Tag Archives: King Eider

Monhegan Fall Migration Weekend,9/27-10/1/2019

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The reports trickling out of Monhegan all week were not particularly tantalizing. Other than a few rare but regular vagrants and semi-vagrants, the birding was often dreadfully slow. This fall’s lack of strong, airmass-changing and northwest wind-producing, cold fronts have been sorely lacking, and the season on Monhegan to date had clearly reflected that. But we heard the butterflies were extraordinary!

The first half of our group arrived via the 9:00 Hardy Boat from New Harbor. Even the boat trip was unusually quiet: a handful of Northern Gannets were the only seabirds we saw; even gulls were relatively few and far between.

But it was simply gorgeous, and with clear skies, light winds, and unseasonably warm temperatures, we were not complaining upon our arrival. And we were immediately greeted with a plethora of butterflies, led by Painted and American Ladies, and Monarchs – lots and lots of Monarchs.

Our slow walk up Dock Road would yield our one measly warbler wave of the day, but the Island Farm gardens on Pumphouse Road immediately produced the “best” bird that was being seen on the island: a juvenile Blue Grosbeak. But now, there were 2. And two Dickcissels! And 3 Indigo Buntings! And then two Blue Grosbeaks sitting side-by-side with an Indigo Bunting on the wire for comparison, followed by a lovely look at a Lincoln’s Sparrow.  Yeah, that’s a “slow” day on Monhegan in the fall!
lighthouse_view

After fueling up on Novelty Pizza as usual, we hit Burnt Head for a gannet and Peregrine Falcon show, but the afternoon was beyond quiet for birds overall. Not for butterflies, however!  So. Many. Question Marks (as in the butterfly, not unanswered questions of course!)
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Question Mark

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As we awoke on Saturday, light south winds had minimized nocturnal bird migration, and the Morning Flight over the Yew consisted of exactly one Great Egret (not a bad bird out here though). It was quiet, very quiet, as dawn rose…but we weren’t cold! And all of those Monarchs!
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After breakfast, we decided to try and relocate a female King Eider that was reported yesterday and posted late at night. Since the seas were building on southwesterly winds, I decided to skip trying Lobster Cove and check the mouth of the harbor. And sure enough, there she was! The “Queen” Eider was an “Island Bird” for me, and an island bird for almost every birder on the island, if not a life bird for many in my group.
sunrise
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With the rest of the group arriving at 10:00am, we raced over to the dock, picked up the eider from the lawn of the Island Inn, and welcomed our new arrivals with a Queen Eider in the scope!  How’s that for a greeting?  I also realized I had a “lifer:” looking at a King Eider with shorts on!
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There were now 3 Blue Grosbeaks in the garden, and a couple of us glimpsed a flash of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo near the Ice Pond.  But it was irrationally slow all day. However, almost every bird we did encounter, we saw well, and there were very few instances of “better views desired.”  And it was warm, and I don’t think I have ever spent a whole day out here in just shorts and a t-shirt.  Again.
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Northern Gannet off of White Head.

A slow progression of clouds throughout the day finally arrived overhead by dusk, but rain stayed away. Unfortunately, the cold front that we were so anxiously anticipating did not switch the winds to the west (and then northwest) until about 2:00am, so migration really never got going. There was a little Morning Flight come dawn, mostly Yellow-rumped and Blackpoll Warblers as expected, but also several Cape Mays. The chatter, however, was the fact that no one found themselves in dire need of more blankets overnight!
PEFA, A.Siegel
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The next generation teaching the next next generation.
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Once again, however, the warmth scattered roosting Monarchs, and the massive roosts of a thousand or more from the middle of the week were instead widely dispersed. They were still abundant, however, covering gardens and almost every patch of wild asters and goldenrods.
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This one likely had recently taught a Merlin to never try and eat a Monarch!
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Tattered Black Swallowtail departing dill

It was a day to look at everything, from flowers to caterpillars.
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Fringed Gentian
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Hickory Tussock Moth
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Everybody’s favorite caterpillar: Woolly Bears!
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White-faced Meadowhawk.
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Smeared Dagger Moth

An adult Lesser Black-backed Gull in the harbor helped start our day, and there were definitely some new birds around.
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Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull(R)with multiple age classes of Great Black-backed Gulls.

