I didn't have much time to get out this week and when I could the weather wasn't very cooperative, so there wasn't much to write about this week. A bit of good news, though, the forlorn looking Great Blue Heron I saw last week wasn't in as bad shape as it looked. I checked back the next day and it was gone. Later it was back, energetically picking off minnows in the flooded salt marsh.
That would have been about it for the week until a last minute decision added a big (well, actually tiny) splash. I was traveling to Massachusetts Tuesday, and before I left I checked to see if there were any interesting bird sightings near where I was heading. There was nothing close by, but I saw some pictures posted of Dovekies in Provincetown Harbor, still a two hour drive from my destination. Dovekies are ocean birds, usually not seen near land except when nesting along the arctic coastline, and despite numerous sightings in the Northeast in the past few years, I'd never seen one. Even with the cloud cover, forecasted to thicken throughout the afternoon, I decided to make the trip at the last moment. I headed south, and by the time I reached Cape Cod the sky was clear blue and sunny. As I rounded the elbow, the clouds appeared again, making their way ominously (for photography) to the east. The race was on to reach the tip of the cape before the sun disappeared. I arrived at MacMillan Park just after 3 p.m. and with the clouds just about to cover the sun, I raced out onto the pier. Scanning the water as I went, I got to the last berth without seeing my target. Looking down over the edge I saw a small bird surface directly below me, but it turned out to be a Horned Grebe. I aimed my camera down toward the grebe and was about to start shooting when an even smaller bird surfaced a few feet away. A Dovekie, a life bird, and the last of the Atlantic alcids I had not seen. A few seconds later another one popped up a bit farther away, near the hull of a fishing boat.
With the sun just beginning to fade behind the first thin clouds, the light was ideal to photograph the high contrast black and white birds. I snapped away as they bobbed on the water like little Nerf footballs, preening and diving. They were so close, and seemed oblivious to the all the activity on the fishing vessels surrounding them. In many instances, Dovekie sightings near land occur after big storms, when birds are "wrecked" and in bad shape. These birds were so lively and energetic, it was amusing to watch their bubbly activity. Looking down from the pier, it was possible to see them flying under water as alcids do.
After about 20 minutes, the sun faded completely behind the clouds. Concentrating on the Dovekies at first, I then turned my camera towards some of the other regulars at the pier, including Common Eiders, Long-tailed Ducks and Horned Grebes. Also present were Red-breasted Mergansers and Common Goldeneye, but as the clouds thickened and the afternoon light grew dimmer I quickly ran out of time for photography. Another factor that made it tougher to shoot from the pier was the falling tide, causing steeper angles and greater distances to the birds. It looked to be about eight to ten feet difference to the high tide mark. If you were planning a trip there to take pictures, it might be wise to consider timing your visit at or near high tide.