Words On Birds 04-10-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Bird Houses Attract a Variety of Species
April 10, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     Last week, I talked mainly about putting up bird houses for bluebirds and tree swallows, but there are many bird species that will appreciate a man-made nesting box. Any bird that nests in a tree cavity might accept a bird house. These include chickadee, titmouse, nuthatch, Carolina and house wrens, house finch. Of course the architects of natural tree cavities, the woodpeckers (downy, hairy, red-bellied and flickers), might also take to a pre-made nest box. Unfortunately non-native house sparrows and starlings will readily take over many a bird house. Most other songbirds, such as cardinals and goldfinch, nest in trees and shrubs and won’t be candidates for a nesting box.

     Our spring robins are arriving and though they normally build a nest in trees, they sometimes nest under decks and on top of light fixtures on a house. They will sometimes nest on a nesting shelf, which had an open side for easy access. Eastern phoebes, which are also starting to return to our area, might also take to a nesting shelf as they often nest under eaves of a shed or garage. Phoebes are early nesters as well, and once they nest, they often return to the same place and will build a new nest right on top of the old one.

     We saw “our” Carolina wren carrying mealworms off the other day, presumably to feed young already. Carolina wrens will nest in many different odd places. They have been known to nest in mail boxes, in hanging plants, in clothes pin bags, in flower pots in garages, and under upside down kayaks and canoes that have been stored for the winter. They have multiple broods and might also nest in a bird house. House finches also commonly nest in hanging plants and on door wreaths and light fixtures, but they, too, may be coaxed to a bird house.

     The smaller house wren will arrive in May and the males will begin filling houses with sticks only to let the female chose which house she prefers. They will take readily to a hanging house, and their entrance hole need only be about an inch in diameter. Such a small size hole will exclude most other birds, but it doesn’t stop the house wren from taking over houses with larger entrances that were meant for bluebirds or chickadees. House wrens can be aggressive by tapping holes into the eggs that other birds leave in a bird house that they “claim”.

     Chickadees, titmice and nuthatches will fit in a house with a 1 1/8-1 1/4” hole, but they, too, might occupy a larger entrance house meant for a bluebird or tree swallow. The smaller downy woodpecker can also use that size house. The hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers need a larger house with a larger entrance hole and the flicker needs larger accommodations still.

     The declining kestrel population in our area is a good reason to put up a kestrel box if you have the right open habitat for one. Screech owls use the same size box so they, too, might nest on your property, even in more urban settings. If you have a pond or other wetland, wood ducks might also use a nest box.

     Purple martins nest in colonies and will take to multiple cavity houses and gourds. Their “condo” houses are large, need to be put up twelve to fifteen feet high near open areas, and require much more maintenance than most bird houses. House sparrows and starling are a constant threat, so accessibility to the house is important to be able to control those pest birds from taking over. Gourds for purple martins have also been successful in our area but require that same diligent monitoring. Tree swallow houses are much easier to deal with. They are individual houses that only need to be five to six feet high, and you can put multiple houses in close proximity to attract more swallows. Since they are of the same family as purple martins, they, too, will consume large numbers of flying insects.

     Depending on the habitat you have, there are many opportunities for attracting birds with bird houses. In return, these birds may entertain you with their song and will help to control the insects in your yard or garden.

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 04-03-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Encourage Bluebirds to Your Yard
April 03, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     It wasn’t so long ago that bluebirds were a rare sight in this area. The use of DDT in the 1950s and 60s along with competition for nesting sites from house sparrows caused their populations to plummet. The banning of pesticides and the efforts of people to put up suitable nesting boxes for bluebirds have helped bring back these beautiful birds to our rural and suburban neighborhoods. This year, hardly a day goes by when some customer will tell me that they have bluebirds in their yard for the first time.

     Early spring is the time when bluebirds start to establish their territories, reclaim nesting boxes from seasons past, or scout out new houses for this season. If you have bluebird nest boxes up, do check them and clean them out if necessary. Often times they will be used for roosting during the winter months so it is best to be sure they are clean and ready for new occupants.

