Words On Birds 02-23-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Early Migrants Urge Spring’s Arrival
February 23, 2024
By Steve Grinley

     Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring this year. The longer days and warmer than normal February that we have been experiencing is likely bringing Spring a bit earlier this year. And the birds seem to agree.

     A number of folks have had pine warblers visiting suet in their yards. One birding friend has up to 6 or 7 pine warblers on any given day. Most of these are probably winter holdovers but pine warblers are one of the first warblers to arrive in spring, so if any of these are early migrants, they didn’t migrate far! A couple of yellow-rumped warblers were in Salisbury this week as well.

     A couple of weeks ago, the New Hampshire Birds list serve was buzzing about the first red-winged blackbirds that were arriving in people’s yards. A few oof our customers have mentioned the “early” arrival of redwings. We had two males visiting our feeders this past week and a male/female pair the week before.

     This seems to happen every year about this time. And we almost always have a little snow and colder temperatures thereafter. The first red-wings blackbirds, along with a few cowbirds and grackles arrive in the early to mid -February followed by reminders that winter isn’t quite over yet.

     Though many folks think it is early, the return of the blackbirds is pretty much on schedule. Soon grackles will be overtaking some feeders, so you may want to dig out your grackle-resistant feeders or adjust your current weight-sensitive feeders now before the larger numbers arrive.

     We were entertaining one or two starlings on any given day this year, but seven to ten were taking over our suet and peanut feeders the past weeks. They were also devouring the bluebird’s mealworms that we were putting out and dominated tray and hopper feeders with the seed mixes that were in them.

     We rearranged some of our feeders, removing the cage suet and left just the perch-less log suet feeders. We also lightened the tension on the Squirrel Buster Peanut Feeders. But we continue to monitor those so as not to discourage the red-bellied woodpecker. We put heavier-shelled striped sunflower in the tray which starling’s long, pointed bills aren’t equipped to handle. We are now back down to one or two starlings, which is manageable.

     There have been reports of the season’s first woodcock at Rough Meadows in Rowley and in a few other locations. These are another sign of spring. Even a few male goldfinches are starting to show some yellow in the face and throat. These are signs of spring and, despite the chance for late season snow, it will be here soon.

     The birds don’t listen to the groundhog, or the weather experts, but Punxsutawny Phil may have it right this year. These early spring birds do give us hope that winter is waning and that warmer days, and spring, are ahead.

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

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

Words On Birds 02-16-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Memories of “Store Birds” Past
February 16, 2024
By Steve Grinley

     I haven’t had much chance to get out birding. I read reports of a black-headed gull in Salisbury, an eared grebe in Marblehead, and a rough-legged hawk on Plum Island. But I have spent the past couple of months looking for new store space, finding and executing the move of our store to Port Plaza here in Newburyport.

     We were lucky to find such good space, and to be able to stay in Newburyport. We didn’t move far, just seven minutes from our previous locations at the Traffic Circle, and we were able to open our doors again this past Thursday. It was a lot of work, and long hours.

     Previously, whenever I was missing getting out into the field, I could see the birds coming to the feeders outside our old locations. No outside feeder opportunities at this location, but we do have ring-billed gulls constantly circling and alighting on the parking lots. We heard our first fish crow of the year among the crows that fly over and around the Plaza.

     Our last location had a couple of small, high windows in back where we hung feeders, and we had finches, cardinals, catbirds, and downy woodpeckers. Once we saw a snowy owl sitting on a storage trailer behind the store and we could show it to customer through a scope!

     I still think about the feeder opportunity that we enjoyed for eighteen years in our original store. I miss seeing those birds, as there was some comfort in glancing out the window to see “my” goldfinches on the thistle, “my” downy woodpecker and nuthatch on the suet, and those wintering tree sparrows that brightened the darkest winter day.

     As I think back over our first eighteen years that we were there, I also can recall all those special unexpected avian visitors that we enjoyed over that time. We had occasional visits from such birds as redpolls and pine siskins in the winter, but only one evening grosbeak ever stopped to partake of our sunflower. During warmer months, we had an occasional visit from indigo buntings, but we never saw a rose-breasted grosbeak at our feeders. Downy and hairy woodpeckers were regulars, and we would have flickers in the trees out back, but never a red-bellied woodpecker which so many of my customers now have.

     We have had dickcissels five or six times over the years, and a clay-colored sparrow at least four times. The more common fox sparrow only made an appearance three times in all those years. White-throated and white-crowned sparrows came through during migration, but we seldom saw a junco under our feeders!

