Birding Cape Ann

Piping Plover Good Harbor Beach Gloucester, MA

4-day old Piping Plover, Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester, MA

Birding around Rockport & Gloucester, Massachusetts

After our recent trip to Maine, we made a 2-night pitstop in Rockport, Massachusetts before flying out of Boston. It was a chance to meet up with some East Coast friends and see some more East Coast birds. We had steady rain early in the visit, and overcast skies for the rest. Still, there were some good places to walk around and see birds. We stayed in a spot near downtown Rockport, a short stroll from Motif #1 (the most painted building in the world, so the story goes). It overlooked a public park. That meant Gray Catbirds outside our window. Blue Jays and Robins could be heard at anytime.

But my plans involved seawatching. Near Rockport are two well-known seawatching spots: Halibut Point State Park, and Andrews Point. They’re north of town, overlooking Ipswich Bay. According to eBird reports, you can spot some good pelagic birds from each. And if you’re lucky, a lifer Roseate Tern or Black Tern or Great Cormorant will fly by while you’re watching. If you’re really lucky, they’ll be close enough to see with binoculars, because this birder doesn’t own a scope.

Common Tern Halibut Point State Park

Common Tern at the quarry, Halibut Point State Park

While the weather wasn’t great, the seawatching was pretty good. From the top of a cliff, it wasn’t hard to pick out Northern Gannets with their big wingspans flying by, or the tiny Wilson Storm-Petrel’s just above the surface. A few terns flew by, but none were Roseate Terns or Black Terns as far as I could tell. Nor did a recently reported juvenile Great Cormorant appear among the steady stream of Double-crested Cormorants moving past the point. Common Eider and Great Black-backed Gulls were down on the rocks at the shore.

Northern Gannett Cape Ann, Massachusetts

A pair of Northern Gannetts flying by

Common Eider Halibut Point

Common Eider

Halibut Point isn’t just seawatching. It also has a nice trail that goes through a bunch of trees and bushes, and surrounds a cool old rock quarry that’s filled in with watewr. My walks produced nice views of Eastern Towhees, Eastern Kingbirds, Carolina Wrens, Northern Cardinals, and other birds I don’t get to see around Los Angeles.

Andrews Point was a challenging parking situation for an out-of-towner. Lots of “No Parking” signs, some of which looked like they had been made by residents to deter people like me from parking in their neighborhood. I didn’t want a ticket or to get my rental car towed, so I parked a few streets away and walked to Andrews Point. It’s a cool rocky coast, with fishermen and women working the shore. 

Great Black-backed Gull, Halibut Point

Behold the largest gull on earth

The highlight of our visit was probably a family stroll along Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester. Wisely, my spouse didn’t mention to me the $25 parking fee before we went (what is with east coast beaches and outrageous parking fees? It’s $45 to park at a place called Crane Beach, where I could’ve seen Roseate Tern if I’d been willing to buck up). If she had, we would’ve gone somewhere else. And if we had gone somewhere else, we would’ve missed seeing the threatened and declining Piping Plovers. There were three adults present, and two chicks. (A local woman has been documenting the Piping Plovers at Good Harbor beach). The volunteer observer present told us that the fuzzy ping pong ball in the picture at the top was 4 days old. The other juvenile, below, was just over a month old.

The Danger of Amusement Parks for Birds

Nervous excitement

The website for the SpringShot ride at Morey’s Pier in Wildwood, New Jersey tells you to “Climb up. Strap in. Hold on as spring power and steel aircraft cables send you straight up into the air.” Left off from the last sentence, a young girl recently learned, was the phrase “and directly into the flight path of a seagull.”

Sudden apprehension as she spots potential trouble

Kiley Holman undoubtedly got closer to the birds than ever she expected when she and her friend were launched into the air on the ride. Just a second after the ride began, her path crossed with that of a seagull flying above.

Collision!

Since every possible moment in time is a moment when one can be birding, we should pause to ID the innocent victim gull. Doing so turns out to be pretty easy. From the picture above, we see nearly all black primary tips, dark gray upper wings, a white bar on the trailing edge of the wing, and a white tail. The still below gives us a great look at the gull’s dark hood and white arc above the eye. Given the location, we can basically rule out Franklin’s Gull, and conclude that’s an irony-free Laughing Gull doing a face-plant on this girl at an amusement park. 

Laughing gull on the right, not laughing human on the left (laughing author of blogpost not pictured)

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