Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Changing Seasons Bring Changing Birds
November 16, 2019
By Steve Grinley
In the birding world of Massachusetts, November is “anything can happen” month. It is the month when rare birds, strays from the west or southern U.S., or from Europe, may show up anywhere in the state. This year’s first surprise was a Pacific-Slope Flycatcher, a bird from the far western US, became a first state record when it appeared in Hadley near the Connecticut River.
More local, and less rare, was the western kingbird on Cape Ann that took me from my appointed chores last weekend. Just this past week, another western kingbird showed up on Plum Island as did an ash-throated flycatcher. Elsewhere in the state, a female-type painted bunting was found in the Brewster Community Gardens on Cape Cod, and black-headed and little gulls were found near Provincetown.
November also brings a change of seasons, maybe more abruptly this year than we would like. The first snowy owls have shown up in Massachusetts including one reported on Crane Beach in Ipswich. Rough-legged hawks are moving in as are more of our wintering ducks. The juncos are becoming more regular at our feeders and a pine siskin briefly joined our twenty goldfinches at the finch feeders this past week.
Doug Chickering of Newburyport also shares with us his perspectives on seasonal changes that are happening:
“For the most part the seasons seem to change slowly, almost imperceptive. At least here in middle New England. The spring replaces winter maddingly slowly. The days warm up the snow slowly melts away and we look for those harbingers of spring. Look! There is a Killdeer. Is it spring yet? Yet the nights are still freezing and the daytime cold. The Snowy Owl is gone, we see Kestrels soaring by the platform at parking lot 1 on Plum Island. Is it spring yet? Where are the warblers?
“The same is true with the transition from spring to summer. Is it when the Dowitchers first arrive or with the first bite of a greenhead? It is all so unclear. The leaves in the trees slowly appear heavy and the first blush of color is noticed. Is that autumn on its way or is it already here? In some ways nature likes to sneak up on us. Yet, there is one exception. The change from fall to winter is abrupt, surprising and often disruptive. Here in New England there always seems to be a brutal storm around Halloween. High winds, some damage, a little loss of electricity and then. When it’s over! It’s winter.
“The foliage in the trees and underbrush are gone. The colors of nature have been reduced to the bright red of Winterberry and Bittersweet. There is still some faded yellow at the edges but mostly it is stark, gray and brown. Just waiting for the first snowfall. And to accentuate the disorientation we change our clocks and seemingly shorten the day. Even though we don’t really shorten the day it clearly seems that way. This abrupt and confusing change might cast a pall on our lives if it weren’t for the birds. They are different and fewer but no less magnificent.
“Just yesterday I was walking the Hellcat trail looking for, well, for anything that might show up. Looking, primarily for passerines. I came across many Robins and Myrtles. A few resident Woodpeckers, two Hermit Thrushes what may, or may not winter over and a Catbird. Pretty tame stuff. Then I saw a flicker of movement low and off to me left. Two birds were foraging among the bare branches of trees and brush at the edge of the path and they were making their way towards me. Maybe a Chat, I thought, or another rarity. November can be good for rarities. Then I got on one and then the other.
“Not a surprise, and not a rarity. But it was one of those serene and beautiful moments that is both quiet and exhilarating. Two Golden-crowned Kinglets appeared right next to me. The binoculars were superfluous, and I found myself just standing there still, silent and watching. The hopped from twig to branch to twig in quick expert leaps; occasionally emitting a little squeak. They were stunningly beautiful. These tiny packets of energy; oblivious to my presence and weaving a magic spell of activity about me. I have experienced this before with Golden-crowned Kinglet as with other small passerines and it never gets old. Thank God I still have the childlike wonder in my heart, that I can still thrill to this short but magical moment.
“The experience was both ordinary and unique as they paused, pirouetted and looked around in what seemed to be an endless space of time and was over all too soon. Sometimes I believe that it is these little common but special events that are the essence of the joy of birding.”