December: Week 1     Bird Count: 748 +2*  

Summary: With only a handful of birds remaining and a whole 30 days left to bird, I put people first this week. I did my fair share of birding, but at a much slower, relaxed pace. Added Pink-footed Goose (746) and Little Gull (747) in Massachusetts, finishing the week searching for Dovekie and glimpsing a Northern Saw-whet Owl (748) 

*The+2 are unaccepted Pine Flycatcher and Cuban Vireo and will remain provisional until accepted by the American Ornithologists' Union (AOU) Checklist Committee.


Tip: Click underlined text for eBird checklist, external links, and more learning!

#748 Northern Saw-whet Owl

After seawatching today for Dovekie at Coast Guard Beach in the morning and Race Point in the afternoon, my eyes were tired and I was nearly burned out looking through a scope. I mixed in a smattering of other species- getting better looks at a couple birds then I had earlier this year. After dark, it's usually pretty easy to fall asleep in my car in a parking lot somewhere, because there's no light left and I've had a full day. I wanted nothing more then to get a good night's rest, but as I debated on my next move (should I wait until the end of December and come back for Dovekie, my last Code 2 bird?) I realized that the habitat here was perfect for Northern Saw-whet Owls. Without using playback, it would be a challenge to locate one, but I'd talked with a local birder earlier in the day and he told me a road I might drive down and listen. His advice paid off, when I stopped and whistled, the little owl tooted back to me in the distance. I'd just heard my first Saw-whet Owl of the year. I drove around a while, and stopped and whistled a few more spots. I had an owl right next to my car bark at me, and then go quiet. Down the road from there I got out and whistled again, getting a quick response. He flew across in front of me into some tall pines, and right as I got my light on him for a picture, he disappeared across the road into the darkness. I did make a recording of him with my iPhone for documentation. (Click italicized text for link and sonogram)

#747 Little Gull

It took several tries to find Little Gull, but when I saw it, to say I was happy is an understatement. 

It took several tries to find Little Gull, but when I saw it, to say I was happy is an understatement. 

The Little Gull has been a tricky bird for me to find. I'm not talking for the year, I'm referring to just this week. I've largely ignored this minuscule bird throughout the year, largely under the assumption I'd find it in December on the East Coast, or as a vagrant in the Midwest. Although I like the idea of leaving a gull to chase somewhere, I'm happy to leave that honor to an Ivory or Ross's Gull. 

I first tried for this bird at Niagara Falls on the 1st of December, on a road trip from St. Louis to Vermont. I was planning on birding my way out to the East Coast solo, but plans changed and I set course to Vermont to visit family and bird with my girlfriend before the holidays. On the way, we stopped a Niagara Falls, and birded the lakefront at each park along the way, hoping to spot a Little Gull. Only a few Bonaparte's gulls were seen along our frequent stops until we reached the falls proper and then hundreds circled below the falls along the river. After a while the cold set in, and we pressed on knowing that there were Little Gulls in Massachusetts. 

I ended up seeing it in Boston, on Race Point. I looked through thousands of Bonaparte's Gulls for over 6 hours over the course of two days. However, when I saw it I knew it right away. I love the excitement of seeing a new bird- the process that begins with studying the bird in a book and online, pouring over photos and recordings, imagining other people's photos as your view of the bird. When you see "it" (regardless for what new bird "it" may be) the feeling is indescribable. I like birds that make you work. These types of birds are much more rewarding than driving up to a bird that is "staked out" and having another birder point right at it. I've had my share of those this year...

Boston, Massachusetts     Dec 3-8

December 3rd began in Vermont, with a breakfast of fresh smoked bacon from the family smokehouse. I swept a light dusting of snow from my Subaru, before driving south to Boston. I headed straight to the Pink-footed Goose location reported to eBird yesterday along Scotland Rd. however the goose wasn't there. I checked ponds and fields all around the vicinity, even finding the geese in an office park runoff pond- but no goose. It was time to go to the airport, and say goodbye to my copilot. Returning to work must be tough, and missing a Pink-footed Goose was salt in the wound. The next two weeks will fly by, and we'll bird together at Christmas, which can't come soon enough. 

My passenger seat didn't stay empty for long; the next morning Brad and I drove to a local pond where a lone male Tufted Duck had been seen. This Code 3 bird would be a new bird for my friend and birding mentor since high school. It seemed fitting to make a go at 750 with him, and he flew to Boston and we had a reasonable list of target birds to spot during the next couple days. 

