Words On Birds 12-03-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Offer Suet to the Birds in Winter
December 03, 2021
Steve Grinley

     This cold weather warrants repeating a reminder of the importance of adding suet to your offerings for the birds, and some comments regarding the placement of feeders so they can be viewed from the warmth of your home:

     With colder weather approaching, now is a good time to add suet to your birds diet if you haven’t already done so. Suet is appreciated by birds year round, but it is especially important as a source of fat and protein during the colder months. A simple mesh bag (like an onion bag) will hold beef suet that you can buy from a butcher or the meat department of a grocery store. (They used to give it away!) Raw beef suet does get rancid in short time but you can render it to make it last longer. Melt it down and add peanut butter, bird seed, raisins or nuts. There are recipe books for such mixtures, but it is fun to experiment and try new things. I used to make up my own mixture when I was young, but my mother didn’t appreciate the odor it left in the kitchen.

     A simpler way is to buy commercial suet cakes. These can be placed in mesh bags or suet cages. The vinyl-coated metal cages provide protection against squirrels that would chew right through a mesh bag. Squirrels are usually after the seed or nuts mixed in with the suet and don’t usually bother with pure suet. The same is not true for the neighborhood dogs! You have to keep suet out of their reach. I’ve lost many a suet bag to our canine “friends.”

     Suet is a good way to attract woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and brown creepers. Catbirds, orioles and thrushes will also feed on suet, but they don’t usually winter here. Unfortunately starlings also like suet and can often dominate a suet feeder. If they are a problem, there are “upside-down” suet feeders that permit woodpeckers, chickadees and other light birds to cling underneath and feed, while starlings are to heavy to hang upside-down to feed. These feeders will also deter squirrels.

     Another suet feeder is surrounded by a cage that allows smaller birds, including downy woodpeckers, to feed but it keeps gray squirrels and large birds out. A suet log, a piece of wood with holes drilled in it that accepts suet “plugs,” will also deter starlings and large birds but will it will be enjoyed by woodpeckers, nuthatches and other clinging birds.

     Relatively new on the market is the Squirrel Buster Suet. It hold 2 suet cakes and closes off access if a squirrel gets on it. Like all the other Squirrel Buster models, it does work!

     Regardless of the type or number of feeders you put up, where you put them is key. The most important thing to remember is to place the feeder where you can see it and enjoy it. Feeders can be placed near the house for viewing from your favorite window. Access to the feeder during snow cover is also important, and it won’t be long before that may be an issue. Birds like to have cover nearby, a tree or bush where they can lite and check out the area before feeding to make sure no predators are around, or to use as an escape route if danger appears. Avoid putting low feeders near brush where a cat may hide.

     Poles can be placed in front of a window to mount or hang feeders. There are also brackets which can mount on the side of a window that swing in front of the window with a hanging feeder for easy viewing. There are also brackets that screw or clamp onto deck railings to suspend feeders out away from the deck.

     Some feeders are made to mount on the window sill or right on the window glass itself with suction cups. The better quality suction cup models work well – we have had them on our windows at the store with great success in the past. There are even window feeders with two-way mirror film where the birds see their reflection while you watch them from close-up inside the house. These are great for children and the elderly and I have many customers who have bought these for their cats!

     Keep in mind that squirrels may still reach window feeders. They can climb the siding of your house or jump from the eaves of the roof. I had one customer who actually surrounded her window feeder with double-sided tape with tacks sticking through. This didn’t seem to slow the critters down at all! But then, not much does.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 27 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 11-26-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Productive Birding Day Around Newburyport
November 26, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     Strickland Wheelock led a Mass Audubon Drumlin Farm birding trip to our area last weekend and posted the following report:

     “What a productive & special birding day [60 species] it was, under excellent weather conditions with sunny, cool and little wind all day. No pain factor like some mid-November days along the coast that we all have experienced.

    “We started at Salisbury Beach at 8:30 am, scanning the marsh, and had a Raven and many Black Ducks. We drove to the boat ramp where an immature Cooper’s Hawk perched close to the road quietly so all folks could admire every feature.

