Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Birding on a Rainy Morning Has Rewards
December 10, 2011

By Steve Grinley

     I had the pleasure of leading the Wednesday Morning Bird Walk for Joppa Flats this past Wednesday. I use the word “pleasure” loosely, because, as you may remember, Wednesday was the day that we had so much rain. Of course, when I checked the forecast the day before, it called for early showers and then some breaks before heavy rain came later in the day. Based on that, I had decided to go ahead with the walk.

     When I left my house that next morning for the walk, the overnight rains had stopped, so I thought that I had made the right decision. However on the way to Joppa, drops were hitting my windshield and by the time I arrived there, we had full-fledged showers. I got there early enough that I wondered if anyone would show up in this weather. Well, show up they did! Ten hearty souls wanted to go birding!

     Since the Parker River Refuge was closed for their annual deer hunt, I decided to first head for Salisbury Beach State Reservation where, the morning before, I had seen more than thirty razorbills and over a hundred loons inside and around the breakwater. We first drove to the boat ramp, but the only thing we saw there was a hunter’s camouflaged boat half hidden in the marsh. Not surprising that there was not even a duck or loon in sight!

     The rain picked up a bit as we arrived at the breakwater at the mouth of the river. We looked from inside the van for a few minutes, but few could see out the side windows due to the rain. So we got out and scanned the river and ocean. Within the first minute, I saw a black and white bird fly from upriver, passing us at fairly close range, and heading for the breakwater. A razorbill? No, it was too small and had a stubby bill instead of the large protruding bill of a razorbill.

     “Dovekie!” I screamed. “Dovekie, Dovekie!” Everyone fought the elements to try to get on the bird. Not everyone picked it up as it went by, but it did put down in the water next to the breakwater, next to the first tower. I put the scope on it, but the dovekie kept diving. The conditions under water were probably much more pleasant than above – and the food was down there! As I struggled to keep the lenses of the scope clear of rain, and try to get everyone to see the bird, it continued to dive and swim further out. It finally disappeared into the mist and swells.

     We could see the Northern Gannets diving beyond the breakwater, their bold white and black pattern more obvious than most on this dark morning. Similarly, we could make out the adult male Common Eider in the raft of ducks in the mouth of the river. A couple of Common Loons were swimming in the somewhat calmer river waters, and we were thrilled to see a Red-throated Loon swim past us less than ten feet off shore.

     As we continued to get wet and cold, we withdrew to the warmth of the cars and van and headed for West Newbury. A look at the Artichoke Reservoir from both Turkey Hill Road and Rogers Street revealed only Canada Geese and a number of Coot. No sign of the Barnacle Goose that has had everyone so excited in recent weeks.

     We continued on to Cherry Hill Reservoir where we, once again, stepped out into the rain. Ruddy Ducks were scattered over the water, but the show stopper was a beautiful male Canvasback, close enough in where everyone had good binocular views, and even better scope views, of this stunning duck. Equally beautiful, but less dramatic due to the distance away, was the raft of American Mergansers on the far side on the reservoir. A drive around the reservoir yielded some Bufflehead, more Ruddy Ducks, and a few more female Common Mergansers.

     We ventured on to the Ash Street Swamp which was virtually bird-less. I was hoping for a bluebird, but songbirds were few this day. Most stayed hunkered down out of sight on this cold, wet morning. We did come across a few chickadees, titmice and juncos as we turned onto River Road to head back along the Merrimack River. We were hoping to get lucky and see an eagle along the way, or a few more ducks. The river only gave up a lone male Common Goldeneye and a couple of Mallards. Still, most participants were pleased with the outing and the few nice birds that we saw.

     The Joppa Flats Wedneday Morning Birding goes each Wednesday at 9:30 am and no reservations are needed. It beats staying home to watch soaps and talk shows!

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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