Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Day of Ducks

I am in New England to tour colleges, but I planned on spending today birding northeastern Massachusetts.  I saw on the ABA Rare Bird Alert that there was a Tufted Duck (ABA Class 3), a European vagrant, in a pond only twenty minutes from my hotel - an opportunity that can't be passed up.  My mom and I arrived at Johnson's Pond and I scanned the lake - no sign of the Tufted.  Only a small flock of Ring-necked Ducks,  but there was a promising-looking flock on the opposite shore of the lake.  There was no easy access to this shore, so we drove a little ways and walked out on a peninsula to try to get a better view.   We met two birders from nearby Ipswitch who had a scope set up.  I looked through and almost immediately saw a duck with a distinct tuft - the Tufted Duck! My second ABA rarity this month. There was also a Common Merganser, my first of the year, and several Black-capped Chickadees, a lifer (I don't bird outside of the South much). The two birders told us that Halibut Point in Gloucester would be a good place to go next, so we set off.

After driving through the historic town of Gloucester, we made it to the end of the road at Halibut Point State Park, a rocky promontory over the bay and a former quarry.  As soon as we made our way down to the shore, a duck caught my eye.  I brought up my binoculars and... it was a Harlequin Duck, my first ever.  There were a total of twelve at the park, swimming off the rocks.  These are my new favorite ducks, and I got excellent views of them.  Also offshore were two more duck species, Common Eider and Long-tailed Duck.  A small flock of Purple Sandpipers were feeding on a boulder near the Harlequins.  
Harlequin Ducks, a hen (left) and a drake.

Long-tailed Ducks

More Harlequins

Next in line was Parker River NWR, where I hoped to see Short-eared Owls.  We spotted a few Black Ducks and a Mute Swan right away, but things slowed down quickly.  I guess I'm just used to the Outer Banks, where seeing 50+ species in a few hours is expected, but there were very few birds here in Massachusetts.  I did see a few more Eiders, some Pintails, and a handful of gulls, but it didn't produce the same quality or quantity of bird sightings we had at Halibut Point.  No sign of Short-eareds, but I did spot a Merlin as we were leaving.  

I don't know what else is in store for my trip up North, but hopefully I can see some more great birds like I did today.

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