Words On Birds 11-25-22

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Tales of an Owl Whisperer
November 25, 2022
By Steve Grinley

     My good friend Brian Cassie of Foxboro has been obsessed with owls since I have known him. Any time we meet, he always had a good owl story or two, but only recently has he begun writing down some stories to share. Here is a couple for you to enjoy:

     My friend Linda has her second home overlooking the edge of the marsh at Fort Hill in Eastham, just up the forearm of Cape Cod. Linda and her husband are foodies and when they invited me for dinner I knew I would be enjoying very good and interesting fare. I arrived to a kitchen full of activity and provocative smells but even before I had tasted anything Linda said, “I hear you are an owl whisperer. Is that right?”

     “I suppose so,” I answered.

     “Okay, I’m going to put you to the test. Show me an owl, please.”

     Linda meant more or less right that second with the owl, so we excused ourselves and stepped out the front door and up on to her winding street. It was a quiet fall evening, quite perfect for owl calling….but did this neighborhood of close set houses have resident owls in the oaks and pines of their backyards?

     I said to Linda, “The way to find owls is to talk to them. Give some owl calls and if they are around and feel so inclined, they will respond in some fashion, calling or flying in or both.” Linda thought this sounded like a good plan so as we set off up the road at a snail’s pace, I whistled the calls of a screech owl and directed them toward a neighbor’s little backyard oak grove. And an owl answered, forty seconds into our walk, and flew in and landed on the telephone wire, under a street light, thirty feet away.

     “You are an owl whisperer,” Linda said as she watched the owl in fascination.

     “I suppose so.”

     Brian always had a good sense of humor! Here is one of my favorites, maybe because I know all the participants:

     2012, The Year of the Owl for me – a year to devote a lot of my field time to one of my very favorite groups of animals. What sort of weather would come along, especially in winter? How far would I get in my travels? How much sleep could I afford to lose and still stay healthy…and keep my full-time teaching job?

     March came along and I was still coherent after many weeks of owl prowling. One morning, I was sitting looking in the sports section of “The Boston Globe” newspaper and there was a full-page ad for car dealers, with a map of eastern Massachusetts towns. And I picked up a marker and colored in the towns where I had found an owl that year. Pretty good, I thought. Wonder if I can find an owl in all of these towns?

     And that started it, the push to find an owl in every Massachusetts town in one year. My map expanded to central and western Massachusetts and Cape Cod and the Islands. And the colored outlines of towns began to checkerboard that map. I endeavored to keep the state bird watching community up-to-date on my owl watching but it occurred to me one day that maybe, just maybe, they were having a hard time believing that owls were that easy to find and that maybe, just maybe, I was embellishing my owl list. Good grief. I had to fix that.

     So I wrote to Massbird, online bird sharing site, and extended an invitation to anyone who wanted to come along on a “cruise to nowhere” owl prowl, a trip to parts of the state not yet searched. Right away three ladies answered “yes” and we arranged a meeting place and that Saturday drove west in the light of day to find some owls…hopefully!

     The day’s goal was to find some forest in a number of central Massachusetts towns and call Barred Owls into view in each of them. The women along with me had a collective 120 years birdwatching under their belts and had seen their fair share of owls along the way, but this was a different sort of owl experience for everyone, including me (hoping for success this day…please.) Mostly, birders go to see an owl that has already been found, a “staked out” bird. This was an owl prowl of a different color.

     “Where are we going?” the matron of the group asked.

     “To where the owls are,” I answered…not too smugly, I hoped.

     “How will you know where to stop? she replied.

     “We’ll just find the right habitat and the owls will be there.”

     So we drove here and there and stopped here and there and both here and there we found Barred Owls, those big dark-eyed woodland beauties that will happily return daytime owl calls with hoots of their own. In fact, we found Barred Owls at every stop and before awfully long had found them in six new towns. And when we passed into town #7, a voice perked up in the back seat.

     “Stop here,” the matron said.

     “Why here?” I answered, although I thought I surely knew her response.

     “Because the habitat is right!” she told me.

     And she was right.

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 11-18-22

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Holiday Gift Suggestions for Bird Lovers
November 18, 2022
By Steve Grinley

     It is hard to believe that Thanksgiving is next week, followed by Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. Though the “big guys” have already bombarded us with holiday advertisements and sales we encourage you to “shop small” again this holiday season. Support your local businesses, avoid the crowds at the big box store and malls, and stop staring at your computers. Area small businesses continually source more products locally and help support local crafts people and small manufacturers closer to home. So with the holiday shopping season upon us, it is time for my annual gift suggestions for the bird lovers on your holiday list:

     Bird feeders always makes great gift. A bird feeder can provide hours of entertainment for the young and old, and it is a great way to introduce most anyone to nature. Even if someone already has a bird feeder, they can always enjoy another one. Thinking ahead for spring, there are even specific feeders for hummingbirds, bluebirds, and orioles.