     “At the boat ramp, had our first Snow Buntings close to the group while in the channel there were several Red-throated Loons, 3 Long-tailed Ducks, Common Eiders, Brant, Double-crested Cormorants, etc. As we walked down the beach from the ramp we had our 1st Northern Harrier, fly over Northern Horned Larks, plus Common Loons.

     “Once we drove to the breakwater area, all positive things happened with an unexpected Snowy Owl on the breakwater being the highlight. Other species were American Pipits in the wrack line, 20+ Snow Buntings, 1 Red-necked Grebe, 2 Razorbill, volumes of Red-throated & Common Loons, excellent looks of all three Scoters, Sanderlings, many Common Eiders plus the normal 3 gull species.

     “We drove to the pines were we had a teed up Merlin in perfect light facing us for all to admire. The pines were relatively quiet with only 3 Mockingbirds, 1 Cardinal & a few Chickadees & a distant Turkey Vulture. Back in the camp grounds we had another large flock of Snow Bunting feeding close by, House Finches and Goldfinches to close out our Salisbury Beach morning.

     “Plum Island had many additional highlights: watched an American Bittern hard at work snatching up food along the pond’s edge behind the maintenance building, along with a Pied-billed Grebe and 2 Great Blue Herons sitting in the trees.

     “Two Northern Shoveler mixed with the Northern Pintails & Bufflehead were seen at the lookout at Parking lot #7. On the ocean side, there was a flock of Dunlin, 2 Black-bellied Plovers, Sanderlings, 1 Gannet, 2 Razorbills, many more Red-throated & Common Loons, all 3 Scoters, 1 Red-breasted Merganser. There was 1 Peregrine Falcon on an Osprey Tower and a Bald Eagle at Parking lot#1.

     “At the maintenance building there were more Snow Buntings, Tree & Savannah Sparrows, and volumes of American Crows. On the Salt Pannes were approximately 8 White-rumped Sandpipers, 4 American Wigeons, many Northern Pintails and Green-winged Teal, Gadwalls plus Mallards & Black Ducks.

     “What was impressive were the volumes of Red-throated Loons everywhere, large numbers of Snow Buntings and, always, the impressive Snowy Owl sitting on the Breakwater. What was also special was that there were several birding organizations (maybe more) like the Forbush Birding Club, Williams College Birding Club, Joppa Flat’s birding group along with our Drumlin Farm group who were active in the area all day. All the sharing of information of sightings that went on helped to enhance everyone’s experience.- a positive piece of the birding community.”

     It is always fun to read Strickland’s reports and they make you want to join him for his next trip!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 27 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 11-19-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Give the Gift of Nature This Season
November 19, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     With the holiday shopping season upon us, it is time for my annual gift suggestions for the bird lovers on your holiday list. The pandemic is still lingering and we encourage you to “shop small” again this holiday season. Support your local businesses and avoid the crowds at the big box store and malls. Like many other area businesses, we continue to source more of our products locally to support local crafts people and small manufacturers closer to home.

     With more people staying and working from home, more are continuing to enjoy the birds and the natural world around us. It provides us some tranquility to help us cope with all that is going on. This holiday season might also be the perfect time to give an appropriate gift to those just becoming aware of the birds and other wildlife around them. Bird watching is still a relatively inexpensive hobby and it can provide comfort and serenity during these challenging times.

     A bird feeder always makes a great gift, providing hours of entertainment for the young and old, and it is a great way to introduce most anyone to nature. There are all kinds of feeders available today – for sunflower, thistle or suet. Even if someone already has a bird feeder, they can always enjoy another one. Feeders can be hung, some come with poles, while others can be mounted on a deck or right on the window. If squirrels are a problem, there are many quality feeders on the market that are very effective at keeping squirrels off, allowing only birds to feed.

     In addition to a feeder, a bird bath with a heater would draw more birds to anyone’s backyard, especially on the frigid days ahead. Bird baths can sit on the ground, be pole mounted, or be mounted on a deck railing for closer viewing. For those with a bird bath already, there are separate deicers that can be added to the bath to keep the water open all winter.

