Monday, January 9, 2017

Nantucket CBC weekend

Hiatus over!!

In recent years I have developed a pattern of active autumn birding followed by a full dose of winter doldrums. The effect was particularly strong this year; my birding just about fell off a cliff once the calendar turned to December.

Thanks to December travel, work, and the way the holidays fell this year, I did not do a single CBC in Connecticut this season. I did, however, make it out to Nantucket for the second consecutive year for their count. I joined Frank Gallo, Patrick Dugan, Wendy Knothe, Mike Carpenter, and John Tobin for their annual Nantucket CBC territory, Madaket (western end of the island).

Frank and I carpooled to and from the island. We left on New Years Eve, stopped en route for the previously reported first cycle GLAUCOUS GULL and adult PACIFIC LOON along the CT coast, then took the late afternoon ferry out of Hyannis. Looks at the gull and loon were satisfying. The ferry ride was slow bird-wise...only a handful of Razorbills, no kittiwake (!), and not many loons. We did have fine views of all three scoters, several thousand actually, but numbers could have been even higher.

I'll leave the social gatherings out of it, but we had a great time hanging out with birders from all over New England, including several full-time islanders.

On the morning of New Years Day, AKA Count Day, we were met with better weather conditions than expected. A steady rain and wind forced into a late start owling, but we did manage a couple nocturnal birds in the form of a few AMERICAN WOODCOCKS (a quality "first bird of the year") and a single NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL once the weather cleared. The sun soon rose and we were happy to see blue skies and only a moderate breeze - not the 15-25mph we were expecting. Totally manageable.

Overall, according to Frank & Patrick, who have been doing this territory for years and years, this was a below average count. Still, we had a decent day. A couple of SNOWY OWLS, a BARN OWL, and a drake BARROW'S GOLDENEYE were personal highlights.

Snowy Owl

The next morning began with a dawn sea watch from Low Beach looking east. We enjoyed a nice movement of loons, grebes, ducks, gulls, and gannets. Tons of birds to look at. I'm glad I wasn't doing the counting (thanks Ian & Frank!). The famous "gull show" at Low Beach never materialized while we were there. Hopefully it will kick into gear later in the season.

sunrise at Low Beach

photo by Mike Carpenter

Once the seabird show slowed to a crawl we went into chase mode, trying to see a few of the goodies reported on the count the day before. We started with a feeder watch for a green PAINTED BUNTING that had been hanging around for a while. While waiting for the bunting we enjoyed a DICKCISSEL that had been visiting the same feeders. The bunting did make an appearance, though somewhat brief. It was seen pretty well for brief moments, but I never did fire off a shot.

Dickcissel

Our next few boxes to check were waterfowl. First, a hen KING EIDER chase turned into two birds, actually. Realllly nice scope views of the closer bird. Another drake BARROW'S was here as well. Then we headed to one of the ponds for a male TUFTED DUCK, which we also saw. On the same pond were an apparent pair of EURASIAN WIGEON (from a distance...male ID obvious, female not so much).

We had wanted to spend the afternoon back at Low Beach to see if any gulls would materialize, but Frank and I were forced to leave the island that evening instead of the next day as we had planned. East winds at 25-35mph were forecast for the next day, and due to work obligations I could not allow myself to be stranded on the island, so we headed out a day early.

Some friends on the Cape bailed us out and let us stay with them, which made our lives a lot easier. The next morning, once Frank had his three cups of coffee (I would drop dead of cardiac arrest if I ingested that much caffeine), we started the drive home with a few birding stops planned despite the driving rain.

First we took a shot in the dark at the adult SLATY-BACKED GULL that had been found by Ian Davies a few days earlier. No joy with that one. Then we decided to stop for the GRAYLAG GOOSE that has been hanging out in East Providence. This bird has attracted much attention because it is not an obvious barnyard type and may, in fact, be a wild bird. I'll leave that for another post...

Lastly, we tried again for the Pacific Loon on the way back, so Frank could add it to his 2017 list. Unfortunately the bird did not cooperate. Given the weather conditions, I'm not shocked we couldn't find it.

We had a really fun four days of birding...something I was really itching for! I'm still wating to experience that gull show on Nantucket, so I'll have to make a point of going back when that is happening, one of these years.

Happy New Year everyone.

 - Nick

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