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Monday, April 16, 2012

Napatree Point, Westerly, RI Apr/15/12

My fingers clasped the pencil tightly as I scribbled my essential notes (date, time & location) into my moleskin notebook. We were at the moment bouncing down a dirt road one side of which was lined with shops, the other a sheltered harbor. Hunched forms rested on buoys bobbing at the surface of the harbor - I would tally 150 of these Double-crested Cormorants before the walk was through. 
Hopping from the confines of our car I was greeted with the formidable task of making my way through a swarm of beach goers without jabbing anyone in the eye with the pointed feet of my tripod on which my spotting scope was kept steady. Above the moored boats which lined the edge of the harbor a lone Barn Swallow flitted, just newly arrived back from its vacation in the South, having escaped the crowd of sand covered bipeds who were enjoying the far side of the beach (the side that looked out upon the open ocean and not towards Connecticut).
A few small groups of Red-breasted Mergansers sailed through the water, their tufted heads and slim red bills giving them strange almost punk-like appearances. Black legs dangling, a Great Egret soared over the water standing out from the gray clouds which nearly blocked out the sun's golden rays. The beach was NOT lined with Black-bellied and Piping Plovers, Dunlin, Sanderlings and oystercatchers as I had hoped but instead with a few Herring Gulls and dog walkers. In fact the only shorebirds we saw were a pair of distant flyover Oystercatchers easily identified by their unique and comical "wheeps". 
Although the nest area had already been cordoned off, the Piping Plovers seemed not yet to have arrived.

Walking down the beach too, far we were forced to take an unused trail to the other side of the dunes. The trail lead us directly under an Osprey nesting platform on which rested a pile of sticks and an alarmed Osprey. This white bellied raptor was soon joined by its mate who, as we watched spell bound swooped in and landed easily upon her back, where he stood and calmly stared down his hooked beak at us, then leaping back into the air he circled the nest twice then landed on a side beam where he stayed.

We were now on the ocean side of the beach and could see small distant flocks of Northern Gannets passing off shore. Closer to land scooted a large rolling mass of black feathers which with a quick scan through my scope transformed into White-winged Scoter. Bobbing just past the surf floated Horned Grebes, one of which, after close inspection, my overly imaginative mind turned into an Eared. The bird was the size and shape of a Horned Grebe, lacking the rounded head of an Eared - really the only thing that was at all Eared-like were the golden tufts on the sides of the black head. These tufts appeared smaller and more loosely feathered, the bird was probably just developing its summer plumage. At first I was almost certain of my preposterous identification but by the end of the walk I was losing hope fast, and by the time we had arrived back home I had lost all confidence and was now almost certain I was wrong. I put the photo I had taken up on Flickr and it was confirmed as a Horned almost instantly.

Above top a flock of Horned Grebe and above below my "Eared Grebe"

The walk ended with a total of 24 species. A full list is below:
2 Brant 
30 Whit-winged Scoter
15 Red-breasted Merganser
1 Red-throated Loon
2 Common Loon
17 Horned Grebe
0 Eared Grebe
21 Northern Gannet
1 Great Egret
2 Osprey
2 American Oystercatcher
80 Herring Gull
11 Great Black-backed Gull
3 Fish Crow
2 Northern Rough-winged Swallow
1 Barn Swallow
1 Carolina Wren
1 American Robin
5 Song Sparrow
1 Northern Cardinal
2 Red-winged Blackbird
1 Common Grackle
6 Brown-headed Cowbird
12 House Sparrow

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