Words On Birds 10-31-20

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Watch for Arriving Waterfowl
October 31, 2020
by Steve Grinley

     The fall weather brings with it the annual migration of ducks and geese. If you look out to the ocean from Plum Island or Salisbury this time of year, you will see rafts of scoters and eiders congregating on the water to feed. More will stream by to winter further south. Other ducks and geese are arriving on our lakes, rivers and reservoirs. Many may stay the winter if we have open water, while many more will continue their journey further south.

     Last week I talked about the long strings of cormorants moving overhead, but you can also view large “V’s” of Canada geese making their way south. Brant, a goose similar to the Canada goose but smaller with a neck patch instead of the white “chin strap”, are also arriving in our area. Snow geese may pass through, and we always check flocks of Canada geese for a less-common cackling, greater white-fronted, or pink-footed goose among them.

     Scores of ring-necked and ruddy ducks have already arrived at the Cherry Hill Reservoir and the Artichoke Reservoir in West Newbury. Soon golden-eyes, oldsquaw, scaup, mergansers and buffleheads will congregate in larger numbers on our waters. Like the sea ducks – eiders and scoters – these are all diving ducks that completely submerge to feed. That often makes them difficult to study as they continually disappear under water.

     The surface feeding ducks, known as “dabblers”, are also arriving. Many people are more familiar with the dabblers.as they include mallards, black ducks, pintails, wood duck and teal. These surface feeding ducks are often seen with their tail exposed as they tip in the water to feed. Therefore, they prefer shallow water such as smaller ponds or salt pans. Many can be found in the main salt pannes on Plum Island as well as Stage Island and Bill Forward Pools on the refuge.

     Coot are also arriving to the area. They are small, black hen-like ducks with white bills that are fun to watch. Unlike mallards and black ducks that take to flight by just lifting off the water, coot need to run across the water for some distance before they are able to get airborne. This is true of geese, swans and many sea ducks as well, but it always seems extra comical to watch a coot take off. Its chunky body seems too much for its rapidly flapping wings to carry as it runs clumsily along the water, but eventually liftoff does occur.

     So if you live near a lake, river or the ocean you should notice an increase in the number of waterfowl on the water. Hunting season has begun and, yes, the guns will take a few of them. But if you hunt with binoculars like me, take solace in the fact that your duck “hunting” season doesn’t end – it will continue all winter long.

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 10-24-20

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Cormorants Are on the Move
October 24, 2020
by Steve Grinley

     If you are anywhere near the coast these days, you may notice large flocks of birds overhead moving south. At first you might think they are geese, but these birds travel in broken lines across the skies and don’t keep the strict formation of geese. These are cormorants, our summer resident double-crested cormorants, which are migrating in flocks that number fifty, or a hundred or more birds at a time. Margo and I counted numerous large flocks moving south one day this past week, including some long strings of more than two hundred birds. We saw thousands of cormorants that day.

     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 that they use 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.

     Doug Chickering of Groveland shared his experience watching the migrating cormorants a dozen years ago and I thought I would share it again here:

     “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.”

     So keep your eyes to the sky these days and watch this migration spectacle as it happens above us. Soon, these summer cormorants will be replaced by the larger great cormorant. Great cormorants will winter here and fish the waters that the double-crested cormorants vacated.

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 10-17-20

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Prepare Feeders for Winter Visitors
October 17, 2020
By Steve Grinley

     Changes in the weather are bringing many birds back to the feeders. Large numbers of pine siskins have already migrated into the area and are starting to show up with the goldfinches at area feeders. Siskins are the same size as goldfinch, but have striping all over their body with flecks of yellow in their wings and tail. Goldfinches and siskins enjoy Nyger or finch mix in finch feeders, or sunflower in seed feeders-especially hulled sunflower. We are also hoping that redpolls will join these flocks this winter.