     There are all kinds of seed and suet feeders available today – decorative and functional. Some can be hung, some come with poles, while others can be mounted right on (or in) the window. Many of the traditional wood feeders now come in longer lasting, easier to clean poly board. If squirrels are a problem, there are many high quality feeders on the market that are very effective at keeping squirrels off, allowing only birds to feed. Most feeders today are designed for easy filling and easy cleaning.

     Though spring seems far away, bird houses make super gifts for those that want bird activity without the “chore” of filling a feeder. Birds will nest in spring and summer and they may also use houses in winter for roosting, getting out of the cold and inclement weather at night. Screech owls love to roost in boxes and are a thrill for the hosting family to se the owl sunning itself in the hole during the day!

     There are also cute roosting pockets made of straw, sea grass and other materials, that birds will use for nighttime roosting. Wrens, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and other birds will use roosting pockets and roosting boxes and houses, and then nest in them come spring.

     If you wish to give a gift that helps birds, how about a bag of Birds & Beans shade-grown coffee. This delicious coffee is grown on farms in Central and South America that don’t clear cut their trees, but leave them for many of our neotropical migrants, such as warblers, orioles, scarlet tanagers and thrushes to enjoy during our winter. A bag of coffee coupled with a mug featuring their favorite bird (or squirrel) makes a great gift!

     Perhaps it is time to bring nature closer by gifting a new pair of binoculars or a spotting scope. Optics have improved so much in recent years that you don’t need to spend a fortune to get a crisp, clear view of beautiful birds in the backyard or the ones in the marshes of Plum Island. Today’s binoculars will enhance the experience of watching a cardinal at the feeder or a red-tailed hawk soaring overhead. For those that have good binoculars, a spotting scope would provide a closer view of that snowy owl on a distant dune or an eagle in the trees across the Merrimack River. The better the optics, the better the view, but good quality binoculars and scopes are within everyone’s budget today.

     To help identify the birds, identification guides are appreciated gifts. One can always use another field guide. Peterson, Sibley, Stokes and the National Geographic guides are the most popular. Even simple laminated foldouts of backyard birds, ducks, raptors, or coastal birds make great stocking stuffers.

     To help identify songs, there are still CD’s available (if you still have a CD player.) The ever popular Bird Songs books have been re-released with built in players that play the songs of the birds detailed in each of its pages. The children’s versions of these books are also back in print.

     For general reading, local birder Doug Chickering’s Reflections on a Golden-winged Warbler brings you into the local birding scene. Any of Pete Dunne’s stories of birds or birding are both informative and entertaining. New England author Sy Montgomery has a new book, The Hawk’s Way, and her Hummingbirds’ Gift continues to be popular. For children, classics like Owl Babies or Make Way for Ducklings are always popular, and the more recent Bird Love and On Bird Hill by Massachusetts author Jane Yolens are always well received.

     For more general gifts, there are calendars, ornaments, notecards, kitchen towels and potholders, t-shirts, hats and socks, key rings, wallets, earrings and pins – all with motifs of favorite birds. Bird jig-saw puzzles come in all shapes and sizes, from easy to difficult. Charley Harper puzzles are particularly popular. Children enjoy bird bingo and memory games and kits to build bird house and feeders.

     Any gift that helps someone enjoy birds and nature is one that will surely be appreciated this holiday season and, likely, for years to come.

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

Celebrating 27 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 11-11-22

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Winter Finches and Rare Warbler Highlight This Week
November 11, 2022
By Steve Grinley

     Our screech owl returned to our owl box for at least one day this week. The commotion by our feeder birds around the box during the day had us suspecting it was in there. It poked their head out for a while at dusk confirming its presence. The feeders are only about fifty feet away – maybe a bit close. We chose that spot because we could easily see it from our window. Scott dropped off some more owl boxes for the store the following day and we talked to him about moving the box to a quieter location in the yard. We surveyed a couple of other possible locations and he agreed to move it when he had some time.

     The other excitement in our yard this week was the appearance of two evening grosbeaks at our feeders! Margo first spotted one at our hanging tray feeder. It was soon chased out by a blue jay. The grosbeak flew up and perched on a branch above the feeders. We soon spotted a second one near it. Both were female birds and they were the first we have seen this season.

     We had purposely kept our tray feeders brimming with striped sunflower seed in the hope of attracting more grosbeaks this winter. Some were already visiting a feeder in Ipswich. The grosbeaks enjoy black-oil sunflower as well, but striped sunflower was seed of choice years ago when they would come in droves more often, so I have stuck with it for these winter visitors. It lured them in two years ago when there was a big winter finch invasion.

     The blue jays also relish the sunflower and often dominate the tray feeders when they are around. During this brief visit by the grosbeaks, the jays did just that, not giving the northern visitors a chance. The grosbeaks flew back into the woods by the creek where we lost sight of them. A few minutes later our resident Cooper’s hawk came through and flushed the other entire birds away and perched empty handed above the feeders as it often does, thinking his potential prey won’t notice. They always do and, eventually, the hawk gets bored and flies elsewhere.

