TRIP REPORT: MASSACHUSETTS: 2020 February – Target Species Trip

Drake Common Eider in flight. Photo by Chris Brown


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Trip Report by Chris Brown

Our Massachusetts Target tour (February 14-17, 2020) was both relaxing and exciting and the birds cooperated to an almost unusual level.

February 14

Close crop of our first Thick-billed Murre of the tour. Photo by Chris Brown.

Since all our participants arrived the night before we were able to get started mid-morning, heading north to the Gloucester area, where Dovekie had been seen reliably in the last few days.

We didn’t find one at the state fishing pier, but we did get up-close looks at a Thick-billed Murre, another one of the primary targets of the tour. In addition, we found Iceland Gulls, Razorbills and the seemingly ubiquitous Common Eiders.

We tried various Gloucester area hotspots until finally, there it was: a tiny Dovekie. We got nice scope looks at our second main target. The pressure certainly was off!

In the early afternoon we headed toward Yarmouth, at the base of Cape Cod, to get squared away at the hotel.

February 15

We began the day by birding Provincetown, concentrating on MacMillan Wharf, adding among other things, Horned Grebe, Purple Sandpiper, two more Thick-billed Murres and a handful of Black Guillemots, including one of the Arctic subspecies mandtii, which has been documented in the Lower 48 States less than five times!

Digiscoped photo of the very rare Arctic Black Guillemot. Photo by Chris Brown.

Having already experienced many of our participants primary targets we decided to take a long walk on the beach. We hit Race Point, our packs stuffed with lunch, and wandered at our leisure, stopping eventually to eat. Our stroll added Black-legged Kittiwake, Glaucous Gull, and Northern Gannet. When we were tired of walking we turned around and headed back to the car, chilly but happy.

Another major target of this particular tour was Black-headed Gull which we eventually tracked down near Hyannis just before the bird flew off behind a rise in the dune. Our good fortune had continued.

Happy with our luck we headed back to the hotel, stopping at the Cape Cod Canal Bridge, where we heard a Fish Crow or two, a new species for our participants from Nevada.

February 16

Our first birding stop today was Scusset Beach State Reservation in search of birds for our Massachusetts lists. We were not disappointed. The regular northeastern winter birds such as White- and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Hairy Woodpecker, and Hermit Thrush were joined by such surprises as Eurasian Wigeon, Pine Warbler and a staked-out Western Tanager for a good diversity of species. We eventually tracked down a drake Barrow’s Goldeneye in a flock of Common Goldeneye. It was a lovely day of moderate-paced birding.

February 17

Digiscoped photo of our Barnacle Geese, a great way to end our tour. Photo by Chris Brown.

With our final day, and having seen all of the likely target species, we decided to go on a wild goose chase while trying our best to bring our Massachusetts lists to 100 species.

Barnacle Geese are recent arrivals to the United States, particularly in the northeast during winter, and one had been seen at a spot that was just a short detour on the way to the airport.

Being that the birds hadn’t been reported for several days I wasn’t sure what to expect, but once we found a small farm pond with a flock of Canada geese we also found our reward: not one, but two beautiful Barnacle Goose.

Talk about the icing on the cake! We had found all of our primary targets and then some. Although we ended the tour just shy of the 100 species mark we seemed to add new species at every stop, right up until our final birding location, Winthrop Beach, where we added Snow Bunting to our tally.

It was an exciting trip with fun people, ticking pretty much every target we had hoped for. I began the drive back to New Jersey content and strangely energized, with plenty of fond memories to accompany me on the road. – Chris Brown

Join us next February for this Massachusetts Target Tour!

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