Words On Birds 01-16-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Christmas Bird Count Results Announced
January 16, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     This year’s Newburyport Christmas Bird Count, which took place on the Sunday after Christmas, tallied some impressive numbers despite having fewer observers due to the pandemic. Compiler Tom Young announced a total of 119 species counted, which represents the second most in the 83-year history of the count. He noted that 121 species is the record, which has been achieved twice. A number of new record high counts for individual species were also achieved.

     Two Snow Geese and six Brant were found among more than three thousand Canada geese in the area. Twelve Mute Swans were found. Record high numbers of Common Eider (7,527) and Black Scoters (5,503) were counted, and many of these continue in the mouth of the Merrimack River and all along the shores of Plum Island. A single King Eider was also found and one continues off Crane Beach, viewable from Sandy Point on Plum Island. A single Harlequin Duck was seen during count week, only the fourth time for this duck in the count’s history.

     Two Barrow’s Goldeneye were also notable.

     Nine Great Blue Herons are toughing out our New England winter, as are two Great Egret, the latter a fourth record for the count. Four Turkey Vultures were spotted and a record 17 Bald Eagles were counted. Fifteen Northern Harriers were seen over the area’s marshes and dunes and two Rough-legged Hawks were a highlight.

     The only alcids found were twenty-nine Razorbills and two Black Guillemots. A single Iceland Gull was the only gull standout.

     The owl show was certainly impressive! A record high count of five Saw-whet Owls, along with fourteen Eastern Screech-Owls, fifty Great Horned Owls, six Snowy Owls, four Barred Owls, 2 Short-eared Owls and one Long-eared Owl!

     A record twelve Belted Kingfishers were found. Red-bellied Woodpeckers showed their increasing numbers with ninety-two counted, second only to the 156 Downy Woodpecker. Three Pileated Woodpeckers were also noted. The five Peregrine Falcons was tied for its record high count and two Merlin and one Kestrel rounded out the falcon numbers.

     An Eastern Phoebe was only the 7th record for that species in count history. One Northern Shrike was also found. Four Fish Crows was only the fifth time that species appeared in the count and sixteen Common Ravens was a new high count for that Corvid.

     A record high 4,022 American Robin were tallied along with 152 Eastern Bluebirds, three Hermit thrushes, 11 Gray Catbirds and 60 Northern Mockingbirds. An American Pipit was the tenth record for the count and a Pine Warbler was only the seventh record in count history. Twelve rusty blackbirds were a record high count for that species.

     The record high count of 247 Red-breasted Nuthatches almost matched its cousin White-breasted Nuthatch count of 278. The nuthatches signaled the start of an irruptive winter for northern species resulting in eight Purple Finch, a record high 88 Red Crossbills, two White-winged Crossbills, 128 Redpolls, 8 Pine Siskins, 533 American Goldfinch and 45 Evening Grosbeaks making the count.

     All-in-all, 38,119 total individual birds were counted, comprising the 119 total species represented. A fine day’s work by all the volunteers who counted!

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 25 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 01-09-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

A Look Back at 2020 Birds
January 09, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     Most of us want to forget this past year and are quick to look forward into 2021. Of course the birds are impervious to the pandemic and the past year gave many of us more time to appreciate the birds and nature around us.

     Still, it is a challenge birding through Covid. Organized trips are nearly non-existent. We can’t carpool with fellow birders, and we can’t share binoculars or scopes. But birding within our “bubble” is fine, and social distancing is easier in the outdoors. Looking back at the birds and birding experiences of the past year, there were many interesting birds to take our minds offer the pandemic around us.

     Two of the best birds of the year for Margo and me required out-of-state road trips – both to Rhode Island. On June 29th we made way down to Napatree Conservation Area in Watch Hill. A Terek Sandpiper, a bird we had only seen before in Thailand, required us to trudge out a beach peninsula while dodging thunderstorms. I detailed that dramatic escapade in a couple of previous columns.

     Also in Rhode Island, this time at the Snake Den Farm in Johnston, was the Common Cuckoo, a life bird for both of us It was less dramatic, as it was almost a “drive-up” bird, but still exiting to so many familiar faces (masked of course and socially distancing) appreciate such a rare visitor from Europe.

