Words On Birds 07-12-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Shorebirds Need Critical Habitat During Migration
July 12, 2024
By Steve Grinley
 
     On Plum Island the past few weeks, a Virginia rail with babies has been seen feeding at the edge of North Pool from the Hellcat dike. Least bitterns have been moving between North Pool and Bill Forward Pool. A young least bittern with pin feathers was seen and photographed in the pools in the past a week ago. 
 
     Shorebirds are arriving already and have been seen feeding in the salt pannes along the refuge road, and can be seen and heard only flying around their favorite fresh water pools with nowhere to land. The water levels in North Pool, Bill Forward Pool and Stage Island Pool have not yet been lowered for the shorebirds.  
 
     Shorebird migration starts in late June and peaks during July and August. Thousands upon thousands of shorebirds rely on these fresh water mudflats to rest and feed during their journey south. These pools are their most critical stopover north Cape Cod. With shorebirds numbers already in sharp decline, we shouldn’t leave them high and dry, or should I say high and wet, by not having the pools levels lowered.
 
     It seems like every year the refuge staff needs to be reminded of this important task.  Rick Heil of Peabody queried them this year and their reply was: “Our bio team continues to monitor shorebird migration numbers and is on track for a planned schedule to continue to monitor water levels throughout the season.”
 
     Rick replied to them: “Unfortunately your bio team doesn’t appear to understand that southbound shorebird migration begins in late June and that thousands of shorebirds are passing through and looking for high tide roosting and foraging sites throughout July. Some years the peak counts of adults, which precedes juveniles, occurs in late July. By keeping the Forward Pool high, you are denying and stressing thousands of these declining species a critical refueling and resting and forcing them to move on to try to find other less preferred locations. Water levels need to be gradually drawn down now, not early in August. The impoundments should not be completely drained but only so much as to leave shallow pools and fringes to provide the best foraging habitat.”
 
     Unfortunately, the water level at Stage Island Pool has not been lowered for the shorebirds, but pied-billed grebes, Virginia rails and least bitterns have been seen or heard there. Only a few ducks and a pair of swans are using the higher water. Tom Wetmore has volunteered, and the refuge has agreed, to open the Stage Island Pool gate at low tide on Sunday to begin that draw down. The last word that I heard was that the Bill Forward Pool isn’t planned for draw down until August. Too late for so many birds.
 
     Meanwhile, Short-billed dowitchers, greater and lesser yellowlegs, least and semipalmated sandpipers are already here in small numbers.  Semipalmated plovers and stilt sandpipers have also been seen this past week.  The summer resident willets are constantly flying and vocalizing loudly over the marsh, flashing their white-striped wings to scare potential predators away from their young.  The killdeer are guarding their young along the roadside, gravelly areas, and mudflat edges. A view of the closed beach area will reveal the piping plovers with young.
 
     At low tide, some shorebirds can be seen on the exposed flats in Newburyport Harbor from Joppa Park or behind the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center.  On some days, the tides have been running high and even low tide hasn’t exposed the flats long enough for good viewing. 
 
     During high tide, the shorebirds will have to depend on the salt water pannes, if the water is even low enough there. It is worth checking along the Plum Island Turnpike or the pannes along the refuge road. The main Salt Pannes pull off on the refuge is a good viewing spot, if the water isn’t too high and the greenheads are not too bothersome, where you can view the closer birds from the car.  If using a scope, we find that setting up away from the car will keep most of the greenheads off if there is a breeze. Wearing light colored clothing may help as well. 
 
     Hopefully the refuge will step up their management of the pools for the shorebirds. Despite the challenges of greenheads, mosquitoes and no-see-ums, it is still worth the effort to try to catch views of the amazing shorebird migration that this area is known for.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 29 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 06-28-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Woodpeckers Feed Young at Suet Feeders
June 28, 2024
By Steve Grinley
 
     Black oil sunflower, peanuts, safflower, corn and suet are some of the highest oil content bird foods that you can serve birds year ‘round. Suet, by far, provides more energy per bite than all the others. Suet is beef fat from cattle. There is nothing like suet in the natural world for birds, so why are birds attracted to it? 
 
     Suet is an excellent alternative for insects, which are the source of fat and protein for birds during warmer months. Birds use suet to supplement insects during the warmer months and as a substitute during colder months when insects are not available. 
 
     Suet is easy to feed and is popular with nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, Carolina wrens and blackbirds. Suet is particularly attractive to all of the woodpeckers, even the large, pileated woodpeckers! 
 
