Monday, October 31, 2011

Birding First Encounter Beach, Chatham MA

Gannet's Galore!

Steve and I decided to head to First Encounter Beach yesterday to catch the guaranteed seabird show the storm would bring in and get away from the snow which was a win/win as far as I was concerned.

We'd leave before dawn fueled by turbo and conversation and be driving along Route 6 when suddenly Steve would come to a stop, look at me and tell me we had to turn around. Okay, I say, unsure of why. I see a bird, Steve would tell me and I'd be puzzled why I hadn't seen it. It's dead, he'd tell me as he's doing a quick You Turn on what is called Suicide Alley due to all of the fatalities in the past. Of course he waited until all traffic was clear which wasn't hard as there weren't many people on the road, but it was funny just the same.

The poor bird would turn out to be a Brant. Steve would get it ready for pose and I watched and noticed the head trauma it appeared to have received and a feeling of sadness would take hold as we hadn't even gotten deep into the Cape yet and we were already seeing the effects it had on the avian population. While seeing the bird dead was depressing, it did allow for a really good look at its field marks which are rather striking and something one can't normally appreciate as they are usually so far away.

After that it would be off to First Encounter Beach which Steve thought would be mobbed but the only person there would be Blair already busy in count.

It would take a while to set up the birding station for the day as Steve went to work grabbing this gadget and that, making sure the car was set up at the right direction for best viewing, etc and soon enough he'd be done with the front part of the station where he would be at.

And then do the same in the back seat where I would be and directly behind him. After a short lesson on how to adjust the scope we would be ready to scan the already hundreds of birds that were in view.

The weather was soupy, windy and cold but despite that, viewing was pretty good and I was happy we were in the car vs. outside experiencing all of it.

An example of the conditions nearby. This would be the spot the gulls and terns would be at as most of them besides the Bonaparte's Gulls would not be flying much.

The best shot I would get of the hundreds of Northern Gannet's we would see. This was such a treat because not only was I able to get good looks at the adults but the juvenile and 2nd year ones as well. There would be times when you could look up to the sky which would be peppered everywhere with these birds which was amazing.

It would be at this point, that Steve and I put our scopes in the same area so he could describe to me what birds we were seeing and point out the field marks I should try and focus on as I had no experience with neither Jaegers nor Shearwaters so this was all new to me, but after a while some of it would click and the birds would come closer to shore.

Including these Pomarine Jaegers above.

And this little guy who I was able to get a half way clear shot of which was so cool!

We would spend five hours in the car and when Steve told me the time I thought he was joking as it truly felt like an hour or two tops. Looking for seabirds would put me in the same zone as hawk watching but its a totally different animal in weather conditions like the ones we had as everywhere you put your scope or bins, you would see dozens of dozens of birds. One minute you have Gannet's, the next Shearwaters followed by Jaegers or Boneparte's Gulls which I was really able to enjoy and finally perfectly see those black wing tips and beautiful all white primaries making for a pretty contrast. There would be many other birds that I never got a decent look at like the Dovekies or the Great Skua Blair would find which kind of bummed me out as I think the Dovekies are so adorable and after Steve told me he once saw a Skua drowned and eat a Great Black-backed Gull I was intrigued but alas, there's always next time with the weather we've been having lately.

After that we decided to do a Dunkin's run and head to Provincetown now that the skies were starting to clear. We'd decide to get out of the car and brave the very strong winds and sat on the sand and take in the day.

We'd be treated to a decent Sanderling show nearby as we watched them in awe because not only could they forage for food in these extreme wind conditions, but fly in them too!

Next would come the scoters which made me VERY happy. Scoters are another thing I need work on considering I don't see them often and we would be blessed as small flocks would continuously fly by allowing for some Scoter 101 I am in desperate need of. After a while ID'ing the Black Scoters and White-winged Scoters was fairly easy, but still continued to struggle with the Surf, but two out of three aint bad at this point! ;-). I'd also see Northern Gannet's dive bombing which would again be a first for me and was fascinating to see.

Soon enough it was back to the car with wind burned cheeks and cold toes as we headed to the center of P-town for more birds and chowder.

On our way out we'd be treated to a very nice view of this Merlin who was cooperative enough to stick around long enough for a photo!

The waters would be much calmer here but the same can't be said for the winds. We'd see birds everywhere taking it easy after the storm which allowed for some nice views and pictures including these very cooperative Common Eiders above.

And there would be gulls galore which as some of you long term readers of my blog know, makes me very happy as I love these brazen birds including this Great Black-backed Gull


A real feast for the eyes with the many Blackies and a couple of Herring's thrown in for good measure.

Soon enough it was time to for chowder as we were both rather cold at this point. We'd make our way along the peer when suddenly Steve would get that look in his eye again which can only mean one thing. ANOTHER DEAD BIRD. He'd look at me sheepishly as I followed along already feeling sorry for the poor creature as it laid limply on the sand.

I'd be used to the procedure by now as Steve got the bird pose ready and I prepared my camera for another record shot and wondered what happened to this one. Sigh, the life of birds can be so tough that's for sure, but it is very interesting to see.

And our final destination for the day which would be the Coffee Pot which seemed rather fitting considering our caffeine induced birding frenzies the past couple of days. I'd need to use the bathroom at this point and their's would be closed so I had to use the one across the street. I could never find it so needed help from the parking lot attendant who pointed to the sign PUBLIC BATHROOMS right in front of my face and then I'd head back and I'd be locked out of the joint. Confusion would set in as I was wondering if I was at the wrong place and asked a guy nearby smoking a butt and he'd try the door and see it was locked too. I'd see Steve in there all warm and cozy and my cheeks wold turn red as I pictured myself tapping gently on the window asking him to let me in, but alas I'd be saved by the cashier who let me back in to eat my chowder. HA

Seriously a great way to enjoy the storm. Steve asked me if I was interested in joining him Saturday night and I thought he was nuts as I had the NECN on and they were talking Snowageddon so the thought of battling it seemed crazy to me. Steve would talk all about the anniversary of the perfect storm and tell me to google and and I'd remember him telling me about it on Friday and what seemed insane at first now sounded really cool so off I went and am so glad I did as it was so much fun! Thanks again Steve.

Take care all

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