Words On Birds 02-16-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Memories of “Store Birds” Past
February 16, 2024
By Steve Grinley

     I haven’t had much chance to get out birding. I read reports of a black-headed gull in Salisbury, an eared grebe in Marblehead, and a rough-legged hawk on Plum Island. But I have spent the past couple of months looking for new store space, finding and executing the move of our store to Port Plaza here in Newburyport.

     We were lucky to find such good space, and to be able to stay in Newburyport. We didn’t move far, just seven minutes from our previous locations at the Traffic Circle, and we were able to open our doors again this past Thursday. It was a lot of work, and long hours.

     Previously, whenever I was missing getting out into the field, I could see the birds coming to the feeders outside our old locations. No outside feeder opportunities at this location, but we do have ring-billed gulls constantly circling and alighting on the parking lots. We heard our first fish crow of the year among the crows that fly over and around the Plaza.

     Our last location had a couple of small, high windows in back where we hung feeders, and we had finches, cardinals, catbirds, and downy woodpeckers. Once we saw a snowy owl sitting on a storage trailer behind the store and we could show it to customer through a scope!

     I still think about the feeder opportunity that we enjoyed for eighteen years in our original store. I miss seeing those birds, as there was some comfort in glancing out the window to see “my” goldfinches on the thistle, “my” downy woodpecker and nuthatch on the suet, and those wintering tree sparrows that brightened the darkest winter day.

     As I think back over our first eighteen years that we were there, I also can recall all those special unexpected avian visitors that we enjoyed over that time. We had occasional visits from such birds as redpolls and pine siskins in the winter, but only one evening grosbeak ever stopped to partake of our sunflower. During warmer months, we had an occasional visit from indigo buntings, but we never saw a rose-breasted grosbeak at our feeders. Downy and hairy woodpeckers were regulars, and we would have flickers in the trees out back, but never a red-bellied woodpecker which so many of my customers now have.

     We have had dickcissels five or six times over the years, and a clay-colored sparrow at least four times. The more common fox sparrow only made an appearance three times in all those years. White-throated and white-crowned sparrows came through during migration, but we seldom saw a junco under our feeders!

     In the earlier years, ring-necked pheasants were regular visitors, at least until the railroad came back to Newburyport, separating us from Common Pastures and the Crane and Martin Burns Wildlife Management Areas. Turkeys only made an appearance once. I can also remember the day, it was my first day back from a vacation, when I heard a bobwhite calling from behind the store. At first I thought it was someone playing a trick on me, whistling like a bobwhite, until I went back there to take a look.

     I have seen many raptors flying over the store, mainly when I was carrying seed out for a customer. Red-tailed, broad-winged, and one rough-legged hawk, along with ospreys, turkey vultures and an occasional bald eagle. Then there was the night I was called to the store at 3 am by the fire department due to smoke in the chimney. As I was standing in the parking lot, talking with one of the firefighters, we both watched a mid-sized owl fly over the building. It was very pale underneath, very ghost-like in appearance. I was 90% sure that it was a barn owl.

     I will always have affection for the tree swallows that brought nesting material to one of my display houses in front of the store. I mounted the house in the corner of the lot and the pair nested that year.

     Then there was the drama of watching a northern shrike take a house finch from one of my tray feeders and wrestle it to the ground as the other birds scolded the shrike’s actions. And the day of a David Sibley book signing when the Cooper’s hawk followed one of my female employees into the storage trailer. Actually, it followed her head of hair to be more exact, and it realized the hair was attached to a much larger prey in time to fly out without incident.

     Our rarest feeder visitor came on a day that I glanced out the back window as I was turning on the lights to open the store. I saw the usual mourning doves under the feeders, but I did a double-take on one dove that was different. It was a bit larger, and had a blue ring around a red eye. It squared off tail and white-edged wing told me that it was a white-winged dove. It stayed only one day, but many birders came by to view this bird of the south and southwest.

     Yes, thinking back on all those fond memories, I may miss those feeders and those birds. But we are busy in our new space. We are content with our ring-billed gulls and our fish crows, and will look for other passing birds as we step outside to show customers new binoculars and scopes!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950

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