     The real estate market for bluebirds is like our current market – there is not a large inventory out there for them. If you don’t have houses up, now is the time to put one up or add new ones. Bluebirds begin nesting in late March and April. They have two or, sometimes, three broods so they may take to a nesting box anytime between now and mid-summer.

     Bluebirds feed on insects in low grasses, so it is best to place the box near the edge of a lawn or other open area. Putting the nest box on a separate pole helps to deter predators, but bluebirds naturally nest in tree cavities, so attaching a house to a tree is also an option. Like most nest boxes, position the box so it doesn’t face north or northeast from which we get our cold driving winds, rain, and, yes, even snow early in Spring. Bluebirds are territorial, but you can add boxes three hundred feet apart with the possibility of attracting multiple pairs.

     Tree swallows compete for the same size box, but tree swallows are just beginning to arrive in our area. Swallows eat a lot of flying insects, so they are also cool birds to attract to your yard. Nesting boxes can be paired within ten to twenty feet of each other allowing tree swallows and bluebirds to nest side-by-side. Together they can fight off the dreaded house sparrow that is enemy number one to both the swallows and the bluebirds. The sparrows are so aggressive that they will actually kill the adult birds or their young right inside the nest box.

     Another way to encourage bluebirds to stay and nest in your yard is to offer them mealworms. In spring and summer, eighty percent of a bluebird’s diet is insects. During the early in the season, and during the breeding season when the competition for food is high, feeding mealworms can be the key to bluebird success. Plus you get to enjoy these beautiful birds up close as they can easily be put on a schedule. They will be waiting for their next feeding and often respond to the noise of opening the feeder or a simple whistle.

     You can begin by putting the mealworms out in an open dish, perhaps with a dome over it for inclement weather. Other birds will be interested in the mealworms as well, including chickadees, Carolina wrens, robins and, unfortunately, starlings. If competition for the mealworms becomes a problem, there are a number of bluebird feeders that allow the bluebirds to go inside to feed and keeps out starlings and large birds.

     Putting up nesting boxes and feeding mealworms are both ways that we can help, and enjoy, bluebirds this spring!

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 03-27-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Warmer Winds Bring Spring Birds
March 27, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     The southwest winds this past week has brought with them more of the early spring migrants. Great blue herons are arriving at their old nest sights and beginning their repairs on last year’s nests. Piping plovers are arriving on Crane Beach and Plum Island, and a few have made their way to the New Hampshire coast already.

     An osprey or two have been seen on Plum Island and kestrels have been spotted in a couple of locations. The first yellowlegs of the season were feeding in the salt pannes near Cross Farm Hill on Plum Island. More tree swallows have been spotted as well.

     Robins, cardinals, and Carolina wrens are in full song, staking out their territories or attempting to attract a new mate. A few phoebes have arrived as more flying insects become available.

     Bluebirds are inspecting last year’s nest sites or investigating others, so now is a good time to be sure nest boxes are cleaned out or new ones erected. Soon, the swallows will be scouting the houses and the chickadees, nuthatches, titmice and woodpeckers will be searching for nest sites as well. We inspected our screech owl boxes for eggs, but found none thus far.

     The red-winged blackbirds are singing from their marshland stakeouts and a few have found their way to our feeders. Mixed flocks of blackbirds, red-wings, grackles, cowbirds and starlings, can be see migrating overhead, stopping in treetops, and heading to roosts each evening.

     One day this past week, Margo and I drove the length of Plum Island and were delighted to see the sides of the road littered with song sparrows along with a few lingering juncos and tree sparrows mixed in. Other birders witnessed the same, and Doug Chickering of Newburyport described his experience on that day:

     “The snow is melting away, the days are growing warmer and longer, and we birders look for the avian signs of spring. That first careening cry of a Killdeer, the first red-winged Blackbird, and so many others. If we let the other seasons drift in and then out, we look for spring.

     “There is a distinctive sign of spring that seems to be largely forgotten and so when it occurs it awakes us from our winter torpor and makes us realize that the migrations are starting in a serious way. When I drive down the road at Plumb Island, as I did today’ I encountered this event in a major way.

