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Red-necked Stint in L.A.

Red-necked Stint Malibu Lagoon

Red-necked Stint in the distant muck at Malibu Lagoon

Lifer Red-necked Stint in Malibu

Nothing puts a stop to regular birding walks like throwing out your back. And I threw out my back a couple of weeks ago. So I’ve been largely stuck at home, on a couch or my bed, doing my best not to twist, bend over, or god-forbid sneeze. Until recently, it was a significant accomplishment, achieved through suffering and very awkward positioning, to put on socks and shoes. So when word went out Monday that a Red-necked Stint was at Malibu Lagoon, I confronted a dilemma that I’m pretty sure I’d never faced before: was I physically able to go birding? 

All it required was a 15 mile drive and a walk down a dirt path and down a beach. But driving has been the worst activity, and walking was no picnic either. Balanced against that was the chance to add a lifer, and a bird that had only been seen in L.A. county twice before. I didn’t have to go into work on Tuesday, so I could drop off my kid at school, and drive out to the Malibu Lagoon and see it. I was hoping word would go out before I made the drive that the bird was present. Happily, someone posted on the LACO Birds listserv at 7:45am that the bird had been found. Confident it wouldn’t be gone by 8:30 when I’d arrive, I decided to risk my well-being and head out there. 

Red-necked Stint Malibu Lagoon

Too rufous to be a Least Sandpiper; too delicate and small to be a Western Sandpiper

As with all good super-rarities, there was a group of birders peering through optics when I made my way to the beach. I lined myself up with one of the guys with a scope, and picked out the Red-necked Stint amongst the peeps working the mire in the lagoon. It was pretty far away, so the binocular looks (and the photos) weren’t great, but the red neck was easy to make out. It spent its time feeding, occasionally flying short distances but never coming close. 

Red-necked Stints breed in Siberia and and the Russian Far East, and winter in Australia and southeast Asia. They don’t regularly appear in the lower 48. You can find them in Nome, Alaska, but there’s maybe one a year found somewhere along the west coast. 

I can’t say that it was a thrilling outing. Indeed, it might’ve been the least exciting lifer I’ve added in a long while. But I blame my back for that, and not the bird. There had been a juvenile Black Tern at the lagoon the night before that I was hoping had stuck around (that would’ve been another lifer). But I didn’t see it, and no one reported it during the day. 

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.

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