Words On Birds 04-04-20

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Tree Climbing Birder Performs Owlet Rescue
April 04, 2020
By Steve Grinley

     In this uncertain time of depressing news, we look for people and actions that might lift our spirits. For those of us that find solace in our birds, Andrew Joslin of Carlisle shares with us his story of rescuing a great horned owlet last week:

     “On Friday, March 27 I had the opportunity to climb and put an approximately 2 week old fallen great horned owl back in its nest. The nest is in a small white pine grove between two residential properties in Lexington, MA.

     “I frequently perform cat-in-a-tree rescues, have captured escaped pet birds in trees, and have assisted capturing wild animals in distress in trees when needed. I was contacted by a local animal control officer about the owlet, she connected me to a federally licensed wildlife rehabber who had been holding the owl overnight to feed it and monitor its condition.

     “When I arrived at the site a pair of adult owls were at the nest. The apparent male was perched on a small branch close to the nest, the female was on the nest. When I started climbing at the base of the trunk the male left and perched in a large Norway spruce across afield. He was immediately harassed by a red-tailed hawk and left the spruce.

     “The female stayed on the nest carefully following my progress as I climbed. The nest is at approx. 55′, when I was about 20′ below the nest the female left. When I arrived at the nest the female flew under me twice but never came near me.

     “As many of you know GHO can choose a terrible “nest” site to set up shop in. This means their young can be tumbling out of the nest from wind, being jostled by a sibling or just walking off the edge. Inspecting the nest from the ground with binoculars it was clear that this was a very minimal nest structure. I had a bundle of sticks and twigs tied to the bottom of my rope. When I reached the nest I found two young hunkered down. I set to building out the nest structure to give them more room and provide a bit of a “guardrail” against falling.

     “ I shot a short video through the structure of the two in the nest as I was weaving sticks in. They hissed and clicked their mandibles a little as I worked but mostly stayed calm. https://vimeo.com/401622466

     “Once the nest was sufficiently reinforced I called for the owlet to be placed in a secure bag and attached to the tail of my rope. The owl weighed something in the range 580 grams and felt like nothing as I pulled it up. I placed it in the nest and it immediately huddled with its siblings making what looked like a giant lump of owl down I was informed later that the parents returned to the nest soon after I left the site.

     “Photos of the renesting operation here: https://flickr.com/photos/naturejournal/albums/72157713653991732

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 24 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 03-28-20

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Find Your Place To Be With Nature
March 28, 2020
By Steve Grinley

     Last week, I repeated a story of the therapeutic benefits of watching and feeding birds.

     During these difficult times with stay at home orders and social distancing, more people are turning to walks in nature to keep cabin fever tolerable. Unfortunately, many of the natural places we usually visit have also been closed, including tens of thousands of acres owned by the Trustees of Reservations and Mass Audubon.

     Fortunately in our area Essex County Greenbelt has, as of this writing, kept its properties open for people to find solace. Most State Parks and Forests also remain open. There are also numerous local conservation properties owned by cities and towns that should remain open. Now is a good time to explore those properties, or a local park, cemetery, or woodland where you might find some peace, and some birds.

     Doug Chickering could walk to a heron rookery near his house when he lived in Groveland. He told us about the visit he made there some nine years ago:

     “Today I took a walk around the block at home. It’s a nice two and a half mile jaunt that is good exercise and good for my health as long as I watch out for the traffic. It’s also a nice walk to look for birds, which is the most important feature – especially now when my walk takes me by the nesting Great Horned Owl on Bare Hill Road. It was warm enough today and the traffic was light and the birding was okay.

     “As I walked under the Power Lines that cross over the heron rookery and Bare Hill Road I could hear the growing chorus of a lot of calling Crows; all excited. I was a little concerned, for this racket was coming from the general direction of the nesting Owl. Sure enough when I reached the point where I could see the Owl on nest there were several Crows surrounding her. Some were hopping from tree to tree, some were flying around, and many were perched in the trees around the nest. A few occasionally dove at the Owl, but none seemed to actually touch it, and although they were raising a great commotion they generally kept their distance.

