Day 1 - Saturday 3rd March
After leaving Heathrow in the morning the group arrived in New York where Steve, Gina, Alice and Pricilla were all waiting for them. With everyone together we made our way to our vehicle and set off on the short drive to Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Once here we set up our picnic lunch and enjoyed it el fresco, as the day had turned out glorious, after yesterdays torrential rain! With everyone revitalised we took a walk into the reserve where we could look over a few half frozen ponds. A Northern Mockingbird was spotted in the parking lot and as we began our walk a beautiful pair of Snow Geese flew over showing their striking white and black colouration. At the first pond a large group of Black Duck were resting on the edge of the ice while the open water behind held, a group of Lesser Scaup, some Ruddy Duck and Northern Shoveler. Both Canada Geese and Mute Swan were present and up to four Canvasback showed well. Behind us on a large area of water, many Brants were watched busily feeding, while nearby a large flock of about 100 Snow Geese sat on the waters edge. Amongst the gulls resting and bathing were Herring, Great Black-backed and Ring-billed Gulls, while further searching of the ponds revealed Pied-billed Grebe, Gadwall, Double-crested Cormorant and several Green-winged Teal. Amongst the surrounding scrub Red-winged Blackbirds were spotted and back out on the open water we found up to 30 smart looking Buffleheads and a lone drake American Wigeon. Slowly heading back towards the car park we spotted several American Tree Sparrows, American Robins and then a lone Yellow-rumped Warbler. It was decided that we would check out Jones Beach on the coast, so after returning to our vehicle, and after a short drive we were soon overlooking the coastal sand dunes of this reserve. Our first Lapland Longspur was scoped for everyone and a Northern Harrier was watched drifting lazily over the dunes beside the shore. A group of Snow Buntings were scoped feeding quietly on the ground and it wasn’t until they later flew up and circled around that we could count no less than 50 birds. The wind then picked up and we decided to move on. Heading out of New York towards Connecticut we made a stop at the Edith Read Wildlife Refuge. At the visitors centre we watched the feeders and soon identified, White-throated, American Tree and House Sparrow, and after some more thorough searching we found Song and a great looking Fox Sparrow. This was an excellent spot for seeing species up close and we enjoyed watching several Downy Woodpeckers, a male Red-bellied Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Cardinals, many Black-capped Chickadees, Red-winged Blackbird, Mourning Dove, and a whole bunch of Common Grackles.
Our first afternoon had seen us in glorious weather watching some great birds. Well satisfied we set off towards our destination of Old Saybrook, in Connecticut where we enjoyed a superb evening meal before retiring ready for the following day and whatever it might bring.
Day 2 - Sunday 4th March
This morning after breakfast we set off to explore the lower Connecticut River. Our first stop was in Haddam across from the Goodspeed Opera House. As we entered the parking lot, Billie spotted a Red-tailed Hawk perched in a tree, and as we got out the van the bird took off and gave us excellent flight views as it circled above us. We walked toward the river and got distant views of an immature Bald Eagle flying up river, but knowing people wanted to see an adult bird in all its glory the search had to continue. On the river, there were Common Mergansers, Common Loons and some distant Great Cormorants, while on the pilings of a dock stood several Ring-billed Gulls, and Peter spotted a group of American Robins on the bank across the river. A Song Sparrow was all too brief as we left to try another section of the river. At this spot we found a few distant Turkey Vultures and some close Black-capped Chickadees, but the highlight was watching a group of Great Cormorants drifting lazily down river on a small ice-flow. Our next spot took us down to a great area with a huge outlook of the river and surrounding valley. No eagles present but superb views of a large flock of Ring-necked Ducks, which included a few Canvasback and some smaller groups of Common Goldeneye. Moving on to Essex town dock, we first looked at a small pool where a couple of Killdeer flew over calling, and a pair of Hooded Mergansers proved very popular. A very interesting sighting at this time of year was three Tree Swallows flying over, a very early record for this summer visiting species. Walking towards the dock we had a good selection of birds coming to some garden feeders, and amongst these were Downy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Finches, American Goldfinches and a brief Dark-eyed Junco. At the dock itself we set the scopes up to view a nest where two adult Bald Eagles were in attendance. Further looks across the river here produced another seven immature Bald Eagles flying to and fro. A Red-shouldered Hawk was watched sat in a tree before we decided to go for lunch. Afterwards we set off and drove to Hammonasset State Park, where our arrival in a parking lot was greeted by a flock of about 50 Horned Larks. Beside a puddle we found three Killdeer, and then moving on to another area, we were lucky to find two more Tree Swallows, and also relocated the flock of Horned Larks. A short walk on one of the trails found us Song Sparrows, American Robins and from a raised platform we scoped distant Surf and White-winged Scoters. A further look at sea from a nearby building produced several Common Loons and a few Red-throated Divers, plus some Horned (Slavonian) Grebes. We then drove to a private beach area where we walked a short distance and got good views of Black-bellied Plover, Sanderling, Dunlin and a group of Ruddy Turnstones. Some Common Grackles got us going with a bronzy sheen caused by the evening light and to end the day we met up with some friends of Gina who took us to some of their owl spots. It was a chilly still evening and straight away we were treated to fabulous views of an Eastern Screech Owl, but despite a lot of effort we had no other sightings, although hearing a close pair of Barred Owls dueting with just about all their possible variation in calls was a very memorable and seldom heard experience.
