Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Reflections on an amazing year of birds
January 06, 2007
Steve Grinley

     Come the end of a year, when it’s time to reflect, there aren’t many years when we can say “Wow!”

     For me, measured in birds and birding experiences shared with friends, 2006 was such a year. This year was nothing less than spectacular – both in terms of birds and in personal birding milestones. If you’ve followed my column throughout last year, you could probably remember what some of those may have been. For me, there are too many to fit in this column. Yet, I will share my most memorable with you.

     I took three major out-of-state trips that provided plenty of highlights. An organized trip in February to the Texas coast and lower Rio Grande Valley, led by friend and fellow birder Bill Drummond, produced great birds. My memory of freezing from not packing enough warm clothes for 40 degree weather is still vivid, but overshadowed by the 20 or so life birds I saw. The boat trip out of Arkansas to see the endangered whooping crane was especially great, and sweetened further by the sight of a lone greater flamingo. Other memorable Texas sightings included the ferruginous pygmy owl, gray-crowned yellowthroat, ringed kingfisher, brown jay, clay-colored robin, Aplomado falcon, white-tailed and gray hawks, green parakeet, red-crowned parrot and a hook-billed kite.

     A Memorial Day weekend trip to North Carolina produced my first look at a red-cockaded woodpecker and Bachman’s sparrow, and great looks at Henslow’s sparrow, worm-eating and Swainson’s warbler. Walking through a swamp at night, in a vain search of black rail, was a definite low-light, but two pelagic trips with sightings of Herald and black-capped petrel and band-rumped storm petrel topped off the weekend.

     An Arizona trip in September, which included harrowing ordeals along cliff roads and washed-out canyons, featured plenty of awesome birds. Several sightings of elegant trogons were especially nice, but so were the rufous-capped, Lucy’s, Virginia, hermit and MacGillivray’s warblers, common black hawk, Aztec thrush, varied bunting, zone-tailed hawk and the Lewis’ woodpecker. The latter was one of my two major milestones that I achieved in 2006 – my 600th bird in the ABA North America area. It was also especially memorable to see California condors flying in the Grand Canyon, 40 years after seeing one of the last in the wild in California before their capture and release program.

     Closer to home, the year started at Dunback Meadows in Lexington where we found both long-eared and saw-whet owls. We also saw a snowy owl on Plum Island that same day.

     The New Year’s Day luck would continue through much of the year. Late January’s Superbowl of Birding, sponsored by the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education center, was especially lucky (as well as hard work). Our efforts paid off as our “Raven Loon” team earned the Director’s Award, the most species seen – 88, which was also a state record for January.

     A March visit to the Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Princeton, near Wachusett Mountain, would yield ravens, redpolls, pine siskins, red-shouldered hawk and a pair of great-horned owls calling during the day. The April white-tailed hawk in Hadley seemed too good to be true (because they are usually found only in Texas and Mexico) and it was. It was determined to likely be an escaped or released bird from a falconer in the area. Still, it was a nice bird to see after just seeing my first one in Texas earlier in the year. A black-tailed godwit on Plum Island, also in April, stayed around long enough for many to see. This was only the second one that I have seen, the last one was back in 1967 in South Dartmouth.

     The Bird-a-thon in May turned up a less common Cape May warbler as well as yellow-throated vireos during a lovely morning at Crooked Pond in Boxford. A trip to Connecticut in July was successful in our locating a reported red-necked stint, another life bird for me. A late July camping trip to Mt. Greylock in northwestern Massachusetts was highlighted by a singing Bicknell’s thrush, thought to be absent from there for more than 20 years. It brought back fond memories of yearly trips to Mount Greylock in the ’60s and ’70s.

     The western reef heron in Maine and New Hampshire in mid-August drew birders from across the country, and it took us a couple of trips there to find the bird. Only a fourth record for the continent, this bird was certainly a special life bird for me. The boat trip to Hydrographers Canyon in late August with relatively calm seas produced three species of jaegers and a very special white-rumped storm petrel.

     In October, the adventure of wading through two feet of tide in the marsh at Plum Bush to see a life yellow rail was especially memorable. In early November, finally seeing the green-tailed towhee on Plum Island, after missing it on previous searches, was rewarding. In late November, we watched a rufous hummingbird visit a feeder in Cotuit, on Cape Cod and we made it back to Boston that day, in time to see a western grebe at dusk in Winthrop. I returned a week later to the Cape, in early December, to find the Bell’s vireo by myself in Falmouth, after missing it during previous searches with fellow birders.

     Seeing a Thayer’s gull at Provincetown at the end of December was my last life bird for the year, and the cackling goose in Rockland on the last day of the year was my 307th bird for 2006 in Massachusetts. It is an accomplishment for any birder to see more than 300 species in Massachusetts in any one year. For me, it was a special milestone, as it was the first time that I have accomplished this in my long tenure of birding. This capped off an amazing year of birding, one that can best be expressed with “Wow!”

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 2
4 years of service to the birding community! 
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