Wednesday, January 25, 2012

In Search of a Mockingbird

1. MOckingbird-kab Northern Mockingbird at Salisbury Beach 1-24-12

After last weekend’s snowstorm I kept my eye on the weather looking for a good day to go out birding. After a warm rain on Monday that melted all the snow I decided I would head out on Tuesday since blue skies and warm temperatures were predicted. As I tired to decide where to go birding this time, I thought about Salisbury Beach. For me it is only about 40 minutes from where I live and I know that I have seen Mockingbirds there on the road into the beach area almost every time I have gone. Now, mockingbirds may not be everyone’s target bird, but we seem to have relatively few here in Andover and I do not have one on my Big January 2012 Bird List…yet. It is nearly noontime by the time I point the nose of my car north for Salisbury in Search of a Mockingbird!

2. Marsh-kab As soon as I turn off Route 1A into the reservation road I roll my windows down and start creeping along at 5 miles per hour searching for birds. At first I do not see much, but a few starlings fly over the road and land in a tree. Next I see a small flock of pigeons flying from the neighborhood that runs along the north side of the road. I stop for a blue jay that is bathing in a puddle on the roadway in front of me. As I pass the entrance gate my eye catches some movement off to my left. I pull the car over and park, for there in the bushes by the marshy area is a Northern Mockingbird! It is sitting so close to the road that I am able to photograph it with my cell phone camera, though in that photo it only shows up as a fuzzy gray dot! Then I see another mockingbird as it flies further into the marsh, the flash of white in its wings and tail giving it away. In the marsh grasses I spot two song sparrows, and in some other nearby bushes I find 2 tree sparrows.

I continue my drive along the road, past the campground and towards the boat launch site all the while scanning sky, trees, grasses and water for birds, but there are few. No raptors. No owls. No new ducks. Just a couple of black ducks which I have already seen elsewhere.  But when I park the car at the boat launch where the Merrimack River meats the sea, I finally find three white-winged scoters out where the water runs swift. The tide is coming in now, pushing against the out-flowing river causing all kinds of turbulence. With the wind blowing over the water it is making me cold and I jump quickly back into my warm car. From here I continue my drive past the rest of the campground and towards the beach.

3. pathway-kabI drive into the parking lot filled with gulls and grab my peanut-butter and jelly sandwich before exiting the car. I tuck it into my jacket pocket so the gulls will not see it and mob me. As I head towards the path to the beach I pass a few cedar trees lining the grass. Once I am past this green wall I take my sandwich from my pocket and eat it in peace. Golden sand slides beneath my feet as I head for the deep blue sea!

4. ocean-kab Down through the dunes the sound of the pounding surf beckons me.

5. looking north-kab I look north towards New Hampshire,

6. breakwater-kab then head south towards the breakwater and the pounding sea.

7. Great cormorants-kab At the end of the rocks the Great Cormorants gather.

This is another new species for this year and also new for my Massachusetts Life List! I walk along the shore and turn back to the parking lot where I get in my car and head for the next spot. I had seen on eBird yesterday that a snow goose was seen at Plum Island Parking lot 1, so I decide to head there and see if I can find it. as I head past Joppa flats there are no birds in the cove, so I continue east down the road towards the island. As I am nearing the Plum Island Airport I spot a flock of birds across the street. I pull over and roll down my car window as cars whizz by. There sure is a lot of traffic out here for 2 o’clock in the afternoon!

8. geese-kab I scan the flock of geese for snow, but do not find one. All I see are geese,

9. geese-kab geese,

10. more geese-kab and more Canada Geese! Not a Snow Goose or a Brant in the bunch!

11. Plum Island-kab The Town of Plum Island

As I scan the marsh on the north side of the road near the drawbridge I spot a pair of gadwalls paddling in and out of the curves of the marsh, but they are too distant to photograph, so I snap a shot of the town beyond instead.  I pull into the refuge next and drive right past the ticket booth. Suddenly I hear a voice shouting, “Hey!” I look in my rearview mirror and am surprised to find there is actually a park ranger managing the booth. Last time I was here there was no one there, but it was much colder then and there were fewer people in the refuge. So, I back my car up and apologize, explaining I didn’t expect anyone to be there. I pull out my Duck Stamp which is my pass into this refuge and any other National Wildlife Refuge. I bought it last fall when I was here.  As I pull forward with permission now I see that today there are at least 15 cars in the first parking lot and many more driving up and down the road. I do not see any birds nearby and with so many people this is not fun. The warm weather has brought them out in droves, so I turn around and start to head home, but I decide to “Go Home by Another Way” as James Taylor would sing.

12. Mute swans-kab Mute Swans along Turkey Hill Road

I am heading west now with the sun in my eyes as it is getting late in the day. I drive through Newbury to West Newbury on Route 113 looking for Turkey Hill Road which will lead me to Moulton Road and Cherry Hill Reservoir. I have seen Turkey Hill Road marked as a Birding Hotspot on eBird and I want to check it out for myself. I pull off into a parking area when I round a bend and see a family of mute swans in the water. From the edge of the road I scan the water and find a few coots, a few common mergansers and a few crows as well. It is a pretty drive and I know that I will now do this again for it isn’t long before I am at Cherry Hill Reservoir.

13. Cooper's hawk-kab Juvenile Cooper’s Hawk in trees across the street from reservoir

The sun has dropped behind the hill as I pull my car over to scan the trees. I see a soft brown and pale vertical shape in the midst of all the thin gray saplings. Though the light is poor and the bird is far across a field I am able to get at least one half-way decent shot, my last new bird of the day and species number 64 for this year.