     We have had the pleasure of watching downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpecker parents feeding their recently fledged offspring at our suet feeders in Essex. The inexperienced youngsters cling nearby, fluttering their wings, begging to be fed. The adults take morsels of the soft, palatable suet from the feeder and feed them to the young woodpeckers. Once in a while, the adults will go to the seed feeder, grab a seed and bring it to the young birds, adding variety to the new bird’s diet. 
 
     One day I watched one of the young downy woodpeckers try to get onto the suet feeder itself. The bird fluttered around the feeder several times, as if not sure where to land, or how to land on it. It is one of those with a “tail prop” extension, but eventually, maybe by accident, the young bird grabbed the cage portioned and righted itself on the feeder. Feeling quite proud I’m sure, it proceeded to feed itself. It was fun to watch. 
 
     The red-bellied woodpecker, a southern bird that is now much more common in southern New England, has nested in our yard right off our back deck where we could watch its progress. They are also fun to watch as they feed their “bald” offspring that haven’t developed any red on their head yet. 
 
     The late Doug Chickering had a similar experience with a family of red-bellied woodpeckers in his yard which he wrote about after his book was published: 
 
     “We had gone to the Locust Hill Cemetery on the Gloucester-Rockport line to look for a reported Varied Thrush. We didn’t see the Thrush that day, but as we drove into the cemetery I saw an unusual looking bird fly up to the trunk of a large oak tree right beside the car. Much to our surprise and amazement we were getting killer looks at a Red-bellied Woodpecker. This was 1989. In 1989 Red-bellied Woodpecker in Massachusetts qualified as a hot line bird. 
 
     “As the years passed the status of this gorgeous woodpecker slowly changed. I remember in the 90’s Lois and I would join the Circle Donut Bird Club, and in the spring visit Argilla Road in Ipswich. Here there was a large, crude homemade suet feeder nailed to the side of a large tree in a front yard and always packed with a slab of suet. Here a Red-bellied Woodpecker visited on a regular basis, more or less. We usually got it. 
 
     “If not a hot line bird, Red-bellied Woodpecker remained a special target bird along the lines of Red-headed Woodpecker. This situation was perpetuated until the entry to the third millennium. Their numbers increased surprisingly rapidly and eventually Red-bellied Woodpecker outnumbered Hairy Woodpecker in the Newburyport Christmas Bird Count. 
 
     “The increase of Red-bellied Woodpecker is one of a handful of welcome changes in the fluctuating bird local populations. I have seen one on Plum Island on a few occasions but it still remains uncommon to rare at my favorite birding spot. Just a few years ago we got one at our feeder. It was considered an event. Then we would get one at the feeder a half-dozen times a year. 
 
     “This year both sexes of Red-bellied come down to pillage our suet cakes on a regular basis. And today the saga of Red-bellied Woodpecker came to a glorious “crescendo” at least for me. This morning Lois and I were treated to the sight of an adult female, feeding a newly fledged babe. 
 
     “They were at the far feeder and the female kept dipping down to the suet feeder that was accessible only from the bottom. This design is deliberate: its intent is to discourage less attractive Starlings and Grackles who, apparently don’t care to hang up-side down for long periods of time. The woodpeckers and nuthatches are not dissuaded at all and this feeder is a great favorite of theirs. 
 
     “The female adult Red-bellied would pull suet out and scramble up to the juvenile and feed it as it fluttered its wings. The young bird demonstrated all the characteristics of a new bird. It begged constantly and had trouble grasping the metal bow. In fact, its efforts were almost comical, as it would slowly slide down the bow, flapping its wings ineffectually and continuing to beg for food. I was struck by what seemed to me how much this bird resembled human babies. It was sleek and there wasn’t a trace of red on the head giving it a distinctively bald look and its efforts and struggles were crude and uncoordinated. 
 
     “Even though the Red-bellied Woodpecker is edging towards being a common bird I don’t think it will ever be anything but a special sighting for me.” 

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 29 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 06-21-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Letting Nature Take Its Course
June 21, 2024
by Steve Grinley
 
     These days we are seeing fledgling birds everywhere as they leave their nests and learn the ways of the world with their parents nearby. At our home feeders, young cardinals are being fed by parents. The young lack the crest and most have pretty scruffy plumage.
 
     Chickadees secretly took over one of our bluebird boxes and we only discovered it from the begging noise made by the young in the box when a parent arrived with food. Soon they will be out of the nest and visiting our feeders with the parents.
 
     Young titmice are showing up with their crest feathers slowly coming in every which way. Young orioles in various plumages are joining their parents at our jelly feeders.
 
     The woodpecker babies are particularly comical as they flock to the suet and peanuts. The young males downy and hairy woodpeckers are sporting the red cap on their foreheads instead of the back of their head. We watched one young downy trying to grab onto a nearby shaggy-barked hickory tree without much success and finally opted for a smoother trunk elsewhere. The immature red-bellied woodpeckers look very strange with their bald heads, no red at all like their parents.
 
