Monday, November 23, 2009

Cape Ann -- Saturday, November 21st

Anyone who has read my blog for a while knows that going to the North Shore is not my favorite thing anymore. Maybe it comes from dealing with hordes of birders on Plum Island or counting thousands of gulls on the Cape Ann CBC....not quite sure. Occasionally, though, Mark will convince me of the merits of photographing seabirds at the ocean. And that was the case last weekend with absolutely beautiful fall weather in store. We headed north on Rt. 127 from the rotary just after the bridge and I must admit I did enjoy being back on Cape Ann. In fact at one point we thought it would be great to live there; although now I know it's a little too far out of the way for me. We spent about 15 minutes looking for the Western Kingbird on Colburn St. near the Mass Marine facility -- but no luck, other than running into Peter and Fay Vale.We kept moving along 127 and made a quick stop at Folly Cove. Since there was a lobster boat in the cove, there wasn't much in the way of ducks, so we quickly moved on to Andrew's Point.
We found our first Harlequin Ducks in Hoop Pole Cove just west of Andrew's Point and they were having a grand time riding the waves to the top of the rock and then scurrying along looking for food. In fact, we were up over 60 birds, but many were flying in and out of the cove so it was hard to get an accurate count.
As we moved all around the Andrew's Point area, we kept coming across groups of Harlequin. I think our final count was close to a hundred for the day. Whether I see one bird or 50, I never get tired of this little duck...the intricate pattern and coloration always delights me.
We had our first Iceland Gull for the season (definitely a sign of things to come.)
And Mark spent time checking out the Common and Red-throated Loons in the area, looking for the "reported" Pacific Loon. We bumped into Peter and Fay again and were able to confirm that the small-billed loon they were studying was, in fact, a Common Loon -- as they thought. Just not enough field marks to say Pacific other than size and small bill. In fact we left the area wondering whether or not this bird was the one reported as a Pacific Loon.
We stopped behind Emerson Inn (at Cathedral Rocks) but with divers in the area there really wasn't much going on -- except of course the occasional Harlequin flying by.
Although the weather was perfect and it was very tempting to stay and just watch the ocean. But we decided to head back to Andrew's for one last check on the loon situation.
Couldn't resist looking for Dickcissel among the House Sparrows that were darting in and out of the lobster traps.
As we were driving back (right after the road splits between Phillips Ave. and Pt. de Chene) Mark spotted a warbler dash across the road into a thicket. It was a Yellow-breasted Chat! Peter and Fay were coming up the road in the opposite direction and we signaled them to stop and spent the next 20 minutes or so getting glimpses of the bird as it perched out for a second or two or dashed between one dense part of the thicket and the next. This was my best shot, although as I was checking down the road the two NY birders who had stopped got killer looks as the bird perched out on a tree branch for almost a minute. I told them that if I left with my camera they would get great looks, and since it was a life bird for one of them, they were glad I proved to be correct.
We left the area and headed over to Good Harbor Beach to see if the King Eider that had been putting on a show in the creek was around. Since the tide was still on the low side we didn't walk all the way to join the other birders scanning for the duck.
We decided to drive down the little one-way road the goes around the houses on the actual Bass Rocks point. This is where we had the King Eider on last year's Christmas Count. As we pulled over to the scan the area, the bird flew in....almost on cue.
We thought he might stay close to this side of the area, since not only were there tons of people (and dogs and kids) on the beach, itself, but for some reason there were groups of surfers also in the same area.
Now I had to include these photos of the "surfers" since I thought my friends in California would get a kick out of what passes for surfing in Massachusetts -- barely enough surf to get yourself up on your board before you hit the beach.
Having had great looks at the King Eider, we decided to quickly check out Eastern Point before heading home. There were both Great and Double-crested Cormorants in the area and around the fish factory in downtown Gloucester as well.
And in the little cove at the end of Eastern Point Avenue near the Coast Guard Station, we found this beautifully-plumaged male Black Scoter.
He kept moving into the cove and finally hauled out on the beach at the far side. At this point I thought there must be something wrong with him -- maybe winged by a hunter or something. And I tried to figure out how we could catch him and get him to Tufts.
As we drove back along the road, we got fairly close, but there was nothing visible and we realized we would only chase him back into the we left him alone.
With such good weather and so much open water, we didn't think there would be any great numbers of birds at Niles Pond yet, but we did stop and scan the gulls that were coming into feed. We did have Mallards, a spattering of Ring-necks and, of course, Swans.
This family group is obviously used to being fed, since they made a beeline for us when we stopped. But once they realized we were not going to be providing them with anything, they sailed off.
Before leaving the area, I wanted to go back and get one last look to see if the King Eider had come into the creek area, despite the people and the surfers.

Sure enough, he had come into the beginning of the creek right below Bass Rocks Rd. and was out on a rock preening and acting very photographic. Now if only he'll stay for the Christmas Count in 4 weeks.
So, despite my reluctance to head to the North Shore very often, I was totally glad we had made the trip and that I was able to get some great shots.


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