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ABA Rally in Plymouth, Massachusetts – It was wicked birdy

Marshall Iliff (pointing) declares victory after a sighting of a young male King Eider

On a stunningly gorgeous day at Provincetown on Cape Cod, Marshall Iliff (pointing) directs our attention just after a sighting of a young male King Eider. (Photo © Jeff Gordon)

The weather and the birding gods smiled on us for the 2014 ABA Birding Rally in Plymouth, Massachusetts. We had from the evening of Jan. 31 to the morning of Feb. 4th together, and we were blessed not only with good weather but also great company, and we received tremendous local support. Both Wayne Petersen, Mass Audubon‘s Director of the Important Bird Area Program, and Marshall Iliff of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird, were instrumental in the rally’s success and played key roles with both the logistics and educating us about the region’s birds. The incomparable Mark Faherty of Mass Audubon also help us get where we needed to go and provided innumerable puns for us to ponder.

Wayne Petersen delivers a talk our first night in Plymouth about the avifuana of the region, and how it's evolved over time, the ornithologists involved in documenting it. (Photo © G. Armistead)

Wayne Petersen delivers a talk our first night in Plymouth about the avifauna of the region, how it’s evolved over time, and the ornithologists involved in documenting it. (Photo © G. Armistead)

Our first day afield we headed straight for the tip of Cape Cod, and did a seawatch in search of alcids at Race Point Beach. With support from an advance team of local aces that included Jeremiah and Peter Trimble, and Luke Seitz, we were able to see well over 600 Razorbills, and tallied both Common and Thick-billed Murres.

"The advance team" consisted of Jeremiah Trimble (collection manager of Harvard's MCZ) & his dad Peter Trimble, and also Luke Seitz. They helped locate a number of key species for the rally.

“The advance team” consisted of (left to right) Jeremiah Trimble (collection manager of Harvard’s MCZ), his dad Peter Trimble, and bird artist Luke Seitz. The three of them helped locate a number of key species for the rally. (Photo © Jeff Gordon)

The seas were littered with seaducks like Common Eider, White-winged Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, and Long-tailed Ducks. Nearby Nantucket is known as a key wintering area for Long-tailed Duck, where they often achieve the national high count on the Christmas Bird count (typically well into the 10s of thousands).

Common Eiders were extremely, well... common. We never tired of them.

Common Eiders were extremely, well… common. We never tired of them.

On Day 2 afield, we headed north for Cape Ann and Plum Island. The weather started out fair enough and while out on Cape Ann we enjoyed a nice show, with plenty more seaducks including lots of gorgeous and gregarious Harlequin Ducks, and we picked up Purple Sandpipers and Black Guillemot.

This Snowy Owl at Cape Ann was one of 10 we saw through the course of our 3 days of birding coastal Massachusetts and Rhode Island. (Photo © Jeff Gordon)

This Snowy Owl at Cape Ann was one of 10 we saw through the course of our 3 days of birding coastal Massachusetts and Rhode Island. (Photo © Jeff Gordon)

Motif Number 1 in Rockport on Cape Ann, is one of the nation's most often painted and photographed buildings as an icon of coastal life in New England. (Photo © George Armistead)

Motif Number 1 in Rockport on Cape Ann, is one of the nation’s most often painted and photographed buildings. It is a well-known icon of coastal life in New England. (Photo © George Armistead)

We finished up Groundhog’s Day at legendary Plum Island, where Snowy Owls were causing traffics jams for many happy owl enthusiasts. Then we flagged down Ryan Doherty who had located a Northern Shrike. The bird proved most cooperative and eventually our whole group was able to see this charismatic and unpredictable species. Later that night some of us assembled to take in the Super Bowl. The game wasn’t the most thrilling, but we enjoyed good company over some food and drink.

Day 3 the snow finally found us, and while we had enjoyed the unseasonably warm whether up to this point, it was also nice to experience some authentic New England weather conditions. We spent the morning birding Cumberland Farms where nearly our first bird of the day was a gorgeous pale morph Rough-legged Hawk. We watched Eastern Meadowlarks and Horned Larks flying about over the fields and a few of us even managed views of a rare for the region Yellow-headed Blackbird. And then it was time to head south for Rhode Island. A female Tufted Duck had set up shop in Pawtucket and so we made the jaunt south, and after some careful maneuvering and good teamwork we all enjoyed decent views of this rare ABA code 3 species. At lunch we rewarded ourselves with some nice hot New England Clam Chowder.

By the time we made it to Rhode Island, snow was pretty heavy. But that didn't stop us from enjoying a flock of Canvasbacks and a Tufted Duck! (Photo © Jeff Gordon)

By the time we made it to Rhode Island, the snow was falling pretty heavily, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying a flock of Canvasbacks and a Tufted Duck! (Photo © Jeff Gordon)

Wayne Petersen, Liz Gordon, Jeff Gordon, and Betty Petersen's sisters, X & Y. (Photo © George Armistead)

Wayne Petersen, Liz Gordon, Jeff Gordon, and Betty Petersen’s sisters, Alice Smith & Judy John. (Photo © George Armistead)

Plymouth Rock (Photo © George Armistead)

Plymouth Rock (Photo © George Armistead)

The rally ended Monday night with ABA President Jeff Gordon presenting a talk on the ABA’s Conservation and Community initiatives. This included his announcement of a new ABA Award the Betty Petersen Award for conservation and community.

Our most sincere thanks to all who attended, and to the great birding community in Massachusetts that helped us put this event together. A big thanks are due to Marshall Iliff, Wayne Petersen, Mark Faherty, and Nancy Ludlow.

Join us at our next ABA Event, the ABA Convention in Corpus Christi, Texas. ABA staff  Ted Floyd, Jennie Duberstein, Tom Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and others are joined by convention speakers and guides like Cornell’s videographer Gerrit Vyn, birding film-maker Jeffrey Kimball, and the incomparable Jen Brumfield. We can’t wait to bird with you in Texas!

Bird videographer Gerrit Vyn is known as a great speaker, and brings with him incredible footage of rare species like Spoon-billed Sandpiper. "I'm most looking forward to getting out on the water on the Texas coast. And I'm looking foward to seeing Tom Johnson at the convention. He has a great knack for finding rare birds and unheard of hybrids!"

Videographer Gerrit Vyn is a keynote speaker at the ABA Convention and brings with him incredible footage of Spoon-billed Sandpipers. He writes, “I’m most looking forward to getting out on the water on the Texas coast, and I’m looking forward to seeing Tom Johnson at the convention. He has a great knack for finding rare birds and unheard of hybrids!”

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George Armistead

George Armistead

George Armistead is a lifelong birder and since April 2012 is the events coordinator for the ABA. George spent the prior decade organizing and leading birding tours for Field Guides Inc. He has guided trips on all seven continents, and enjoys vast open country habitats and seabirds most of all. Based in Philadelphia, he is an associate at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, and spends much of his free time birding the coast between Cape May, NJ and Cape Hatteras, NC.
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