     For folks on your list that don’t want the maintenance of filling a feeder or bird bath, a bird house is relatively maintenance free. Houses can be put up in winter, as the birds will use them to roost in at night to stay warm and to get out of the elements. The house will then be up and available for spring nesting. Houses come in all shapes and sizes, from simple pine or cedar wood to cleverly painted ones with copper or shingled roofs. There are also specific winter roost pockets and houses that have the entrance hole near the bottom to retain heat. Multiple birds will huddle together in these during cold winter nights

     You can bring nature closer to someone by giving him or her a new pair of binoculars or perhaps a spotting scope. Today’s binoculars are lightweight, affordable, and they provide a crisp, clear and close-up view of beautiful birds in the backyard or songbirds in the woods. For those that have binoculars, a spotting scope would provide a closer view of that snowy owl on Plum Island or the bald eagles in the trees across the Merrimack River. The better the optics, the better the view, but good quality binoculars and scopes are available within everyone’s price range today.

     A field guide is always a good gift to help identify the birds that are seen. The Peterson, Sibley, and Stokes Field Guides provide for easy reference and there are a couple of other guides specific to Massachusetts or New England. Other excellent books on birds and birding include one from local birder, Doug Chickering who’s “Reflections on a Golden-winged Warbler” is a collection of short stories that draw you into the local birding experience. New England author Sy Montgomery has a new book, The Hummingbird’s Gift, which tells the story of a wildlife rehabber that nurses one of our smallest birds back to health. It is a great read.

     Other new books include Bird Families by Pete Dunne and Kevin Karlson that shows us how focusing on families and their shared traits makes bird identification easier than ever. A new edition of Mary Holland’s Naturally Curious, a photographic guide takes us through a year of discovery of the birds and nature of New England.

     For more general gifts, there are T-shirts, coffee mugs (and bird-friendly coffee), jewelry, wallets, scarves, totes, towels, potholders, wall décor, wind chimes and a wide array of other gifts with birds on them. If someone you know has a “favorite” bird, you may find a useful gift with their specific bird on it – maybe an ornament for the tree, or a suncatcher for their window.

     Any gift that helps someone enjoy birds and nature will be especially appreciated this holiday season and, likely, for years to come.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 27 years of service to the birding community! 
Like us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/birdwatcherssupply

Words On Birds 11-12-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Rare Birds Appearing in November
November 12, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     For those of you that have kept their hummingbird feeder going this late in the season it might comfort you to know that a Rufous hummingbird has been visiting a feeder in Brookline, Massachusetts over the past couple of weeks. It was banded, disappeared for a few days, but returned again this week.

     Our own Barrett Bacall also had a Rufous-type hummingbird coming to his feeder a couple of weeks ago. It was assumed to be a late ruby-throated until he brought in a photo. I could immediately see that it was wrong for a ruby-throat and it was confirmed to be a Rufous/Allen’s hummingbird type.

    A late ruby-throated hummingbird was visiting a feeder in Bedford, NH a few days ago. It represented the latest New Hampshire record for a ruby-throated hummingbird in the state.

     Margo and I ventured out of the county to see the Brookline hummer. On the way, we stopped in Lexington to see a European goldfinch. It is most likely an escaped bird, but Margo had never seen one before. Small populations of this goldfinch have established themselves in New York City and Chicago.

     Now you likely think that our male goldfinch in breeding plumage is stunning in its yellow and black attire, but this European goldfinch is a showstopper! Its white and brown patterned body with sharp black marking on the head, highlighted by a fire engine red face is just mesmerizing. It was feeding low in weedy patch and was quite cooperative. Margo got some very nice photos!

     The Brookline hummer was less cooperative, darting about the tall trees in the small back yard and choosing not to visit the three feeders spaced around the yard. There were a number of other people present, which kept the bird skittish. It was clearly not a photo opportunity for us that day. Margo went back down another day when there was no one else present and it obliged by sitting and feeding at the feeders for her.

     Another area rarity in recent weeks was a wood stork. This huge black and white stork of Florida and the Deep South was first spotted on Cape Ann near Niles Pond in East Gloucester. The lone observer saw it fly in, land on a nearby lawn, and watched it take off soon after.

     A few days later the bird turned up in Horn Pond in Woburn. A number of birders went to see it the day that it was reported. The bird was apparently sluggish and a concerned citizen contacted the New England Wildlife Center. The next morning it was captured and taken for evaluation. The bird was emaciated and dehydrated and wounded in one foot. It is responding to care and will receive continued treatment and will, hopefully, be released in its native habitat.

