Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Alcids and Ducks Highlight Cape Ann Visit
February 17, 2018
By Steve Grinley 

     I received a call last Saturday from our friend Ida that there was a “cooperative” dovekie at Cathedral Ledge in Rockport. As we made our way there, we decided to stop at the Granite Pier where we found other birders scoping the outer Rockport harbor area. All three species of scoters were swimming in the nearby waters along with common eiders, red-breasted mergansers, bufflehead and a stunning long-tailed duck was floating close to the pier. A single razorbill was the only alcid that we spotted. 

     Glenn D’Entrmont and Ernie LeBlanc told us about thick-billed murres at Folly Cove and Andrew’s Point, and they also gloated about seeing five king eiders, one sub-adult male and 4 females at Plum Cove. I don’t think that I have ever seen more than 2 king eiders together anywhere in Massachusetts. 

     At that point, Sam Miller, who was also scoping with us, received a phone call that there was a puffin at Bass Rocks. In the hierarchy of Massachusetts alcids, puffins trump a thick-billed murre and even a dovekie any day. We all decided to head across Cape Ann to Bass Rocks on the back shore of Gloucester.

     When we arrived, birders on site were on the puffin. However more birders were arriving, including about a dozen members of the Hoffman Bird Club from central Massachusetts. It was difficult to get directions on where to look for this diving bird in the open ocean with relatively few points of reference. Margo and I eventually got on the puffin, somewhat surprised by the amount of orange on this winter plumaged bird. The other winter puffins we have seen have been mostly gray faced with large dark bills. This was our first Massachusetts puffin seen from land and a “life bird” for many others. As if the puffin wasn’t reward enough, in the same general area were several black guillemots, a dovekie and another bonus; a snowy owl perched on the roof of the Elks Lodge across the street. 

     We also learned that an adult male king eider was seen from the Elk’s, far out near Thatcher’s Island, so before we left, we scanned the ocean with our scopes and I was able to locate the uniquely patterned black and white eider a couple of miles out just left of Thatcher’s Island. My 95mm scope at seventy power made it possible to see the birds beautiful blue head and bright orange, wide shielded bill.

     We headed back across Cape Ann to Plum Cove on the north side of Gloucester, with visions of Glenn and Ernie’s five king eiders on our minds.

     We first stopped at Lane’s Cove to see if we could get an angle on where they said the birds were located, but it was too far a look with the late afternoon sun before us. We continued to Plum Cove, walked out on the beach and searched the water.

     Sure enough, there was a group of four or five eiders moving in and out of the Lanesville side of the cove. We finally got good enough looks to see the bright orange bill on the immature male king eider and three of the female king eiders. More icing on the cake was seeing a male Barrow’s goldeneye and another thick-billed murre swimming in the same area as we watched this amazing collection of ducks! 

     One last stop back at Folly Cove for a couple more thick-billed murres did not disappoint. The two murres were swimming close in near the rocks, giving great binocular views and even better scope views. It capped one of the best birding days on Cape Ann in recent memory!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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