Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Hitting the BIG YEAR Goal! 11-8-2014

The herping season is all but over here in the Northeast but I had a score to settle with the Avian crew... I still needed some birds to add to my Big Year. My personal goal, which became our goal, was to photograph and ID 100 species of bird in 2014. We got #97 last week (White-breasted Nuthatch) and we were planning a trip to the ocean for Saturday. Plum Island to be exact.

But first, lest you think this would be a herpless post, I went to my friend's yard on Wednesday (Nov. 5th) because the weather was decent. I was hoping for a late year Dekay's Snake. No dice, but there were plenty of Redbacks around, some pretty plump ones, too. Here are 5 of them!
suffolk redbacks

So on Saturday, it was windy and cold so we bundled up and headed to the North Coast of Massachusetts, ready to bird our little hearts out. It was in the low to mid-40s, even colder with the wind. We were a little confused about where to go, so we hit a Visitor's Center. The lady there was obviously irritated by our presence, so we headed straight to the beach. There wasn't much happening... we were in the wrong place. BUT, I saw a bird bobbing up and down in the surf, and diving under. I chased it down the beach as it kept submerging and finally got an IDable shot!
#98 Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus)
#98, a Horned Grebe!

But we were clearly in the wrong place, so we hit another visitors center to try to figure out what was what. While there, we visited the courtyard and watched the bird feeder. There was a lot of action! Like the "little blue guys", which turned out to be last week's Nuthatch, from a different angle. Here's one with a House Finch.

Here is a lovely tree decorated with Mourning Doves.

A male Cardinal is always nice...
But these were all "got its". The woman inside, who wasn't a twat like the one at the other place, very kindly showed us where to go to actually be on Plum Island. And off we went.

We got there, paid our admission to the park and the gent at the gate gave us some birding tips. He said if you see a lot of folks pulled over, there's probably something good. Snowy Owls were in the area so we heeded his advice.

Our first pull-over got us our #99, a pair of American Widgeons!
#99 American Wigeon (Anas americana)

Our first place of interest was the Hellcat Interpretive Trail. We had been there before and it sucked it for herps but we remember birds being around. Well, there wasn't much to write home about this day. A Downy Woodpecker, some Canada Geese and some Mallards. All long time got-its. But coming out of a trail, there were a bunch of Wild Turkeys walking in the road, so that was cool!

We headed further in, not realizing that what we really wanted was to get back to the beach. Sure, I dissed it earlier but I was starting to change my mind. We got to parking area #7 and went to the ocean. It didn't take long to realize this was going to be good. I was eyeing a bunch of gulls and Andrea noted a huge swarm of black water birds sailing in for a landing off shore. We headed to the gulls first.

Our Big Year #100 was... a Great Black-backed Gull! Massive fella! Goooooaaaaal!
#100 Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus)
He's got some tags on those pink legs of his!

There was a rocky island in the shallows right off shore. On some rocks jutting up next to it, we found two pairs of our #101, the Common Eider!
#101 Common Eider (Somateria mollissima)
The males were far too busy preening to get a decent shot, plus they were very far away. But I'm still happy that we got to see them at all.
#101 Common Eider (Somateria mollissima)

The island was covered with little brown fluff-ball birds. Whatever could they be? (Stick with me... we're getting there...)

We walked down the beach, towards those "black birds"that flew in. A peek through the binoculars told me that we had spied a target! I wanted Scoters and this was a huge pile of Black Scoters, both male and female! #102!
#102 Black Scoter (Melanitta americana)
What's that one in the front? Next to the gull butt. Hey... it looks like #103, the White-winged Scoter! Here's some more, mixed in with some more Black Scoters!
#103 White-winged Scoter ( Melanitta deglandi)

Without the good zoom, Andrea was exploring tide pools and getting excellent shots like this snail on a journey to meet his pal.

Meanwhile, this picture blows but it's our first sighting of #104, a Surf Scoter! (2nd from left)

Here is me and my sidekick, a lobster trap, trying desperately to hold still the camera with the fully extended zoom.

A bemused young Ringbill looked on...

I like this shot... some Black and White-winged Scoters (with a female Eider, to boot) all being photobombed by a gull with a crab in it's beak!

A beautifully composed shot by Andrea.

After dozens of shots trying to get a Surf Scoter (I mean, I had the backs of heads, butt-only... all kinds of bad photos), I finally had a nice looking male all in focus... in frame... and someone flew right into the water in front of him!
#104 Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata)
The bewildered look on his face says it all. Those gals in the pic might be Surfs as well... I don't see white wings on them. So, without further ado, I call #104, Surf Scoter!

These could be more females. Again, no white wing-tips visible, though they could be hidden by the water. Note the one with a snail snack.

By this time, the tide had gone out considerably. Gulls were flocking all over, looking for tasty tidbits. Here's another Great Black-backed, this one with no tags.

Also looking for snacks were a couple of adorable #105s... Semipalmated Plovers!
#105 Semipalmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)
This guy had only one leg, but it didn't seem to affect him much!
#105 Semipalmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)
#105 Semipalmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)

The shadows were starting to get long...
#105 Semipalmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)

We headed back toward the rocky island to see what was happening over there in low tide. Andrea got some great shots of this young (probably Herring) Gull with a clam that he was trying to get open.

Meanwhile, we noticed that all of those fuzzy fluff-balls from earlier were all up and poking around for food!
#106 Dunlin (Calidris alpina)
They were our #106, a favorite of the day, Dunlins!
#106 Dunlin (Calidris alpina)
They were completely oblivious to us as they stalked their dinner.
#106 Dunlin (Calidris alpina)
#106 Dunlin (Calidris alpina)

So that's that... we broke out Big Year goal and even got a bit higher! There's no point in stopping now! We'll see how many more we can get (we still really want a Snowy Owl!) and then try to beat it next year! Birders have been born. (But let's face it, when herps come back out, I'll be looking at the ground again!) The ocean has never been so much fun.

Until next time...

Much thanks to Bob and Ashley for helping with IDs!!

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