During the time period of December 3-10, I found myself racing toward the east coast with two good friends; Garrett MacDonald and Lucas Foerster. Our goal was simple, enjoy the crazy vagrants showing up and have fun birding. Both goals were realized in epic fashion.
I picked Garrett up from the Detroit airport at 3:30pm and we raced over to Lucas' house in London, ON, arriving just after dark. We quickly left his house and were racing east. First stop: Hyannis for the recently identified Little Egret. Driving through the night, we arrived at sunrise, even before the egrets. After a short wait, they arrived; two Great Egrets with a smaller one following. They landed quite close and allowed great study. And just like that, the first major target was acquired.
After enjoying the Egret, we back-tracked to Barnstable where a Northern Lapwing has been spending time in a corn stubble field. We spotted the bird from the car and had amazing scope views of this stunning shorebird. Quite possibly my favorite bird of the trip.
We ended our day at Duxbury Beach. Once we were walking toward the beach, we all saw 9 Cave Swallows heading south. I still haven't seen this bird in Michigan, and we were all shocked at our luck.
On the 5th, we chased a Barnacle Goose in the Bronx, NY. We didn't plan too well and hit some major traffic. We eventually did make it to the bird and had great looks at this smartly marked goose.
We didn't have much time to do any other birding, but we did try once again for the Black-headed Gull in Hyannis, which we missed again.
Tired of chasing birds, we spend the 6th in the Gloucester/Rockport area. We started at Andrew's Point where we saw Great Cormorants, Razorbills, Northern Gannets and Purple Sandpipers (our only PUSA of the trip!). We worked our way down the coast, checking some peninsulas and just doing some general birding, which felt good. We ended at Manomet Point where we had better looks at Razorbills and Great Cormorants and plenty of Bonaparte's Gulls, but not much else.
On the 7th we decided it would be best to do more seawatching. Dovekie was a major target and we had yet to see one. Provincetown (or P-town) was the obvious choice and we got there just before sunrise. After setting up, Lucas yelled out about some small alcids heading north. We all got on them and sure enough, Dovekie! Four of them! We had another 3-4 scattered throughout the morning. We also saw our first and only Black-legged Kittiwake, Common Murre and Pomarine Jaeger of the trip. In the afternoon, we stomped around the Fort Hill marsh for the second time. Still, we were unable to identify any ammodramus sparrows besides a couple Seaside Sparrows. The others just would not cooperate, but a few were clearly Nelson's or Saltmarsh. So, we went back to Hyannis to look for the Black-headed Gull that we kept missing. Finally, it showed well and we had fantastic looks at the bird with two Bonies.
After refueling our bodies with Subway, we again trounced through Fort Hill marsh, this time with a little more success. We flushed a Clapper Rail that was a lifer for Lucas. It had been a while since I had actually SEEN one of these rails. And in December, no less!
We also had better looks at Seaside Sparrow.
And, finally, we got great looks at a non-Seaside ammodramus that, after some debate, turned out to be a Nelson's Sparrow. We never would get a look at a Saltmarsh Sparrow.
We slept in on the morning of the 8th with intentions of having a relaxing morning and working our way up to Niagara Falls for some gulling on the 9th. But, as fate would have it, Mike Lester texted Garrett and I that a Pink-footed Goose had been re-found in New Jersey. This kick-started us into gear, and after driving for 5 1/2 hours, we made it to the pond and the sight of some dis-heartened birders. The goose wasn't here! We exchanged numbers and drove around every pond and corn field we could find, sorting through thousands of geese with no luck. With only an hour or two of light left we returned to the pond where thousands of geese were pouring in. Still, the birders on the scene told us the Pink-footed wasn't among them. Finally, after scanning the flock a few times, I found the bird! It was hiding quite well in the dense flock, but it was there. Everyone enjoyed prolonged scope views of this great bird from Greenland.
Now it was time to make the 8 hour trek to Niagara Falls. The drive would have seemed a lot longer, but coming off of a win, it wasn't too bad. The gull show on the morning of the 9th didn't disappoint either. In with the thousands of Bonaparte's Gulls we found one adult Little Gull. Below the falls we had great looks at multiples of Thayer's and Iceland Gulls. Above the falls, we found an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull. We ended in Brantford hoping to get lucky with a Gray Partridge, but it wasn't to be had. They are nearly impossible, except in the winter when there is snow. I guess I'll have to head over once the snow comes, which could be a while.
To celebrate this successful week of birding, we stayed with Lucas in London and enjoyed some delicious Canadian food. We stuffed our faces with Poutien. When we got hungry again, we tried the Panzarotties which are similar to a calzone, but infinitely better.
On the 10th I dropped Garrett off at the Detroit airport and made it back to Lansing. I'm already looking forward to another birding adventure with these guys!