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Local News

October 12, 2013

Peregrine falcons create drama in Newburyport Harbor

Margo and I spend most of last Sunday in the off and (mostly) on rain at Salisbury Beach State Reservation with not much to show for it. There was some movement of scoters over the ocean, a few gannets, and a loon or two. The grove near the campground was mostly quiet due to the presence of a Cooper’s hawk at one end.

Late in the afternoon, when the rain had subsided a bit, we headed for the north end of Plum Island, but we decided to check out a group of gulls in the recently mowed marsh on the left as we approached the island. We turned up Old Point Road and scanned the gulls and found some shorebirds among them.

There were 10 greater and two lesser yellowlegs, a few dunlin and semipalmated sandpipers, a black-bellied plover and an American golden plover. We also found an adult lesser black-backed gull, a less common gull here on the North Shore, among the herring gulls. An immature black-crowned night heron was lurking behind the gulls and it soon walked out of sight into some nearby phragmites.

We then proceeded to the north end of Plum Island. As soon as we arrived there, we saw a peregrine falcon pursuing a tern-like bird, closer to the area entering the basin. The small bird gracefully eluded the predator and flew more in front of us, into the middle of the harbor, with the peregrine in close pursuit. At first I thought it might be a Bonaparte’s gull, but the dark underwing linings were evident to both of us – it was an adult little gull!

The little gull is a Eurasian species, uncommon in this area. One or more show up in Newburyport Harbor or on Plum Island most years. There were as many as three in the harbor in late summer and early fall. It is a bird that is sought here by birders from other parts of the country, and it is always special when we “locals” see one.

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