     Closer to home, there has been a Western Kingbird for at least 10 days on Plum Island, first spotted by MaryMargaret Halsey of Newburyport. This bird is mostly cooperative as it feeds on berries, crabapples, and what insects it can find across from the Maintenance Area on the Parker River Refuge. A few patient minutes may be required to see the bird moving through the higher branches of the trees along the road, or hawking insects out of the air.

     Nearby, many birders were also rewarded with sightings of one or two American Bitterns feeding in the marsh along the dike from the Maintenance Area. Also nearby have been two pied-billed grebes and two American Coot swimming in the North Pool and seen from the Overlook.

     Also continuing from last week, the Cattle Egret was still being spotted this week at the Artichoke Dairy farm on Rogers Street in West Newbury. November is always a great month to find some rare birds!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 27 years of service to the birding community! 
Like us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/birdwatcherssupply

Words On Birds 11-05-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Cattle Egrets Visiting New England
November 05, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     Last Saturday, Marge Watson of Georgetown discovered a cattle egret at the Artichoke Dairy Farm on Rogers Street in West Newbury. Cattle egrets are a small, stocky bird compared to our common, and more elegant, snowy egrets and great egrets. Our common egrets prefer marshes and other wet areas, whereas the cattle egrets, as their name suggest, hang out with livestock that attract insects off which these egrets feed.

     If you travel to Florida, cattle egrets are more common there. They are the ones you see in fields, feeding along backroads and even the median strips of some highways. They expanded their range northward decades ago, but they have since receded back to the southern states. They are now a rare visitor to New England, mostly in the spring, but sometimes in late Fall, when one or two birds might now be reported.

     Margo and I went to Rogers Street after reading Marge’s report, but apparently the cattle egret was last seen flying north over the road. We decided to scout the area further and drove to the Garden Street end. Turning up Garden Street, Margo spotted the egret on the mowed grass of one of the first houses on the left. Margo shot a couple of photos before it flew up into a bare tree next to the road. A man walking a dog flushed it and the bird flew south again.

     The cattle egret eventually returned to the dairy farm a short time later. It continues to be seen there daily as of this writing. It can, and should be, viewed from the road as the farm is private property and the landowner doesn’t tolerate trespassers.

     Another cattle egret was seen on Plum Island on Sunday, but only made a brief appearance there. Also on Sunday, Steve Mirick found 19 Cattle Egret at the Runnymede Farm/Lamprey Conservation Easement in North Hampton New Hampshire! Single birds have also been reported elsewhere in New Hampshire and Maine, as well as in Plymouth and Sterling, Massachusetts.

     Steve Mirick’s discovery of 19 birds led him to do a bit of research on the cattle egret and he posted this report:

     “I did really good with herons including finding the late Snowy Egret and a lingering Great Egret, and of course, the highlight being a grand total of 19 (!!!!) CATTLE EGRETS! For a second there, I wasn’t sure what country I was in!! The egrets were associating with some grazing cattle along Rt. 111 in North Hampton right by the side of the road. Part of conservation land, and part of the Runnymede Farm complex. Apparently they stuck around all day even though the cattle were removed from the pasture in the afternoon.

     “I was certain that 19 MUST be a record high total for the State, but of course, I was wrong, and the truth is part of an interesting pattern of vagrancy and range expansion for this species. Thanks to “Keith & Fox” and “Birds of the World” for some of the information below:

     “The Cattle Egret started its global domination when it somehow crossed from central Africa to north-coastal South America (possibly Guyana or Suriname) back in the late 1800’s and then began a range EXPLOSION in the Americas, stretching north and south. The species reached south to Tierra Del Fuego by 1977.

     The first sighting in the United States came from Florida in 1941 (where it first nested in 1953) and then it EXPLODED into the United States, rapidly moving northward, especially on the east coast, and was first reported in Massachusetts in 1952 and then in New Hampshire in 1953! During the 1960’s and 1970’s the species continued to expand in the United States with the first nesting in Massachusetts in 1974 and in Maine in 1977. During this time period, a huge flock of 20 Cattle Egret were seen together in a farm field in Stratham!! This bested my total today by 1 bird!

