Saturday, January 26, 2013

Along the South Shore: Marshfield and Plymouth, MA

The office at Mass Audubon's North Shore Wildlife Sanctuary. Well-stocked bird feeders between the building and the parking lot attract a wide variety of birds in winter. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
The weather was cold and clear today, with only a dusting of snow in place of the much-promised storm the weather reports had been talking about all week. As it turned out, the birds thought today was a fine day to be out and active, and I managed to 8 more species to my Massachusetts year list, and one new life bird. I started out this afternoon at the  Mass Audubon North River wildlife sanctuary in Marshfield, Massachusetts. I was hoping to add a few of the more common winter birds that were not on my list yet, including Common Edier, Brant and any wintering sea ducks that might be around. The sanctuary itself was deserted - I didn't see anyone else there, although the website said it was open today - but I immediately encountered an impressive range of bird life, tallying a dozen species in a few minutes. There were a number of well-stocked bird feeders around the Audubon office, and without walking more than a few feet I saw many of the usual winter suspects, such as chickadees and titmice, but also two Red-bellied Woodpeckers, several White-throated Sparrows, a Carolina Wren and most excitingly, a Common Redpoll - a new life bird and species #56 for the year.

A Common Redpoll looks for seeds on the ground North River wildlife sanctuary,  These small finches are ussually make their home far to the north, but they have been seen in large numbers in Massachusetts this winter. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
After watching the feeders for a while I went for a walk on a short loop trail that brought me down to the North River. The woods were very quiet, aside from the occasional calls of Blue Jays and American Crows. Standing out at the end of the boardwalk was pretty uncomfortable,  temperatures in the low twenties and the wind blowing full-on, but I still took a few photos and managed to add species #57 when I saw three Bufflehead in the water, along the far bank of the river.

The North River in Marshfield, Massachusetts attracts different species of wintering ducks in the winter. image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
When it got too cold for me to take off my gloves to take pictures, I decided to continue on my way. there was a large open field which looks like it could be very promising in the spring, and as I made my way along the edge of it I checked the brush and tree line for any signs of bird life, and came across one American Robin and another Carolina Wren. One of my most exciting birds of the day, however, turned out to be a hawk that was sitting on a limb right above the birdfeeders outside the Audubon office. I could tell right away it was not a Red-tailed Hawk, but it was fairly big, so I studied it through my binoculars, and dug out my Sibley guide. Fortunately this was a pretty cooperative bird, it sat still for a while, then turned around on the limb before flying a short distance, where it perched again where I could get a good look. After watching it for a while I was certain I was looking at an adult Red-shouldered Hawk, one of only a very small number I've seen in my life, and bird #58 for my list.

Jenney Pond in Plymouth, Massachusetts is a great place to look for ducks, gulls and other birds in the winter. Image copyright Danuiel E. Levenson 2013.
My next stop was at Jenney Pond in Plymouth, Massachusetts, a fantastic place to see ducks which did not disappoint today.  Almost as soon as I got out of my car I could see a very large group of mallards on the open section of the pond, with two Mute Swans behind them and several other species mixed in. Moving closer I was happy to add 3 more species to my year list: Gadwall, Ring-necked Duck and American Black Duck. The only part of my experience there which I did not enjoy was when two people showed up to feed the ducks stale bread and yell to each other at the top of their lungs about how hungry the ducks were. I was tempted to go over and tell them that :

A. White bread is not something ducks should be eating.

B. The ducks are not starving - if the ducks were starving they would either be dead or have moved  
     somewhere else, after all they are wild animals.

C. Their yelling and screaming was both annoying and scaring the other birds.

Alas, I gritted my teeth and waited for them to leave. No matter, because in the end I saw some great birds. In addition to the ducks I mentioned above there were also five Hooded Mergansers and a male Red-breasted Merganser. The latter didn't seem bothered by my closeness to the shoreline at all, and I got a few OK photos. Later I watched as he made several dives, tucking his head down and slipping effortlessly underwater at the edge of the ice.

A male Red-breasted Merganser hunts for fish on Jenney Pong in Plymouth, MA. These diving ducks are more commonly seen on salt water. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
My final stop of the day was along the beach in Plymouth, where I saw a large number of gulls, and added birds #62 and 63 to my list - I saw Common Eiders swimming far out in the bay, and on shore right next to a parking lot there was a large group of Brant. Much of the surface close to the beach was covered in ice, with crows and gulls walking on top. I even saw a confused-looking Sanderling land on the ice, slip and slide around a for a few minutes, then take flight again.

One interesting thing I noticed while watching the gulls closer in was an American Crow harassing a female Mallard. I know crows will mob owls and other birds of prey, but I have never seen (or heard of) a crow chasing after a duck. I saw a similar interaction between a crow and a gull at Jenney Pond. If anyone out there has seen anything like this before I would definitely love to hear about it.

A group of Brant feeding on the grass near Plymouth Harbor. These small geese breed far to the north but can be seen along the New England coast in winter. Image copyright Danuiel E. Levenson 2013.
Overall it was another cold day to be outdoors, but well worth it. In the areas I visited the birds were quite active and the beaches, ocean and river were all very beautiful in the snow and ice.

Although the surface directly offshore was covered in ice there was plenty of open water a little farther out in Plymouth Harbor, where gulls and Common Eider could be seen bobbing in the waves. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Interesting description of your quest to add species to your list.I was amused by your commentary about duck feeding and liked your behavior observations of the crow chasing the duck.