Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Plymouth Beach

On Monday my wife and I went down to Plymouth to have a seafood lunch and walk on the beach. On Tuesday I came back and walked the entire stretch of the barrier beach at low tide. Complete awesomeness.

Ah, shorebirds. "What are those birds?" my wife asked as we walked along and I paused to take photos.
"Some sort of sandpiper," I answered. "I'm guessing semipalmated." (I'm pretty sure about this, but not completely confident).
I showed her the Peterson's "peep" sandpiper page when we got home. She laughed. "How can anyone tell these apart?"
I think she understands. At any rate, here they are:

Say, is there something different about this last one?

On the walk back, we took the sandy road over private property that drivers of 4 wheel drive vehicles can use to get further up the beach. Good views of the nesting least terns.

But we had only made it up halfway up the beach (to the cross-over) before we had to turn back and I was intrigued at one might be at the end. A post on MASSBIRD had indicated a bunch of interesting birds at the point, including black skimmers and black terns.

So there I was on a beautiful Tuesday morning, low low tide, walking up the beach again.

At that time of day and tide, it was the usual suspects, though I'm never sad to see semipalmated plovers.

Plus semipalmated friend. (Not really. Later I spotted a little anti-plover sandpiper aggression.)

And piping plovers. This time some nice individual looks.

And a group portrait.

Plus our recent friend, the least tern.

With a special bonus of recently fledged immature least tern (colored just like a piping plover).

But the real action was up at the point, where hundreds of common terns and laughing gulls were grouped on the beach. Making an incredible noise.

Laughing gulls first.

Like all gulls, a bird of many cycles. Here are some non-breeding, but somewhat older ones.

But here is a sample of the group on the beach. A mix of adult and immature, recently fledged birds.

Which means very protective parents (about which I will speak momentarily).

Hundreds of common terns.

Here the game is to scan through the commons to see if you spot a relative exotic like an arctic or a roseate. You are welcome to try.

Hmmm. In the back there, at the boundary between terns and gulls. Something dark. Could that be a black tern? Or is it just a immature laughing gull in tricky lighting?

In fact, I did end up seeing a black tern flying across the beach (no photo though). What a gorgeous treat--jet black in front, lighter in back.

The excitement of the day: a mix of embarrassment and terror. [Play this as the soundtrack--BTW, I tried to filter out the motor boat, but too much and the laughing gull goes away] To check to see if I could find the skimmers, I walked on to the actual point of the beach. (I had seen a beach-goer casually sitting there earlier). Big mistake. I tried to stay clear of the terns and gulls, but they apparently didn't see it that way. First the dive-bombing terns, who attack from behind and wait until they are right on you before they unleash their piercing "KRAAAGH!" Then the laughing gulls, who don't dive-bomb as much fly right at you at eye-level, and twist their "laugh" into something loud and scary. Nerves shot and face red, I walked back down the beach. (Meanwhile some fellow watchers-of-birds were watching this happen from a safe point on the edge. Aha, another point in favor of the spotting scope. You can find your black skimmers without getting attacked.) To add insult to injury, the least terns came after me (same mode of attack as their larger cousins) while I was on the perfectly legitimate sandy road back to the parking lot.

The truth is, I don't mind so much. They are perfectly justified in their aggression. And it's actually good to see how effectively they claim and own their territory. I'm actually more embarrassed at causing such a fuss and stressing out the birds. Nevertheless, the day was great. I'm looking forward to the shorebird migration in August (though I'm going to have to bone up on my shorebird ID cues).

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Revere Beach

Very early excursion to Revere Beach this morning (surprisingly active at 6:00 a.m.!). Bonaparte gull fly-bys, white-winged scoter, black ducks, and as hoped--a manx shearwater (badly photographed below).

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Race Point and Monomoy Island (kind of)

Monday morning I sneaked out of the hotel room at 5, drove to Race Point, and found out that the beach doesn't open until 6 a.m. (this is quite unlike the dawn policies at most nature preserves). I killed some time, came back, and walked the beach, spending time with the least terns and piping plovers.

