Sunday, February 17, 2013

A "chevron" of geese and some wonderful winter ducks in Rhode Island

This weekend I joined a group of birders looking for wintering sea ducks along the coast of Rhode Island. image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
Yesterday morning I dragged myself out of bed at 6:30 AM, got dressed and headed over to join a program focused on wintering ducks in Rhode Island with a group from Mass Audubon's Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary. I figured since I had had such great luck last time on the "Mission: Possible" trip, where I added several new life birds including Northern Lapwing and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, that it would be worth going on another excursion with Drumlin Farm. And once again, I was not disappointed. Our group of 8 included both novices and more experienced birders, and was led by two expert guides who were eager to share their knowledge and enthusiasm, Strickland Wheelock and Barrett Lawson (author of A Bird Finding Guide to Costa Rica). The morning started off in the Drumlin Farm education center parking lot, where about a dozen Wild Turkeys were present, picking up fallen birdseed under the feeders, while a  Carolina Wren and a Hairy Woodpecker called from unseen perches.

As we drove south light snow began to fall and we started to wonder if the predicted "dusting" might in fact turn out to be a little more robust. As it turned out the snow came and went during the day, but the sun never appeared and it was very cold in the coastal areas we birded. As we drove along someone asked what a "gander" was, as in the expression "what's good for the goose is good for the gander" which led to a serious search via smartphone, which in turn led us to discover several alleged names for groups of geese, including a "chevron" of geese, which could make sense given the "V" formation Canada geese tend to fly in, and a "plump" of geese which made no sense to me.  In any case, throughout the day we say many chevrons of Canada Geese and no shortage of plumps of Brant.

Our first stop of the day was along a rocky section of shoreline in East Providence, where I got my first really good look at a Greater Scaup, a new life bird for me. They were quite close and easy to see with binoculars. The Scaup were joined by Common Goldeneye, Red-breated Mergansers, a Common Loon and a Horned Grebe. One of my side projects for the winter has been to try and get better at winter plumage loon and grebe ID. So far it's going slowly, but I think at this point I can confidently tell a Common Loon from a Red-throated, so that's progress, I suppose. With the Hairy Woodpecker, Greater Scaup and an American Wigeon, I was at 80 species for the year, and feeling optimistic about the day.

After we were done exploring this piece of shoreline we drove over to a field where a Ross's Goose had been reported, mixed in with a very large flock (plump ? chevron?) of Canada Geese. This would have been an extremely exciting find so we were all pretty excited. In the end, Strickland ID'd it as a Snow Goose, which was still exciting (and a life bird for me), so the Ross's Goose remains to be found for my list.  Brant were positively everywhere yesterday, and even in this field covered in Canada Geese we managed to find a small group of them feeding on the grass. Along the water we also saw two seals, seemingly content to bob in the water, their heads peeking out from among the waves.

A "chevron" of Brant prepare to take off from the water.This was just one of several groups of these winter geese we encountered during the day. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.

The lone shorebird of the day was a solitary Sanderling feeding at the water's edge among a group of Herring gulls. We drove through along some  beautiful shoreline and past some very promising salt marsh and wetland habitat which I would defintiely like to revisit in the spring and summer. Following the Snow Goose I added 6 more species to the year list: a group of Cedar Waxwings whizzed by overhead during one stop, several Great Cormorant were seen sitting on the edge of the ice, two Northern Pintails showed up on a reservoir and in the same spot we saw a group of American Coot way out in the distance diving for vegetation and popping back up to the surface. We also saw a Gadwall along the coast, and the highlight of the day for me was a stop at Beavertail State Park, where I got to see one of the most beautiful ducks (in my humble opinion) one can see in New England, the Harlequin Duck. There were several groups of them floating around in the surf, and I got a very close look at both the males and females.

This group of Harlequin Ducks was a very exciting find yesterday. Not only were they a new life bird for me, but they brought my New England birding big year total to 87 species to date. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.

With the Harlequins I was up to 87 species for the year in my quest to reach 300 species seen in New England during my 2013 New England birding big year. My thanks to Barret and Strickland for a great day of birding.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.

1 comment:

  1. Nice job spotting those harlequin ducks! They're so neat!