     “They first appear as little dark forms in the grass at the edge of the road and then you notice they are moving. Song Sparrows. For me there are few things that designate the coming of spring more than watching the little Song Sparrows flying up off the edge of the road; in numbers that are impressive. Then hearing them calling all down the length of the refuge.

     “I started a serious counting as soon as I passed the gatehouse and eventually came up with 146 Song Sparrows, with a few Tree Sparrows and junco’s still mixed in. Even though there is a chance that some were double countered it is more significant that this was still a serious undercount. The birds were more numerous at the north end of the island, but I attribute this to my sightings and I believe that the Song Sparrows were, more or less evenly distributed.

     “Suddenly there are birds on the island. Not just the Ducks and Gulls at the beach, of the Owls that draw hordes of photographers, but small birds, and lots of them. I am looking forward to this migration with a growing excitement and joy. But right now I find my spirits lifted considerably just by picking through all those sparrows and seeing return.

     “Oddly enough the Song Sparrows were not the most numerous bird species on the refuge. Today I also quickly counted some 660 or so Common Eider.”

     Yes, the wintering ducks still linger offshore, along with a few loons. Most are heading back to their nesting grounds further north. It seemed like a long winter, but spring is finally happening!

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 03-20-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Encouraging an Interest in Birds
March 20, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     They say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. But in the case of my three children following an interest in birds – that never happened. Oh, I tried. I often took them on bird walks, which they remember, but they still can’t tell a chickadee from a nuthatch. Maybe I was just a bad teacher. Had I only known this clever methodology shared by fellow birder Strickland Wheelock:

     “Thursday morning, I met my daughter from Connecticut and her fourteen year old daughter at 7:30 am at the parking lot at Sachuest Point in Rhode Island. It was a surprise excursion for her daughter as the two of them were spending four days in the Newport area exploring the city and the mansions, and having quality one on one time on her daughter’s spring break.

     “The unexpected piece for the granddaughter was me meeting them at Sachuest Point to take them birding! To make this morning more stimulating to the granddaughter (maybe interest her in becoming a birder), I offered her various financial incentives (a.k.a. some fun spending money) to gain her full attention – which worked: [I offered] $10 if we find 10 species of ducks, plus $1.00 for each additional duck species; $5.00 bonus if we found an overall 45 species during the morning; and another $5.00 bonus if we found a Redhead [which Strickland really wanted to see!]

     “I gave her a checklist to make an X by the species we saw, which she paid close attention to all morning. As we walked Sachuest and enjoyed all the Bufflehead, Common Goldeneyes, Black and Surf and White-winged Scoters, Common Eiders, stunning Harlequin Ducks, Common Loons, Great Cormorants, Horned Grebes, Brant plus the expected gulls. The goal was to make the birding fun & challenging (and profitable) and she got really good at identifying some of the common species.

     “After Sachuest, we birded some of the local ponds for new species where we racked up many Ruddy Ducks, all three merganser species, both Greater & Lesser Scaup, five American Wigeon, Mallards, Black Ducks, and Coots, plus Sanderlings along the beaches.

     “One highlight for the grand daughter [and for Strickland] was finding 4 Redheads in Eaton Pond along with many other duck species. Other highlights this morning was enjoying a male Bluebird teed up singing, two Great Blue Herons in a tree, and a Red-tailed Hawk that dropped out of a tree and nailed a mouse right in front of us.

     “In the end, between all the expected passerines like Carolina Wrens, Song Sparrows, etc, we just hit 45 species for the morning, 17 species of ducks which included her bonus duck. I told the granddaughter that the next goal/challenge is 100 species! I tried to explain to them that birding at this time of year in 60+ degree weather, little wind on a sunny day, was not normal but as a starting experience, it was a good way to enjoy all the species – no pain factor. What a fun morning !!

     “Hope is that my daughter and granddaughter here in the East both find birding as fun and challenging as does my other daughter & her son from San Diego do. They call me with reports of Burrowing Owls, White-tailed Kites, etc!”

