Friday, February 12, 2010

New England, U.S.A - Jan / Feb 2010 (4)

Day Eleven - The Coast

Kicking off earlyish in Rhode Island, Sakonnet Point provided not just Harlequins (see post below), but perfect conditions to enjoy a host of close-in seaducks, including Surf, Black and White-winged Scoters, Common Goldeneye, Buffleheads, Red-breasted Mergansers and (American) Eiders; most species were engaged in entertaining courtship and communications, complete with various calls and displays.

male Surf Scoter, Sachuest Point

Other expected species included Song Sparrows, Great Cormorants, a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers and the odd Red-tailed Hawk, and a male American Kestrel on the wires by the roadside (see below) was both accomodating and stunning.

On to Sachuest Point next, and after meeting up with L & P, a short walk to the rocky bay provided another seaduck smorgasbord - all three Scoters, Eiders, lots of Buffleheads and Goldeneye, a few more Mergansers and at least 40 Harlequins - again characterised by plenty of displaying and vocalisations.


In addition, various other wildfowl / seafaring species were in attendance, including several large flocks of Brant, hundreds of Black Ducks, a single Gadwall (with the latter sp), several hundred Greater Scaup in a distant raft, a dozen or more Mallard, a pair of American Wigeon, a few Mute Swans, hundreds of Canada Geese, about ten more Common Loons, and eight Slavonian (Horned) Grebes - quite an array, and enough to keep our minds off the piercing cold.

Ring-billed and American Herring Gulls

Other species were predictably low profile, with a few scattered American Tree & Song Sparrows, Yellow-rumps and Northern Mockingbirds in the scrub and a Red-tail kicking around the car-park. It's an excellent place to savour classic (and specialist) wintering coastal species, and highly recommended, especially to those of an inherently lazy disposition.

A long and thorough scan through the several thousand gulls on the clam-covered beach at nearby Easton Bay produced endless Ring-billed, American Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls, and... well, nothing else. The ditch by the road however did at least hold eight Green-winged Teal, feeding a couple of metres from a busy four-lane thoroughfare.

Green-winged Teal

Back into Massachusetts for the latter part of the daylight, and towards our base on the river at Westport; three Wild Turkeys were just in the process of completing a road crossing as we passed them (to get to the other side, etc), and allowed us enough to time to use the hard shoulder, pile out and watch them nonchalantly trot off into the woods - a long overdue personal first.

The last hour of light was spent walking the bay and peninsula of Horseneck Beach, Ma (just a couple of miles from base) - more accomodating ducks (including a tame raft of Greater Scaup), a tame female Merlin on the roadside wires (see post below), the requisite scattered Common Loons on the sea, and about a dozen Yellow-rumped Warblers flitting in the scrub.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

The peninsula is a classic east coast haven, with long, sweeping stretches of sand, rock and shingle framing an extensive area of low scrub and rough grassland jutting out into the Atlantic - if it was in England, it'd have to be an Obs (and if a Bluethroat or a Yellow-brow hopped out it wouldn't have been so out of place).

Northern Mockingbird

Brother Neil had recently found two wintering Ipswich Sparrows (the distinct subspecies of Savannah Sparrow which breeds only on Sable Island) here, and we weren't to be disappointed - the first was flushed from low grass, duly stalked, and then had the good manners to run towards me to within a couple of metres before disappearing over the scrub. Five minutes later and we'd found it and it's partner feeding and running around in the low grass at the point, allowing very close approach and unrivalled views.

A truly classy bird; it's 'I'm a rarity, get me out of here' behaviour and beautifully subtle, ultra-washed out plumage made them one of the unexpected highlights of the trip. A fine day in the field, rounded off by the home comforts of our luxury secluded waterfront accomodation in Westport (thanks Nancee, Neil and Anya).