Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Discovering Unexpected Birds is a Thrill
January 03, 2015
By Steve Grinley

     Though we have left 2014 and have moved into a new year of birding, I thought I would present to you one last adventure from Doug Chickering, which he experienced near the end of December:

     “I arrived on Plum Island shortly before dawn, and headed directly for Emerson Rocks at the south end of the island. It would be dead low tide in about a half and hour and Tom Wetmore had found a King Eider up on the rocks during the Christmas Bird Count, a mere five days ago. 

     “Of course hoping to get lucky I didn’t hesitate until I got to around parking lot# 2 where … my attention was captured by the sight of waterfowl; ducks and geese, apparently coming out of their roost. They seemed to be coming from the ocean and the covered the sky in front me. High and low; generally flying from west to east but with some varying north to south. There were hundreds, probably thousands of them; all in black silhouette against the dawn sky. 

     “I got out of my car and could hear the calls of the geese and some of the ducks. What I was sure of was that some were ducks and some were geese; and because they were little more than black forms in the rising light I couldn’t tell anything more. Most of them flew for a while and then settled into the marshes or the pans; while others kept moving. It was just another one of those sights that a birder encounters occasionally. Nothing for the hotlines, but beautiful, serene and impressive nonetheless. Birding contains such a variety of compelling events and scenes. 

     “When I arrived at Emerson rocks and set up my scope at the platform the sun was up; there was a bright, blinding glare over the water to my right and the rest of the ocean was fairly calm, sedate and brightly lit by the new morning. It was only a few minutes before dead low so the rocks were completely exposed. 

     “I started my scan and was treated to the usual crowd. Many Black Scoter (I counted 206), along with a goodly number of Common Eider, White-winged Scoter, Oldsquaw and Horned Grebe’s. There was also a pair of female Common Goldeneye, a few red-breasted mergansers, and about 8 Common Loons all mixed in. But, alas, no King Eider; and not even a Purple Sandpiper clinging to the rocks as a consolation prize. I kept scanning and did manage to finds a nice pair of Surf Scoter: always a treat. 

     “As I scanned, occasionally a small bird flew through my field of view; quick and going in the opposite direction as my scan. They were a brownish or grayish blur so I took them to be probably Dunlin or Sanderling. 

     “At one point I had gone to the extreme left of my viewpoint and was scanning right when a small bird flew through my field of vision; from left to right. Quickly and amazingly I picked it up in it’s flight; expecting to find a shorebird; it was about that size. Fortunately I got on it quickly and in seconds made a positive ID. So with a few heavy beats of my heart I saw I had picked up a Dovekie, flying just above surface of the sea, just beyond the rocks. 

     “It skittered by the rocks and as it did I found my self exclaiming “Put down!” “Don’t fly away: put down!” Which it did just at the edge of the glare upon the water maybe twenty yards off shore. Not only did it put down but it immediately dove In fact this Dovekie didn’t even bother to land, but dove directly into the water and…. and was gone. 

     “I searched and waited, and searched some more; concentrating on where it had landed, but to no avail. In a fashion peculiar to alcids, it had vanished. Oh I’m sure that it had swam a score of yards or so underwater and then popped up to the surface and then dove again and etc. But as far as I was concerned it might as well have been in the Bay of Fundy. It was gone. 

     “I suspect that some readers… can’t help but stifle a yawn at my excitement at seeing a Dovekie. A difficult but regular visitor; but I hadn’t seen a Dovekie since Eric Nielson put Lois and I onto one in Gloucester harbor in 2008. I hadn’t seen a Dovekie on Plum Island since 2006; so for me it was an event. A special event. 
“Now I will go chasing birds as much as anyone and enjoy it; but to find a bird, to me, is special. I was hoping to get lucky and see that King Eider I was chasing; but instead found a Dovekie. It was a special December morning.”

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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4 years of service to the birding community! 
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