Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ivory Gull Pictures!

I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see the Ivory Gull for myself since it was just half an hour away. I drove over to Plymouth Harbor around 9:30 this morning and was in luck--the gull was still there!

I parked in the East Bay Grill parking lot since I had read some accounts online saying it had been seen there. Upon pulling into the parking lot I saw a couple walking to their car with tripod and camera bags in hand- I know this had to be the right spot. After parking I walked over to the boat launch where I had seen them walking from. Here's what I saw as I approached the harbor:

When I arrived (around 10:00) the gull was hanging out on the breakwater/jetty. I heard a woman say it had been right there in the parking lot though earlier that morning, feasting on the chicken carcasses (which were still there- you can thank me for not taking a picture of those).

Everyone was so friendly and very nice. I was talking to a bearded gentleman who was giving me the scoop on everything. He also helped introduce me to people who would let me look through their scopes.

Front View:

Side View:

At the time it was hard to tell if my pictures were coming out. The gull blends in with the snow so well, naturally it was hard to see. It was seated when I first arrived, was joined by a juvenile herring gull, then stood up for a while, then sat down again.
I was able to confirm at least some of the pictures came out by looking at the review screen of my PowerShot, so I felt comfortable leaving. I could have hung out to see if it came back to the parking lot, but it was windy, cold, and after Andy's comment (warning of the dangers of harassing rare birds) I decided it would be best to go home after getting my shot.
It was very exciting though- there were people from all over, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and the far reaches of Massachusetts. The man I was chatting with also confirmed that there are two ivory gulls in Massachusetts right now. The first was spotted in Gloucester Harbor, and it is in fact a different bird than the one in Plymouth Harbor because they have been seen simultaneously and the Gloucester bird has different markings.
Has anyone been to see either ivory gull?
UPDATE- 2.17.09
For some truly impressive pictures of the Plymouth Ivory Gull please visit Andy's Lens. This link will bring you to all of his posts about the ivory gull, including very crisp and close-up pictures:
For you photography officiandos, he also includes a post devoted entirely to the camera settings he used to get those great pictures.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Ivory Gull Spotted in Plymouth

I just read a news update on the Cape Cod Times Website that a rare Ivory Gull has been spotted in both Plymouth and Gloucester, MA. What I found most interesting:

  • According to Cape bird expert Vernon Laux, this might be one of the first adults spotted in Massachusetts since the 1880s.

  • A man drove 6 hours form Pennsylvania just to catch a glimpse of it

  • As you can see in the CapeCast video, birders were able to get extremely close to it as it ate a chicken carcass provided for the bird.

  • Apparently ivory gulls scavenge (often what polar bears leave behind) rather than hunt and forage themselves

Click on this image to read the Cape Cod Times article.

Click on this image to launch the CapeCast video at It's a must see!

I'm always hopeful that I'll spot some type of rare gull in the wintertime, but as of yet all I've ID-d are Ring-billed Gulls like this one in Colorado:

Maybe I should make a trip to Plymouth and test my luck!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

How to Tell the Difference Between a Downy and a Hairy Woodpecker

This picture of a woodpecker from my trip to Colorado reminded me how difficult it can be to tell the difference between Downy Woodpeckers and Hairy Woodpeckers.

I see far more downy woodpeckers here in Massachusetts, but when I'm at Steve's parents house in Connecticut I see more hairy woodpeckers. There's one that lives in his parents' yard and is always pecking away at the tree in the front yard. Colorado was completely new territory so I didn't know what to expect.

I remember this bird being on the larger side when I took the picture, and you can notice its elongated neck and extensive black on its shoulder. I was curious if woodpeckers were any different out in Colorado. While I was doing research on All About Birds I found a link more information about birds of the Rockies:

Based on this I am pretty confident it was a hairy woodpecker, not only because of the size, but because of the extensive black on its shoulder/back.

This picture came from Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Project Feederwatch Resources. Is anyone else participating in Project Feederwatch? I know James at Coyote Mercury is. I haven't been able to watch much lately. The way Christmas and New Years fell I was out of town on my feeder-watching days (Tuesday and Wednesday), and then this week I didn't see any birds on one of my watching days.

Anyone else have tips for telling the difference between downy woodpeckers and hairy woodpeckers?

Where did my background color go?

Have any other Blogger users experienced this? All of a sudden my green background disappeared. I apologize to readers who saw it before I did- the light-colored text and links must have been impossible to see on a white background.

I went into my Layout to update the color, but for some reason I cannot change the background color. I can change all the other colors (thankfully, so I could darkent the text), but for some reason not the text.

It's a mystery... Maybe I'll be forced to change my whole color scheme or switch to a new template in case this ones messed-up.

Colorado Birding

I know it's been ages since I posted, but that doesn't mean I haven't been out birdwatching. I still have some pictures to post from a trip to the Chestnut Hill Reservoir in December, and I'm finally putting up the pictures from our trip to Colorado the first week in January.

I was anxious to see some new species, but in fact, some of my best sightings were birds that I could also see in right here in Massachusetts.

I was particularly excited about this Belted Kingfisher- a lifer!

Hungry fella? She has a fish (or something) in her mouth here:

You can tell it's a female in this picture (although very distant and out-of-focus) because of the rust-colored markings (red chest band) on her breast.

I read up on All About Birds and learned that Belted Kingfishers are one of the few species where the female is more brightly-colored than the male. They hunt by watching the water from their perch or hovering above, and then dive head-first into the water. They then fly to a perch and smash their prey then eat it (which is what can be seen in the middle picture).

Here are some other pictures from our walk around Twin Lakes with Steve's sister Lisa who lives there in Boulder.

American Robin

It seems all of the birds were in the middle of lunch! Here's a Hairy Woodpecker with a nut or bug in its mouth.
It can be difficult to tell the apart Downy Woodpeckers and Hairy Woodpeckers. I generally rely on size for these. It's tough because this picture was taken a few weeks ago so I can't remember the exact size, but I do think it was on the larger side.

Here's a Northern Mockingbird we saw during our hike at the
Flatirons. That was the only species I saw during the hike actually. I followed a couple of different mockingbirds hopping around on the rocks and low branches of the trees.

It was a great vacation, and it's also great to be home and catch up on stuff around the house and blogging of course!