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128. Rockport Headlands, Cape Ann, Massachusetts

In late fall and winter, look for Harlequin Duck, King Eider, Pacific Loon, Northern Gannet, and other seabirds at the northern tip of the Cape Ann peninsula, 50 miles northeast of Boston.
By John Nelson | Published: 10/21/2011

They say you should never guarantee a bird, but every time I’ve visited the Rockport Headlands in winter, I’ve had stunning views of flocks of Harlequin Duck, North America’s only torrent duck.

Ideal for winter seawatching, the headlands comprise three sites that are within two miles of each other: Halibut Point State Park, Andrews Point, and Cathedral Rocks. They’re all part of a granite outcrop that juts into Ipswich Bay. Here I saw my first King Eider, Pacific Loon, Northern Gannet, Common and Thick-billed Murres, and Dovekie — species definitely not guaranteed and seen only with good fortune — along with the more common Harlequin, Razorbill, Great Cormorant, Common Eider, Common and Red-throated Loons, Horned and Red-necked Grebes, Long-tailed Duck, three scoter species, and other waterfowl.

I often find Purple Sandpiper flocks on the rocks below promontories, while the heathland and thickets of Halibut Point are worth checking for uncommon winter passerines like Yellow-breasted Chat, Northern Shrike, or irruptive Bohemian Waxwings. — John Nelson

John Nelson contributes regularly to the journal Bird Observer and has published essays and fiction about birds in The Snowy Egret, Birding, and The Gettysburg Review.

128. Rockport Headlands, Cape Ann, Massachusetts

Directions

The Rockport Headlands is an oceanside Important Bird Area at the northern tip of the Cape Ann peninsula. From Gloucester, take Rt. 127 (Washington St.) for six miles to Gott Ave. Turn left to enter Halibut Point State Park. Two other viewing spots are nearby: Andrews Point at the end of Point de Chene Ave. and Cathedral Rocks on Cathedral Ave.

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At a Glance

Click on the coordinates below to view location: 
42°41’29.65″N 70°37’57.07″W

Habitat

Granite outcrop, ocean, coastal heathland, thickets, and oak-hickory woodland.

Terrain

Generally flat. Trails may be icy in winter.

Birds

Late fall and winter, common: Harlequin Duck, Common Eider, Surf, White-winged, and Black Scoters, Long-tailed Duck, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Common and Red-throated Loons, Horned and Red-necked Grebes, Great Cormorant, Razorbill, Black Guillemot, Purple Sandpiper. Late fall and winter, less common: King Eider, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Pacific Loon, Northern Fulmar (rare), Northern Gannet, Dovekie, Common and Thick-billed Murres, Atlantic Puffin (rare), Northern Shrike, Bohemian Waxwing (irruptive), Yellow-breasted Chat, Snow Bunting, Common Redpoll (irruptive). Spring and fall: Eastern Kingbird, Brown Thrasher, migrant warblers and thrushes.

When to go

Late fall and winter for seawatching. Spring, fall, and winter for migrant passerines at Halibut Point.

Amenities

At Halibut Point, restrooms at the visitor center, portable toilet in the parking lot. None at Andrews Point and Cathedral Rocks. Brookline Bird Club and Massachusetts Audubon offer regular Cape Ann winter trips. Cape Ann Winter Birding Weekend on the first weekend in February.

Access

State park, public shorelines. Halibut Point open year-round from sunrise to sunset. $2 parking fee. At Andrews Point and Cathedral Rocks, parking is roadside in residential neighborhoods. Please respect parking signs and private property.

Tips

A spotting scope is highly recommended.

For more info

Halibut Point State Park, (978) 546-2997
Brookline Bird Club
Mass Audubon
Winter Birding Weekend

Sites nearby

Jodrey State Fish Pier, Gloucester
From Rt. 127, turn south on Parker St. Winter alcids, waterfowl, uncommon gulls, and views of Peregrines atop City Hall.

Eastern Point, Gloucester
Brace Cove and Niles Pond to the Dogbar Breakwater. Waterfowl, gulls at pond and breakwater (Ivory in 2008, Thayer’s almost annual). Best area on Cape Ann for migrant passerines in spring and fall.

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