     This is peak nesting season for many species of birds in our area. One can hear the sounds of nestlings from their nests, as parents come to feed. The sounds of young fledglings can be heard everywhere – those birds who have recently left the nest, calling to the parent or the parent calling back.
 
     You may encounter fledglings on the ground, hopping about, waiting to still be fed by the parents. Young robins with speckled breasts, little gray catbirds with 1-inch tails and fluffy little titmice or chickadees, sitting on a branch fluttering their wings to be fed, are some of the young birds you may find. All of these birds likely have had their parents nearby and, though at first glance one may think they are on their own, the parent soon comes, once it is “safe,” to feed the young ones. Young birds often leave the nest before they can fly or fend for themselves. This is part of the “training” process for surviving on their own. The parent birds are almost always in the area, watching after and defending their young, as well as feeding the fledglings until they learn to feed themselves.
 
     But this is the time of year when phone calls come in from well-meaning folks who find an “abandoned” bird, and the best advice I can give is to, in most cases, leave these birds alone.
 
     First, all birds are protected by state and federal laws, and it is illegal to possess or relocate birds, unless you are a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. The only exceptions are non-native species: house sparrows, starlings and pigeons. That being said, it is human instinct to want to protect the bird. If the bird is a hatchling, that is – it does not have feathers or looks totally helpless, you can look for the nest from whence it came and return it to the nest. The next best thing is to secure a basket in a bush or tree and place the bird in the basket with the hope, albeit slim, that the parent will find it and care for it. 
 
     Most birds do not have a keen sense of smell, so handling a baby bird will in no way deter a parent from caring for it. Remember, even if you had 15 hours a day to feed and care for the bird, it still would not learn the skills it needs to survive in the wild if it were raised by humans.
 
     If you don’t know where the nest is, keep the bird warm and safe until you make arrangements with a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for its continued care. Do not attempt to feed it or give it water unless instructed to do so by a rehabilitator. A list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators can be obtained from Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife website and searching Wildlife Rehabilitators.
 
     If the bird is a fledgling, that is, it has feathers and is just flightless, and it is not visibly injured, it is best to leave it alone. Parents are likely nearby and often are very sneaky about feeding the offspring when they won’t be detected. If there is imminent danger, such as a cat, try to remove the danger, not the bird. Put the cat inside where it belongs or if it belongs to a neighbor, ask the neighbor to remove the cat. Place the bird on a branch up out of the way if that will improve its chances. Again, an injured bird requires the skills of a licensed rehabilitator.
 
     The sad statistics are that less than 30 percent of all hatched birds survive their first year. Cats are certainly a major danger, but that is a subject for a whole other column. Grackles, jays and crows are notorious for raiding nests, and I have watched many a robin and catbird chase these birds from their nest areas. Natural predation is nature’s way of controlling the populations to levels the environment can sustain. It isn’t pleasant to witness, but it is the way it is. 
 
     And for “abandoned” baby birds, it is usually best to let nature take it course.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 29 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 06-14-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Last Minute Gifts For Dads To Enjoy Birds 
June 14, 2024
By Steve Grinley
 
     This Sunday, June 16th, is Father’s Day (in case you forgot.) If Dad is head-over-heels about birds, or just has a passing interest, then I can suggest, once again, a few gift ideas that might help make his day special: 
 
     For any Dad who would like to see birds closer, whether it be in the backyard or on Plum Island, a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope would make a great gift! Today’s binoculars are lighter, brighter, and sharper, and they come in all price ranges. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a good pair of binoculars these days. And most binoculars are versatile enough that if he gets tired of birds, then they can to be helpful at the ball park, at a concert, or on a boat.
 
     A spotting scope will bring birds even closer than an eight or ten power pair of binoculars. If Dad wants a better look at an owl or an eagle in a nest, a shorebird on Joppa Flats, or an egret in the Great Marsh, a scope will bring those birds twenty to sixty times closer! A spotting scope used for birding can also double as an astronomical scope whereby he can see the craters of the moon, the rings around Saturn, or the moons around Jupiter.
 
     If Dad is just curious about the names of birds in the yard or around town, a field guide might be the perfect gift. There are many field guides that are simple to use, even for the beginners. Some guides just include feeder or yard birds while others include all of Massachusetts. An Eastern U.S. field guide will allow Dad to take it with him on his next trip to Florida and it will include those Southern specialty birds as well.
 