     The Brookline Bird Club trip to Plum Island & Salisbury last Sunday found three red crossbills at the Salisbury campground in the Salisbury Beach State Reservation. These winter visitors were feeding on the pinecones that seem to be in good supply there this year. A few white-winged crossbills have also been reported in our area. Later in the season, as the natural seed supply dwindles, the crossbills may visit feeders as well.

     The other day, Margo and I saw a small flock of pine siskins also feeding on the pinecones at Salisbury Reservation. Redpolls have also been reported there. We keep hoping that siskins and redpolls will eventually join the twenty of more goldfinches that we have at our feeders in our yard. Our goldfinches are devouring our thistle, hulled sunflower seeds and finch mix and siskins and redpolls would enjoy these offerings as well.

     Another season first for us was a black guillemot that we spotted from Pavilion Beach in Ipswich. It was an immature bird, not black like its breeding plumaged parents, but mottled gray, transitioning into its mostly white winter plumage. It was floating alone past the offshore buoys near a small flock of common eider.

     The rarity of this past week was a Townsend’s warbler found by Rick Heil at the Cherry Hill Reservoir in West Newbury. It was feeding along the main path along the south shore of the reservoir in the autumn olive shrubs and multi-flora rose thickets. Similar to our black-throated green warbler, this is a western species – common especially in evergreens. We have seen it many times near Seattle and in California and Arizona. The bird stayed for at least two days and was seen by many observers.

     Also of note this past week, a rufous hummingbird was visiting a feeder in Beverly and a red-headed woodpecker continues along the swamp trail at the Appleton Farms in Ipswich.

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 11-04-22

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Snowbirds Blanket Plum Island
November 04, 2022
By Steve Grinley

     Yes, snowbirds. No, I’m not referring to those of us that spend the winter in the Florida only to return when warmer weather returns in the spring. A snowbird in the bird world is the affectionate name for a dark-eyed junco, a member of the sparrow family that, unlike the usual brown sparrows, is slate gray above with a white belly and white outer tail feathers. Their white belly looks like they sat in snow – thus their snowbird name.

     Juncos nest up north in the higher elevations of New England and move south each winter to spend the cold months with us. Like other sparrows, they feed on grass seeds near the ground. They visit backyard feeders where they feed on millet and small seeds on the ground or in tray feeders. They will also eat Nyger in finch feeders.

     Last Friday was an astonishing migration day on Plum Island highlighted by amazing numbers of dark-eyed juncos everywhere! There were also good numbers of golden-crowned kinglets and red-breasted nuthatches up and down the island as well. It was much like the rare “fallout” of warblers in May.

     When Margo and I arrived in the afternoon, juncos were still lining the road near Lot 1. Kinglets were in the cedars and other shrubs along the road. We crept slowly down the island, seeing birds feeding at the roadside as we approached. We would stop constantly to look at them. Most were juncos, but occasionally a song sparrow or chipping sparrow was in the mix.

     More often a car would speed past us and flush the birds, or a car would speed by from the opposite direction disturbing the small groups of birds feeding at the edge of the road. We would then stop our car, sit and wait until the birds emerged from their cover in the vegetation. It was a slow process, but we didn’t want to miss anything other birds mixed in. Other sparrows, such as white-crowned, lark, and clay-colored have been on the island in recent days.

     As we approached the “S curves” south of lot 3 where trees and more shrubs lined the curvy road, we found more white-throated sparrows with the juncos. We also saw and heard more kinglets and a red-breasted nuthatch. But our count of juncos was mounting at every curve.

     Then we arrived at the maintenance area, juncos were all over the parking lot and were even lined up along the split rail fence. As we slowly got out of the car and approached the gate to the maintenance area, we could see that the entire dirt area between the buildings was a blanket of slate-colored juncos! They were all feeding feverishly, moving every which way, and flashing their white tail feathers as they shifted, making them impossible to count! The late afternoon sun in our eyes didn’t help.

     We didn’t dare enter the area and disturb the feast. They were obviously hungry – they had journeyed overnight and will likely move on again this next night. They had found this haven in the middle of the refuge where speeding cars didn’t constantly disturb their feeding. We weren’t going to disturb them either and we got back in our car and continued down to Hellcat lot 4, adding a few more juncos and sparrows along the way.

     Our estimates of the numbers of birds were modest as it was late afternoon; we were only on the island for a few hours and covered only a short distance in that time. We estimated 400 juncos, but we knew that was low. Rick Heil of Peabody was on the island all day and he counted 400 juncos in the maintenance area alone. His daily total for this incredible Friday was 1450 juncos! He also tallied 178 golden-crowned kinglets and 67 red-breasted nuthatches!