     “But curiously, and rather suddenly, the range expansion stopped and pulled back around the time I started birding! The species has now become much more rare and irregular since the mid 1980’s. Over the last 20 years, it is reported nearly (but not quite) annually, but rarely more than one or two records per year and rarely more than one or two birds are seen. My personal high count for NH prior to today was 3!!!!! Most records over the last 40 years come from late April into mid-May, or again in the late fall including many records (curiously) in November.

     “The 19 today in North Hampton appear to be part of a regional “fall-out” of Cattle Egrets in the couple of days. In addition to the 19, one was seen today by Holly Bauer in Hampton, NH, and also there were 2 in Westport, MA, 1 on Plum Island, 1 in West Newbury, MA, 1 in Sanford, ME, and 1 in Hancock, ME.”

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 27 years of service to the birding community! 
Like us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/birdwatcherssupply

Words On Birds 10-29-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Maintain Feeders After Storms Pass
October 29, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     This week’s storm has raised havoc with feeders. If you have been feeding birds right into the Fall and left feeders out during the storm, you may have experienced some damage. At the very least, seed probably got very wet and now is a good time to clean feeders out and replace the seed with fresh. If you have experienced some feeder damage, your local, friendly wild bird supply store (wink, wink) may have the parts you need to put them back in working order.

     Wet seed can cause mold, and bacteria can build in neglected feeder and can harm the birds, or cause them to avoid your feeder completely. Clean you feeders with soap and water. If there is mold build up, use a 10% bleach solution to kill any germs. Some people also recommend vinegar.

     Be sure to disassemble all parts where mold may be lingering because the mold will return if you don’t. There are many “easy open” feeders on the market today that make this cleaning chore a lot easier. Then rinse your feeder thoroughly, let it dry completely, and then add fresh seed.

     The activity had slowed at the feeders these past weeks before the storm. Our usual flock of goldfinches has dwindled to just a few individuals as the finches take advantage of the abundance of natural seeds that is available during autumn. The hummingbirds and orioles have departed for warmer climates. After the storm passed, activity has picked up as birds flock to the feeders for quick nourishment.

     As the natural seed supply is depleted, our resident finches, chickadees, cardinals, titmice, nuthatches and woodpeckers will return to the feeders to supplement their diet. Juncos and white-throated sparrows are starting to return, and winter finches may descend upon us soon. Now is the time to prepare for their return, before it becomes too cold to work outdoors. So as you clean up the yard, rake the leaves and prepare your house and yard for winter, think about preparing your yard for the winter birds as well.

     Be sure that you position your feeders where you can see them from the house. That is the fun of having feeders in the first place – so you can enjoy the company of birds on those cold winter days. You may want to add a pole in front of a window, or a bracket off the deck, to view the birds better. Also think about access to the feeders to fill and maintain them when there is a foot of snow on the ground. If you think about it now, putting a pole in the ground is a lot easier now than after the ground freezes in a month or two.

     If squirrels are a problem, try isolating a pole away from anything from which a squirrel can jump, and put a good baffle on the pole to prevent the squirrel from climbing up the pole (yes, they can even climb the skinniest poles). Then you can hang most any feeder off the pole without fear of squirrels getting to it.

     If that won’t work for your situation and you know that the squirrel will get to the feeder where you want to place it (off the deck, for instance), then there some squirrel-proof feeders that are ninety-nine percent effective. (I never say “never” when it comes to squirrels.) Some of these feeders are so effective that customers return to buy more of them for their yard, or as a gift for a friend that is particularly frustrated with squirrels eating all their bird seed. Also remember to plan to provide water for the birds during the colder months, when fresh water becomes scarce. A deicer for you bird bath is a good way to keep fresh water available. Or if your bird bath is ceramic or cement, you may want to bring that in for the winter and add a plastic bath that has a built in heater. These heated baths and separate deicers are energy efficient, most using low wattage, and have built in thermostats that turn them on and off with the temperature.

