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Cape Ann & Plum Island

Cape Ann
Plum Island

February 19, 2022

Myles & Kathy Conway

Allen Bird Club members made our annual trip to the North Shore on February 19-20.  Fifteen of us braved the frigid and blustery conditions in order to catch sight of some of our winter coastal species.  We were not disappointed.  The trip was off to an auspicious start when we arrived at our first stop - Jodrey fish pier in Gloucester - and saw a Common Murre that had been reported.  It was a first state bird for several of us.  Despite its name, this species is not as “common” as the Thick-billed Murre.  Even the Thick-billed is not always seen, and we did not see any this weekend.  The only other alcids we saw were three Razorbills.  

However, the wintering ducks we did see gave us a nice show.  We had very good looks at Long-tailed Ducks, Buffleheads, and Harlequins in several places, all three species of Scoters, and close Gadwalls at Eastern Point.  Also, in addition to the three common gull species, we were rewarded with three different Iceland Gulls (a little larger than a Ring-billed and smaller than a Herring) and a surprise Lesser Black-backed Gull at the Granite Pier in Rockport, pointed out by another birder.  Purple Sandpipers hung out on the rocks like ornaments in a few places.

Two more members joined us at Plum Island on Sunday, where we saw several Northern Harriers and more looks at sea ducks.  We could only drive as far as Hellcat.  There, to avoid the wind for a while, we walked on the new boardwalk trail hoping for some land birds, but they were quiet. On our way out of Plum Island someone noticed a flash of white close to the road and we all were treated to close-up views of six Snow Buntings.  And as we all departed from the boat launch, those in one car saw a Bald Eagle rise up out of the marsh.  No Snowy Owls were to be found at Plum so we headed to Salisbury State Park to see what could be found there.  More Harriers and a nice look at a Peregrine from the boat ramp, but still no Snowy.

Our last stop was the beach and stone jetty at Salisbury where we scanned the rocks for our elusive treasure.  There, almost as if it was lit up against the dark rocks, was our Snowy Owl.  Everyone had great scope looks at this last bird of the trip, a trip “bookended” by two hoped for, but not always found, wintering birds.  Windy conditions probably contributed to our slightly less than average 57 species for the trip.

Note: Two members made an additional stop at Hampton Beach State Park, just up the coast in New Hampshire.  They found more Snow Buntings and Horned Larks as well as a couple of Lapland Longspurs.  It might be worth adding it as a stop in the future.