Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Plum Island Birding for my Big January

1. snowy owl-kab Snowy Owl on beach at Sandy Point State Reservation 1-10-12
Too many days have passed without me adding to my Big January 2012 Bird List, so on Tuesday I jump in my car and point the nose east. After watching the weather I chose this day to go since it will be the warmest and sunniest day of the week. A snow storm is predicted for Thursday and on Wednesday the temperature is suppose to drop before the storm. After a great first day of birding on January 1, I am currently only at 32 species for the year, far behind where I hoped to be.
2. Joppa Flats-kabIt only takes me about 40 minutes to get to Plum Island but I pull of the road at Joppa Flats and start counting birds. The usual Canada Geese are there.
3. black ducks-kab But these black ducks are the first new species for my list.
4. crow-kab On top of the Mass Audubon center a lone crow picks at a meal.
5. starlings-kab Over at the Turnpike bridge I spot starlings, pigeons, and a Killdeer.
6. bald eagle-kab At the Parker River Refuge a Bald Eagle sits right across from Parking lot 1 .
7. my car-kab After watching the eagle and a few other birds for awhile I move my car nearer the boardwalk and get out. The sun is playing tag with the clouds and though the air is warm, the wind is cold.
8. dunes-kab Still, the bit of blue I see beyond the dunes is beckoning me.
9. beach south view-kab With the sun currently behind the clouds the empty beach looks foreboding,
10. clouds-kab but then the sun starts to break through…
11. beach north view-kab …and turns the beach sands to gold.
12. red-throated loon-kabThe ocean is calm and quiet today, barely lapping at the shore and in these azure waters I see red-throated loons 3, 4…6 of them! They paddle along close to the shore and dive underwater only to emerge nearby once again. I watch them play along the shoreline for awhile, then finally turn and head for my car. Time to find more birds!
13. WITU-kab As I drive along the Plum Island road I have my car windows open looking and listening for birds. Most of the marshy areas and ponds are frozen over and I am trying to decide where I should stop next when I see a flock of turkey in a field near a turnoff called “The Pines.” As I pull in and start to snap a few shots off a group of three people come walking down off the Pines trail. It is a young man and two women. They walk past me and set up their spotting scope as I am attempting to turn around. I look up to suddenly see the young man walking towards me. I roll down my window and he asks me if I would like to see a cool bird. I ask if it is a snowy owl and he says yes. I throw my car into park and jump out!
14. snowy on dike-kab As he leads me over to his spotting scope I look to see this tiny speck of white out on the dike. Yep, it is a snowy owl and if he had not told me, I would never have seen it! I introduce myself and ask his name. I learn that he is a pre-med student at Colby College in Waterville, ME and his name is Keith. I also learn that he was able to see the Northern hawk owl that has been spotted up there in Palmyra recently.
15. harrier-kab We turn to watch this male Northern Harrier coursing low over the field.
16. turkey-kab Then one of the turkey pops through the fence to say HI! He is not shy at all!
as we are talking another birder pulls in, asks about the owl out on the dike, then tells us that there is one down on the beach at Sandy Point standing over a duck it has just caught. We all jump in our cars and head down there, though I stop on the way to check out a pond with some ducks. I find a small flock of Northern Pintail ducks, my first ever for Massachusetts and another species for my Big January count. When I finally get to the Sandy Point parking lot I discover that you have to hike in to the beach parking lot. It is gated off. I quickly change into a warmer coat and jump out of my car. I hot foot it down the dirt road to the boardwalk, then pause as some song sparrows hop up on the path. Once I am sure of what species they are, I head on down the boardwalk. As I come over the hill I see Keith and his friends standing by their scope. they are waving at me and pointing. I walk slowly down the trail because I do not know where the owl is and I do not want to startle it. As I step off the boards and onto the sand I turn my head and look. Nothing. I walk a little farther and still I cannot see anything. It is not until I am next to the other birders that I finally see the owl.
17. snowy owl-kab It was hidden from my view by the log.
Of course, I start snapping away, trying all kinds of settings on my camera.
18. snowy-kab The owl takes a nap, all the while clutching its prey.
19. snowy-kab The setting sun casts a golden light on its wings.
20. snowy-kab The owl turns and looks at us, but does not move.
We all keep our distances. I have to say that no one there got too close to the bird. No one wanted to disturb it, at least, not in our little group. We chat some more and Keith tells me there are hundreds of purple sandpipers across the channel. He focuses in on them with his spotting scope, but they appear as little more than lumps to my old eyes.
21. golden rocks-kab With the sun rapidly sinking I decide to head for the nearby rocks to see if I can find some there. We say our good-byes and I head off to the north…
22. golden sand-kab …while the beach behind me becomes a gilded paradise.
23. golden sky-kab Overhead the clouds glow like the golden fleece!
24. calico rocks-kab As I head towards the rocks I hope I can find my way back to my car without having to backtrack. I had seen another trail heading off to the beach when I parked, but I have never taken it.
24. path to parking-kab I see the slight indent in the dune and reassured, I walk on,
25. sandbar-kab because there in front of me I see a flock of purple sandpipers on the sandbar. This is a Life Bird for me! I walk towards them purposefully, hoping to get a better and closer shot. There is a lot of beach and water between us and them, but as I stop to raise my camera…
26. gone-kab …they take wing and fly away in the dusky light!
27. dark beach-kab Now the beach is bathed in the dim light of the gloaming.
28. indigo beach-kab Though it is getting darker by the minute I find myself drawn to this peaceful place. I feel it calling me and I do not want to leave, but I also do not want to be caught out here alone in the dark, so I hurry towards the path and jump in my car. I turn up the heater and turn on my heated seats. As I travel the road north I come around a curve where I look up with surprise. There, silhouetted against the almost twilight is a perfect benediction to my day…
29. deer-kab …a pair of white-tailed deer!
I thought my day was already as full as it could be, but that night as I sit in my den with with husband watching TV, I keep hearing a strange sound. I pause the TV and listen. Nothing. I turn the TV back on, I hear it again. It is an odd, almost hooting kind of noise. I pause the TV again. Gus is starting to think I am crazy, but then I hear it again, and though the night is cold outside I open the window next to me and I hear it even more clearly. It is an OWL! A Great Horned Owl! I jump up, grab my coat and a flashlight and head out the door. I have not seen or heard an owl since I moved away from Sycamore Canyon near Tucson over a year and a half ago! I am so excited now!
Outside in the cold night the almost full moon glows. I hear the owl calling from behind  the house and so I walk down the street. I am hoping I can find it on a rooftop or in a tree but soon decide it is in one of my neighbor’s yards and I cannot be shining my flashlight back there. So I listen for awhile, and then head home. I am really smiling now. It has been so long since I have heard this wild sound and I am so happy. This makes species number 48! I have added 15 species to my Big January Bird List today! (You can click on the link below to see all the latest updates!)