     Near the first of the year, we learned of a Monk Parakeet coming to a feeder on Cape Ann and were invited to see it. We had brief views of this colorful out-of-place bird in the tiny yard. Apparently the parrot had been coming to a feeder since October, and it continued until March. The homeowner requested privacy, as the tiny yard and close neighborhood would have made it impossible for throngs of birders to visit.

     For birds we could share, the year started off well with Snow, Cackling, Greater White-fronted and Ross’ Geese among the area’s wintering Canada geese. A rare Eared Grebe was at West Beach in Manchester for a number of days. Patience was needed for a Townsend’s Solitaire that spent much of the winter at Halibut Point State Park in Rockport where a Bohemian Waxwing was a bonus among the wintering catbirds and hermit thrushes there.

     The spring warbler migration was one of the better shows in recent years. Two Acadian in our “backyard” in Essex was also one of our spring highlights.

     A Sooty Tern from the southern US, had us traveling to Wachusett Reservoir in August. It was a Massachusetts state bird for Margo and me.

     A few days later, a crested caracara was spotted on Cape Ann near Folly Cove. Margo and I raced there just in time to see it before it “disappeared.” A couple of days later it reappeared at Woodsom Farm in Amesbury!

     Another state bird for us this past year was a Pacific Slope Flycatcher. This western species spent several weeks in November near Fresh Pond in Cambridge and we were lucky enough be among the birders that saw it.

     The strong “finch winter” started early with an influx of Red-breasted Nuthatches to eastern Massachusetts in late fall. Evening Grosbeaks, Purple Finches, Pine Siskins and Redpolls have all arrived and a few of these have found our feeders. Crossbills are feeding on area pinecones, and Pine Grosbeaks may not be far behind.

     We ended the year with a rare Bullock’s oriole in coming to a feeder in Haverhill. This brilliant orange bird, draped by a few bluebirds that were also at the feeders, made for a colorful ending to 2020.

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 25 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 01-02-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Looking Back Gives Us Hope for the Year Ahead
January 02, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     As I was reflecting back on this birding year of social distancing and no travel, I thought about the year ahead and the hope of the vaccine helping to bring our experiences back to, at least, a new “normal”. We spent the past year birding close to home and as rewarding as that was, we drooled over reports of all the rare birds being seen in Arizona, Texas and Florida. I went back and looked at some of my reports of years past and came across a look at 2006 where when we travelled some of these places and added a lot of new birds to our life lists. I thought of sharing excerpts of that reports to also give you some hope of a better time ahead:

     “For me, measuring in birds and birding experiences shared with friends, 2006 was a remarkable year. The year was nothing less than spectacular – both in terms of birds and in personal birding milestones.

     “I took three major out-of-state trips that provided plenty of highlights. An organized trip in February to the Texas coast and lower Rio Grande Valley, led by friend and fellow birder Bill Drummond, produced great birds. My memory of freezing from not packing enough warm clothes for 40 degree weather is still vivid, but overshadowed by the 20 or so life birds I saw.

     “The boat trip out of Arkansas to see the endangered whooping crane was especially great, and sweetened further by the sight of a lone greater flamingo. Other memorable Texas sightings included the ferruginous pygmy owl, gray-crowned yellowthroat, ringed kingfisher, brown jay, clay-colored robin, Aplomado falcon, white-tailed and gray hawks, green parakeet, red-crowned parrot and a hook-billed kite.

     “A Memorial Day weekend trip to North Carolina produced my first look at a red-cockaded woodpecker and Bachman’s sparrow, and great looks at Henslow’s sparrow, worm-eating and Swainson’s warbler. Walking through a swamp at night, in a vain search of black rail, was a definite low-light, but two pelagic trips with sightings of Herald and black-capped petrel and band-rumped storm petrel topped off the weekend.

     “An Arizona trip in September, which included harrowing ordeals along cliff roads and washed-out canyons, featured plenty of awesome birds. Several sightings of elegant trogons were especially nice, but so were the rufous-capped, Lucy’s, Virginia, hermit and MacGillivray’s warblers, common black hawk, Aztec thrush, varied bunting, zone-tailed hawk and the Lewis’ woodpecker. The latter was one of my two major milestones that I achieved in 2006 – my 600th bird in the ABA North America area. It was also especially memorable to see California condors flying in the Grand Canyon, 40 years after seeing one of the last in the wild in California before their capture and release program.”