     “Through all of this the Owl sat still; attentive and upright, its ears erect and giving an air of quiet, determined defiance. An example of grace under pressure. I counted 23 Crows but I am sure there were more. I guessed that the Crows wanted to drive the owl off its nest in order to feed on the eggs or fledglings. I think by its behavior the owl probably thought this was true as well, for it soon became evident that if the Crows wanted this bird to leave they were going to have to do more than just holler at it.

     “As I was watching the drama unfold I was briefly distracted by the arrival of a male Pileated Woodpecker in the tree right beside me. It was a year bird and it is hard not to watch a Pileated under any circumstances. After a few trips from tree to tree around the area, the Woodpecker left and I turned my attention back to the Owl/Crow fracas.

     “I noticed that the tumult began to die down. Then, one by one, the crows got bored, or disappointed, or whatever and flew off. My admiration for the courageous qualities of the magnificent creature only increased and I hope the poor Owl doesn’t have to endure this ordeal every afternoon.”

     Many of you may have your own sanctuary in your backyard, especially if you feed the birds. But even with that haven, you probably will have a need to venture elsewhere. Look for a place nearby and discover the birds and nature that it has to offer. May it be a temporary diversion from the turmoil around us today.

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

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Words On Birds 03-21-20

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Watching and Feeding Birds Has Therapeutic Benefits
March 21, 2020
By Steve Grinley

     There was an article in an issue of Birding magazine more than a decade ago that addressed the therapeutic benefits of watching and feeding birds. It focused on the residents of assisted living homes, but given today’s Coronavirus challenges, many of the benefits apply for all of us as we, a society, are asked to isolate ourselves and practice “social distancing,” It seems appropriate that I share this with you again during these trying times:

     In a survey of administrators of assisted living and nursing home institutions, all agreed that that their residents enjoyed watching the birds and that it had a positive effect on their residents’ morale. Most all agreed that feeding birds provided a positive therapeutic effect. All of the administrators also agreed that the bird feeding programs were good for their staff as well. Many wrote strong testimonials of the positive impact that feeding birds had at their institution.

     Those that feed the birds feel they have a purpose in life that provides them self-esteem. Many were caretakers of their families all of their lives, and that void can be filled by caring for the birds. It gives residents, especially those with dementia or Alzheimer’s, a sense of pleasure to care for something. Those who have family visitors might welcome a bird feeder as a gift and birds can provide a topic of conversation during visits.

     Feeding and watching birds gives housebound residents a connection with the outside world and reduces isolation and depression. Sharing the birds also provides a mutual topic on which residents can converse with each other. They talk about which birds come to their window and some keep lists to gloat about with others.

     Feeding and watching birds can provide physical therapy. Cleaning and filling bird feeders provides exercise for residents that may lack motivation to exercise on their own. It also helps develop motor skills. Even the simple motion of breaking bread into small pieces for the birds helps provide exercise for stiff fingers or hands.

     Birds provide sensory stimulation, both visual and audio. Watching birds may even provide better eye movement and increased visual field for some, such as stroke victims. Feeders outside their window may help stimulate visual mobility in an affected eye. Likewise, birds’ songs help stimulate auditory senses.
At some nursing homes, residents are encouraged to sit outside and sing or whistle with the birds. It’s an activity that provides vocal exercise and helps to involve them with nature. Some assisted living homes conduct bird walks around the grounds that has great therapeutic value for those who partake.

     Birds also provide a timetable or time orientation for residents. Feeding or watching birds at a certain time each day helps orient time in relation to the day. Longer time orientation is possible through the seasonality of birds. Residents know that robins arrive in the spring and leave in the fall. Some residents compete to see the first robin, catbird or redwing. The color change in goldfinches signifies seasonal changes for them as well. Orioles, hummingbirds or rose-breasted grosbeaks provide summer entertainment while juncos, tree sparrows and pine siskins provide winter pleasure.

     Chances are that you have an older family member or friend in assisted living or living at home. Or perhaps you know a person of any age who may alone, isolated, or depressed during this unprecedented crisis around us. Providing a bird feeder for them to watch and maintain can add joy to their life. Remember that birds are not just entertainment for them, but birds also provide many therapeutic benefits.