     In the earlier years, ring-necked pheasants were regular visitors, at least until the railroad came back to Newburyport, separating us from Common Pastures and the Crane and Martin Burns Wildlife Management Areas. Turkeys only made an appearance once. I can also remember the day, it was my first day back from a vacation, when I heard a bobwhite calling from behind the store. At first I thought it was someone playing a trick on me, whistling like a bobwhite, until I went back there to take a look.

     I have seen many raptors flying over the store, mainly when I was carrying seed out for a customer. Red-tailed, broad-winged, and one rough-legged hawk, along with ospreys, turkey vultures and an occasional bald eagle. Then there was the night I was called to the store at 3 am by the fire department due to smoke in the chimney. As I was standing in the parking lot, talking with one of the firefighters, we both watched a mid-sized owl fly over the building. It was very pale underneath, very ghost-like in appearance. I was 90% sure that it was a barn owl.

     I will always have affection for the tree swallows that brought nesting material to one of my display houses in front of the store. I mounted the house in the corner of the lot and the pair nested that year.

     Then there was the drama of watching a northern shrike take a house finch from one of my tray feeders and wrestle it to the ground as the other birds scolded the shrike’s actions. And the day of a David Sibley book signing when the Cooper’s hawk followed one of my female employees into the storage trailer. Actually, it followed her head of hair to be more exact, and it realized the hair was attached to a much larger prey in time to fly out without incident.

     Our rarest feeder visitor came on a day that I glanced out the back window as I was turning on the lights to open the store. I saw the usual mourning doves under the feeders, but I did a double-take on one dove that was different. It was a bit larger, and had a blue ring around a red eye. It squared off tail and white-edged wing told me that it was a white-winged dove. It stayed only one day, but many birders came by to view this bird of the south and southwest.

     Yes, thinking back on all those fond memories, I may miss those feeders and those birds. But we are busy in our new space. We are content with our ring-billed gulls and our fish crows, and will look for other passing birds as we step outside to show customers new binoculars and scopes!

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

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

Words On Birds 02-09-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Fewer Birds Visiting Feeders
February 09, 2024
By Steve Grinley

     The temperature is moderating a bit this week and Puxatawny Phil did not see his shadow this week, predicting that spring is just around the corner! Well, maybe, but we New Englanders know that the weather can, and probably will, change again as February progresses.

     We have had a number of inquiries from people asking where all their birds have gone. Usually, we get these questions in the fall, but not throughout the winter. Where are the birds? Our feeders aren’t being used, is something wrong with the birds? In the last weeks these questions kept popping up. No there is nothing wrong with the birds, they haven’t disappeared, they are just doing what nature intended. They are foraging in the wild. I explained in a previous column that this year is turning out to be a pretty big mast year in New England.

     Since trees need to use a significant amount of their energy to create seeds (aka mast), they don’t produce heavy crops every year. When they do, it happens with amazing synchronicity among tree species, which means the forest canopy can be affected region-wide. Beech, maple, and hickory are all having big seed crops; even some oaks are putting out a lot of acorns, depending on the species. The theory is that the trees produce enough seed to overwhelm the birds and animals eating it so that some seed remains and will grow, reseeding the forests. Pine cones, acorns, hickory nuts, maple seeds, they are everywhere and the birds and mammals are loving it. There even seems to be fewer squirrels in yards. They are foraging in the wild as well.

     We have noticed this at our home feeders as well. We have fewer goldfinches this week, whose numbers swell to fifty or sixty just before a cold snap. We have a small numbers of tree sparrows and an occasional song sparrow, a few white-throated sparrows and half a dozen juncos. A few woodpeckers visit our suet and peanut feeder and a titmouse or nuthatch come by to politely take a peanut or sunflower. The bluebirds are making fewer visits to our mealworms. The cardinals are here early in the day and again near dusk, but otherwise we are lacking the numbers and variety of birds that we usually enjoy in the dead of winter. The seed crop is also plentiful further north which is why we haven’t seen the winter finches such as redpolls, siskins, evening grosbeaks and crossbills.

     So, the answer is that the weather has just been too nice and the supply of natural food has been more than ample. The mild weather permits birds to take in less food as they don’t need as many calories to stay warm. Birds just supplement their natural food by visiting our feeders. Normally in the fall, when the supply of natural seeds is at its peak, birds “disappear” from feeders to take advantage of this natural supply. By mid-winter, it gets so cold, and we often have snow, that the natural food supply freezes or is covered in snow. That’s why birds flock to feeders in greater numbers in the winter months. Just not as much this winter.

