Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Plum Island in Winter

DSC_0029Joppa Flats, Plum Island 1-10-11
Big January is on and quite a few people have decided to play the game. Larry of the Brownstone Birding Blog is well ahead of me with 62 birds. I knew it would be a challenge to do a big January here in a new state where nothing is familiar and I have yet to scope out all the bird habitats.  Plus, the weather is no where near as accommodating as it is in Arizona. Still, I am up to the challenge.
On Monday morning the weather reports started pouring in of a Nor’easter on it’s way for late Tuesday into Wednesday.  With my Big January count standing only at 35 birds I knew I had to take drastic measures! So, I abandon my housework,
DSC_0018 pack my birding gear,
DSC_0021and pack my lunch.
DSC_0023 The blue sky above my yard belies the pending storm.
DSC_0024 The woods behind the house wait.
DSC_0025 The bird feeders are ready, but I am off!  Off on my own to see what I can see, to see what I can find.DSC_0030 At Joppa flats the same clear blue skies are sliced by an icy wind. Here the water is full of Mallards and Canadian geese. I enter the Massachusetts Audubon Visitor Center and walk to the view window where a spotting scope stands.  It is awfully quiet in here and I am enjoying having the place to myself. Suddenly a man walks down from upstairs, his hands full of stuff and I discover the building is actually closed today. I introduce myself and find out his name is Dave Larson. Dave chats kindly with me and points out the black ducks and long-tailed ducks out in the channel which we can see through the spotting scope. They are too far away for photos but good enough for me to count.  He tells me there is a greater white-fronted goose hanging out in one of these flocks of Canadian geese but unfortunately I never find it.
DSC_0034 Dave tells me that seals are often seen at the north end of the island. As I have never seen a seal in the wild I decide to drive out there first.  The wind is fierce out here and I gobble my sandwich down in the car before putting on extra socks and insulated boots. I already have on a long-sleeved shirt, a heavy sweater and a fleece vest.  Now I don my winter coat and pull the hood up over my head which is already covered by a red knit headband for extra warmth. I feel overstuffed and fat  as I tumble from the car but at least I am warm. I make my way up over the board walk to the beach area.  So far the only birds I have seen are a Herring Gull in the parking lot and a pair of ravens hanging around the beach.
DSC_0038The mouth of the Merrimack River 1-10-11
I walk to the water’s edge and a gust of wind almost knocks me off my feet.  I brace myself against the wind and search the mouth of the river for birds.  I find some Red-breasted Mergansers diving in the white-caps and then the chucky body of a winter Horned grebe. It looks like a downy stuff animal bobbing on the waves, then it dives! How can something that fluffy possibly sink! But it does.  It disappears beneath the blue, then bobs back up again and rides the rolling sea. Across the river on the Salisbury side I see a flock of seagulls flying and swooping around a car in the parking lot.  I am able to pick out at least 4 Great Black-backed gulls amidst the ring-bills and herring gulls, but there is nothing else. As the wind tries to slice through me or knock me off my feet once again I decide it is time to make for my car and drive to the other end of the island.
I drive and drive down the icy road with snow around me on all sides. I roll down the window on the leeward side of the car so I can both listen and see, but all I hear is wind and the crunch of my tires on snow.  All the marshes are frozen.  The wind bends the trees and rustles the bushes. I find a few sparrows near one of the parking lots and a few robins fly across the road in front of me. It is 6 1/2 miles to the Sandy Point Reservation and there I discover the road is gated and you have to walk in.  It is too late and too cold to walk, so I turn around and drive out. It takes me a hour to do all of this and the only other birds I add are a Northern Harrier, some Canada Geese, and a Cardinal. As the sun nestles into the Boston hillside a few black ducks settle onto the ice for the night. It is dark by the time I reach home. I am tired but happy and I know it will be tomorrow or later before I enter my bird lists into eBird and see where I am at. I know I have added some species, but I do not think I have caught up to Larry.  I need to find a new place to bird.


  1. Now that's what I like to see Kathie .. going well prepared for a days birding on a cold day. You are fortunate to have a coastline in your new State even if it is a long drive. I'm sure you'll rise to the challenge and the bird list will soon rise substantially. I'm up to 64 for my landlocked County list and will now get much harder to add anything new.
    Have fun. FAB.

  2. Love that beautiful blue, yet looks Very cold. You are brave to go birding in this frigid weather. Good luck finding a new birding site. Sure helps you learn your way around the new neighborhood/area.

  3. Early Birder, that is fantastic! 64 species! Wow! I think I will be lucky to reach that total this year. The ocean is only aobut 35 to 45 minute drive from me, so not too bad. It was much farther to go inland to Turner Falls a week ago.

    Gaelyn, I know my way around my neighborhood, it is more a case of knowing where the birds hang out in winter in Massachusetts. After 3 years in AZ I knew just where to go to find different species. It is all different and new here and all the ponds and lakes I scoped out in fall are now frozen!

  4. It will take a while to learn the new patch Kathie.

  5. Roy, it will, but that is half the fun!


Welcome to my nest! I hope you will enjoy spending time here with me and the birds. Thank you for your comments. I will try to get back to you as soon as I get back from counting more birds.