Weather Challenges Birders’ Perseverance
November 17, 2018
By Steve Grinley
The string of storms that we have been experiencing this fall has often made birding quite a challenge. Strickland Wheelock’s report of a Mass Audubon Drumlin Farm trip to our area last weekend is a case in point:
“Drumlin Farm had a birding trip to Salisbury Beach/Plum Island on Saturday November 10th under very challenging weather conditions – misty cold rain with light winds all morning and blasting cold winds in the afternoon, making birding not ideal. But in the end, we found 65 species including several surprises as a reward for perseverance.
“Our first stop was Putnamville Reservoir where we hoped for the Western Kingbird but it was not to be found. What we did find, to my surprise, was a mixed flock of warblers (Black-throated Blue, a few Blackpolls, Palm, Yellow-rumps and a Common Yellowthroat) plus Ruby-crowned Kinglets mixed in. In the reservoir was a pair of Pied-billed and one Horned Grebe plus Ruddy Ducks, Buffleheads & Greater Scaup. Sure there were more species out there, but the cold mist blowing in our face cut our time short. The warbler show in November was totally unexpected, but fun.
“Our next stop was to see if we could find the Pink-footed Goose recently reported [in Ipswich] and at our first stop, there was the bird close up for great viewing. It was a life bird for many.
“Onward to Salisbury Beach & again, the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was gone and even the reliable Barred Owl was missing. However, many good things [still misty & raw] replaced them. In the marsh we had a Peregrine Falcon, Northern Harriers and Red-tails. In the campground, a large flock of Snow Buntings kept landing yards away from us [great show] and in the channel, many great birds escaping the pounding surf for close looks. A Razorbill was the top bird, along with Red-necked Grebes, Red-throated & Common Loons, Black and White-winged Scoters, many Common Eiders, Red-breasted Mergansers, Double-crested Cormorants, Sanderlings, Dunlin and a few Purple Sandpipers.
“Once we got to Plum Island, the rain had stopped but the cold winds were blasting making birding a challenge to say the least. However we found some great birds. A Clay-colored Sparrow was at the maintenance area that just sat there for everyone to get great looks. Rough-legged Hawks were feeding close to the road and catching prey near us. Other raptors were a Kestrel, Northern Harriers and a Cooper’s Hawk.
“In the water were many Northern Pintails, Coot, Ruddy Ducks, Gadwalls, Buffleheads along with loads of Black Ducks. At Sandy Point, a quick scan out in the ocean, hundreds of all three scoters were flying non-stop along with Common Eiders, some distant Northern Gannets plus a flock of Dunlin flew by.
“At this point, we needed to head back to Drumlin Farm. We were definitely happy to escape the high bone chilling wind! Given the conditions, we were very pleased with seeing so many great birds over the day and many close up!
Strickland mentioned some rarities, a Western Kingbird in Danvers, a Pink-footed Goose in Ipswich, and a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in Salisbury that have recently showed up. As he reported, the Kingbird and the Flycatcher have disappeared but the Pink-footed Goose, as of this writing, continues in the fields near Route 133 in Ipswich. Another rare bird, a Black-throated Gray Warbler, found a beach in Swampscott to the delight of many birders who saw the bird between storms. But after surviving a day of cold, driving rain itself, it was taken by a Sharp-shinned Hawk!
Another Audubon group out of Joppa Flats encountered similar, if not worse weather than Strickland on their Wednesday Morning Birding trip this week. Here is how co-leader Dave Weaver described it:
“David Moon and I braved the cold and gale-force winds to lead today’s Wednesday Morning Birding program on to Parker River NWR from Joppa Flats Education Center. Our visit to the north end of Plum Island was short lived as with sand in our faces, we turned tail and retreated to our vehicles. In my many visits to the north end of the island, I have never experienced such strong winds — a steady 30+ mph out of the northwest with gusts between 40 and 50 mph!
“Without the sand, conditions on Hellcat dike were very similar. Obviously, birds were hunkered down. Skies were partly cloudy and temps topped out at 37. Wind chill was in the upper teens. It was pretty danged brutal!”
Still, Dave’s group managed to see a number of ducks, a few shorebirds, and even a Great Blue Heron and an American Bittern. So they, too, were rewarded for their perseverance.
Since then, a Northern Shrike and Redpolls have been seen on Plum Island so there are still great birds to pursue, despite the weather that Mother Nature throws at us!
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