     Since activity at the feeders has been so slow and the feeders remain relatively full, we tend to pay less attention to maintaining them. Not keeping the feeder clean and filled with fresh seed will not improve our chances for attracting birds. This usually isn’t a problem during “normal” winter when the temperature stays at or near freezing and precipitation falls in the form of snow. This year, the milder temperatures and precipitation in the form of rain provide the ingredients for mold to form in the bottom of the feeder. This is especially true for Nyger (thistle), sunflower hearts and shelled peanuts that tend to absorb moisture more quickly than some other seeds.

     Merely “topping off” a feeder with fresh seed will not solve the problem. Feeders should be emptied, and thoroughly cleaned with soap and water. A solution of one part bleach to ten parts water can be used to kill any mold and bacteria. Thoroughly rinse the feeder, let it dry completely, and then add fresh seed. Fill the feeder only half way until activity returns to minimize waste. You can even spread a little seed underneath the feeder to help attract some birds.

     We may not have as many birds to enjoy at our feeders this winter, but we should take some comfort in knowing that the birds are doing reasonably well during this abnormally milder season. Of course, we should keep our feeders clean with fresh seed just in case. The birds are scouting their food sources (your feeders) even though they may not need to feed from them right now. They know where the food is when they need it. After all, this is New England and mother nature could turn on us at any time.

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

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

Words On Birds 02-02-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Bird Watcher’s On The Move
February 02, 2024
by Steve Grinley

     We are not the pink house, but after almost 29 years at the Traffic Circle in Newburyport, Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift has become an icon for the birding community. When we first opened, we were known as “Bird Central” by the local birding community. Before eBird, before Group Me, even before cell phones, we were the bird sightings connection.

     We kept the white board up to date with rare birds and notable birds reported in the area. We would receive phone calls reporting rare birds and disseminate the hot news by phone and via the Massbird and NHBirds as they emerged. Visiting local clubs and those from western Mass, Connecticut, New Jersey and beyond would stop by or call to help locate birds in our area.

     For almost three decades, we have advised local residents interested in birds on attracting birds to their yard with our experienced knowledge and the quality products that we always carry. We held informative talks to local schools and area garden clubs and have led numerous field trips to help everyone experience the amazing birds of Newburyport, Plum Island and surrounding areas.

     We supported the local Festivals including the Superbowl of Birding, the Merrimack River Eagle Festival, and the Ipswich River Sanctuary Nature Festival. We continue to support Essex County Greenbelt and all its work of preserving land for future generations. We also support numerous local fund raisers and charities.

     A week before Christmas, our landlord blindsided us by saying that he will not be renewing our lease, which ended on Jan 14. “In good faith,” he offered a month’s extension and we must vacate the property by Feb 14.

     For the past month, we have been scrambling to try to find suitable space for our store relocation. We did find property at Port Plaza in Newburyport that is almost move-in ready, and we finalized a lease this week. This location is in their West Shops, conveniently accessible off Low Street and off Story Avenue, next to AAA, and less than 10 minutes from our present location.

     Our present plan is to remain open through Saturday, February 10 and to close Sunday, Feb 11 to Wednesday, February 14 for the move. We plan to reopen Thursday, Feb 15!

     For the hundreds of customers who purchase our quality seed from us, please know that we are continuing regular seed deliveries throughout this process. There is no need to stock up more than you normally use. We plan a smooth transition from our present location to our new space.

     In preparation for the move, we are having a “Moving Sale” offering 25% OFF EVERYTHING in the store through Feb 10 except seed, suet and optics. Now is the time to look ahead to spring and buy those new feeders (seed, suet, hummingbird and oriole) and bird houses that you will need then. Seasonal closeouts items will be discounted further. The more we sell, the less we will have to move!

     Also, to help us move out some Optics inventory, we will be offering an additional 10% off all binoculars, spotting scopes, and tripods. Select optics, especially high end, will be discounted further. These will be far and away our best prices of the year! Again, the more we sell, the less we will have to move.

     We look forward to our new location and we hope that you will follow us there. We hope to continue our service to the birding community in our new location for the next 29 years!

