Sunday, July 26, 2009

New Hampshire Coast, July 25

Yesterday, the New Hampshire coast provided some fantastic birding despite being my second unsuccessful attempt this season to see the Sabine's Gull which has been seen off-and-on at Hampton Harbor over the past several weeks. Nonetheless, a small group of birders got excellent views of two other unusual gull species that have been frequenting the N.H. coast as of late: a Little Gull and a Black-headed Gull.

Undoubtedly the highlight of the day was a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. The immature bird was spotted and identified by Len Medlock as he stood at a vantage point in the vicinity of Hampton Harbor State Marina looking northwest toward The Willows (near the mouth of the Hampton River). The bird's upright posture; long neck and legs; and stout bill set it off from any of the resident Black-crowned Night-Herons. Len cell phoned the group, who were scanning the harbor for gulls from the public use area next to the Yankee Fishermans Cooperative in Seabrook, setting us all dashing to link up with him. Everyone got distant views of the bird, but it was decided a more satisfying look could be had if we drove to The Willows and were able to approach it on foot within safe range without causing the bird alarm. By the time our small group arrived we were joined by two other local birders hearing about it via the cell phone network. Everyone got great views of the heron and it was photographed by some before it took flight and headed north over the saltmarsh.

From that point on our attention refocused on locating the three gulls. Several locations on the seaward side known for gull congregations were checked out but produced only Herring, Ring-billed, Bonaparte's and Great Black-backed gulls. But then Laura Kras phoned one of the group informing us that she had located a Little Gull at the Rye Ledges. Setting us all in motion again we arrived just minutes before the gull had "disappeared." Not to give up so quickly everyone scanned the many gulls resting on either the water or tide exposed the rocks. The gull (below) was quickly relocated and observed by all at close range until it again flew out of sight. One last time the bird was spotted by Steve Mirick and all got to view it in flight as it passed out of sight. Based on the partial carpal bar, whitish inner primary wing tips and black outer primaries suggests to me that this individual is in second pre-basic molt. Other opinions are welcome.

The day wrapped up with everyone returning to Seabrook to checkout Hampton Harbor again with hopes of the Sabine's and/or Black-headed gulls. While observing the usuual gulls, terns, some early migrant shorebirds, as well as a couple Least Terns, high tide was rapidly closing in vanquishing exposed mudflats and sand bars. The Black-headed Gull was spotted about mid harbor drifting on the incoming currents. Unlike any previous encounters I have had with adult Black-headed Gulls, this individual had a decidely mocha brown colored hood rather than dark brown to nearly "blackish." Perhaps this was due to the light conditions at the time (bright sunlight) or this bird simply has a lighter brown hood. As poor an image as the one below is, the brown hood is nonetheless evident. Eventually the gull flew to and landed on a spit of sand. In a repeat performance of the birders' scramble to get a closer view and photos of it, we got a new observation point literally seconds before it seemed to vanish into thin area and nowhere to be seen in the harbor.

Other notable sightings of the day included Northern Gannets, Wilson's Storm-Petrels, an immature Black Guillemot, Roseate Terns, and a couple Fish Crows.

Special thanks to Steve Mirick and Len Medlock for making the day a success and freely escorting three "in-landers" (Lance Tanino, Cliff Seifer and yours truly) in our pursuit of gulls. Kudos to Len for finding the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and to Lauren Kras for the Little Gull, and to the others who added to the excitement of the day.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Chicken Soup for the Summer Blues

I have an admission to make: the wet weather northern New England has experienced so far this summer has really gotten me down. Since returning from New Mexico over two weeks ago, nearly every day has been punctuated by downpours more often than not occurring after work dashing any hopes of squeezing in home chores or even some birding during the remaining hours of daylight. As a life long New Englander I'm certainly accustomed to our fickle climate but we're stuck in a rut and my overall attitude is showing it. So when last Friday was forecast to be a splendid day weatherwise, it did not take a second of thought to decide to escape to the New Hampshire coast with Lance Tanino to take in a morning whale watch cruise out of Rye Harbor with the hopes of observing pelagic birds. Conditions were fantastic: sunny, warm, nearly cloudless skies, and a light southeast wind. The birds did not disappoint us nor did the whales.

Arriving at the coast an hour or so before the boat's scheduled departure we checked out Hampton State Park, Bicentennial Park and Seabrook Harbor, all locations from which a first-cycle Sabine's Gull has been reported. No luck!

The Granite State Whale Watch cruise began at 8:30 a.m. with the boat returning to port at 1:30 p.m. During the five hours we headed out past the Isles of Shoals to Jeffrey's Ledge and then south to off Rockport, Massachusetts. Lance was the "official" note keeper with species observations and counts as follow: Greater Shearwater, 26; Cory's Shearwater, 12; possible Sooty Shearwater, 2; Wilson's Storm-Petrel, 250 (conservative count); Northern Gannet, 17; Double-crested Cormorant, no count; Parasitic Jaeger, 1 adult; other possible jaeger sp., 3; Herring Gull, no count; Great Black-backed Gull, no count; and Common Tern, no count. In addition to the birds we got close-up views of 3 Humpbacked Whales, 7 Minke Whales, and a Fin Whale. Passengers were treated to several of these behemoths blowing bubble rings and breaching the water surface to feed (photo).

After getting back we had the afternoon and early evening to bird the New Hampshire coast beginning at Odiorne Point and ending at Hampton Harbor. Species of particular note included Common Eiders; Mute Swans, 2; Wilson's Storm-Petrels; Double-crested Cormorants; Great Blue Herons; Great Egrets; Snowy Egrets; Black-crowned Night-Herons, 2; Ospreys, 2 adults and 2 immatures; Willets, 12; Whimbrels, 2; Short-billed Dowitchers, 126; Laughing Gulls; Bonaparte's Gulls; Ring-billed Gulls; Herring Gulls; Great Black-backed Gulls; a Caspian Tern; and Common Terns. And again no Sabine's Gull or the Little Gull also recently sighted in the area.

So, did the day lift my spirits? You bet! Besides a great weather day, Cory's Shearwater was a lifer for me, and as a side Lance returned to the coast on Sunday and added Little Gull to his life list.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Henslow's Sparrow, LB #477

Last Friday (July 3), Lance Tanino and I drove south on I-91 to Montague, MA with hopes of seeing the Henslow's Sparrow that was firsted reported the previous Saturday and continued to be seen and heard singing every day since then in an unmowed hay field just north of the intersection of Meadows and Upper Taylor Hill roads. Observing the bird was not nearly as challenging as finding our way to it on roads unfamiliar to us. Fortunately there was already a birder on the road shoulder peering into a field fitting the description of our destination, so little time was wasted and we got onto the bird almost immediately. The sparrow's song (tsi-LICK) was distinctive and seemed to project some distince giving the impression that the bird was alot closer than it really was. Actually the bird was hanging out 50-70 yards from the road near the center of the field. When not taking refuge down in the grasses, it perched on one of several green oat stems that protruded above the surrounding vegetation. Soon we were joined by a half dozen or so other birders, including two from Delaware. Henslow's Sparrow is now a rare sighting in New England, so Lance and I were both very satisfied to add it to our life lists here.