Words On Birds 06-24-22

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Best To Leave Baby Birds Alone
June 24, 2022
By Steve Grinley

     Last week I talked about all the fledgling birds that were around this time of year. Many may be in our backyards and around our neighborhoods. This is the time of year when phone calls come in from well-meaning folks who find an “abandoned” bird, so its time for me to repeat past columns about what to do when you find a baby bird. The best advice I can give is to, in most cases, leave these birds alone.

     You may encounter fledglings on the ground, hopping about, waiting to still be fed by the parents. Young robins or bluebirds with speckled breasts, or fluffy little titmice or chickadees, sitting on a branch fluttering their wings to be fed, are some of the young birds you may see. All of these birds 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.

     Most of the time the best thing you can do is to leave them 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 nonnative 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 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 Web site at www.masswildlife.org.

     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 and jays are notorious for raiding nests, and I have watched many a robin and catbird chase blue jays from their nest areas. I have witnessed crows with hatchlings in their beaks with parent birds in pursuit. It’s nature’s way of controlling the populations to levels the environment can sustain. And although it isn’t always what WE like, it is the way it is.

     Sometimes we have to let nature take its course.

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 27 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 06-17-22

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Fledgling Birds Are Everywhere
June 17, 2022
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.

     Young titmice are showing up with rad “hairdos” with their crest feathers slowly coming in every which way. Young orioles in various plumages are joining their parents at our jelly feeders. The adult males are dressed in their best plumage as if to be ready for Father’s Day!

     The woodpecker babies are particularly comical as they flock to the suet and peanuts. The young downy and hairy woodpeckers are sporting the red cap on their foreheads. I 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.

     Further afield, a visit to Plum Island late one day revealed many more young birds.

     Purple martins were actively visiting their gourds at Lot 1, though we couldn’t see if they were feeding young yet. On the beach there, Margo spotted two well-camouflaged fledgling piping plovers running around the wrack line just out of sight of the gulls at the edge of the water. We didn’t see the parents, but they had to be near. Least tern were diving offshore and were carrying off fish to feed their young.

     As we drove through the S curves south of the Salt Pannes, we heard a chattering noise and I stopped thinking it sounded remotely like a sedge wren. But there was more than one with this call so not likely a sedge wren. We tried the Merlin app but it could not come up with any suggestions.

     We finally spotted one bird in the dense foliage. It was tail-less, yellow underneath with wingbars, and obviously a fledgling Baltimore oriole. It was certainly younger that any orioles visiting our home feeders. We couldn’t locate the second bird but they were obviously begging to be fed with a call that was not familiar to us and unlike any adult oriole that we have heard.

     Along the road outside of Hellcat circle, up to ten willets were circling in the air. It wasn’t clear what the disturbance was. Right on the circle was an adult willet with 4 fluffy young huddled together. They were right on the circle, so automobile speed was not as much a factor and there were fewer cars on the island that late in the day. The willets were quite a way from the marsh but, hopefully, the parent bird was able to guide the fledglings in that direction before nightfall. Perhaps the willets we saw circling nearby was their security team!

     The evening show at the Hellcat dike, viewing birds in Bill Forward Pool and the North Pool, was superb that evening. When we arrived, there was enough of a breeze to keep the no-see’ums at bay. With help from two young birders, we first found the tri-colored heron against the reeds in the Bill Forward Pool. Next, Margo spotted a fluffy black Virgina Rail chick across the water in the North Pool. As we watched that chick, we could hear a parent bird calling from the phragmites closer to our shore.

     Seeing this black fluffy chick brought flashbacks from my first years of birding. I have told you about my initial introduction to birds with my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Beach, at Mount Auburn Cemetery. Another memorable moment those first years was being with Mr. Beach early morning at Great Meadows Wildlife refuge in Concord. We were on the wooden tower that was there then and Mr. Beach pointed found several families of rails, including the young “puff-balls” of Virginia and Sora rails on the mud with their parents in the marsh. There were common Gallinules and Coots with young as well in the early morning sun. It was a memorable experience that comes back to me all there years later.

