Friday, January 20, 2012

birds and beach

Fresh Ice on the North Pool

Thursday afternoon was windy and cold with snow flurries in the air. The sun glinting through the clouds highlighted the recently formed ice on the salt pannes and the freshwater impoundments. A northern harrier cruised low over the dunes near Lot 1. Other than that, few birds seemed to brave the wind. I thought I might find a snowy owl in the dunes near Lot 6, so headed down the road in that direction.

American Bittern

I spied a largish bird on the grass next to the road. From a distance it looked almost big enough to be a turkey, which would make sense.  As I got closer, I realized it was a bittern. It proceeded to walk slowly into the road and stopped. I had to stop as did another car coming the other way. It stood there for several minutes. I got the binoculars on it and identified it as an American bittern, not something you normally see in the road -- or in the open at all.  I had to take the photo through the windshield, so it's not perfect. The bittern fluffed up its feathers, then extended its neck in its best imitation of a reed. Had there been any reeds around it, it would have become invisible. Finally, it continued to the other side of the road and into a thicket of brush. A most unusual bittern sighting.

American Tree Sparrows
Near Lot 5, a trio of tree sparrows were doing a much better job of blending in than the normally secretive bittern had. Shortly after I took this photo, the middle sparrow propped itself up on its tail to reach the top of a tuft of grass, a behavior I normally associate with chickadees. Wish I'd gotten a photo of that.

Dune Near Lot 6

The most bird activity I encountered was a roost of American robins and European starlings along the Lot 6 boardwalk. There were about 30 birds, about half robins and half starlings.  A lone herring gull flew over and the starlings changed places with the robins and settled in again.

Icy Shells
The wind was even worse on the beach, and I saw no birds on the ocean. The beach was fascinating as always.

Skate Cartilage?

Moon Snail

Beauty was all around me, small and large. The moon snail shells, little pools of ice inside clam shells, the swirling purple and black patterns of garnet and magnetite sand, the light on the beach grass all made for a wonderful, though really cold, walk. The refuge is beautiful in all seasons in different ways.

As I was coming off the island, I spotted a bald eagle standing on the ice in the Merrimack River. I stopped and watched it until it took off and headed toward Salisbury. Birding is fun even when most of the winter birds are hunkered down out of the wind.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

down the bay

The New Year's weekend afforded a great opportunity for some birding all along Narragansett Bay.  There were some fun birds and surprises but still no Tufted Duck.

At Colt State Park, we were looking at a flock of brant near the boat ramp when a flock of ruddy turnstones materialized on the rocks.

Ruddy Turnstone
Three of the Several Hundred Brant
Usually we see lots of horned larks on the grass and in the parking lots at Colt State Park, but on Sunday they were hanging around on the rocks by the boat ramp acting remarkably like ruddy turnstones.

Horned Lark Pretending to be Ruddy Turnstone :-)
At Beavertail Light, we hoped to see harlequin ducks. We didn't find any harlequins, but saw tons of surf scoters, black scoters, common eiders, and northern gannets. There were so many northern gannets that I lost track of counting them. They were spectacular to watch.

Eiders and Scoters, Oh My!

The big surprise at Beavertail was a small flock of purple sandpipers hunkered down on the rocks. I wasn't sure they were purples at first because I couldn't get a good look with my binocs.  I asked a guy carrying a scope if he would check them out. He confirmed my ID and let me look at them through his scope. Friendly birder.

Rocks Where Purples Hide
On Monday at Salter Grove in Warwick, we saw lots and lots of scaup, mostly lesser, but with several greater mixed in and discovered vintage Ms. Pac-Man game at Roger Williams Park.

Ms. Pac-Man
Tuesday was set aside for looking for the tufted duck. First I had to find the Manchester Reservoir in Attleboro. That took a lot of driving around and getting lost. When I finally got there, I met a birder who had the same experience trying to find the place and had seen the tufted duck in with a flock of scaup who had all flown off together out of scope range. He wished me luck.

Manchester Reservoir of Attleboro
I hung around the dam for about 2 hours, got good looks at a pair of greater scaup and several courting pairs of hooded mergansers. Isn't it early for courtship? I associate that with February.  I spotted a small flock of scaup in the distance and followed a trail through the woods along shore to get closer to them. The tufted duck was not among them.

Miniature Landscape

The walk in the woods yielded lots of interesting moss and lichens and plants in miniature landscapes and a rough-legged hawk overhead. Somehow, I didn't mind not seeing the tufted duck.