14. Cherry Hill res-kab I roll along the edge of the frozen lake slowly looking and listening for birds, but all I see is a flock of geese huddled on the ice at the center of the lake. Darkness is falling and I realize need to go home. I follow the back roads until I come to Route 133 which takes me into North Andover. As I come to the junction of Route 133 and 125 I see the lights on in Mad Maggie’s Ice Cream Shop. They must have opened today for the good weather! Mad Maggie's makes all their own ice cream on premise. I don’t have to think about this for too long, I quickly turn my car into their parking lot and park. Inside I order a waffle cone with one scope of Almond Joy and one scoop of Khalua Brownie Fudge! Yum! This sure beats peanut butter and jelly! What a way to end a full day of birding!

Birds Species Seen Today:

  1. Northern Mockingbird*-Salisbury Beach
  2. Blue Jay
  3. European Starling
  4. Rock Pigeon
  5. Black Duck
  6. Song sparrow
  7. Tree Sparrow
  8. American Crow
  9. Ring-billed gull
  10. Herring gull
  11. Great black-backed gull
  12. White-winged scoter*
  13. Red-throated Loon
  14. Common Loon
  15. Common Eider
  16. Great Cormorant*
  17. Northern Harrier-Plum Island
  18. Mallard
  19. Red-breasted Merganser
  20. Hooded Merganser
  21. Common Goldeneye
  22. Gadwall*
  23. Bufflehead
  24. Mute Swan-Turkey Hill road
  25. Common Merganser
  26. American Coot
  27. Cooper’s Hawk-Cherry Hill Reservoir*

*New Species for my Big January 2012 Bird List 

(Click on the link to see the complete list!)


  1. I love how you persevere and find what you search for, plus a whole lot more.

    Do you shot in RAW to get those exquisite colors?

  2. Hi Katie...Whenyou go out you come back with a loaded camera don't you !!
    There are some Mockingbirds hanging here I suppose as long as the berries last, but I did see one sitting on a snowmobile trail sign in the middle of a field ..and he did look like a gray blob down to a bare spot get something and fly back up ..I wonder what he was eating??
    Lovely shot the fence at the beach...and glad you got to eat your sandwich in peace lol!!

  3. So glad I found you Massachusetts! Love reading about your birding adventures & I too admire your perseverence in inclement weather. I live in Gilbert, AZ...not too far from your former home...and I lived in No. Scituate, then No. Andover, MA from 1972 - 1976...wish I had been a birder then!

  4. Gaelyn, I shoot in fine and process my photos in Nikon Picture Project which allows me to sharpen, brighten, and color enhance as needed. I do it to some photos but not all. I can also "color pop" once I load the photos into Live Writer, but this is on an "as needed basis." The sunset photos from a couple weeks ago from Plum, Island were not processed at all except for a bit of cropping on one of them I think. I did not pop the color of the cardinal below because it simply glowed red when I did!

    Grace, LOL yourself. thanks for stopping by. I know mockingbirds like to eat berries alot as well as insects and seeds. I think they are pretty much omnivores! Raining down here today but going back up to the 50's tomorrow! Stay warm and dry up there in Maine!

    Janet, welcome back! We sure do miss AZ. I know what you mean about wishing you were a birder when you lived here. I say the same thing about all the places I have lived. I kept track of new species I saw, but did not keep lists of all the birds! Too bad! However, I did keep dates and places so that helps. moving here to Massachusetts has sure bumped up my Life List and my Massachusetts list. Before I moved here I only had 18 species on that list! Now I have 166!

  5. Looking at your list you had a great birding outing. Great birds, wonderful photos and pretty scenery. I enjoyed your post and photos, Happy Birding!

  6. No problem finding Mockingbirds here! They love to hog the suet feeders (I just posted mine). Looks like a great place to seek birds. Sorry there wasn't a snow goose, but maybe next time! Lovely swans and the hawk!

  7. Kathie! I'd say you had a rewarding day of birding! Spectacular photos! Wow..what a gorgeous blue sky in several of the images!Beach scenes are amazing!Reminds me of the beach I left behind for this sacred Arizona Desert scene!We've arrived!

  8. What a wonderful day with superb photos Kathie! Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are not known in Australia and I sooo miss Concord grape jelly, juice, jello and boxes of fresh Concord grapes. My daughter brought back some grape chews last time she came back and I went weak kneed.

    I miss Vermont, I miss New Hampshire, oh heck, I miss all the New England states and so many other places in the States as well.

    How is your mother? My sister's chemo and radiation did not help art all and the growth has grown again and rooted not only above the brain lining but also under it. It is a very frightening situation and she is so incredibly brave.

    Love and hugs . . . Arija

  9. I would love to go birding in that area. Mockingbirds are rare in our province but they were everywhere in Mexico.

  10. Eileen, thanks!

    Mary, I have suet out all the time but no mockingbirds in my yard!

    Nature Girl, I am so glad that you have arrived in AZ. I will be over soon to see what you are seeing! Gus and I both wish we were there.

    Arija, Mom is doing well. As far as we know her chemo is working. Her hair has fallen out and her white blood count has gotten quite low but we won't know 'til she's done if it is all gone or not.

    I am so sorry to hear of your sister. Mom and I are praying for you and for her. What tough times these are.

    Ruth, I am not surprised to hear you say either thing since I used to see mockingbirds quite a bit in AZ and rarely see them the farther north I get, though I have seen them in Maine. I don't know why they are not around my yard or even my town very much. I have only seen them a few times at the bog or in a nearby park. For some reason I frequently see them near the ocean, whether here in Massachusetts or down in CT.

  11. Hi Kathie, I enjoyed following along on your trip. Excellent description and beautiful photos. Love the one of the mute swans. Gorgeous day!


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.