     Planning for the birds now will not only help you welcome some of the migrants going through your yard now, but it will provide for months of enjoyment during the colder winter months. It helps the birds survive and, in some ways, it helps us survive as well.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 27 years of service to the birding community! 
Like us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/birdwatcherssupply

Words On Birds 10-22-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

European Gulls Visit Newburyport Harbor
October 22, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     Margo and I headed to Plum Island birding one windy afternoon this past week. The wind was so strong, it made the temperature seem much colder than it was. It also made it difficult to scope the shorebirds and ducks at the Salt Pannes, but there were dunlin, semipalmated sandpipers, yellowlegs, black ducks, gadwall and a few green-winged teal present. A couple of harriers were fighting the wind further out in the marsh and a very distant peregrine falcon put up some ducks as well.

     The wind kept down the land birds as we saw very few on our way down the island and while walking the Hellcat boardwalk trail. We did see a small flock of juncos along the road along with a few song sparrows. Yellow-rumped warblers, chickadees, robins, a few waxwings, white-throated sparrows and a lone phoebe were all we could muster up this short trip.

     On our way off the island, we noticed that the tide had exposed the flats in the harbor, and there looked like good numbers of birds, so we stopped at the “clam shack” to scope the flats. The wind had died down and the evening sun lit up the harbor. There were hundreds of dunlin and yellowlegs, but I started to look through the gulls for something different. Ring-billed, herring, and great black-backed gulls are the more common gulls here and they were all present in good numbers. The seasonal Bonaparte’s gulls had joined them.

     As I started to scan through them, I almost immediately saw a gull of diminutive size, clearly smaller than even the Bonaparte’s gulls near it. It had a dark carpal bar and very small bill. It lifted its wings a couple of times and I could clearly see the black “M” pattern on it mantle – a winter plumaged little gull!

     The little gull is a Eurasian species, uncommon in this area. One or more show up in Newburyport Harbor or on Plum Island most years. It is a bird that is sought here by birders from other parts of the country, and it is always special when we “locals” see one.

     We both wanted a better look so we went to the boat ramp to try to get closer and to get the evening sun behind us. At the boat, we scanned for the little gull and just as I refound it, Margo had found another small gull with a red bill. It was another uncommon European gull –a black-headed gull! Like the little gull, his bird was also in its winter plumage, missing its dark hood of breeding season. The black-headed gull is somewhat larger than the Bonaparte’s gulls and its red bill shone in the evening light.

     Margo tried to digiscope photos of both rare birds using her cell phone through the scope, but the distance and light made it difficult at best. Eventually, most of the gulls started to move east in the harbor, back toward the Plum Island bridge. The tide was coming in, and the little gull and black-headed gull also lifted up and joined more Bonaparte’s gathering well out of scope range near Woodbridge Island.

     Both of these gulls will likely stay around for at least a few days or longer. They are worth the scan of Newburyport Harbor when the tide is right, and other rarities could show up in the weeks ahead.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 27 years of service to the birding community! 
Like us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/birdwatcherssupply

Words On Birds 10-15-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

The Challenge of Finding Pheasants
October 15, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     We are in the midst of waterfowl and deer hunting seasons so if you are out birding, or just taking a walk in the woods, please be sure that you are wearing orange in areas where hunting is allowed. Pheasant hunting season begins this weekend and the Wildlife Management Areas are being stocked with pheasants continuously throughout the season. Robert Ross, a birder and photographer from Newbury, shared a story from a past pheasant season and I thought that I would share it with your today:

     “Every fall, MassWildlife releases farm-raised ring-necked pheasants in the Martin Burns Wildlife Management Area in Newbury. A flatbed truck arrives piled high with wire crates, looking more than a bit like lobster traps. The “releasers” let the caged birds loose to seed a yearly gun hunt, more akin to a turkey shoot.

     “Winged hunters show up first. Red-tails, Cooper’s, and sharped-shinned hawks arrive when the truck appears. As the cages are downloaded off the truck, each cage is opened, and 3-4 birds are shaken out of the cage. The hawks are waiting.

     “The freed birds are disoriented and scared. Some will fly up into the nearest tree, usually on a low branch. Others run into the nearest cover, yet instead of instantly disappearing, they often walk right out into exposed glens and clearings.