Our checklist slowly built with the likes of a Pine Warbler, a single Red-winged Blackbird, and finally, after almost 3 days: a couple of Red-eyed Vireos.  The northwesterly breeze was also ushering in a good raptor flight, especially Merlins and American Kestrels, with a healthy dose of Peregrine Falcons, so we often found ourselves looking skyward.

Monarchs were also on the go, with many high overhead and taking off towards the mainland. Our butterfly list grew to a goodly 14 species. And we confirmed via photographs that there were a most-impressive 4 Blue Grosbeaks, a bona fide flock, and perhaps a record high for the state.

It was a great few days, and a lot of birds were seen. It was not the thing Monhegan legends were made of, however, but almost everyone on the tour had at least two Life Birds by the time the majority of the group headed home on Sunday afternoon. And it was still beautiful out. Complaints were few.
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RINP,A.Siegel
And the family group of “re-introduced” (allegedly) Ring-necked Pheasants were a source of constant entertainment.
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Now, no birder is every really ready to leave Monhegan, but those who had to go to work or school the next day were especially upset. But of course, we had high expectations for a big day on Sunday, and that did not materialize.

On Monday morning – I am happy to say for those who remained, but I am very apologetic to those who had to depart! – the birds that did not show on Sunday had arrived. A huge flight overnight on clearing skies and a moderate northerly wind had ushered in a massive wave of birds. By breakfast we had as many species of warblers as we had seen all weekend so far.
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Black-throated Green Warbler

Palm Warblers and Savannah Sparrows seemed to be everywhere, at least where there wasn’t a Yellow-rumped Warbler. New arrivals included many of the birds we had somehow been lacking so far, such as Blue-headed Vireos and Brown Creepers, but we also enjoyed a host of “late” migrants, such as Bay-breasted Warbler, Alder Flycatcher, several Magnolia Warblers, and – sorry Anna! – a great look at a Philadelphia Vireo. Although a truant Warbling Vireo late in the day was the “best” vireo of the weekend.
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Palm Warbler
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Savannah Sparrow

The morning alone had more species, and likely more individuals, than the three previous days combined. While all of the Blue Grosbeaks had departed, the Queen Eider was still present, as was 1-2 Dickcissels, and in a late-day feeding frenzy of Harbor Porpoise at the mouth of the harbor, we picked out a juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull. Today was a day for both quantity and quality – and we walked about 30% less than any of the previous three days! It was a very good day.
Sunday_sunset

Jeannette had arrived on Monday, and it was just the two of us for a day off on Tuesday. Fears of a wash-out were not realized. Instead, an early morning shower on Trap Day did little more than nicely tamp down the road dust for a good part of the day.  Winds were increasing from the southeast, and there was little to no migration overnight on cloudy skies and light southerly winds.

Therefore, there was once again virtually no morning flight, but there were some new birds around, starting with a Marsh Wren singing at dawn from the meadow, and 3 female/immature Wood Ducks in the Ice Pond before dawn (alas, I never did catch up with the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron that others spotted into the weekend).

The morning was quiet overall, however, with scattered pockets of migrants here and there. It wasn’t quiet as slow as Saturday, but we were once again covering a lot of ground to not see many birds. But it felt like a day with something “really good” around, and as we returned to the Ice Pond, I was shocked by a hen Northern Shoveler!  Migrant dabblers are rare out here due to the lack of habitat, and there are not many shovelers in Maine or Maritime Canada to end up here. I am sure that if there were birders out here in April and October, this species would be detected, but based on the historical record in the Vickery checklist and recent records from eBird, it turns out that this is a First Island Record!  (EDIT: A previous island record has come to light, and sure enough, it was from April!)
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While it wasn’t the Mega I was hoping for, it was a great bird for the island list, and joined by a stunning adult male Wood Duck, it added some excitement to an otherwise dreary day. We took the time to have a leisurely lunch, enjoy the Queen Eider, and grab one last beer. We also ran into the Lark Sparrow that showed up the day before. But it was remarkable how many fewer butterflies were around: the Monarchs had mostly departed on the northerly winds of the previous day, and the cloudy skies kept most everything else under cover.
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Lark Sparrow with immature White-crowned Sparrow
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With the first of the morning’s lobster traps already being hauled up, we knew our birding season out here was drawing to a close, unfortunately. Fortunately, however, the seas were much tamer than had been forecast, and we had less concerns about comfort on the ride home.
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Another Harbor Porpoise and gull feeding frenzy developed in the mouth of the harbor.

