Following a very cold start to the New Year that gripped the eastern half of the U. S. in a deep freeze extending well into the Deep South, a January thaw finally has brought some relief and with it has dashed any excuses not to spend more time outdoors during this all too brief respite from winter. Taking advantage of the opportunity Eva and I headed out to the New Hampshire coast for some winter birding.
Our first stop was in Barrington, N. H. where a Sooty Fox Sparrow, a coastal Alaska and British Columbia race, has been hanging out for several weeks at feeders on Al Wood Drive and was seen as recently as the preceeding day. We did not arrive there until late morning and there was little bird activity to be seen apart from a few Black-capped Chickadees and Dark-eyed Juncos. The sparrow's visits have been reported to be brief and sporadic.
So rather than spend too much of the day waiting for it to show we continued toward the coast and stopped next at Odiorne Point State Park in Rye, where a gray morph Eastern Screech Owl (above) has been present and viewed by many over the past several weeks. Not to be disappointed upon our arrival the bird was sitting at the entrance of its posted tree cavity next to Route 1A just north of the park entrance apparently basking in the warm sunlight and seemingly oblivious to the band of birders aiming all sorts of bincoculars, spotting scopes and telescopic cameras at it. However, what did catch the owl's attention causing it to take refuge into the cavity was a Red-tailed Hawk that flew into an adjacent tree on the opposite side of the highway.
In addition to the owl and hawk a variety of wintering waterfowl were observed off Odiorne Point including American Black Ducks, Common Eiders, Surf and White-winged scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, Common Goldeneyes, Red-breasted Mergansers, Common and Red-throated loons, Horned and Red-necked grebes (photos below). Many of these as well as others (Ring-billed, Herring and Great Black-backed gulls) were spotted as we continued south via Route 1A. We were unable to locate the Barrow's Goldeneye at Great Boars Head.
Along the way we encountered at one of our many stops local birder Len Medlock, who informed us of the Glaucous Gull at the Yankee Fishermen's Cooperative in Seabrook. Generally the Coop and Hampton Harbor are swamped with gulls making picking a particular one out of the many more abundant species a challenge; however, the Glaucous Gull (below) was spotted with no effort as it stood at the water edge along with a few Herring and Great Black-backed gulls, all within close view of the visitor center parking lot. What a spendid looking subadult bird (partial PA3 molt?).
As the light of day was about to vanish below the western horizon we wrapped up the day watching a group of 22 Harbor Seals hauled out on exposed rocks just offshore. The high temperature for the day at Rye was 47 degrees, about 15 degrees warmer than the previous daytime high reported for the month so far this year. Yes, there will be more winter yet, but we find solice in the lengthening daylight hours and the eventual return of spring and along with it bird migrations.
P. S. I see posted on the NH listserve that the Sooty Fox Sparrow was seen and photgraphed by others (around 1:30 pm) after we departed. Oh well, you win some and lose some.