     Rachel Carson said “There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of birds…There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.”

     Indeed. During these challenging times, feeding and watching the birds has therapeutic benefit for all of us.

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

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Words On Birds 03-14-20

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

March is Time to Care for Birds
March 14, 2020
By Steve Grinley

     The past couple of weeks have been challenging for us with threats of the Coronavirus and all. But staying close to home seems to be the current norm. Birds can provide calm and tranquility in this otherwise threatening world.

     Although many of the robins and bluebirds that we see now have been here all winter, some new spring migrants have come into the area over the past few weeks. Flocks of red-winged blackbirds, grackles and cowbirds had been reported from all over the County. We still have juncos and white-throated sparrows at our feeders.

     But all around our area, I see so many empty feeders in people’s yards. I worry for the birds that could be helped with the supplemental food a filled feeder provides. It is important to fill your feeders and keep suet out for the remaining winter birds, and for the arriving spring birds as well. Fruit and mealworms will benefit bluebirds and robins, as well as the resident Carolina wrens and mockingbirds. A heated bird bath with fresh water draws more activity when natural water supplies freezes up, but it is welcome all year.

     I would like to share with you once more a past National Wildlife Federation’s newsletter, in which George Harrison wrote: “March is the most difficult month of the year for birds to find adequate food to survive winter in most of North America. That’s because the supplies of natural food … last year’s seeds, fruits, berries and insect eggs and larvae … are at their lowest levels after months of birds feeding on them. March is too early for a new crop of seeds, fruits, berries, and insects to be available. Therefore, birds have to work harder to find sufficient food during a month when it is still very wintry in much of the country.

     “That’s why March is the best time of the year to feed birds in the backyard. They will respond more readily to feeder foods offered in March than at any other time of the year. Isn’t it curious that in fall … October and November … when natural foods are most abundant, people take the greatest interest in feeding birds? It is in fall when there are the greatest number of bird seed sales, bird feeding seminars, bird store sales, and start-up backyard bird feeding efforts. By March, the interest in bird feeding has waned, at a time when the birds need it most.

     “Though birds are not dependent on feeders for their survival (studies have shown that birds glean 75 percent of their daily food from the wild, even when feeder foods are available), feeding them in March will make life a little easier for them, and under severe conditions, and even save them from starvation.”

     George is a leading bird feeding expert publishing many books and articles. What he says about March is so true. So please keep those seed and suet feeders full. Help those wintering birds build up their body fat to survive what’s left winter. This will help them travel back north when it is time. It will also help the spring migrants that may stop at your feeders after traveling hundreds or, sometimes, thousands of miles.

     It certainly helps to lift my spirits to watch the birds at the feeders during this challenging time in our history. It certainly helps the birds, and it may help you 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 24 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 03-07-20

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Time to Prepare Nest Boxes for Bluebirds
March 07, 2020
by Steve Grinley

     Bluebirds are already scouting for nest boxes. A few early tree swallows have been spotted in Massachusetts and they, too, will soon be searching for residences. It is, therefore, time again to provide my refresher on attracting bluebirds and swallows:

     Now is the time to put up a nest boxes or clean out existing ones, as bluebirds will begin nesting by late March or early April. Swallows will follow, in search of nest sites soon after they arrive in the weeks ahead. Bluebirds have two and sometimes three broods in a season, so if they don’t move in right away, you may still attract them later in May and June.

     For the best chance to attract bluebirds you’ll want a nesting box designed for them. Though there are many different styles, most have a 1½ inch opening that is about six or seven inches above a four-inch square floor. Some have predator guards over the hole to help deter squirrels, raccoons and larger birds. Metal plates around the hole help prevent squirrels from chewing and enlarging the hole. Other popular styles include the Peterson box, which is wedge-shaped with a sloping, overhanging roof that helps deter predators, and the Kentucky style, with a long entrance slot at the top, said to deter house sparrows. A house made of PVC is also thought to discourage sparrows.