     Back at Hellcat, we next spotted Least Bitterns. We first spotted a female then, a male. We saw at least a third bird, but we also heard several calls from the reeds on both sides of the water. It was hard to determine just how many bitterns there were

     I then alerted Margo to an adult yellow-crowned night heron flying into the North Pool. It dropped behind some phragmites and we lost sight of it. I later relocated it on the marsh side of the dike and Margo was able to get some fantastic phone photos through the scope.

     Margo then spotted a second Virginia rail with another chick. This chick was younger than the first one that we saw. Adult rails were calling from both sides of the water so it was hard to figure how many rails were present, but we saw only two fledglings.

     We then watch a tricolored heron fly in for Bill Forward Pool. We assumed that it was the same bird that we saw earlier but examination of Margo’s photos showed significant differences in this bird. Seeing all these herons, bitterns and rails made for a spectacular evening!

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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 27 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 06-10-22

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Explore New Areas This Season
June 10, 2022
By Steve Grinley

     The bird migration has all but ended here in Massachusetts. A few migrants are still trickling through along the coast, but most of the birds we see now are the birds that nest in our area. It won’t be until the shorebirds start returning in July that the migration will begin anew. Still, it is fun to watch the cardinals and orioles bring their young to the feeders, or to monitor the progress of the bluebirds, or other nest box residents in our yards.

     As we move out of spring and into summer this month, it is fun to explore local properties away from the coast that we are fortunate to have preserved for birds and other wildlife. Doug Chickering of Newbury made such a visit years ago to the Indian Hill Greenbelt Property on Indian Hill Street in West Newbury. I thought that I would share his report with you again, perhaps to inspire you to search for new experiences in conservation areas that you have never visited before:

     “On this cool dry summers day, I decided to break from my usual habit of heading for Plum Island and instead went birding at the Indian Hill Farm Greenbelt Property. It was something I had been meaning to do for a while. I was particularly interested in exploring the cleared field at the top of the hill.

     “It turned out to be a peculiarly memorable morning. It wasn’t for the large number of birds that I saw, I only listed seventeen, nor for any surprising rarity. All the birds there, with the possible exception of the singing Chestnut-sided Warbler, were what I generally expected to find. I had some hopes for the field at the top, even though I had never been there before; expecting perhaps to find Bobolinks, or maybe Savannah Sparrow in a grassy field. There were none of these. There wasn’t even a grassy field, but a weedy clearing a little larger than a football field. It was magnificently overgrown primarily with milk weed, vetch, Timothy grass, and flea bane that was as high as a bird watcher’s eye. It appears as if there will be quite a bit of loose strife later on in the year as well.

     “The trail up to the field is steep and eroded and passes through a high deciduous forest that blocks out the sunlight so effectively that there is little understory. In the woods, I had an aggressive Pewee chasing his neighbors around and singing, along with a Catbird carrying food and a close look at a Wood Thrush, also carrying food.

     “Yet the pinnacle of the trip was one of those glorious, unexpected moments that displays the grandeur and pure beauty of nature in a few memorable seconds. There was a conveniently mowed path down the left side of the field, and as I walked into the path, stepping out from the forest, I heard an Indigo Bunting singing. It was a perfect edge for a Bunting. High locust and oak trees that framed the back edge of the field, the sun pouring down from a pristine endless blue sky. The bunting was calling from these trees. “Fire, fire, where, where, here, here!”

     “I followed the repeated call until I spotted the male Indigo Bunting as he hopped in and out of the shadows of one of the branches of the nearest Locust. He popped up into the sun and I brought my binoculars to bear in order to luxuriate in the glorious sight of an Indigo Bunting shining in the sun. He was perched on the top edge of the branch, and directly behind him was an opening to the dark shadows of the forest, and the deeply grooved trunk of the tree.

     “In the gloom there was just a splash of sunlight like a theater spotlight, breaking the dark of the shadows and illuminating a dead branch. I was aware of movement in the darkness and suddenly a Scarlet Tanager appeared in the spot of sunlight; to give me a moment that I shall never forget. The Indigo Bunting; cobalt bright and breathtaking in the foreground and behind him, the bright glow of the Scarlet Tanager; all in one binocular view; ready to take your breath away. This was symphony of color unavailable to brush or camera or to description. A brief moment in a cool brilliant summer morning that burned into the memory and then was gone in a second.

     “Birding isn’t all lists or rare discoveries.”