     Many of there birds moved on by the weekend, though there were still decent numbers of these birds remaining. Since last Friday, we have heard kinglets in our yard, red-breasted nuthatches investigating our feeders, and juncos (a.k.a. snowbirds) feeding with the white-throated sparrows on the millet that we spread on the ground. So look for these birds arriving in your yard!

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 10-28-22

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Help Birds Survive Our Winter
October 28, 2022
By Steve Grinley

     Last week I told you about this winter’s finch forecast predicting that several boreal species could migrate down to our area and that some could show up at feeders. A pine siskin has already joined some goldfinches at a thistle feeder in Byfield. Many more have been heard around our area. Evening grosbeaks have also been heard flying over in many localities, and at least one pine grosbeak has been reported.

     A few red-breasted nuthatches have found their way to feeders. Many of the winter finches will seek natural food including seeds from conifers, birch and aspen trees. As natural food is depleted, more will visit feeders.

     Many sparrows are migrating through including juncos, white-throated and white-crowned sparrows. Some will even stay for the winter. The latter two are feeding on millet under our outside store feeders. Many other migrants have already left for warmer climates, but many backyard birds, including cardinals, blue jays, chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, and woodpeckers will stay and endure our New England winter.

     So how do birds survive the harsh New England winters? Birds have a number of ways of dealing with the cold. The most obvious way is that they have feathers. Feathers have the means of trapping pockets of air that insulate birds against the cold. Birds, like humans, also shiver when they are cold, generating short-term heat. Birds also roost together, sleeping against each other to keep each other warm.

     Even with these tricks, birds still struggle to survive the cold. People can help birds through the cold and harsh weather. Providing birds with high calorie foods and places to roost will help them survive the cold late fall nights and the winter months.

     The best seed that you can have available for the seed eating birds like cardinals and chickadees is black-oil sunflower. These seeds have thinner shells than striped sunflower and provide higher oil content, making them more efficient and nutritious food for birds in the colder months. Sunflower hearts, without the shell, provide even more energy per bite.

     For finches, thistle and sunflower hearts are high in calories, which helps birds store fat and keep them warm during the colder months. With goldfinches, pine siskins, and possibly redpolls visiting us this winter, these foods will help attract them, and provide the nourishment they need to get through our winter. For woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees and many other birds, suet and peanuts are great food that provides high calories and fat.

     Seeds can be placed in a variety of feeders to accommodate more variety of birds. Tube feeders will protect the seed from the weather while the smaller birds perch and feed. Many have removable bottoms for easy cleaning. You can also add a tray to accommodate the larger birds such as cardinals. A separate open tray feeder will attract a large variety of birds and is the favorite of cardinals and evening grosbeaks. A weather dome over most feeders will help keep seed dryer during inclement weather.

     Providing spots where birds can roost at night is another way to help them huddle together and stay warm away from predators. Evergreen thickets in your yard are one way to provide roosting shelter. Many birds huddle together in nesting boxes at night to get out of the harsh weather, so make sure they are cleaned out from the summer’s activities. There are also roosting boxes that are like nesting boxes, but they have the hole at the bottom and the top seals in the heat. These often have perches inside to accommodate many birds. Roosting pockets made of straw and other grass-like materials also serve as insulated havens for birds at night.

     As temperatures start dropping at night, now is the time to think about adding a heated bird to your yard. There are a variety of deicers that can be placed in any birdbath to keep water open during the cold fall and winter nights. Baths with built-in heaters are the way to go if you don’t already own a birdbath. Today’s models of heated birdbaths and deicers are low wattage and thermostatically controlled, so they don’t use much electricity.

     So remember to start filling your feeders with seed and suet if you haven’t done so already. As the cold months take hold of our area, the birds will visit and you will enjoy their presence on those cold, dreary 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! 
Like us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/birdwatcherssupply

Words On Birds 10-21-22

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

This Winter’s Finch Forecast Looks Promising
October 21, 2022
By Steve Grinley

     With temperatures dropping, this is the time of year when I remind you to ready your bird feeders for the winter ahead, which I may do again next week. To further motivate you to take on the task, I am sharing with you this years annual winter finch forecast, written by Tyler Hoar, put out each year by the Finch Research Network, and is based on available natural food supplies. It looks promising for eastern New Englanders to enjoy many northern finch species to our feeders and surrounding areas. I have abbreviated it to focus primarily on our area.

     “In eastern North America, there is a good food crop along the coastal areas of Maritime Provinces southward into New England, which should hold many finches this winter.

     PINE GROSBEAK: From western Lake Superior eastward the native mountain-ash berry crops are poor to below average, with areas of above-average crops along the Atlantic coast. Traditional areas in the upper Midwest states eastward to New England and the Maritime Provinces should see movements of Pine Grosbeaks. Flocks of hungry grosbeaks searching for fruiting ornamental trees and well-stocked feeders with black oil sunflower seeds may be seen in urban areas.

