New England Coastal BIrds

New England Coastal BIrds

Monday, January 14, 2013

Part 6, Day 12- "Back to Rhode Island"- "The West Passage and the South County Shore"

     Day 12, Tuesday, January 8, Beavertail Point, Jamestown- "A Day Birding and Photographing with Mark Szantyr"-  Mark and I have been trying to get together for  a Rhode Island trip for a year. Every time we have had plans something came up and we had top put it off. But finally our schedules were clear and we could make it happen.

     Besides being an Ornithologist and birding authority....and an amazing photographer, Mark is also an acclaimed and accomplished artist and College Art Professor....and a heck of a nice guy!! His amazing photography can be seen here: ( ). Mark also has a bird blog :
 ( ).

     The day was going to be packed with plenty of birding talk, but it was the art talk that would really make it memorable....I was looking forward to it. Mark met me at my house really early in the morning because we wanted to start the day at dawn at Beavertail in Jamestown. I drove around the Lighthouse just as the sun was only thinking about peeking over the horizon.

     And it was a glorious morning! The easterly sky was on fire with red and blue violets and varying values of orange. Below, Mark and I watch as the sun announces the day.-

    In the distance to the south, a few Herring boats work the outer West Passage. Point Judith Lighthouse is in the distance.-

     The lamp in the Beavertail Lighthouse send out the last few beams of the night-

    Mark shoots a few shots of the first passing Eiders and Harlequins of the morning.-

    Both Common and Red-throated Loons passed by the point-

     Harlequins always put on a great show as they fly around the point-

     One of the birds Mark wanted to photograph were Purple Sandpipers in morning light. Beavertail has always been a great spot for Purple Sandpipers. This pair flew into the rocks on the point, but they didn't stay long; they were off before the sun had a chance to warm the rocks.-

     Always Common Eiders flying by the point-

     The sun is squeezed between the two cloud layers-

       Two distant Razorbills fly along the Narragansett shore-

      More Harlequins-

     This drake flew up the bottom of the trough of the wave-

     A small group of mostly drake Harlequins doing what they do best.....playing in the surf!-

     Wow! What a spectacular sunrise!

    The colorful sky created a memorable back drop for this drake Eider-

     I like these two images of this Ring-billed Gull flying by the point. The background is illuminated with the rising sun and the colors are bouncing off the tops of the waves and being picked up in the Gull's plumage.-

     But these images made the morning worth it!-

     A great Cormorant is silhouetted against the morning sky-

     Another Great Cormorant passes by the point-

     More Harlequins-

     Two immature drake Bufflehead. They can be identified as larger white cheek spots extending to the  back of their heads, and by their larger light grey bill color-

     Another pair of Eider-

     A drake Black Scoter-

     Nothing unusual about this young Herring Gull, I just liked the way the light was illuminating its brown plumage-

     While Mark was enjoying the point, I decided to take a walk and see if the second winter Iceland Gull was still hanging around. I found the Gull in its usual spot, in the rocks just off the first parking lot on the eastern side of the point-

     It was hanging with a single Herring Gull again.-

    Mark joined me, and we watched the Gull for ten minutes before it flew off.....

     ......right down the shore and right over where we were standing!-

     As I always do when I leave Beavertail, I drive around the Park one more time and check the western shoreline. Mark and I looked over the top and a small group of Harlequin were feeding around the rocks near shore.-

     Joined by a juvenile drake Common Eider-

     And a pair of Black ducks joined the small group-

     Scarborough Beach, Narragansett-  We left Beavertail and headed directly for Scarborough Beach. We both wanted to try and photograph the Black-headed Gulls and the Iceland Gull that are making the area their winter home. As soon as we walked across the field to the edge of the beach, we started looking through all the Gulls on the beach and the ones in the air. We didn't see either of the Black-headed or the Iceland. I just happened to look up, and spotted the Iceland Gull. It was flying in from the west.-

     IT made a couple of wide passes over the area and then landed on the beach.....

     .....only to take off again-

     It passed right by me.....