     Essex County Greenbelt has so many properties to explore in our area. I hope that you will enjoy them, and I also hope that you will support Greenbelt’s efforts to preserve even more areas for generations to come. Their “Art in the Barn” event is going on Friday and Saturday of this weekend at the Cox Reservation in Essex. This event features many local artists and crafts people and helps support the Greenbelt’s effort.

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

Words On Birds 06-03-22

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Nesting Time in the Bird World
June 03, 2022
By Steve Grinley

     It is hard to believe that the nesting season started back in January and February for great horned owls and it will continue into August, and maybe even September, for some of our resident birds that have multiple broods. We are certainly in the middle of the nesting season for many birds.

     Young red-tailed hawks may have left their nest already but they can be heard for weeks begging food from their parents. They will be dependent on them for several months as is true for many raptor species.

     Great blue heron nests are still very active in the area. Herons can be seen flying back and forth to their fishing area as they continually bring food to the nest. Ospreys have taken up residence on platforms on Plum Island and in Salisbury and can also be seen carrying fish back to their nest to feed their recently hatched young.

     Mallards, wood ducks and gadwalls are in area wetlands with their ducklings following close behind. Canada geese are strolling around Plum Island as the Newburyport Industrial Park with fluffy yellow goslings that seem to get bigger every day. A pair of mute swans is guarding their clutch of six signets in Bill Forward Pool on Plum Island.

     Piping plovers and least terns are starting to nest on the beaches of Plum Island. The first cuddly little killdeer chicks have been observed along the refuge road, near Parking lots two and three. Please drive slowly along the refuge road as there are many fledgling birds along the roadside.

     First broods of bluebirds have fledged. Many have started on a second brood already. Many other customers are reporting successful bluebird broods, perhaps attributed to the number of mealworms that these birds are being fed! Giving birds more nesting box options may also be helping.

     If you still have hummingbirds and orioles coming to your feeders, these are likely resident birds that are nesting in your area. I have had some people say that the orioles have abandoned their oranges or grape jelly. Some of these birds may have moved further north to New Hampshire and Maine to nest.

     Local nesting orioles many continue to supplement their diet with nectar and jelly, but most of the parent 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 and supplement it with jelly and oranges. I have customers that go through many jars of jelly and bags of oranges during the summer months. Catbirds, mockingbirds, and even robins will also feed on the grape jelly.

     Activity seems to have picked up at the thistle feeders as well. Goldfinches are competing more for perches at the feeders as they build up their energy to prepare to nest. They nest in midsummer, usually in small trees or shrubs and not in bird houses. They wait until later in the summer so that there will be more natural seed around for the young once they fledge. Seeds from flowers and weeds are more plentiful toward the end of summer and early fall.

     Though some birds have had their first brood already, it is not too late to put up a bird house. Many of our local cavity nesters have two or sometimes three broods including bluebirds, chickadees, nuthatches, titmice and, of course, house sparrows. You might also catch some first time nesters that were either late arrivals or had trouble finding a mate.

     Bird houses do make great gifts for Dad and it will not be too late to attract some occupants this season. Sharing your yard with these birds and their offspring can add to your summer enjoyment.

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 27 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 05-27-22

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Bird Migration Peaks and Ebbs
May 27, 2022
by Steve Grinley

     Last week I told you about one of the most amazing birding days on Plum Island in the last half-century. Monday, May 16th was talked about for many days following. I can’t leave it behind without sharing with you the eloquent description of the day from local birder and author Doug Chickering of Newbury, who coined the phrase “fallout in the fog”:

     “Except for the fog, everything about birding yesterday on Plum Island, can only be classified as exhilarating. And even the fog had its place. It was like a shroud of mystery, hanging over the scene. What was behind the curtain of fog? Was this going to be a good day or bad one? When I first drove onto the refuge, I was a little concerned about what the dreary day would bring. It would bring one of the most extraordinary and interesting days of my birding life. A fallout in the fog

     “I parked in Lot one and joined a group of birders at the first middens. It was still pretty early in the morning and the fog made the visibility uncertain. Then the first indication that this was something different occurred when I noticed both movement and the sound. The birds were calling, giving testimony to the activity around us. And then there were the tiny silhouettes, pirouetting into the sky or shooting in from another bush. as people would occasionally call out a find. Then suddenly the magic as a Warbler would suddenly appear from the bush right in front. Coming out for a look to the plaudits of the crowd.

