Trip Report: New England, August 6-19, 1995

Urs Geiser, Woodridge, IL;

This trip was mainly a family sightseeing trip, with several occasions for me to find a couple hours of birding time. I will only mention here the bird sightings and omit the other trip details. A Birder's Guide to Eastern Massachusetts (Bird Observer/ABA, 1994) was a very helpful resource.

August 6 and 7

Drive along I-80, then I-84 to southeastern Connecticut (Groton). No interesting birds except for the occasional TURKEY VULTURE or RED-TAILED HAWK.

August 8

Early morning, I drove to the University of Connecticut campus at Avery Point, where I looked for and found the flock of WILSON'S STORM- PETREL which had been on the CT hotline for several weeks. This was a rare occurrence of this species feeding in in-shore waters, here the mouth of the Thames River. On a rock with several GREAT BLACK-BACKED and HERRING GULLS was an AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER. Among the gulls and terns were also a LAUGHING GULL and both COMMON and FORSTER'S TERNS (I think, after consulting Kaufman's Advanced Birding). An OSPREY glided over the water, and DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS were everywhere. Swallows of three species (BARN, TREE, and BANK) were in the air. A pair of MUTE SWANS begged for handouts.

In the afternoon, we made an extensive picnic and swimming stop at the town beach of Matunuck, RI (not the state park which was one bay to the east). There, I found a flock of LEAST TERNS, as well as COMMON, also the usual assortment of the common gulls and cormorants. The rising tide brought in some RUDDY TURNSTONES for a quick meal. Other, unidentified sandpipers kept flying by.

Along the road to the Boston area, I also encountered the first NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD of the trip (a rarity where I live).

August 9

This day consisted of a day trip to Cape Cod (MA). At the suggestion of Paul DeBenedictis, I dropped off the other family members at the Coast Guard Beach in Eastham and went birding. The first stop was Fort Hill, a grassy overlook over a vast salt marsh. Due to the high tide there were no shorebirds to be seen except for quick fly-by's, but numerous herons stuck out of the marsh: GREAT BLUE HERON, SNOWY EGRET, and a BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON, and possibly a distant immature (white-plumaged) LITTLE BLUE HERON. A pair of OSPREYS were on or near a platform nest.

Then there was a little time for a trail along an inlet and another marsh near the Natl. Seashore Visitor Center. In the more protected marsh, I found a GREATER YELLOWLEGS, a SOLITARY SANDPIPER, and a few LEAST SANDPIPERS. Two BELTED KINGFISHERS were chasing each other, and one performed a spectacular dive right in front of me. A GREEN HERON let me approach much closer than I'm normally used to.

Later in the afternoon, we drove all the way to Race Point near Provincetown, at the tip of the cape. Far out, I could discern a few more WILSON'S STORM-PETRELS through the scope. A quick stop along the Provincetown harbor, now in falling tide, yielded large flocks of mainly SANDERLING, SEMIPALMATED PLOVER, and SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER.

On the way back, we made another stop around sunset at Fort Hill, with muck exposed for numerous shorebirds (most beyond even scope range). Among the identified ones were the ubiquitous semipalms, a few BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS, and some Dowitchers (Short-billed?). A BLACK TERN popped up for a short flight before disappearing in the marsh again, and I found a few more BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERONS.

August 10

Early morning, I decided to check out the shorebirds on nearby Wollaston Beach (Quincy, MA) while the others slept in. Except for KILLDEER and a confirmation on SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER, there were the same species as at the previous locations (including RUDDY TURNSTONE). However, the numbers and good views allowed me to study these species more closely than what's usually possible in the Chicago area.

Even larger numbers of the same species could be found in the late afternoon in a scan from the Ocean Spray cranberry information center in Plymouth (a short drive north of the famous rock). During one more stop, near the North River along the Scituate coast, I got a good and close look at a MARSH WREN, as well as the usual peeps.

August 11

This was the day of our morning whale watch out of Gloucester, MA (Yankee Fleet). The whales were great with Humpback, Fin, Minke, and rare Pilot Whales in good view. The only pelagic birds were WILSON'S STORM-PETREL, while the naturalist told me later that he quickly saw a distant shearwater, but didn't bother to point it out. The most surprising bird was a BARN SWALLOW that followed our boat for the entire trip. Both SNOWY and GREAT EGRET, as well as a BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER and several GREATER YELLOWLEGS could be seen in the harbor area.

