Saturday 2 December 2023

New England - May 2023 - Day 3 - Massachusetts to Rhode Island and back

Plum Island is a narrow spit of land that stretches from the top of Massachusetts for about seven or eight miles south, not too far from Boston. There is an inland channel for most of its length, and a single driveable road winds down to the end, Sandy Point. Think of it as an easily accessible Spurn or Blakeney, and as it is right on the north-south flyway it regularly drags in loads of migrants. It is part of the wider Parker River NWR and this was where I was going to see my first Bay-breasted Warbler. Or that was the plan at any rate - the eBird lists had screamed promise at this time of year, and as the season developed I had been keeping a close on eye it. The few days before had seen good falls of Warblers and other migrants, surely today would see more of the same? 

Somewhere near Plum Island. I had to stop.

I was desperate for food, but even with grabbing some breakfast I arrived before 7am, on these kinds of trips there is just no holding me back. It was a beautiful day and although there are birding sites the whole length of the island I headed straight for the area known as Hellcat. This is a narrow strip of pine and deciduous woodland about two thirds of the way down, and as one of the only stands of trees is a magnet for migrants. There were already quite a few birders on site, walking along the road and peering up into the trees - clearly I was in the right place! After grabbing a space in the car park I joined them, teaming up with a local guy who it turned out had been born in Shropshire. There were birds everywhere, especially in the pines which with light gusts of wind shed incredible clouds of yellow pollen. The following counts describe the whole morning, but almost all of them were at this spot: 5 Bay-breasted WarblerCape May, 3 Magnolia, 4 Blackpoll, 6 Yellow, 5 Yellow-rumped, Chestnut-sided, Northern Parula and 3 American Redstart. Non-Warblers included Blue-headed Vireo, tons of Grey Catbird, Eastern Kingbird, Willow Flycatcher and Baltimore Oriole.

Bay-breasted Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

In all I spent nearly six hours on Plum Island, it was simply magnificent, and I came away with a list of 73 species - not bad for a foreigner unfamiliar with the birds. At Sandy Point at the far end were a huge mass of Terns, and once I got my eye in I was able to pick out two Roseate in with the Common and Least. This was another new USA bird, the trip was certainly living up to its billing. The inland marshes and pools were stuffed with Waders, with Least Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, both Yellowlegs, Turnstone, Dunlin, Killdeer, Grey Plover, and a single Red Knot. The sea held Eider, Black Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, passing Gulls and a Red-throated Diver. Finally some local gen pointed me in the direction of a singing Yellow-breasted Chat on a path that led out from Lot 6, and there were some Purple Martin at Lot 1. I could go on and on, but the full list is here

At midday I decided I had better get going, but what to do? I had no accomodation booked for this evening, wanting to keep my options open. I had the replacement boat trip the following day back in Maine, so what should I do? I had the time to get all the way down to Rhode Island and Connecticut... This had been part of the original plan when I'd booked the flights, but I'd gone off the idea as the trip approached. However there were allegedly Manx Shearwater loafing off Revere Beach in Boston, and once I was in Boston, well, I was nearly there. Why not?

Manx Shearwater, Boston

Heavy traffic delayed my arrival, but once at the "Pink Apartments" eBird hotspot (look for St. George Condominiums on the map) I started scanning the bay. The light was rubbish and the first couple of sweeps picked up nothing, but my perservence paid off after about ten minutes and sure enough there were indeed a small number of Manxie sitting on the sea and occasionally flying loops. How strange. Another new bird -  my tenth of the trip so far, of which eight I'd seen in the UK, including two of the properly American ones. 

After this success I was momentarily paralysed by indecision. Should I go for it? A quick check of the map, and the birding spot I'd picked out in Rhode Island was an hour and a half away, I'd get there by about 5pm. Barely worth it, but there was another reason to go - there was a particular photo I wanted to take for one of my kids.... I'll post it at the end of this blog post and you'll have to work it out. It's as stupid as most of these types of photos is all I'm prepared to say!

I got to Trustom Pond NWR on the stroke of five and walked the big loop for just over an hour. There was nothing spectacular here per se, but it was another new State for my eBird map which appeals greatly to my peculiar psyche and stubborn nature. New birds for the trip included White-eyed Vireo, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Wilson's Warbler, Carolina Wren and Cedar Waxwing

I pointed the car west again, and after a short but highly satisfying photography stop crossed the border into Connecticut. With darkness approaching I just needed to find somewhere, anywhere, to bird. So it is that my Connecticut list sits on a huge 12 birds. I managed to find a small woodland at about half seven, and in fifteen minutes of basically standing next to the car picked up Scarlet Tanager, a singing Wood Thrush, and best of all, a most unexpected Common Nighthawk. An epic day, but I needed to be in Maine for 12pm the next day and I had nowhere to stay and no plan! Ebird sorted this out in short order and I was on my way. I reached New Hampshire by about 11pm, food from Chipotle en route, and checked into a cheap motel not actually far from where I'd started in the morning. Trip list 136.

I had threatened her with this and was pleased to be able carry through with it!

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