Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Ducks

My annual Christmas Day walk down to the coast of Barrington and Riverside, RI to see wintering ducks was more successful than usual. Dozens of American wigeons were taking shelter in the inlets--they would eventually be disturbed when a dog owner let his lab chase the local fox.

And out in more open water, the regular buffleheads and red-breasted mergansers were joined by gadwells and a group of scaup.

I'm going to call them greater scaup because of the head shape. I don't usually see them this close to shore.

Add a couple of common golden-eye and some hooded mergansers and it was a classic Christmas duck day. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

2013 Christmas Bird Count, Bird-Lore Style

As in previous years, I did my CBC this year the old way: I took a walk and counted the birds I saw.

Here is my 2013 entry, formatted Bird-Lore style:
Needham, Mass.--Dec. 21; 7:45 to 9:45 A.M. Cloudy; snow on ground; wind light; temp.,45°. Canada Goose, 5; Mallard, 12; Hooded Merganser, 6; Common Merganser, 14; Ring-billed Gull, 20; Herring Gull, 5; Great Black-backed Gull, 1; Mourning Dove, 22; Belted Kingfisher, 1; Downy Woodpecker, 8; Blue Jay, 15; American Crow, 4; Common Raven, 2; Black-capped Chickadee, 14; Tufted Titmouse, 5; White-breasted Nuthatch, 1; Carolina Wren, 1; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 6; American Robin, 18; European Starling, 1; American Tree Sparrow, 24; Song Sparrow, 6; White-throated Sparrow, 1; Dark-eyed Junco, 8; Northern Cardinal, 5; Red-winged Blackbird, 40; American Goldfinch, 6. Total, 27 species, 251 individuals.--PETER OEHLKERS.
 Season-appropriate counts of American tree sparrows. There were two big jingly flocks along the way.
Surprisingly big year for downy woodpeckers. And surprisingly small numbers of white-breasted nuthatches.

The bird of the day: common ravens. One glided over the meadow croaking and landed on a utility pole. Later it found a companion down the utility corridor.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Notes on taking a nine year-old birding in December

Lily, Plum Island, Lot 1 Beach
Note 1: Bundle up. It doesn't matter how warm it is where you live, it is windy near the ocean. Don't forget gloves. Their lack will make using binoculars unappealing. Wrap-around sunglasses are also a good idea for keeping ocean breezes out of sensitive eyes.
Black Ducks and Northern Pintails, Salt Pannes, Plum Island
Note 2: Keep moving. Keep duck watching to a minimum. If you do want to watch ducks, bring something for the young one to do. We ate lunch watching these ducks. Nothing interesting happened.
Poorly-seen Snowy Owl, seen from road, Plum Island
Note 3: Have modest, yet attractive goals. "Hey, want to go find some owls!" was an effective appeal, and do-able given the state of things on Plum Island this year. And we technically "found some owls," even if we didn't actually see them well. A former "Hey, want to go see a real-life Peregrine Falcon!" Plum Island appeal did not end well.
Distant Snowy Owl, seen from Stage Island, Plum Island
Note 4: Approach goals in good humor and be open to surprises. Lily thought it was hilarious that the tiny white dot on the osprey platform counted as a Snowy Owl sighting (and even more hilarious that we only found 2 of a reported 19 reported owls on Plum Island that day). And while we were looking at the osprey platform, a raptor flew in and moved swiftly across the field. I thought it was a Northern Harrier at first--binoculars up--a Peregrine! Lily was thrilled. (By the end of the day, I had also convinced her of the charms of Northern Harriers.)
Lily on Lot 7 beach, Plum Island
Note 5: Encourage fun non-birding activities. No sea ducks (surprising!) or owls at Sandy Point but Lily had fun being chased by waves and riffing on the origin of the name, "Sandy Point." We ended up walking all the way around the point in good cheer, despite the wind. And we had close encounters with a Golden-crowned Kinglet and a Northern Harrier on our walk back up the road. 
Four chickadees at once, Ipswich River 
Note 6: End with Fireworks. Ipswich River was on the way home. I had secretly packed a bag of birdseed. We had about an hour before the sun would set. The chickadees and nuthatches were ravenous. It was actually a little scary how many attacked her out-stretched hand. But Lily deemed this her best birding day ever. Video version of chickadee attack below.