     “This was it, this was the day we always wish for in the middle of May. And like all who were present I have encountered such a crush of images and discoveries and surprises, that they are difficult to sort out and remember clearly. The thing that stands clear in my immediate recollection was the sheer number of small passerines. I walked the road from Lot 1 to the Wardens and there was no bad place to stop. There was perpetual movement by the side of the road. You would see a flurry of a bird in a tree and when you stop you see another, probably closer. In this fashion I saw more Bay-breasted Warblers this day than I have seen ever before; possibly cumulative. The most numerous as far as I could determine were either Parula’s or redstarts. Or maybe black-and-whites. It was thrilling and overwhelming. It will take some reflection before I can really appreciate what I experienced. It was also one of those days when the true birder; the one used to disappointments and missed opportunities will be come a little haunted. There are birds all around and I haven’t seen them all and it’s great,,,, but I wonder what it is like at Marblehead?

     “After the long day and the excitement, I grow weary. Of course, I am going out early tomorrow morning.”

     Doug’s comment “but I wonder what it is like at Marblehead?” refers to every fallout event along the coast in which every serious birder wonders what is happening at every coastal location. If it is this good here, what it is like on Eastern Point, Marblehead, Nahant or the coast of New Hampshire? It was great in all these locations on that day as well!

     What made this event so special was the presence of so many warblers on Plum Island the rest of the week. Each day that week one could see fifteen or more species of warblers with multiple numbers of most. Even the more sought after blackburnian , Cape May, and bay-breasted warblers could be found in multiples.

     Migration has slowed considerably this week. Late migrants such as mourning warbler, cuckoos, yellow-bellied and olive-sided flycatchers have kept things interesting. Now the resident birds are settled in with Baltimore and orchard orioles, house wrens, yellow warblers, redstarts, indigo buntings, and red-eyed vireos all singing away, establishing territories, building nests and, for some, sitting on eggs already. We look forward to what June will bring.

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

Words On Birds 05-20-22

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Phenomenal Warbler Fallout on Plum Island
May 20, 2022
By Steve Grinley

     Last Monday was a birding day on Plum Island like non other in the more than half century that I have been birding there. It started early as our phones started lighting up like Christmas trees with reports of warbler sightings from the refuge. Last week, I had hoped that the southerly winds would start bringing in more migrants, but we weren’t prepared for what unfolded on Monday.

     As birds migrated north over us on Sunday night, rainstorms came across ahead of them in Southern New Hampshire and Maine, halting their progress. The thick fog on the North Shore captured them as they settled down below for the rest of the night. The result was hundreds, even thousands of birds awakening on Plum Island and, to some extent, Eastern Point, Marblehead Neck and Nahant. Such a phenomenon is termed “fallout”.

     It was mid-morning by the time we arrived on Plum Island but the coast was still shrouded in fog. As we drove through the gates of the refuge, we could see warblers flitting in the shrubs and crossing the road in front of us. Lot 1 had a number of cars with birders looking around, but we were hoping to get to Hellcat where there were so many early reports.

     We could see that the road ahead was lined with cars, so we decided to start by the middens. Stepping out of the car we were surrounded by song and birds flitting in every shrub we could see. The colors were mesmerizing, the songs a background chorus.

     We started calling out birds, but they were moving so fast that it was hard for others to get on them. There were multiples of most every species of warbler, so everyone could find their own. There were often multiple birds in the same binocular view. As we tried looking at one bird we were often distracted by other birds in the same view. It was almost sensory overload.

     As the waves of warblers in one area passed, or quieted down, we would move a little further down the road. At each stop, there were double-digit numbers of so many warblers: parula, black &white, yellow, magnolia, yellow-rumped, chestnut-sided, black-throated green, black-throated blue, and redstarts. There were even tens of the less common warblers, blackburnian and bay-breasted. We usually rush to see one of these in the area, but on this day there were multiples of these birds in the same tree!