     We have also had our first purple finches of the season feeding on sunflower. These birds may appear similar to house finches, but the males are deep purple all over, whereas male house finches have red on just their head, chest and rump. Both male and female purple finches have bold, wide striping on their heads. They especially like our open tray feeder with sunflower, as do many birds, but also frequent our mixed seed feeders.

     There have also been reports of evening grosbeaks in New Hampshire towns close to the Massachusetts border, so it may be a year that we see an influx of these dramatic birds. They especially like open platforms of sunflower and will “clean you out” in no time. But the flashing white in their wings, and bold yellow and black coloration of the males, are spellbinding.

     With autumn weather upon us, now is the time to assess your feeders, give them a good cleaning and fill them with fresh seed. Wash them with soap and water and, if necessary, a ten percent bleach or vinegar solution to kill any bacteria. Rinse thoroughly and let them dry completely before adding fresh seed.

     Now is also the time to add more feeders if you choose. A thistle/finch feeder will lure the finches. A peanut feeder will draw woodpeckers, nuthatches, and tufted titmice. Many birds will enjoy suet in the cooler weather including woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, and titmice. An open platform, or a hopper feeder with large platform area, will attract a wide variety of birds, especially those winter visitors for the north.

     Sunflower and mixed seed feeders also attract a variety of birds. There are many new tube feeders on the market that are easier to clean. It is usually the base of the feeder where seed gets wet and moldy, so access to that area for cleaning is critical. Many of the newer feeders have quick release bottoms for easy cleaning. The most popular squirrel-proof feeders, the Squirrel Buster feeders, also disassemble easily for cleaning. Keeping feeders clean, with fresh seed, is key to attracting more birds as well as protecting their health.

     Window feeders stick right onto the window with suction cups to bring the birds right up close. You can also purchase a mirror film separately for any window feeders. Window feeders provide great entertainment for children and cats!

     You’ll want to place most feeders where you can watch from the house for the greatest enjoyment. Don’t wait until the ground freezes to decide to put a pole in the ground to place a feeder in a visible area from your windows. You can always hang a bracket off your deck or porch to hold a feeder, or there are brackets that mount on the window frame and will swing and lock in front of the window for close viewing. You’ll want to position feeders where you can enjoy them from the comfort of your home and, also, be able to access them for filling during inclement weather.

     A little planning and preparation now will mean winter-long enjoyment watching the birds in your yard from the comfort of your home.

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 10-10-20

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

HawkWatches Are Still Happening
October 10, 2020
By Steve Grinley

     A few weeks ago I talked about the fall hawk migration, and it is still going on at hawkwatch sites in eastern New England. The same day that my column appeared, Levi Burford witnessed an amazing day at Pack Monadnock in New Hampshire. Levi, the official counter for the site, counted 2269 raptors, 2195 of which were broad-winged hawks! This is what he wrote about the day:

     “Forty-three visitors came by the hawk watch and I think many got to witness the spectacle of Broad-winged Hawk migration. It’s nice to share this with good folks!

     “As we baked for much of the morning and early afternoon I wondered where the Broad-winged Hawks were. We had some small numbers in kettles and I was resigned to a “nice” pleasant day counting leisurely. Then, at ten minutes of 3:00, a monster kettle unloaded upon the mountain.

     “The stream of Broadwings snaked from one side of the mountain to the other, breaking apart to become pulses for three hours. The final Broad-wings finished scudding by just before 6:00 but small numbers of Sharpies and a Kestrel kept us there until 6:45pm.”

     “September 17th is special to this site. We’ve collected consistent data at this site since 2005 and only in 2005 did we get rained out from counting on this date due to low clouds. In the past 15 years of good weather on this date we have only had less than 100 Broad-winged Hawks twice. Today lived up to expectation that we would have a good flight. It’s almost scary, how predictable it is!”

