Words On Birds 07-16-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Mysterious Illness Affecting Songbirds
July 16, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     We are receiving numerous inquiries about the mysterious illness that is occurring in birds through the Mid-Atlantic, Southeastern, and some Mid-western states during recent weeks. The cause of this illness is currently unknown. Symptoms include swollen, crusty eyes and indications of a neurological condition such as shaking, disorientation or paralysis. Similar symptoms of conjunctivitis had been seen mainly in finches in the Northwest over a year ago, but this unknown illness affects mainly immature larger birds including grackles, blue jays, starlings, robins, cardinals, sparrows, bluebirds, and other songbirds. Researchers continue to study cases and are trying to determine a cause.

     We have been monitoring this situation closely. Although the cause and spread of this current disease is unknown, similar infectious diseases are spread when bird come in contact with other birds at feeders and birdbaths. Though there are no confirmed reports, as of this writing, of such conditions in birds north of New Jersey, several state wildlife agencies and Audubon Societies in New England have put out statements suggesting that folks take down their bird feeders and birdbaths as an abundance of caution.

     If you are concerned, you should consider taking down your bird feeders and birdbaths for a number of weeks until more is known about this illness. You can put them back up either when it’s clear that the problem won’t show up here or when it’s over. Hummingbird feeders, however, are not part of this concern.

     At the very least, feeders and bird baths should be cleaned with every seed filling and water change, or every week or so. A 10% bleach solution is recommended to disinfect feeders on a regular basis. Feeders should be disassembled for thorough cleaning, rinsed well, and dried completely before fresh seed is added.

     At home, we also use disinfectant wipes to wipe feeder ports and perches in between cleanings. We also have some duplicate feeders that can be thoroughly cleaned while another is being used. Not everyone has that luxury, so cleaning between fillings should be practiced regularly.

     Areas under and around the feeders should be kept clean as well. Hulls should be raked up and disposed of. Adding trays to catch hulls or going to shell-less seed might keep areas cleaner. Even wiping down poles, baffles and other areas where birds regularly perch while “waiting in line” for feeders should also be considered. Seed should be stored in small quantity in a cool, dry place to keep it fresh before use.

     And birds won’t starve if you stop feeding for a while. There is plenty of natural food available this time of year for them to do just fine. We feed the birds for our entertainment (and maybe our indoor cat’s entertainment) and enjoyment. Supplementing their natural food with our offerings does help during the nesting season, but we have to consider when the risk outweighs the benefit.

     If you find a dead bird that is not obviously victim of a window strike or vehicle collision, especially if it has crusty eyes, take photos and keep track of the date and location. Then double bag it and discard it in the normal trash stream, taking care not to touch it and not to allow pets to get near it. Email the information to mass.wildlife@mass.gov to help them track any possible progression of this disease. Do keep in mind that there are more dead birds found this time of year due to the high rate of young bird mortality, so other predatory causes are also possible.

     We will continue to monitor this situation and will provide updates in future columns.

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 07-09-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Explore Different Areas for Breeding Birds
July 09, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     Last week I shared with you a visit to the Indian Hill Conservation Area made by Doug Chickering some years back. Another escape from the dreaded greenheads on Plum Island is the Martin Burns Wildlife Management Area in Byfield. It is a good area to find a number of our summer breeding birds and it was part of the Breeding Bird Atlas Project that Margo and I participated in more than ten years ago. I share with you again a visit that I made back then with the intent to try to focus on just the few breeding species that we needed to confirm for the survey:

     It was another foggy morning, with the threat of rain in the forecast, so I knew I needed to be efficient in walking to the areas that had the most potential. For any normal bird walk, it was a glorious morning that any self-respecting birder would be happy with. Rose-breasted grosbeaks greeted my arrival and I encountered indigo buntings nearly every step of the way. The recent cutting there has produced ideal habitat for the buntings and it was hard to be out of earshot of one singing at any particular time. I encountered scarlet tanagers, Baltimore orioles, and towhees along the way as well. But I had already confirmed breeding for each of these species so I couldn’t linger and admire their bright colors on this drab day.