     Canada, Tennessee and Wilson’s warblers were also spotted in smaller numbers. The warblers were supplemented with Baltimore and orchard orioles, red-eyed and blue-headed vireos, great crested and least flycatchers, Swainson’s thrushes and veery. Rose-breasted grosbeaks, scarlet tanagers and ruby-throated hummingbirds added to the array of colors.

     As we inched our way down the island, cars coming back up island would stop and tell us how great Hellcat was. Some birders said that they were there for more six hours. We found it hard to pass by birds so it ended up taking us six hours just to get to Hellcat!

     When we finally arrived at Helcat, we spent the rest of the late afternoon and evening there with most birds still moving through the vegetation. I guess that is what made this “fallout” so amazing, over and above others that we experienced on the island in years past. Usually by late morning, many of the migrants leave the island for the mainland. Part of it may have been the sheer numbers of birds, or their exhaustion from the night’s experience. But I believe that the fog in and out most of the day helped to keep them on the refuge.

     Doug Chickering dubbed the event “Fallout in the Fog” and called it “exhilarating.” Diego Fernandez shared “Hellcat right now is like walking through a dream. I’ve never seen so many warblers so close. Over 20 magnolias, many BT blues, multiple bay-breasted, over 15 redstarts, etc.” Marymargaret Halsey called it “Phenomenal. Biggest fallout ever seen in my life.”

     I believe the same was true for most every birder on Plum Island that day!

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

Words On Birds 05-13-22

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Birds on the Move This Weekend
May 13, 2022
By Steve Grinley

     After last week’s story about Mount Auburn, I was hoping that this week I could have been able to talk about a “fallout” of birds this week to further inspire you to go out and look for birds. Despite promises of warmer weather and southerly winds that never materialized, at least as of this writing, the northeast winds continued into Thursday, blocking any significant movement of birds into our area.

     A few more orioles, hummingbirds, house wrens and grosbeaks have arrived. Bobolinks are establishing territories in grassy fields. A few more warblers and vireos have been trickling in. But there has been no big push of birds yet.

     However the weather for this weekend looks more promising than ever. The north winds have subsided a bit, the blocking low pressure area looks like it will be moving away, giving way to warmer temperatures and giving us the southwest winds so needed to bring the birds in. It could finally happen.

     I found a fifteen-year-old story of just such an event in May that might further inspire you to go birding this weekend:

     “I headed to Plum Island early on Wednesday morning before work to see if there were any residual from the previous day’s fallout of birds. I thought I would check the Oak Hill Cemetery on my way and, as it turned out, I never made it to Plum Island. As soon as I pulled through the main gate off State Street, I was surrounded by a “Wall of Sound” that would have brought Phil Spectre to his knees. I pulled the car over and got out, and there was bird song everywhere. It was almost deafening.

     “As I looked up at the trees, warblers were moving everywhere. All I needed to do was to focus my binoculars on a spot, and several warblers would move through my field of vision. In the lower branches were many magnolia warblers along with chestnut-sided, black and white, yellow-rumped, black-throated blue and redstarts. Higher in the trees were brilliant blackburnian, bay-breasted, black-throated green, Nashville and Tennessee warblers. In the forsythia were common yellowthroats, Canada and more magnolia warblers as an ovenbird sang from underneath. In among the warblers were three species of vireos, many scarlet tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeaks and Baltimore orioles – all contributing to the chorus.

     “It was sometimes difficult to pull individual songs out of the choir, or to see many of the small birds among the foliage of the trees. I concentrated on the oaks, which were not quite leafed out. When a bird flew to a maple, it was lost for sure. It was an amazing couple of hours, and yet, it pales to the “fallout” of birds that was experienced on Plum Island just the day before. I didn’t read about it on the Internet until the major “wave” was over, so I missed that experience.

     “Tom Wetmore of Newburyport, Mr. Plum Island when it comes to birds, was the first to alert the birding community of the event: “Major migrant fallout on the island today. Though it’s been raining fairly steadily, the rain is serving to keep the birds on island. There are 100s, if not 1000s, of warblers throughout, including most of the goodies such as Canada, bay-breasted and Cape May. I think I’m at about 20 warbler species now and am heading back out. There are also veeries and Swainson’s thrushes about, and Lincoln’s and white-crowned sparrows, lots of rose-breasted grosbeaks and a few scarlet tanagers.”

