Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Shorebirds and a Surprise at Belle Isle Marsh

Black-bellied Plover
 I headed out to Belle Isle Marsh in Boston for Memorial Day morning birding. It had been a while since I had been birding away from Newton and Belle Isle Marsh offered a change of scenery and habitat with the bonus of shorebirds and terns that don't frequent our parks. The sky was gray and overcast with a light drizzle, but I figured the shorebirds wouldn’t be too deterred by a little rain. (Sorry about the pictures, these birds were way out there.

One of the first finds was a female American Redstart who was singing, which I wasn't expecting. When I got out towards the marsh, the bright white Snowy Egrets were easy to pick out, but then more movement became evident and revealed Black-bellied Plovers, Semipalmated Plovers and some peeps. When planes flew over Belle Isle for their approach to Logan, the shorebirds would startle and fly around before resettling. During one of these games of musical chairs, I was able to find a few Short-billed Dowitchers. Their burgundy breasts and long bills made them stick out from the Black-bellied Plovers (notice the black "armpit" on the plovers in flight). Another airplane and subsequent round of musical chairs revealed a couple of Willets, with large amounts of white in their wings.

One of my major reasons for coming were the terns, and both Common and Least Terns
Black-bellied Plovers and Short-billed Dowitchers
put on quite a show, hovering and plunge diving into the salt pans to catch fish. The tide was actually quite high and provided ample water near the paths so they were relatively close to watch. Unfortunately their small size and fast flight made a mockery of my photographic attempts. The terns were also joined in their fishing endeavor by an Osprey. I usually think of terns as much more elegant when fishing with their tucked-wing plunge-dives, while Ospreys are the awkward uncoordinated cousin just haphazardly splashing I to the water. But yesterday I got to see some elegant fishing from the Osprey who swooped low over the pans and snatched a fish in flight. 

While I was out on the main platform watching the march, it decided to rain in earnest, so I tucked my camera under my rain jacket and thought it might be time to head out. As I left the platform an American Kestrel tore off over my head, she was carrying prey and being mobbed by song birds, but I was still excited to have my 2nd Kestrel in MA.

Short-billed Dowitchers
I thought I’d check one last pool on my way back to the parking lot. As I went down the little path to the small cement overlook, a small bird lifted off from the reeds. All at once a couple of visual cues impinged upon my brain. Really small heron shape, buffy / caramel colored body and wings, patches of greenish-blue on back and wings. Before I had even processed all the individual pieces, the ID came to the front of my mind. Least Bittern! What kind of crazy luck was that!

The first time I had visited Belle Isle March, I had been informed that it was a good place to find Least Bitterns. But slowly through subsequent visits I’d all but given up hope of ever finding one. While they may be relatively common in suitable habitat, they are notorious for their secretive habits and are hard to find, let alone actually see. Fortunately we here in Boston have several good locations for Least Bittern with Belle Isle Marsh, Great Meadows in Concord, and of course Plum Island. But you never know, in January of 2012 there was a sighting of a Least Bittern in Newton just south of Nahanton Park.

After the Least Bittern I decided birding in the rain wasn’t so bad and tacked on a Willow Flycatcher, but my day was already made.

1 comment:

  1. I know exactly how you felt when you recognized the Least Bittern, Matt. That experience is one big reason I enjoy birding!