Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Birds Are Transitioning With Spring
April 01, 2022
By Steve Grinley
Spring has arrived, at least according to the calendar! The blasts of arctic air that we have had in March certainly made it feel more like winter. However, the snow and ice are all but gone, crocus and snowdrops are trying to emerge, and in the bird world some spring migrants are arriving as we sneak in some warmer southerly winds from time to time.
Of course the blackbirds started arriving more than a month ago, but flocks of grackles, redwings, cowbirds and starlings continue to pour into the area. Many can be seen congregating in the late afternoon as they stage prior to roosting for the night in nearby marshes. Some are invading area bird feeders, but most will move on to their nesting territories.
A few early snipe have been seen in the Wet Meadows property on Scotland Road in Newbury along with many killdeer. The numbers of fresh water ducks at this site is impressive and has attracted a lot of birders. Hundreds of green-winged teal, many American wigeon and one Eurasian wigeon, along with mallards, black ducks, gadwall, pintail and a pair of shovelers are enjoying the flooded fields. The first blue-winged teal have arrived there if you have the patience to find them in the tall grass.
On the morning of March 21, Marj Watson of Georgetown spotted a lone sandhill crane in the tall grass at Wet Meadows. She got the word out quickly and many birders rushed to see it. Those that arrived early enough that day got good looks before it disappeared into the much taller grasses.
We counted thirty-eight turkey vultures migrating north up Route 1A in Rowley one evening on our way home. The first ospreys have made it to our area. Our first sighting was over our house in Essex while a few have made it to Plum Island to reclaim their nesting platforms. Kestrels are starting to be seen migrating at the Hawk Watch at Lot 1 on Plum Island.
Great egrets have been showing up in marshes for more than a week now and the first snowy egret was seen in Essex this week. Returning great blue herons are already tidying up their nests in the rookeries. Piping plovers have arrived on Plum Island and on Crane Beach in Ipswich. The first greater yellowlegs are also arriving and more shorebirds, such as willets and black-bellied plovers, should follow.
“Our” phoebe has returned to the neighborhood and we have seen several around Newburyport in recent days. The first tree swallows are back and even a few barn swallows have been spotted. These birds all depend on a diet of flying insects that will require some warmer temperatures in the days ahead. A few days of southwest winds will help bring more of these birds to us, along with the first pine and palm warblers, hermit thrushes and more robins.
Bluebirds are visiting suet feeders and birdbaths all over the area and a few folks have seen bluebirds checking out nesting boxes already. We have been lucky to have one male trying to dominate one of our sunflower heart feeders this week. Hopefully a mate might join him. Now is a good time to put out mealworms to try to encourage these beautiful birds to your yard.
Meanwhile, many of the wintering birds continue to linger. Wintering eiders, scoters and long-tailed ducks are still present in area waters in good numbers. There are still numbers of loons off the coast. Even snowy owls are still present on Plum Island.
So we will get to enjoy the juncos, tree sparrows and white-throated sparrows at the feeders for a few more weeks before they head north. And we will enjoy watching the male goldfinches as they continue to turn back to their stunning bright yellow breeding plumage. If you look closely, they have started turning already, renewing our hope that spring is arriving after all.