Saturday, January 31, 2009


So much to do here off the edge of the universe:

  • Oh, and there's some sort of football game too. :-)

Monday, January 26, 2009

dreaming back

This post from Birds on the Brain about her experience with piping plovers and American oystercatchers on South Beach in Chatham got me all nostalgic for freezing my ass off on Plum Island in April explaining to people that the beach is for the birds. I miss the invisi-birds in the winter when they're down there in Georgia and Texas and what all. Oh, I miss my invisi-birds sooo much...

Meanwhile, in yesterday's freezing cold and wind, I walked on the beach off of lot 7 for awhile. The only birds I saw were great black backs, herring gulls, and black ducks. The black ducks were kind of interesting because they kept surfing in and landing in groups and then joining a larger group resting on the beach. The ducks were huddled very closely together and really hunkered down. The group looked like a big rock from a distance, except the rock kept getting bigger. The gulls were very active in contrast. On the way back I saw two American tree sparrows by the side of the road in the S-curves, but that was about it. I think the wind was keeping everybody down.

I found a nice flock of Lapland longspurs at Salisbury Beach State Reservation. They were very active, taking flight as a group every 30 seconds or so. They'd forage, fly around in a circle, land not that far from where they left, and repeat.

I'd hoped do find some white-winged crossbills at Salisbury too, but they did not show themselves today. The last white-winged crossbill I saw there was in the process of being eaten by a peregrine (a couple years ago) and for some reason I haven't seen any since. Need cleansing live crossbill...

Anyway, it's still cold here. More snow is due mid-week. My local dark-eyed junco flock was sticking very close to my front porch this morning. Easy viewing from the living room. As I was leaving for work I heard a black capped chickadee doing the spring fe-be call instead of its winter dee-dee-dee call. Spring? Is there such a thing? When does it start?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ivory Gull

My name is Janet and I'm a lariphile. Yes, I admit it, I like gulls. I won't chase a rare warbler or flycatcher, but rare gull is a whole 'nother story, especially if it's a visitor from the high Arctic. I'd been fighting off the urge to go see the Ivory Gull in Gloucester all week. I finally took the plunge and put in for a flex day at Gray Cubicle World today and headed for Gloucester.

First stop, Jodrey State Pier. I see several scopes pointed at the harbor, so pull into a parking space between cars with New Jersey and Maine license plates. I scan the harbor: tons of red breasted mergansers, herring gulls, great black back gulls and several common eiders. I was kind of hoping to score a king eider that has been reported in the area too. No ivory gull. No king eider. People are scanning with binoculars from inside their cars. Lots of them are drinking coffee from travel mugs. Gloucester coffee shops must be doing bang up business today. A guy arrives from Canada and asks one of the scope people if he's seen "it". All ears tune in. Nope. Hasn't seen it. Talked to someone who saw it around 10:00 this morning right there on the buoy. We keep scanning. A huge harbor seal surfaces and looks right at me. Seals do that. (Nancy's convinced that seals think I'm really a selkie. ) I decide to head for the Eastern Point Lighthouse.

It occurs to me that just because the gull was first seen at the lighthouse and has been seen at the pier, that's not the only place it could be. I leave the pier and drive around checking any patch of open water visible from the road. I make a couple of passes, checking every flock of gulls. On Rocky Neck I spy a small flock of birders standing in the road by a little cove. Hmm... As I start to pull over to park, one of them nods yes and beckons to me. This is before I've even parked. Birders must have some way of recognizing tribe members even when the binoculars aren't visible.

Sure enough, there is the ivory gull on a snow/ice covered dock with a couple of great black backs. Nice size contrast. The ivory gull is very small. Kinda like a Bonaparte's size or maybe ringbill size, with only great black backs for comparison. It's pure white with black legs and a two tone bill. I can see this with binoculars, albeit not in fabulous detail. Somebody offers me a look thru their scope. It takes my breath away. This bird is gorgeous. An expanse of snow separates the road from the beach. Most people are watching from the road. I see a couple of folks brave the snow and decide I can do it too. Once on the beach, I get much better looks. I keep exclaiming how beautiful it is. It kinda blends in with the ice a little, but then when it moves so it's right in front of the great black back the contrast is excellent. Great looks.

The other folks on the beach let me look through their scopes. One of them is the Canadian guy. I ask if he's from Quebec because I hear a French accent. I guess correctly.

The gull flies off. I suddenly realize I am very hungry and it is way past lunch time. I stop at the first open restaurant I see, which turns out to be a sports bar that has just started offering lunch and is also having new HD tvs installed. I'm the only customer. The bartender and the tv installer banter about politics. I tell them about the gull. The bartender has heard about it and seen the story in the newspaper. They want to advertise to the birders.

