Birding in New England Over Winter Break

During the last weekend of my school’s winter break, my dad was planning on going up to Maine to pick up a car for my grandparents and drive it back down to Pennsylvania. He managed to convince me to come with him to help with the driving and to do a bit of birding on the way back south. I was excited to go north as I have always wanted to be in New England in the winter and see some of the winter waterbirds in Massachusetts. I also had high hopes for getting my 500th ABA Area life bird while there (I was at 498 when we left).

On the Friday of the weekend, we flew into Bangor, ME by way of Washington, DC. We landed in Maine in the early afternoon and arrived via taxi in Deer Isle (where the car was) by the early evening. We quickly drove into the town of Stonington where I hoped to find a few seaducks as well as black guillemots (having never seen guillemots in winter plumage, I was hoping to spot one).

The first spot we stopped at was the docks in Stonington where we were successful at finding guillemots, locating a single individual swimming close to the docks.

Black Guillemot

Black Guillemot

There were also a few of the omnipresent herring and great black-backed gulls as well as a handful of bufflehead.

Moving on, we pulled into a ship dock a little ways down the road. Though the wind had picked up substantially and was now blowing quite hard, we managed to locate a number of eiders, a handful of red-breasted mergansers, and a pair of long-tailed ducks. Interestingly, these would be the only long-tailed ducks we’d see for the rest of the trip.

Common Eider

Common Eider

The next morning, we departed early at around 6:30 to head south. Our plan for that day was to drive into Massachusetts where we would bird briefly at Plum Island before spending the rest of the daylight hours birding at Cape Ann.

Sunset as We Were Leaving Deer Isle

Sunrise as We Were Leaving Deer Isle

It took a few hours of driving, but we eventually arrived at Plum Island. My main target there was snowy owl as there had been many seen. I didn’t, however, want to spend a large amount of time on the island as I wished to spend the majority of my time birding from the coast of Cape Ann.

We were lucky then that we found a snowy owl almost as soon as we arrived. Not far out of the first parking lot, we pulled over for a white blob out in the marsh. I was pleasantly surprised upon getting a scope on it to find that it was a snowy owl!

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

With that target accomplished, I felt safe to drive down to Cape Ann where I hoped to get some classic winter seabirds (including, hopefully, my life harlequin duck).

About an hour later, we arrived at Cape Ann where we stopped first to bird at the Cathedral Ledge. Here I very easily came across a lifer in the form of a couple rafts of harlequin ducks swimming close to the shore. This, despite being extremely overdue, is a lifer that I have been very much looking forwards too and, especially because harlequin ducks are so beautiful, I was very happy to finally see them.

Common eiders milled about in the waves with small groups of bufflehead, but, with the exception of two loons, nothing but the common species were present. There had been a long staying thick-billed murre here which I hoped greatly to see. However, it didn’t seem like I was going to be successful with the murre. In fact, I was about to leave Cathedral Ledge to move onto another seawatching spot when I did manage to find something unusual. It wasn’t the murre I was hoping for, but to the north of where I was standing, a pair of razorbills were diving not far from shore.

Their constant movement and dives made them hard to keep an eye one but it was really nice to see this species which I have not seen in a couple of years.

American Black Ducks

American Black Ducks

The next location that I planned on seawatching from was Andrew’s Point. This spot turned out to be quite productive. Not only was I able to get better looks and photos of harlequin ducks, but I also managed to see all three scoter species. A handful of white-winged scoters were sitting in the bay just north of the point while three surf scoters and a black scoter were along shore at the point itself. There were flybys of white-wings every so often as well.

White-winged Scoters

White-winged Scoters

Harlequin Ducks

Harlequin Ducks

Surf Scoters

Surf Scoters

Another highlight from Andrew’s Point was a flyover northern pintail with a group of American black ducks.

A quick stop at the Rockport pier nailed down great cormorant (another bird that I haven’t seen in a couple of years), but I didn’t spend much time there as I wanted to go down to Gloucester to look for white-winged gulls.

The gulls failed to disappoint as almost as soon as I arrived, I was able to spot a closeup immature Iceland gull.

Iceland gull

Iceland gull

While photographing that gull, I also spotted another Iceland gull, an adult this time, a little farther back.

Adult Iceland Gull

Adult Iceland Gull

DSC_4457(1)

Adult Iceland Gull

I have always liked Iceland gulls but unfortunately, don’t get to see them as much as I would like. I was quite chuffed to find these individuals as they were fairly close and allowed for very good looks.

Great Black-backed Gull

Great Black-backed Gull

Common Eider

Common Eider

The final place I was able to stop at before it went completely dark was Plum Cove on the northern side of the Peninsula. There I was able to turn up an out-of-season killdeer, but unfortunately didn’t have much else.

That night we kept driving south, hoping to make it to at least New Jersey. However, the major winter storm that was supposed to go through the area hit us hard and prevented us from making it out of Massachusetts.

There was a silver lining to this however. It would mean that we would be able to chase the barnacle geese that had been found the day before in Longmeadow, MA! If seen, these would be my 500th ABA life bird; and a very awesome one at that!

We set out early the next morning to make the hour drive to where the geese were. Pulling up, we could hear hundreds of geese calling from the river, a promising sign. As we were getting out a birder came up the trail leading to the shore and reported that the barnacles were present, an even more promising sign. We quickly made our way down the trail until we reached the water. There a few of the birders were able to direct us to the two barnacle geese!

Barnacle Geese

Barnacle Geese!!!!

Even better than simply seeing the birds, the man who originally found them was there as well and I was able to personally thank him for my ABA 500.

After that, we kept driving south back towards Pittsburgh. It was a great trip with many highlights, great birds, and great places. I hope to return to New England some coming winter to spend a bit more time birding there as it really is a top birding destination.

 

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2 Responses to Birding in New England Over Winter Break

  1. Andrew Place says:

    Nice post, lovely photos.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. Geoffplace says:

    Aidan, Wonderful story. Thanks. GP

    Sent from my I-pad

    >

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