Words On Birds 05-31-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Spring Migration Coming to a Close
May 31, 2024
By Steve Grinley
     The spring migration is winding down already. The female birds dominate the last few weeks, following their male counterparts north. The elusive mourning warblers along with a few Canada warblers are the late comers, trickling through during this past week.
     Also trailing the flow of spring migrants are the flycatchers. These birds feed exclusively on flying insects and most wait until later in May to arrive which ensures there will be an ample supply of food for them. The exception is the Eastern phoebe that braves the less predictable April weather.
     Flycatchers typically perch still on a branch, spy their pray, and then catch their food in mid-air. Kingbirds and great crested flycatchers are the most vocal, and they are both common nesters in our area. Wood pewees can be heard calling their name “pewee” in the woods. The smaller epidonax look similar.  The have wing bars and eye-rings and some are best distinguished by the calls.
     Overall, the migration seemed a bit lackluster this year. There were no ‘big days”, no fallouts of warblers like last year and other years past. There were a few days when there were easily 10-15 species of warblers found on Plum Island, but not great numbers of any one species. There were not 5 or 6 blackburnian, or bay-breasted warblers in a single tree to gaze at.  Rather birders needed to search all of the Hellcat swamp boardwalk to see multiple numbers of any species.
     For those of us who have been birding more than half a century, we clearly recognize the decline of the number of birds over the years. The Science magazine report of the loss of 3 billion birds in North America since 1970 is no surprise. It is merely a confirmation of what we have experienced over our lifetime.
     On Parker River Refuge, even the signs of hope are discouraging. American bitterns were heard “pumping” earlier in May at Stage Island Pool. Least bitterns have returned to the North Pool to presumably nest for another season. Virginia rails, Gadwall and green-winged teal have also returned to nest. Marsh wrens and swamp sparrows can be heard throughout all three of the refuge’s fresh water pools. Perhaps gallinules or pied-billed grebes will also return
     But these birds, and the habitat that they now enjoy, will all be gone in the next ten years – this time, clearly at man’s hand. The refuge will destroy these treasured habitats to supposedly create more salt marsh. Two hundred sixty acres of important fresh water habitat, and the dikes that protect them and the rest of the refuge, will be destroyed over the next ten years to add to the 3000 salt marsh acres that the Refuge presently controls.
     The refuge claims that this habitat destruction will have “no significant impact” on the ecosystem in place.  I think that the bitterns, rails and marsh wrens will beg to differ. So will the uncommon tri-colored heron now visiting Bill Forward Pool, and the hundreds of ducks, shorebirds and waders that have used these pools since they were created by the refuge seventy years ago. Their numbers can only decline further from the loss of this valuable habitat and will be felt by the next generation of visitors that come to the refuge.

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

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