     PURPLE FINCH: Many Purple Finches will migrate south from Eastern Canada this winter. Early movement of this species southward has been occurring for weeks. With several large Spruce Budworm outbreaks in the eastern boreal forest, the Purple Finches appear to benefit from an abundant food source during the breeding season. The ash crop is good in many areas of the northeast…but look for them to be most common south of the eastern boreal and northern tier states. [Purple Finch prefer well stocked black-oil sunflower feeders.]

     COMMON AND HOARY REDPOLLS: There appears to be no bumper birch crop in North America this winter. White and Yellow Birch crop is very poor to poor throughout most of the boreal and southern Canadian forests. The Alder crop across the boreal forest is average. There is a potential for a moderate to a good flight south out of the boreal forest. Watch for redpolls on birches, in weedy fields and at bird feeders offering nyger and black oil sunflower seeds. Watch for Hoaries in flocks of Common Redpolls.

     PINE SISKIN: In the eastern boreal forest, there are extensive pockets of heavy Eastern White Cedar crops which should hold small numbers of siskins this winter. However, most of the siskins remaining in the east this fall should move southward in search of food. At feeders, they prefer nyger seeds in silo feeders.

     WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL: Throughout the boreal forest from Lake Superior, eastward spruce crops are mostly poor, with areas of patchy fair crops and widespread poor Tamarack crops. Later in winter, crossbills might start wandering as crops are depleted, and any cones, even old cones, should be watched for crossbills and siskins.

     RED CROSSBILL: Red Crossbills are currently quite common in eastern Massachusetts, along the coast of Maine and the southern Maritime Provinces…These areas are where the Northeastern Crossbill “eastern Type 10” is most common from year to year, and this year is no different, with the heavy red spruce crop along the coast and localized heavy eastern white pine crop driving the majority of the current distribution. In short, this crossbill will be around this winter. [Look for crossbills at sunflower feeders.]

     EVENING GROSBEAK: This stocky charismatic finch appears to be on the move this winter. Its breeding population appears to be increasing in Eastern Canada due to increasing outbreaks of spruce budworm with large outbreaks in Northeastern Ontario and Quebec. Expect flights of Evening Grosbeaks into border states this fall. If this species repeats the large, fast-moving, long-distance flights seen in late October 2020, some birds could be expected to go farther south into the United States than usual. At large platform feeders, they prefer black oil sunflower seeds. Evening Grosbeaks will look for maple and ash trees holding seed away from feeders.

THREE IRRUPTIVE PASSERINES

     Movements of these three passerines are often linked to the boreal finches.

     BLUE JAY: This will be a good to strong flight year. Beechnut and hazelnut crops are poor. The acorn crop is generally poor but with pockets of good crops scattered from Manitoba eastward through southern Canada and northeastern states southward to Pennsylvania.

     RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH: This species has been irrupting south since July and continues as this forecast is written. With mostly poor cone crops in the eastern boreal forest, expect this species to continue to move southward. This species prefers black oil seeds, suet, and peanuts at feeders.

     BOHEMIAN WAXWING: In the eastern boreal forest, the native mountain-ash berry crops are poor to below average, and other berry crops range from fair to good. Look for this species in northern New England and Great Lake states. As winter progresses and food resources dwindle, flocks may be seen further south of these traditional areas. Bohemians coming south to forage will visit reliable annual crops of abundant Buckthorn (Rhamnus) berries and urban areas containing planted European Mountain-ash berries and ornamental crabapples.”

     For more information on the Finch Research Network go to https://finchnetwork.org .

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 10-14-22

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Refuge Week Provides Needed Access
October 14, 2022
By Steve Grinley

     This week is National Wildlife Refuge Week so Margo and I took advantage of the public access to the North Pool dike, otherwise closed the rest of the year. Back in the “old days” when I first started birding, it was always open, as was the dike around Bill Forward Pool that, sadly, remains closed year around.

     We started out walk from the Hellcat parking lot with binoculars and one spotting scope, having left Margo’s car at the Maintenance Area knowing that the 1.5 mile one way walk would be enough for us. As we walked up to the dike, blue jays were actively flying back and forth to the oak trees along the edge and yellow-rumped warblers were flitting in the shrubs and phragmites.

     A brief look down Bill Forward Pool revealed only ducks, most further down as usual, almost out of reach of our 70 power scope. We could make out only black ducks, green-winged teal, and a few cormorants. We did see five pintail ducks closer along the edge of the water. No shorebirds were anywhere in that pool that we could see.

     Turning to the North Pool, a number of greater yellowlegs were tucked in their usual spot near the exposed mudflat. Among them were two smaller dunlin with down-curved bills and twenty green-winged teal. A great blue heron was standing next to the reeds.

     We were greeted by our first of many song sparrows feeding in the path. As we walked north looking into the pool, the sun was at our back providing great light, and the light breeze was enough to keep the bugs away. It was a perfect autumn day.

