Dear Club Members,
On a wintery afternoon, Sunday, March 1st, with light snow and a moisture filled, northeasterly wind (“in like a lion”), I led a fully subscribed program for the Essex County Ornithological Club. This event had been postponed from February 22 due to rain ~ yes, rain in February. The group was congenial, and the youngest participant, Matthew, from Swampscott is a six grade student. Some participants hailed from Melrose, Winchester and Raymond, New Hampshire.
Our first stop was at the bridges connecting Amesbury and Newburyport, the Derek Hines and the Chain Bridges. We immediately saw two Bald Eagles in flight as we set up.
One Bald Eagle passed over Deer Island, and the second headed from the cove up river past the Route 95 bridge. We watched Great Cormorants and their skillful underwater pursuits. Common Mergansers dove repeatedly; Rock Pigeons were under the bridges; Mallard were returning to the protected, marshy cove, and gulls were preening on the light fixtures. The Great Cormorants are showing signs of the next season with their white flanks, white, wispy plumes and lemon throats. The Common Mergansers were successful with obtaining and retaining prey.
We walked to the tip of Deer Island and saw two pair of Mallards, and the two, curly, tail feathers on the drakes were well seen by all in the group. A Bald Eagle was headed toward Eagle Island and landed just out of our view. We scanned the island, had several Common Goldeneyes in flight, and a Common Merganser employed its feet to take off from the water. A Red-throated Loon was very close, and we studied it through the scope; the head and bill were held in their classic, up-tilted fashion. We observed the sharply defined white on the face and white spots on the back. We chatted about those field marks and its head size compared to that of a Common Loon. I mentioned that the birds are stunning with their brick red throat patch on their breeding grounds and that the red throat patch resembles an ascot ~ continuing with the aristocratic theme.
We headed back to our cars and slowly proceeded to Spring Lane. As we got out of our cars, we were greeted by an immature Bald Eagle perched just beyond the large White Birch. We studied it in the scope and could see the tawny hues on its back and the dark tip to its culmen. We walked down to the flat shore area and had even better views of the bird because the lighting was better lower down. We came across another Bald Eagle; this one had a very a white belly. We watched the two birds as they perched and searched from the windless cove and compared the field marks. The Great Cormorants were perched on the bridge supports; some were preening, and their breeding patch was very visible. Others were engaging in the “Gargle” with their heads thrown back, showing off their lemon-yellow gular skin ~ a courtship display.
When we headed back to our cars, the eagle that had greeted us upon our arrival was still on the branch [one participant said I had them velcroed for the program]. I conducted my summary, and we chatted about the perils, size differences between males and females and how long-lived eagles are. We continued with discussions on plumage, talons, bill shape and eagles’ acute vision. The two eagles perched in the cove suddenly took flight and stooped low over the water obviously seeing something we hadn’t. One participant said I just hit my remote for action. It was a terrific way to conclude the discussion of our time in the field. We all welcome March even if it is “in like a lion” with hopes of more signs of spring and it going out “like a lamb”.