But Monhegan had one more surprise in store for us. As we pulled away on the 4:30 ferry to Port Clyde, I spotted a Black Skimmer circling Nigh Duck. I alerted the other birders on the boat, and those of us topside had views of it seemingly considering sitting down on the island, but we had picked up steam and were cruising away.  This appears to be the second record of Black Skimmer for Monhegan – another incredibly good bird for my island list, and another reason why you never stop looking!

Three “Island Birds” for me, “life birds” for most of my group, beautiful weather for the tour, and lots of good food and conversation made for a heckuva weekend. And perhaps best of all, I had three kids under 15 on my tour! Besides a rare occurrence for a birding tour, their enthusiasm was contagious, and it gave us hope for the future of birds and birding!

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Swamp Sparrow

Daily Checklist:

* denotes ferry ride only
27-Sep 28-Sep 29-Sep 30-Sep 10/1 (with Jeannette)
Wood Duck 0 0 0 0 4
American Black Duck 0 2 2 2 2
Mallard 4 16 12 10 10
NORTHERN SHOVELER 0 0 0 0 1
Green-winged Teal 0 0 0 1 0
KING EIDER 0 1 0 1 1
Common Eider x x x x X
Surf Scoter 0 0 0 3 7*
Ring-necked Pheasant 3 7 5 5 6
Mourning Dove 6 8 6 6 10
YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO 0 1 0 0 0
Killdeer 0 0 0 1 0
Lesser Yellowlegs 0 1 0 0 0
Black Guillemot X x x x X
Laughing Gull 6* 0 2 0 0
Ring-billed Gull 2* 0 0 0 0
Herring Gull x x x x X
LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL 0 1 1 0
Great Black-backed Gull x x x x X
BLACK SKIMMER 0 0 0 0 1
Common Loon 1* 0 0 2 2
Northern Gannet 30 30 10 8 20
Double-crested Cormorant X x x 1000 500
Great Cormorant 0 6 1 3 2
Great Blue Heron 0 1 2 2 1
Great Egret 0 1 0 0 0
Osprey 3 1 7 4 2
Bald Eagle 3 2 3 4 2
Northern Harrier 0 0 0 1 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1 2 4 4 3
Belted Kingfisher 0 1 1 1 1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 3 3 4 40 30
Downy Woodpecker 0 1 1 2 0
Northern Flicker 3 4 6 20 15
American Kestrel 0 0 8 1 4
Merlin 3 3 15 8 5
Peregrine Falcon 6 2 10 6 3
Eastern Wood-Pewee 0 0 0 2 2
Alder Flycatcher 0 0 0 1 0
Least Flycatcher 0 0 0 1 0
Eastern Phoebe 1 0 0 6 4
Eastern Kingbird 0 2 2 0 0
Blue-headed Vireo 0 0 0 6 2
Warbling Vireo 0 0 0 1 0
Philadelphia Vireo 0 0 0 1 0
Red-eyed Vireo 0 0 2 25 10
Blue Jay 4 10 14 8 6
American Crow 4 6 4 6 8
Common Raven 1 2 2 2 2
Horned Lark 0 0 0 1 0
Black-capped Chickadee x x x x X
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1 0 0 0 0
White-breasted Nuthatch 0 0 0 0 0
Brown Creeper 0 0 0 8 4
Winter Wren 0 0 0 3 0
Marsh Wren 0 0 0 0 1
Carolina Wren 0 1 0 0 0
Golden-crowned Kinglet 0 10 0 15 20
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 0 0 0 10 5
Swainson’s Thrush 0 0 0 1 0
American Robin 2 1 0 0 1
Gray Catbird 6 4 0 4 4
Brown Thrasher 0 0 0 1 0
Northern Mockingbird 0 1 1 0 0
European Starling 20 24 20 20 16
American Pipit 0 0 0 1 0
Cedar Waxwing 20 40 80 60 50
American Goldfinch 2 0 4 6 6
Black-and-white Warbler 0 1 0 2 0
Tennessee Warbler 0 0 0 4 2
Nashville Warbler 0 0 0 6 5
Common Yellowthroat 2 2 4 6 3
Cape May Warbler 2 2 6 3 4
Northern Parula 2 0 0 10 3
Magnolia Warbler 0 0 0 4 0
Bay-breasted Warbler 0 0 0 1 0
Blackburnian Warbler 0 1 0 2 0
Yellow Warbler 1 1 1 4 1
Chestnut-sided Warbler 0 0 0 1 1
Blackpoll Warbler 4 2 0 2 1
Black-throated Blue Warbler 0 0 0 2 0
Palm Warbler 0 0 0 60 20
PINE WARBLER 0 0 0 1 0
Yellow-rumped Warbler 8 15 40 200 50
Black-throated Green Warbler 1 0 0 5 1
Wilson’s Warbler 0 0 0 1 0
Chipping Sparrow 2 0 3 6 19
LARK SPARROW 0 0 0 0 1
White-crowned Sparrow 0 0 1 0 1
White-throated Sparrow 1 0 0 25 15
Savannah Sparrow 0 0 0 50 30
Song Sparrow x x x x X
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1 1 0 2 2
Swamp Sparrow 0 0 0 7 4
Northern Cardinal 4 4 8 6 8
BLUE GROSBEAK 2 3 4 0 0
Indigo Bunting 3 2 2 1 2
DICKCISSEL 2 0 1 2 0
Bobolink 0 0 0 6 3
Red-winged Blackbird 0 0 1 0 1
Rusty Blackbird 0 0 0 5 1
Common Grackle 10 10 10 10 10
Baltimore Oriole 0 1 1 2 2

