Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sea Birds from the Rockport Headlands, MA

Fly-by Long-tailed Ducks, Halibut Point State Park, Rockport, MA; 11/12/2011.
This post will not acclaim to have quality photos, but as I was exploring the rocky sea shore of Halibut Point State Park, in Massachussets, watching for Harlequin Ducks, several flocks of sea birds flew past. They were all quite far out to sea and travelling at a fast clip, and because I am not very good at identifying most sea birds by their flight pattern (yet), I wasn't certain of their identities. I just pointed my lens, tried to get them in my viewfinder, put my camera on auto-focus in "sports mode," and let it burst. At the distance, I assumed the first flock (Above) to be some more Harlequins, but upon looking at my images later in the day, I realized they were Long-tailed Ducks. Very cool, this is the first time I have ever seen a Long-tailed Duck. Below, I cropped my best image (which isn't saying a lot in this case) of these Long-tails, so you can see how unique their non-breeding plumage is with their light grayish/pinkish mask with a black cheek and wings, and a long tail trailing behind - thus its name. In summers they will keep the mask but the remainder of their head will turn black with a white swoop behind their eyes. In the top left corner of the pic (Above) ia a juvenile Long-tailed Duck. Its face is whiter without the mask and its black cheek and breast have not yet fully developed.
A close up of the Long-tailed Ducks , Halibut Point State Park, Rockport, MA; 11/12/2011.
Long-tailed Ducks spend their summers in Northern Canada and Alaska, and will migrate down both the Atlantic and Pacific Coastlines to spend their winters.
A Northern Gannet, Halibut Point State Park, Rockport, MA; 11/12/2011.
One of my target birds (along with the Harlequin Ducks my Christmas Day post - ) was the Northern Gannet which is common along the entire Atlantic seaboard during the winter months.  I saw this large white bird (Above) quite far out over the ocean. It seemed too large to be a gull, so I found it in my viewfinder and burst as many shots as possible, hoping that I  might get an image that will let me identify it. Sure enough, upon searching through my day's images, most of my shots from that particular series of bursts were far too blurry to know for sure what it was, but I had at least 3 images that told me it was indeed a Northern Gannet (Above). Its all-white body with black wing tips weren't the give away, but its long thick gray bill giving away to a long gape (the fleshy edges at the corners of the mouth - often looking like a smile or a frown), and its yellow tinge of color on its nape were unmistakenable. I was very happy to see a Northern Gannet, but unfortunately, it was the only one I saw during my 3-day weekend in Massachussets, and this is the best image I could get.
A flock of Surf-Scoters flew by by, Halibut Point State Park, Rockport, MA, 11/12/2011.
The final flock of seabirds that flew by (that wern't Gulls, Harlequins or Eiders) were Surf-Scoters, which enabled me to identify all three types of Scoters (Black and White-winged being the other two. See my 12/11/2011 post - ) during my weekend. Again because they quite far out to sea away from the shore, I had to rely on hoping to get a good image from a series of burts in auto-focus. Surf-Scoters are mostly a dull grayish brown diving duck, lighter underneath and with a white verticle loral patch at the base of its bill. Females will also sport a white patch on its cheek. Surf-Sxcoters are another bird that are summer residents of the extreme north - Alaska, and Nunavut and Quebec, Canada; and will migrate along both coasts for the winter.
These three species, Long-tailed Ducks, Northern Gannet, and Surf Scoters were additions to my Life List (#342-344).

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