     A bird feeder is a safe gift for any Dad who has even a casual interest in birds. Even if Dad has a bird feeder, he can always use another. The most popular ones today are the Squirrel Busters. They come in all sizes and price range, but they are the most effective feeders on the market for keeping squirrels at bay. The squirrel’s weight shuts off the food supply, frustrating them to the point of giving up. It will allow Dad to enjoy the tranquility of birds and reduce his frustration with squirrels.
 
     If yard work and maintenance is not Dad’s thing, many of the latest tube feeders have been redesigned for easier cleaning. Many feeders now allow the bottom of the feeder to pop off with the simple push of a button. Dad will enjoy the ease of cleaning the feeders and thus making them healthier for the birds.
 
     This time of year is a good time for Dad to try a hummingbird or oriole feeder. Hummingbird feeders filled with sugar water attract these fascinating little gems. An oriole feeder with oranges and grape jelly might draw these colorful birds close for easy viewing. In addition to orioles visiting our jelly here at the store, we also see catbirds and house finches enjoying the jelly!
 
     For those Dads who have enough feeders, a bird bath will draw more birds to the yard. Even birds that don’t normally come to seed feeders will enjoy the availability of fresh water. If he has a bird bath, a Water Wiggler or Waterfall Rock moves the water in an existing bath and will helps to attract more birds.
 
     If Dad is too lazy to fill a bird feeder or to put water in a bird bath, a bird house might be the right gift for him. A bird house is relatively maintenance free – though cleaning them out at the end or beginning of the nesting season is advisable. Birds will also use bird houses in the winter to keep warm and get out of the elements, especially at night. Houses come in all shapes and sizes, from plain cedar to painted with copper or Verdi-gris roofs. Matching a bird house to Dad’s personality could be fun.
 
     If Dad is a true couch potato, perhaps he would just like to read about birds and the joy of watching birds. Our late Doug Chickering’s book, “Reflections on a Golden-winged Warbler,” continues to be a favorite collection of short stories and essays that will pull Dad into the birding experience to places around the Newburyport area that he knows.
 
     There are also bird-themed t-shirts, hats, mugs, puzzles and games, and so many other gift items, some of which may have Dad’s favorite bird on them. No matter Dad’s level of interest in birds, there is a gift that just may help him appreciate birds just little more! 
 
     Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 29 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 06-07-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Nesting Season is Upon Us
June 07, 2024
By Steve Grinley
 
     Migration is slowing, as most of the transient birds have already moved through our area. Most of the local birds are settling down to nest if, in fact, they haven’t already done so. Some late winter nesters, especially some of the owls, have already fledged young. The baby owls will be dependent on their parents for the next couple of months until they learn to fend for themselves. 
 
     Bald Eagles are nesting once again along the Merrimack River in Amesbury and Haverhill, the Parker River in Newbury and the Mile River in Rowley. Ospreys are back at their platforms in Salisbury, Plum Island and throughout the Great Marsh down to Essex and West Gloucester. Red-tailed hawks are also early nesters and some young hawks may have fledged by now. Like the owls, eagle and hawk youngsters will be dependent on their parents for several months.
 
     Great blue herons have young in rookeries and in isolated nests in Salisbury, Byfield, Georgetown and Boxford. Piping plovers and least terns are nesting on the beaches of Plum Island and Ipswich. The first killdeer and willet chicks are appearing on Plum Island as well.
 
     It is time to make way for ducklings as mallards, gadwall and teal already have their families following them around. Canada geese are also caring for their yellow goslings in Newbury, in the Newburyport Industrial Park, and on the Parker River Refuge on Plum Island (to name a few – there are a lot of geese this year!)    
 
     Some early nesters such as bluebirds, Carolina wrens and robins may already be on their second brood. Reports of these second broods are coming in for several area communities. In fact, these birds may sometimes have a third brood.
 
     Some of our May migrants including hummingbirds, house wrens, Baltimore and orchard orioles, gray catbirds, rose-breasted grosbeaks and yellow warblers are busy building their nests and some may already be sitting on eggs. These birds are likely to raise only one family each year.
 
     One customer told me about two families of house wrens in her yard. House wrens will build several “dummy” nests in an area before the female decides on one. The males are very territorial and the fact that there are two nesting wrens so close to each other indicates that it may be one male with two females. Polygamy in wrens is well documented.
 
     If you continue to have hummingbirds and orioles coming to your feeders, these are likely resident birds that are nesting in your area. Many more of these birds move further north to New Hampshire and Maine to nest. Local nesting orioles continue to supplement their diet with nectar and jelly, but many birds will turn to insects. Insects provide the protein necessary for the young birds’ development, so the orioles concentrate on providing insects to their newly hatched offspring. 
 