  1. Wow, what a day. All awesome photos that along with your story make me feel like I was there. And now glad to be sitting inside where it's warm.

  2. What a wonderful birding day! There have been such a lot of snowy owl sightings in the New England states as well as in Montana that I am positively green with envy. When we lived in Canada I had a bird book that had a snowy on the cover and I always wanted to see one for myself but no such luck. Looks like i am relegated to seeing them only in cyberspace.

    Great photos Kathie and how lovely to finish the day off with the deer.

  3. Gorgeous, Kathie! I love the eagle and the snowy owls. There seems to be reportings of swowy owl everywhere but the mid atlantic. Great post and photos. Happy Birding and have a great day.

  4. What a great place and some beautiful images Kathie.

  5. Awesome! This Snowy Owl irruption is so cool. Maybe they'll move all the way down to Arizona...
    Looks like a beautiful and brisk day of birding, good luck with the Big January.

  6. A wonderful day at Plum Island, and I didn't even have to freeze to death!

  7. fantastic day Kathie. You have some wonderful photos from the day.

  8. What a fabulous day! Wonderful photos! I really enjoyed your Snowy Owl photos!

  9. Gaelyn, me too! And, there are more photos and stories coming!

    Arija, I wish I could send you one! I never thought I would see one either,and now I have seen 3!

    Eileen, well, I hope for you and Dawn's Fine's sake that they get down there before the winter is over!

    Thanks Roy! I have been experimenting with more settings on my camera and I am not pleased with how these photos came out. I'm tired of winging it and need to learn more!

    Laurence and Maria, too bad you didn't get to see one when you were here! (Or did you?)

    KaHolly, I didn't freeze to death either until towards the end of the day. It was really quite nice at first. I had such a great time and a hot thermos of tea, so I coped well. I'm always glad to share my experience with you though!

    Dan, thanks. I've been experimenting with different settings on my camera and am not quite pleased with the sharpness on the owl photos, but perhaps I was too cold (or too excited) and shivered too much!

    Tammy, thanks!

    Kathryn, If we had just one more day when you were visited I would have taken you here!

  10. What a beautiful location. The light was perfect for pictures. We have a lot of Snowy Owls around here this winter too.

  11. Ruth, Don't you just feel blessed?

  12. OH WOW!! what gorgeous pictures!!
    the snowy owl is amazing!!!! and the eagle...the deer...the turkey...the rocks on the beach...the clouds...the skies...what a great ride!

    ONLY 32 new species??!! and january is not even half over!! i'd say that;s pretty impressive!!

  13. How wonderful to find a Snowy Owl and Harrier on the same day! We'll keep you and your mom in our prayers.

  14. Im not going to look..I am not going to look...oK I did look..hee hee..
    Jealous! Want SNOWies! send me one!

  15. What beautiful photos and a delightful site. Thanks

  16. Ah! I see you've been lucky this winter, too. Snowy Owls on the beach on either coast.


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.