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

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

Words On Birds 01-26-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Looking for Rare Arctic Gulls in Winter
January 26, 2024
By Steve Grinley

     The temperature has moderated this week after a couple of weeks of “winter blast.” Those days of below freezing weather and biting cold winds forces a lot of “birding-by-car” and looking for places out of the wind to look for birds. It is on these bitter days that we spend looking for unusual gulls, geese, ducks and alcids wherever we can view them by staying close to the car.

     It reminds me of those winters when the rare Ross’ gull was discovered in Newburyport Harbor back in 1975. More recently, and a bit less famous, was the ivory gull that was found off Eastern Point in Gloucester in 2009. It seems appropriate that I share that story again with you to help us through the winter!

     “Last Saturday was a sunny but bitterly cold day, which began quiet enough as Margo and I birded around Salisbury finding only the usual suspects. We had thought of going to Gloucester to look for gulls and alcids, but I had planned to work a bit at the store later in the day and we didn’t want to wander too far. Most birds were hunkered down away from the wind and we spent much of the time birding from the car. We ventured away from the car for only a few minutes at a time as the windchill was well below zero. Little did we know that our quiet morning was about to change.

     “I received a call from Rick Heil who said that Jeremiah Trimble had found an adult ivory gull at Eastern Point in Gloucester. The ivory gull is a bird of the Arctic Ocean, rarely moving any further south than northern Canada and the Maritime Provinces. Even more rarely does it show up in the United States. The last one I saw, was an immature bird in Portland, Maine, which I saw in mid 1990’s. Previous to that, I saw my first ivory gull, also an immature, at the jetty at Salisbury Beach back in 1975. We hoped to see them on my Alaska trip this past summer, but there were none to be found. Not quite as rare as the now famous Ross’ gull that raised a national fervor by showing up in Newburyport Harbor in winter of 1974/75, but rare enough just the same.

     “So now the dilemma. I had planned to work, but, then, this WAS an ivory gull! The first thing we both did was got on our cell phones and called every birder on our contact lists. I then drove to the store and saw that it was already posted on Massbird, the local listserve for bird sightings. I then got “permission” to leave the store and we headed to Cape Ann in hopes of seeing what would be a life bird for Margo and my first adult ivory gull.

“Ivory gulls are about the size of a ring-billed gull, 16 to 17 inches long, with a wingspan of about 37 inches. The adults are pure white with black feet, black eyes, and a bill that is gray with a yellow tip. The immature birds, the only ones I had seen to date, are speckled with black like a young snowy owl. The bird was seen on the breakwater at the Eastern Point lighthouse and it would be easy enough to pick out of a crowd if it were still there. The problem we feared was that, like last year’s slaty-backed gull, the Gloucester gulls move around a lot between the inner and outer harbor, as well as over to Brace’s Cove.

     “When we arrived at Eastern Point shortly after one o’clock, there were a dozen cars already there in the parking lot with scopes fixed on the dog bar. We grabbed our scopes, but as soon as we got to the line of people and scopes, we were offered looks through scopes that were already fixed on the bird. Its pure white plumage and smaller stature stood out among the hundreds of herring and greater black-backed gulls that lined the jetty. We set up our scopes and peered into the piercing wind for longer looks. Zooming up to sixty power gave good views of its black eye and black legs, and we could easily see the yellow tip on its bill. The bird was sitting less than half way out on the jetty, but still we hoped for closer looks.

     “As more people arrived, and our eyes watered and feet numbed from the cold, the bird took flight. Everyone watched it circle the breakwater and then it appeared to head right toward us. The bird continued toward us and veered off to the cove right next to the parking lot. The light shone on its white wings and it seemed almost mythical, warming the coldest of us. It came within fifty yards of us and eventually sat down on the ice. With now closer scope views, we could see that the base of its bill was a beautiful pastel gray that blended into the yellow tip. A stunning bird indeed!

     “Birders continued to pour in and soon the lot was full and parking was backed up onto the entrance road. A few people sacrificed their lunch sandwiches or crackers to help lure the gulls closer, with limited success. Then Joe Paluzzi of Swampscott remembered seeing some dead fish discarded on Jodrey State Fish Pier in Gloucester and volunteered to retrieve it. Joe left and returned within twenty minutes with dead fish wrapped in old plastic in the back of his brand new SUV. (His wife was probably not thrilled when he got home!) Jeremiah, who had found the bird originally, carried the fish into the cove and threw it on the ice and rocks. It wasn’t long before the rare arctic visitor came in to the bait, providing drop-dead views of this incredible bird, views that resulted in spectacular photographs for all who tried…

     “Birder’s from as far away as Florida and Ohio have flown in or driven here to see this bird. Even more amazing is the discovery of a second adult ivory gull in Plymouth harbor on Tuesday! Now the only questions are which one to go to see, and when will one show up in Newburyport harbor!”