     “Their confusion is not lost on the hawks. As they follow the truck, they hop from tree to tree, staying just high enough to launch a quick attack. The pheasants never see them coming.

     “These birds have no experience with predators. Their instincts are stunted. Many other animals in the Area benefit from the birds served up on a plate. Foxes, fishers, minks, weasels, and coyotes will all gladly clear up any pheasant’s uncertainties.

     “The Hawks get first dibs. Walking the dirt road last fall, I saw two hawks, a Cooper’s and a red-tail fly into the trees ahead of me. I noticed the birds did not flush as I walked under them. I came around a curve and there was the truck.

     “The hawks are onto you,” I said to a young woman releasing the birds.

     “Yes, she said, “We already watched one grab a pheasant.”

     “I pointed to the hawks. These two are next up I think.”

     “She laughed. “They are patient.”

     “Her partner pulled a cage down to the tailgate, opened the door, and shook out the pheasants. The prey all took different paths to escape.

     “The smartest bird darted under the truck. Another flew up onto a low branch in a pine tree. A third made the fatal mistake of darting into the low brush. The Cooper’s came in just above the grass level, like a strafing fighter, coming so close to us we heard the jet-like woosh of its wings. It dove into the tall grass.

     “It jumped up off its prey briefly, and feathers flew out of its claws. Then it dove back down, beak first; there was little doubt.

     “Wow,” the woman said, “that was fast!”

     “How many do you lose to the hawks?”

     “It’s hard to know. I’ve seen them do this over and over. We had a bald eagle out here last year. They know we’re around.”

     “It was fascinating to realize the birds knew the sound or sight of the truck. They followed it until it stops, likely alerted by the panicked clucks and clicks coming from the truck in a symphony of the doomed.

     “I have come across the stocking several times. I have seen other hawks attack. Cooper’s and sharp-shinned attack immediately. The red-tails are more relaxed, waiting until the truck moves on. There is no rush. The pheasants are easy pickings.

     “The authentic hunting experience is not easy to replicate with farmed-raised birds. Only a raised bird would fly without an immediate threat. Though there are many predators on the ground, the birds will take their chances with their foot speed and feathered camo. Yet in the air, they have little hope.

     “On a hike a few days after a release, I came across a hunter and his wife hunting with two beautiful pointers. They had clearly spent a small fortune on guns, gear, and dogs. They looked like a cover of Sports Afield.

     “Any luck?” I asked as the hunters grabbed their dog’s collars and pulled back to keep the friendly dogs from running to me.

     “Not yet,” the man said.

     “I laughed to myself. I had just passed a gorgeous male ring-necked sitting right out in the open in a tree along the road. I had too much heart to tell them.”

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 27 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 10-08-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Cormorants Are On The Move
October 08, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     In October we see large flocks of birds moving in broken lines across the skies that don’t keep the strict formation of geese. These are the cormorants, our summer resident double-crested cormorants, that are migrating in flocks that number fifty, or a hundred or more birds at a time. If you are near the coast and you can sit and watch these birds flying by, they would easily number in the thousands on any given day.

     Margo and I counted 1291 cormorants in a short period of time moving south across the sky from Plum Island one evening this week. There were likely more that went by before we started counting.

     Cormorants are fish eaters and are most often seen in the water diving for fish. Their long, thin necks give them a loon-like appearance, but they sit lower in the water and have a distinct hooked bill, used to catch fish. Their feathers lack the oil to shed water, unlike loons and diving ducks, so you often see cormorants on land with their wings spread to dry.

     Years ago, I wrote about the “cormorant tree” on the Amesbury side of the Merrimack River near the Chain Bridge. That dead tree is gone, but the double-crested cormorants still use the nearby trees as a night roost during the summer months. Other cormorants roost on the wires over the Plum Island bridge. These roosts are shrinking, as more double-crested cormorants head South for the winter. Soon, however, the larger great cormorant, will begin arriving for the winter to fish the waters vacated by the double-crested.