     I went up to the railroad bed and walked to an area where I had a pair of Virginia rails calling a few weeks back. As I approached the open wetland, a large black water snake slithered off into the water. I’ve encountered my share of these snakes in the past months while Atlasing. I spent some time listening for the rails, and hoping to catch a glimpse of some chicks to confirm nesting, but to no avail. Common yellowthroats and red-winged blackbirds sang all around me, but no rails that day.

     I walked down the other end of the railroad bed toward Route 95 to a wet area that was productive for us in the past. It contains several great blue heron nests that you can see from Route 95. I only had binoculars with me, but I could see 3 young herons on one nest and single young herons on two other nests far out in swamp. Great blue herons have nested here for the third year that we have been doing the Atlas, so they were confirmed long ago. We had also already confirmed nesting wood duck, hairy woodpeckers, warbling vireos, and white-breasted nuthatches in this same area.

     I was trying to confirm great crested flycatchers, as each time I was there, a pair were very vocal and flying around. This time was no exception. I could hear the flycatcher’s “wheeep” call from the trees about a hundred yards out. That one came closer and eventually flew over my head and went into the trees behind me. I heard a second flycatcher calling from the swamp, but this call seemed weaker – perhaps a young bird! I scoured the trees in the middle of the water, trying to get sight of a bird. I moved up and down the bed trying to triangulate the sound to pinpoint it. Finally, something in the foreground caught my attention. There was movement near the top of a broken off tree about a hundred feet out. It was the tail of a bird sticking out of a hole. It was a flycatcher!

     As I watched, it flew down to some low shrubs not far from where I was standing, calling as it perched. Its paler yellow belly told me it was the female flycatcher. I then saw the brighter male, with its bright yellow belly and rusty tail perch atop the broken off tree. He had a dragonfly in his bill and, after some cautious peering around, he dropped to the hole and fed his brood. When he left, I could see one large mouth of a nestling still open in the cavity. I watched the male adult return a couple of times with food while the female bird was on lookout below. I then left to a safer distance away, but watched for a while longer as both parents continued to bring food to the nest.

     The sky was threatening so I started to make my way back. I encountered a cute little, and tail-less, catbird fledgling calling for food. As I walked on, I also encountered a cedar waxwing on a nest in a pine tree along the road. Both catbirds and waxwings were confirmed nesting in past years.

     I did encounter another fledgling – this one a cowbird crying for food. I stopped to watch as a male scarlet tanager brought it food. Cowbirds, of course, are parasites that drop their eggs in other birds nest, leaving the host bird to hatch and raise their young. This beautiful scarlet tanager was being a good “parent” to this ugly baby bird that was larger than the tanager. Though I had already confirmed tanagers, this confirmed, though sadly, breeding cowbirds in this block for me. I’m not sure where the female tanager was during all this, but I did wonder how many of the original tanager clutch didn’t make it because of the larger, overbearing cowbird.

     I had to double back through this area when my path was blocked by high water, when I heard another fledgling in the same area. This time it was a young scarlet tanager fluttering it wings to be fed. Sure enough, the male tanager came and fed its proper offspring as well. At least one tanager nestling had fledged, but I couldn’t stick around to look for more. The rain had begun to fall and I had all I could do to make it back to my car before the skies really opened up. I was just glad to know that the cowbird wasn’t the only result of that tanager’s nesting efforts.

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 07-02-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Greenheads “Pushing” Birders Inland
July 02, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     Now that the greenhead flies have reclaimed Plum Island and area marshes for the month, it may be time to revisit some of those inland areas to look for some breeding bird species. It is amazing what local treasures we have in both habitats and birds, once we take a closer look.

     There are numerous Essex County Greenbelt properties throughout our area that are open to the public and easily accessible. One such property is the Indian Hill Conservation Area off Indian Hill Street in West Newbury. The area now includes trails to Cherry Hill Reservoir, the Atherton Field and Trail Connector to the popular birding area Pike Bridge Road, the South Street Woodlots and the Ordway Reservation off Turkey Hill Road. Doug Chickering explored the Indian Hill Farm portion of this property more than ten years ago and shared what he discovered:

     “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 fleabane that was as high as a bird watchers eye. It appears as if there will be quite a bit of loosestrife 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 shinning 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 spot, 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.”

