A week ago I had the chance to view and photograph a variety of birds in northeastern Massachusetts. Many of these birds are only here in winter and a very few don't show up for years at a time. However, many of the birds I saw and photographed are present every winter in this area such as Common Loon, Horned Grebe, Northern Pintail and all of the winter sea ducks (such as eider, scoters, etc.), Northern Harrier, Rough-legged Hawk, Bald Eagle, Razorbill, and Black-legged Kittiwake. Of those birds, the pintail and the harrier are present year-round.
Then there are the northern finches that are only around in large numbers during certain "irruption" years such as this one when either their food source is scarce in the north or they have had a great breeding year and there isn't enough room for all of them up there. Last week I photographed White-winged Crossbills and Common Redpolls at Salisbury Beach State Reservation. Another bonus at Salisbury was getting close to a Merlin, a small falcon that has a taste for finches. I didn't get any amazing photos, just lots of field-guide type shots. However, since these are my first nice shots of many of these species I'm happy with them.
It was a joy being so close to the finches. As usual if you didn't make any sudden movements they couldn't care less about you. At one point I lay down under a certain pine tree that the finches had chosen for the moment. The redpolls would fly down from the tree to the ground to take advantage of all of the fallen seeds. The wind was strong and so they huddled themselves against the ground; so much so that their legs and feet were practically invisible. They shuffled around, scooting from one pine cone to the next and half of the time were way too close for my lens to focus. I have found that the closer a bird is to me the smaller it looks and this was no exception. Sure, the redpolls looked like small birds if you watched them from a distance. But if there was one crouched on the ground a mere five feet from your head they looked tiny! Coming closer and closer they seemed to shrink. I've noticed the same thing even with herons.
The north end of Plum Island in Newburyport was a great place to see some seabirds up close on Saturday when it wasn't as windy. There were two Common Loons and a Horned Grebe that were so close they were practically on the beach. Even though the light was far from optimal it was still a privilege to be so close to birds that are normally hundreds of feet from the beach. I don't get too many opportunities to photograph seabirds with a 400mm lens.
Getting some good looks at Razorbills was another treat for me. Being auks, they are close relatives of puffins which tend to spend their winters farther out at sea than the Razorbills. There was one easily viewable from the north end of Plum Island, but still too far for pictures. Strikingly colored in blacks and whites they are equipped with a massive thick bill.
On Plum Island even though I didn't get any great photos of them I still had great fun observing Rough-legged Hawks and Northern Harriers with my dad (raptors are his favorites) as they hunted over the fields. The wind was freezing and constant. On the north end of the island it must have been a stiff fifty miles per hour. It was amazing to watch the Rough-legs hovering, not moving an inch. Usually they have to spend quite a bit of energy flapping to keep themselves aloft, but not that day, they simply rode the wind rarely beating their wings.
Iceland Gull (Larus glaucloides)
Yesterday I had the chance to visit Deer Island in Boston harbor. Like so many other "islands" it's not actually an island as it is connected to the mainland. At some points the smell of sewage was quite evident as the island is the location of the Deer Island Treatment Plant, but overall it was worth it as I got to see both of my target species: Barrow's Goldeneye, and Iceland Gull. For some reason the island is a huge draw for Iceland Gulls with more in one place than I've heard of anywhere else in the area. I saw five and I wasn't even looking at all the gulls. They are beautiful, pale, northern gulls easily distinguished from the others by their white or otherwise very pale wing-tips. They are between the sizes of Ring-billed and Herring Gulls and have very rounded heads which distinguishes them from the much larger (and also pale-winged and much rarer here) Glaucous Gull which has a more flattened, angular head shape.
The Barrow's Goldeneye was in the same area other people have seen it and was associating with Common Goldeneye.
Header image (above):
Wilson's Snipe in Boston
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" I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn."
- Henry David Thoreau
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The birder behind the birds
I am a 20 year old birder and photographer. I'm interested in all things avian (and many things not), and I strongly believe that there is no such thing as an ugly species (Vultures in particular... they get discriminated upon way too often.. the phrase "a face only a mother could love" is getting a bit old.)
Weird things I've seen squirrels eating in my backyard:
• whole donut
• whole bagel
• snickers bar out of the wrapper
• whole potato
• Mass Audubon
• Friends of the Blue Hills
• Massachusetts Birding Listserv
• Maine Birding Listserv
• Rhode Island Birding Listserv
• Audubon Society of Rhode Island
• Massachusetts Young Birders Club