(Rarities seen by others by not the group as a whole: Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Red-headed Woodpecker, and Yellow-breasted Chat).

Butterfly list:
Monarch
Painted Lady
American Lady
Question Mark
Cabbage White
Clouded Sulfur
Red Admiral
Orange Sulfur
Common Buckeye
Mourning Cloak (1)
White Admiral (1-2)
Black Swallowtail (1)
Bronze Copper (1)
Great Spangled Fritillary (1)

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White Admiral

GYRFALCON in Wells (January 2015)!

Gyrfalcons are one of those enigmatic birds of the high northern latitudes that are always a favorite among northern birders, and lusted over by those further south. I’ve been lucky enough to see quite a few in Alaska, one in Michigan, and even one in South Boston. And few sightings of mine will ever surpass the eyrie of three white morph juveniles that we saw in Kamchatka.

But I had yet to see one in Maine. Or, at least, seen one for certain: there was this large, dark falcon with shallow wingbeats that screamed by during a snow squall while birding at Fort Halifax in Winslow one winter morning with a friend. It probably was, but…

On January 13th, a dark morph Gyrfalcon was found ravaging a Herring Gull on a ballfield in Kennebunk by Shiloh Shulte. His crippling photos of this beautiful bird can be seen here.

We were in Georgia.

Meanwhile, the plot thickened. Shiloh’s photos were strongly suggestive of the dark morph Gyrfalcon seen in Madbury, New Hampshire on December 15th, with at least one more sighting later at the Rochester Waste Water Treatment Plant. Meanwhile, it came to light the bird was actually photographed in Maine on January 10th, in the Ogunquit River Marsh from Ocean Street in Ogunquit.

Then, yesterday (Saturday, 1/17), Bob and Sandi Duchesne, et al, refound the bird in the Webhannet Marsh, just north of Wells Harbor (via Harbor Road). Quite a few birders were able to make it down to the marsh, and observe the bird in the area through sundown.

Not surprisingly, a lot of birders converged on Wells Harbor this morning. Myself included.

I arrived at Harbor Road at about 8:00am, and a short while later, chatted with folks at the end of the road, at the marina and boat launch of the harbor. No sign of the “Gyr.” Several us decided to split up and search elsewhere, keeping in touch of course.

I walked Community Park, scanning the marsh along the way (9 Horned Larks, 2 Yellow-rumped Warblers). I then went up to Parson’s Beach, where there was a possible sighting a few days ago. No luck, but I was surprised to find a small flock of 6 Savannah Sparrows at the end of the road; unseasonable.