     .....and the back lighting from the sun created a stunning glow to the Gull's light colored primaries and secondaries-

     Nice gliding studies of this Gull-

      Great wing movement studies of a landing Gull. Notice the bend in the primaries as it begins its up stroke?-

     Nice light-play on the forward wing....a perfect study of backlighting and shadow. The shadow across the bird's right wing is a cast off shadow from the Gull's left wing.

     A drake Red-breasted Merganser swam in to see what all the feeding Gull commotion was about-

     While Mark was photographing Gulls by the small rock jetty below the WTP, I decided to take a walk out on the rocky point reef to see if any of the Black-headed Gulls were there. About two-thirds of  the way out to the end was at least one Black-headed Gull standing in the rocks with a handful of Ring-billed and Herring Gulls. I wasn't sure if this was the only one, or the other one was there just hidden at the moment-

     I signaled to Mark, and he started walking my way. When he was half way down the beach, the Black-headed Gull took off.....

      and flew down the beach and landed with a small gathering of Ring-billed Gulls only a few yards north of where he was just standing; that figures!-

     We decided to walk up the beach to see if we could get into better position for pictures. I would walk above the tide line on the dry sand of the beach, and Mark would creep along the waterline with the sun more in his back. The idea was that I would distract the Gull so he could move into position.....

     .....well this Gull wasn't buying it!! I was still forty yards from the Gull and Mark was still seventy-five yards down the beach. The Gull took off from the beach, and my heart dropped!

    As the Gull cleared the waves, it turned east and then north.-

     But it circled back and landed in the sea just off the beach.-

     It swam for about a minute, and then it took off again.....

     But this time, it flew right back on the beach and landed in just about the same spot where it had been standing only a few minutes earlier-


      I thought that Mark would have a great chance at photographing this Gull. But a jogger with a dog ran down the beach sending the small group of Gulls into the air. I watched the Black-headed Gull fly north along the beach heading for Black Point or the Narragansett pier. However, while I was watching this Gull continue north, it passed a group of mostly Ring-billed Gulls flying down the beach along the shoreline. In that group were two small Gulls. They passed by me, and I saw one was Bonaparte's Gull and the other was a Black-headed Gull, the second one. I lost the Gulls in the bright sun, I didn't see where they went.

     When I walked back to where Mark was he said he saw the two Gulls coming down the beach. He keyed in on the Gull closest to him, but it ended being the Bonaparte's Gull, he said the other one was too far out. But as we talked about the two elusive Black-headed Gulls, a few small flocks of Sanderlings landed near us.-

     I was taking a break from photographing, as a birder stopped by for a chat. His name was Knut Hansen and he was from Seattle. He was in the area for a few days on business, so he was doing a little birding while he was here. Knut ws looking for a Razorbill and I suggested Newton and Hazard Avenues, the town pier and Beavertail since Mark and I had seen three there earlier that morning. I have a great carver friend who lives in La Conner which is just north of Seattle and I told Knut about him; it really is a small world.

     Knut said good-bye and I wished him luck with his Razorbill quest. In the meantime, a small raft of Gulls began gathering just offshore, and the Iceland Gull was among them (center bottom)-

    The masses of Gulls and a few Gannets could be seen clustered around the sterns of the Herring Boats well off shore-

     I went back to the truck ahead of Mark. In the parking lot I  ran into Linda Gardrel a Rhode Island birder that Jen and I met a few years ago on the March pelagic trip out of Galilee. Linda is well known in the are and not only that, she is a very nice lady!

     See what I said about being well known....I was going to introduce Mark to her, but they already knew each other! Boy am I out of touch!!-

Galilee Harbor, Narragansett- Still trying for that Glaucous Gull in Galilee Harbor (kina' an obsessive target species/location quest of mine) we drove over to the Harbor. Our timing was pretty good as a few vessels were in port unloading their catches. This vessels hold was heavy with Rock and Jonah Crabs-

    Mark and I walked up and down the main docks but we couldn't find a Glaucous Gull! There was good bird activity at the end of the Ferry dock. And since the Ferry was out, we enjoyed the opportunity to photograph from the empty dock. A trio of Red-breasted Mergansers swam into the area in front of us-