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 06-25-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Baby Birds Abound This Time of Year
June 25, 2021
by Steve Grinley

     The phone calls, and store visits, have already started from folks who find an “abandoned” bird. Some seem to be doing the right things, perhaps after reading my previous columns on the subject or by looking up information on the Internet. Others don’t have a clue what to do. So I find it necessary to once again repeat my suggestions for such situations:

     This is peak nesting season for many species of birds in our area. You may encounter a fledgling on the ground, hopping about, waiting to still be fed by the parents. Young robins with speckled breasts, little gray catbirds with short tails and fluffy little chickadees fluttering their wings to be fed, are some of the young birds you may see. All of these birds likely have had their parents nearby though at first glance one may think they are on their own. It is best 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.

     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. Any injured bird would also require the help of a trained 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. 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. 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.

     So if you find a “helpless” bird, the best advice I can give is to, in most cases, leave the bird alone. The sad statistics are that less than 30 percent of all hatched birds survive their first year. Cats are a major danger and should be kept indoors at all times. Crows, grackles and jays are notorious for raiding nests. It is nature’s way of controlling the populations to levels the environment can sustain.

     We do what we can. And 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! 
Like us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/birdwatcherssupply

Words On Birds 06-18-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

A Transitional Period for Birds and Birders
June 18, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     There were two unusual birds this past week on Plum Island – unusual in that they are not regular breeders there. A yellow-throated vireo has been singing vigorously throughout the Hellcat Swamp Trail, giving only brief looks to those patient enough to catch it among the thick foliage in the trees above. More regularly found nesting in swampy edges of Martin Burns or Crane Pond Wildlife Management Areas, this bird seems to hope to lure a mate to the splendors of Plum Island.

     The other unusual bird is a king rail, that had been most cooperative in the early morning, in the marshes between the Wilkinson Bridge to Plum Island and the Lot 1 boat launch on the Parker River Refuge. This large rail has been calling loudly, seen well and photographed by those who arrive on the island at the crack of dawn.

     Many of our birds have settled down to “breeding mode.” Most have established territories and are somewhere in the process of raising the next generation. Doug Chickering of Newburyport shares with us his day on Plum Island during what he calls this “transitional period”:

     “I headed over to Plum Island just after the morning’s rains had stopped… I was preparing for the transitional period after migration. For that the day was near perfect. It was cloudy and cool and this managed to suppress the annoying biting insects and beach-weasels. I encountered and chatted with Tom Wetmore but saw no one else. Just right for the quiet transition I sought. Although there were no sightings of Seaside Sparrow, I did have seven Saltmarsh Sparrows out in the salt marshes between Lot two and the Pannes.

     “It was a fine transitional day. Gone was the electricity of the migration, the anxiety and excitement of tracking down reported sightings, now I was free of the chasing of year birds and rumors of life birds. Everything had mellowed into a soft tonal quality that soothed rather than excited. Now, instead of seeing birds, I could watch them. I loved it.

     “The morning was replete with unhurried sedate events that indicated that the birds had finished sorting out their pairings and vying for attention. At Hellcat I could still hear the plaintive and persistent song of the luckless Yellow-throated Vireo still pathetically calling for a mate. Out on the Marsh spur there was a Swamp Sparrow with a beak full of former insects, chipping aggressively at me before diving down into the phrags, and a Marsh Wren singing and pirouetting above the top of the cattails. Lots of Catbirds and lots of Cedar Waxwings about. But both seemed to be more deliberate and quick and paid scant attention to my presence.

     Willow Flycatchers were calling here and there and at the edge of the cattail marsh I caught sight of an Alder Flycatcher high in a tree calling out for free beer. They were clearly on the mission of renewal. The nesting season was transitioning to the hard work of feeding new nestlings. Yellow Warblers darted past me on the boardwalk and at one point I saw and heard an extremely angry Yellowthroat burst out of the underbrush and assail another yellowthroat who couldn’t get away too fast. Even among these little explosions of activity there was a general aura of peace and a basic calm that seemed to indicate that the birds’ lives had returned to the general order of things.

     “Although I can’t come up with a special instance, my memory tells me that during this placid time I have encountered some unexpected and special events. I had one today. As I walked out to the deck where the old blind used to be in Hellcat I stopped as I thought I heard a Virginia Rail grunt. I stopped and listened, but nothing was repeated. I wasn’t surprised that I heard it for Virginia rails have nested here in the past.