     The parent orioles will bring their young to your jelly and orange feeders into the summer. I have many customers that go through jars of jelly and bags of oranges during the summer months. Catbirds, mockingbirds, and even robins will also feed on the grape jelly.
 
     Purple martins have returned to their nesting colonies and have begun nesting. However, it is the first year males arriving in June that could still establish a new colony. If you live on or near water, now would have been a good time to try to attract these birds. Newer colonies have appeared in Newbury, Salisbury and Seabrook, New Hampshire. Purple martins have even taken up residence in tree swallow houses in the marshes of Seabrook in the past.
 
     Goldfinches are starting to compete for perches at the finch feeders as they build up their energy to prepare to nest. They nest in midsummer, late June and July, usually in small trees or shrubs and not in bird houses. They wait until later in summer when there will be more natural seed around for the young once they fledge.     
 
     Many of our local cavity nesting birds have two, or sometimes three, broods including bluebirds, chickadees, nuthatches, titmice and, of course, house sparrows. Though some birds have had their first brood already, it is not too late to put up a bird house. You might catch some on their second or third brood, or first-time nesters that are either late arrivals or had trouble finding a mate, that will welcome another residence.
 
     Sharing your yard with birds and their offspring by providing more housing not only helps the birds, you will enjoy their company all summer long!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 29 years of service to the birding community! 
Like us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/birdwatcherssupply

Words On Birds 05-31-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Spring Migration Coming to a Close
May 31, 2024
By Steve Grinley
 
     The spring migration is winding down already. The female birds dominate the last few weeks, following their male counterparts north. The elusive mourning warblers along with a few Canada warblers are the late comers, trickling through during this past week.
 
     Also trailing the flow of spring migrants are the flycatchers. These birds feed exclusively on flying insects and most wait until later in May to arrive which ensures there will be an ample supply of food for them. The exception is the Eastern phoebe that braves the less predictable April weather.
 
     Flycatchers typically perch still on a branch, spy their pray, and then catch their food in mid-air. Kingbirds and great crested flycatchers are the most vocal, and they are both common nesters in our area. Wood pewees can be heard calling their name “pewee” in the woods. The smaller epidonax look similar.  The have wing bars and eye-rings and some are best distinguished by the calls.
 
     Overall, the migration seemed a bit lackluster this year. There were no ‘big days”, no fallouts of warblers like last year and other years past. There were a few days when there were easily 10-15 species of warblers found on Plum Island, but not great numbers of any one species. There were not 5 or 6 blackburnian, or bay-breasted warblers in a single tree to gaze at.  Rather birders needed to search all of the Hellcat swamp boardwalk to see multiple numbers of any species.
 
     For those of us who have been birding more than half a century, we clearly recognize the decline of the number of birds over the years. The Science magazine report of the loss of 3 billion birds in North America since 1970 is no surprise. It is merely a confirmation of what we have experienced over our lifetime.
 
     On Parker River Refuge, even the signs of hope are discouraging. American bitterns were heard “pumping” earlier in May at Stage Island Pool. Least bitterns have returned to the North Pool to presumably nest for another season. Virginia rails, Gadwall and green-winged teal have also returned to nest. Marsh wrens and swamp sparrows can be heard throughout all three of the refuge’s fresh water pools. Perhaps gallinules or pied-billed grebes will also return
 
     But these birds, and the habitat that they now enjoy, will all be gone in the next ten years – this time, clearly at man’s hand. The refuge will destroy these treasured habitats to supposedly create more salt marsh. Two hundred sixty acres of important fresh water habitat, and the dikes that protect them and the rest of the refuge, will be destroyed over the next ten years to add to the 3000 salt marsh acres that the Refuge presently controls.
 
     The refuge claims that this habitat destruction will have “no significant impact” on the ecosystem in place.  I think that the bitterns, rails and marsh wrens will beg to differ. So will the uncommon tri-colored heron now visiting Bill Forward Pool, and the hundreds of ducks, shorebirds and waders that have used these pools since they were created by the refuge seventy years ago. Their numbers can only decline further from the loss of this valuable habitat and will be felt by the next generation of visitors that come to the refuge.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 29 years of service to the birding community! 
Like us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/birdwatcherssupply

Words On Birds 05-17-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Hummingbird Encounters Create Memories
May 17, 2024
By Steve Grinley
 
     Hummingbirds are back, and the antics of these fascinating birds leave fond memories for those who encounter them. I would like to share some of those stories with you again: 
 
     Robert Mussey of Milton shared his hummingbird story:
 
     “We have 4-5 female and 2 male hummingbirds zooming around this year in our garden and at 3 feeders, trying to sort out who trumps who, and who is higher status. One male and one female are the dominant ones. Yesterday I took a break from writing and for the first time this year decided to take a break and sit in our screened in gazebo. As I approached, a hummer zoomed past me and flew directly into the gazebo screen, thinking he could fly straight through, impaling his beak through the mesh and capturing himself firmly. It was one of the males. Furious buzzing of his wings could do nothing to free himself as his beak had penetrated to its full depth.
 
