Thursday, June 22, 2017

Cape Cod - Part 1 (Sandy Neck, June 19, 2017)

Saltmarsh Sparrow Ammodramus caudacutus
Saltmarsh Sparrow Ammodramus caudacutus
Spot the Piping Plover chick! Hours of fun! (Scroll to the last image at the bottom for the answer...)
Piping Plover Charadrius melodus
Herring Gull Larus argentatus
Bonaparte’s Gull Chroicocephalus philadelphia
Least Tern Sternula antillarum
Least Tern Sternula antillarum
Diamondback Terrapin Malaclemys terrapin
My legs got sun-crisped a lively Nantucket red, to match my borrowed shorts

Habitat-o-rama: dunes on the left (with a beach beyond), saltmarsh on the right

Piping Plover chick
  I’ve just returned from a jaunt down to Cape Cod, and managed to sneak in some rewarding birding along the way. In preparation for the trip, I flicked through my Sibley and made up a ‘dream hit list’ of about 40 species that don’t often make it up Montreal way. By the time the fog had settled and I was on the road back north, I realized that I’d checked 11 lifers off that list! Badass.
  The most fruitful birding spot was Sandy Neck, which boasted a sensational mix of saltmarsh, dune, and beach habitats. The highlight there was superb close looks at a pair of Saltmarsh Sparrows. I had a string of frustrating brushes with Ammodramus sparrows along the saltmarsh trail, of the whack-a-mole-better-be-quick variety. Exasperated, and worried that I wouldn’t end up getting an ID-worthy look, I hunkered down at a promising spot by a small open pond, and let the birds come my way. After about ten minutes, they did just that (to my considerable surprise). Two cracking Saltmarsh Sparrows popped up, but instead of flopping straight back down again, they fluttered down onto a flat patch of dead grass, 15 feet in front of me. The encounter only lasted about ten seconds, but I won’t soon forget it – that is one spectacular species (and listed as "vulnerable" by the IUCN).
  Several Diamondback Terrapins were seen shuffling along the trails, and the park rangers were busy moving some of their nests to less precarious spots up the dunes.
  The walk towards the beach through the scrub and squooshy sand of the dunescape held its own little clique of birds: mewling Gray Catbirds, three Eastern Towhees, a Northern Mockingbird, and several Common Yellowthroats and Yellow Warblers, but sadly no Seaside Sparrows.
  On the beach, the whole area where dune meets sea level was roped off for nesting Piping Plovers, a "near threatened" species very susceptible to disturbance. Walking along the beach trail (accessible to walkers and 4WD vehicles alike), I came across an adult Piping Plover noisily leading me away from the roped-off bit, which hinted that there were chicks about. I spotted one standing immobile near the dunes, perfectly camouflaged, and quickly cleared off back towards to beach to give them their space. Another spectacular bird I’m not likely to see up here!
  Six delightful Least Terns squeaked and fluttered in the onshore winds, while handfuls of Herring and Greater Black-backed Gulls sulked on the waterline. Three Common Terns were also in the mix. Two Bonaparte’s Gulls were cavorting and wheeling low on the water, seeming to take pleasure in the act of flight.

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