     A few great egrets were out in the salt marsh to the west, and only a few mallards and mute swans were in the fresh water pool. A little further down, a couple of chickadees popped up from the grass and shrubs and flew into the pool’s phragmites. A few red-winged blackbirds emerged from the reeds and flew south.

     We then spotted three plovers just ahead of us on the near shore. Through the scope we could see that two were smaller. A rather loud couple approached us (“walkie-talkies” Margo calls them-quite common on the boardwalk) and the plovers flew a short way and landed just below us. One had black in the “armpits” – a black-bellied plover, and the other two did not – American golden plovers! The latter were the smaller and had dark caps and shorter bills. Nice!

     We found our largest concentration of birds in a large opening of phrags beyond the water gate and around the curves where one cannot view otherwise. There we found a mix of eighteen yellowlegs, seventeen long-billed dowitchers and an Hudsonian godwit! Three white-rumped sandpipers and a semipalmated sandpiper were on a nearby sand spit. Margo also discovered a sora rail walking through the reeds behind!

     There was also a nice mixture of ducks including black ducks, green-winged teal, gadwall, pintail and a northern shoveler. Our only snowy egret for the day was with several great egrets and a great blue heron. Three immature black-crowned night herons were roosting in the reeds – there were likely many more we couldn’t see!

     The rest of the walk was pretty uneventful. We watched many great egrets drop into what looked like a large open area of the reeds between us and the north field. We wondered if this was a night roost for many birds and thought that would be a great spot to have a viewing tower so that we could see what else was in there!

     As we reached the split where the North Pool Overlook trail went right, we went left through the small tree area and saw many more yellow-rumped warblers, a palm warbler, two Savannah and a white-crowned sparrow, many more song sparrows and our only robins of the walk.

    We ended wondering why this trail couldn’t be open for wildlife observation year around as it once was. There are so few trails available on this beautiful refuge. It was certainly safer than birding the refuge road where vehicles speed by at forty miles and hour. Except for those loud walkers that flushed the close plovers we saw no other wildlife being disturbed by people presence, only by a northern harrier that passed by every now and then!

     Still, it was a pleasant trek on a near perfect fall afternoon.

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 10-07-22

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

An Update on Nesting Mississippi Kites
October 07, 2022
by Steve Grinley

     Mississippi Kites nest in the southern states and are considered a rare bird in Massachusetts or anywhere in New England. So it was big news when a pair was discovered nesting just over the border in New Hampshire back in 2008. Since that time, the number of kites has grown and active birders track their nesting attempts in New Hampshire. Steve Mirick of Bradford, MA has recorded the kites whereabouts and posted the following update:

     “Once again, Mississippi Kites seem to have had a difficult year nesting in New Hampshire in 2022. Like last year, only a single nest was found and only a single chick was confirmed to fledge. This despite the fact that at least 4 pairs of kites were confirmed on territory with possibly 5 pairs. The Kites were first made famous by nesting in 2008 and this is (at least) the 15th consecutive year that kites (between 1 and 4 pairs) have nested in New Hampshire in this isolated, rare, nesting colony. A summary of the 5 Kite territories was as follows:

     “DURHAM – Kites in Durham have been somewhat regular in recent years, but last year the nest failed, and it appears that this year’s nest may have failed also. Two Kites were observed soaring together over the UNH campus on June 6, but subsequent reports were lacking. Finally, a pair was reported roosting several nights in a row from a back yard not far from recent nest sites in early July. This culminated in COPULATION on the late date of July 6. This (to me) suggests a nest failure. By early July, Kites are typically nearing hatch date, and shouldn’t be copulating and roosting like this without a nest. And the date is too late for a new nesting attempt to be successful. Scattered reports of single birds were widespread in Durham later in summer, but nothing to suggest a new nest site.

     “NEWMARKET – Once again, the Kites of Newmarket have been a big mystery.
Who the heck knows what’s going on? Up to two birds were seen in mid to late May, but there were ZERO reports from June through July despite a fair amount of searching. The next report from Newmarket was two birds circling on August 5 and two birds perched on August 14. Two birds perched together for “several hours” on August 16 suggests that they did not raise any young since they should be feeding young at this date. Last report of year of single bird on August 15.

     “STRATHAM #1 – This territory was first noted in 2017 and last year’s nest successfully fledged the only chick for the year. The pair returned, but the nest tree (a black cherry) had been cut down!!!! There were numerous sightings of birds at or near this territory (two together on June 6 and June 8 and three together on June 23) but no regular sightings in any given area. Sightings continued from nearby locations, but it became unclear if these were from the Stratham #1 birds or the Greenland birds or both. No nest found and I’m not optimistic.

