Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
May Brings the Lure of Warblers
May 06, 2022
By Steve Grinley
As I predicted last week, southerly winds brought in a number of spring migrants this week. Two male and a female Baltimore oriole arrived at our feeders as did male and female ruby-throated hummingbirds. We already had a couple of feeders out for the orioles but we had to scramble to get a second hummingbird feeder up so that the hummers would get along. Hummingbirds are especially territorial when they feed and don’t like to share!
Orchard orioles were seen on Plum Island and on Hat Street in Newbury, so look for them at your feeders as well. A male rose-breasted grosbeak appeared at our Big Tube feeder that holds a sunflower mix. It seems to be his favorite.
Small numbers of warblers have arrived including yellow-rumped, palm, pine, black and white, black-throated green, black-throated blue, chestnut-sided, and Nashville. These colorful mites of the bird world come in all colors, always catching our attention as they flit through the shrubs and trees. May is warbler month and, as I stated last week, it is what got me hooked on birds!
Many of you may know how I started birding, as I have told the story before. Many still ask so I thought that I would share it with you once more:
It was about this time in May a number of decades ago when my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Beach, asked if I would like to go to Mt. Auburn Cemetery on a Saturday to do some bird watching. He singled me out of all the class. But to Mt. Auburn Cemetery? For Birds? I don’t know if I was flattered, or just too scared to say no!
That Saturday morning in May was bright and crisp, and it warmed up quickly. The cemetery was like a giant botanical garden with all kinds of flowering trees, shrubs and flowers in full bloom. An unforgettable sweet aroma filled the air. People with binoculars were everywhere, walking along the roads and paths.
We stopped first at a pond where the monument of Mary Baker Eddy graces its banks. There I was introduced to my first warbler, the myrtle warbler, now called yellow-rumped warbler. It was an eye-catching bird with sharp black and white patterns against soft blue-gray, with splashes of yellow. I also saw my first male Baltimore oriole there, and watched a spotted sandpiper “teetering” along the edge of the pond.
It was the stop at Spectacle Pond, now called Auburn Lake, which left the indelible impression. It is a small pond with a bridge across the middle, surrounded by rhododendron, birches, ash and beech trees. It was the peak of migration and every bush and tree around the pond was “moving” with warblers. These tiny, brightly colored birds with flashes of bright yellows, reds, oranges, blues, white and ebony were the “hook”. Their spring plumages made each species distinct and relatively easy to identify, matching the pictures in Mr. Beach’s field guide. Their songs, as varied as the birds themselves, added to the fascination. There must have been fifteen or more different species of warblers that morning. I remember the kindness of total strangers helping to point out each species and explain what marking made it a magnolia warbler or a palm warbler. I remember the disappointment of not seeing certain birds called out by others. I remember more the disappointment when Mr. Beach announced that it was time to leave. Yes, I was hooked!
As soon as I got home, I made my first list. I immediately started talking to my mother about binoculars and a field guide. She thought that it would be a passing interest. She used her Kay Jeweler charge card to buy me my first binoculars – which was very special since we didn’t have much money back then. Mr. Beach gave me my first Peterson Field Guide. In the front he inscribed, “I hope this books helps to not only identify birds, but also to know them.” It took me some years to realize exactly what Mr. Beach meant.
Mount Auburn became one of my favorite places to visit during spring while I was growing up in Newton. During junior high school, I would awaken at 3:30am on May mornings and walk four to five miles to Watertown Square to catch the first trolley at 5:00 am. When I got to the cemetery, I would have to crawl under the gate because it wasn’t open yet, and I didn’t have a key like many birders. I would have to leave by 7:00 to get to school on time. Many mornings the birds were so plentiful that it was tough to leave at all. Yes, I was hooked!
Perhaps this story might encourage you to venture out to observe the color and excitement of a May migration morning. Or join a local bird club or Audubon walk. You can always venture out on your own. You might catch a wave of warblers and other colorful migrants on Plum Island, Maudslay State Park, local park or conservation area, or even in your own backyard. Though some these areas might not carry the memorable fragrances of Mount Auburn, the vivid colors and songs of warblers and other spring birds are sure to get you hooked!