After an afternoon nap, I dropped off the family in Newburyport (MA), while I took a look at Parker N.W.R. on Plum Island. Hellcat Swamp proved the most productive area, with six wader species (including a flock of several dozen GLOSSY IBIS), some CANADA GEESE, four BLUE-WINGED TEAL, and a NORTHERN HARRIER. The peeps appeared to be mostly LEAST SANDPIPERS, and there were both species of YELLOWLEGS, as well as both species of DOWITCHERS, allowing good comparisons. A SPOTTED SANDPIPER (without spots) patrolled the shore of the pond. Among the passerines were an EASTERN PHEOBE near the maintenance facility, and several PURPLE MARTIN colonies in several locations. YELLOW WARBLERS could be found in the shrubs near the Hellcat parking lot. Unfortunately, I ran out of time and daylight to check the harbor area for other shorebirds (especially godwits and Willet), and I didn't have any luck with sparrows, except for the occasional SONG SPARROW.

August 12

Visit to Boston, no birding.

August 13

After some car trouble and a visit to Salem, we drove into New Hampshire where we stopped late afternoon at Rye Harbor State Park. There I could add BONAPARTE'S GULL to my list of gulls. A COMMON LOON in non-breeding plumage swam around the harbor. With the falling tide, shorebirds started to arrive: KILLDEER, SEMIPALMATED PLOVER, SANDERLING, GREATER YELLOWLEGS, SEMIPALMATED and LEAST SANDPIPERS. During a last stop along the coast in fading light at Rye North Beach, I found five WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS swimming in the sea.

August 14

Drive through the White Mountains, no birding.

August 15

In the morning, I thought I saw two COMMON RAVENS from outside the motel in Lancaster (NH), but I didn't have binoculars with me to confirm the identification. During the day, while driving across Vermont, I saw several more corvids that could have been ravens, but I could never get a decent look. A pair of COMMON LOON could be seen swimming on Molly's Falls Pond near Montpelier, VT. Another pit stop bird check in an interstate rest area near Burlington (VT) yielded a RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH and an AMERICAN REDSTART.

August 16

Another such quick check at High Falls Gorge near Lake Placid (NY) revealed a BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER. On the other side of the Adirondacks, in Sackets Harbor (NY), I found the first CASPIAN TERNS of the trip, as well as several FORSTER'S.

August 17

During a brief visit to Boldt Castle, in the Thousand Islands area (Alexandria Bay, NY), I saw the only GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULL away from a seashore. Apparently, this species has become sufficiently established in the Lake Ontario - St. Lawrence River area that even a casual visit can turn up a sighting.

Later that day, the most conspicuous birds were the numerous TURKEY VULTURES circling over the river canyon at Letchworth State Park in western New York. However, one tree along the trail by the waterfalls contained both a RED-EYED VIREO and a BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER feeding its chick.

August 18

Niagara Falls and drive through southern Ontario, no birding.

August 19

Early morning excursion into Point Pelee Natl. Park (Ontario). My first stop was at the marsh board walk (gorgeous sunrise!), where I found WOOD DUCKS, several MARSH WRENS, many SONG SPARROWS, and numerous BARN SWALLOWS. CASPIAN and other (Forster's?) TERNS flew around as well. However, I wasted too much time on the marsh trail, since a check of the tree alley revealed that the passerines were on the move! The first interesting one was a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, and looking up I saw a stream of PURPLE MARTINS, other swallows, and CHIMNEY SWIFTS moving toward the tip of the peninsula. I quickly relocated to the visitor center as far south as the road is open, and started birding a trail through low growth trees and shrubs along the beach. Empidonax flycatchers (some identified as LEAST FLYCATCHER, possibly others) were in just about every tree. Several NORTHERN ORIOLES and a SCARLET TANAGER flew between the higher tree tops. Several RUFOUS-SIDED TOWHEES were singing, but seeing one took some effort. In between flycatchers there were also warblers: BLACKBURNIAN, WILSON'S, YELLOW WARBLERS, and COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, as well as several BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS. Many of the gulls over the lake were BONAPARTE'S. Unfortunately, I had to leave this place long before I saw all the birds that were there, since we still had to drive back to Chicago that day.