     “STRATHAM #2 – This is a brand new territory and is the bright star for New Hampshire’s Kites during 2022. On June 4, a Kite was seen at a new territory (far from the other territory in Stratham). This resulted in a few additional sightings including a pair, but then nothing for over a month. I was extremely happy to find the new nest on July 29 high up in a white pine tree. This nest got a very late start and the chick was probably only a week old or less at this time. In addition to the two adults, a 3rd adult was seen on several occasions; however, it is not clear that it helped feed the young bird or not. The chick did very well and was fed cicadas, dragonflies, and even a monarch! It fledged on August 29 or August 30, which is very late. But it continued to be fed and was seen flying and attempting to catch food on September 10. The young bird was last seen flying nearby on September 11 and hopefully has a successful migration south.

     “GREENLAND – This territory was first noted in 2020 when they raised a young. Last year’s nest was apparently abandoned. This year, kites returned again to the same area and rebuilt the nest and were seen copulating on June 6!! But then everything fell apart. One was seen on June 10, but NO OTHER SIGHTINGS from the immediate area of the nest were reported for the rest of the summer. This is the same as last year….rebuild nest, copulate, and then nothing! Frustrating. Sightings from nearby may be overlap with Stratham #1 territory and it isn’t clear whether any nest was ever built elsewhere.

     “A summary of confirmed fledged Kites (and pairs of kites present) from
recent years in NH:

2017 – 0 (3 pairs)
2018 – 3 (3 pairs)
2019 – 2 (3 pairs)
2020 – 3 (3 pairs)
2021 – 1 (4 pairs)
2022 – 1 (4 or 5 pairs)

     “Please note – In the future, I will be doing my best to keep the locations of these nests quiet and keep the location secret in Ebird posts, etc. The popularity of these birds for photographers is a messy situation with homeowners and neighbors. The kites don’t seem to care much, but the people do.”

     The Mississippi Kites have been sporadically spotted migrating through Massachusetts, mostly in the spring, though I have never seen one here. Fall sightings are rare, but Jonathan Layman spotted one from Lot 3 on Plum Island on September 29. It is a bird to look for here and we can only hope that it may someday nest here 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! 
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Words On Birds 09-30-22

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Suet Helps Birds Survive Colder Weather
September 30, 2022
by Steve Grinley

     As the weather begins turning colder, birds become more active around the bird feeders. Not only do they go for the bird seed, but the suet begins disappearing faster as well. Ever wonder why this is?

     Birds have a high metabolic rate and must eat constantly during the day to have enough reserves to carry them through colder nights. The colder the nights, the more reserves they need. They must also be able to convert that food quickly to heat and energy to survive. Foods with higher oil and fat content become most important.

     Black oil sunflower, peanuts, safflower and suet are some of the highest oil content foods that you can serve birds during the colder months, or year around for that matter. Suet, by far, provides more energy per bite than all the others. Suet is fat from cattle and sheep.

     Of course there is nothing like suet in the natural world for birds, so why are birds attracted to it? It is speculated that suet is an excellent substitute for insects, which are a rich source of fat and protein for birds during warmer months. Birds probably use suet to supplement insects during the warmer months and as a substitute during colder months when insects are not available.

     Suet can be purchased from a local butcher or market. When I was young, our butcher use to give it to me free because he had to pay to have it hauled away. Now that it has become a more popular bird feeding commodity, they charge us for this “waste.” Raw suet, however, can melt in warmer weather, turn rancid rather quickly, or it can freeze during colder weather. Most suet that is put into bird feeders in rendered.

     You can render raw suet yourself by chopping it up and melting it down. By heating and straining out the solid fats, you can refrigerate the liquid to provide a harden suet for the birds. I use to render my suet and mix in corn meal, peanut butter and seed, but my parents complained when I “stunk up” the kitchen with my concoction.

     An easier alternative is to purchase suet that is already rendered and cut into convenient sizes that fit most suet feeders. Commercial suet is mixed with all kinds of yummy treats for the birds including peanuts, seeds, insects, and fruit. Suet that contain nuts and seed are more attractive to seed eaters whereas the orange and berry flavored suet is more attractive to fruit eaters.

     Suet is attractive to all of the woodpeckers, including flickers and even the large, pileated woodpeckers! Suet is also popular with nuthatches, chickadees and titmice. Carolina wrens, brown creepers and some warblers will also visit suet feeders. Orioles, catbirds, mockingbirds and tanagers enjoy the fruit flavored suet.

     Suet feeders come in all sizes and shapes. Many are simple square cages. Woodpeckers prefer longer cages or those that have an extension on the bottom called a “tail prop.” Woodpeckers use their stiff tail to brace themselves as they cling to trees. Placing a suet feeder on a tree trunk, or providing a suet feeder with an extension for their tail helps them to brace themselves while eating. There is even very large version of a tail-prop suet feeder for the pileated woodpecker.

     There are also log suet feeders that are, basically, wood logs with holes drilled in them. Plug-shaped suet is put into the holes and woodpeckers and other clinging birds will cling to the log. A log without perches helps deter starlings, grackles or squirrels.

     Other effective suet feeder designs include an “upside-down” feeder that exposes the suet only underneath the feeder. The clinging birds don’t mind hanging upside down to feed while discouraging the heavier starlings, grackles and squirrels.