Next up, I drove Drake’s Island Road. A car was pulled over, and seeing that they were looking at a Rough-legged Hawk (also seen earlier by others from Harbor Road), I too pulled over. I watched the hawk for several minutes, before it took off rather abruptly. I thought I saw something streaking low across the marsh, but blocked by trees, I really assumed it was a figment of my imagination. Driving ahead to a better view of the marsh, I scanned to the south, spotting a dark lump in the middle of the marsh – a lump that I had not noticed before. Four Common Redpolls flew over. The lump moved. I scoped Harbor Rd and did not see any birders. It was dark, it seemed small-headed, and it was fairly big. But there was heat shimmer, and it was far, very far.

I called Noah Gibb, wondering where he was, and mentioning I spotted a “promising lump” to the north of Harbor Rd and I was racing over. As I pulled into the parking lot at the end of Harbor Road, at least a half dozen birders were now present, but looking in different directions, and clearly not excited. “Damn it,” I thought. Was my lump just a bona fide lump? My excitement waned.

But I set up the scope anyway, pointed it towards said lump, and turned to the other birders and said, “Do you guys know the Gyrfalcon is sitting out here?” After they all saw it, we enjoyed a good chuckle, but most importantly, we all knew where the bird was, and dozens of birders converged.

Between 9:55 and 10:50, many of us enjoyed this magnificent bird, which, through a scope, afforded more than satisfactory views. During the time, it made two sorties, one low over the marsh, taking a run at an American Crow, and another higher flight over the water, flushing up roosting gulls.

This is one beastly bird, almost certainly a female based on its size. Gyr’s don’t have narrow wings like a lot of falcons, but big, broad (especially at the base) wings that seem to fight tapering to a point. In many angles, they even suggest buteos or goshawks. The flight of a Gyr is incredibly fast and seemingly effortless. Its shallow wingbeats generate a lot of power. It’s really like a Peregrine Falcon on steroids.

After each flight, the bird returned to a piece of driftwood in the marsh, north-northwest of the end of the parking lot at the end of Harbor Road (Wells Harbor), about 1/3rd the way between here and Drake’s Island Road. From the boat launch on the north side of the parking lot, looking out at about 11:00, somewhat in line with a marsh-edge house along the western end of Drake’s Island Road.

This phone-scoped photo was the best that I could muster:
GYRF1,Wells Harbor, 1-17-15

And this was the best flight shot I got of the bird in flight with my Nikon:
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On a couple of occasions, the bird took off to the west, and we all lost site of it behind trees and buildings. It crossed the road once, heading over the salt pannes near the beginning of Harbor Road, and disappearing to the south. Several of us failed to locate it in the marsh to the south, and eventually, Luke Seitz and I gave into the call of second breakfast at Congdon’s Donuts.

When we returned to Harbor Road at 12:25, the Gyrfalcon was once again on her low driftwood perch to the north. At least today, the bird seemed to come back to this spot reliably, and it was observed there on and off through a little before 3:00pm. In other words, for birders seeking the bird, spending time patiently looking north from the end of Harbor Road (also, the parking lot at the end Atlantic Road in Wells Beach, accessed from Mile Road off of Rte 1) would likely be a good idea – and keep an eye out for promising lumps! And clearly, the bird covers some ground, so if it is not being seen, spreading out would be useful eventually. Hopefully, my description of the day’s sightings (and lack there of) offers some help in directing the next search, if necessary.

This was my 366th species in Maine, and Gyrfalcon was #5 on my personal “next birds” for my state list, as I wrote about earlier this month. But it was a Gyr, and Gyrs are awesome, no matter what list they are or are not on.

Several dozen birders came and went today, and not surprisingly, with so many birders in an area, and with so many people spread out and looking for the bird, there was a classic “Patagonia Picnic Table Effect” underway: when birders seeking one rare bird start finding others nearby. In addition to the Rough-legged Hawk (not many have been around this winter so far) seen on all three days, 2-3 Yellow-rumped Warblers at Community Park, and scattered Horned Larks, some of the other birds in the area that were reported included:

(Updated, 11:00am, 1/21)

1/18:
– 1 Eastern Meadowlark on Furbish Road in Wells (presumably the same bird that Kristen Lindquist and I found there on the York County CBC in December and has been seen at least once since).
– 6 Savannah Sparrows, Parson’s Beach.
– 2 Bohemian Waxwings, Wells Library.
– 1 Northern Flicker, Drake’s Island Road.
– 1 Snowy Owl, Drake’s Island Beach.

