Monday, March 05, 2007

Another trip to Plum Island

Sunset, looking west through the dune grasses.

Approaching the ocean through the dunes.

A northern harrier, intent on its meal. You can see the owl-like facial disc here.
Well, we had a weekend of nice weather and I got out for some birding yesterday up at Plum Island. Though I must say the conditions were more severe than I expected. Saturday had been very sunny, fifty-plus degrees, and calm, and somehow I dressed as such for my outing on Sunday. I was cold. There was a fierce wind roaring across the marsh from the southwest that cut through my flimsy jacket. By the end of the day my knees were knocking with the cold, my lips were sluggish with the easiest of consonants and my toes were going numb.

Why did I stay out there? Oh, I don’t know. It was still nice to be out after a month-plus of staying mostly indoors. I usually get myself out early but this time I waited until early afternoon, thinking I’m maybe catch the late-afternoon light for once, and maybe the short-eared owls.

I didn’t see the owls! A bit of a disappointment, as they have been seen regularly up at Plum Island all season and a couple others had seen them up at the north end of the sanctuary, flying back and forth over the marsh between lots one and two. The birding in general was unspectacular yesterday but I did have some nice sightings and observations. Two snowy owls, distant looks. Northern Harrier’s were everywhere, coasting low and near, and far, giving great looks of these very interesting and beautiful birds. These may be my favorite hawk to watch, with their wobbly flight and arresting, owl-like facial features. I was lucky enough to watch one dive and successfully catch some sort of bird – I couldn’t tell what kind – and then proceed to tear it apart and eat it. I got a few blurry pictures of it through my scope. But my real luck came as I was watching that and decided to keep scanning with my scope and came up with a rough-legged hawk just fifty yards away from the harrier, on the ground consuming something with a long, narrow tail that was nearly as big as the hawk itself. Though they are sighted regularly this time of year around here, I have only one or two sighting of rough-legged hawks in my life and this was actually my first for Massachusetts. If I did more of my winter birding in the fields and marshes instead of the water I’d probably see more. Both the harrier and rough-legged stayed put for a long as I could stand the wind – I watched for quite awhile as I got colder and colder. Twice another harrier came along and tried to snatch a little bit but was chased off by both birds.

Though I missed the owls, I very much enjoyed being there for the light at dusk. I walked out the boardwalk across the dunes to the ocean and the light from the setting sun at my back lit up the dune grasses wonderfully, giving them a healthy, vibrant golden glow as they bent in the somewhat gentling breeze. I was just going for a quick look so I hadn’t carried my scope, but I could tell that the water beyond the breakers was full of loons and scoters, hundreds, probably thousands of them. It’s neat to see the large congregations of birds massing before migration. I saw the same thing in the eiders in the mouth of the Ipswich river a couple weekends ago, all clustering about ice floes as they drifted out to sea.

The mornings around here have already begun to twitter with a few early-spring songs, from cardinals and chickadees and titmice – Spring is on its way!

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