     “Also in 2006, there we many local trips that we took to see special birds in New England including a trip to Connecticut in July that was successful in our locating a reported red-necked stint, another life bird for me.

     “A late July camping trip to Mt. Greylock in northwestern Massachusetts was highlighted by a singing Bicknell’s thrush, thought to be absent from there for more than 20 years. It brought back fond memories of yearly trips to Mount Greylock in the ’60s and ’70s.

     ‘The western reef heron in Maine and New Hampshire in mid-August drew birders from across the country, and it took us a couple of trips there to find the bird. Only a fourth record for the continent, this bird was certainly a special life bird for me.

     ‘In October, the adventure of wading through two feet of tide in the marsh at Plum Bush to see a life yellow rail was especially memorable. In early November, finally seeing the green-tailed towhee on Plum Island, after missing it on previous searches, was also rewarding. In late November, we watched a rufous hummingbird visit a feeder in Cotuit, on Cape Cod and we made it back to Boston that day, in time to see a western grebe at dusk in Winthrop. I returned a week later to the Cape, in early December, to find the Bell’s vireo by myself in Falmouth, after missing it during previous searches with fellow birders.”

     Next week, I will reflect on this past year of mostly local birding, now with a mind’s eye toward the possibilities for the year and 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 25 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 12-26-20

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Area Christmas Bird Counts Are Happening
December 26, 2020
By Steve Grinley

     Christmas Bird Counts are in full swing, and three area counts occurred this past weekend. We have the reports for the Coastal New Hampshire Count, the Greater Boston Count, and the Cape Ann Count.

     Len Medlock compiler for the Coastal New Hampshire CBC reported that the early morning 4F thermometer reading gave way to 28F on Saturday, 19 December. The Count covered portions of the following towns: Exeter, Portsmouth, Newfields, Rye, Stratham, Hampton, Seabrook, Kensington, Greenland, and Hampton Falls.

     Highlights included 27,590 total numbers of birds, comprising 1047 species.

     It was a banner year for winter finches which included 59 Red Crossbills, 57 White-winged Crossbills, 111 Common Redpoll, 57 Pine Siskin, 32 Pine Grosbeak, and just 1 Evening Grosbeak.

     Len reported: “This year’s impressive Red-breasted Nuthatch turnout yielded a respectable 481. Take a stroll in the wood and you’re bound to be treated with little tin horns.

     Lingering warblers were Pine and Black-throated Blue, and a count week Snow Goose.”

     Bob Stymeist reported on the 48th Greater Boston Christmas Bird Count, which was held Sunday December 20. The total number of species recorded was 117 plus 1 count week species. Outstanding was the discovery of an Eared Grebe by Ted Bradford on Jamaica Pond on December 6; this is a first for Boston.

     “The Eared Grebe brings the all time total for the Greater Boston CBC, including Count Week, to an amazing 234! Unfortunately the Pacific-slope Flycatcher found November 24 at Fresh Pond by Ben Shamgochian remained up until December 16, one day shy of count period. The snow storm was devastating.”

     “Noteworthy birds included Snow Goose, 2 Redhead, Virginia Rail, American Woodcock, Lesser Black-backed Gull, 8 Snowy Owls, 4 Pileated Woodpeckers, a Marsh Wren and new high counts for 13 species.”

     Robert Buchsbaum reported on the Cape Ann CBC, also held on last Sunday:

     “Here are results from the Cape Ann Christmas Count held on Sunday, December 20, 2020. The count was unusual for a few reasons. First, everyone wore masks and adhered to social distancing protocols. Second we did our compilation a day later via Zoom (thanks to Peter Van Demark) rather than the traditional post birding pizza party. Finally, it had been a long time since we had a Christmas Count with so much snow on the ground (9-12 inches). That made parking and traversing trails more challenging than normal. Nevertheless, we persisted and came out with 114 species, slightly higher than the past few years.”

     Particularly interesting sightings included 1 Red-shouldered Hawk, 79 Purple Sandpiper, 1 Common Murre, 40 Razorbill, 8 Black Guillemot, 1Black-headed Gull, 2 Kumlien’s Iceland Gull, 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 14 Eastern Screech-Owl, 15 Great Horned Owl, 1 Snowy Owl, 6 Barred Owl, 5 Northern Saw-whet Owl, 12 Pileated Woodpecker, 293 Red-breasted Nuthatch, 232 White-breasted Nuthatch, 1 Winter Wren (in our Essex yard), 2 Bohemian Waxwing, 1 Spotted Towhee, 1 Chipping Sparrow (in our Essex yard), 21 “Ipswich” Savannah Sparrow, 1 Fox Sparrow 1, 14 Purple Finch, 9 Red Crossbill, 4 White-winged Crossbill, 153 Common Redpoll, 10 Pine Siskin 10 and 1 Evening Grosbeak.