     Wished I had known about Strickland’s methods years ago. My son in Cleveland does send me pictures of bald eagles, my daughter in Seattle tells me about her hummingbirds, but my daughter in London…well, not so much. Had I applied Strickland’s method of financial incentives back then, who knows – they may have all become ornithologists!

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 03-13-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Winter Pelagic Boat Trip Challenges Birders
March 13, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     Fifty adventurous souls braved below freezing temperatures aboard the five hour Winter Birding Boat Trip hosted by the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce and Seven Seas Whale Watch last Saturday out of Gloucester. This annual trip had limited capacity this year, due to Covid restrictions, and sold out quickly. It only goes out about half the time due to the weather. At our 8:00 am departure time, temperature was about 20 degrees with a wind chill close to single digits. The brisk Northwest wind made for a challenging trip.

     At the dock, we watched herring and greater black-backed gulls swarm the fishing boats around us. A small flock of common eiders meandered around the piers and a large gray seal did some maneuvers near the boat. A number of birders spotted a black-headed gull, a European species, flying about the buildings, but it disappeared before everyone could see it.

     As we made our way out of the harbor, we motored past surf and white-winged scoters, long-tailed ducks, red-breasted mergansers, several common loons, and many more common eiders. Jim Berry thought he had seen a king eider among the commons, but no one else was able to spot it.

     The ride out to Stellwagon Bank, our destination, was almost an hour with little bird activity, typical of east coast pelagics. We did see a few flying alcids – razorbills and common murres – along the way and there were many cameras on board to help with the identification. A few more long-tailed ducks and common loons broke the drought.

     The sea was quite choppy so it was hard to spot anything on the water. Our objective was to get to Stellwagon, where more birds typically feed, and cruise at slower speeds in search of more alcids, and other birds, on the water. The wind was at our back so the ride was relatively smooth.

     As we neared our destination, more razorbills and common murres on the water, diving to feed. We had great looks at a number of common murres. Several kittiwakes, a gull of the open ocean, were seen flying in the wind past the boat. A couple of dovekies were spotted, but it difficult for many birders to “get on” these smaller 8 inch alcids that are just half the size of murres and razorbills. One was spotted right next to the boat and Margo and I were able to watch it fly away from us. Not great looks, but a dovekie for sure.

     After cruising at Stellwagon for an hour or so, Captain Jay’s plan was then to head east to get back closer to the coast look for more birds. Well, the high speed ride back toward land headed us more into the wind, and the big seas made us concentrate more on “hanging on” and less on spotting birds.

     After being jousted around a bit, we finally slowed again a few miles off Salem/Beverly Harbor and turned to follow the coast past Beverly, Beverly Farms and Magnolia. We were now able to spot more common murres and razorbills, and added black guillemots to our list of alcids. Great cormorants flew past close past the boat and more ducks were evident.

     As we neared Gloucester Harbor we circled a large flock of common eider, hoping to maybe spot the king eider that Jim thought he saw. When the Captain slowed the boat to allow us to drift toward the eider flock without spooking them, we finally spotted a beautiful male king eider in their midst. It’s blue head and bright orange shield helped many birders spot it before the flock moved on.

     We cruised the edges of the outer harbor and found more ducks including common golden-eye and bufflehead. As we entered the harbor, Margo spotted a thick-billed murre just inside the dogbar jetty. Everyone was able to get good looks at this bird, and maybe spotted a second one nearby. This species was a fifth alcid for the trip, and only a rare Atlantic puffin could have made it more!

     The temperature in Gloucester had warmed to around 30 degrees upon our return with continued brisk wind. But it was a morning with good birds. I think most were pleased with the results of this successful, but challenging, winter boat ride.

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 03-06-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Goldfinches Thrive with Proper Food and Water
March 06, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     Some of our customers have noticed goldfinches at their feeders again and wondered where the birds had gone. They were surprised to learn that the goldfinches never left – they merely had changed into their drab olive winter apparel. Now a few of the males are starting to show a little more yellow in the face. As spring approaches, male goldfinches will slowly turn back to their yellow and black breeding plumage. Even the females will appear more yellow in the months ahead.