     That day seems hard to beat, you say? The following day, Levi experienced an even greater flight, totaling 3000 hawks. You can feel the enthusiasm in his report for that day:

     “Forty-five visitors got treated to a show once the cloud deck lifted and dispersed. Thanks to site founder, Iain Macleod for helping me count today. That would have been a doosey without him.

     “The day started off with hope of the thick cloud layer and light rain dissipating and counting thousands of hawks. By mid-day we were starting to get restless as we got word that Mount Watatic was having a good day, being just under the cloud deck. At a little past 1:00pm the clouds lifted and broke apart. The wind started to blow with regularity from the north and the temperature started to climb once again into the comfortable range.

     “Whew! Another big day…Today really started in the 1:00 hour. The clouds lifted and there were Broad-wings flying low. It didn’t take long before the clouds dissipated and the solar energy gave the birds lift up to eye-level and then beyond. It got busy and the Broad-winged Hawks started to fly in massive semi-organized rivers.

     “There was a slight lull for the 3:00 hour but in the 4:00 hour a new massive, unorganized front of Broad-winged Hawks gave us counters a run for our money! Anywhere you pointed your binoculars there were Broadwings, flying in formation. It was the most challenging day I’ve had yet for counting.

     “By the way: I did not make up the numbers for today. It just happened to total 3000. I’ve double-checked. Now I’m less cranky about that Osprey that came at 6:43 forcing me to stay that last 15 minutes to 7:00pm. I could have left with 2,999!”

     The hawk migration is still going on, though the peak was clearly mid-September. Though the numbers may be less, some of the more interesting raptors might be seen in October and into early November including Goshawks and Golden Eagles!

     More information on Pack Monadnock Raptor Migration Observatory may be found at www.nhaudubon.org and for hawkwatch sites in Eastern Massachusetts go to www.massbird.org/EMHW.

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 10-03-20

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Whales and Bird Watching Fills Void
October 03, 2020
By Steve Grinley

     It is around this time each year when many folks ask the question “where are my birds?” The number one complaint is not squirrels, grackles or chipmunks, it is that their birds have disappeared from their backyards and feeders. This occurs almost every year at about this time. Early autumn is the time of year when the natural supply of seeds and nuts is most abundant. Despite the popular belief that birds only eat from your feeders and are dependent upon them, the birds are actually just using your feeders to supplement what they can find in the wild.

     Birds, and squirrels, are very opportunistic. When the supply of natural seeds and nuts is plentiful, they take advantage of that – just as we select vegetables from our garden or the local farm stand. “Just picked” always tastes better than store-bought. Even the squirrels are ignoring our feeders and are dropping the acorns and hickory nuts to the ground and eating or collecting them. The birds know that your feeders are there and they will likely return when their natural food supply starts to dwindle again.

     This following is written by Margo’s brother, Bob Goetschkes, a novice birder who helps out at Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift a few days a week:

     “Sometimes, when the birding activity at our feeders and favorite spots has gone down, we have to get creative if we want to keep the binocular skills fresh. Today, September 27th, Margo and I climbed aboard the Seven Seas Whale Watch out of Gloucester for the 11:00 A.M. trip out to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Captain Jay noticed we were birders, and said he’d help sight birds.

     “The temperature was a cool 70 degrees with humidity reaching 80% and winds about 8 mph out of the NE across the Gulf of Maine. On our way to the breakwater, we spotted over 60 Great Black-backed Gulls and about as many Herring Gulls. We had our eyes peeled for the Glaucous Gull that had been seen in the area, but were unlucky.

     “As we left harbor, beyond Dog Bar and Eastern Point Lighthouse, we counted about 20 Common Eider and at least 50 Double-crested Cormorants. At about the same time, a small pod of Harbor Porpoises scurried away from the boat, the first marine life we had seen. There were Laughing Gulls and a few Bonaparte’s Gulls floating in the water and taking flight, but the further away we got from the harbor, the fewer birds we noticed.

