GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

January 21, 2013

Birding season ready to take flight

By Andrea Holbrook
Staff Writer

---- — The first weekend in February promises to be a busy one for birders on Cape Ann.

The bird watching kicks off with the start of the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce’s Cape Ann Winter Birding Weekend, held in conjunction with Massachusetts Audubon on Friday, Feb. 1.

Bird lovers from all over the country have come to Gloucester to see Arctic and sub-Arctic species that winter here when their habitats ice over.

“This is their Florida,” says one of the organizers, Gloucester resident Chris Leahy, the Gerard A. Bertrand Chair of Natural History and Field Ornithology at Mass Audubon.

Some birds likely to be seen are harlequin ducks, which especially like this cape’s rocky shores, loons, grebes, purple sandpipers from the Arctic, and some gulls that are only spotted here in the winter, Leahy said.

Events over the weekend of Feb. 1 to 3 will be geared to birders of all experience levels, including tours of the region’s hot birding spots, and a sea trip on the 7 Seas Whale Watch’s Privateer IV.

The Elks Club at Bass Rocks on Gloucester’s Back Shore will serve as the event’s headquarters. There, the public is invited to exhibitor venue and demonstrations.

Leahy says an infrequent visitor to Massachusetts, and one that is never seen inland, a king eider, has been spotted the last few years in Gloucester. It is likely the same duck and he’s been spotted this season in the area between the Elks and Salt Island, he said.

The weekend opens Friday at Friday, Feb. 5, at the Elks at 3 p.m., when walk-in registration will take place for the Saturday tours. On Friday at 6 p.m., Wayne Petersen, author of “Birds of Massachusetts,” will give a talk on what birds migrate to Cape Ann for the winter that participants are likely to see over the weekend.

The exhibitor venue will feature cameras, binoculars and other equipment of interest to birders, as well as demonstrations, including the creation of wooden decoys by Bob Brophy of Essex and Bruce Horne. It will be open to the public from 3 to 7 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.

Guided birding trips on Saturday, Feb. 2, will take registered birders to Halibut Point State Park and Andrews Point in Rockport, as well as Niles Pond, Good Harbor Beach, Magnolia Beach and other prime birding locations.

Leahy said spotters may see also see several types of auks: razorbills, rarer dovekies, some of which have already been seen this season, and perhaps a rare puffin.

Saturday also marks the start of Massachusetts Audubon’s annual Focus on Feeders winter bird count, which continues Sunday. Audubon’s volunteer survey invites participants to list individual bird species and the greatest number of each seen at one time at their feeders and yards that Saturday and Sunday. Participants’ names will be entered in a drawing to win one of several prizes. Deadline for submissions is Thursday, Feb. 28.

Anyone can participate in the Audubon survey. Information on how to participate and submit reports can be found at www.massaudubon.org/focus. Last year, nearly 100 species were reported in 292 communities statewide, thanks to more than 850 observers.

“Watching birds at feeders is a fun and educational way to connect with nature, while contributing useful information about the winter status of common birds in Massachusetts,” said Petersen, also director of Mass Audubon’s Important Bird Areas program. “We invite one and all to join with hundreds of other bird lovers in this enjoyable weekend survey.”

The chamber’s birding weekend continues with an optional offshore birding boat trip from 8 a.m. to noon Sunday that will depart from Seven Seas Wharf, Rogers Street in Gloucester. Capt. Jay Frontiero, himself a birder, will narrate.

The Birding Boat Trip is subject to safe weather and ocean conditions; last year it had to be canceled. Participants are encouraged to dress for the weather, wear comfortable walking shoes, and bring binoculars.

Birders can register for the chamber’s birding weekend by visiting the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce, 33 Commercial St. in Gloucester, www.capeannchamber.com or calling 978-283-1601. The cost is $30 per person; children 12 and younger are free. The boat trip is an additional $50 per person. Deadline to register is Jan. 24.

The chamber’s Burton said many Cape Ann accommodations are extending special discounts and hospitality to birders for the weekend.

There will be limited walk-in registration available on the days of the event. To assure a space, the chamber asks that birders register in advance.

Andrea Holbrook may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3456, or aholbrook@gloucestertimes.com.