     The Newburyport Christmas Bird Count is this Sunday, Dec 27. Birders will be out wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and not sharing scopes. Many reports, this year will come from feeder watchers from the safety of their own homes. I hope to have the results in the weeks ahead.

     Happy and safe holidays to you all!

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 25 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 12-19-20

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Keep Your Distance From Wildlife
December 19, 2020
By Steve Grinley

     The winter finch invasion continues as more and more backyard birders are witnessing Siskins and Redpolls at their finch feeders and Evening Grosbeaks at their sunflower feeders.

     Those with a tray or platform feeder are having the best luck. Katrina, who works part time at the store, sent me a text message last Monday: “Picked up a tray for my tube feeder yesterday and it got the Evening Grosbeak stamp of approval.” The text was accompanied by a photo of two male Evening Grosbeaks on the feeder’s new tray!

© Katrina Fenton

     Many other Evening Grosbeak are being reported from all over the county including Haverhill, Ipswich, Rowley and Rockport. Pine Grosbeaks are inching their way closer to Massachusetts as they move south through southern New Hampshire. Look for them on crabapple trees, bittersweet and other berry bushes.

     Crossbills are also being seen in Salisbury, Plum Island and Cape Ann. They are feeding on pines, prying open the cones with their adaptive bills. These birds could also appear at area feeders as the winter wears on.

     A few Snowy Owls have been seen on Salisbury and Plum Island. As usual, they are attracting a lot of attention from birders, photographers, and those wildlife watchers that want to see a snowy owl.

     Ranger Poole of the Parker River Refuge staff posted concerns on Facebook, reminding everyone that approaching any wildlife too close is considered disturbance of wildlife and is a violation of the law. Though most observers are respectful, he urges everyone to view Snowy Owls, and all wildlife, from a distance so as not to disturb them.

     Steve Bennett of Portsmouth was able to enjoy some drama between a Peregrine Falcon and a Snowy Owl from a safe distance using his spotting scope:

     “I was in Hampton this morning so I decided to cruise by the harbor and see if the Snowy Owl reported by Zeke was still around. At noon it was still sitting on the same large rock on the edge of the marsh. Through the scope, I was able to determine that this is the same Snowy Owl that we have been seeing regularly in the marsh over the past few weeks.

     “Not too far away I spotted a large Peregrine perched on a short post. It seemed to me that the two were aware of each other. The Peregrine took flight in the opposite direction of the Snowy, then it suddenly arched steeply skyward, rolled over and went into an amazingly high-speed stoop, aimed right at the Snowy, missing it by inches.

     “Then the Peregrine went a few hundred feet straight up, flipped around on a dime and came straight back down, again, with amazing speed, and dive-bombed the Snowy. Just before crashing into the large boulder and the Snowy, with amazing agility, it banked hard left and shot out over the marsh and continued out of sight.

     “Out of nowhere, a blinding streak appeared. It was the Peregrine heading straight for the Snowy at full tilt, only about 10-feet over the marsh. It passed ridiculously close to the Snowy, forcing the owl to jump about 5-feet into the air.

     “This went on for several minutes, with the Peregrine coming in at very high-speeds from several different angles. I counted 8 passes at the Snowy. Eventually the Peregrine just continued across the marsh and the Snowy went back to sleep.

     “I’ve seen a lot of Peregrines but this was the best and longest exhibit of truly amazing speed & agility that I’ve ever had the pleasure & excitement to watch. This is why I love raptors.”

     I doubt that such action would have occurred, and witnessed by Steve through his scope, if the Snowy Owl had been surrounded by humans! Please let’s give these arctic visitors, and all wildlife, some space!