     “There was a bank of fog out in the distance, not something that deters whale watchers, but isn’t a bird watchers favorite nautical report. Fortunately, the fog was wispy enough to keep the skies clear in patches, and along with our first Humpback Whale sighting at about 11:30, we also took in about 5 Gannets, 3 Shearwaters, 2 Common Terns, and 5 Fulmars, which were an unexpected treat.

     “As we sailed over the Bank and the Ledge, these seabirds increased in number with the increase in marine mammal sightings. By 12:30, we had seen an Ocean Sunfish paddling its fin above water, and the whales provided lots of fluke and spy hopping action. In between the 5 to 6 minute dives of mom and her calf, we noticed the Terns wherever the whales surfaced. These higher latitudes are the feeding grounds for marine mammals, and the birds we saw were part of that ecosystem, too.

     “The boat turned and headed out of the light fog bank towards shore again. It was about 2:00 PM when we saw a large pod of Atlantic White Sided Dolphins swimming with our wake.

     There were lots of juveniles in the middle with the adults forming a protective, moving ring around them.

     “The number of birds diminished and then increased again as we headed into the harbor, the Gulls as busy as ever. Captain Jay and the crew got us back to shore and piped Liberty for us all to disembark. Margo and I made our way over to the State Pier to have one more look for the Glaucous Gull, but were again unlucky.

     “There was a bit of icing on the cake on the drive home, however. Conomo Point is on the way from Gloucester to Essex. The tide was still going out so we drove to check out Clamshell Beach and saw upwards of 1000 Double Crested Cormorants resting in the low pools of Essex Bay. Like the Bank and the Ledge, this area too is a relatively healthy ecosystem for being able to support that many 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! 
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Words On Birds 09-26-20

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Autumn Fallout on Plum Island
September 26, 2020
By Steve Grinley

     Last weekend, the songbird migration on Plum Island was something I hadn’t experienced since the 1960’s and 70’s – and that was usually in the spring, not fall. Strong northwest winds had brought hundreds, if not thousands of birds and dropped them on the island. As we drove through the refuge gate late morning on Saturday, there were warblers, vireos and kinglets still streaming through the low vegetation on both sides of the road and all around Lot 1.

     One of the first birds we saw was an uncommon Cape May warbler, still in its breeding plumage. Many of the other warblers were more of a challenge in their fall plumages, but they were everywhere we looked. We knew this day was going to be special.

     Doug Chickering, who had arrived just after dawn, experienced the whole show and I’ll let him describe the spectacle as only he can do:

     “Today I experienced the most sensational, Autumn Fall Out on Plum Island in my memory. When I drove on, fairly early, I could tell right away from the many people festooned with cameras, scopes and bins that something special was occurring. It didn’t take any time to discover what. For me, Plum Island has given many magic moments and today was certainly one of them.

     “On the marsh side, between the Middens and the boat ramp, the area was alive. Dancing in the perfect lighting of a rising sun, there seemed to be small birds everywhere. Mostly Warblers but with other migrants mixed in.

     “There was a mounting, electric excitement among the excited observers as many of the birds fed and flew in and around the two small pines at the edge of the road, giving all a spectacular show which, surely, will become cherished memories of a special day in their birding lives. It was one of those times when your expectation of just another day is swept away and you become more and more aware that this is a special day A day filled with an unexpected magic and is the start of a fantastic birding day.

     “And so, it was. I spent close to an hour just picking out and marveling at the birds that seemed to enter and vanish the area like wraiths. I developed an understandable hesitation after a while. What was on the rest of the island? Should I strike out or stay here? Finally, I decided that my best and most productive course of action would be a long walk up the road.

     “So, I parked at Lot two and was further excited and encouraged when I walked down the sand road right next to Parking lot 2 that led out to the beach. And staying among the trees I could see that the fallout had not diminished and was most likely good down the length of the road. Then I started walking south.