    The feathers of this striking drake appear quite disheveled by the strong westerly wind-

     Another beautiful drake flies right by us-

     A nice surprise. A first winter Bonaparte's Gull flies in from over the processing plant and entertains us-

     This juvenile Double-crested Cormorant just "pops-up" below us-

    I love their emerald green eye-

     The bird turns just as a wave passes over it. The master swimmer with a totally submerged body-

    This Bonaparte's Gull stayed with us for over a half an hour! It kept flying around and landing nearby and it appeared to enjoy the kibble handouts!-

      The Cormorant takes off and flies out into the Harbor.....

     .....and so did the Bonaparte's Gull.-

     This Harbor Seal was really must have been Marks 500 mm lens!-

     It must have been OK with us being started taking a nap!-

     Many of the bins, fish totes, barrels and crates along the docks were filled with iced down Herring-

     And there was spillage everywhere....we were surprised that there weren't more Gulls capitalizing on this free bounty-

     Grassy Point, Ninigret Park, Charlestown-  We stopped at the Charlestown Breachway, but there wasn't much there other than the beach and breakwater damage from the was jaw dropping! I asked Mark if he was interested in stopping at Grassy Point for the Lesser Black-backed Gull. He just looked at me....I got the message!

      Ninigret is a wonderful Park, and an exceptional area for birds. We started walking down the trail to Grassy Point, and I mentioned to Mark that this Gull is fairly predictable. Although a few times it has fooled me, but generally it is predictable. And sure enough, there it was perched on top of its boulder on the east side of Grassy Cove.

     And when you walk down to the edge of the water in the cove by the bench, the first handful of kibble usually will get a response from the Gull. Here it comes!-

      It landed a few yards away-

     After a few minutes it took off and flew back to its boulder roost. Mark and I walked out to Grassy Point. The Gull visited us off and on a few more times at the point......

    .....and so did three Bonaparte's Gulls (two first winter and one adult). Because I was excited to be going out for the Gull, I forgot to change my memory card in my camera. After a few shots of the Bonaparte's Gulls....... guessed it; memory full!

     I fumbled through and deleted some of the poor images from the day on my camera to give me a few open shots, but I just decided to enjoy the Gulls and learn a few photo tips from Mark. I posted a few of Mark's stunning shots from this day at the bottom of this report (that way they won't make mine look too bad)!!

     His images show the drastic difference between a photographer (Mark) and a picture-taker (Me)!! :^)

     I had a wonderful day birding with Mark; it was well worth the wait. As we were driving back to my house after a long and incredible day of birding, Mark mentioned that he received a call yesterday from a woman who had a Hummingbird visiting their feeder. Since it was on the way home, we would stop by to see if we could see it and Mark identify it.

     The lady told us that she walked out onto her back deck, and the Hummingbird approached her within a few inches apparently looking for a meal. She ran back in to her house and filled the feeder. She then set it out and the bird came right back to it. Mark believed it was a female Rufous Hummingbird, but he needed to see it to ID it.

     We showed up to their house just at 3:45 pm. She told us that the bird was just there feeding at 3:30. Mark and I waited, but it never showed up!-

     With the last wink of the sun still in the sky, I looked up just in time to watch this Peregrine Falcon flying back to the Thames River.-

     Addendum: Mark went back to the feeder the next day and the Hummingbird did show up. And just as Mark thought, it was a female Rufous. The following images were taken by Mark of that Hummingbird. They were used with his permission.-

     Here are a few of Marks stunning shots from the day. They are used here with Marks' permission. To see more of the Bonaparte's Gull go here:

and to check out more of his images see his Zenfolio site:

Dawn at Beavertail:

     Harbor Seal at Galilee Harbor-

     Lesser Black-backed Gull at Grassy Point-

     Bonaparte's Gulls at Grassy Point-

     This is my favorite shot that Mark took (next to the sunrise shots with the Eider and the Lesser Black-backed Gull). The Gull is flipping a piece of kibble into its bill.....amazing!!

            Part 7, Day 13- "More Tags, Bands and Markers" continues.......

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