Day 3 - Monday 5th March
After breakfast we set off north stopping first at Ninigret Wildlife Refuge. As we drove towards one of the parking lots we saw a small group of White-throated Sparrows feeding in the short grass. Continuing a little further we parked up and took a short walk to the edge of a pond. The weather was icy cold but once we were near the pond we found the bushes provided quite a bit of shelter. Rounding a corner we spotted a stunning American Woodcock stood right out in the open on the side of the track. We had excellent looks at this bird before it decided to run off into the bush. Scoping the pond we got a close Common Loon, plus Common Goldeneye and some Buffleheads. We then moved on to Charleston Breachway where a small pool connected to the sea provided us with stunning close looks at about twenty Common Loons, with several starting to obtain their intricate black-and-white breeding plumage. At the mouth of the pool where it went out into the ocean we found a pair of Black Scoter as well as Common Eider, Red-breasted Mergansers and several Horned (Slavonian) Grebes. More Common Loons appeared and a lone Red-throated Diver put in an appearance. Back in the vehicle and out of the cold we made our way to Trustham Pond where we took a look at the feeders beside the visitors centre. There were Downy Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmouse, Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatch, and a few White-throated Sparrows. From here we walked out to some pools where we found a big flock of Lesser Scaup, mixed with Ruddy Duck, an American Coot and then a couple of Redhead. Up to 10 stunning Hooded Mergansers showed well and we had good opportunities to study the subtle differences between a few Greater Scaup swimming amongst the many Lessers. Returning to the vehicle we stopped again at the feeders and this time added a pair of Dark-eyed Juncos to our list. As we drove along an American Kestrel was spotted sat on a telephone wire so we turned around and went back for better looks. We then took a lunch break stopping at a seafood restaurant where we had chance to get warm and nourished. After lunch we set off and soon arrived at State Pier number 5 where we got out and looked out over the calm waters. Here we saw very close Common Loons, plus Common Goldeneye, a flock of Bonaparte’s Gulls and several nice Red-throated Divers. Nearby we checked out several big flocks of Ring-billed and Herring Gulls before arriving at Beavertail State Park. Driving slowly around the edge we came alongside a group of rocks and there amongst the surf were our prize of the day a group of 10 exquisitely marked Harlequin Ducks. We parked and walked to the rocky edge where we saw up to 50 of the fantastic little ducks, very close in small packs just playing and diving allowing the best ever views imaginable! The light was perfect and the adrenalin rush of seeing such beautiful birds made us forget all about the cold. Delighted with this we made our way to Newport and our harbour-side hotel.
Day 4 - Tuesday 6th March
Today we enjoyed a hearty cooked breakfast as we knew today was predicted to be the coldest of the trip. This was confirmed by the short walk from the hotel door to our vehicle. It was icy cold!!
We decided to do as much vehicle birding as we could so followed the coastal road stopping at any and every vantage point we could. Lots of Brants were seen, along with good numbers of Buffleheads and Red-breasted Mergansers. Along one section of coastal road we spotted a flock of Snow Buntings and looking out at the sea produced Common Loons, Black Ducks, Red-breasted Mergansers, and Common Goldeneye. A short coastal walk not only showed us how bitterly cold it was, although the clear skies and sunshine would have made you think different. It also allowed us to look down on Common Goldeneye, Buffleheads and Black Ducks while a garden held hundreds of Canada Geese and the bushes produced several American Robins, Song Sparrows, Northern Cardinals and some very nice Blue Jays. Moving on we stopped beside the road to check out a whole bunch of Common Mergansers. Another coastal spot allowed us to scope a couple of close Surf Scoters and we also searched several gardens to see if birds were coming into feeders. Amazingly we found 4 Wild Turkeys! A Lunch stop was found and afterwards we set off to Sachuest Point and walked the coast path until we found a group of Greater Scaup, as well as some very nice Black Scoters and several groups of stunning Harlequin Ducks, a bird you just could not ever get fed up with watching. Lots of American Robins were present and we searched through all the Buffleheads, Common Goldeneye, Scoters and Eider we could find. We then returned a little early so as to warm up and get ready for dinner and moving on tomorrow.
