Beyond the BackyardMaine Trip - July 2013

Sandy Point State Reservation, Massachusetts

On our way back from Maine, Rich and I stopped at Sandy Point State Park. It’s on the southern end of an island about an hour north of Boston.  My objective was Piping Plovers, who nest in the area.  We have Piping Plovers in Florida during migration, but I haven’t had such good luck finding them.  Well, I found them in Massachusetts!  There were half a dozen of them running around the sandy beach at the very tip of the island.

Piping Plover
Piping Plover

I’m used to Florida beaches, where nesting birds are protected by roped-off areas, often stewarded by local Audubon groups. On this beach in Massachusetts, nesting cages are placed over the Piping Plover nests. The cages were all empty, so I assume that means that the babies had all fledged. I think I spotted a couple of juveniles in fresh plumage, which is lighter than that of the adults.

Piping Plover Nesting Cages
Piping Plover Nesting Cages

It was a rainy, icky morning. Thunderstorms had moved through the previous night, and everything was all wet. I walked up and down the beach, amazed at how the Massachusetts shoreline was so different than my beaches back home in Florida!

Massachusetts Beach
Massachusetts Beach

Sandy Point State Reservation is an important nesting location not only for the Piping Plovers, but also for Least Terns. I was surprised to find day-old Least Terns in small scrapes close to the edge of a roped-off area. The nests were so close that I didn’t want to disturb the birds, so I got a quick shot and moved on. What cute little fuzzballs!

Least Tern Mom and Chick
Least Tern Mom and Chick

I’m pretty sure this next bird is a Northern Rough-Winged Swallow, a lifer for me. I’ve seen their cousins the Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows often in Florida. Occasionally we’ll get a stray Rough-Winged Swallow vagrant in a flock of thousands of other swallows. This one sat perched on the Least Tern ropes. He was so small that he was tricky to focus on, but I had to bring home photographic evidence of my lifer!

Northern Rough-Winged Swallow
Northern Rough-Winged Swallow

I wandered down to the shoreline to look at the gulls. I saw some Herring Gulls, a Ring-Billed Gull, and several Great Black-Backed Gulls. These were also lifers for me. It’s funny how many common birds are lifers for you when you first go birding in a different part of the country! I had to dust off my Sibley’s Guide to identify a few of the birds. Fun!

Great Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull

As I stood photographing the gulls, I noticed a Common Eider swimming off shore. He wasn’t close enough for good shots, but I took them anyway. They really are common up north, but they’re unusual for me! Then a Least Tern came to fish in the water in front of me. It was really hard to focus on his quick movements in such low light, but I liked this “hover shot”.

Least Tern
Least Tern

Finally we had to leave, and I said goodbye to northern beaches. We had cats waiting for us back home! But I’m looking forward to going back!

Note: I very much appreciated the birding information provided in A Birder’s Guide to the Parker River NWR and Sandy Point SR on Plum Island. It provided useful information in planning my visit. Thanks to Thomas T. Wetmore for providing such a useful guide!

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