Wednesday, October 31, 2012

More Wachusett Reservoir Birding

Alan and I would head out to Wachusett Reservoir again Wednesday hoping for the same luck as Tuesday but things would be considerably different with both the cooler temps and overall lack of birds!  Our first stop would be Mile Hill Road and the Clinton Dam hoping the two Sabine's Gulls Kevin spotted from yesterday would still be around but all would be quiet with not even a Ring-billed.

Brisk winds at the dam!

And the highlight bird at this spot would be a Double-crested Cormorant pretty close to shore.

Next would be Gate 40 in Clinton which was so cold from the harsh winds, we'd do a quick scan before heading back to the car. The highlight here would be a House Finch. :-p Not the best picture in the world but note the tail which is rather long with only a very slight notch (a good way to tell it from a male Purple Finch which has a short and very notched tail).

We'd be happy to see Scar Hill Road wasn't at all windy with calm waters so decided to carefully scan the area in hopes for scoters and it wouldn't take long to see a tight flock of them flying our way from the right.

Now I've seen Scoters in flight before but near the ocean and the birds would all be going past me higher than eye level and never turning around which was just what these scoters were about to do!

They'd all turn around in sync with one another with such grace and precision I'd hold my breath waiting to see what they'd no next and hoping they'd land.

Which they'd  never do but rather fly closer to Mile Hill Road which is just where we were prior.  Doh!  I can seriously tell you though I was captivated by the flight show as I'd never seen sea ducks flying like that from below allowing me a different view than what I'm accustomed to.  This may sound corny, but when has that ever stopped me before but the one word I think sums what I saw best is beautiful.  Such harmony among all of them it reminded me of synchronized swimming or rather synchronized flying.

We'd decide to do some walking to the right of the path of Scar Hill in hopes for some White-winged Crossbills as well as getting down to the shore in an area more open in hopes of seeing the scoter flock.  We'd never get either, but the walk itself was nice and we'd be happy to see/hear a group of five American Black Ducks as well as quite a few Dark-eyed Juncos and Golden-crowned Kinglets.

Stopping again at Mile Hill Road.  Peter would already be there and Nickilas shortly there after and we'd be happy to see all three scoters close enough to get decent scope views which made for some nice comparison study.  I'll also go on record now and say I'm starting to get why people get into ducks which I've often found boring in the past as they can be rather dull in comparison to raptors, gulls, shorebirds, etc, but seeing these birds in flight and on the reservoir the past week or so has given me a new appreciation for them and will be sad to see the numbers of sea ducks dwindling as the month of November progresses.

In the afternoon, we'd head out to Sutton to check out Purgatory Chasm hoping for some White-winged Crossbills because if they're moving south, this would be the place to be with the acres of white pines.  All would be fairly quiet except for the "yank, yank" call of the many Red-breasted Nuthatches (YAY) making us very happy as this is in Alan's Uxbridge CBC circle so taking this as a good sign they'll stick around for the holidays!!  The other bird of interest would be the dozens of Dark-eyed Juncos fluttering in and out of the pines which I always find odd as I think of them as more in a sparrow habitat but they love Purgatory for some bizarre reason.  Will continue to keep an eye out for the White-winged's here as not only is it convenient but nice and quiet in the off season and can spend hours here hiking/exploring in winter so this will give me another excuse to do so!

And now a back track to yesterdays post where we went to Mile Hill Road and be happy to see Kevin already there with his scope on two Bonaparte's Gulls.  I'd get up early this morning and see Kevin sent both Alan and I an email on them letting us know the gulls we saw may not have been Bonaparte's Gulls but rather Sabine's Gulls based on two important field marks he didn't pay much attention to for a Sabine's until he got home and then it would click.

1.  Dark Gray Back

2.  Light tip to the bill

Hmmmmmmm......That's funny I'd think to myself as I thought I was the only one who noticed how dark gray the backs were on those gulls but figured it was due distance, lighting or both so didn't say anything. When I saw them in the scope I remember pausing on them for a bit as the gray was so dark (closer to Lesser Black-backed than Bonaparte's in my mind), that it caused me to catch my breath momentarily as it was striking against the white plumage of the gull and something I wasn't expecting as all of the Bonaparte's I've ever seen have been drab gray at best.

Still groggy from sleep this morning I'd take my first sip of coffee and open my Sibley's (page 175) for Sabine's Gull and have one of my Holy sh*t moments that don't happen as often as I'd like.

There before my eyes would be a gull that looked a lot closer to the gulls in question yesterday than the Bonaparte's and would then realize Kevin was right as not only did the gray match but so did the black smudging on the head that I vividly remembered seeing (and would even comment out loud while viewing it at Mile Hill Road), but once again dismissed it due to plumage changes associated with molting.  I'd also take a look at the bill in the scope as Kevin had already dismissed it as Laughing Gull due to size and bill so wanted to make sure I could see that as well and sure enough I did notice it was smaller than a Laughing Gull and the bill itself appeared small and seemed tern like to me, but I'd never be lucky enough to see the yellow at the end which isn't surprising given my 43 year old declining eyes at such a distance!

Laughing Gull to the left, Sabine's Gull to the right.  The Sabine's to the right looked very similar to the gulls we saw Tuesday at Wachusett Reservoir including the charcoal grayish smudged head, dark gray back, small tern like bill and that contrasting white I had noticed when I was observing the bird

Fast forward again to this morning when Alan picked me up and we'd be discussing yesterdays gulls and he too said he'd noticed that dark gray back, smudgy head, etc but dismissed it for the same reasons I did.  So this would make three of us who all noticed the same things on those gulls but wouldn't think much of it at the time, but now wish that we had in hind sight.  But in hind sight yes we were all hoping for some out of the ordinary birds but not extraordinary which is the level one would clearly put a Sabine's Gull into so it's another lesson learned and a reminder that even the extraordinary is possible both before, during or after a hurricane as The Chickadee records can attest to.

Take care all.

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