After spotting the Tufted Duck at sunrise, we looked for the Pink-footed Goose reported yesterday at a different location than I had been at. That's typical goose behavior. We drove around and scanned the Canada Goose flocks, with no luck. The bird was surely in the area, so we gave it some time to be seen by others, and we headed to Rockport along the coast to find more birds Brad and I wanted to see while on the East Coast. We managed to find them all including King Eider, Purple Sandpiper, and Great Cormorant. 

A Purple Sandpiper works the rocky shoreline feeding on invertebrates exposed on the rocks.

A Purple Sandpiper works the rocky shoreline feeding on invertebrates exposed on the rocks.

Few waterfowl are more beautiful than the male Harlequin Duck, in my humble opinion. 

Few waterfowl are more beautiful than the male Harlequin Duck, in my humble opinion. 

#746 Pink-footed Goose

After birding with Brad along the rocky coastline, I received an eBird hourly alert that notified me the Pink-footed Goose had been seen this morning on private property. I'm definitely in favor of respecting private property, but this just presented a challenge that required creative thinking. We headed that direction to check it out. After parking on a neighboring street, we walked along the main road past the private farm house / pond and stables adjacent to the pond. We had brief glimpses of some geese on the hillside overlooking the pond, but couldn't find the Pink-footed Goose. Some of the geese flew to the horse pastures next door, and by process of elimination (and a gut feeling) that's where we knew we should look. Brad searched for a proper vantage point along the road, as I went to the stables and asked for the owner. After introducing myself and giving her a quick lesson in rare birds, my enthusiasm rubbed off and she was more than happy to walk me out to the pasture and tell us where we could go based on which horses were where, and what lessons were going on when. From my new vantage point, I saw more than a hundred new geese, which before were out of sight from the road. Brad spotted the bird on the back side of the flock as I scanned the front birds, and we sat and enjoyed the pink feet of this goose through my Maven S.1a spotting scope (shameless holiday plug) and digiscoped a few photos with my iPhone.

Can you find the Pink-footed Goose? 

Can you find the Pink-footed Goose? 

Check out those feet! 

Check out those feet! 

After the successful wild goose chase, we returned to thank the owner and texted her some pictures of 'their' rare goose. I met Nathan, a skilled local birder who has spotted 8 different goose species in his local patch around the farm fields- quite a feat for Massachusetts! After a quick interview and photographs, Brad and I headed to Crane Beach, because my unwritten rule is If you're 10 minutes away from a Snowy Owl, you never keep driving. The recent reports from the dunes on Crane Beach were too tempting to ignore, and we found it easily nestled back in the sand dunes, napping peacefully but keeping a close eye on us through slitted eyelids. 

Snowy Owl in the dunes at Race Point. I haven't seen two Snowy Owls back-to-back since Attu! 

Snowy Owl in the dunes at Race Point. I haven't seen two Snowy Owls back-to-back since Attu! 

Brad and I drove to Race Point the next morning, and searched unsuccessfully for Little Gull and Dovekie. There were so many Bonaparte's gulls, that I knew there had to be a Little Gull with them somewhere. I was overwhelmed and exhilarated at the same time, and loved every second of the search. Occasionally a flock of alcids would fly past through my scope, and I looked for the smaller Dovekie, with no luck. I forgot to scan the water looking for Dovekie most of the day, but I could come back another day and do that. I did just that- all day on 7 December. I'd share with you in more detail about my seawatching and killer looks at Ipswich Savannah Sparrow, but right now I want to go birding, and so I'll leave you for the windy Massachusetts coastline. First, a quick synopsis from yesterday with no photos, which are still on my camera.

December 8  

I dedicated the morning to a sea watch at Race Point, after sleeping in my car in Provincetown. With a down sleeping bag, foam mattress, and a plethora of pillows and blankets, I was plenty warm in my car. but standing out on the beach for hours on end eventually got to me. Many razorbills and Bonaparte's Gulls later, I chose to move on down the cape and check some spots for roosting Saw-whet Owls. I arrived at Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary just in time to watch two Kemp's Ridley sea turtles get dropped off for their initial check-up before transfer to an aquarium for rehabilitation and release. This time of year, sea turtles swim from the warmer shallow bay into the cold ocean, which causes their body temperature to drop. Weakened turtles often get washed ashore and perish, unless volunteers rescue them and they warm up and recover. I enjoyed learning more about these endangered turtles before going birding around the nature center trails. I'm definitely impressed with the work Massachusetts Audubon is doing- keep up the good work! 

Errors in the form of spelling/grammatical mistakes are not intended, but plausible, given much of this post was written and composed on an iPhone using Siri while driving. Please contact Christian if any errors are encountered, so they may be resolved. Thank you!

Watermarked or not, the images contained in this post are property of The Birding Project, and are not subject to unlawful copying and distribution without exclusive permission from The Birding Project. 

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