Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sidebar #3 - Northeast winter birding Recap

Somewhat arbitrarily, I have defined the "Northeast in Winter" segment of this journey as the stretch from New England to Philadelphia. My arrival here thus signals the end of this segment. Starting the trip this far north and east is a HUGE gamble for two reasons. First, the below freezing temps, strong winter winds, snow, and worst roads in the country mean that birding and travel during this segment would be very difficult. Second, a very long, hard ride to Florida will now be required. I could easily have cut out the Northeast and enjoyed better conditions south and/or west. However, to maximize the species count as well as interest in the project, I though this segment of the trip was an important one. This first part of the gamble has worked out, and when I get to Florida in one healthy piece, the second will be satisfied as well.

Several months ago, I made a list of birds I wanted to find in the northeast. I grouped these into several tiers based upon how difficult I thought it would to find each of them. This system is necessarily arbitrary, but it provided a good guide for me as I moved around the northeast.

Species I knew I would see:     
Red-necked grebe                                           
Northern gannet                                         
Great cormorant                                                            
Mute swan
Common eider
Harlequin duck
Long-tailed duck
Purple sandpiper
Iceland gull
Great black-backed gull
Black guillemot
Snow bunting

Species I thought I should see:
Cackling goose
Rough-legged hawk
Lesser black-backed gull  
Glaucous gull  
Lapland longspur

Species I thought I may see: (this is the category where I did really well)
Eurasian wigeon
Barrow's goldeneye
King eider 
Black-headed gull
Black-legged kittiwake
Thick-billed murre
Snowy owl
Short-eared owl
Long-eared owl
Northern saw-whet owl
Northern shrike - HAHA! I spoke to soon. I got this in Philly!
Lapland longspur
Rusty blackbird
Common redpoll
White-winged crossbill

How lucky could I get:
Barnacle goose
Little gull
Pink-footed goose

In short, I did as well as I could have ever hoped. The only 2 birds that I really missed were kittiwake and shrike. The first snow storm on January 2-3 likely cost me shrike at Plum Island, and west winds (instead of east) when I was on Cape Ann likely cost me kittiwake. I had no shot at Common redpoll or White-winged crossbill this year. After the invasion that was last year, these birds were not within striking distance this year.

Misses aside, I saw a lot of great birds. Dovekie and Thick-billed murre were great finds, as was Black-headed gull. Snowy owl was easy this year, and I had great help to find Saw-whet and Long-eared owls on what was a down winter for both of these species. I needed to find Barrow's goldeneye and Eurasian wigeon here as I plan to be south of their west coast wintering grounds by the time they would have arrived. King eider is an interesting bird. The same bird has wintered in the exact same spot in Gloucester, Massachusetts for 6 or 7 years now.  I do not know another place you can go and this reliably find this bird in the lower 48. Granted there have been more Barnacle geese around the last few years, but this code 4 rarity was nonetheless a great tick as well.

Now to get to Florida......


  1. There has been a Northern Shrike, most recently reported on eBird on 1/17/14 residing at John Heinz NWR in Philly. Hope this helps with that list! Best of luck on this ride.

  2. Thanks! I knew that bird has been around. I was going to take a crack at it on my way south out of the city.