     Except for a fly-by on Andrew’s Point in 2021, it has been fifteen years since an ivory gull was seen in Massachusetts. Certainly none in Newburyport Harbor. But always worth looking for on those bitter winter days!

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

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

Words On Birds 01-19-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Birds Struggle To Survive Winter Storms
January 19, 2024
by Steve Grinley

     These past weeks’ storms were a struggle for many of us with snow, wind, rain, and ice. They were particularly hard on the birds. They seem to know when a storm is approaching, as they flock to the feeders in the days before the storm, fueling up to sustain them through the worst of it. It seems that they can predict the weather with more certainty than our best trained meteorologists. We had tens of goldfinches at every available perch on our thistle feeders, devouring the finch seed as fast as we could fill the feeders.

     Birds are supplementing their natural food with the seed and suet at your feeders. The availability of feeder-food makes it a bit easier for them, especially right after a storm when natural seed supplies may be covered with snow or caked in ice. It is important to go out right after a storm and clear the feeders of snow and ice.

     Scrape away all snow and ice, especially from the perch areas and around the feeding ports on the feeders. You should also scrape the snow off the suet and hanging seed cakes. If you do this once as the storm is winding down, it may be necessary to repeat the process the next morning once the storm has passed. You could be rewarded by a common redpoll or pine siskin that might join the flock of goldfinches at the finch feeders.

     In addition to seed and suet, you might put out some fruit for the fruit-eating birds including robins, bluebirds and mockingbirds. If you have plantings in your yard such as crab apple, winterberry or holly, you may find cedar waxwings, wintering hermit thrushes, catbirds or a yellow-breasted chat feasting on the natural fruit. In years past, a western tanager, Townsend’s solitaire or Bullock’s oriole have been found eating apple, oranges and sunflower hearts at feeders.

     If you have a heated bird bath, many birds will flock to it as fresh water becomes more unavailable with these frigid temperatures. Even birds that don’t normally visit feeders may take advantage of the open water. Our bluebirds, titmice and goldfinches frequent our heated bird bath.

     At the height of the storm, and during these long, cold New England nights, birds seek shelter wherever they can find it. Some choose thickets, brush piles, evergreens, rhododendron, or other sheltering shrubs and trees. Some will crowd into cavities in trees, building and other structures to keep warm. You can help the birds by putting up roosting boxes or roosting pockets where birds can huddle to keep warm. Birds also use nesting boxes for roosting, so if you have bird houses around your yard that you have left up for the winter, these will provide added shelter at night for the birds. You can add grasses, cotton, or dryer lint to the boxes to add further insulation for the birds.

     A West Newbury resident used a bird-cam in one of her bluebird nesting boxes that she monitored during the spring and summer. She kept the nesting box up during the winter but had rolled up the cord from the camera to store from the winter. She saw the bluebirds checking out the box one winter day and decided to hook the camera back up to her TV.

     Because the camera had infrared, she could watch what transpired in the house at night. The first night, five bluebirds were jockeying for position in the bird house, fighting one another until two birds got expelled. She watched the remaining three bluebirds hunker down for the night. She watched the next night and all five bluebirds came to terms and huddled together in the one box. They must have figured out that the body heat of five was better than three!

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

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

Words On Birds 01-12-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Birds Flock to Food After Storms
January 12, 2024
By Steve Grinley

     If you haven’t had much activity at your bird feeders this winter, last week’s storm should have changed all that. Though we have been fortunate to enjoy a good number of regular feeder visitors in our yard, their numbers definitely swelled in the days following. Snow and ice cover often forces birds to look for other sources and our handouts are certainly welcome.

     The morning after the storm, before the sun was even up, many juncos were feeding on the millet spread out on the ground under the bird feeders. There were also white-throated sparrows, tree sparrows and one song sparrows. Some mornings we can also have thirty or mor mourning doves feeding on the ground but they arrived later

     On this morning, a male cardinal was the first bird to the sunflower in our tray feeder. Goldfinches soon arrived in the yard and eventually they occupied every perch on our several thistle feeders in our back yard. More goldfinches would come in and fight to displace the occupants. The larger house finches would easily take over a perch position when they arrive.