     Another suet feeder style has a cage around it allowing just smaller birds in to feed and further discourages squirrels and larger birds. If squirrels become a real problem, there is now a Squirrel Buster model that holds two suet cakes and closes off the food with the weight of the squirrel.

     Providing suet for birds helps them survive while providing us with great entertainment, and it gives new meaning to the term “watching your fat!”

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 09-23-22

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Falcon Adds Drama to Shorebird Watching
September 23, 2022
By Steve Grinley

     Birder’s have quipped that the peregrine falcon recovery program was too successful – that there are now too many! Far from the truth, but with populations up and peregrines nesting locally now, they do keep the shorebirds, and the birders, on their toes. As birders scan the feeding flocks of shorebirds to identify individuals or to count their numbers, invariably a peregrine will swoop down and scatter the flock.

     More often unsuccessful, the falcon moves on and the flock settles down again. As birders resume their scans, the peregrine frequently returns to try again. Sometimes the raptor is successful by singling out a bird from the flock and using its speed and agility to catch its prey.

     It reminds me of the amazing drama that played out on Plum Island years ago, as told by Paul Roberts of Medford:

     “Birding Plum Island this morning, I was disappointed by the total absence of shorebirds at the Salt Pannes and Hellcat. … I proceeded to Stage Island, where I finally found: 100 Black Bellied Plovers, one Golden Plover, several unidentified Dowitchers, when suddenly the plover exploded into the air. Then the smaller peep, into two flocks, slicing tightly through the air, and then reversing direction. Obviously a raptor, but I couldn’t find it.

     “Suddenly, I saw the black bullet pursuing a flock of small peep low across the near side of the pool. A Peregrine juvenile, very small and extremely dark. Almost certainly the one I had observed closely the week before. Suddenly, a small sandpiper and I were surely thinking the same thought. How in blazes did that hawk separate that small sandpiper from the flock, because instantaneously, he had singled out what was almost certainly a Semipalmated Sandpiper from the bottom of the flock and was pursuing one lonely exposed peep low across the water.

     “The falcon was reeling in the shorebird with each passing nanosecond, getting closer and closer over a course no more than 20 to 30 yards long at most. Both the peep and I knew it. Flying south to north, it executed a sharp left turn and dove into the water like a Gannet. It was totally submerged briefly, but bounced up for air.

     “Swoosh … the diminutive dark falcon had executed an incredibly tight 180, pulling up only several yards in the air and exploding down toward the white wet ball of fluff, sweeping even closer to the solitary peep gulping for air. The sandpiper dove again. The Peregrine did another 180 in an incredibly short, tight twist and sliced across the water in the other direction. The peep broke the surface again, and tried to take off. Repeat the previous two sentences again, and again, and again.

     “The sandpiper would dive, be totally submerged, bob to the surface quickly, and attempt to lift off. The black falcon would spin and drive the shorebird back into the water, again and again and again. The sandpiper looked like some kid had been shipping a rock across the water.

     “The falcon was pursuing the bird in a small, imaginary, ever shrinking box. I could not believe this Peregrine, executing tight turns with the speed and agility I would have assumed were limited to merlins. Not much larger than a large female Merlin, this bird had more horsepower, more energy, more heft, like a finely-tuned Porsche.

     “Twenty three times it dove at the loneliest peep. I doubt an adult Peregrine would have expended all that energy for one small, very agile shorebird. The exuberance of this youthful bird was incredible. It was expending so much energy in so many gyrations in such tight quarters just because it could. The benefits of youth.

     “Remember, we are talking about 23 dives in only 10 to 20 yards. Every time the peep bobbed up and began to take a step or two along the surface to take off, it was driven back down into the water.

     “The 23rd foray was the last. As the ragged sandpiper bobbed to the surface gasping for oxygen, the talons were already there, yanking the shorebird into the air. Almost instantaneously, the sandpiper was limp, dangling lifeless from the falcon’s feet. I did not see the falcon do anything resembling a coup de grace. It was almost as though the exhausted shorebird had drowned trying to come up for air one last time, or had suffered cardiac arrest when those talons closed.

     “The Peregrine wheeled left with its prey, flew back to the south over Stage Island Pool, and then banked right, disappearing over the top of Stage Island, near the observation deck, with its prey in tow. The lifeless husk of the sandpiper seemed so much smaller dangling in death than it had been when it was full of air and life. It was like looking at a grape skin with no fruit inside. Was it actually worth the effort? The price?

     “I was saddened by the death of the sandpiper, but it served an important purpose. In a minute or two – it was so brief – but I never even thought about taking my eyes off the drama to look at my watch once, much less twice. I had witnessed two species that I love, two individuals birds do things I had not thought possible, or had ever imagined. I was drained.

     “Meanwhile, the plovers and peep were now filtering back into the pool. If you hadn’t been there, it would seem as though nothing had ever happened.”

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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