     “Then when I stepped onto the deck, I immediately noticed a small bird swimming across the channel that connected the pool right in front of the deck with the main North Pool. It was immediately clear that this wasn’t a duck. Before I could bring my binoculars to bare it flew to the left side. A Virginia Rail no doubt. I was overjoyed. I had seen Virginia Rail a few times this spring, but this was the first for Plum Island. I wondered if they could have nested here this year.

     “Almost instantly my wondering stopped as I spotted two tiny forms making their way out into the channel from where the Rail had flown. Two tiny black birds awkwardly heading for the right side and then two more appeared and then a fifth. In my binoculars there was no doubt. Five tiny black puffballs; Virginia Rail chicks. Although they seemed to struggle, they continued to persist and make headway. When the first pair was just about to make it to the marshes, the adult suddenly flew out of the left side of the channel marsh and right over the chicks to vanish into the reeds on the other side. They couldn’t have been more than a few days old and here they were pushing gamely across the short stretch of open water with the nervous and frantic adult in attendance.

     “Needless to say, I was beyond excitement. It was the event of the day, probably of the migration and maybe, the year. And perhaps one of the most memorable sightings of my lifetime. At least it seems so right now. I only wish that my friends were there with their cameras. As it is this sight is now lodged firmly in my memory, where it belongs.”

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 06-11-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Father’s Day Gifts for Dad (and Birds)
June 11, 2021
by Steve Grinley

     Father’s Day is coming up next weekend and some of you might still be procrastinating over what to get the Dad or Grand Dad in your life. If he enjoys birds but detests squirrels, a feeder that deters squirrels is always a good choice. This could even provide a health benefit as it may help to lower Dad’s blood pressure if he is stresses over squirrels eating all of his bird seed.

     One the other hand, if you get him a feeder that stops the squirrels, Dad might put on a few more pounds from the lack of exercise of getting up and chasing the squirrels away. He also won’t be lifting those bags of seed to fill the feeders as often. But he will be happier.

     The most effective feeders to deter squirrels are the line of “Squirrel Buster” feeders that use a weighted system that closes off the food supply when a squirrel gets on it. They are by far the best. They now have a wide range of models to suit every budget with proven effectiveness against squirrels. Some have adjustable springs so they can lighten the feeder enough to also discourage heavier birds like pigeons or grackles.

     Squirrel Buster also has a few specialty feeders. One offers shelled peanuts or a nut mix to allow woodpeckers, nuthatches, and titmice to feed, but close off access to marauding squirrels. They also have a finch feeder for Nyger (thistle) or finch mix seed. Their newest is for suet and holds two suet cakes and is large enough to allow the larger red-bellied woodpeckers to feed but still stop the squirrels.

     Then there is still Droll Yankees’ Flipper feeder that has the battery-operated motor that spins the perch with the weight of the squirrel and throws the thief right off. This feeder provides great entertainment for Dad, at least until the squirrels give up!

     Perhaps squirrels are not a problem in Dad’s yard, or he has them beat with a good squirrel baffle on a pole system. Maybe Dad’s life can be made easier by getting him a new feeder that is easier to clean. Both Droll Yankees and Aspects now have feeders that have bottoms that pop right off for cleaning – no tools, less work.

     If Dad doesn’t like maintaining feeders, a bird bath will be enjoyed by birds all summer long with little work on Dad’s part. Dad might also enjoy a bird house that requires even less work. The birds do all the work by building their own nests in the house, and many will be having more broods throughout the coming months. Dad can just sit back and enjoy watching them!

     For the Dad that enjoys coffee while watching the birds, you can give him a bag of shade grown coffee from Central and South America (saving trees benefit birds) and an appropriate bird mug. If Dad likes to read, there are many great books on birding and stories of bird watching trips – both local and afar. For the fashionable Dad, perhaps a bird T-shirt, hat or socks will be appreciated.

     If Dad enjoys watching birds at feeders that are not so close to the window or his favorite chair, (and maybe his eyes aren’t as sharp as they used to be), you might consider giving him a pair of binoculars to bring those birds closer. It might even encourage him to get outside and take you for walks in the woods. Oh, he probably has his Dad’s old World War II binoculars that weigh a ton and he even thinks those are good enough. But you can get him a good quality pair of lighter binoculars with sharper images for not a lot of money these days.