     If you plan to monitor the house during the nesting season, you should have one that is easy to open with minimal disturbance to the nest. Bluebirds like an open area for feeding, so placement of bluebird houses should be in or near grassy areas. It is best to place the house on a separate pole away from the tree line, preferably with a baffle on the pole. Further distance from trees may be necessary if house wrens are present. In an open field, a tall stick in the ground near the house can be a favorite perch for bluebirds while they forage for food or guard the house. Direct placement onto a fence post or tree can also be successful, but more difficult to discourage predators.

     The house should be placed between four and seven feet high, facing away from foul weather winds. Like many birds, bluebirds are territorial, that is, they will not allow another pair of bluebirds to nest too close. If you are putting up multiple houses, they should be spaced about 100-300 feet apart.

     Tree swallows often compete for the same house as bluebirds. Swallows are also beautiful birds. They eat flying insects, so they are beneficial as well. For that reason, many people place pairs of houses within 10-25 feet of each other to allow bluebirds and tree swallows to nest side by side. In this way, both species’ presence helps control both crawling and flying insects.

     These two species also help protect each other from the aggressive house sparrow, their number one competitor. House sparrows often take over bluebird nesting boxes and will even kill adult bluebirds or swallows in the process. Because house sparrows are so aggressive, bluebird houses should be placed as far away from buildings as possible and they should be monitored on a regular basis, especially early in the nesting cycle. If sparrows are present, their nesting material should be removed. If sparrows become a real problem, trapping and removing the sparrows may be necessary.

     Once bluebirds arrive, you can put out mealworms to encourage them to stay. Once the bluebirds begin nesting, you can continue to help them by providing mealworms in a nearby feeder. This will minimize the time the male spends away from the nesting box, where he can protect his mate from intruders. The female does most of the incubating and only leaves the nest periodically to feed. Thus, having mealworms nearby will help shorten her absence from the nest and further increase their chances for a successful brood.

     Boxes should be cleaned after bluebird fledglings leave the nest as the adults may use the same house for another brood. Houses should also be cleaned after every nesting season and checked again just before spring. They often use the nest boxes for winter roosting if they stay in the area during colder months. Once established, bluebirds will return to the same area every year and more boxes can be added for returning offspring.

     These beautiful birds have made a comeback in the past few decades due to efforts of homeowners providing suitable nesting habitats for them. In turn, the bluebirds provide us with their beautiful colors and song, and they help control insects in our yards and gardens.

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 24 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 02-29-20

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

First Spring Arrivals Are Upon Us
February 29, 2020
By Steve Grinley

     I think that Punxsutawney Phil got this one right. Yes, we know that March snow is not rare for Massachusetts. But the longer days and significantly warmer than normal February that we had is bringing Spring early this year. And the birds are responding.

     We saw out first red-winged blackbirds and grackles of the year more than a week ago and a small flock of cowbirds mixed with starlings the first week of February. This past week, I have noticed redwings and grackle flyovers on my way to work. We have had many customers mention that the blackbirds have started to show up at feeders. Though many folks think it is early, the return of the blackbirds is pretty much on schedule with their February arrival. Soon grackles will be overtaking some feeders, so you may want to dig out your grackle-resistant feeders now before the larger numbers arrive.

     There have been reports of the season’s first woodcock on Plum Island and in a few other locations. Even a few male goldfinches are starting to show some yellow in the face and throat. Customers have told me that their crocus have already started to bloom due to the warmer weather. These are signs of spring and, despite the chance for late season snow, it will be here soon.

     We were certainly surprised to see our first killdeer of the season at the Salt Pannes on Plum Island this past Monday. This was one of the earliest dates that I have seen killdeer in Essex County. Two killdeer were seen there on Tuesday.

     For the faithful readers of this column, you may remember that it is not the first redwing or woodcock that herald spring for fellow birder Doug Chickering of Newburyport. His spring harbinger is the killdeer. More reliable than the groundhog that doesn’t see his shadow, when Doug sees his first killdeer of the season, he can be sure that spring is at hand. Doug describes one of those moments that occurred some years ago at the end of a winter not dissimilar to this year:

     “We bird both by eye and by ear; and occasionally the two are not directly coordinated. This can lead to a nice thrilling moment. Today I had my scope set up at the platform at Emerson Rocks on Plum Island and was scanning the area. The rocks themselves were slowly slipping below the rising tide and I had hoped to find a Purple Sandpiper or two.