     “To sum up the walk; there were birds everywhere. And this big day was different from the few similar days I have experienced in the spring. Not only was the foliage significantly denser but the birds were much harder to identify. A Bay-breasted Warbler stands out in a tree in the spring, but the same bird hopping through the heavy foliage is much more difficult to identify.

     “At the sides of the roads was the constant presence of White-throated Sparrow, Juncos and the occasional Chipping Sparrow feeding in the grass at the roads edge. Also there seemed to be an endless sprinkling of small birds up in the trees, Vireos and Warblers and others, in an endless procession of mystery and beauty. It was dazzling and fulfilling and fun. It took me five hours to walk from Parking lot 2 to the Wardens.

     “Later I was told by friends I met that Hellcat was filled with activity and the Pines trail as well. None of the people I met had made it south of the Pines; mainly because they were so tightly captivated by the extraordinary excitement that was taking place north of the Pines, they ran out of time and energy.

     “I felt sorry for the friends that I met who had previous commitments. Initially they had intended to visit the island for a short period of time, and immediately became immersed in one of the dream days that we all contemplate and wish for. They had been caught up in the show, but now had to leave.

     “I stayed deep into the afternoon and things quieted a bit and I got tired. I had walked around ten miles which is a lot for a slightly overweight man of my age and reasoned that I could return tomorrow, early, and pick up where I left off. That, of course is the triumph of hope over experience. Yet even if it would be only a trace of what it was today, it will be worth the trip.”

     The “show” did continue into Sunday, and even trickled a bit into Monday. It was a weekend on the island that those of us birders who experienced it, will not forget.

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 09-19-20

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Hawks Are on the Move
September 19, 2020
By Steve Grinley

     September is the month to look skyward as hawks begin their flight south. Tens, and sometimes hundreds, of hawks can be seen migrating overhead on a crisp fall day in New England when the winds turn out of the northwest. On cooler autumn days, as the sun warms the earth, warm air rises into thermals which hawks use to glide their way south. River valleys and ridges of hills and mountains provide thermal paths along which hawks migrate. If you can find a high vantage point with a clear view of the northern sky, you may catch “kettles” of hawks traveling south in the midday thermals.

     Popular hawk watching sites include Mt. Wachusett, Mt. Watatic, Mt. Tom and Pack Manadnock in New Hampshire and Mt. Agamenticus in Maine. In this area, the Merrimack Valley provides good thermals for migrating raptors. Behind the Page School in West Newbury is one of the more popular spots for hawk watchers in this area. It provides a panoramic view of the Merrimack Valley and you can watch hawks as they approach from the north.

     Most hawks can be identified into one of three groups: buteos, accipiters and falcons. Buteos are large hawks with broad wings and short rounded tails. Accipiters are generally smaller than buteos with rounded wings and long tails. Falcons have pointed wings and long tails.

     The red-tailed hawk is probably the most familiar buteo. They are the common roadside hawk that you see along highways or on the telephone poles on the way to Plum Island. They have a white chest with a dark band across the belly. Its red tail is present in adult birds, but juvenile red-tails have brown tails

     Broad-winged hawks are smaller that red-tails with wide light and dark bands across the tail. Broadwings migrate by the thousands through Massachusetts and “kettles” of them circling in the sky can be spotted on a good autumn day. Red-shouldered hawks and the larger rough-legged hawk sometimes make appearances among the other buteos.

     The wing beat pattern of “flap, flap, sail” is characteristic of accipiters (though other hawks do that occasionally too). The Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks are nearly identical in color patterns with the “sharpy” usually the smaller of the two. These are the two common hawks that feed on birds at the backyard feeders. The goshawk is the largest accipiter – crow size and much less common here.

     Of the three eastern falcons, the largest and fastest is the peregrine falcon which can reach speeds in excess of 60 mph with a strong tail wind or when diving for a shorebird or pigeon. The American kestrel is the most plentiful of the falcons during migration. Adult kestrels are identified by their small size, rusty coloration on their back and tail and light color underneath. Both the peregrine and the kestrel sport black sideburns and the merlin has a hint of them as well. The merlin is small like the kestrel but heavily striped underneath with a noticeable white tip to the tail, and a white line over the eye.

