For the first time on the trip, I was a bit sluggish getting out of bed this morning. I had hoped to be back at the same spot where I had found the Barnacle goose yesterday to look for the Cackling goose that has been associating with the same flock of Canada Geese. The birds have been roosting in Southport harbor during the night. They tend to disperse to feed during the day and return to the harbor late in the afternoon. Since I was a bit slow getting out of bed, I did not make it to the harbor before all the geese had cleared out for the day. Ugh, what a pain. I needed plan B.
Luckily, I had already contacted local birder Tina Green to aid me in bird finding this morning. She knows this area as well as anyone, so I was thrilled when she volunteered to scout around some local owl haunts for me. Just as I had folded my hand on the goose, Tina called me to tell me she had found a saw-whet owl. BOOYAH! This owl is a fantastic find. I had started to think that this was a bird I wasn't going to be able to find in the northeast this winter. This has been the worse year in recent memory for this species throughout the northeast. Very few of these birds have been found this year compared to others. To find these very small owls (7-9" long), one must walk around in pine groves and look for blobs in the trees. They sit perfectly still and are very well camouflaged, so they are VERY difficult to see. Even in good years, saw-whet searches are usually fruitless, so finding one this year is extra special. A huge thanks to Tina for her help! Here are shots of both Tina and the well-hidden owl.
This is very often how we see saw-whets
After kicking around Sherwood Island State Park of the remainder of the morning, I headed into town to get some food and deal with some life stuff (bills, insurance etc). I wanted to kill a bit of time until the later afternoon when I thought the geese would return to the harbor. I also wanted to keep my miles down to give my legs a rest. I returned to the harbor around 3:30 and sure enough there were several hundred Canada geese floating around the basin. I was not able to relocate the Barnacle goose, but a close scan of the Canadas revealed the Cackling goose! Cackling goose is smaller version of the Canada goose that is now considered a separate species. Here is a photo I posted the other day to remind people of the size difference. The size difference can be tough to see at times (particularly if the birds are on the water), so the very small beak, compact head, and short neck are the best field marks.
Cackling goose from my stock
Cackling goose from today. Its the third bird from
the left. It rides much lower in the water.
In finding these 2 birds, I have really whittled down my northeast winter hit list to only 3 remaining birds: Northern Shrike, Long-eared owl, and Black-legged kittiwake. I have found many birds that by no means did I expect (e.g. Black-headed gull, Thick-billed murre, Barnacle goose), that if I did not add any of these 3 remaining birds I would be totally happy with my first month (and I still have 15 days of it left!). I have leads on the Shrike and the Owl, and I could certainly get kittiwake if I was willing to do a bit more riding.
What I have to consider is the cost of these 3 birds in the context of the whole year. Is it worth breaking my back (i.e. wearing out my legs) in the very early stages of the trip to tack on 3 more birds, or is it better to head directly south and use the time saved to lower the average daily mileage I will have to ride to make it to Florida by around February 25? I am leaning towards the later, but I have to see what birds get reported as I move south.
My plan is to be in New York City on Saturday. Its only 90 miles from New York to Philadelphia which would mark my end goal for January. Hence, I could be in Philadelphia in 4 or 5 days from now (around the 21st/22nd) if I knocked down the amount of bird finding I do between there and here. This would mean I would have perhaps 9 days in hand to apply to the Florida run. This is fun, isn't it?