Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Portland Maine Coast - Part 2

the rocky coast of Maine!

Ron pointing something out!
 With the rolling waves along the coast, it wasn't hard to see a bird and then lose it behind a wave. Then it's a matter of pointing to something and saying "see that blue buoy, it's right of that" or "left of that raft of eiders" or "just beyond that furthest rock". A good way to hone your "where's that bird" skills!

Mill Creek, South Portland is a great place to find gulls! In this picture, there are Herring, Ring-billed, Glaucous, Iceland (Kumlien's) and Great Black-backed gulls.

The Iceland Gull or Kumlien's (American race) is one of the "white-winged" gulls we see in the east. It's bigger than a ring-billed gull but smaller than a herring gull and is said to have a "baby" face. 

Our other white-winged gull is the Glaucous Gull. It's too bad this one was snoozing, it would have been nice to show the bill compared to the Kumlien's. Glaucous are as big as the largest Herring gulls and rather "stern" looking.

common loon
We stopped at Bug Light in South Portland and found a few winter plumage Common Loons. Even though you think of loons as being on a golden pond, in winter they're common along the coast.

A red-breasted merganser was finding food! Is he having a "bad hair" day? No, they always look this way, it's a good field mark!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Another Rare Bird and the Coast of Maine - Part 1

Spotted Towhee
 On our way to Portland, Maine to visit friends, we stopped in Rye, New Hampshire to snag a rare bird. Somehow this spotted towhee veered right instead of left and ended up on the east coast. Related to our Eastern Towhee (they were previously considered one species), this bird is usually found west of the Mississippi.

In Rye since at least the end of January, he was in the thicket scraping the ground for seeds in typical towhee fashion on the corner of Rte 1A and Central Road.

purple sandpipers
 On to Portland and out birding with our friends Ron and Chuck. A stop at Kettle Cove in Cape Elizabeth gave us our first-of-the-year views of purple sandpipers. These hardy shorebirds winter along the rocky coast and usually found on the rocks.

harlequin ducks
 Another bird found along the rocky coast of Maine, is the harlequin duck. Harlequins have smooth, densely packed feathers that trap a lot of air, vital for insulating such small bodies against the chilly waters. It also makes them exceptionally buoyant, they bounce up to the surface like corks after dives.

Harlequin ducks riding the waves at Dyer Point.
long-tailed duck  
According to online sources, unlike other waterfowl, the Long-tailed Duck wears its "breeding" plumage only in the winter. It gets its "nonbreeding" or Basic Plumage in the spring and wears it for the breeding season.

Gerry got a nice shot of the long tail feathers as the duck dove.

While Ron and I were scoping the waters, Gerry got a shot of this Great Cormorant flying by.

One female Black Scoter swimming among the Common Eiders. We had all 3 species of scoter: black, white-winged and surf, along with black guillemots, horned grebes, red-breasted mergansers and common goldeneyes. Part 2 of our bird sightings tomorrow!!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Rare Owl and Some Waterfowl on the Lake

It's been a very cold and snowy winter in Vermont! We've been wanting to go to Lake Champlain to see waterfowl. We usually head to the southern end but the lake's been freezing further and further north. One of the areas still open is at the Charlotte Ferry landing, where the hourly runs of the ferry have provided open water for thousands of ducks! 

Mt Mansfield
Along with friends Martha and Don, we drove up interstate 89 to Waterbury Center first, to hopefully see the Northern Hawk-Owl that's been hanging around since December. Gerry and I had tried once before and missed, so here's attempt #2 - we dipped again! (birder lingo for failed attempt)

Camel's Hump
So onward to the lake and the Charlotte ferry landing! A gorgeous day and the scenery is spectacular!!

Greater Scaup and female Common Goldeneyes
The open water near the ferry landing was much less than it had been 3 days earlier, so there were fewer ducks, but we had a nice variety. Lots of common goldeneye, greater and lesser scaup, a pair of Barrow's goldeneye, a few long-tailed ducks, ring-necked, mallard, common merganser and black ducks.

female greater scaup and common goldeneye
The lighting was pretty harsh so Gerry didn't get a lot of good pictures. We decided to go back home the way we came and make another attempt for the hawk-owl.

northern hawk-owl
The third time was the charm! Northern hawk-owl sitting on a snag.

The hawk-owl generally stays within it's breeding range which is Canada and Alaska, so it's a rare treat to find one in the lower 48.