     Harriers, turkey vultures, and ospreys are among the other large raptors you might see. You may also be lucky enough to catch sight of a bald eagle, soaring on flat wings they glide overhead. So keep your eyes skyward on these autumn days!

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 09-12-20

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Nighthawk Flight Over Essex
September 12, 2020
By Steve Grinley

     A couple of weeks ago I challenged you to watch the evening skies for migrating nighthawks. I don’t think that we have ever seen one over our house in Essex, partly because we are surrounded by trees and don’t have much sky to look at. However, our friend Phil Brown, who lives about a half mile down the street from us, does see them frequently during spring and fall migration.

     Last Saturday, we received a text from Phil saying he had more than a dozen already flying over his house and that we should check from our yard – except we were not home. We were on our way home from Danvers, and since we were going to pass by Phil’s along the way, we stopped there for a better “viewing sky.”

     Phil shares with us the story of the phenomenal flight of nighthawks over his house that evening:

     “I’ve had Nighthawks migrating over the house almost every year for the past 20, sometimes I catch them in the spring when they’re calling as they fly over, and sometimes in the fall as they head over silently.

     “Last night at 5:45pm I had a single Nighthawk heading east, stopping with a group of Tree Swallows to feed on whatever tasty bugs they’d come across and as I watched them a 1/2 mile or so distant a couple more flew over, then a few more, all heading north to south and coming from all corners of the sky I can see from the backyard.

     “After 14 had gone past I texted Steve & Margo thinking they may want to take a peek at they’re house but they were on the road and decided to stop by, but before they arrived 77 had flown over all north to south.

     “I reached 84 before 4 flew north and made it just over 100 when a good number of them started coming from the east and south. I’m guessing they reached the coast and either flew around Cape Ann which would bring them in from the east or just turned around which brought several from the south.

     “Total flyovers came to 125 with just over 100 Nighthawks counted as singles starting at 5:45 and ending at 7pm. The largest group was a dozen with many 5’s, 6’s, 7’s & 8’s.

     “My highest number at the house on any given day was 12 prior to last night and 8 another year with singles and doubles being the norm through the years.

     “I don’t suspect that will happen again anytime to soon but it sure was fun while it lasted!”

Common Nighthawk © Margo Goetschkes

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 09-05-20

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Birds on the Move this Season
September 05, 2020
By Steve Grinley

     The in flux of red-breasted nuthatches continues as their higher pitched tooting announces their increased presence. Birders are seeing them in the pines on Plum Island and even larger numbers in many of the area’s mixed pine forests. A few have shown up in backyards, including ours, though we haven’t seen one go to the feeder yet. This invasion is due to a pine cone shortage, their food source, in southern Canada and northern New England.

     Another “invasion” happening is one by red crossbills. Our friend Phil hears them flying around the Rowley Country Club, with its scattered white pines, during his rounds of golf. Many other birders are seeing and photographing them in area state forests such as Willowdale and Bradley Palmer, and at the Bald Hill Reservation (Crooked Pond) in Boxford. There have been more reports from central and western Mass.

     Again, food supply is the reason these birds are moving in, perhaps to stay for the winter. If we have a good finch winter, and I haven’t seen the predictions yet, we might see more crossbills in the pines on Plum Island and in the campground area of Salisbury Beach State Reservation. Perhaps pine siskins, redpolls or evening grosbeaks might also be headed this way. Stay tuned.

     Meanwhile the shorebird migration is winding down a bit, but there are still some nice birds to be seen. Good numbers of yellowlegs and black-belled plovers are still feeding on the flats and pans and golden plovers should be coming through soon. There are lower numbers of “peeps” now, but and occasional western or Baird’s sandpipers are found among them. We can look forward to buff-breasted sandpipers that are still to come.