     “It was warm and nearly windless this late morning. It was also a strange weather day. There were passing holes in the cloud cover creating occasional splashes of sunlight mixed with intermittent light rain. As I picked over the rocks I was only vaguely aware of the bird sounds around me. Then a sound intruded into my consciousness; a lone careening cry. Somewhere deep in my memory it sounded like– well– like a Killdeer.

     “I stood up from my scope and began to search the skies in front of me. The sound seemed to come from the ocean. Could it have been some anomalous gull cry? After a few minutes of silence I returned to the birds in front of me. No shore birds among the rocks so I started to pick through the many clusters of various sea birds. Eider, Oldsquaw, White-winged Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, a few Goldeneye, a scattering of Horned Grebes and then… that sound again.

     “This time a single high cry to my right. It repeated. And then I saw the form among the driftwood on the sands. A Killdeer, no doubt. It stood on the beach, facing out to the sea emitting an occasional single plaintive Killdeer cry. Was it calling to a friend or calling out in triumph of having successfully made the journey? When Tom Wetmore arrived I got him on it and he was a surprised as I. We watched and speculated until it took flight and headed inland.

     “It wasn’t much of a winter. Sure there were all those Snowy Owls. Lots of Razorbills and Kittiwakes a fairly reliable Rough-legged Hawk and that characteristically unreliable Northern Shrike. But it was a winter of no snow, no real freeze-ups; devoid of winter finches. It has been a winter where ducks who should have long ago made good their escape from frozen ponds and blizzards, hung around as if they knew that what freezes did occur wouldn’t last long. I had Redheads today. And now this. A Killdeer which I consider to be the first bird of spring.

     “I look for this bird in the first two weeks of March and really expect to see it around the spring equinox. I have never had it in February. A Killdeer at the technical last quarter of winter is not that surprising for Nantucket or Chatham, but Essex County? I don’t know whether to be thrilled or appalled. Is this the beginning of spring or the end of the world?”

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 24 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 02-22-20

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Successful Eagles and Owls Excursion
February 22, 2020
By Steve Grinley

     Twenty-two folks joined me last Sunday for our afternoon “eagles and owls” walk. It was a sunny day in the low 40’s, with not much wind – hence, the big turnout. We usually check for eagles along the Merrimack River first, but a rare white-fronted goose had been seen on Plum Island less than an hour before the trip, so I decided to head directly to the island. Logistically, it was also easier than winding our way through the streets of Newburyport with nine cars!

     We found a small group of Canada geese before we got to the refuge gate and it wasn’t long before the rare goose was spotted among them. Since it is smaller than the Canada geese, its orange legs were a key field mark. When it put its head up, we could see its orange bill and, through the scopes, make out some white around the bill. This was a life bird for many of the participants.

     Reports of a snowy owl on the refuge motivated us to move along. A northern harrier greeted us just past the refuge gate as it landed on a cedar tree less than 100 feet away. It flew ahead of us, showing off its dihedral flight and white rump.

     As we approached parking lot 2, Margo spotted the snowy owl out on the marsh just across the river. We pulled into the lot and took out the scopes. Everyone got excellent views of this large specimen – most likely a female owl. Some took pictures with their cell phones through the scope for a lasting memory.

     There was not much passerine activity along the road as we made our way south. Often we have juncos, song and tree sparrows feeding along the edge, but the weekend traffic moved them elsewhere. Lots of black ducks and more Canada geese dotted the marsh most of the way down.

     As we got beyond the Pines Trail to the south marsh we spotted a large dark object sitting in the marsh beyond the river. Setting up the scopes, we could see that it was an immature bald eagle feeding on some kind of prey. Through the scopes we could see a smaller second bird just to the right of the eagle. It was another raptor, sitting quite near the eagle and watching it intently.