     “What are the chances that I would happen to decide to drink tea in the gazebo at this exact moment, on this exact day? Tiny, but there I was. Gently grasping his body to restrain his wings, eventually I managed to work his long bill free while he squealed in protest with his highest pitched little voice, then immediately opened my hand to free him. In an instant, he zoomed off at warp speed to his next adventure. Was this the alpha male or the more recessive one? Hard to tell when his energy was captured in the screen and then my hand.
 
     “Hummingbirds are meant to fly free. What are the chances? I should drink tea more often.”
 
     Catherine Fisher of Lee, New Hampshire shared a similar experience:
 
     “About a dozen years ago I was chilling on our back porch on a warm, June evening. I’d left the porch door open and was sitting at the far end, drinking a stronger beverage than tea, when a male hummingbird, pursued by another male in one of those aerial battles that resemble a WWI dogfight, flew straight down the length of the porch and got his beak jammed in one of the tiny squares of the screen mesh right beside the chair I was sitting in. He kept up a kind of ventriloquist-type vocalization while I tried to get him loose – if you’ve ever seen end of the old movie The Fly, that’s kind of what it sounded like; “Help me!!! Help me!!!” 
 
     “My heart was pounding as I worked to free him – my mind kept offering impossible and hideous scenarios like I’d get the hummer free, but his beak would remain in the screen, but I got him loose fairly quickly. 
 
     “I had him cupped in my hands, but I felt his toes curl around my little finger, and I remembered my Dad telling me about offering his finger as a perch for a hummer that had gotten disoriented in my folks’ large garage: the hummer was flying from window to window trying to find a way out, and my Dad walked up with his pointer finger offered as a perch and the hummer alighted and Dad walked her out. So I did the same. 
 
     “With my guy perched on my pinky, I walked him out of the screen porch – he flew off as soon as we got to the door. It was one of those experiences that release a gazillion happy molecules in the body and for the rest of the evening I couldn’t stop smiling.”
 
     Dana Duxbury-Fox of North Andover, MA shared an interesting story of hummingbird courtship behavior:
 
     “Bob and I were up at our camp on Lower Beech Pond in Center Tuftonboro on Monday afternoon. While sitting on our deck about 3 PM we observed 2-3 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds – a male and possibly two females as the females seemed to have very different styles of feeding. I had put out my two big feeders a week earlier (May 16th) one at either end of our deck and immediately afterwards a male came in to feed.
 
     “Well, as we were sitting there, we twice saw the male with that rapid zooming up and down behavior that he does when he is courting a female.
 
     “A couple of hours later as we were sitting on our porch in view of their favorite feeder, I suddenly saw something new – this floating dance of a pair. They would float up and then down maybe three feet in distance up and down around the feeder in unison. One might pause and feed and then the floating dance would start again – up and down. Imagine in all my years I had never seen this before. Being at the right place at the right time and being there at the correct moment in their courtship cycle I guess.” 
 
     So, if you haven’t had the pleasure of being mesmerized by these birds, you might try adding a hummingbird feeder to your yard or garden this year. Soon you will be telling stories of your own!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 29 years of service to the birding community! 
Like us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/birdwatcherssupply

Words On Birds 05-10-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Birds Inspire Gifts for Mom
May 10, 2024
By Steve Grinley
 
     The orioles are arriving throughout our area, both Baltimore and orchard orioles. No orchard orioles for us, but we have three very brightly colored males that are causing “oriole wars” at the jelly feeders plus a female and at least two immature males. A catbird has also tried to partake of the jelly. Scarlet tanagers also enjoy grape jelly
 
     Ruby-throated hummingbirds are also finding their way back to area feeders. We have a male and female pair that make regular visits the feeder we have hanging off our slider, offering close-up views. They also visit the feeder hanging off our shed. 
 
     The stunning rose-breasted grosbeaks are back. Our male and female birds are enjoying the sunflower on our tray feeder and in the large tube feeder.
 
     We are in the prime weeks of warbler migration and small waves of warblers were moving through Plum Island this week. Other “migrant traps” saw numbers of colorful warblers dropping in as well – places like Ipswich River and Marblehead Neck Sanctuaries, Halibut and Eastern Point on Cape Ann. The majority of migrants so far have been yellow-rumped, black & white, parula, magnolia, chestnut-sided and Wilson’s warblers, northern waterthrush and ovenbirds. Many of these birds have passed through the woods in our backyard in Essex.
 
