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My Life’s Birds: #490-492

April 13, 2011
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January 25, 2009Essex and Middlesex Cos, Ma – The Big Day was over, the lister in each and every one of us was sated for the time being, and it was time for the calm and mild-mannered birder in each one of us to come out.  The blogger too, because if there’s anything bloggers need it’s narratives and good photos, so with Christopher’s guidance, that’s what we set out to get.

2009 was a year destined to go down in Massachusetts birding history.  Two weeks prior to our convening for the Super Bowl, an Ivory Gull had been seen and photographed in Gloucester, the epicenter of the competition’s boundaries.  Then, as if taunting us, a second Ivory Gull was reported in Plymouth.  Sadly, the Gloucester bird was long gone by the time we arrived,but the Plymouth bird was foremost on our minds, as you might imagine, as we planned our day.

We had other things to do first, however.  Christopher had promised us Snowy Owl, but when the species was not forthcoming in the waning part of the day, we had to leave with the promise, extracted at the point of a sharpened tripod legs, that we would not be leaving Massachusetts Snowy Owl-less.   First thing the next morning, bright and early, we returned, and thanks to Corey’s eagle (or owl) eyes, ticked a distant bird, which looked like nothing so much as a slightly yellowish clump of snow on the far far far side of the ice.  No soul-satisfyer by any means, but Snowy enough.

But it was not time for Ivory Gulls yet, first we had to return to the scene of the White-winged Crossbills for some opportunities to gawk at those irruptive finches at our leisure.  We pulled into the Salisbury Beach State Park campground and soon saw a small gaggle of photographers peering intently up into a short pine tree where, when we unpacked and walked over, we were treated to incredible, point-blank looks at a roosting Long-eared Owl.  This was a bird that was completely off my radar which made it all the more exciting to be able to look upon that bizarre and fantastic face.  What a bird!

While we watched, the word had apparently gotten out.  More and more people began to arrive, some with massive lenses and serious expressions.  We headed out to take our chances with the Crossbills leaving the owl to the whims of the photographic hordes.  It’s this sort of behavior that leads people to sit on known owl roosts for good reason, it was rapidly becoming a zoo under there and it was likely that the owl wouldn’t tolerate it for long.  In fact, it was gone by the time we returned from an hour or two of photographing the amazing Crossbills.  A victim of being loved too much.

Finally it was time for us to make the drive down to Plymouth for the Ivory Gull.  I’d recount the time spent in the cold scanning the horizon for that ghostly wings, the longing glances cast at the chicken carcass in the middle of the parking lot that had attracted the bird for so long, the commiserations with the other birders standing around, coming to grips with the fact that the bird wasn’t coming no matter how hard we wished for it, but it’s all too painful to recount.  Not for the Plymouth bird, no.  But because we managed to be the only birders on the east coast who dipped on not one, but two Ivory Gulls in one weekend.  Now that’s a distinction to be proud of. Small consolation as I headed home.

But the trip was well worth it, and Massachusetts was going to be part of my birding year for the foreseeable future.

SNOOWL by ryancr via flickr (CC BY-NC.2.0)
LOEAOW by N8 the Drinking Bird via flickr (CC BY-NC-2.0)

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2 Comments
  1. April 16, 2011 3:32 pm

    It used to be you didn’t tell anyone about owl roosts, for good reason, as you report with the long eared you saw. I have had the same experience this winter with two long eared owl roosts here in southern NY; they get overrun with chatty photo taking folk and the birds evict. I’m not telling anyone about the Great Horned nest, with nestlings, I came upon 3 weeks ago, nor about the saw whets I found. In fact, this may extend to every bird I see nesting this spring. Yours, in grouchiness.

  2. Nate permalink*
    April 18, 2011 1:25 pm

    @Jane- Yes, and I agree with people sitting on those roosts that bird use often. This seemed slightly different in that it was a heavily birded area that the LEO ended up in and people would have found it anyway, but still, it was a perfect illustration as to why people keep those things quiet.

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