1/19:
– 1 Swamp Sparrow, Eldridge Road.
– 1 Merlin, Wells Harbor.
– 2 Dunlin with 128 Sanderlings, Ogunquit Beach.

1/20:
– Snowy Owl, over Wells Beach.
– 128 Sanderling, Ogunquit Beach.

Meanwhile, the overwintering drake King Eider at The Cliff House in York had quite a bit of visitation during these few days.

While dozens, if not hundreds, of birders from throughout New England were looking for the bird in the afternoon on the 19th and all day on the 20th, the Gyr apparently moved on. Late in the afternoon on the 20th, it was reported back in New Hampshire, in the marshes of Hampton – not far from where it was first spotted last month! Will the bird stick around there? Will it be back in Wells? Who knows, but hopefully, people will continue to enjoy the bird, and when its not being seen, spread out and look throughout all of the marshes of both states. Gyrfalcons travel widely in search of food, and there’s no reason why the entire area from Hampton through Kennebunk can’t be part of this bird’s winter range.

In the meantime, please enjoy Luke Seitz’s photos of the Gyrfalcon from Harbor Road on the evening of Saturday, January 17th (note especially the bird’s massive size and girth, and broad wings in relation to a Red-tailed Hawk that it took a run at).
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Lukes_GYR2

A Day Along the New Hampshire Seacoast

It was like birding in another world yesterday as Kristen Lindquist and I headed south of the border…to the New Hampshire Seacoast.  For one, we saw birders everywhere!  Well, everywhere where there wasn’t wall-to-wall development.  And goodness, even in winter, there are a lot of people around here (relatively speaking of course). Yup, we weren’t in Maine anymore!

But I have a lifetime listing goal of seeing 200 species in every state, and my goal was to hit that mark in New Hampshire by the end of this year.  This goal is not for any “total ticks” target, or submission to any listing competitions, or anything else other than an excuse and occasional extra motivation to see more parts of the country.  The 200 number seems a reasonable goal to me for most states (I won’t reach it in Hawai’i!) that involves seeing a fair sample of what a state has to offer, and usually in multiple seasons – whether its scenery, food, or other interests (i.e. Rutgers football bowl games!), there’s always a good reason to travel near and far and lots of fun to be had in the process.  And of course I will be birding in between anyway, so long ago I began keeping track of it.

So the 200 goal was born, and it was time to get to know my neighboring state a little better.  Outside of the White Mountains (where I love to bird, hike, and of course, guide), I really didn’t know New Hampshire birding and birding sites very well, and I am happy to say that has changed this year.  While I joked with friends about “never having to bird in NH again!” after the goal was met, I did learn quite a bit about birding the state in the process.  But yeah, I am partial to birding in Maine.

Anyway, I have been watching the NH listserve and plotting my visit.  I needed 5 more species, and I kept an eye on when a handful of uncommon to rare birds joined the more expected species that I “needed.”  Seeing recent reports from the Seacoast – and seeing that my days off will be limited (aka: likely non-existent) from now to Christmas, I decided yesterday would be the day, despite early morning ice that slowed our drive (lots of cars off the Turnpike yet again) and persistent drizzle and occasional light rain.

We began in the Hampton Marsh, where the high tide was pushing Horned Larks to the edges. Check. We then ran into Ben Griffith and Lauren Kras, and then joined them in a Snowy Owl search.  Unfortunately, this was to no avail.

Pulling into Hampton Beach State   Park, the two hen King Eiders (197) performed nicely.  I teased out a few Purple Sandpipers (199) from the flock of 100 or so Dunlin (198), and ran into more friends.
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Compare the “Queen” Eider with the hen Common Eider on the right. Note especially the concavity of the bill, the face pattern, and the cooler, grayer tone to the plumage.

After chatting and enjoying the eiders for a bit, Kristen and I grabbed some lunch and then returned to the coast.  Snowy Owl would make a nice milestone bird.

Shortly thereafter, I received a text from Ben “Nelson’s-type Gull on Eel Pond,” followed by “Correction – possible Thayer’s Gull.”  And off we went.