     The best way to attract goldfinches is to be aware of their feeding habits and preferences. Their favorite foods are hulled sunflower, black-oil sunflower and Nyger. There are also finch mixes that combine Nyger with fine hulled sunflower.

     Goldfinches travel and feed in flocks. It is, therefore, important to have several places for them to feed so that there isn’t too much “waiting in line” to get food. Most of their desired seed can be offered in a feeder that won’t encourage much competition. Nyger feeders or finch feeders have tiny openings that will allow goldfinches to extract the small Nyger seed and fine sunflower chips easily and minimize the waste associated with the lightweight seed blowing out of standard feeders. Hulled sunflower can be offered in feeders that allow only small birds to perch or cling, as goldfinches do, eliminating competition from larger birds.

     Many thistle feeders have multiple ports so more birds can feed at once. Pine siskins or redpolls might mix with the goldfinches during winter months. House finches may also feed from Nyger feeders year ‘round. If there is too much competition from house finches (which are also quite pretty), there are “upside down” finch feeders with the seed hole below the perch. Goldfinches are acrobatic and can feed upside down, whereas, the heavier house finches have a hard time with inverted feeding.

     An economical way to add more feeders is by using nylon thistle socks. The finches will cling to the socks and pull seeds through. These don’t last as long as tube feeders, and are more susceptible to squirrels, but they can be washed and reused for a season or so.

     If you see finches only eating at the top of the Nyger feeder, it could be that the seed is getting wet and packed down. Nyger seed and fine sunflower chips absorb moisture easily, even through those tiny holes in a finch feeder. Each time you fill the feeder, empty it and mix the existing seed with the new. One feeder design lets you also fill from the bottom, which done alternately, will help keep all the seed in the feeder more fresh.

     If the seed has been in there too long and the birds stop coming completely, empty the feeder, throw the old seed away, wash the feeder thoroughly and let it dry. Then fill it with fresh seed. There have been reports of salmonella in pine siskins that feed with goldfinches so it is important to keep your feeders clean and bacteria free, especially with the warmer weather coming. This is, of course, true of all your feeders – keep the clean.

     Unlike some of the other feeder birds, goldfinches are exclusively seed eaters. As the weather warms, and as they have babies in the summer, they do not feed them insects. Instead they provide their young with partially digested seed. That’s why you’ll see them gorging themselves at the feeders during July and early August, as a full crop may feed their entire brood with each trip back to the nest.

     Having water available to goldfinches is also important, just as it is for other birds. They need water year round, and providing water will encourage them to visit your yard. Goldfinches are our most regular visitors to our bird baths for a drink of water.

     Goldfinches tend to wander widely to feed, so don’t be surprised if they are more erratic at your feeders than other species. They take advantage of natural food when it is available. But if you provide the right habitat, the right food in the right feeders, along with a source of water, you’ll have hours of enjoyment watching these “wild canaries” of the bird world grace your backyard.

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 02-27-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Nuisance Birds May Come with Spring
February 27, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     The huge winter swarms of starlings seem to have dispersed a bit, with many smaller flocks and individuals invading area feeders. This is the time when starlings overtake squirrels in the complaint department as the number one nuisance at backyard feeders. They are primary after suet but will also raid mealworms (intended for bluebirds and others) as well as seed – primarily shell-free seed.

     The best defense against starlings is to limit access to the suet. We usually limit our suet offering to the logs that have no perches that are enjoyed year-round by the woodpeckers, nuthatches, titmice and our Carolina wrens. Starlings have trouble clinging to the vertical logs. Upside down suet feeders where the lighter birds can hang, cling and feed but the heavier starlings have a more challenging time. Suet feeders with cages around them also deter starlings, but limits access by the larger woodpeckers as well.

     We are not lucky enough to get bluebirds on any regular basis, but we do feed mealworms to our Carolina wrens. We prevent starlings and other large birds from accessing the mealworms with our enclosed “bluebird” feeder. Ours has one and a half inch holes on both ends and an inch and a half mesh screen on the sides. The wrens (and bluebirds if we had them) readily enter through the holes or the mesh sides, but starlings, robins and other large birds cannot enter.