     Any gift that brings Dad closer to birds and nature is sure to be enjoyed!

     Happy Father’s Day to all the Dad’s out there!

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 06-04-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Watching Birds Fledge Can Be Thrilling
June 04, 2021
by Steve Grinley

     The nesting season is in full gear for many of our local bird species. It will continue into August, and perhaps September, as some of our local birds have multiple broods. Several customers have reported bluebirds and robins successfully fledging already.

     I was reminded of a story about Carolina wrens in Jim Berry’s Ipswich yard. He has always had a passion for finding and observing nesting birds. I would like to share with you again Jim’s fascinating detailed account of Carolina wrens fledging in his yard back in 2007:

     “I’ve been watching birds for over 40 years and monitoring nests for over 30, but have rarely had opportunities to actually see young birds fledge from their nests. Today was such an occasion. Three little Carolina wrens left a nest in our garage within a 2-minute span at 9 this morning.

     “I saw this nest being built the last few days of July. I had seen several fledglings from the previous brood that same week, and concluded that they represented, at that late date, AT LEAST the pair’s second brood of the year. so this new nest (they apparently build a new nest for each clutch) was very likely at least their third.

     “The nest was built 6 feet above the gravel floor on a 2×4 on the back wall of the garage, whose door is never closed, above an empty window frame with no window panes. there are also missing panes on both side windows, so these birds had numerous entrances and exits. The garage is attractively messy, providing almost unlimited potential nest sites. Why it took them (and their ancestors) 18 years to finally nest in a place so inviting is beyond my reckoning, but there it is.

      “An old sled and a crosscut saw hang on the wall in front of the 2×4, their nearest parts high enough to create a front wall for the nest but low enough not to cover the opening, which is visible from well outside the garage. The first egg was laid 7/31 and the other three the next three mornings.

     Incubation commenced 8/3 just after the 4th egg was laid. Incubation takes 12-14 days, per Baicich and Harrison’s nest guide (1997), and sure enough, three young hatched 14 days later on 8/17, the 4th hatching the next morning. Fledging comes 12-14 days later, and the 8/31 hatch date means it took them 14 days, unless one of the three surviving young was the last-born, which I have no way of knowing. So let’s say it took 14 days.

     “We enjoyed seeing the parents take food to the nest, and in this case, since the species so often nests near human activities, these birds did not get unduly alarmed when we took occasional glimpses into the nest to check on the young. The adults were remarkably tolerant, but we didn’t look in very often. This morning I took a seat in the driveway about 0830 and watched with binoculars. This was the first time I could see the young active at the opening, since the cavity is rather deep and until today they didn’t seem to come to the opening unless they were being fed, and then only where they were large. The parents fed them only twice in the next half-hour and kept up their pipping noises constantly, as if trying to encourage the young to leave the nest.

     “At 0900 one of them hopped out onto the runners of the sled, and within 2 minutes the other two followed suit. They stayed there a few minutes, and I was able to take some photos. Then they left the garage by various exits and FLEW into the shrubs beside the garage. One of the miraculous things about baby birds is that they seem to know when it’s time to jump ship, and their immediate ability to fly was ample demonstration of this.

     “This is one of the supremely rewarding experiences of watching birds. For me, an event like this blows away the finding of a rare bird. It’s like being present for the birth of life itself.”

     Perhaps Jim’s story will inspire you to pay closer attention to, and appreciate more, the nesting birds that you observe in your own yard this season.

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 05-28-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Fewer Feeder Birds and Migrants These Days
May 28, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     I have had many customers say that they were inundated with birds at their feeders in April and May, but in the past week or so, not so many. Some had numerous orioles at the jelly feeder, but were now down to just a few. A few customers are going through jars of jelly as jelly also enjoyed by catbirds, mockingbirds, tanagers and other fruit eating birds.

     Even hummingbird numbers are down according to some customers. Others may wander your way as more flowers and flowering trees come to bloom in your yard. If you still have hummingbirds and orioles coming to your feeders, these are likely resident birds that are nesting in your area.

     Many of our feeder birds, including orioles, chickadees, nuthatches and titmice, are also insect eaters. When insects are available, as they are right now, birds make fewer visits to feeders and take advantage of the abundance of insects. Many birds are nesting now, and they will seek insects as a source of protein for their young birds.