     A few rare birds have also been seen this past week. The white-faced ibis was relocated in the Rt 1A pannes just over the Rowley line. A female ruff (reeve) from Europe was enjoyed upclose by many in the main Salt Pannes on Plum Island and found another day in Newburyport Harbor. An elegant black-necked stilt was discovered in the marshes on Newman Road in Newbury and also seen in the Rowley Rt 1A pannes on a subsequent day.
 
     May brings us some beautiful birds and also brings us Mother’s Day. With all these wonderful birds for Mom to enjoy this May, it should inspire you to choose an appropriate gift for Mom on Mother’s Day that will help her enjoy them even more:
 
     Hummingbird feeders make great gifts and there are many styles and shapes to choose from. The flat “saucer” ones are easy to clean and have a lot of red to attract the birds. The bottle type work very well too. The hummingbird feeders that adhere directly onto a window will bring the small hummers closer for better viewing. Even if Mom already has a feeder, a second is always a good idea. Hummingbirds are very territorial when they feed and each will want their own feeder well away from others, and will fend off any other hummers who try to encroach!
 
     Orioles enjoy feeders that offer them nectar as well, but they really enjoy oranges and grape jelly. Many oriole feeders accommodate more than one of these offerings at a time. Both Baltimore and orchard orioles come to feeders and their colors are just stunning. Catbirds and mockingbirds will also visit a feeder with grape jelly.
 
     Warblers, bluebirds, tanagers, orioles, and so many other birds are attracted to water. A bird bath makes a wonderful gift for Mom and could bring birds to her yard that might otherwise not visit. For the Mom that already has a bird bath, a waterfall rock or a “Water Wiggler” would be a great addition. Moving water will help attract more birds for Mom to watch.
 
     Other feeders will attract colorful birds as well. Mom will enjoy watching more male goldfinches in their brilliant yellow plumage at a thistle feeder and she can watch for the stunning blue of an indigo bunting that might enjoy thistle as well. Giving Mom another sunflower feeder that attracts cardinals might also lure the striking rose-breasted grosbeaks to her yard.
 
     A nesting box, or bird house, is always a gift that never goes out of style. House wrens, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, swallows, bluebirds and so many other birds that are cavity nesters could nest in your yard for Mom to watch and enjoy. Bird houses come in all styles, from simple to elegant, and they will not only dress up the yard, they will provide shelter for the birds.
 
     If you want to improve Mom’s view of all the birds, consider giving her a new pair of binoculars. Good quality binoculars are available in all price ranges and they will help bring birds closer and will make those brilliant spring plumage colors “pop”. Quality optics will heighten Mom’s enjoyment of birds, and of all that May brings.
 
     We wish all the Mom’s out there a Happy Mother’s Day full of beautiful birds!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 29 years of service to the birding community! 
Like us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/birdwatcherssupply

Words On Birds 04-26-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Rare Duck Found in Ipswich
April 26, 2024
By Steve Grinley
 
     The birding highlight this past week was a rare duck from Eurasia. I had just arrived in the door from work last Sunday afternoon when Margo announced that we needed to go see a garganey in Ipswich! Now I am always a bit skeptical about stray ducks and geese, as their “origin” (whether they are truly wild or escapees from a farm or zoo) is always in question. But the garganey is a very common duck in Europe and is highly migratory to Africa and south Asia.  There have been a number of scattered records all over the eastern United States in recent years.
 
     So we jumped in the car and sped off to the Kamon Farm Conservation Area on Pineswamp Road, an Essex County Greenbelt Property that Greenbelt acquired just three years ago. As we arrived, we glanced down into the field on the left, where the bird was supposed to be, but saw no one.  As we pulled up to the parking lot on the right, we could see a small group of birders just inside the opening to the field. We took one of the last parking spots in the small lot, grabbed our scopes and walked across the road to join the them.  
 
     We saw many birders that we knew and they had their scopes and cameras pointed down into a grassy wet area at the bottom of the field. The ducks were apparently moving within the grasses and were difficult to spot. Looking through one observer’s scope helped us pin-point the right spot and we finally got our scopes on the rare duck.
 
     This garganey was a handsome drake, with a bold white stripe over the eye and dark top of the head. He was associating closely with a pair blue-winged teal, handsome birds in their own right. We watched it intently and occasional it emerged into some open water and revealed the handsome feathering of its wings and body. It was a good distance away, too far for some cameras, but Margo was able to get a number of phone scope shots through our Swarovski scopes.
 
