Monday, February 15, 2010

New England, U.S.A - Jan / Feb 2010 (8)

Days Fourteen and Fifteen - The coast and Providence, RI

The final 48 hours of the trip, based at the apartment in Providence. A last visit to the south Massachusetts coast with Neil and Anya on the morning of the 6th was notable for the same array of coastal species, including more Harlequins at Sakonnet as well as Brant, all three scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, Slavonian Grebes, sawbills and Yellow-rumped Warblers, as well as the now expected arctic conditions and pleasing lack of Homo sapiens.

Back in Providence, we spent the later afternoon out birding along the river, which runs from the centre of the city (where it 'begins', technically in Pawtucket at the bridge accomodating Interstate 95) southbound - as urban as it gets, with the river lined by disused industrial buildings, roads and playgrounds, and viewed from its bank via crappy parking lots and mystery dead-ends.

At a glance easily dismissed as a birdless mid-town hellhole, but far from it. At its source, and with trucks rumbling across the bridge above us, we found the first group of ducks, close to the bank but swimming downstream fast. Looking like Lesser Scaup (welcome, with comparison of e.g. both scaup sp. being one of the 'educational missions' of the trip), I scanned the flock of about eight birds and had the strange sensation of seeing a very familiar face in an unlikely setting - a male Tufted Duck was, despite its best efforts, failing dismally to blend in with its Neartic cousins.

Shuddering to recall how many hours spent sifting through Tufted Ducks on local water-bodies in London in the vain hope of an unusual aythya, this is the New England equivalent, and is hopefully a good omen for back at the reservoirs....

Driving around to the eastern bank of the river, we reconnected with the flock at close range as they swam closely by the bank, with the tuftie keeping particularly tight company with a female Lesser Scaup (if it works out between them, that's more hybrid ID adventures at least). Other river-dwellers included Goosander, Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers, Black Ducks, and the most entertaining Red-throated Diver imaginable. Keeping up a theme of the trip - inherently wild, northern waterbirds acting like domestic waterfowl in pursuit of Mother's Pride - it decided to swim over to us, fighting the current and preening just a few metres away.

Plenty of stops at strategic points, with the added advantage of the heating in the car only ever seconds away, the river held an impressive selection of species, with several pairs of American Wigeon adding to the ever-growing wildfowl list; a short drive over to James V Turner Reservoir (also known as the East Reservoir - how apt) and a park-up on the hard shoulder revealed a almost entirely frozen surface, conveniently with the exception of an area right by the road.

Amongst the requisite Canada Geese and Ring-billed Gulls on the edge of the ice, a few ducks were present - but they included two drake Canvasbacks and a drake Ring-necked Duck (both firsts for the trip, and bringing the duck species tally to an impressive 21). Another circuit of the river-banks the following morning, with much the same on offer, before heading to Boston late morning and then the red-eye back to blighty later that evening.