Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Birding Year Off to Good Start
February 08, 2020
By Steve Grinley
It is hard to believe that we are already more than a month into the New Year. It is February and red-winged blackbirds, grackles and cowbirds will be arriving in the next few weeks. We already saw a dozen cowbirds in a mixed flock of starlings in Rowley this past weekend. March is just three weeks away and it will bring phoebes and bluebirds searching for nest sites. Woodcocks will arrive and start their fascinating aerial courtship displays.
This winter has been a bit easier on the birds, and the lack of snow cover has kept more natural food available for them. This meant less activity, in general, at the bird feeders. There has also been a lack of winter finches at the feeder. The ample food supply in northern New England and Canada has negated the need for birds of the north to migrate south to our area for food.
We did have two purple finches show up at our feeders in mid-January but haven’t heard of many other northern birds around. There was a single Bohemian waxwing found at Halibut Point State Park in late January which Margo and I, and a few others, were able to see the second day. It hasn’t been seen since. Strange for us to have seen a rare Bohemian waxwing and still not see a cedar waxwing yet this year (though they are around)!
Our warmer winter has caused a few “summer” birds to try to stay the winter. Baltimore and Bullock’s orioles have been visiting feeders in southern New Hampshire and a few Baltimore orioles have been reported here in Essex County. An orange-crowned warbler has been visiting a feeder in Gloucester. Individual chipping sparrows have visited feeders in Essex, Ipswich and West Newbury.
Margo and I saw three catbirds at Halibut State Park along with a ruby-crowned kinglet in January. Another January day, we saw a female eastern towhee at the Salisbury Beach State Reservation in the morning and later saw another along the road on the Parker River Refuge on Plum Island. We have seen northern flickers on Plum Island and in Essex, and several customers have reported seeing them as well.
Still, there have been a number of winter birds to enjoy this year. As many as four snowy owls have been seen on Plum Island, as well as in Salisbury and on Crane Beach in Ipswich. Also Plum Island has hosted at least two Northern Shrikes and a Rough-legged Hawk. We saw three snow buntings in Salisbury this week, and four Iceland gulls and a glaucous gull were in Gloucester.
This has also been a good winter for alcids off the coast of New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Only a few puffins have been spotted, but hundreds of dovekies, common and thick-billed murres, and razorbills have been counted off Cape Ann. We saw four dovekies in Gloucester Harbor on one day, and dovekies and murres are being seen regularly up and down the coast.
A few rarities have been around this winter as well. Western tanagers have been visiting feeders in Southern New Hampshire and on Cape Cod. An elusive Townsend’s Solitaire from the western U.S. has been feeding on cedar berries throughout Halibut Point State Park since December. Many birders have made multiple trips to the park to try to see this rare, secretive bird.
An eared grebe, also from the western U.S., was discovered off West Beach in North Beverly last weekend. It brought back memories for many birders of the reliable eared grebe that visited Niles Beach in Gloucester every winter for fourteen years until 2004. This current bird may not stay long, or return another winter, but it was fun to reminisce.
So despite the milder weather this winter, it has been an interesting start to this birding year.