     “Rick Heil of Peabody, birder extraordinaire, summed up his experience that Tuesday morning: “Amazing, incredible, awesome! The anticipated fallout of warblers overnight far exceeded expectations, the likes of which I have never witnessed here. The island thickets were saturated with grounded and confused migrants, many initially fighting the west wind to ‘jump off’ back to the mainland, some in futility returning.

     “Later in the morning a steady dense stream of birds flowed southward through the thickets at eye level for nearly two hours, observed at Hellcat. This was all followed in the afternoon by a very strong northbound movement of diurnal migrants, especially hummingbirds and swallows, observed mostly from Lot One.”

     “Doug Chickering [of Newbury] was also there to experience the magic: “The great fallout of 2007 has arrived at Plum Island. … The warblers had arrived. Mostly in the back bushes out of the wind but still in good numbers right before us, often within actual touching distance.

     “They were literally everywhere, and everywhere they were incredibly active. Pirouetting, leaping, and darting about. They snapped at insects that couldn’t be seen, dove into the underbrush and suddenly flew off or flew in. They appeared, they vanished, they clung to branches and poked their heads from out of the low grass. Some, like the black-throated greens, black-throated blues and yellow-rumps, were constantly singing. Most were silent.

     “What they were feeding on in the cold and rain I can’t imagine. But feeding they were. I hadn’t seen such a profusion of warblers in a decade and had almost given up hope of ever witnessing this scene again. The birds before us were in such numbers and were so active that we couldn’t hope to direct anyone’s attention to any particular bird. It was every birder for themselves and all we could do was to call out what we were seeing in a subdued mystical chant.” ”

     So I do hope that a wave of birds arrives this weekend and that you, too, can experience this amazing natural phenomenon!

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 27 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 05-06-22

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

May Brings the Lure of Warblers
May 06, 2022
By Steve Grinley

     As I predicted last week, southerly winds brought in a number of spring migrants this week. Two male and a female Baltimore oriole arrived at our feeders as did male and female ruby-throated hummingbirds. We already had a couple of feeders out for the orioles but we had to scramble to get a second hummingbird feeder up so that the hummers would get along. Hummingbirds are especially territorial when they feed and don’t like to share!

     Orchard orioles were seen on Plum Island and on Hat Street in Newbury, so look for them at your feeders as well. A male rose-breasted grosbeak appeared at our Big Tube feeder that holds a sunflower mix. It seems to be his favorite.

     Small numbers of warblers have arrived including yellow-rumped, palm, pine, black and white, black-throated green, black-throated blue, chestnut-sided, and Nashville. These colorful mites of the bird world come in all colors, always catching our attention as they flit through the shrubs and trees. May is warbler month and, as I stated last week, it is what got me hooked on birds!

     Many of you may know how I started birding, as I have told the story before. Many still ask so I thought that I would share it with you once more:

     It was about this time in May a number of decades ago when my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Beach, asked if I would like to go to Mt. Auburn Cemetery on a Saturday to do some bird watching. He singled me out of all the class. But to Mt. Auburn Cemetery? For Birds? I don’t know if I was flattered, or just too scared to say no!

     That Saturday morning in May was bright and crisp, and it warmed up quickly. The cemetery was like a giant botanical garden with all kinds of flowering trees, shrubs and flowers in full bloom. An unforgettable sweet aroma filled the air. People with binoculars were everywhere, walking along the roads and paths.

     We stopped first at a pond where the monument of Mary Baker Eddy graces its banks. There I was introduced to my first warbler, the myrtle warbler, now called yellow-rumped warbler. It was an eye-catching bird with sharp black and white patterns against soft blue-gray, with splashes of yellow. I also saw my first male Baltimore oriole there, and watched a spotted sandpiper “teetering” along the edge of the pond.

     It was the stop at Spectacle Pond, now called Auburn Lake, which left the indelible impression. It is a small pond with a bridge across the middle, surrounded by rhododendron, birches, ash and beech trees. It was the peak of migration and every bush and tree around the pond was “moving” with warblers. These tiny, brightly colored birds with flashes of bright yellows, reds, oranges, blues, white and ebony were the “hook”. Their spring plumages made each species distinct and relatively easy to identify, matching the pictures in Mr. Beach’s field guide. Their songs, as varied as the birds themselves, added to the fascination. There must have been fifteen or more different species of warblers that morning. I remember the kindness of total strangers helping to point out each species and explain what marking made it a magnolia warbler or a palm warbler. I remember the disappointment of not seeing certain birds called out by others. I remember more the disappointment when Mr. Beach announced that it was time to leave. Yes, I was hooked!

