Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Newburyport Area Provides Opportunity for Bird Study
October 26, 2019
By Steve Grinley
Our New England autumn weather and foliage provides a great backdrop for nature study in our area. This was evident to a birding group from Mass Audubon’s Drumlin Farm Sanctuary in Lincoln. Leader Strickland Wheelock shares with us his account of the group’s recent excursion to Newburyport:
“Sometimes birding trips are extra special. Sunday the 14th was that, as a Drumlin Farm group headed to the Newburyport area in beautiful clear weather, mild temperatures, low winds for excellent birding experiences & education. The foliage was stunning to add to the day.
“The highlight for the group was some of the side-by-side comparisons of various species, especially at the Salt Pannes at Plum Island. In one tight flock of shorebirds close to the road & with the sun at our back, we were able to study in detail all the winter ID features from comparative body sizes, bill shapes, leg color, primary feather projections, overall feather coloring of these shorebirds. In the group were a Western Sandpiper, several Dunlin, Sanderlings, Least & Semipalmated Sandpipers, White-rumped Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plovers, and Greater Yellowlegs. A short time later we had an excellent look at a sitting Pectoral Sandpiper, a fly over Black-bellied Plover and a pair of feeding American Golden Plovers in a field with many Killdeer.
“Another great learning experience was with all the ducks at the refuge and ones off the shore. Again in great light, between Hellcat and Bill Forward Pool, we had excellent comparisons in all features, ages, and Male/Female colorations of Northern Shoveller, American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, and Gadwall along with all the Mallards and Black Ducks. Later we had Ring-necked Ducks and Ruddy Ducks. Off the shoreline near Emerson Rocks, we enjoyed comparing all three Scoter species (White-winged, Surf and Black), Common Eiders along with Northern Gannets and Common Loons.
“Another very special comparison experience for the group was having side-by-side immature Yellow-crowned and Black-crowned Night Herons sitting in a park in Newburyport. While enjoying these species, a calling Kingfisher flew by, and in the trees close to us we had Yellow-rumped Warblers along with a few Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Black-throated Blue and Nashville Warbler, Carolina Wren and more. Earlier, in the Pines at Plum Island, we had great looks at several Golden-crowned Kinglets.
“Some other species that gave us special looks was a Merlin sitting on a large flock of American Pipits, calling and flying low over our heads; flying Sharp-shinned Hawk and Northern Harriers for ID practice; and a sitting Bonaparte’s Gull in the harbor. Some more challenging bird ID’s were at the boat ramp on Plum Island with a Marsh Wren, Seaside and Nelson’s Sparrows (species that only give you fleeting looks).
“At the end of the day, we had only 74 species as we did not spend much time with the passerine migrants. We focused with the group on these comparison & educational opportunities that these cooperative shorebirds, ducks, etc gave all of us. Combine that with the beautiful foliage and great weather, all of us had a special day in the field.”
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