Sunday, August 24, 2014

Late August Plum Island morning

Ring-billed Gulls at Sandy Point State Beach
A (very) early morning airport drop-off allowed a rare opportunity--to drive from the airport straight to Plum Island and get a parking space at Sandy Point. I couldn't pass that up!
Semi-palmated Plovers at Sandy Point State Beach
As I hoped, the beach and mudflats were teeming with shorebirds.
Bill Forward, studded with sandpipers and plovers.
I'm still pretty awful at shorebird IDs (colorblindness makes easy reference to leg color impossible) so I didn't look carefully, but no obvious outstanding rarity presented itself.
Semi-palmated Sandpipers, Sandy Point
But who cares when the sandpipers are so numerous and so close.
Least Terns, Sandy Point
Least terns and their children were also plentiful.
Black-bellied Plover, Sandy Point
As were Black-Bellied Plovers, which I viewed with new appreciation since hanging with the Golden cousins in Iceland. 
Tree Swallows in the Phragmites, Marsh Trail
And, of course, Tree Swallows, always abundant this time of year (I don't even think the numbers have peaked yet). 
Cormorants, egrets and gulls in a line, Sandy Point
I was also impressed by the egret numbers, particularly at Sandy Point (hanging with gulls). And starlings (not shown). Indeed, my favorite image of the day was a poor sandpiper that got caught in a swirling flock of starlings, flying in their midst for a minute or two before the starlings realized it and forced it down. 

I also brought my new portable recorder. So here is a sonic record of my time at Sandy Point.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Index to Iceland posts

I thought I might organize links to my Iceland posts on a single page to make things a little easier to navigate.

Day 1, Part 1: We arrive and explore the Reykjanes Peninsula. And discover a bird cliff.

Day 1, Part 2: The birds of Reykjavik.

Day 2, Part 1: A quick trip down to the end of Seltjarnarnes Peninsula.

Day 2, Part 2: Driving to Vík.

Day 2, Part 3: The fulmars of Vík.

Day 3: Icebergs and skuas.

Day 4, Part 1: Our tour of the Golden Circle. And I meet a raven.

Day 4, Part 2: The singing Whimbrels of Rangá.

Day 5: A bird safari along the river.

Day 6: A walk in the woods, Reykjavik-style.

Iceland Day 6: So long Reykjavik

Trail through the Öskjuhlíð woods
And then there were trees. At Öskjuhlíð, right across the street from our last night's hotel in Reykjavik. We had seen trees at Skaftafell and along landscaped cityscapes, but here was a honest-to-god walk through the woods, of the sort that is rather rare in Iceland. And that meant the possibility of a handful of Icelandic birds I hadn't yet encountered.
Icelandic lichen on Öskjuhlíð boulder
There are actual woodland birds living in Öskjuhlíð. European ones, like the Goldcrest and the European Blackbird. I spotted the blackbird right away but it took a while to positively ID--very much a thrush in its wariness. And the Goldcrests, sounding just like their cousins, Golden-crowned Kinglets, filled the air with their high pitched twitters.
Icelandic mushrooms in Öskjuhlíð
Öskjuhlíð also has a touch of that Icelandic magic.
I don't think these rabbits are native to Iceland
And rabbits. Feral domestic rabbits, but rabbits nonetheless. A classic invasive species problem confronting Iceland generally.
Goldcrest silhouette
The other dominant Öskjuhlíð twitterer was the Common Redpoll.
Common Redpoll
I know redpolls from their occasional irruptions into my part of Massachusetts. But never before had I witnessed the vigorous begging of redpoll chicks.
Juvenile Common Redpoll
And then it was out of the woods. A path from the hill leads down to the shore.
Cool geological forms on the beach
And my final encounters with Iceland's birdlife.
Eurasian Oystercatchers, on the beach for once
See ya later, Common Eiders,
Common Eider family
White Wagtails in parking lot
and Redwings.
Redwing, rarely seen without worm in mouth
I avoided the touristy carved bird memento, priced just above my comfort level. Photos of the real things would have to do this trip.
Bird carvings are a popular (and expensive) Icelandic souvenir

So long Iceland!
 Ásmundur Sveinsson sculpture at his museum

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Iceland Day 5: An early morning drive along the river

Hekla (one of Iceland's more active volcanos) at dawn
On the morning of our stay in Ranga I got out early to do some birding, safari-style, down the road (Rte. 25) along the river just west of the hotel. I had originally planned to explore the estuary system some 50 km farther to the west, but this was a closer, more efficient path that suited our day's time-table a little better. It was a good choice.
Whimbrel on a post
Many species of what might be considered shorebirds actually spend a great deal of time on agricultural land.
Whimbrels competing over a spot on the hay bale
It is easy to see godwits and redshanks just by driving next to farms.
Black-tailed Godwits
Indeed, the Eurasian Oystercatcher is as much a bird of open fields in Iceland as it is the shoreline.
Eurasian Oystercatchers
Nevertheless, the river was also full of life.
The only Eurasian Wigeons I would see on this trip
I was particularly taken by the myriad Whooper Swans in the area.
Whooper Swans
Sometimes hiding in the grass,
Whooper Swans
sometimes out in the water. With large families.
Lesser Black-backed gulls
The road eventually leads to a small town, with no easy access to the sea. A dirt road continues to the estuary system to the west but I didn't have faith that our Ford Fiesta would make it and a road emergency on a Sunday morning was the last thing we needed....
Greylag Geese crossing the road
When I wrote "safari-style" earlier, I meant it. Birds are not just visible from your car. They love to sit in the middle of the road, daring you to approach. And will not fly, but slowly walk, to the edge of the road to let you pass.
Eurasian Oystercatcher in the road
This means the best photos I have of several birds are out the side window of the car, looking ahead.
Meadow Pipit in the road
This is why early morning car birding is so much fun. I didn't see another car on the road the entire time I was out. I could stop anytime I wanted to take a picture. And did.
Eurasian Golden Plover on the road
Sheep did seem to understand what cars were. I've never seen sheep run so fast.
Icelandic sheep on the road
Next: Time to say good-bye

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Iceland Day 4 part 2: Rangá

Whooper Swans on the river near Hotel Rangá
Our big resort stay was at Hotel Rangá, a lodge-style hotel with an extraordinary restaurant, near the Ytri-Rangá river system. The hotel is situated in the midst of agricultural land (Meadow Pipits, White Wagtails, and Northern Wheatears abound).
The western boundary
The weather was nice, if windy, so I spent a considerable amount of time outside exploring the grounds.
The eastern boundary
The brook that comprises the southern boundary of the property feeds into the river and is a popular fishing spot. Trout and salmon, it would seem. It is also lively with shorebirds.
Red-necked Phalarope, my only "photo" of one during this trip....
It must have been too late in the season to see many phalaropes, which are supposedly very common breeders around this area, but Dunlins were everywhere.
And there was even a resident Parasitic Jaeger in the neighboring horse farm. It would cruise low like a harrier over the grounds looking for prey and occasionally harass a passing tern or whimbrel.
Parasitic Jaeger
Ah, Whimbrels (the Asiatic white-rumped race). Those were, unexpectedly, the birds of the day.
Flock of Whimbrels
I heard them soon after we arrived (from our hot tub behind our porch). They were singing. I've never heard anything like it. I took the recording below the following morning when the winds had died down (though the hot tub never stopped gurgling!). The songs of the Whimbrels are punctuated with the occasional golden plover peep.

Next: A morning drive along the river.