     As soon as I got home, I made my first list. I immediately started talking to my mother about binoculars and a field guide. She thought that it would be a passing interest. She used her Kay Jeweler charge card to buy me my first binoculars – which was very special since we didn’t have much money back then. Mr. Beach gave me my first Peterson Field Guide. In the front he inscribed, “I hope this books helps to not only identify birds, but also to know them.” It took me some years to realize exactly what Mr. Beach meant.

     Mount Auburn became one of my favorite places to visit during spring while I was growing up in Newton. During junior high school, I would awaken at 3:30am on May mornings and walk four to five miles to Watertown Square to catch the first trolley at 5:00 am. When I got to the cemetery, I would have to crawl under the gate because it wasn’t open yet, and I didn’t have a key like many birders. I would have to leave by 7:00 to get to school on time. Many mornings the birds were so plentiful that it was tough to leave at all. Yes, I was hooked!

     Perhaps this story might encourage you to venture out to observe the color and excitement of a May migration morning. Or join a local bird club or Audubon walk. You can always venture out on your own. You might catch a wave of warblers and other colorful migrants on Plum Island, Maudslay State Park, local park or conservation area, or even in your own backyard. Though some these areas might not carry the memorable fragrances of Mount Auburn, the vivid colors and songs of warblers and other spring birds are sure to get you hooked!

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 27 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 04-29-22

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Returning Birds Seek Food and Shelter
April 29, 2022
By Steve Grinley

     The first spring orioles in the area were reported this past week. One was coming to a feeder in Byfield and others were seen in Methuen and Topsfield. An orchard oriole was seen by many birders on Plum Island this past week and one was also seen in Salisbury.

     The first hummingbirds appeared at feeders in West Newbury, Georgetown, North Andover, and Middleton among other locations. One was also spotted in Gloucester.

     House wrens found their way to Ipswich this past week with several reports from different areas of the town. House wrens were also seen or heard in Lynn, North Andover, and West Newbury. One also was observed on Plum Island this week.

     A handsome male rose-breasted grosbeak appeared briefly at our feeders in Essex this past Monday. He stayed only a short time and moved on. A few other grosbeaks have been seen in the area and even an early indigo bunting or two have appeared. Brown thrasher and towhees have been arriving, but not many warblers have made it into Essex County yet.

     The weather systems the past couple of weeks had slowed the migration with strong northerly winds blocking many migrants from progressing into eastern New England. But I expect that to change this weekend. The winds are supposed to move around by Saturday and come from the southwest – our warm wind direction. The southwest winds help push the songbirds northward toward us. I expect to see more hummingbirds and orioles, and other May migrants arriving this coming week.

     The colder temperatures this month have delayed the blooms that are the nectar source for hummingbirds and orioles. More flowers and shrubs will bloom in the coming weeks while the birds are moving through. These birds will supplement their need for nectar with feeders that people put out for them. So if you have hummingbird or oriole feeders, now is the time to put them out if you haven’t done so already.

     As the weather warms and more foliage develops, it is actually good for the birds because it draws out more insects which warblers and many other birds need to fuel their journey north. But for birders, the foliage makes it more difficult to see the birds. If you can’t see them, you don’t see their coloring and field marks, and therefore, you can’t identify them. That is, unless you are able to identify birds by sound, which you can learn over time.

     Many of the resident birds have begun nesting. Customers are reporting bluebirds sitting on eggs already. A woman told me that her Carolina wrens have fledged their first brood already! We have seen both downy and hairy woodpeckers excavating tree holes in preparation for nesting. Canada geese and mute swans are on their nest, and birds are copulating everywhere.

     Returning house wrens will be looking for houses, as will flickers, swallows and bluebirds. Many birds have two, or sometimes three broods in the season and some will nest as late as June or July. The swallows and purple martins are just arriving. So if a bird hasn’t occupied your nesting box yet, or you are trying to decide whether or not to put up another bird house, you still have plenty of time for occupancy.