     It’s light head and chest helped identify it as a light morph rough-legged hawk. The rough-legged hawk is one of our largest buteos, but it was dwarfed by the size of the eagle. As we watched, I was surprised to see the eagle stepped aside and the hawk began to feed on the prey. Eventually the young eagle flew off to Grape Island in the background. I had to assume that the rough-legged hawk caught the prey originally, and that the young eagle mooched off the hawk for its meal.

     As we watched the two raptors from the road, I kept looking south to Cross Farm Hill. With my binoculars, I could occasionally see two short-eared owls, with their diagnostic moth-like flight, hunting over the grassy hill. It was a long look for most of us. By the time we traveled down the road and reached the other side of the hill, the owls had stopped flying. The daily ritual of photographers had filled Lot 6 and lined a good part of the road in their quest to “get the shot” of these owls. So we continued on to Lot 7 and walked out to the platform to check the ocean.

     From the platform everyone got great scope views of common loons, eiders, and golden-eye. The long-tailed ducks and male red-breasted mergansers were particularly stunning. White-winged and surf scoters and three horned grebes were among the other waterfowl.

     We made our way back up toward Cross Farm Hill, and could see a group of birders, as well as photographers, all looking in the same direction. I could see that there was a short-eared owl sitting in the marsh. As we were pulling over, a few of our group got to see an American bittern also drop into the marsh. By the time we got our scopes out of the car, the bittern had walked into the phragmites. However, the owl was still sitting in the marsh, its feathers glowing in the late afternoon sun. It eventually flew off toward Great Neck.

     We headed back up island and got to see a couple more harriers coming in to roost. The highlight of our return trip was a northern shrike perched in the shrubs east of the road. It was a target bird, and probably a life bird, for many participants. It was the grand finale to a great afternoon of eagles, owls, and other special 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 24 years of service to the birding community! 
Like us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/birdwatcherssupply

Words On Birds 02-15-20

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Eagles Steal the Show Today
February 15, 2020
By Steve Grinley

     As you have probably read by now, today is the Merrimack River Eagle Festival in Newburyport. If you attend the Festival, chances are good that you will see eagles and many other raptors.

     At the festival, you can attend a free one-hour morning or afternoon presentation at the Newburyport City Hall where Mary-Beth Kaeser of Horizon Wings will present two educational programs featuring raptors great and small. It is first come, first served and recommended for adults and children age 6 and over. You can also pre-register to have photos taken with a raptor for a small donation.

     If you have younger children or cannot attend the City Hall presentations, you may visit the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center, where you can have close looks at live hawks from the Mass Audubon Drumlin Farm Sanctuary. At the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters across the street, you will get to meet a few owls, also from Drumlin Farm. Both venues will have family projects, arts and crafts and more!

     These indoor programs are great fun, however the best show is usually outdoors where the bald eagles, along with other area raptors, ducks, and geese are sure to put on an amazing display. I will be co-leading one of several van tours that will take you to venues along the Merrimack River in search of eagles. If you like taking pictures, there is also a morning tour for photographers. Van tours require pre-registration at the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center.

     The tours may be full or you may wish to visit these venues on your own. Maps of eagle viewing areas are available at the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center or at the Parker River Wildlife Refuge Headquarters. There are birders stationed at various viewing sites along the river to spot the eagles for you. You’ll be able to view the eagles up close through spotting scopes!

     If you go on your own, eagles are distinguished by their large size and enormous 7 to 8 foot wingspan. The adult bald eagle is easily recognized by its white head and tail, while the immature eagle is mostly dark-brown with some white in the body or wing linings, depending on its age.

     Searching the waters and shoreline of the Merrimack can reward you with close-up views of our national birds perched, soaring, and even catching fish along the river. Eagles prefer fish but they will eat ducks or small mammals in winter. Eagles have two to three times better vision than humans – it is their most developed sense. Their keen eyesight aids in pursuit of their prey.

     The eagles’ talons are its primary weapons. When diving upon its prey, it spreads its talons out in a cross-like fashion. Its hind toe is its most powerful with the longest, strongest talon. When striking, the force of impact drives the hind talon into the side of its quarry while the others encircle it. Eagles use their sharp beak to tear open their prey and will consume it bones and all. Their strong stomach acids dissolve the bones.

