Sunday, March 3, 2013

The upper Cape: My New England birding big year continues

A male Common Eider swims near Bourne, Massachusetts. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
This morning I joined a group trip from Drumlin Farm to go birding on Cape Cod. During the course of the day we saw a lot of great birds, and I manged to add 7 more species to my New England birding big year list, as well as 4 new life birds. One of the major highlights, though, was getting a chance to look closely at a range of wintering ducks, including Common Eiders, Common Mergansers and Greater Scaup. In the case of the eiders it was especially instructive to have a chance to see full adult male and female birds, as well as males who were born this past year, and have different plumage than adult male birds of this species. The Greater Scaup were out in massive numbers at several stops we made, blanketing the surface of the water and providing many opportunities to observe their behavior. It was a small group from Drumlin Farm today, so I was lucky enough to have a spotting scope to use for the day. It was amazing how much this enhanced my birding experience when it came to viewing ducks and loons. While I do have decent binoculars, through the scope I could see in crystal clear detail the facial markings of male Surf Scoters bobbing in the waves and the distinct yellow-tipped bill of a female Common Goldeneye at the far edge of a pond.

A group of birders exploring an old fish hatchery. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
We made many quick stops throughout the day, but there were a few instances where we got out and spent some time covering the terrain more thoroughly. I actually managed to add a new life bird very shortly into the trip when we stopped at a fast food place for people to use the bathroom, and Strickland Wheelock, our guide for the day, pointed out several Fish Crows in the parking lot. I have to admit that until a few years ago I had no idea we had more than one kind of crow in North America, but listening to the call of the Fish Crow today, and shortly after to that of an American Crow, I could tell right away that they were very different in terms of vocalization.

One of our longer stops was at Scusset Beach State Reservation in Sandwich, where I added my first Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds to my year list. In this location we also spotted a number of Song Sparrows and Black-capped Chickadees.Another interesting stop was at an old fish hatchery. In the photo above the abandoned hatchery pools can be seen on either side of the people walking along a muddy path. This place was a patchwork of forest, brush and wetlands, with streams and what appeared to be a natural spring bubbling up from the ground. A little farther in we came to a pond where someone in the group spotted a Greater Yellow Legs, another first of the year species for me.

We also spent some time exploring an old game preserve which featured open, rolling fields and a stream. As we walked down the path we met some people who told us that Great horned Owls were nesting in a pine forest not too far away, so we continued on until we came to a gently sloping hill covered in White Pine. Although the owls themselves were nowhere to be seen, we did discover several likely nest sites, which were cool to see. It was at Mill Pond in Falmouth that the scope really proved invaluable, when I was able to get a magnificent look at a male Eurasian Wigeon far out on the water where it was mixed in with a group of American Wigeon and other ducks.We ended our day under cloudy skies, but the variety and beauty of the birds we saw was a real bright spot.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.

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