Day 5 - Wednesday 7th March
This morning we had breakfast and after accessing the weather decided that it was worth another try at Sachuest Point. This was good judgement as even though it was one of the coldest days on record, the sea was much calmer and chances to find sea duck much better. Walking along the coastal path we soon found groups of Bufflehead and several parties of Common Goldeneye. A group of distant Goldeneye were scoped and Gina soon became star of the day when she spotted a lone male Barrow’s Goldeneye amongst them. We set all the scopes up and trained our eyes on this group of birds until everyone had seen the Barrows and all it’s salient features. Very pleased with this we returned to the vehicle and set off towards our next destination of Cape Cod. Arriving in Falmouth we checked out a pool beside town and here we found a huge group of Lesser Scaup, several smart looking Hooded Mergansers, a Pied-billed Grebe and some Green-winged Teal. In the scrub we got to grips with Carolina Wren, a pair of Eastern Towhee’s, American Robin, Song Sparrows and a couple of American Goldfinches. From here we checked out another nearby pond and found three Ring-necked Ducks, a pair of Hooded Mergansers and some Green-winged Teal. Because of the cold we decided it would be a good time to warm up with some soup and a hot drink. Just across the road was Liam Maguire’s a well known Irish Pub. After lunch we drove to an area of beach where the usual Buffleheads were seen along with a group of Sanderling and a Lesser Black-backed Gull which is a very good bird for the area. Moving on to the Monomoy Wildlife Refuge we walked down to the shore line and overlooked a huge bay that was almost completely iced over. The wind was bitter but in a fairly sheltered area we got great looks at several Long-tailed Ducks, as well as Red-throated Diver and Common Loon, plus brief views of a Northern Harrier and a single White-winged Scoter. Our next stop was Chatham fishing pier and from the warmth of our vehicle we searched through the flocks of Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, and also got close views of Common Eider, Red-breasted Mergansers, Brants and a bunch of regular ducks. The highlight here however was to see stream after stream of Common Eider flying past and out to sea. We started counting them and estimate that we must have seen somewhere between 7 and 8 thousand birds. Quite a spectacle!! With a group of Grey Seals seen lounging around a Black-
Day 6 - Thursday 8th March
This morning after breakfast we drove to Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod. Our first stop was Race Point, a sprawling windswept beach with excellent views of the Atlantic Ocean. As we walked through the sand dunes, we spotted our first Kumlien’s (Iceland) Gull flying along the beach – one of six Kumlien’s located during our sea watch. Close to shore were several Red-breasted Mergansers and a few Red-throated Divers while further out, we could see large flocks of Razorbills moving in every direction. A few distant winter plumage Black Guillemots bounced in the waves and Northern Gannets could be seen way out over the sea. We moved on from here to Macmillan Pier in the sleepy village of Provincetown where we thought we would be protected from the wind. Among the fishing boats were close Common Eiders and more Red-breasted Mergansers but the real treat was a group of three Harbour Porpoise that swam into the harbour right in front of us. We also got our closest and best views of Long-tailed Ducks as they called and chased each other between the piers. From here, we moved down to Wellfleet Harbour and found it completely iced in. On our way out Billie spotted a juvenile Great Blue Heron hunkered down in the marsh. We moved further on to Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary where we watched a bunch of very active bird feeders from the warm comfort of a lovely new nature centre. At least a dozen Northern Cardinals gave us fabulously close views as did American Goldfinch, Red-winged Blackbirds, American Tree Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Blue Jays, Dark-eyed Juncos, House Finches, and three Red Squirrels. From here we checked Coast Guard Beach and found both White-winged and Surf Scoter. With the wind strong from the north, we decided to check West Dennis Beach on the south shore of the Cape. The waterways in the marsh produced Hooded Merganser, Brant, American Black Duck, and Canada Goose. But Steve’s search of the sand dunes for sparrows only turned up one Song Sparrow. We returned to our hotel and went out for a very nice Mexican meal at a local restaurant, where we rounded of the day.