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 25 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 12-12-20

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Several Owls May Appear in Winter
December 12, 2020
By Steve Grinley

     Snowy owls have been on Plum Island and Salisbury, but do keep an eye out for other owl species in the area. This story from a number of years ago may explain why:

     It has been a busy season at the store. People are giving bird feeders, bird houses, and binoculars to relatives to spark their interest in birds. I am always thrilled to hear when parents are trying to encourage their children, grandchildren, nephews or nieces with a gift of a feeder and seed, or their first pair of binoculars. Anything that helps children connect with the natural world, and give them pause from their electronic world, warms my heart.

     As busy as it has been, I did take off one morning this week to try to finish some last minute shopping and run some much needed errands that I couldn’t accomplish with such long days at work. After a couple of stops, I needed to do some grocery shopping, so I pulled into the Market Basket lot. Before I could get out of my car, my phone rang.

     She told me that Jim Fenton, a local photographer, had found a long-eared owl in Salisbury. Long-eared owl had become one of our nemesis birds. We didn’t see one all of last year and we were less than two weeks away from missing one again this year. Margo was still on Cape Ann and feared that it wouldn’t still be there if she drove to Salisbury.

     So I had a decision to make: groceries or owl, owl or groceries? As you can guess, it wasn’t much of a choice. I decided to head directly to Salisbury to see if the owl was still there.

     When I arrived at the Reservation, I drove through the campground area toward the boat ramp area where the bird was last seen. Checking all the pine trees along the way, I got all the way out to the boat ramp and the only people that I encountered were two dog walkers in the campground and a couple of hunters in the boat ramp parking area. No birders or photographers anywhere.

     I drove back through the campground and ran into Jim McCoy who had also arrived to look for the owl. He showed me a picture on his iPhone that Jim Fenton took of the owl sitting on Butler’s Toothpick at the edge of the river. I decided to head back toward the boat ramp and explore near the Toothpick. After searching the dune area briefly and walking back toward the pines, I got a call from Jim that was immediately dropped. Bad reception!

     I ran back to the car under the assumption that the owl had been found and, sure enough, Jim was walking down the road toward me. He and Kirk Elwell had found the bird buried in a juniper tree. Kirk had heard some nuthatches carrying on around one spot and he moved in to discover the owl. We could barely see owl in the dense foliage. As we were trying to get better looks, Jim read another post from Jim Fenton that said that he had mis-identified the owl he photographed. It was a great horned owl.

     We all looked again at the photo on the small phone. It was, indeed, a great horned owl. So what were looking at in this Juniper tree? We then thought that it had to be the great horned owl that Jim Fenton photographed. I even called Margo and told her not to rush to Salisbury. But as we continued to look, its ears were quite long, though they seemed far apart from the angle I had. We moved further to one side and finally got a front view of his face through an opening in the branches. It was, indeed, a long-eared owl!

     It was a life bird for Kirk and a Christmas present for the rest of us. And a delayed visit for me to the grocery store.

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 25 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 12-05-20

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Area Feeders Continue to Amaze
December 05, 2020
By Steve Grinley

     With more of us staying close to home these days, we are able to discover unusual birds, or witness drama, in our backyards that would have otherwise been missed in our absence.

     Brian Cassie of Foxboro told us about some drama in his yard a number of years ago, viewed from his kitchen window:

     “No common redpolls, as usual, but under the feeders was a very plump song sparrow, feeding all by itself. As I watched, it was attacked, head-on, by a house sparrow, which flew in expressly for the purpose of being a bully. The scuffle lasted one second and when the snowflakes had settled our intrepid song sparrow was laid out on its back, unmoving.

     “I walked out to it and just as I was leaning over, it took one look at me and flipped itself over and flew slowly up and off to a nearby bush.” Drama with a happy ending!

     The discovery of an unexpected visitor to an Andover yard this past week prompted this email:

     “Steve, this guy showed up pecking at my windows this morning along with a mob of Robins in my yard here in Andover. Is this a western tanager? Is this rare? I have never seen this bird before.”

     Though western tanagers have been rarely seen in late fall and winter in eastern Massachusetts, this bird was actually a female Baltimore oriole. It was probably with the robins to help it find fruit to sustain it through the colder weather. Orioles may try to winter over if the weather is not too harsh and food is available. They may visit suet, of even sunflower at feeders. There is a Bullock’s oriole visiting a feeder in Cohasset, south of Boston, that is continually photographed as it feeds on shelled peanuts in a Nut Squirrel Buster!