     May is a great month for watching birds, and despite the emerging foliage, there are more birds to be seen and heard as they make their way into our area. Amazing migrants are moving through, summer residents are arriving, more birds are stopping to feed, and many birds begin their nesting cycle. If you want to try your hand at birding, then this is the month to do it. May is the month that hooked me into birding!

     In any case, I hope that you take advantage of the warmer weather this weekend and the better weather that May should bring, and get out to see, or hear, some birds!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
BirdWSG@Comcast.net
 
978-462-0775 
https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com

Celebrating 27 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 04-22-22

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Opening Stage of Migration Begins
April 22, 2022
By Steve Grinley

     Last week, I talked about the early push of migrants into our area. As the spring bird migrating moves into full swing, I will share with you again, from years past, some thoughts about migrating birds after an early spring storm from friend and fellow birder, Doug Chickering of Newbury:

     “This April nor’easter has come and gone and left retribution in its passing. Fields, streams and rivers are flooded, and everywhere there is the forest detritus as the fury of the storm separated the weak from the strong. The storm with its passing has also revealed the first breath of true spring. In our backyard, there is suddenly a wide wash of green in the grass and the lilac bush is showing its first nascent buds. Elsewhere, the crocuses have gone past peak and the forsythias are coming on. Although they are late, I fully expect that those first scouts of spring – pine warbler, palm warbler and Louisiana waterthrush – will soon appear at their appointed locations.

     “So now we can start to seriously think of the spring migration. It appears to me that the migration season can be divided into three parts; each with its distinguishing characteristics and mood. The height of the migration takes up nearly all of May, and the dominant tone is high excitement mixed with an slight aching sense of loss. No matter how successful and brilliant the days birding when you pull up Massbird in the evening and read of what others are seeing there is the unmistakable gnawing conviction that you are missing something.

     “No matter that you realize that you can’t be everywhere at six o’clock in the morning, and no matter that you had killer looks at the Cape May and golden-winged warbler, you become haunted by the fact that out there some lucky birder had a white-eyed vireo in Westport or a hooded warbler in the Dell at Mount Auburn, or a blue grosbeak at the Beech Forest in Truro and you didn’t. Birding in May is paradise tainted by longing. So many birds so little time.

     “And when you slowly become aware that female redstarts are the dominant specie in Hellcat on Plum Island and the only likely target left is mourning warbler, you have entered into the third stage of the migration. It is inevitable that this stage will be accompanied by a slight feeling of melancholy. The peak is over, the birds are disappearing into their nesting routine and it’s going to be a long, long time before May rolls around again.

     “The opening stage of migration in its way can be the best. The early part of spring, still haunted by traces of winter is filled with a mood of great expectation and hope. For me, no birds are more emblematic of this part of the season that blue-gray gnatcatcher, solitary vireo and black-and-white warbler. These are the birds that I think of when this part of the season approaches. These are the birds that fill my heart with a particular delight. I make no claim of universality in these feelings. On the contrary, I am sure that there are other birds that fulfill this role in other birders’ hearts.

     “These days, in the middle of April when I am at work, standing by my machine and contemplating the days in the field that lie in the immediate future, I am able to place my imagination where I can nearly see and hear them. The gnatcatcher, darting furtively from limb to limb, tail erect, whispering his steady staccato call. A call so quiet that there are times when it takes a few seconds for me to become aware that I am hearing it. The black-and-white warbler, wet forest, still nearly bare of foliage, also quickly moving and occasionally calling. The warbler’s hoarse slightly wheezy call sounding like he is being squeezed.

     “And the solitary [blue-headed] vireo, slow deliberate, almost sedentary in his habits. He hops to a branch to pause and tilt his head in contemplation before hopping again to a different branch. And all three crisp and clean in their new plumage stand out in the still dull background of early spring. I haven’t seen them yet, but soon I will and can hardly wait. There will be many moments to come where I will be enchanted by the brilliant events of a migration, but right now I am thinking mostly about my three spring birds.”

     I hope that Doug has found at least one or two of his special spring birds this season. A few people have already seen hummingbirds and orioles, so don’t forget to put up your feeders for them!

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