Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Shorebird Migration is Underway
July 25, 2020
By Steve Grinley
Our orioles have pretty much abandoned the jelly feeders. A few linger, but most turn to insects. Others have already started south toward their South American destination. There are still a few catbirds partaking of jelly, as well as house finches and our hummingbirds still check out the jelly on their way to the flowers and feeders, though they know what to do with it. Many folks leave their jelly out for the reward of seeing a few orioles migrating through from further north during August and September.
The resident young birds are entertaining us at the seed feeders. Young nuthatches, chickadees, cardinals and titmice are doing their typical ‘fluttering of wings” to beg for food at the feeder while their parents continue to feed them, while hoping that they learn to feed themselves. Soon the goldfinches will be bringing their young to the feeders as well.
The Carolina wrens are feeding their third brood, occasionally showing a young bird where the mealworm source is! It has been fun to watch the young woodpeckers find their way around the suet feeders. It was also a treat to see the male rose-breasted grosbeak visit the sunflower feeder again this past week.
The “invisible” red-eyed vireo continues to sing its continuous song in the back woods canopy. We have also been blessed with the flute-like song of a wood thrush on quiet evenings. They are perfect background music for any summer’s eve.
Out in the field, the fall shorebird migration has begun. The numbers of shorebirds on the flats in the harbors and in the pans of the marshes have increased significantly in the past two weeks. The first arrivals have included semipalmated and least sandpipers, with some semipalmated plovers mixed in. Also arriving have been a small numbers of greater and lesser yellowlegs, and short-billed dowitchers.
A couple of weeks ago, a few stilt sandpipers could be seen in Stage Island Pool from the tower (when all the parking at Lot 7 isn’t taken up by beach-goers on the sunny days.) Now that Bill Forward Pool has been lowered, more shorebirds are feeding there at high tide. We have seen pectoral sandpipers and red knots Bill Forward Pool this past week with the regular suspects.
Also special this past week was the appearance of a tri-colored heron feeding on the North Pool side of the dike. Looking like a small great blue heron, which was also feeding there, its white belly distinguished it as different. Once called the Louisiana heron, the tri-colored is more of a southern bird, and it is seen less frequently in Massachusetts each year.
While watching the tri-colored heron, a green heron appeared on the opposite side of the dike in the Bill Forward Pool. The green heron is another bird seen less frequently on Plum Island. That same afternoon, the least bittern made a couple of appearances, flying from reeds to reeds, on the North Pool side of the dike. The least bitterns have been seen more frequently in recent days as they are probably feeding young.
Despite all these good birds, the highlight of the past week was certainly the whimbrels – large brown shorebirds with long, decurved bills. We heard just one flyby one day from the Hellcat dike and couldn’t see it in the sky over the marsh.
The next day, we were at Bar Head, the first lot on Sandy Point, looking out at Emerson Rocks. We were looking at sanderings and piping plovers when we got a call from Rick Heil who had jus spotted a dozen whimbrels flying south past Lot 5. We watched and saw a dozen or more whimbrels fly in over the ocean and land at Emerson rocks. They disappeared among the rocks, feeding and occasionally showing themselves closer to the beach.
As we watched that flock among the rocks to get an accurate count, we spotted another flock of fourteen whimbrels flying south. This flock didn’t stop but continued by, heading for Crane Beach. That totaled at least twenty-six whimbrels! We consider ourselves lucky to find one or two on any given day, so this made for a special day indeed!