Blog Feature: John's Birding Blog

By paruula August 17, 2012
Osprey

Osprey by John Shamgochian

John Shamgochian is a 13-year-old birder from Rhode Island. In addition to running his own blog, he is also a student editor for The Eyrie, the American Birding Association’s blog for young birders. For more of his posts, visit John’s Birding Blog.

Napatree Point, Westerly, RI April 16, 2012

My fingers clasped the pencil tightly as I scribbled my essential notes (date, time & location) into my moleskine 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 on 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 punkish
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 fingers. 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 their 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 spellbound 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 before landing on a
side beam where he stayed.

Photo by John Shamgochian

Photo by John Shamgochian

Photo by John Shamgochian

Photo by John Shamgochian


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.

Horned Grebes. Photo by John Shamgochian.

Horned Grebes. Photo by John Shamgochian.


Horned Grebe. Photo by John Shamgochian.

Horned Grebe. Photo by John Shamgochian.


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 White-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