     I received another email from a Groveland customer who also had some unexpected visitors:

     “I purchased a hanging tray feeder from your store this week. I was hoping the Mourning Doves that frequent the ground under my bird feeders would use it. To my great delight, I found Evening Grosbeaks feeding today. There were 4 pairs, and surprising to me, all 8 birds were eating from it at the same time.

     “I was enjoying watching them so much, that I forgot to take a picture! Hopefully they’ll be back soon.”

     Since I wrote about the grosbeaks a few weeks ago, many people came in looking for platform or fly-thru feeders to try to attract these winter visitors. A few have succeeded. Others are enjoying open feeders for blue jays, mourning doves and the variety of birds that those style feeders attract.

     We still have a small flock of grosbeaks that visit our home feeders in Essex, but some days only one or two might stop by. We still have large numbers of goldfinches and a few pine siskins at the finch feeders. A single redpoll visited one day but more may come later in the season.

     Today, a few grosbeaks came to the platform early and left. Then, the blue jays brought in reinforcements with a dozen birds showing up all at once. They crowded the tray of sunflower like the grosbeaks usually do. I am not sure the tray of blue jays was any less striking in color than the grosbeaks. It is just that the grosbeaks are far less common.

© Margo Goetschkes

    Reports of winter finches continue all over eastern Massachusetts. Many of these birds are feeding on the natural seeds that conifers, birch, ash and other local trees provide. As winter sets in and the natural supplies get depleted, more of these birds will come looking for the sunflower and nyger/finch seed offered at our feeders. Something to look forward this winter!

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

Words On Birds 11-28-20

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Gifts That Bring Solace This Season
November 28, 2020
By Steve Grinley

     We are in the midst of the pandemic, and also the holiday shopping season, so it is time for my annual gift suggestions for the bird lovers on your holiday list. This year especially, I encourage you to “shop small” this holiday season, support your local businesses and avoid the crowds at the big box store and malls. We continue to source more of our products locally to support crafts people and small manufacturers closer to home.

     With more of us staying and working from home, more are learning to enjoy the birds and the natural world around us. It provides us some tranquility and a kind of therapy 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 trying times.

     A bird feeder always makes great gift. A bird feeder can provide hours of entertainment for the young and old, and it is a great way to introduce most anyone to nature. Even if someone already has a bird feeder, they can always enjoy another one. There are all kinds of feeders available today – for sunflower, thistle or suet. Some 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 built-in 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 task 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 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

     A field guide is always a good gift to help identify the birds that are seen. Peterson, Sibley, and Stokes Guides provide for easy reference and there are a couple specific to Massachusetts. Other excellent books on birds and birding include one from local birder, Doug Chickering whose “Reflections on a Golden-winged Warbler” is a collection of short stories that draw you into the local birding experience.

     You can bring nature closer to someone by giving 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.

     For general gifts, there are T-shirts, coffee mugs, 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. Please stay safe, and try to enjoy this holiday season as best we can.

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

Words On Birds 11-21-20

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Turkeys Are A Thanksgiving Tradition
November 21, 2020
by Steve Grinley

     This Thanksgiving will be different for most of us. We hope that you will stay safe and still be able to enjoy your turkey dinner with loved ones. Speaking of turkeys, I thought that I would share with you again some history of turkeys in Massachusetts.

     It is not unusual anymore to be feasting on turkey at the dinner table only to look out the window and see some of its cousins, wild turkeys, waltzing through your yard. Wild turkeys have become common in Essex County after more than a century of absence.

     Back around the first Thanksgiving, wild turkeys were plentiful, so plentiful in fact that they were a staple part of the early settlers diet and became the traditional Thanksgiving meal. They were so plentiful that Ben Franklin wanted to make the turkey the national symbol rather than the bald eagle!

     But despite the abundance of wild turkeys on that first Thanksgiving, it took a little more than two centuries of hunting to eradicate all turkeys from Massachusetts, and from other parts of New England. By the mid 1800’s, no breeding wild turkeys remained in Massachusetts.

     It wasn’t until the early 1950’s that wild turkeys from a Pennsylvania population were reintroduced into western Massachusetts around the Quabbin Reservoir area. This group of birds survived and multiplied. I can remember having to go out to the Quabbin area to see wild turkeys when I first started birding. They were hard to find and I can recall only catching brief glimpses of my first turkeys. Small bands of turkeys foraged through the thick woodlands. They would continually scurry just out of eyesight, sometimes taking flight for a short distance when I could spot their rusty-tipped tail.

