Monday, December 28, 2020

Tweets for Tweets (3): My Favorite Bird Photos H2 2020

Harbor Seal off Salisbury Beach, checking me out
For many of us, the second half of 2020 meant staying as far from microscopic, aerosolized harm as possible. For 50 million Americans, birding turned out to be a silver lining, an activity suited for a world where COVID favored crowded indoor venues. I count myself among that lucky 50 million.

Unlike H1 and my excursion to Colombia (see first half-2020 favorites here and 2019 favorites here), H2 2020 instead involved exploring some of the birding locations on the North Shore of Boston. Fortunately, these locations are also some of the best birding spots in America. 

Hosting 365(ish) species annually, Plum Island/Parker River National Wildlife Refuge is usually ranked in the top 5 birding locations in America.  An 11-mile long barrier island, it's a collection of beaches, sand dunes, salt marshes and pannes, freshwater impoundments, and maritime forests. It's bonkers during spring and fall migration, a good spot to see Snowy Owls and Rough-legged Hawks in the winter, and a breeding area for the endangered Piping Plover. 

Salisbury Beach State Reservation sits across the mouth of Merrimack River from Plum Island. It's another site ideally suited for birdwatching, though (for me), a preferred cold-weather site after the RVs have disappeared. Great rafts of Eiders and Scoters float around harbor seals. Snow Buntings practice their takeoffs and landings. In irruptive years like 2020, flocks of Crossbills feast in the pines. And, like Plum Island, Salisbury can host Snowy, Saw-whet, Long-eared Owls, and Eagles . . .

Salisbury is where I saw the Eagle surfing an ice floe from the Atlantic down the Merrimack River in December 2019.

My home base for birding is the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, Mass Audubon's largest sanctuary and part of the Eastern Essex County Interior Forest Important Bird Area. Its magnificent 2,800 acres are also the hub for a collection of sanctuaries that, though I'll spare you the details, made getting out during COVID not just possible but pleasurable. (One of these sanctuaries, Rough Meadows, took me back to my business school days and one of business history's greats, Professor Alfred Chandler. I wrote about my visit to that sanctuary here.)

I'm hoping that by late summer or early fall 2021, Mass Audubon is back in business with its programs and trips, locally, nationally, and maybe even internationally. For now, I'll leave you with a collection of pictures that I took in the last six months, figuratively and sometimes literally in my own backyard.

A Semipalmated Plover on the rocks on the ocean side of Plum Island. Even when this species congregates, it practices safe social distancing.

An Osprey, taking a rest from fishing.

A White-winged Scoter on the southern end of Plum Island. Founder of the Nike swoosh.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Mallards, a species that doesn't get the respect it deserves.

This picture of a Black-capped Chickadee was taken at the Lowell Cemetery, an 84-acre garden/rural cemetery where visitors are kind enough to leave snacks on some of the memorials. (For another post set in the Lowell Cemetery, see here for Augustin Thompson, the inventor of Moxie.)

Cedar Waxwing

Another female Mallard--eating, I think, in a falls of the Concord River. I offer the picture after this one as proof that no animals were harmed in the writing of this post.

A White-throated Sparrow, posing at our local Christmas tree farm. I have found that there is nothing more alive than a Christmas tree farm on Thanksgiving, and nothing deader than a Christmas tree farm on Christmas.

A Common Grackle. Kind of a bully and slob at the feeder, but, like most of us, seen in the proper light, not so bad after all.

A Rusty Blackbird, daring me to take its picture.

Canada Geese. You know em. Your love em. Right?!

Dark-eyed Junco. When these little sparrows appear at your feeders, it's time to ready the snow shovel.

Bobolinks, decorating the fields on Plum Island in late summer.

A Northern Cardinal in the swamp behind the Christmas tree farm. This species tends to pair-up and will visit the feeder all winter.

Eastern Bluebirds. You know that friend who loves to have his picture taken and will stop and pose whenever there's a camera around? That friend.

At the other extreme, it took me a long time to get close enough to this Wood Duck to get its picture, and even then he was a hundred yards away. Next year.

Did I mention Eastern Bluebirds to you? These guys were so agreeable that they made it onto our holiday cards.

It's been an irruptive year for Pine Siskin, who have joined their Goldfinch brethren at our birdfeeders. Above, a feeding frenzy. Below, two Pine Siskin digesting between meals on the tree outside my study window.

A House Finch posing at the Christmas tree farm.

There's a Red-tailed Hawk at the Ipswich Audubon that prefers this spot for resting and scouting its next meal.

I caught this House Finch dining upside down in the Lowell Cemetery . . .

. . . and not so far away, this Hermit Thrush, singing its heart out.

A Northern Flicker, visiting the woods behind our home.

A raft of (mostly) Eider at the mouth of the Merrimack River, the sun rising over the Atlantic.

This little Carolina Wren and companion live outside my window, erupting into song on a regular basis.

Snow Buntings, resting (ever so) momentarily on a picnic table at Salisbury Beach State Park.

Did I mention how much Eastern Bluebirds like to pose?  This one is resting on the top of our birdfeeder.

Two Red Crossbills, sunning in the pines at Salisbury. You can see clearly the crossbill on the right, an adaptation that allows them to dig the pine nuts from between the sheaves of a pine cone. 

Nearby, a pair of White-winged Crossbills.

And in a final salute to 2020, a Red-tailed Hawk.

May 2021 bring you a happy, healthy, and sane New Year. I'd like to tell you the birds will be well in 2021, too, but the current administration is intent on doing as much damage as possible on the way out the door. The decade is off to a rough start, but they don't call them the Roaring 20s for nothing. Stay tuned -- better times are right around the corner.


  1. I wish I believed you about the better times ahead, but I'll take them as they come. In the mean time, these are beautiful photos, as usual. Many of them would be beautiful for Christmas cards.

    Should you visit Central Florida (where lodgings await you whenever we're available), don't miss the Black Point Wildlife Drive on Merritt Island. Winter is a great time for birds ... and other creatures.

    1. Thank you, Linda! I've added Black Point to the list. Happy New Year!


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