Monday, January 11, 2010

Winter Birding in South Bristol County - Sunday 1/10

Having spent Saturday visiting "aht" in CT, we decided to indulge in a full day's birding on Sunday. But where to go? At this time of the year, birds can be rather scarce in MA unless you venture to the coast....which is exactly what we did. However, we went to the south coast where the birds are plentiful and the birders are scarce.Driving across 195 in Swansea and Somerset in winter you come across the various crossovers of the Lee and Cole rivers. This is an area that we wrote up as part of the IBA project for Mass Audubon several years ago. (BTW whatever happened to that project???) Anyway this area is filled with HUGE numbers of Canada Geese, Mute Swan and various other species of waterfowl usually including Brant, Widgeon (American & European), Gadwall, Goldeneye, Bufflehead, mergansers, etc., etc.
We had a total of 18 species of waterfowl for the day and ended up with 327 Mute Swans in the appropriately-named town of Swansea.
Between this area and the Fairhaven area where we spent our time, we had almost 3,400 Canada Geese....they were everywhere! Interestingly, we only had one "odd" goose and that was a Cackling Goose first thing on the Lee's River.
At the town beach in Swansea we had good numbers of Brant...over 700 for the day...
and large flocks of Mallards, with a good number of Black Ducks mixed in.
Bufflehead were out in force, with just over 700 between the two areas.
And we had a good representation of Hooded Mergansers this late in the season.
Loons and grebes seemed on the low side, with this little guy being one of about 70 for the day and Common Loons only numbering 4.
This area also provides great "thicket" birding, so you invariably have to drive down residential streets to get to some of the good thickets off Gardiner's Neck Road in Somerset. And there's always the hope of something this large statue on this small lawn. This is one that will definitely go into my collection of lawn trinkets. In fact as I filed away this photo I realized just how many of my favorite lawn trinket photos came from this area of the state....hmmmm
While not as plentiful as inland (only 48 noted), American Robins were around wherever there were still good berries to be had.
And we had a smattering of Yellow-rumped Warblers hanging in.
After about 2 to 2-1/5 hours we moved onto the Fairhaven area. We covered all our usual areas along Mattapoisett Neck, Shaw's Cove and Gellette Roads and then headed down Sconticut Neck Rd. At the little overlook of the offshore island we had numbers of Common Eiders, and Blacks and Mallards were on the ocean since the little pond nearby was complete frozen.
Mark was able to scope Ruddy Turnstone and Sanderling along the rocky end of the island.
One of our best finds of the day was an "Ipswich" Sparrow in with a small flock of Savannahs on the lawn at the house right at the corners of Sconticut Neck and Nelson Ave.
You really need to enlarge these photos and then compare them to the Savannahs to appreciate the differences in coloring and size.
The variation among Savannahs can be seen....
but when you compare it to an Ipswich it's really obvious.
Even from the back the rump color gives it away. I was thrilled to get some really close shots of this very cooperative bird.
As we headed back up Sconticut Neck we took our usual detour out to West Island. The thickets right before the last turn to the beach can often hold great wintering land birds. But it can be a tough existence for Cardinals this far out.
But Chickadees and Titmice seem to do quite well.
It was a little unusual to find a pair of Mockingbirds cooperatively sharing the same bush...they're usually so territorial in winter.
But you can't always count on a cooperative Rufous-sided Towhee to pop out and pose for you!
The rocky shore along the tip of West Island can sometimes provide looks at shorebirds, unusual species of ducks -- we've had Barrow's Goldeneye twice in this area -- and even some interesting raptors. But that was not to be today.
The one surprise bird was an American Pipit who flew in and proceeded to pick along the rack line looking for something good to eat.
It was so frustrating to walk a little, then the bird flew a little, then I walked a little, he flew a little....and we kept this up for about 15 minutes.
I was able to get some great shots and hopefully this will provide enough documentation for the current "powers that be" to convince them we really had this bird.
Of course, we wanted to double and triple-check to make sure it was an American Pipit and not something even more unusual.
But American Pipit it was!
Going to the north end of West Island along Dogwood Road, we were able to scan all of Round and North Coves and the surrounding marshes in the hopes of finding a Snowy or Short-eared Owl.
We did have a little excitement when we spotted a raptor moving across the marsh towards us.
As it got closer we thought it might have been a Short-eared Owl....
But when it passed by quite close it was obviously a Northern Harrier hunting the marshes.
We watched it fly in and among the houses along the edge of the marsh.
Since the bird had very little of the rufous coloring of a juvi, we concluded she was an adult female hunting her area.
As we headed off West Island we stopped to check the scaup flocks in the cove along the west side of Hoppy's Landing. We had had almost 500 Greater Scaup earlier near Ocean Grove and here we had another, smaller flock of about 200 birds here.
Some of the birds were close enough to shore to allow good photography in the afternoon sun.

We worked our way back up Sconticut Neck Rd., stopping at various overlooks, with many of the same species -- Bufflehead, Canada Geese, a few Brant -- and then jumped back on 195 heading west to Providence and then back up 146 to Worcester.

We had a grand total of 49 species for the day. I know it doesn't seem like a lot, but for a cold January day it was great. Plus the looks at the Ipswich Sparrow, the pipit and the harrier were worth the price of admission for me. And after this weekend's birding, Mark's January list is up to a whopping 84!

Now if it would only get a little warmer......



  1. Looks like you had a wonderful day and many great photos to prove it. I'd love to bird that area but it's just too far!

  2. Three years later nice images and post......a very long time nature observer near Fairhaven, MA..