Marbled Godwits

American Bittern

     Margo and I went down to Bill Forward Pool on the Refuge to try to see a pair of marbled godwits – tall, long legged buffy colored shorebirds with long, upturned “bubblegum colored” two tone bills. When we first arrived, the godwits were nowhere to be found. Then, Margo spotted the two birds flying in. They landing fairly close, giving us great scope views in the afternoon sun and Margo got some nice shots on her phone through her scope.

     We were then motioned by other birders/photographers who were at the North Pool side of the dike. We went to see what they found. We were told that there was an American bittern in the reeds, but with social distancing, we weren’t sharing scopes. So it was a challenge to try to find this camouflaged bird.

     Finally we both got on it. The bittern was almost motionless. Its striped front, and bill held high, made him almost invisible to the naked eye and even through binoculars. But our scopes followed him as it slithered through the weeds, eventually stabbing at a fish or crustacean in the water and we watched it swallow it. American bittern is always a tough bird to find in Essex County these days, so this was a special treat indeed!

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 08-29-20

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Binoculars Enhance the Joy of Birding
August 29, 2020
By Steve Grinley

     This weekend’s Tax Free Holiday in Massachusetts seems like a good time for my annual refresher on optics.

     Today’s optics are lighter, brighter, and sharper than they were even ten years ago. You don’t need to start out with the best optics, as there are some fine lower priced binoculars and scopes, and you can always graduate to better optics as your interest grows. Or, as most experts advise, you can invest a little more money now and buy the best optics that you can afford and they will bring you many years of enjoyment.

     The most popular size binoculars for birding are 8×42 or 10×42. Binoculars with magnification of 8 or 10 power, the first number that you see printed on the binocular, will bring birds 8 or 10 times closer. Higher power may sound better, and it can be, but the higher the magnification, the harder it is to hold a binocular steady. The lower power usually gives you a little more light, and a wider field of view. The wider the field of view, the easier it is to find a bird in a tree, because you are seeing more of the tree. Ten power does bring birds closer, but it is the practical limit that experienced birders can hold steady without the aid of a tripod.

     The second number (i.e. 42) is the diameter of the objective lens, the lens that is furthest away from you, in millimeters. The larger that lens, the more light that enters the binoculars. More light is important when birding in the shade, on cloudy days, or at dawn or dusk. My first pair of binoculars were 7 x50 – a little less power, but a larger objective lens that let in a lot of light. But the added weight of that much more glass in the binocular made my arms tired while watching warblers in the tops of trees!

     Be careful of going to the other extreme with small compact binoculars such as 8×20 or 10×25. Compacts are great for hiking or for a second pair to throw in your glove compartment, but they are not very useful for general field use. The small objective lens limits both the field of view and the brightness of the image. But for those who just want to carry a pair in their pocket for long walks or for a sporting event, they might do just fine.

     Other factors to consider are the close focus (how close you can focus to see birds and butterflies 5 feet away), waterproof capability (for birding in the rain, in the tropics, or in a kayak), and eye relief (important for eyeglass wearers to be able to have the full field of view of the binoculars). Binoculars vary greatly and these factors, as well as how they feel to you, is important! It is best to try them before you buy them, not only to match the binocular to your need, but also to get the one that feels good to you ergonomically.

     Another consideration is your budget. Binoculars come in all price ranges, from $25. to $2500. You pretty much get what you pay for. The more you pay, the better the lens and the better the thin coatings that are placed on every glass surface to allow light to transmit through to your eyes rather than reflecting off the glass. The best binoculars have the “wow” factor – the ones that you put up to your eyes and you can say “wow.”

     Now is a great time to look at and buy optics. Many of the major manufacturers are offering amazing discounts for a limited time. And with the Tax Free Holiday Weekend upon us, you just might want to check them out sooner than later!

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