     So successful was the western Massachusetts population that turkey hunting started there again in 1982. While hunting began in western part of the state, wild turkeys were stocked in some of the state forests of Essex and northern Middlesex Counties. From all the reports we now receive of turkeys, it is apparent that they have adapted well to our area. They are commonly seen throughout all area towns and, sometimes, right in downtown Newburyport!

     Some of our wild turkeys seem anything but wild. Some years ago, one of our customers in Byfield had an adult with 11 young show up in her yard. She had turkeys at her feeders and bird baths for several years. If the feeders were low, they let her know by tapping on her window with their beaks. My friend Harry, who lived right on Route 1 in Newbury, had to shoo turkeys out of the way sometimes just to get his truck out of his driveway.

     On one of my bird walks, I stopped to view a pair of turkeys feeding below feeders in a front yard. As I got out of the car in an attempt to notify the caravan of cars that were following me, the turkeys followed me up the row of cars! The turkeys even chased the caravan as we proceeded on our way.

     Turkeys roost high in trees – usually evergreens. I sometimes heard them “gobbling” to each other at dusk as they gathered in the trees behind my home. In the mornings, I would see them glide in from the trees, landing on the grass to feed. It is sometimes startling to see these large birds fly! I can remember walking down a path at Maudslay State Park early one morning when this large object came hurling out of the tree above me. I was startled by a turkey leaving its nighttime roost!

     Our local turkeys have done so well that they are now hunted in Essex County again. Wild turkeys breed early in spring with eggs hatching in April. Hunting occurs for a few weeks in May. While our beloved black-capped chickadee is the Massachusetts State Bird, the official Massachusetts State Game Bird is now the wild turkey. This is either further testament of the turkeys’ success in Massachusetts, or confirmation of the number of relatives they have in the State House that voted for them. Happy Thanksgiving!

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

Words On Birds 11-14-20

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Platform Feeders Invite Special Guests
November 14, 2020
By Steve Grinley

     I have talked about my first feeder in past columns. It was a platform that I made out of plywood when I first got interested in birds at the age of 12. The open platform was about 15 inches square and I put one to two inch sides all around. It wasn’t pretty, but it was functional. I mounted it on a post outside a window on the quiet side of the house and filled it with striped sunflower, which was the popular bird seed available back then.

     Living in urban West Newton on a busy street, I wasn’t expecting much action. But soon after, I heard a banging outside the window. I peered out at a blue jay banging the sunflower against the side of the feeder to open it.

     It was my first feeder bird! I was so close to it that I could marvel at all the shades of blue mixed with white feathers and its deep black collar. It made me appreciate blue jays from the start.

     I also found that my platform feeder attracted many kinds of birds. I saw chickadees, mourning doves and, yes, house sparrows. It gave me an appreciation of many of the common, local birds. I even remember a downy woodpecker coming to it that, as a young new birder, I thought was very cool!

     These years later I still use some platform feeders, in addition to my other feeders, to attract different birds. I find that many of the winter finches more readily take to an open platform. Since this was predicted to be a good “finch winter,” we hung a small platform feeder off of one hook and mounted another larger one atop another pole. We now have evening grosbeaks feeding at both, as well as some of our purple finches, goldfinches, and pine siskins. We also seem to have more cardinals now, as they also prefer platforms or trays.

     Platform feeders have come a long way since my first woodworking marvel. Many have screened bottoms for drainage (instead of the holes that I drilled in the bottom of my original one.) Some have removable screens for easy cleaning. Some have roofs to protect the tray from snow and rain – these are called “fly-through feeders.” Some platform or fly-through feeders maybe hung with a chain while others may be mounted stationary on a pole.

     Platform and fly-through feeders usually are open on all sides, which gives birds easy access and also easy escape should a predator appear. They allow all size birds to feed together. The downside is that they have to be filled often because there is no reservoir of seed. A squirrel baffle is also required as they can easily access these open feeders.

     The joy of watching flocks of grosbeaks devour all of our sunflower is worth the added maintenance. It is reminiscent of the 70’s and 80’s when these birds were more frequent visitors during good finch winters.

     And I also still enjoy seeing the blue jays at the platforms 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 25 years of service to the birding community! 
Like us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/birdwatcherssupply