Provincetown Birding Part 2

Check out this link to ‘Provincetown Birding Part 1′.

By 11:00am, we had arrived at the parking area for Race Point Beach Despite how dark and dreary it was, it wasn’t quite raining and the ocean wasn’t too choppy. Darker conditions often provide the most natural lighting while scanning with a spotting scope and it’s never very fun to sea-watch with rough, white-caps so overall it looked like the birding here was going to work out nicely. We were pretty happy about that, especially since we had never birded this spot before in out lives. In fact, this was the farthest north that Josh Lefever and Ian Gardner had ever been in their lives. Having just seen thousands of sea ducks at Herring Cove Beach and knowing that Black-legged Kittiwakes were around (we had just seen two adults at Herring Cove), we were super excited. Not to mention the chance at spotting a few migrant alcids!

One of the first animals to welcome us to Race Point Beach were the inquisitive Harbor Seals. In fact, small groups of seals constantly watched us from no more than 30ft offshore as we trekked the full length of the beach. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

As soon as we walked down to the edge of the ocean, we could see that the entire area was alive with birds and other creatures. Many Harbor Seals were floating just offshore, with their heads up out of the water, watching us curiously. Streams of Red-breasted Mergansers migrated past, while hundreds more were floating and fishing in the waves along the beach. Careful scanning with the scope could easily turn up all three scoter species, although White-wings were the most common. Common Eiders were passing by in groups, but were much less numerous than at previous locations. Red-throated Loons outnumbered Commons, 5 to 1 and Northern Gannets of all ages could be seen diving offshore.

Common Eiders moving past Race Point Beach. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

An immature Northern Gannet diving close to shore. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

The three of us would set up our scopes and scan the ocean for 10 or 15 minutes and then move 150ft or so down the beach and start scanning again. Soon it was apparent that not only were Black-legged Kittiwakes around, they were probably the most common gull species in the area! Whenever we scanned offshore, there were always large numbers of kittiwakes around (many moving east along the beach) and there likely could have been many more than the 250 we entered into eBird. Almost all of the kittiwakes we saw were adults, but a few immatures put on some good shows for us. We also saw about 50 Bonaparte’s Gulls, which provided nice comparisons alongside the kittiwakes.  Most of the kittiwakes stayed too far offshore for me to get any worthwhile photos, but a few times one would come in close enough for me to get the following shots……

Black-legged Kittiwake – An adult and one of about 250 we saw from Race Point Beach. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Black-legged Kittiwake – A distant immature that was putting on a nice show for us. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

While scanning through kittiwakes, we started to pick up on some other great birds. I spotted an adult Laughing Gull fly past, a fairly uncommon species for Cape Cod this late into the year. Three Common Terns flew past, another late migrant species. Then we started spotting distant black birds, with long wings and distinctly black uppersides and white undersides – Razorbills! First a pair flew past, then a singleton, then another pair, then a group of 6, then another pair, then a group of 20…..at times there was an almost never-ending stream of Razorbills past Race Point Beach, with at least 125 birds total and likely many more than that. We even were fortunate enough to see Razorbills floating offshore, mixed with loons and mergansers. We tried watching the Razorbills as closely as possible in our scopes, to try and pick out any other alcid species. We did spot three Dovekie, but couldn’t find any murres or guillemots.

Nine Razorbills passing by Race Point Beach. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

We continued down the beach for a few miles, always stopped every so often to do a really detailed scan of the ocean. Black-legged Kittiwakes, Razorbills, sea ducks, and more everywhere we stopped. It was so neat to see all the bird movement and diversity. As we walked down the beach, we would also regularly encounter Sanderlings, Dunlin, and Black-bellied Plovers as well as large, loafing flocks of gulls. Three times while scanning offshore, we also spotted Pomarine Jaegers! Always a treat to see, especially watching them beat up on kittiwakes and Bonaparte’s Gulls!

Two of about 150 Sanderlings we saw along the beach. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

A cooperative Dunlin. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

We hiked way out along the beach and then decided, we should head back towards the car, after close to 4 hours of sea-watching. We decided to change things up and walk back along a road through the dunes instead of taking the beach back the way we had come from. We were hoping to find some Snow Buntings, sparrows, or longspurs but couldn’t really find much of anything. Soon we found the reason why – a particularly dark Merlin was perched on a small stick in the dunes, surveying the entire area. As we walked closer, the Merlin took flight and disappeared up over a distant dune – a great end to an already amazing day of birding in Massachusetts.

A photo that really sums up our time at Race Point Beach – Razorbill, kittiwake, and gannet. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)