Birding far and wide

by John Briggs on March 25, 2007

in Blog, Weekend Birding

My wife and I took a trip to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island in [tag]Massachusetts[/tag] Saturday.

Anticipation of the trip led to a restless Friday evening and night. We rose from our slumber at 4:00 a.m., secured our home and headed south on I-95, discussing what [tag]birds[/tag] we may see.

Driving into the refuge, we were greeted by the rising sun, which immediately began to thaw the heavy frost that nature had painted on the landscape. Killdeer struted along the road, allowing wonderful photographic opportunities in the morning light. A Northern Harrier was seen preening on a hillside. Northern Pintail, Black Ducks and Mallards fed in the pannes, and a lone Lesser Yellow Legs probed the muddy bottom for a delicious morsel.

As we approached the Hellcat Wildlife Observation Area, our excitement grew at what else was in store for us. And low and behold…. the gate was closed where the hard road ends and the dirt road begins! What on earth is going on, we thought. My wife was so excited about finding the owls that were reported in the area near Cross Hill Farm, and other birds that may be in the refuge. She was so disappointed, we almost turned around and went home.

We ended up walking the Marsh Loop at Hellcat, but that was very uneventful except for clumsy yours truly. While walking the narrow boardwalk through the marsh and woods looking all around for birds and not paying attention to what was in front of me, I stumbled not once but twice on seperate steps and just about ended up in the marsh. Believe me, when walking straight along and all of the sudden a step down appears and you are not paying attention, it feels like you are falling off the end of the world! At least Sharon thought it comical.

We talked to several [tag]birders[/tag] who claimed the gate was closed because of the snow last weekend. Although all traces of snow were gone from the road, the gate remained closed well into late morning, and the barrier kept us from having a full day of birding on Plum Island.

We headed north via Routes 1 and 1A, looking for birds, any birds would do. In [tag]New Hampshire[/tag], near Ryes Beach, we saw a pair of Mute Swans. Red-Winged Blackbirds were everywhere. Common Eider and all types of Merganser were in the surf along the coasts of New Hampshire and [tag]Maine[/tag].

We stopped for lunch at Captain Simeons in Kittery Point, and I had the best fish sandwich ever. Sharon partook a spinach and mushroom quiche that was to die for. We shared stories with an old Englishman who came to this country after WWII, and had us both laughing with his anecdotes.

After lunch, we headed for Wells Harbor, and there we spied our first of the year Great Egret, standing in the marsh looking for unsuspecting prey. A Great Blue Heron glided to a landing in the distance.

Our last stop was Granite Point, and there we saw a Great Blue Heron in full breeding plummage. We promised to return in the morning hoping for better light and a closer view. We had a full day, and even with the disappointment at Plum Island, we had a very good birding trip.

This morning we rose to a fresh blanket of snow, clinging to the trees and lawns, but not the roads. The skies were cloudy, but the forecasters promised clearing skies later in the morning. Off to Granite Point we went.

A breeding pair of American Wigeons were in the pannes along with a Red-Breasted Merganser and plenty of Mallards and Black Ducks. Two pair of Hooded Mergansers were in the Little River just as we entered the refuge.

And in the distance we saw the flapping of a huge pair of wings, the Great Blue Heron was still there, but the lighting was horrible. Soon, we were rewarded with two more males, all in breeding plummage. A face off between two of the males happened before our very eyes, but no battle ensued, more than likely because no females were yet present in the marsh. We decided to come back when the sunshine was abundant to try and [tag]photograph[/tag] these beautiful birds.

Later in the afternoon, we drove to Pine Point. There we spied several Old Squaw just off the pier. With plenty of sunshine and camera in hand, I made my way to the water-level dock, laid prone, and waited for them to come to me. And come they did! Some not more than 15 feet from me. I got some spectacular shots which can be seen posted below. The cropped images of these Old Squaw are much, much smaller than the original 10mb sized images, and believe me, the originals are far superior. I wish I could post the originals, but I would fill my bandwidth restrictions if I did this.

Leaving Pine Point, we headed to Camp Ellis, but the harbor was strangely devoid of any type of birds. So we decided to try Granite Point one more time before we loose the afternoon sun.

All three Great Blue Herons were present, but at too great a distance for photography. We parked and waited and low and behold, two of the males came to us! See photos below.

All in all a very productive [tag]birding[/tag] weekend. Below are images of birds encountered during our journies. Simply click a thumbnail for a larger view. Comments and critiques are always appreciated!

Killdeer - Plum Island, Massachusetts. Lesser Yellow Legs - Plum Island, Massachusetts. Great Egret - Wells Harbor, Maine.
Common Eider - Pine Point, Scarborough, Maine. Male Old Squaw (Long-Tailed Duck) - Pine Point, Scarborough, Maine. Male Old Squaw (Long-Tailed Duck) - Pine Point, Scarborough, Maine.
Male Old Squaw (Long-Tailed Duck) - Pine Point, Scarborough, Maine. Female Old Squaw (Long-Tailed Duck) - Pine Point, Scarborough, Maine. Great Blue Heron - Granite Point, Biddeford Pool, Maine.
Great Blue Heron - Granite Point, Biddeford Pool, Maine. Flight of the Great Blue Heron - Granite Point, Biddeford Pool, Maine.


Happy birding!


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