     During your visit to the eagle viewing areas along the river, you might also encounter harriers hunting the marsh, or an occasional Cooper’s or sharp-shinned hawk. You may also see one of the resident peregrine falcons that regularly hunt the river. They are likely to nest in the area again this year.

     Also along the river, you may watch common goldeneye, bufflehead, and handsome long-tailed ducks, as well as common and red-breasted mergansers feeding in the river. Great cormorants can also be seen fishing the waters and sometimes a wintering great blue heron or kingfisher might be found. Even a harbor seal or two have made appearances in the past.

     You can also spend part of the day at Plum Island where you might find a snowy owl in the dunes or marsh along the refuge road. Several snowy owls have been spotted on the refuge this season along with red-tailed and rough-legged hawks. There have also been adult and immature bald eagles seen from many locations on the island. If birders are present with scopes, they will likely share their optics and the experience of viewing these birds up close.

     For additional information regarding the festival, please contact the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center at 978-462-9998 or the Parker River Wildlife Refuge at 978-465-5753.

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

Words On Birds 02-08-20

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Birding Year Off to Good Start
February 08, 2020
By Steve Grinley

     It is hard to believe that we are already more than a month into the New Year. It is February and red-winged blackbirds, grackles and cowbirds will be arriving in the next few weeks. We already saw a dozen cowbirds in a mixed flock of starlings in Rowley this past weekend. March is just three weeks away and it will bring phoebes and bluebirds searching for nest sites. Woodcocks will arrive and start their fascinating aerial courtship displays.

     This winter has been a bit easier on the birds, and the lack of snow cover has kept more natural food available for them. This meant less activity, in general, at the bird feeders. There has also been a lack of winter finches at the feeder. The ample food supply in northern New England and Canada has negated the need for birds of the north to migrate south to our area for food.

     We did have two purple finches show up at our feeders in mid-January but haven’t heard of many other northern birds around. There was a single Bohemian waxwing found at Halibut Point State Park in late January which Margo and I, and a few others, were able to see the second day. It hasn’t been seen since. Strange for us to have seen a rare Bohemian waxwing and still not see a cedar waxwing yet this year (though they are around)!

     Our warmer winter has caused a few “summer” birds to try to stay the winter. Baltimore and Bullock’s orioles have been visiting feeders in southern New Hampshire and a few Baltimore orioles have been reported here in Essex County. An orange-crowned warbler has been visiting a feeder in Gloucester. Individual chipping sparrows have visited feeders in Essex, Ipswich and West Newbury.

     Margo and I saw three catbirds at Halibut State Park along with a ruby-crowned kinglet in January. Another January day, we saw a female eastern towhee at the Salisbury Beach State Reservation in the morning and later saw another along the road on the Parker River Refuge on Plum Island. We have seen northern flickers on Plum Island and in Essex, and several customers have reported seeing them as well.

     Still, there have been a number of winter birds to enjoy this year. As many as four snowy owls have been seen on Plum Island, as well as in Salisbury and on Crane Beach in Ipswich. Also Plum Island has hosted at least two Northern Shrikes and a Rough-legged Hawk. We saw three snow buntings in Salisbury this week, and four Iceland gulls and a glaucous gull were in Gloucester.

     This has also been a good winter for alcids off the coast of New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Only a few puffins have been spotted, but hundreds of dovekies, common and thick-billed murres, and razorbills have been counted off Cape Ann. We saw four dovekies in Gloucester Harbor on one day, and dovekies and murres are being seen regularly up and down the coast.

     A few rarities have been around this winter as well. Western tanagers have been visiting feeders in Southern New Hampshire and on Cape Cod. An elusive Townsend’s Solitaire from the western U.S. has been feeding on cedar berries throughout Halibut Point State Park since December. Many birders have made multiple trips to the park to try to see this rare, secretive bird.

     An eared grebe, also from the western U.S., was discovered off West Beach in North Beverly last weekend. It brought back memories for many birders of the reliable eared grebe that visited Niles Beach in Gloucester every winter for fourteen years until 2004. This current bird may not stay long, or return another winter, but it was fun to reminisce.

