Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Winter Finches and Rare Warbler Highlight This Week
November 11, 2022
By Steve Grinley
Our screech owl returned to our owl box for at least one day this week. The commotion by our feeder birds around the box during the day had us suspecting it was in there. It poked their head out for a while at dusk confirming its presence. The feeders are only about fifty feet away – maybe a bit close. We chose that spot because we could easily see it from our window. Scott dropped off some more owl boxes for the store the following day and we talked to him about moving the box to a quieter location in the yard. We surveyed a couple of other possible locations and he agreed to move it when he had some time.
The other excitement in our yard this week was the appearance of two evening grosbeaks at our feeders! Margo first spotted one at our hanging tray feeder. It was soon chased out by a blue jay. The grosbeak flew up and perched on a branch above the feeders. We soon spotted a second one near it. Both were female birds and they were the first we have seen this season.
We had purposely kept our tray feeders brimming with striped sunflower seed in the hope of attracting more grosbeaks this winter. Some were already visiting a feeder in Ipswich. The grosbeaks enjoy black-oil sunflower as well, but striped sunflower was seed of choice years ago when they would come in droves more often, so I have stuck with it for these winter visitors. It lured them in two years ago when there was a big winter finch invasion.
The blue jays also relish the sunflower and often dominate the tray feeders when they are around. During this brief visit by the grosbeaks, the jays did just that, not giving the northern visitors a chance. The grosbeaks flew back into the woods by the creek where we lost sight of them. A few minutes later our resident Cooper’s hawk came through and flushed the other entire birds away and perched empty handed above the feeders as it often does, thinking his potential prey won’t notice. They always do and, eventually, the hawk gets bored and flies elsewhere.
The Brookline Bird Club trip to Plum Island & Salisbury last Sunday found three red crossbills at the Salisbury campground in the Salisbury Beach State Reservation. These winter visitors were feeding on the pinecones that seem to be in good supply there this year. A few white-winged crossbills have also been reported in our area. Later in the season, as the natural seed supply dwindles, the crossbills may visit feeders as well.
The other day, Margo and I saw a small flock of pine siskins also feeding on the pinecones at Salisbury Reservation. Redpolls have also been reported there. We keep hoping that siskins and redpolls will eventually join the twenty of more goldfinches that we have at our feeders in our yard. Our goldfinches are devouring our thistle, hulled sunflower seeds and finch mix and siskins and redpolls would enjoy these offerings as well.
Another season first for us was a black guillemot that we spotted from Pavilion Beach in Ipswich. It was an immature bird, not black like its breeding plumaged parents, but mottled gray, transitioning into its mostly white winter plumage. It was floating alone past the offshore buoys near a small flock of common eider.
The rarity of this past week was a Townsend’s warbler found by Rick Heil at the Cherry Hill Reservoir in West Newbury. It was feeding along the main path along the south shore of the reservoir in the autumn olive shrubs and multi-flora rose thickets. Similar to our black-throated green warbler, this is a western species – common especially in evergreens. We have seen it many times near Seattle and in California and Arizona. The bird stayed for at least two days and was seen by many observers.
Also of note this past week, a rufous hummingbird was visiting a feeder in Beverly and a red-headed woodpecker continues along the swamp trail at the Appleton Farms in Ipswich.