     This isn’t the first garganey in Massachusetts. A female garganey was spotted on Plum Island in May of 1985 by Bob Stymeist and stayed for about a month.  Another was found on Plum Island in August of 2000 by Rick Heil. So this Sunday’s garganey was a life bird for many birders. Margo and I saw many of them in Thailand, but it was a first North American record for her.
 
     As we stood there admiring the waterfowl, which included some green-winged teal, wood duck, mallards and a couple of Canada geese, more birders continued to arrive as evening approached.  Soon, the street was lined with cars. The word had gotten out, and birders within driving distance were rushing to view this rare bird.
 
     Suddenly, the garganey and the two blue-winged teal lifted off the water, gained altitude and flew off over the trees to the west. Everyone’s heart dropped. We hoped they would circle around and return to this spot, as they apparently had done earlier in the afternoon, but after many minutes of their absence we lost hope. More birders were arriving only to learn “the” bird had just flown. A disappointment familiar to any avid birder.
 
     A few people left, but many stayed hoping the garganey would return. A local resident said that the bird had been there for a week, which was encouraging. After what seemed an eternity, one person noticed three ducks overhead that circled down to the wet area. I put my scope on them immediately and saw that it was the garganey and two blue-winged teal.  I yelled “its back!” Even as people were leaving to get into there cars, they rushed back to see this rarity.
 
     More birders continued to arrive and we stayed to help them see it. We eventually left with many satisfied looks, a few photos, and happy to see so many of our birding friends that also were able to see the bird.  
 
     Unfortunately, the bird was not seen again after that Sunday. With no reports on Monday, we stopped by Kamon Farm near the end of the day. Several birders were still keeping a vigil. One person from the south shore had been there since 6 am without seeing the duck. Another had driven from Connecticut without luck. We felt lucky that we lived so close and were around to see the garganey the evening before.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 29 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 04-19-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Spring Birds Are Arriving
April 19, 2024
By Steve Grinley
 
     A few days of sunshine and southwest winds have finally brought us some spring migrants this past week. Counts of more than 200 song sparrows were seen on Plum Island along with tens of northern flickers, palm and pine warblers, and the first greater yellowlegs of the season.  On this past Monday, the Plum Island hawk watch tallied 278 kestrels flying north past Parking Lot #1. 
 
     One lucky Newburyport resident spotted a swallow-tailed kite flying north over High Road in Newbury!  Later that day, one was seen over the Route 1 Rotary in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, presumably the same bird.  The next day, two kites were seen in southern Maine!
 
     A cattle egret visited Pikul’s Farm (now Tendercrop) on Route 1A in Rowley. Flocks of glossy ibis have also arrived in Ipswich, and Rowley and a few were seen Plum Island. Snowy egrets have joined their larger counterparts, the great egrets, in area marshes.
 
     A Louisiana waterthrush is back, singing its heart out at Crooked Pond (Bald Hill Reservation) in Boxford. Blue-headed vireos and blue-gray gnatcatchers were also seen there along with the usual brown creepers circling up the trees as they sang. A rare prothonotary warbler was found at Daniel Boone Park in Ipswich and an early blue-winged warbler was at the Marblehead Neck Sanctuary along with a very early male scarlet tanager!
 
     Barn swallows and rough-winged swallows have joined the tree swallows at the Artichoke Reservoir in West Newbury and the Ipswich River Sanctuary in Topsfield. Chipping sparrows are arriving for the summer, but a few white-throated sparrows and juncos are still lingering under the feeders.
 
     Speaking of feeders, one homeowner reported an early male rose-breasted grosbeak at her feeder on Johnson Street in Newburyport last week. And speaking of grosbeaks, an Ipswich resident has a handsome male blue grosbeak joining her cardinals at her platform feeder of black-oil sunflower. What a surprise that was for her!
 
     And still speaking of feeders, now is the time to put out your hummingbird and oriole feeders. Hummingbirds have already found their way to several Essex County towns. A Baltimore oriole was feeding on oranges and suet in Beverly and another oriole was seen in Ipswich. 
 
     For nectar feeders, the ratio is 1 part sugar to 3 or 4 parts water for hummingbirds. Oriole nectars can be less sweet at 1 part sugar to 5 or 6 parts water.  Keep the extra in the refrigerator and change the nectar in the feeder every 3 or 4 days. Do not use honey and do not use red dyes or premixes with red dye in it. 
 
     The majority of hummingbirds and orioles arrive in mid-May, but many of the neotropical migrants seem to be arriving a bit earlier this year. So it is best not to wait until YOUR hummingbird is staring in your window demanding their feeder!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 29 years of service to the birding community! 
Like us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/birdwatcherssupply