Species List

* life bird; ? not certain identification

Common Loon                   Gavia immer
Wilson's Storm-Petrel         Oceanites oceanicus (*)
Double-crested Cormorant      Phalacrocorax auritus
Great Blue Heron              Ardea herodias
Great Egret                   Casmerodius albus
Snowy Egret                   Egretta thula
Little Blue Heron             Egretta caerulea  (?)
Green Heron                   Butorides virescens
Black-crowned Night-Heron     Nycticorax nycticorax
Glossy Ibis                   Plegadis falcinellus
Mute Swan                     Cygnus olor
Canada Goose                  Branta canadensis
Wood Duck                     Aix sponsa
Mallard                       Anas platyrhynchos
Blue-winged Teal              Anas discors
White-winged Scoter           Melanitta fusca (*)
Turkey Vulture                Cathartes aura
Osprey                        Pandion halieatus
Northern Harrier              Circus cyaneus
Red-tailed Hawk               Buteo jamaicensis
American Kestrel              Falco sparverius
Black-bellied Plover          Pluvialis squatarola
Semipalmated Plover           Charadrius semipalmatus
Killdeer                      Charadrius vociferus
American Oystercatcher        Haematopus palliatus (*)
Greater Yellowlegs            Tringa melanoleuca
Lesser Yellowlegs             Tringa flavipes
Solitary Sandpiper            Tringa solitaria
Spotted Sandpiper             Actitis macularia
Ruddy Turnstone               Arenaria interpres
Sanderling                    Calidris alba
Semipalmated Sandpiper        Calidris pusilla
Least Sandpiper               Calidris minutilla
Short-billed Dowitcher        Limnodromus griseus
Long-billed Dowitcher         Limnodromus scolopaceus
Laughing Gull                 Larus atricilla
Bonaparte's Gull              Larus philadelphia
Ring-billed Gull              Larus delawarensis
Great Black-backed Gull       Larus marinus
Herring Gull                  Larus argentatus
Caspian Tern                  Sterna caspia
Common Tern                   Sterna hirundo
Forster's Tern                Sterna forsteri
Least Tern                    Sterna antillarum (*)
Black Tern                    Chlidonias niger
Rock Dove                     Columbia livia
Mourning Dove                 Zenaida macroura
Chimney Swift                 Chaetura pelagica
Belted Kingfisher             Ceryle alcyon
Downy Woodpecker              Picoides pubescens
Northern Flicker              Colaptes auratus
Eastern Wood-Pewee            Contopus virens
Least Flycatcher              Empidonax minimus
Eastern Phoebe                Sayornis phoebe
Eastern Kingbird              Tyrannus tyrannus
Purple Martin                 Progne subis
Tree Swallow                  Tachycineta bicolor
Northern Rough-winged Swallow Stelgidopteryx serripennis (?)
Bank Swallow                  Riparia riparia
Barn Swallow                  Hirundo rustica
Blue Jay                      Cyanocitta cristata
American Crow                 Corvus brachyrhynchos
Common Raven                  Corvus corax (?)
Black-capped Chickadee        Parus atricapillus
Red-breasted Nuthatch         Sittta canadensis
White-breasted Nuthatch       Sitta carolinensis
Marsh Wren                    Cistothorus palustris
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher         Polioptila caerulea
American Robin                Turdus migratorius
Gray Catbird                  Dumetella carolinensis
Northern Mockingbird          Mimus polyglottus
Cedar Waxwing                 Bombycilla cedrorum
European Starling             Sturnus vulgaris
Red-eyed Vireo                Vireo olivaceus
Yellow Warbler                Dendroica petechia
Black-throated Green Warbler  Dendroica virens
Blackburnian Warbler          Dendroica fusca
Black-and-white Warbler       Mniotilta varia
American Redstart             Setophaga ruticilla
Northern Waterthrush          Seiurus noveboracensis
Common Yellowthroat           Geothlypis trichas
Wilson's Warbler              Wilsonia pusilla
Scarlet Tanager               Piranga olivacea
Northern Cardinal             Cardinalis cardinalis
Indigo Bunting                Passerina cyanea
Rufous-sided Towhee           Pipilo erythrophthalmus
Chipping Sparrow              Spizella passerina
Field Sparrow                 Spizella pusilla
Song Sparrow                  Melospiza melodia
Red-winged Blackbird          Agelaius phoeniceus
Common Grackle                Quiscalus quiscula
Northern Oriole               Icterus galbula
House Finch                   Carpodacus mexicanus
American Goldfinch            Carduelis tristis
House Sparrow                 Passer domesticus

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Urs Geiser,, August 22, 1995