New England Coastal BIrds

New England Coastal BIrds

Monday, January 16, 2012

Force 7 Westerly: Alcids, Sea Fowl, and 3 Black-headed Gulls

Rhode Island- from a beach in Narragansett, a harbor in Galilee,  to timeless Block Island

Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012- Westerly winds 25-30 knots and gusty, four to seven foot seas, and cold!

     7:00 am- Starting at the Narragansett Town Pier, there were seven
Bonaparte's Gulls working the breaker line and fishing.

     A few trawlers were starting to fish just offshore. Around the jetty were five Horned Grebes, eight Common Loons and plenty of sea ducks and Red-breasted Mergansers.

     Newton Rock- the Gull roost had nearly one hundred birds; a quick look didn't
find anything other than the common species.

     A few sea birds started arriving and following the trawlers.

      8:00 am to 9:00 am-  Scarborough Beach-  At the southern parking lot near the Treatment Plant, I walked across to the edge of the field to see if the Black-headed Gull was present. When I arrived at the edge of the field overlooking the beach, there were a handful of Ring-billed Gulls present near the rocky edge outpouring from the Treatment Plant. I spotted a single Black-headed Gull which was backlit and  silhouetted by the intense morning sunlight reflecting off the sea and the wet sand, but their shape is unmistakable.  

     I  motioned to Jen that the Gull was there and she came down to join me.  As soon as she met me, we turned around and I pointed to the Gull. She said to me “which one- the one on the left or the one on the right”?  As I looked over, there were indeed two Black-headed Gulls! The second bird was an adult. The second bird must have joined the first one when I walked back to meet Jen. Assuming the first bird I saw was the first winter bird I photographed the week before, it was a great surprise to see an adult alongside the young bird.  However, in my hasty assumption augmented by the overwhelming sunlight reflections the two birds were actually adult birds (a later discovery during photo analysis).   The birds then took off again and flew into the treatment pond behind the main building where they remained for nearly a half an hour.  The images below are of the two Black-headed Gulls together in the same image.  Because the images were dark from strong backlighting,  I lightened the images and discovered that the two birds were adults, not an adult and first winter bird that I originally thought.

     Suddenly a large flock of Gulls (mostly Herring, than Ring-billed Gulls) lifted up off the pond and flew around the beach where I re-located the two adult Black-headed Gulls and was able to photograph them together in the same image on the beach.

     As I was photographing the two adult Black-headed Gulls, a single Gull flew across my viewfinder from right to left just as I was taking the shot.  The gull’s wingtips are clearly defined in the left side of the image as it passed by; it was the first winter Black-headed Gull. That makes three Black-headed Gulls in the same image.

     The Gulls again flew off with towards the Treatment Plant. The adults passed by me offering me good views of their magnificent plumage. After circling the Plant, half the Gulls flew off towards Galilee Harbor, and the other half including the two adults circled back and flew into the rolling sea near the point where they swam and bathed for a few minutes.

     After a short bath, they then flew to the rocky point south of the Treatment Plant and sat with the roosting Gulls. I could not re-locate the first winter bird. I suspect it flew towards Galilee with the other half of the gulls coming from the Treatment Plant.


     I walked over to the rocky point and sat near the gulls. I couldn't find any of the Black-headed Gulls. A minute later this adult landed on the rocks near where I was sitting.

     I searched for the second adult B-h Gull and couldn't locate it. I knew it would be nearby since the two birds have been almost inseparable that morning.

     Bingo! The second adult showed itself a few feet away from the one adult. It was below to the left, it's head visible behind the rock as it preened.....again two birds in the same image.

     After fifteen minutes of watching and photographing, most of the Gulls lifted off the roost with the Greater Black-backed and Herring Gulls flying off to the nearby working trawlers, while the Ring-billed and the two Black-headed Gulls flew back to the Treatment Plant tank.

                                            The pair of adult Black-headed Gulls

                                                      Adult Black-headed Gull

     Galilee Harbor and docks- Many common Gull species, a few Common Loons
swimming in the harbor,  a feeding flock of Red-breasted Mergansers, and Eiders.....

.......and a single Song Sparrow hanging around the docks.

     Block Island Ferry (11;00 am) - with strong westerly winds and the
very rough sea conditions and looking directly into the very bright
sun, I only had limited viewing from the upper deck of the smaller
ferry behind a small compartment avoiding the mass amount of spray
coming over the upper deck. There were Harbor Seals lounging around the docks.....
......and many birds in the harbor including Eiders flying out of the harbor towards the open sea....
     There were five hundred-fifty to six hundred trading sea ducks from the outer walls of PJ to Block Island starting with these Common Eiders feeding along the outer walls.

     On the crossing, I counted (conservative estimate) one hundred to one hundred twenty-five Razorbill and Common Murre.  Approx. three dozen were seen by Jen and me between the outer walls of Point Judith to the North Point of Block Island.  A few single adult Razorbills....