     Doug Chickering of Newbury shared his experience watching the migrating cormorants:

     “There are times when the very ordinary becomes quite extraordinary. Double-crested Cormorants are very common sights on Plum Island from spring to late fall. Some would even say they are too common. They fish the pools, sun themselves on the power lines over the Plum Island bridge, and dry themselves on points of land at Hellcat, Stage Island and in the marshes. They are colorless and numerous, and eventually tend to vanish into the background. When we decide to count the birds we find Cormorants are a pain and because we see them constantly fishing the shallow pools, we worry that they are pushing out other, more attractive species.

     “Usually Cormorants are little more than a nuisance, but this morning at Plum Island they provided a spectacular scene. It is difficult to fully and adequately describe the sight of thousands of Double-crested Cormorants spread in long ragged formations above the western horizon on a Plum Island dawn. The sun has not yet pushed above the dunes; the sky is a pale but bright blue and the land below is just starting to take on definition.

     “It takes a little bit to notice them at first; amorphous strings, moving south not in perfect symmetry but in long fluid strings with occasional clusters of birds in the forefront. The sheer number of them is impressive and they nearly spread the entire horizon. A soundless, relentless movement, an antique ritual as emblematic of the changing seasons as the scarlet leaves on the hillsides.

     “Summer is gone and the winter moves in on the wings of migrating Cormorants.”

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 27 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 10-01-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Fall Migrants Sometimes Include Rare Birds
October 01, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     I glanced out the kitchen window one morning this week and saw a huge bird standing under our feeders. It was so tall its head almost reached the bottom of our platform feeder. It was a great blue heron!

     Ok, we have a creek 50 yards into the woods where the herons sometimes fish when the alewife are running, but we have never had one up into our yard and right under the feeders! It’s not like we changed our feeder menu to anchovies so I don’t know what it was after. The out-of-place bird didn’t stay long enough for Margo to get a photo as it soon flew to its usual habitat by the quick flowing stream.

     Our feeders are a bit slower these days, as they usually are when natural seeds are plentiful. We seem to be dominated by families of our familiar birds – titmice, nuthatches, goldfinch, cardinals and downy woodpeckers. Multiple numbers of these birds jockey for position on the feeders.

     Some young birds are still mooching off their parents. The young goldfinches are most obvious with their constant wing-fluttering display of begging. Their parents are already changing from their brighter breeding plumage to their duller winter colors.

     We are keeping up our hummingbird feeders into October. Hummingbirds are still lingering in New Hampshire and a rare Mexican Violetear visited a feeder in Winsor, Vermont for two weeks in September! That is incentive enough for us!

     Out in the field, small numbers of warblers and vireos and being found as they migrate through our area. Small numbers of blackpoll, yellow-rumped, yellow, black-throated green, magnolia, and prairie warblers, as well as northern parulas and redstarts are being seen on Plum Island and local area thickets. The fall specialty, skulking Connecticut warbler, is being found by those with patience and luck.

     Vireos are also moving through the area. Numbers of red-eyed vireos that nest here, but also a few Philadelphia, blue-headed, yellow-throated and less the common white-eyed vireo are being seen. Our friend Sam Miller found all five along the boardwalk at Hellcat Trail on Plum Island this past week, only missing the warbling vireo, another local nester.

     There was a noticeable influx of phoebes this past week, as they seemed to be everywhere we stopped. Pikes Bridge Road in West Newbury, Salisbury Beach State Reservation, and, of course, Plum Island had small groups of three or four birds in areas. John-Paul Jimenez photographed several in his yard on Hay Street in Newbury this week and one visited our deck on Thursday.

     Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers have also been moving through the area this past week as have numerous cuckoos – both yellow-bellied and black-billed. Seems like everyone has been reporting them lately, except for Margo and me who have found these birds elusive this year. We have not run into either one, mostly cases of us being in the wrong place at the right time.

     The highlight this past week was a shorebird. A rare Pacific golden plover was discovered on the fields of the Spencer Pierce Little Farm in Newbury last Saturday. Word didn’t get out until Monday, but birders from all over the state and beyond have flocked there to catch views of this rarity. The rare plover was associating with a flock of killdeer and a few black-bellied plovers. We last saw this species in Alaska in 2008 and one was discovered on Plum Island in 2002.

     Rare birds always seem to highlight Autumn birding so do keep an eye out.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 27 years of service to the birding community! 
Like us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/birdwatcherssupply