Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Birding Events Feature Field Trips and Backyard Counts
February 7, 2009
By Steve Grinley

     Last weekend was the first annual Cape Ann Winter Birding Weekend sponsored by the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce and the Massachusetts Audubon Society. The Festival provided an opportunity for anyone interested in birds to join more experienced birders on tours of birding hot spots around Gloucester and Rockport. Bus tours gave participants views of such winter specialties as harlequin ducks, Iceland and glaucous gulls, purple sandpipers, black guillemots and razorbills.

     The tours were well attended, as were the indoor lectures given by experts of the Cape Ann birding experience.

     The Elks Club served as the headquarters for the event, Jim MacDougall was stationed just across the street from the Elks, peering out to the ocean with spotting scopes on Bass Rocks. Jim started his chilling day at 6:30 am, and he gave visitors a chance to view black guillemots, white-winged scoters, horned and red-necked grebes, common loons, bufflehead and common golden-eye. When Margo and I visited, Jim did provide distant, but identifiable views of the King Eider off Salt Island.

     The event also included a Sunday boat trip aboard the 7 Seas Whale Watch boat, Privateer IV, captained by Jay Frontierro. The weather cooperated with temperatures in the twenties and light winds out of the southwest.

     Margo and I joined the boat trip, as I was interested in seeing Cape Ann from the water for a change. We did hope to see some alcids, those puffin-like birds that we sometimes see from shore on Cape Ann. We, also, had remote thoughts of a possible puffin sighting, but that was a stretch.

     The boat left Gloucester harbor at 8 am, rounded the Dog Bar breakwater at Eastern Point and proceeded along the ocean side of Cape Ann past the Dry Salvages, Rockport harbor and toward the southern end of Jeffrey’s Ledge. We then returned the same route, hugging the close a little closer in hopes of getting close looks at the King Eider off Salt island, but without success.

     The highlight of the boat trip was the immature puffin that Captain Jay spotted less than a hundred feet of the boat. The bird cooperated by staying on the water, occasionally diving, but popping back up for all of us on the circling boat to get great views. This was only the second or third puffin that I have seen in Massachusetts waters, and it was a life bird for many on the boat.

     There were lots of guillemots spotted on the trip, and only a single dovekie and murre spotted by a few lucky observers. The communication on the boat was poor, so not everyone knew what was being seen at any particular time. Still, the puffin, and the views from the ocean of those areas I peered from around Cape Ann for so many years, made it all worthwhile.

     The first Winter Birding Weekend was very well attended for a first event and it was enjoyed by all who participated. Be sure to look for next year’s event and plan to attend for a day, or all weekend, for a great birding experience.

     For those of you that prefer watching birds from the comfort of your home, this weekend, February 7 and 8, is Focus on Feeders. For over 40 years, Mass Audubon has asked volunteers like you to help them track winter feeder birds. Mass Audubon’s Focus On Feeders event is for backyard bird enthusiasts of all ages! Join the fun and participate in the tradition by reporting the number and species of birds in your backyard and visiting your feeders during this weekend. Count the highest number of each bird species seen together in your backyard and feeders at any one time.

     Your sightings will become an important part of their growing database on winter feeder activity. Results will be displayed on the Mass Audubon web site by March 31st. In addition, all participants will be entered into a drawing to win Mass Audubon backpacks and other prizes. Focus on Feeders also features a photo contest, and winning photographs will appear on their website with results. For more information go to: www.massaudubon.org.

     If you miss participating this weekend, the Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event that takes place next weekend, Feb 13-16. It engages bird watchers of all ages to count birds and to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent. You can count anywhere: in your backyard, local park, favorite birding spot, wherever! You can submit checklists for as many locations as you want, and you can submit a new checklist for each location each day. You can count birds anywhere for as little or as long as you wish during the four-day period. Tally the highest number of birds of each species seen together at any one time. To report counts, fill out an online checklist at the Great Backyard Bird Count web site. Anyone with Internet access can explore what is being reported from your own town or anywhere in the United States and Canada. You can also see how this year’s numbers compare with those from previous years. For more information, go to www.birdcount.org.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 2
4 years of service to the birding community! 
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