I head back to the pier in hopes of the king eider or maybe another glimpse of the ivory gull. People have the place staked out but haven't seen it. Some common eiders climb up on a rock in the harbor. I love being so close to them. The Canadian guy reappears and wants to know about restaurants and about places to see harlequin ducks. I recommend some harlequin duck locations and we get talking somehow about Plum Island and I impress him by telling him about the "pluvier siffluer". We talk birds for some time. A woman who saw a glaucous gull this morning joins us. She's actually disappointed with the glaucous gull -- her first -- because she's so set on seeing the ivory gull. A group of guys in search of the ivory gull arrives. We tell them what we know. They're exchanging cell phone numbers. I tell them I'm going home and wish them and the glaucous gull lady luck.

OK, so I've seen the bird and it is now my sacred duty to stimulate the economy of Gloucester. At least in terms of hot chocolate. i need hot chocolate. The first place I stop is Pleasant Street Tea Co.. Nice place. So-so hot chocolate, but it does warm me up. I see fabulously warm looking scarves, gloves, and socks in the window of Magic Scarf. I must be subconsciously still feeling the cold because I buy some magic socks. The woman there asks what brings me to Gloucester. The ivory gull I tell her. She says she read about in the paper.

I walk around the downtown a bit and spot the incredibly aptly named Lone Gull coffee shop. Their hot chocolate is fantastic. There's up close and personal photos of sharks in the rest room. My mug has a cool gull logo on it. I ask if I can buy one. Sure can. So I do. As I come out of the Lone Gull, I see some interesting wooden carvings of animals on the sidewalk in front of a gallery. Must check 'em out.

Yup, I find a wonderfully funky orange cat carving that I can't leave in the shop. They're having a sale: buy one critter, get 20% off a second one. I spot a small rainbow trout. As I'm paying for the cat and trout carvings, the shopkeeper asks what brings me to Gloucester. Ivory gull, I tell her. She says it was in the paper the same day as a photo of her wooden critters arranged on a snowbank. I tell her it's a gorgeous bird. She says she should write it a thank you note.

Friday, January 9, 2009

bird randomness

Yesterday on the way to work I saw a red-tailed hawk try to fly into the wind and immediately give up and return to its perch. Shortly after that I saw a Cooper's hawk in flight suddenly get flipped on its side, one wing pointed directly at the ground with belly pointed directly into the wind. It flew sideways, well actually got blown sideways, for several seconds before it righted itself and it too found a convenient branch to perch on. Need I say it's very windy here?

Actually those two hawks reminded me of how I've tried to do some exciting or at least interesting birding between storms but been thwarted by ice and road closures and wind and just general absence of birds. One day last week I went to the Chain Bridge to look for eagles and great cormorants but found dark-eyed juncos feeding on a nearby lawn. That was it until I left. On the way back around the detour (the other bridge is closed indefinitely because a barge hit it), I saw a great cormorant in my rear-view mirror.

At least my traditional horned larks as first bird of the new year is still intact. Saw a dozen of them on New Year's Day. It would not be New Year's without horned larks. Must write about horned larks sometime. Seems most bird bloggers live in the Midwest where horned larks are year round residents, not a winter specialty and not a coastal phenomenon. Around here they used to be called shore larks because of their fondness for coastal habitat. Actually, according to some range maps they are in Massachusetts year round but according to others they only winter here. Must check more field guides to get the real skinny on these guys. I only know for sure that they are only on PI and Salisbury Beach in winter. I don't know about the depths of Western Mass. They like "barren" open spaces -- hence beaches and coastal parking lots. My best horned lark sighting though was in Tibet at a hot spring outside Damxung. I was scanning the landscape for maybe some new and exciting Asian birds and spotted a familiar face ... horned lark. Their kinda place is my kinda place I guess.

As I've been typing this, my birding buddy Ned has been texting me wanting to know if I am going to Choke Canyon, Texas for the pine flycatcher and wondering whether its appearance has anything to do with global climate change or with the Red Sox signing Rocco Baldelli or Al Gore or something. Wait, it's the flycatcher who's looking for Al Gore, not the Red Sox. And can pine flycatchers catch fly balls in the outfield? And what the heck is channelopathy and why is that not as bad as mitochondrial disorder to an outfielder anyway?

And lest I finish an entry without mentioning the cutest bird on the planet: Connecticut had a record number of piping plovers fledge this past summer. Yay! Remember summer? It's that season with no ice where the power outages are from too many air conditioners instead of flying ice laden trees. Soon enough it will be time to get my ass out on the beach again to resume talking to humans about piping plovers all over again.