     We had our first purple finch at our sunflower feeders. They feed on our sunflower-filled Squirrel Buster feeder and our sunflower tray and sometimes at. the large hopper feeder which contains our sunflower-rich Cardinal-Finch Mix. This purple finch was a bright raspberry males. Still waiting for our first female which has brown stripes with dark, bold facial markings.

     Also enjoying the sunflower and our Cardinal-Finch Mix are our white-breasted nuthatches, tufted titmice, chickadees, and occasionally a woodpecker. But the woodpeckers prefer the suet in the suet logs. We have up to six downy, male and female hairy, and a male and female red-bellied woodpecker that are regulars. Of course the nuthatches and titmice frequent the suet as well and only recently a starling or two have found it.

     Barrett has a Baltimore oriole visiting his suet in Rowley. It’s dining on mealworms and jelly. We have had an occasional sapsucker pass through our wooded backyard, but we have yet to see it visit the suet.

     Margo also puts shelled peanuts on the deck that the titmice particularly enjoy. We have a half-dozen titmice that take turns coming to the deck to choose the right piece to take to a nearby tree to eat. A nuthatch or chickadee sometimes join the rotation. We also have blue jays visit the deck and scatter the smaller birds. One jay will gulp down several peanuts at a time.

     The birds we most enjoy are the pair of Carolina wrens that come to demand that live mealworms be put regularly in “their” feeder. One of the wrens will sometimes chirp from atop its feeder, to alert us of his or her presence, and the lack of mealworms in the feeder that we have positioned on the floor of the deck. Once we fill the dish, we watch until one of them comes back and slides across the deck like a performer across a stage.

     We are also blessed with up to 11 bluebirds in our yard this winter. Margo puts dried mealworms in the tray feeders for them. She also spreads some dried mealworms on the deck because of the occasional marauding starlings. That way, we can control who feeds on them and watch the beautiful bluebirds up close!

     We have also had a number of interesting birds that have come through the yard, but have not visited the feeders. In addition to the aforementioned sapsucker, we have a pair of pileated woodpeckers that sometimes visit and pound away at the trees. We also have seen brown creepers circling up those trees, searching for food in and under the bark.. Neither the pileated nor the creepers have come to the feeders, but I am thinking of making the suet more available to them by putting some on a tree trunk or two. I am also considering smearing “tree butter” or peanut butter on a tree trunk. My biggest concern will be squirrels getting to it, but I may try it anyway.

     No telling what a little snow cover will bring to our yards!

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

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

Words On Birds 01-05-24

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Identifying Thailand Birds Challenge Birders
January 05, 2024
By Steve Grinley

     Our friend Linda is planning a spring trip to Thailand. She knew we had traveled there before, so she sent us a copy of her proposed itinerary for us to review and to comment on. Margo pulled out all her photos and I pulled up the columns I wrote about our winter of 2010 trip. The fond memories are worth sharing again after all these years:

     Rick Heil, Jeremiah Trimble, Margo and me, spent sixteen intense days of dawn to dusk birding with a guide, Nick Upton, a Brit who has lived and birded in Thailand for the past thirteen years. After twenty-seven hours of traveling to Bangkok, we took a plane the first morning to Chaing Mai where we met Nick and his wife, and we set out in a Toyota van for our adventure.

     The first week, we visited three National Parks north of Chaing Mai, near the Mayamar border. We did a lot of hiking in the mountains and I found out quickly how out-of-shape I was. We then headed south, stopping at two more National Parks as well as other birding areas (on flat terrain), on the way back to Bangkok. We then headed south of Bangkok to do some shore-birding, in quest of the spoon-billed sandpiper!

     The birds were almost all new for Margo and me – except for rock pigeons, house sparrows, cattle egrets and a few shorebird and duck species. Otherwise, we were like beginners. Despite doing some studying ahead of time, we weren’t prepared for looking at birds that we had NO idea what we were looking at.

     It was a humbling, and at times very frustrating, experience of just trying to FIND the birds in the thick bamboo forests or in the canopy of trees 150 feet above us! I had all I could do to describe the bird, let alone try to figure out what family or species it might be. And for me who likes to “bird by ear” and identify birds by sound, I had no clue as to what I was hearing!