     So despite the milder weather this winter, it has been an interesting start to this birding year.

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

Words On Birds 02-01-20

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

A Wild Goose Chase Redux.
February 01, 2020
By Steve Grinley

     It is hard to believe that we are already one month into the new birding year. Each year begins a new year list. Usually when we start a new year, there are several uncommon birds, usually uncommon geese, “left over” from the year before that we can find to add to the new year’s list.

     This year was not the case. We didn’t add a new rare goose, or any rare bird, until we refound a cackling goose in the Putnamville Reservoir on January 14. We found a snow goose in Newburyport Harbor last Sunday. This void of unusual geese reminded me of the “wild goose chase” that I wrote about in 2007 which I share with you again today:

     “Have you ever been on a wild goose chase? It is a funny term. It usually means that you go searching for something that just isn’t there. In early February, Margo and I, along with our friend Naeem, actually went to Rhode Island to “chase” wild geese, hoping they would be there.

     Reports of two pink-footed geese, a barnacle goose, and a greater white-fronted goose were being reported from the Newport area on the Internet. The pink-footed goose would be a life bird for Margo and me, though Naeem had gone down the week before and saw those two birds. The barnacle goose would be new for Margo and Naeem, and the greater white-fronted goose would be a lifer for Naeem.

     Of course, when you “chase” wild geese, there is always the question of whether or not they are really wild. The origin of unusual ducks and geese needs to be scrutinized since so many of these types of birds are kept in captivity. The chances of an escaped bird is often very real, so searching for these rarities is half the battle. Then it needs to be discerned whether or not these species are, indeed, wild and countable. This is usually left up to the Avian Records Committee of each particular state.

     These geese that we sought were seen by many birders, and the birds were traveling freely with large flocks of migrating Canada geese. It is likely that these birds will be determined to be wild. But, first, we had to find them.

     We headed directly to St. Mary’s Pond near Portsmouth where the greater white-fronted goose had been reported. The pond was some distance from the road and the morning light was against us, but we searched a large flock of Canada geese in the open water and on edge of the ice with our scopes.

     After a few minutes, some of the geese began to take flight, and we started to worry. I spotted the greater white-fronted goose. Its slightly smaller size and the white edge around the face was clearly visible. Margo and Naeem looked through my scope and saw the bird. Naeem found it in his scope and spent some time with this new bird for him, at least until it took flight with the majority of the geese that soon left.

     We had passed a reservoir along Route 114 shortly before turning for St. Mary’s Pond. We decided to head back there. It was the Lawton Valley Reservoir and, as we arrived, some of the Canada geese were also starting to leave. I caught site of the bright white face of a barnacle goose at the far end of the reservoir, but it, too, took off within a few minutes after Margo and Naeem had brief and distant looks at it.

     We then drove through Newport to near the country club and Fort Adams area where Naeem had seen the pink-footed geese the week before. We encountered other birders who were also searching for the geese, including a group with Bill Drummond of Andover.

     There was a cackling goose, which looks like a miniature Canada goose about the size of a mallard, in with the Canada geese at a farm just after the road to Fort Adams. But there was no sign of the pink-footed geese. We searched the entire peninsula area for hours without success. We began to think that this really was just a “wild goose chase!”

     After lunch time, we decided to take a break and headed to Coventry to look for tundra swans which had been reported there. We asked Bill to call us if anyone rediscovered the pink-footed geese in our absence. We turned up empty on the swans as well, only finding four mute swans in the mostly frozen ponds of Coventry.

     On our way back to Newport, we received a call from Bill that they located the birds. When we got back to Newport, we had great looks, from the road, at two pink-footed geese on the Country Club grounds. We had great, relatively close views in the late afternoon sun -great views of a life bird. On our way back, we stopped at the reservoir again, and then searched area fields, hoping for another look at the barnacle goose.

     The sun was going down, but we made one more stop at the reservoir at 5:10 p.m., and the barnacle goose flew in at 5:17. We had good looks, though we lost light quickly. All in all, our “chase” was quite successful!“

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