Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Springtime (almost) in Westport, 2/23

Even though we're still a month away from "formal" spring, Sunday was absolutely spring-like in Westport -- very little remaining snow, temps topped out at 58, and we had our first Killdeer!
 Our first stop was along the marshes opposite Horseneck Beach.  When we were here a month ago, much of the area was frozen....today we had people clamming.
Although there was still a Snowy Owl using one of the Osprey platforms letting us know that winter hadn't finished with us yet.  Mark had wondered whether or not we would still find a Snowy since recent reports seem to indicate that they've started to move back north.  This one was quite dark indicating it was likely a young bird.
 Surprisingly, ducks seemed to be a little scarce in the marshes.  Where we had had hundreds of Buffleheads just a few weeks back...we seemed to have mostly Black Ducks in all the little waterways.
We drove to the end of Rt. 88 and turned out to go over the causeway to Gooseberry Neck.  Along the road we had a few Surf Scoters, some buffleheads, goldeneye and even a couple of Harlequin Ducks.
We ran into a local birder and he told us that there had been a Snowy Owl hanging out in the parking lot over the past week.  While we didn't have the owl, we did find where one had been dining recently judging by the feathers...probably a gull.
We also found the wing of another unfortunate bird...this one was most likely a duck....possibly a goldeneye based on the very black wing and the white spotting.  If a Snowy Owl set up a "buffet" in the area, this could account for the scarcity of ducks!
Luckily we also found some living birds...
 We had a nice flock of Sanderlings working the edge on both sides of the boat ramp.
 Some of the juvenile birds had already started to lose that black-and-white checkerboard on their backs.
And the winter adults had that very pale gray overall look.  Although we didn't see any evidence of molting into breeding plumage....which really wouldn't happen til late spring when they're probably on their way back north to breed.
We had a few Dunlin mixing it up with the Sanderlings as well.
I watched this one bird spend minutes picking at the slipper shell to get a meal.
 And there was certainly enough for them to eat!
The rack line along the beach was filled with all sorts of goodies.  It's amazing how colorful it actually is...and totally interesting.  The whelk egg casing in the middle of the photo is one of my favorite -- often called a mermaid's necklace.
While we didn't have the numbers of loons or grebes that we usually have in winter, there was this one Horned Grebe staying fairly close to a rock near shore.
 Won't be long until he loses that black and white winter coat for his beautiful spring rufous coloring.
After a quick stop at Allen's Pond, we headed inland to do some of the farm fields...hoping for an early Killdeer.  We did have one lone bird in the fields near Mysti Brook Farm, but unfortunately he kept ducking just over a ridge in the field and I never got a photo.  At the pig farm we had a white-winged gull which we initially thought might be a Glaucous.  However, when we got home and checked the photos, Mark decided it was an Iceland.
 And we had another Iceland Gull along some fields on Horseneck Road...where we had a second Killdeer calling.
Our only Great Blue Heron for the day was along a small pond on Horseneck Road as well.  I was a bit surprise by this since I've seen multiple birds inland.  Maybe I was just hoping for some wholesale sign that spring actually is on the way.  As hard as it's been for us humans this winter, imagine this poor heron trying to make it through when the ponds constantly freeze, unfreeze, and then re-freeze.
Land birds were a bit mixed for the area...nothing really unusual.  Along the road near Mysti Brook Farm we did have a nice flock of Savannah Sparrows.  This one little fellow just sat in the sun and seemed totally unfazed by my camera.
There were also a couple of small flocks of turkeys along Horseneck Road...definitely enjoying the lack of snow on the fields.
After checking the river near Hixbridge Road, we headed over to Acoaxet hoping to find more Killdeer along Brayton Point Road where we've had them in other early springs.  But while we had tons of Robins, there wasn't a Killdeer to be seen....or heard.  We did have a Rough-legged Hawk flying over the fields right along the border with RI.  This was our first Rough-legged in this area and I wonder whether it was a migrant starting to head back north as well.
This little American Goldfinch came in and chased a bluebird off the snow fence just as I was about to photograph it.  He was all by himself so maybe he was just looking to hang out with someone.
This pair of Greater Black-backed Gulls just seemed so photogenic sitting on the rock near the overlook at the end of Howland Avenue near Richmond Pond.  Unfortunately, the pond was totally frozen so any ducks that had been their were either on Cockeast Pond (if that was still partially open) or out in the ocean or the river.  Judging by the large scaup flock we had out a bit in the ocean, it wasn't looking good for either of the ponds.
The "cormorant rock" had its usual fare....Great Cormorants on top and Common Eider around the base.  If you click and enlarge the photo you can see that the cormorant on the right is definitely starting to show the white patch of breeding plumage.
The second beach overlook was quite empty as well....

although we had this entertaining Song Sparrow come in to take a bath at one of the mud puddles.
He was quite vigorous and bathed for a good 5 minutes all by himself right in front of us.
And, yes, Cockeast Pond was frozen....but there were hundreds of Canada Geese on the ice.  We were trying to figure out why they were all sitting or standing on the ice and I speculated that they were waiting for the winter golfers to leave so they could enjoy the snow-free greens of the golf course behind them!
The was a very small open patch just at the outflow of the pond.  And this area held about a dozen Gadwall and one lone female Hooded Merganser.
At the stream outflow we walked out to check a very large flock of eider that were hanging around the sand bar out in the river, and we finally had a Common Loon.  In fact there were several loons in the river instead of the usual places we find them on the ocean, and we wondered whether the recent storms had just pushed them all into the mouth of the river.
As we headed back out River Road to begin the trip back to Worcester, we stopped at various overlooks of the river....most of it was frozen, but there were several large groups of gulls and we found that there some Pintail and Hooded Mergansers sprinkled throughout as well.
All in all a totally pleasant day in Westport, and it really did start to feel like spring was just around the corner.  In fact it was a wee bit depressing as we drove up 146 to see the snow levels increase with each mile we took.  By the time we got home and drove down our messy street and saw our totally snow-covered yard it sunk in....this is still February and we probably still have a bit of winter to get through.

Although it was now still light at 5:30 p.m......and it had been light at 6:30 a.m. when we left....so I can definitely see light at the end of the tunnel!


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