Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Another Day on Plum Island
July 04, 2020
By Steve Grinley
The resident birds are highlighting the show these weeks on Plum Island with piping plovers and least terns taking over most of the beach on the refuge. Yellow warblers, towhees, brown thrashers, orchard and Baltimore orioles are nesting along the length of the refuge road. Least Bitterns are nesting near both ends of North Pool, and Ospreys are occupying most of the nesting platforms on the island.
Doug Chickering of Newburyport reports on one of his recent visits to Plum Island:
“At the end of a pleasant, languid, relatively insect-free June days birding on Plum Island, I had found myself out on the ocean platform at Parking Lot 5. I set up my scope, and without any real expectations thought it a good time to start looking for Wilson’s Storm-petrels.
“I knew it to be a long shot, but already I had experienced a good day. There were the four or five Saltmarsh Sparrows lurking in the grasses out from Lot 2 and a quick look at a pair of Yellow-billed Cuckoos flying out of the woods by the entrance to the banding station and heading down the roads edge for few yards and then diving back into the foliage. I was looking specifically for the Saltmarsh Sparrows both there and at Lois’ bench and had been seeing them there reliably for the last week or so. I guess they are off nest. The Yellow-billed Cuckoos were much more of a surprise even though both Steve Babbit and Andy Sanford told me they both had spotted them. Yellow-billed Cuckoos almost always seem to be a surprise.
“So, it already qualified as a good day. The first bird I spotted at the deck was a single Piping Plover right in front of me. There were Gulls at the edge of the beach and a few Cormorants in the water as I started to scan the ocean hoping for the best.
“It was a perfect summer afternoon. The sun was shining off the water; the sands seemed pristine and a robust breeze came in off the water to keep everything marvelously cool. Behind me I could see high billows of clouds rising up from the horizon as if threatening a sudden storm. But no Storm-petrels.
“My attention was caught by a few Least Terns, raucous and frantic as they dove and hovered and then sped off. And then I picked up two larger Terns. Medium sized as they flew over the water, fairly close to shore.
“They seemed to be pure white and my mind immediately thought of Roseate Terns. They were the right size; had no discernable marking on wings or tails, and the tails did seem long enough – maybe. I strained to see the bills, but they were by me before I could.
“I had not seen Roseate Tern this year and my experience with this bird is adequate but not extensive. I had never seen a Roseate Tern from the vantage point but have seen them, several times at the mouth of the Merrimac north of there and at Sandy Point south of there. I knew that I probably could take them, but I also knew I wouldn’t feel right, feel sure. So, I let them pass by as nothing more than Sterna species.
“No sooner had I settled into my disappointment when another, similar Tern came flying by; this one I caught early and this one, not only displayed the clear white on back and tail but also showed me a sharp, thin black bill. Now that is a Roseate! On reflection it seems quite likely that the first two were also Roseates, so I registered three Roseates [terns] for the day.
“A day birding the island. No biting insects to speak of a goodly number of the regular birds. A pleasant wind and sun and Cuckoos and Roseate Terns. I cannot think of much that would be more satisfactory.”