     Nick was an excellent birder. He knew all the birds by sound and often knew exactly where the sound was coming from. He could pinpoint birds and did his best to describe where in the clump of tangles to look. He sometimes even knew which bush to look in for a particular species.

     As the tour went on, our frustration eased as we could identify a few of the more common birds and even a few songs. After a week or so, we began to recognize families of birds in which to classify some of what we saw. It didn’t help that so many of the birds had three or four-part names: white-crested laughingthrush or white-browed scimitar babbler. It is no wonder that I especially liked the dollarbird and the cutia.

     I could spend columns writing about the experience, but I thought I would just bullet a few of the highlights that we experienced during those sixteen days:

     * The sound of Great Hornbills flying overhead. Hidden by the thick canopy, they sounded like B-52 Bombers with their enormous wingspan. It was also thrilling to see the male feeding a female who was confined to the nest cavity, having been “plastered” in after her egg laying for protection.

     * Trying see the tail-less pygmy wren babbler as it crept along the thick forest undergrowth singing its three whistle “three-blind-mice” song. We crept along right behind it.

     * Seeing our first purple and scarlet-backed sunbirds. All the sunbirds (the larger, hummingbird replacements of Asia and Africa) in their brilliant iridescent colors, were stunning.

     * Watching the beautiful white-capped redstart (or river chat), rufous-bellied niltava, and black-breasted thrush all coming to a feast of mealworms at the Ban Luang Resort

     * Seeing not one, but five cutia. This large nuthatch-like bird, which is difficult to find, was first spotted by Margo.

     * The nine woodpeckers of Mae Ping National Park, including the larger-than-pileated white-bellied woodpecker and the even larger great slaty woodpecker. We bush-wacked through the woods for views of the latter.

     * Watching hundreds of thousands of wrinkle-lipped bats spiraling out of a cave near Khao Yai National Park at dusk. A shikra (hawk) waited at the cave entrance and picked off its evening meal. The bats billowed into the air like smoke for more than ten minutes, and filled the distant skies.

     * Crawling over a hundred-foot serpent to see the limestone wren babbler (it’s a long story).

     * Watching thousands of fruit bats, the size of night herons, leaving their mangrove roost near Pak Thale and filling the skies like a scene out of the Wizard of Oz.

     * Hearing the moaning wail of gibbons through the early morning forest.

     * Feeling our van slide dangerously toward the cliff as we tried to navigate a steep, gravel-filled road up the mountain in Kaeng Kiechan National Park. (p.s. We survived.)

     * Seeing the rufous-browed flycatcher was memorable, because after two weeks I finally spotted a bird first, before the others. Of course, I still had no idea what I as looking at!

     * Seeing the spoon-billed sandpipers among the other great shorebirds (and familiar shorebird families) at Pak Thale. And running into David Sibley, half way around the world, who was also there for the spoon-billed sandpiper!

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

Celebrating 29 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 12-29-23

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Winter Solstice Keeps Us Looking Forward
December 29, 2023
By Steve Grinley

     The winter solstice was a week ago and though winter is before us, we can at least now look forward to the days getting progressively longer. In celebration, I thought that I should repeat a solstice day story written many years ago by my friend and fellow birder, whom we lost this past year, Doug Chickering:

     “Lois Cooper and I birded our way into the Winter Solstice, another one of those quiet inevitable markers of our years. The pallid sun makes its lowest journey across the sky; seemingly always in our eyes, or spreading a glare across the ice and the waters of Plum Island. It was actually a beautiful, deep winter day. A hesitant wind drifted in from the Northwest; clean, dry and cold – not biting, but touched enough with its arctic origin as to slowly penetrate even the hearty winter coats; draining away the body’s warmth and eventually bringing on shivers. Extremely high, vapid clouds filtered the blue from the sky and the feeble heat from the sun.

     “There was enough energy in the sun to begin to melt the frost from the dirt road that stretches south from Hellcat, but not enough to soften the snow and ice that remained in the fields and at the roads edge. We came across no exceptional birds. The highlight of the day being a nice peregrine falcon perched on a crest of snow on the far side of the Pans. It’s menacing presence keeping the large flock of nearby starlings annoyed and restless as they attempted to feed at the side of the road.

     “I must admit that I cannot help but admire the birds of winter; especially the little guys. Even though I know that it is technically inaccurate to ascribe human qualities to them; that they are only reacting to their surroundings in an instinctive timeless manner, yet I cannot help but regard them as being nearly heroic. Their persistence, courage and luck in the face of the stark, uncompromising cruelty of deep winter is inspiring. There is something particularly noble of a tiny chickadee, a redpoll, or American tree sparrow puffed up against the crackling cold, foraging and calling to one another; obviously determined to prevail until the spring.