     Insects are also a source of water for birds and when we are lacking rain in warmer weather, birds rely more on insects for their water. If you have a bird bath, that might provide another attraction for birds to visit your yard.

     First broods of bluebirds have already fledged with some birds starting a second clutch. Many other birds have already had a first brood. Some will have a second or maybe a third. 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 are either late arrivals or had trouble finding a mate.

     Please don’t be concerned that “your” birds are absent. Soon they are likely to return with their young fledglings to show them your feeders as a source of food. It will be fun to watch the adults feeding their young, and it is sometimes comical to watch the awkward baby birds try to fend for themselves.

     If the action has slowed around your feeders, now might be a good time to venture out and watch birds away from your yard. You’ll soon see that they are doing just fine out there in the natural world.

     The migration has slowed and will continue to wind down through early June. It was only a week or two ago when the warblers were highlighting the migration. A few warblers will stay to nest, but the majority have moved further north to New Hampshire and Maine to breed. But more birds will continue to move through and it may be easier to become more familiar with the birds around us with fewer birds to distract you.

     Some late warblers and vireos are still moving through. Late migrants such as cuckoos and flycatchers are now arriving. Since the latter feast on flying insects, their delayed arrival ensures more available food supply. Cuckoos are seeking caterpillars and other crawling insects that should become more plentiful as the season progresses. Cuckoos are elusive birds, but it is really cool when you see them.

     Late May is also the time when nighthawks, which eat insects on the wing, move through our area in the evenings. They make their presence known with a loud “peent” call as they fly overhead. They are not hawks at all, but are related to the whip-poor-will. They have an erratic flight and white bars across their wings. Look, and listen for them in the evening sky over the next few days.

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

Celebrating 27 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 05-21-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Warblers Continue to Amaze Birders
May 21, 2021
By Steve Grinley

     It was this time last week when my column touted that warblers were stealing the show here in May. That morning, as I sat down for my morning coffee, I read a New Hampshire Birds post from Steve Mirick announcing a “HUGE morning migration on the coast.” I opened the doors and windows and immediately heard an ovenbird calling “teacher, teacher, teacher in the woods out back.” I stepped outside and could then hear a chorus of warbler song in our yard.

     Margo and I counted ten species of warblers in our yard within an hour, mostly by song as the majority of birds were buried in the thick maples instead of showing themselves in the oaks. We did manage to catch glimpses of black& white, magnolia, black-throated blue, black-throated green, northern parula and yellow-rumped. There were multiples of most species.

     This “fallout,” as it is often termed, always means a great day of birding ahead. Not for me, however, as I had to head to work. But Doug Chickering of Newburyport captured the event as only Doug can do:

     “I am sure that I really don’t have to explain this spectacular day to most massbirders. It seems as if we had a major fall out of migrants up and down the New England Coast. I spent the entire day on Plum Island. It was the right place to be. But then again, today, every place was the right place to be. I put this day right up there with some of my finest May birding experiences. I don’t keep those kinds of records so I cannot rate it accurately except it was in the top ten days, and probably in the top five. The famous Sassafras Trees day at Plum island a couple of years ago pales in comparison.

     “I suppose I could waste the readers time by listing the birds I saw. Massbird will see plenty of that. All will be impressive, all an indication of the spectacular show that we birders witnessed today. But instead, I will attempt to impart how profoundly astounding the day was as it unwound from chilly morning to hot afternoon. As I reflect back on the day images and impressions come crowding in with the same confusion and profusion that was the hallmark of the day.

     “There was the sight on warblers and others flying in from the ocean in the early morning. Some dropping into the sunlit trees on the western side of the S Curves and some continuing on out over the marshes heading inland. My first Warbler of the day, a Blue-winged at the side of the road, just above eye level, just sitting in a bush as quiet as a Vireo and apparently exhausted. There were the large number of Parulas seemingly everywhere. It is no exaggeration to claim that Northern Parula was the most numerous bird on the island this day.

     “Then there was the Cape May. I missed the one briefly seen in the S Curves, causing a flurry of activity among the birders, turned almost giddy from the profusion of birds before and around them. But on my walk to Hellcat, I caught sight of some movement in the leafed-out bush in front of me. A few sudden pulls of movement and then into view, a Cape May Warbler, the thin precise streaks at throat and sides set like precious jewels in the bright yellow of the breast and the flashing red patch on the auriculars all startling my senses. Then to add to my wonder it began singing. The bird was in the shade but still seemed to glow from some unseen embers within.

