Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Swallow Show Near Conclusion This Season
September 01, 2023
By Steve Grinley
The annual tree swallow phenomenon that occurs on Plum Island every year is just about over. There were amazing experiences to be had, even this past week. It seemed to dissipate during the second half of the week. Jean and Jeff from West Newbury were hoping to catch it this past week, but they may just missed it. The day before, prior to the “cold” front coming through, it was still amazing. But there are still small numbers of swallows trickling through.
I can’t help but share with you Doug Chickering’s experience with the swallows of a couple of weeks ago:
“Yesterday when the weather was dismal I had one of those special birding moments that are nearly indescribable. With that caveat, I will relate what I encountered on the dike that runs from Parking Lot 6 up to Stage Island. When I arrived I was struck by the density of the Tree Swallow flock that seemed to be over the parking lot. Upon investigation I realized that the center of bird activity was along the edge of the dirt road leading up to Stage Island. On both sides the Tree Swallows had gathered, and were feeding.
“I had been seeing Tree Swallows, of course, down the length of the island and in at least two places the flocks were dense and active. I quickly got out of my car, and as inauspiciously as I could walk towards the swarm of birds. None of the flocks I had encountered, so far, were denser or as active as the one I approached cautiously.
“The birds were spread across the dirt road as well as perched in the brush on either side. They seemed nearly oblivious to my presence but did move away as I walked slowly up the road. They reluctantly abandoned the bay berry bushes when I got near, when I reached a place where I thought was a center of activity I stopped and stood still. Of course the birds had fled my approach, but did not go far.
“What followed was an experience that can best be characterized as transcendent. The birds returned and clearly they no longer considered me a danger. They closed in around me, many times flying so close that I could hear the thunder of their wings. It was truly magical, as they flew all around me, I could feel the wind from their wings, but they never once touched me. They didn’t land on me or attack me but simply treated me as if I were inanimate.
“If there were less than 5000 birds in my immediate vicinity I would be surprised. Their flight patterns seemed chaotic and random, but they never collided. And they did this in silence. There was a quality of lacquered unreality to it as it all lasted for a couple of minutes. I think. It happened to me a few times before, but a long time ago, and it was a special joy this time.”
If you missed it this week, there is always next year. Meanwhile, there are still many shorebirds coming through. Hundreds of semipalmated and white-rumped sandpipers and semipalmated plovers are covering our mudflats in the harbors at low tide and in tide pools at high tides. Also noted have been black-bellied plovers, yellowlegs and dowitchers. More unusual sightings include Baird’s and buff-breasted sandpipers, whimbrels, and golden plovers.
The shorebirds will continue into September and are worth examining for their higher numbers and for any rarities that may occur among them.