     We have already seen small flocks of red-winged blackbirds in Newbury and Salisbury. A few grackles have been reported from Ipswich, Salisbury and West Newbury. In another few weeks, grackles will surpass starlings in the complaint department! Soon, grackles and other large blackbird flocks will be migrating through, feeding on lawns and overtaking some bird feeding stations.

     Grackles enjoy seed as well as suet. The best deterrent against grackles are caged feeders that allow only small birds to feed. Feeders with weighed perches, such as the Squirrel Buster brand feeders are also effective. Some have adjustable springs that are sensitive enough to allow a cardinal to feed, but close off the food to the heavier grackles. Also, safflower is said to be less attractive to grackles, and squirrels, but cardinals love it!

     It is exciting to hear so many customers talk about the bluebirds they are seeing in their yard – many for the first time. The bluebirds are feeding on berries such as holly in yards, and also coming to water and suet. Adding peanut butter suet pieces (a.k.a. Bluebird Nuggets) to a cup or tray feeder can entice bluebirds as well as live or dried mealworms. You might also give thought to adding a bluebird nest box to your property as bluebirds will soon be scouting for houses in March.

     Bluebirds and flocks of redwings are early signals that spring is finally approaching. A few phoebes have been spotted already and early killdeer have been reported. Soon woodcock will arrive and begin their courtship rituals in open fields near wood areas. The days are definitely getting longer, temperatures are becoming more tolerable and we can feel the sun warming us more on sunny days. Spring is only a few weeks away and will be so welcome!

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 02-20-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Eagles Showing Well These Day
February 20, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     Those who were able to attend one of the tours on this past weekend’s Eagle Festival reported that the eagles put on quite a show. They saw seeing a number of bald eagles along the river. Those who live on the Amesbury side of the river across from Maudslay State Park report seeing half a dozen eagles and watching some of them catching fish in the river. It has been a regular sight to see one or more eagles along the harbor when we have been there the past few weeks. Eagles are even regularly seen along Plum Island these days.

     A week ago, we watched an eagle and 4 harriers compete for some prey on the marsh just south of Lot 1 on Plum Island. Though the harriers took turns swooping the eagle, the eagle took charge of the prey. It moved only 50 yards away with it and the harriers finally gave up.

     The cold weather has brought good numbers of eagles to the Merrimack River area., with its strong currents that help keep portions open even during the most frigid times. Folks are always asking where to find eagles. Usually at this time of year, bald eagles may be seen anywhere along the Merrimack River from Newburyport Harbor to West Newbury.

     Some of the best viewing is along the river from the harbor west to beyond the Whittier (Interstate 95) Bridge near Maudslay State Park. Good vantage points are from the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center, from Cashman Park along Merrimack Street in Newburyport, and from Deer Island at the Chain Bridge looking down river toward Eagle Island.

     Eagles can also be viewed from Main Street in Amesbury, near Lowell’s Boat Shop, looking across the river for eagles perched in the pines and birches near the Newburyport Pumping Station and Maudslay State Park. Alliance Park on Main Street is another viewing area. Further up river you can try to find vantage points along River Road on the West Newbury side, or along Pleasant Valley Road on the Amesbury side. You may be lucky enough to see an eagle perched in a tree alongside either of these roads.

     Over the next month or so will be your best opportunity to catch sight of bald eagles on the Merrimack River. A few local birds will likely nest again along the river, but the non-resident eagles that may be here will leave to return to their breeding grounds in New Hampshire, Maine and eastern Canada. Birds in the northeast generally nest from April to June.

     So eagles may be seen year round in our area now. They have nested in the Salisbury area, in Amesbury along the Powwow River, in West Newbury along the Merrimac River and further upriver in Haverhill. Another pair nested along the Parker and Mill River in the Newbury/Rowley area. More may continue to find other suitable areas in Essex County.