     A single Razorbill flys by a Common Loon.......

    ......followed by another Razorbill and Loon......

    ......and another......

   .....and these two mixed flocks of five Razorbill and Common Murre.....

     Loons and Gannets were in great abundance.

     The balance of the large alcids were in the calmer waters on the eastern side of Block.

     They flew in singles, pairs, trios, small groups like this pair of Common Murre....

          .....and one larger group of over thirty-six birds. Images below are some of the Razorbill and Common Murre from the large flock that was scattered in the area.

     Initially I saw at least two Dovekie that I could positively identify east of Block. Jen had pointed to a small flock of alcids flying off the stern of the ferry at a distance; seven Dovekie.  Many birds sitting on the rough sea, just couldn't identify any species. There were many Gannets, and the water was covered with Loons and sea ducks everywhere you looked. I did not find any West coast Loon.

     Entering Old Harbor- The east wall had nearly one hundred Great Cormorants lining the top.

     There was a large Gull roost (four hundred to four hundred-fifty) on both sides of the Harbor entrance on the beach inside the mouth and the north wall. We could not find one White-winged or Lesser Black-backed Gull in the roost.

      In the Harbor there were good close-up views of a Black, Surf, and White-winged Scoter, Eiders, Red-breasted Mergansers and Common Goldeneye. On Block Island- since our main reason for going to Block was for sea birds and for Gulling, we didn't notice too many land birds as we were driving around except for two Coopers Hawks (one adult- one juv.) and three Harriers at different sides of the Island.

     The spectacular view from Mohegan Bluffs……


     ………and the Southeast Light.

All the beach access points on the west coast had huge waves crashing onto the beaches and very rough seas, we could not effectively sea watch. The end of Cooneymus Road.

     We checked all the usual gull roosts around the Island ( New Harbor, Ferry dock, Boat
Basin, Payne’s Dock, North Light, Settlers Rock, etc) we didn't find
any White-winged or Lesser Black-backed, Bonapartes, Kittiwakes, etc.),  just  the common species.  But we did find plenty of Common Goldeneyes….

      (Above) Immature drake (right), adult drake (left). (Below) Two drakes and a hen

     Hen Red-breasted Mergansers

     Red-breasted Mergansers.  Juvenile drake (right of rock- top center)

     North Light…….

     Part of a small flock of eighteen Sanderlings on our return to Old Harbor in the late afternoon.

     A single drake Surf Scoter keeps company on a rockweed covered rock with a juvenile drake Common Eider

     This Harbor Seal pup has spent the day on the top of this large boulder.

     While we waited for the last Ferry of the day, there was time to photograph a few birds in the last few minutes of the afternoon sun such as this hen White-winged Scoter…

    ……. This velvety smooth drake Black Scoter………

     ……and this adult Common Loon that was merely a few feet from the dock edge…….

    …….and a few shots of this drake Common Eider……..

     ………to this striking drake Red-breasted Merganser in the swirling wind.

     The Gulls began to return for their evening roost joining the others…….

     ……and Gannets traded back and forth outside the Harbor.

     As our Ferry approached…….

     ……..the sun left its last impression on the day as it slowly set in the west visible between the charming old buildings of town.

     We came home on the 5:30 pm, so no return trip birding, just a nice quiet nap after a fantastic day of birding at these breathtaking locations! The New England coast in the winter is hard to beat!

     For those who may be interested-(mostly for CT birders who are interested in spending a great day birding along the beautiful Rhode Island coast) Jen and I are leading a day long birding experience to the coast of Rhode Island on Saturday, February 11. We will be going to all of our favorite spots in Jamestown, Newport, Narragansett and along the South County Shore, depending where the best birding will be found.
     Being in the heart of winter, this day will be planned with the weather in mind; windy days are ideal, but stormy conditions will postpone the day. Any coastal species will be possible. The most common species being: Common Eiders, Scoters, Harlequin Ducks, Oldsquaw, Red-brested Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, Gannets, Great Cormorants, Horned Grebes, Common and Red-throated Loons, Brant, Purple Sandpipers and many other species possible. Here are a few of the other birds that we have seen in last years winter birding trips: Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull, Black Guillemot, Razorbill, Common Murre, Red-necked Grebe, King Eider, Mallard/Pintail hybrid, Pacific Loon, Barn Owl, Short-eared Owl, and Rough-legged Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Ipswich Savannah Sparrow, Green-tailed Towhee to name just a few.
     We are only taking a small group and we have a few spaces open. Carpooling is suggested, and you can either bring your own lunches, or we can stop for coffee and sandwiches/hot chowda'. If you are interested and care to join us, please send me an email ( (use Rhode Island birding as a topic) and I will let everyone know the details as they come together. I like to start early so plan on starting at dawn (which is the best time for seabirding). I have been seabirding in Rhode Island for many years, and it has never disappointed! You never know what we will find!

Keith and Jen Mueller
Killingworth, CT