finally called it a day 


  1. Terrific photos of the buntings & the gull. It was a fun day.

  2. You missed the lapland longspurs and horned larks on the dunes near the boat ramp on the left side... the longspurs you can approach within like 4 feet they are so tame! Well maybe another day you can get photos of them.

  3. @KMarshall: I know :-( I read the reports on MassBird after I got home. So I am planning on another trip.

  4. The Harlequin Ducks are gorgeous...and would I ever love to see a flock of 40-50 Snow Buntings. They are beautiful...their winter whites and beiges always appeal to me. I saw my first American Pipit a this year's CBC--a flock of about 50-60. How cool that you went birding with Chris! I read his blog too...

  5. Harlequins are still nothing but a dream for me. Congratulations and a happy new year!

  6. I am so jaleous about the harlequins!!!!!

    great pics!!!!

  7. Hi Hike,
    Thanks for passing by on my blog. i could then discover yours and enjoy your birding trip and nice photos. I love the harlequin on this message and the snow bunting! Well done.

  8. Great shots of the Harlequins,we get them rarely on the Great Lakes.

    L love the Snow Buntings too, ours have just arrived.

  9. Thanks everyone for their nice comments!
    @ Harold Stiver: I changed the gull caption to from Ring-billed to Herring Gull as you suggested in your email to me. I should have gone with my first impression, that it was a really big gull, instead of looking at the photo at home and second-guessing myself!

  10. Sounds like you had a great day with some wonderful birds. I hope you warmed up afterwards with a cup of your favorite hot beverage!

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