Dear Club Members,
On a wintery afternoon, Sunday, March 1st, with light
snow and a moisture filled, northeasterly wind ("in like a lion"), I led a
fully subscribed program for the Essex County Ornithological Club. This
event had been postponed from February 22 due to rain ~ yes, rain in
February. The group was congenial, and the youngest participant, Matthew,
from Swampscott is a six grade student. Some participants hailed from
Melrose, Winchester and Raymond, New Hampshire.
Our first stop was at the bridges connecting Amesbury
and Newburyport, the Derek Hines and the Chain Bridges. We immediately saw
two Bald Eagles in flight as we set up.
One Bald Eagle passed over Deer Island, and the second
headed from the cove up river past the Route 95 bridge. We watched Great
Cormorants and their skillful underwater pursuits. Common Mergansers dove
repeatedly; Rock Pigeons were under the bridges; Mallard were returning to
the protected, marshy cove, and gulls were preening on the light fixtures.
The Great Cormorants are showing signs of the next season with their white
flanks, white, wispy plumes and lemon throats. The Common Mergansers were
successful with obtaining and retaining prey.
We walked to the tip of Deer Island and saw two pair of
Mallards, and the two, curly, tail feathers on the drakes were well seen by
all in the group. A Bald Eagle was headed toward Eagle Island and landed
just out of our view. We scanned the island, had several Common Goldeneyes
in flight, and a Common Merganser employed its feet to take off from the
water. A Red-throated Loon was very close, and we studied it through the
scope; the head and bill were held in their classic, up-tilted fashion. We
observed the sharply defined white on the face and white spots on the back.
We chatted about those field marks and its head size compared to that of a
Common Loon. I mentioned that the birds are stunning with their brick red
throat patch on their breeding grounds and that the red throat patch
resembles an ascot ~ continuing with the aristocratic theme.
We headed back to our cars and slowly proceeded to
Spring Lane. As we got out of our cars, we were greeted by an immature Bald
Eagle perched just beyond the large White Birch. We studied it in the scope
and could see the tawny hues on its back and the dark tip to its culmen. We
walked down to the flat shore area and had even better views of the bird
because the lighting was better lower down. We came across another Bald
Eagle; this one had a very a white belly. We watched the two birds as they
perched and searched from the windless cove and compared the field marks.
The Great Cormorants were perched on the bridge supports; some were
preening, and their breeding patch was very visible. Others were engaging in
the "Gargle" with their heads thrown back, showing off their lemon-yellow
gular skin ~ a courtship display.
When we headed back to our cars, the eagle that
had greeted us upon our arrival was still on the branch [one participant
said I had them velcroed for the program]. I conducted my summary, and we
chatted about the perils, size differences between males and females and how
long-lived eagles are. We continued with discussions on plumage, talons,
bill shape and eagles' acute vision. The two eagles perched in the cove
suddenly took flight and stooped low over the water obviously seeing
something we hadn't. One participant said I just hit my remote for action.
It was a terrific way to conclude the discussion of our time in the field.
We all welcome March even if it is "in like a lion" with hopes of more signs
of spring and it going out "like a lamb".