     So do look for eagles wherever you travel around. I had an adult bald eagle fly over my car in Essex this morning on my way to work. Seeing an eagle is an awesome way to brighten any day!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
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Celebrating 25 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 02-13-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Hawks Frequenting Area Feeders
February 13, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     Hawks visit our backyard feeders in Essex almost everyday-often more than once a day. With all the snow cover that we have had, and with all the birds that are congregating at the bird feeders, many customers are sharing stories about the hawks that are also visiting their yards.

     As I stepped out the back door of the store this afternoon, I nearly stepped on a small pile of feathers. The remnants were likely those of a starling, so I was not too distraught. It reminded me of a column that I originally wrote more than ten years ago about hawk encounters. We had them more frequently at the store back then when we had more outside feeders at our previous location. I’ll share it again here:

     As I drove into the store parking lot this morning, I noticed a pile of feathers under the bushes in the corner. I got out of the car and examined the large quantity of gray and white feathers and concluded that it was (once) a pigeon. I looked across the street and the telephone wires were absent of the usual alignment of pigeons. My hawk must have had an early breakfast that day. It plucked the pigeon clean, as there were even down feathers in the mix.

     I have both sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks that frequent my feeders at the store. No, they are not feeding at the feeders but, rather, dining on the birds that are at the feeders. These long-tailed hawks are members of the accipiter family and up to ninety percent of their diet is small birds. These accipiters have been coming around here as long as I’ve had feeders up. Usually they will perch in the nearby shrubs or trees and wait. Then, when the opportunity arises, they will swoop down, usually low to the ground, and catch their prey off guard.

     I’ve had a Cooper’s hawk pass within a couple of feet of me in the parking lot as I was talking to a customer. It was so focused on its prey that it paid no attention to us humans. On other occasions, these agile hawks would dart in and out of the thick shrubs, trying to pluck a sparrow from its protective cover. They seem to have less success at that.

     I also recall the Cooper’s hawk that followed one of my employees into the seed storage trailer. I remember it well because it was the day of our first Sibley book signing. She had gone into the trailer to get a bag of seed, when the hawk, seeing her bushy hair I guess, thought that he had something cornered. Well, needless to say, she was startled when she turned around and saw this hawk coming in after her. The hawk must have been equally startled to find the clump of hair was attached to more that it bargained for!

     Other hawks have made appearances over the years. I had a kestrel feeding on a sparrow on the doorstep of the store when I pulled in one morning. A young red-tailed hawk has also perched near the store a couple of times. The red-tail would be looking for small mammals, including squirrels, and I’ve had customers tell me that their red-tailed hawks have been effective in thinning their squirrel population. A few customers have had them chase birds, but red-tails are not nearly as agile as Cooper’s or sharp-shinned hawks. I’ve never seen one catch anything nearby my store.

     The Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks are, by far, the more common hawks chasing birds at feeders. Friend and fellow birder, Phil Brown, recently e-mailed me to tell me about a couple of encounters that he had with these hawks. He does have them raiding his feeder birds in his yard in Essex on occasion, but these recent events occurred while he was elsewhere:

     “I’ve had two great accipiter encounters recently. I noticed a female Cooper’s was perched on a very tall telephone pole in Danvers the other day while on my way to Home Depot. I pulled over and put my bins on her as she “dropped” from the pole in my direction. I had to put the bins down within a second or two as she went by the drivers window at eye level! I watched her in the mirror as she banked to the left into a yard a few feet off the ground and then rose just enough to clear the fence that most likely had a feeder on the other side. I was quite impressed with her use of the terrain as a blind. I’ve seen other accipiters use fences and trees as cover but not for this distance or length of time. Very cool indeed!

     “After stopping at the seawall at Joppa Park this past Monday to check out the gull roost, I was pulling out of Bromfield Street and onto Water Street towards Plum [Island] when I noticed a shadow out of my left eye. I glanced left to see a Sharp-shinned Hawk go by at eye level just a few feet from the window. It banked to the right and passed in front of the truck at hood level, and into a front yard, up the short walk and landed, running into the evergreens in front of the house. I was passing by the shrubs as it went in and didn’t see it or anything else come out the other side. I’m guessing there are House Sparrows that roost in these shrubs and would like to think the hawk used the truck for cover but of course can’t confirm that. Skittish birds at feeders have good reason to be just that!