Day 7 - Friday 9th March
After breakfast today we set off north towards Boston, for a morning in and around Gloucester. Our first stop was beside the fish quay where hundreds of gulls were milling around. A quick scan through the masses of Herring Gulls, soon found us a couple of first year Iceland (Kumlien’s) Gulls, plus a single Black-headed Gull. A more thorough search eventually revealed up to six Iceland Gulls and Gina found a nice first year Glaucous Gull which allowed us good comparisons of structure, bill and head shape compared to its nearby cousins. Moving on to an area overlooking a bay we set up our scopes and searched out everything we could see. A male Surf Scoter showed well, and on the open water we found Common Eider, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead and a distant Eared (Black-necked) Grebe. Happy with this we continued around the coastal road until we reached Eastern Point Wildlife Refuge, where we quickly located a couple of Gadwall amongst the regular Black Ducks. Walking out to a rocky overlook we scanned the sea and eventually got excellent views of several breeding plumaged Black Guillemots, plus several still in winter plumage, and a few White-winged Scoter and Common Eider. From here we drove further around the coast until we overlooked a good section of sea beside the rocky coastline. Although the day was sunny with blue skies it still had a definite chill in the air. Out at sea were Red-throated Divers and Common Loons, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Common Eider, White-winged and Black Scoter and then a superb male King Eider! We moved position so as to improve the light on this beautiful duck, and soon enjoyed watching it dive and preen itself. Nearby a couple of Red-necked Grebes spent most of their time with their heads tucked in asleep, but with patience they awoke and showed themselves off. An excellent stop we were now ready for a lunch stop which we did in Rockport before setting off to our afternoon destination of Plum Island. Once here, we drove into the wildlife sanctuary and slowly cruised the road adjacent to a huge expanse of salt marsh. Northern Harriers appeared and showed well, as did our first Short-eared Owl sat on the ground. We eventually saw about 6 of these attractive owls quartering the marsh and at one point two birds were seen attacking a female harrier. Driving back we stopped at a parking lot and were soon watching a white shape sat on the ground beside patches of broken ice. This turned out to be a lovely albeit hazy Snowy Owl. With the lighting conditions not ideal we took a short break by visiting the visitors centre. With the sun having dropped a little, we returned stopping for a Rough-legged Hawk which was seen hovering low over the marsh. Back at the parking lot we set up our scopes and trained them on the Snowy Owl. It was a while before the haze cleared and the views became good where we were able to see the birds eyes and facial markings. It shuffled around a lot stretched its wings and eventually gave us stunning flight views as it crossed the marsh and dropped into a ditch where it was no longer visible. This much wanted bird put everyone on a high, and after a fantastic days birding, the celebrations ensued at our evening meal,
Day 8 - Saturday 10th March
After a leisurely breakfast we took a short drive around to plum island where we tried looking for the Snowy Owl again. It was not visible anywhere but we did get good views of Short-eared Owl and Northern Harriers. From here we went over to the Merrimack River and searched for some its wintering eagles. We soon located three or four immature Bald Eagles, mostly sat in trees with one bathing in the river. Common Mergansers were also present and Great Cormorants flew past. Trying another section of river we struck lucky with two adult Bald Eagles and as we watched one dive down to catch a fish, two other birds chased it and had a mid air battle! Leaving here we took a quick look at Salisbury beach area where our highlight was a Red Fox walking across the ice covered salt marsh. Plenty of Common Eider were seen and further searching revealed Common Loon and Red-throated Divers, Goldeneye and about twenty Grey Seals hauled out on a rocky island. It was time to leave and head south towards Connecticut which after Coffee and Dunkin Donuts we did. Arriving in Durham we visited an area of grassy fields where a Wilson’s Snipe was flushed but not seen by everyone. At a nearby park we took a walk through the woodland where it was decidedly quiet. A few Black-capped Chickadees were seen along with White-breasted Nuthatch and eventually a Golden-crowned Kinglet. Returning to the vehicle we made our way to our very plush waters edge hotel. Dropping our luggage off we promptly set off to another park where we set ourselves up on an open track and waited for dusk to approach. With still good light, the distinctive “buzz” of an American Woodcock could be heard from the tall grasses not too far away. Eventually the bird making the “buzzing” call set off up into the evening sky in its extraordinary courtship display flight. As we watched and listened, it started spiralling towards earth where it amazingly came to land just 10 feet from where we were standing. Stood on the track in full view we got fantastic views as it continued to call. With the light slowly fading we watched it launch itself into several more display flights again each time landing nearby. This superb show saw an end to our winter tour of New England. A wonderful evening meal was thoroughly enjoyed by all before we said our goodbyes to Pricilla as the rest of us had to leave very early in the morning so as to connect with our flight back to London from New York.
This was a great trip with a lovely group of people who all appreciated good looks at all the target species we had set out to see.
Particular thanks must go to Gina Nichol, who’s meticulous planning, lovely personality and superb birding skills, made this tour all it was set out to be!
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