What a great start to the year! Today was a cold but relatively clear day along the coast, and I birded the area between Salisbury State Reservation in Massachusetts and Hampton, New Hampshire. You can see this area here. I biked ~ 24 miles today as I moved between these areas (Started and ended at point E, below).
The day started off frigid, and I as I rode out to the Reservation, I did not hear or see a single bird. However, just as I passed the entrance station a big white bird flew right across the road. Now I know we have had A LOT of snowy owls around Massachusetts this year, but could it possibly be that my first bird of my big year would be a snowy owl? A quick glance with the binoculars proved this to be the case. What a great beginning! As badly as I wanted to wait for the sun to hit this individual for photos, I had to keep moving since it was the related short-eared owl I really wanted to find this early morning. Just 200 meters down the road I see another snowy owl flying off in the distance. As I raised my binoculars, I realized it was chasing some other bird. Disbelief quickly turned to excitement as I realized the bird the snowy owl was harassing was actually a short-eared owl! Jackpot! My first two birds of the year were owls. These were quickly followed up by a flyover bald eagle. What a start to 2014! Here is a shot of another snowy owl I saw later in the day. I saw 7-8 birds during the day today. Now I need one doing this in good light.
I was met soon thereafter by a photographer from the USA Today who had come to take a few pics of me on my bike for an article on birding that is to run this upcoming weekend. Neil Hayward of Accidental Big Year 2013 fame soon arrived, and we spent some time catching up and sharing bird stories. He will also be included in the article so keep your eyes open in the next few days. Neil was shivering a bit while we chatted; He claimed that he was cold. However, after 8 trips to Alaska last year I know for a fact that Neil is now immune to cold. I instead hypothesize that he was shivering in mortal fear that I might challenge his recent big year record....
The rest of the morning was spent at Salisbury picking up a variety of common seabirds. Black guillemot was a notable bird, but the highlight of the day was certainly the code 3 Black-headed gull that appeared right in front of me and several other birders. I couldn't believe my luck as this is a bird for which I figured I would need to search diligently and likely still miss. To find one with essentially zero effort (other than great patience) was a really nice surprise. For 2 hours, the bird provided great views for those who stopped by the jetty.
The afternoon ride up to Hampton was very pleasant and also proved decent birding. I saw many more scoters, eider, and loons, but failed to locate a barrow's goldeneye that had been previously reported in the area. I did have several other nice birds, most notably lapland longspur and glaucous gull. Both of these were species I really wanted to find in the northeast. Here's a heavily-cropped record shot of a longspur at Hampton beach state park and a full-framer of the adult glaucous gull from Hampton harbor.
I ended the day back at Salisbury where I saw more snowy owls and added merlin and purple sandpiper to the day's list (39 species total). The sandpiper is another northeast winter specialty that its nice to see right out of the gate. All on all is was a great first day.
I am not sure how the next 2-3 days are going to transpire because of the weather forecast. Hopefully I can get a few hours of birding in tomorrow before I need to hunker down for the afternoon. I'll have more to post then for sure. Hopefully I can make it to Cape Ann for the weekend.
Here are a few shots of me on the bike. These were taken by my host here in Salisbury, Henry Mauer. Henry and his wife Deb have been amazingly welcoming, so I want to give them a public thank you. They might get stuck with me for 2 more days given the weather, so we'll see if I wear out my welcome.
If you've made it this far, maybe you'd like to donate to the organizations for which I am raising money. Click link above for all the information.
Stay warm and enjoy the new year!