New England Coastal BIrds

New England Coastal BIrds

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What has Crossed Bills, a Black Head, Barring and Snow?

     Answer- A good day at birding at Hammonasset!

     November 11, 2012, Hammonasset Beach State Park- After getting a good night sleep from the long day on the BBC Pelagic than a three hour ride home, Jen and I decided to take a ride down to Hammo. The sun was out and it was a beautiful day. A Black-headed Gull was found and reported the day before by Russ Smiley while Jen and I were on the Helen H miles east of Monomoy. That trip report can ve viewed here:

     I wanted to see and photograph the Gull (another favorite species of mine) since the Black-headed Gull that I found a few weeks ago at North Farms Reservoir caught me off guard without my camera. We drove into Hammo just after noon, and because of the beautiful Spring-like day, the Park was mobbed! We made a quick run around the Park but the only Gulls we saw were a handful of Herring and Ring-billed in the Nature Center parking lot.

     The Gull may not have been there, but maybe the Crossbills were. We pulled into the west beach parking lot and many birders had assembled there. We saw Sara Zagorski and asked her if she had seen the birds. She turned and pointed to the center Pine Trees and as if almost on cue, a flock of  White-winged Crossbills landed in the Pines. Sara and another birder mentioned that the Gull was there just a short while ago, but they saw it flying west down the beach towards the Madison beaches. Hopefully the Gull would hang around the area.

     White-winged Crossbills-    

     Jen and I were happy watching and photographing the White-winged Crossbills, but I was hoping for Red Crossbills, I think they are one of the most beautiful passerine species....and then they appeared!

Red Crossbills-

     Male Red Crossbill (left) and male White-winged Crossbill (right)-

     Male White-winged Crossbill-

     Female Red Crossbill-

    Taking a drink in a puddle below the Pine Trees (White-winged Crossbills)-

     A flock of Red Crossbills coming and going-

     Monday morning, November 12- Since I only live fifteen minutes from Hammo, I thought I would get there as the Park opened at 8:00 am to see if the Black-headed Gull was still there. I made a quick run to all the areas where the Gull had been seen, but no luck. I was told that the bird sometimes hangs out on the beach which is where it was seen before it flies into the puddles in the East, Middle and West beach parking lots. I walked out onto  East Beach and noticed a single small Gull standing down the beach in front of the Middle Beach Pavillion. It was at a good distance just at the extreme range of my binoculars. A jogger approached the bird, and when it took off, the white "blades" of the outer wings were obvious; the Gull was still here. The jogger put the bird up three times and the bird kept heading west ahead of him. Finally the forth time the bird took off, I lost sight of it.

     I thought the Gull had flown farther down the beach possibly at West Beach. So I drove in that direction. When I got as far as the Swan Pond, I looked over and there was the Gull standing in the puddle in the small gravel parking area. The young Gull was walking around the edges of the small puddle and putting on a show for a birder that had been looking for the Gull arriving just before the Gull did. His timing was perfect....

     .....when it suddenly stumbled on the uneven ground-

        It was interesting to see a usually agile species of Gull being a bit clumsy!-

     When the Gull walked into the puddle, it began feeding, and was quite successful-

     I was joined by Charlie and Shirlie (two local birders) and we enjoyed watching the Gull as it meandered through the puddle.-

     The Gull was finding quite a few small fish in this puddle; most likely landlocked from the flood of water that covered the Park from the Hurricane.-

     Several times the Gull flew up and circled around the parking lot only to land nearly in the same spot that it took off from.-

     Good studies of the unique wing patterns of a first winter Black-headed Gull-

     Back to the puddle-

     The Gull walks within a few feet of my truck-

     After a little swim in the deeper part of the puddle.....
 takes off again, this time it flew into the puddle at the other side of the parking lot. It stayed a few minutes, then it flew over to the large paved parking lot at West Beach and landed on the edge of a small group of Ring-billed Gulls. Not surprising since this species is usually found associating with Ring-billed Gulls and is usually on the periphery of the other Gulls......

      .....but what was quite interesting was that a group of birders and photographers had gathered near the edge of the parking lot for the Crossbills that were in the Pine Trees. The Gull landed about a hundred feet from the birders, and no one knew that the Gull was there!-

     A few more White-winged Crossbill shots-

      (From left to right): Jim Carr, Noble Procter, Rick Macsuga, and Frank Mantlik-

     This immature Sharp-shinned Hawk met an unfortunate end; probably prey for an Owl. In the remains, its head was missing a good indication of the predator.

     Tuesday morning- Not sure if it was this Barred Owl or maybe a Great Horned-

    Snow Buntings are always a winter delight in the Park, these were very cooperative. They were feeding in the same grassy field as the Black-headed Gull-

      Back to the Pines and the Crossbills were present. White-winged Crossbills dominated with only two Red Crossbills seen in the flock such as this male Red with a single male White-winged.-

     Female White-winged-

     I looked across the parking lot and noticed a single red bird in a cedar tree on the edge of the parking lot. It was a male Red Crossbill in a small group of nine. These birds were at eye level and only a few feet away from me. Spectacular male-

     The soft gray and green plumage of the female is a perfect plumage compliment-

      Immature male-

     At one point the birds were landing nearly at my feet for a little drink of brackish water. Nothing like salt water to wash down turpintine!-

Keith Mueller
Killingworth, CT