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 02-06-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

An Awesome Birding Day in Rockport
February 06, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     While you enjoy the Superbowl from the comfort of your home this weekend, think about the poor souls that spent twelve hours in sub-zero wind chill weather participating in last weekend’s Superbowl of Birding. Actually, this year’s event was termed the “Semi-Superbowl of Birding” as it was modified to promote local birding and social distancing. Ten of the twenty one “teams” birded just one town this year. Our friend, Strickland Wheelock, birded just Rockport and posted the following report:

     “Way back I signed up for the Semi-Superbowl of Birding to do the Big Sit (where you count the birds seen from a 25′ radius where each bird species has a point value from 1 – 5 pts – object is to see what team can rack up the most points) and also the Townie competition to see which team can see the most species in a town. So I chose Rockport to combine the Big Sit species from Andrew’s Point along with the Rockport species.

     “Little did I know how painfully cold it was going to be when I signed up with gusty cold winds, wind chills below zero – the seas were pounding when my team “Mission Possible” arrived at Andrew’s Point at 6:20 am. Always loving challenge, Ursula Collinson and I decided not to be deterred by the pain factor. My positive outlook was that the pounding seas & wind would kick in many seabirds especially alcids & other surprises.

     “First tried to stand at my normal spot just below the parking lot…and quickly realized that no way anyone could survive the pain factor. Then I packed up the gear and walked down the side street where there is a wall that was blocking the biting wind – still very cold but survivable.

     “Instantly you could see all the non-stop movement of ocean species going by the Point plus all the expected Harlequins, Common Eiders and Long-tailed Ducks in the water. Many Black and a few White-winged Scoters were flying, plus a few alcids (many further out to sea but not all). Other non-alcid species that were flying or in the water were a few flocks of Purple Sandpipers, a flock of Brant, and many gulls – with the highlight a stunning adult Iceland Gull. There were also Red- breasted Mergansers, several Common Loons, a Peregrine Falcon ripping over the rocks, and several Great Cormorants. But no grebes or Gannets.

     “The alcids were the main draw for me to deal with the elements and not to be disappointed. We found one Dovekie, several Razorbills, a Common Murre and, to my shock, a lone Atlantic Puffin sitting in the ocean just off the Point. Many other alcids were flying out a little further but no Guillemot at this point. Finally at 9 am the flights slowed down, we were really cold and headed out to find some passerines in Rockport.

     “Starting point was Halibut Point SP and to my surprise again we found [many birds] in the thickets and at a feeder at the corner house. Many species were actively feeding on the berries and seed at the feeder – many Robins, Bluebird, a Catbird, Juncos, 3 species of woodpeckers, a Palm Warbler (a surprise), Pine Siskin, Goldfinches, Cardinals, White-breasted Nuthatches and all the other expected species.

     “We then headed to the Granite Pier to fill in missing ocean species not seen at the Point. We found a Common Goldeneye, several Surf Scoters, and Buffleheads. Plus we re-found a Pacific Loon in the same area where I found it last week when scouting.

     “From here to some fields off Rt 127A where we walked the trails to find a large flock of Canada Geese, a flock of Cedar Waxwings, a Mockingbird, Red-tailed Hawk, and a Northern Flicker to add to the list.

     “Back to the Andrew’s Point spot around 2 pm as seabirds were moving again and quickly added a Black Guillemot flying by, plus more Razorbills & distant alcids. We decided (fortunately) to head back to Halibut Point and were rewarded with our only Red-throated Loon, a Bonaparte’s Gull, a Bald Eagle, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, and White-throated Sparrows along with many Robins & the expected seabirds.

     “At 4:45 pm, we called it a day, a day which was full of surprises. making the brutal weather conditions all worth it. In the end, we found 57 species in Rockport, 29 species off the Andrew’s Point 25′ radius circle. I always love a fun challenge to compete, to enjoy the outdoors, and to witness the beauty and sounds of the pounding surf. An awesome day in Rockport!”

     Strickland’s Mission Possible Team’s species total was enough to win them the Essex County Award!

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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