Arriving at Eel Pond, the bird in question immediately stuck out, and I set about studying and photographing it.  While it seemed that people were at least leaning heavily towards a Thayer’s Gull by this point, I had my doubts.  But, I also have limited experience with 2nd Cycle Thayer’s Gulls.  I also did not have a better explanation for this odd bird at the time.  But Thayer’s Gulls are tough, 2nd Cycle gulls are a pain in the ass, and a rarity like this (potential 6th NH record) of course warranted extra scrutiny.

I began to take notes, and even a little feather-sketching.  I took lots of photos.  Birders came and went.  Ben, Lauren, Jason Lambert, and I continued to work on the bird.  Kristen headed to the car to check on the Patriots and to warm up.  She was clearly the smart one.

There were a series of things that bothered me about this bird being a Thayer’s Gull, and I scribbled those down in my notes:
–          The primaries were multiple shades darker than any other part of the bird.
–          The tertials were extensively marbled.
–          The bill was so extensively pale with such a finely demarcated black tip for a bird that was otherwise not very advanced in plumage.
–          The bill looked rather large and heavy, especially at the tip.
–          The eye color was orange-yellow, not light, but definitely not dark.
– The legs were dingy pinkish-flesh.

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While none of these features really eliminate Thayer’s Gull, they are consistent with “Nelson’s Gull,” the name given to Herring x Glaucous Gull hybrids as well.  But try as we might, we could not get the bird to fly closer.  I never saw it with the wing fully outstretched, but the bird was photographed well in flight earlier.

It was not a big bird, and looked smaller than most – but definitely not all – of the nearby Herring Gulls.  Most Nelson’s I’ve seen are noticeably larger, but large gulls are notoriously variable.  But look at this shot – it sure doesn’t look small compared to the 1st cycle Herring Gull on the left!  And see that deep build?  It doesn’t look at slim and dainty as many Thayer’s look (speaking of variable – and subjective – gull criteria).  The head looks rather blocky, and the bill was rather hefty.
DSC_0086_NEGUwithsmallHERG,EelPond,12-1-13

Meanwhile, shortly after my arrival and the beginnings of ponder the mystery gull, a Carolina Wren sang…number 200!  Yeah, it was pretty obvious to all that my NH birding has mostly been in the mountains, but this was a silly hole that somehow was not filled on previous coastal trips.  Mission accomplished.  So I went back to pondering the gull.  And, with daylight fading and the long drive (especially for Kristen) still ahead of us, we hurried over to RyeState   Park to catch up with a Snowy Owl (201), which was one of our real targets of the day.  With at least 12 birds seen along the coast on Saturday, we were surprised that – despite the amount of birders combing the coast – it took us all day to see a Snowy (it sounds like a total of 2 or 3 were seen along the coast by day’s end).
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Driving home, we listened to the Pats once again stage a come-from-behind victory, and as Kristen departed, I hit our library and the internet for some gull study time.  After reviewing my photos of the standing gull, and comparing that to the photos in references – especially Howell & Dunn – and online, I was definitely leaning more towards Thayer’s Gull, as most of my concerns seemed to be accounted for.  But I needed to see the spread wing.

And then Ben forwarded me Jason’s photos.  My response was simple, “Ewww.”  The extensively dark primaries were as extensive and dark as they appeared in the field.  While darker Thayer’s can show dark shading bleeding onto the inner webs of the outermost primaries, the outer three primaries on the Eel Pond bird were clearly wholly dark, and the dark was extensive on the next two as well.  I just don’t think a Thayer’s can show that.  While no single field mark alone can define any gull, this very well could be enough on its own to eliminate a Thayer’s (or, dare I say it, a pure – whatever the hell that means – one), a bird known for its “picket fence” primaries of dark outer webs contrasting with pale inner webs.  Adding that with the other features – including the structure of the head, bill, and body – I’m unable to call this a Thayer’s Gull.  Short of a DNA sample, it’s a “Nelson’s Gull” to me, although I think there is some argument to be made for this to not be a first-generation hybrid.  I sent the link to Jason’s photos (which are far superior to my own) to a handful of friends, and they have so far concurred that this is a Nelson’s-type gull.  But, gulls are one of those birds that everyone can have a different opinion on, so I await responses from others.  I just hated to rain on the parade, especially since Lauren and Ben were so helpful in my little listing quest that initiated the day.

Ahh, large gulls. The Snowy Owl was easier to identify. I like Snowy Owls.