     “Off Emerson Rocks we had a nice sampling of winter ducks: common eider, common goldeneye, oldsquaw [long-tailed ducks], black scoter, and white-winged scoter. Also, there were several common loons, a few horned grebes, and a pair of Bonaparte’s gulls flying in from off the sea. We had nothing noteworthy, other than the Peregrine, although on Saturday we saw the screech owl in its tree on Route 1A in Rowley, and Friday afternoon we did find the northern shrike in the treetops on the ocean side at the extreme south end of the Town Marker Field.

     “Parts of the winter to come, I look forward to. I hope snowy owls will arrive at Plum Island again, along with other owls. We’ll be looking for alcids at Andrews Point, and maybe some more winter finches. New Year’s Day will renew the lists and there’s the Christmas Bird Count…that Lois and I enjoy immensely. There will also be winter times that will not be so welcome. Stormy days, bad driving, the inevitable winter spill on an icy sidewalk; shoveling snow and the pervasive, endless cold. Still, starting now, the days will be getting longer and we will be heading in the general direction of warblers.”

     Doug’s admiration of the stamina of winter birds serves as a reminder for us to keep our feeders filled during these coming months. Birds will be coming to feeders in numbers, so keeping food and open water available for them is most important. Doug also reminds us to keep looking forward to a better year ahead!

     I wish you all a Happy New Year filled with many fabulous birds!

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

Celebrating 29 years of service to the birding community! 
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Words On Birds 12-22-23

Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

This Week’s Storm has Birds on the Move
December 22, 2023
By Steve Grinley

     The first snowy owl of the season arrived in Massachusetts this past week. Unfortunately, it must have flown right past us and landed on Gooseberry Neck in Westport. The lemming population, its food supply in the arctic, must be good this year as few snowy owls have ventured south into the United States so far.

     Wintering short-eared owls, however, have arrived on Plum Island and elsewhere in eastern Massachusetts. They have been seen hunting along the impoundments along Bill Forward Pool and North Pool on the refuge, and hunting the marshes west of the Maintenance Area and off of Lot 1. Short-eared owls have also been seen across the river from the parking lot at the end of Stackyard Road in Rowley.

     Screech owls have taken up winter residence in many of the “traditional” holes along the roads of Newburyport, Newbury, and West Newbury. Several residents have reported the owls roosting in boxes put up specifically for them. Good numbers of screech owls have already been counted on the area Christmas Bird Counts. Our screech owl has been seen in our boxes in Essex.

     Saw-whet owls seem to be more numerous this year as indicated by the Christmas Counts that have occurred already. Our friend Phil has had one calling during the night at his house less than a mile from ours. Great horned owls have started their mating hoots already and barred owls have also been heard in many localities.

     The southeast winds that preceded this past week’s storm brought on another good flight of dovekies off the coast of Cape Ann. Rick Heil alerted us to the flight on the day before the storm. We headed over to Andrew’s Point in the early afternoon and joined Rick as the flight was winding down.

     We saw more than fifty dovekies in the hour we were there, when in most years we might be lucky to find a few. Rick had counted 1270 in the seven post-dawn hours that he was there! Still, that pales the 7250 that he had last December in that last big dovekie flight that I wrote about back then.

     The day of this week’s storm was described as “lackluster” by those who did a sea-watch. However, two puffins were seen off Andrews Point in Rockport during the storm. The day after, Marj Watson discovered a dovekie right off Jodrey State Pier in Gloucester and a western grebe was discovered off Winthrop Beach. A brown booby landed on a fishing boat off the coast on Wednesday!

     A number of rare birds that were around during the previous week survived the storm. Ash-throated flycatchers continued at Halibut Point in Rockport and at Bicentennial Park in Hampton. The Virginia’s warbler at Hampton has also been seen after the storm. A western tanager continues at Lewis Wharf in downtown Boston and a Say’s phoebe is still being seen at the Windsor Dam Park Headquarters at Quabbin Reservoir.

     Less rare but more local, a lark sparrow was discovered at the Salisbury Beach State Reservation this week and a Baltimore oriole has been visiting a feeder in Rowley.

     I wish you all a joyous holiday season with family and, of course, birds!

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

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