     “A male Scarlet Tanager in the tree above me in the bright sunlight. Nothing more need to be said here.

     “Along with Parulas everywhere there were Black-and whites everywhere, Back-throated Blues everywhere. The sheer volume of birds was staggering and overwhelming. I have never seen so many magnificent birds in one place – I have never been to the tropics – and I have never seen so many joy-filled stunned birders in one place.

     “Last year I had good looks at a Veery only once. This year – I lost count. The quiet, plain cinnamon colored thrush would appear among the leaf litter and with that wide-eyed gaze stare out at me with that peculiar innocent bold gaze. By noon I was drained, and the birds kept coming. A day of glorious, spectacular birding that ended with Oystercatchers on Emerson Rocks, Woodcocks peenting and Whip-poor-wills singing the haunting refrain in the twilight. It was special and it was exhausting.”

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 05-14-21

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Warblers Steal the Show in May
May 14, 20121
By Steve Grinley

     The weather has finally turned, and the spigot has finally opened, allowing the colors and song of the spring bird migration to shift into high gear. This past week, and during the remaining weeks of May, birders will relish in the array of warblers and other Neotropical migrants moving through our area. Friend and fellow birder Doug Chickering of Newburyport describes it best here:

     “Here at last; spring, May and the magic season. Here at last, the flowering fruit trees and the initial flush of new foliage. Here at last a sun-filled morning nearly windless and only slightly chilly. And here at last, the Warblers.

     “They aren’t the only migrants nor are they the only birds splashed with unimaginable colors. But they are the stars of the show. Giving us a faint whispering song, a tug, a flash of movement in the trees and those majestic moments of our lives. And because most of them are just passing through there is a little urgency to our days.

     “It goes without commentary that this year is a little different as last year was. This spring there has been a lifting of the stifling restrictions of last year, so it is different from 2020 in a more subtle manner. At least for me. The spring also started with chilly winds and cloudy days and the migration started slowly. Today and yesterday were the first arrival of the true migration and I managed to spend this precious morning birding with old friends in what was an uncrowded Martin Burns.

     “From the start I have been determined to avoid the anxieties of chasing down birds. I now deem it pointless to rush off to find (or not find) a bird that I am likely to see anyway, Months ago I promised myself that I would free myself from the envy of hearing about what other people tell they have seen. They can trump my day list all they want. This year I reached that level of internal peace and truly don’t care. It has been a great release.

     “At Martin Burns we had good looks at two Blue-winged Warblers and heard at least two more. I find that over the previous year the mind tends to cloud the intensity of spring plumage. The Blue-winged Warblers weren’t out in the sun, but we found them rummaging around low in a tree or in the brush. Still that yellow in the head was extravagant almost unbelievable as it still seemed to glow gold in the shade.

     “The Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were regular, and the intensity of their colors varied a little bit but remained impressive. This year there have been Orioles practically everywhere and we had several at Martin Burns. There need be no more to say about the color of a male Baltimore Oriole’s breast. We also had passable looks at Yellow-throated Vireo and Black-throated Blue [Warbler].

     “In the future, when I think back to the May days of the past, my mind will probably pass over today. It was good but not spectacular. No fall out, no trees “dripping” with Warblers. Just a sedate unending series of quiet sightings and the singing of the birds out of sight. I suspect that most of our migration days in the field are like this. It is just that we remember the spectacular days.

     “I went to Plum Island afterwards in hopes of seeing the Gallinule at the North Pool Overlook. As seems to be my fate, once again, I missed it. However, I did get prolonged looks at a Magnolia Warbler at the old pines trail. I had almost forgotten just how beautiful that bird is. With its gray crown, white wing panels, and the perfect black necklace and streaks set upon the bright yellow breast. Just another treat on a day replete with treats.”

     You, too, can capture some of Doug’s enthusiasm by taking some time try to view some of these passing jewels of the bird world. You don’t have to go to Plum Island or Martin Burns Wildlife Management Area. You might find them in any local park or conservation area, or even in your own back yard. It just might be your highlight of the year as well!

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

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