Race Point is a good place to get a glimpse of genuine sea birds, so I sat on the beach and stared through my binoculars at the ocean for a long while. (I now genuinely understand the need for spotting scopes). One distant bird stood out, flying close to the surface of the water, alternately flapping its wings and gliding: a shearwater!

And what was that large bump in the water right off the beach? A gray seal (actually a pair of seals) casually swimming along, apparently unconcerned about me.

Which was interesting because that was going to be theme of the rest of the day, a seal-watching excursion with Lily to Monomoy at the southern tip of the Cape. We had considered going whale-watching but the 4 hour trip seemed a bit much for a 5 year-old. So why not take a shorter trip to see some seals and get some nice sea bird action at the same time?

We hooked up with an outfit based in Harwich, waited at the dock for a while, and then we were off. And rather soon, we saw seals, a whole bunch of them, just bobbing in the water.

Good close-up views, though it didn't take long for Lily to lose interest. They weren't really doing anything. Just bobbing, half asleep.

Yawning even.

As for my seabird goal? Dashed. Despite the excursion map on the official brochure, which showed us circling Monomoy, with close views of the coast (and nesting seabirds), the captain decided to take us into Stage Harbor on a guided tour of yachts and fishing boats. We had got our seals, so we should be happy, was the response to protests. Next time I'm going to hook up with a more nature-centered organization, like the Wellfleet Audubon, to satisfy the seabird itch.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Provincetown Harbor

When I got home from my early morning Belle Isle/Winthrop Beach excursion (see previous post), my wife and I decided that we should take advantage of the nice weather and go someplace. In ten minutes we had reservations at the Provincetown Inn, and in a flash we were off, Lily in tow. The traffic was surprisingly easy. We stopped at the Fort Hill overlook on the way(I got the photo below of an extraordinarily cooperative goldfinch).

There is a very long dike near the Inn that crosses over to the beach at the very tip of the cape. Lots of sandpipers, willets, plovers and the like,
(this green heron, e.g.)

but especially terns (common, as far as I could tell). There was a huge colony relatively close to the dike and terns would constantly fly over, fish in mouth, often closely pursued by noisy tern children.

My favorite scene of the afternoon: tern against gull.

I went to bed with big plans for the next day (to be continued).

Monday, July 20, 2009

Belle Isle Marsh and Winthrop Beach

An early Sunday morning visit to Belle Isle. A lot of activity, particularly in one pool, where egrets, cormorants, yellowlegs, and black ducks converged.

My favorite scene, though, was this group of baby barn swallows sitting around waiting to be fed.

Shortly after I took these photos the parents came after me. I beat a hasty retreat.

To nearby Winthrop beach, where the least terns came after me.

The air near the nesting area is boiling with terns, children loudly complaining and chasing their parents for food. I tried to keep my distance (and got largely grainy photos as a result). But what fun to watch. I got dive-bombed a few times and withdrew up the beach.

Where I heard a familiar clamor--oystercatchers! Three of them! (a sign of success, I hope, in oystercatcher breeding land)

And this was just the beginning of a very long and enjoyable day (to be continued)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Handfeeding Trifecta at Ipswich River

A lovely July morning spent at the Ipswich River MassAudubon sanctuary in Topsfield. Brought a bag of sunflower seeds along, just in case. And, indeed, the birds were hungry. I hit the hand-feeding trifecta: chickadees, titmice,

and nuthatches

Apparently it's not just birds who are getting fed. This mama red squirrel kept following me around.

The two young bucks on the trail looked like they might go for a hand-full of seed (they let me come within ten feet or so).

But the haughty kingbird? No way. Only bugs for him.

Handfeeding observations. The chickadees, by far, have the lightest touch. The titmouse (a young one it seems) was somewhat clumsy. And the nuthatch--ouch. Eight little needles poking my index finger. I can still feel it.