Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Gloucester Birding Trip

Gloucester, Massachusetts and other nearby Cape Ann locations, such as Rockport, Andrews and Halibut points, have long been favorite destinations whether to watch winter waterfowl, take in the area's historic and current commercial fishing culture, or simply for relaxation and enjoyment of the rugged New England coastline. The sights and oddly even the smells of the ocean, salt marshes, mudflats and fishing vessels are all comforting to me.

So when up to four Thick-billed Murres appeared in Gloucester Harbor and were being reliably sighted on a daily basis with a bonus King Eider being seen regularly off Bass Rocks, I needed no additional encouragement to make the nearly 3 hour drive from home.

Arriving at Jodrey State Fish Pier shortly after 9:00 a.m. I was rewarded with excellent views of the murres, an elusive life species for me.   I cannot count the number of trips over my many years of birding that were made to the New England coast with the purpose of seeing this species but only to come up short by missing it by a few hours.  Well, not this time.  Other harbor sightings included a hen Black Scoter, male and female Surf Scoters and Common Eiders, a Long-tailed Duck, Greater Scaup, Red-breasted Mergansers, a Common Loon, and of course Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls.

Thick-billed Murres

Thick-billed Murre

Common Eider "Atlantic" dresseri subspecies, adult male

Red-breasted Merganser, adult males

Black Scoter, female

Surf Scoters, left to right: mature & immature males, female

From there it was a short drive to Bass Rocks on the Atlantic Ocean side of Gloucester and more waterfowl to be seen: Buffleheads, Common Goldeneyes, White-winged Scoters, and Red-necked Grebes.  But the highlight at this relocation was the adult male King Eider positioned well off shore and almost out of binocular range but clearly identifiable with the spotting scope albeit too far to get a good photograph.

Even though my birding had to be cut short, the birds and seacoast made for a very satisfying break from late winter in Vermont.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Tufted Duck

The first Vermont record of this handsome duck was reported from Lake Champlain's Shelburne Bay on April 7, 2000.  Since then, Tufted Duck has been observed on the lake 13 out of 17 years.  While not reported from the lake in 2012, one was seen on Lake Carmi (Franklin County) on April 13.   Lake Carmi is about 12 air-miles from Lake Champlain.  All Vermont reports are male birds except when seen paired with a female which occurred in 2005, 2006 and 2009.  The seasonal distribution of Tufted Duck in the state is December through April and is usually found in the company of Lesser and Greater scaups.

Tufted Duck is an Old World species of diving duck (genus Aythya) with a breeding range extending from Iceland through northern Europe and Asia.  Vagrants observed on the East Coast of the U. S. likely come from populations located in Iceland and Europe.  On the East Coast the species has been documented in all four Canadian Maritime provinces and all U. S. states from Maine south to North Carolina.

The  male Tufted Duck in the photos below easily differentiated from male scaup by the pronounced head plumes, black back and white sides was observed on February 6 of this year on Lake Champlain from Chimney Point.