Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
All Birds Count in The New Year
January 07, 2022
By Steve Grinley
I spoke too soon last week when I said that the Steller’s Sea Eagle was gone. Well it was, at least from Massachusetts. It was re-found a couple of weeks later in Georgetown, Maine. The word got out right away and it stayed around there for a few days.
It stayed long enough for many Massachusetts birders who missed the bird here could travel 2 1/2 hours and see the bird. It stayed long enough for people to fly in from Tennessee and Texas and beyond. People stayed overnight in local inns and dined on lobster and other Maine specialties. Some local enterprising lobstermen provided boats to escort people to an island when the bird was out of sight of the mainland. The local economy got a brief shot-in-the arm.
Who knows where the Steller’s Sea Eagle will appear next?
Moving on, it is now the first of a new year, and many birders begin a new year’s list. January first, birders start checking off birds once again for their 2022 list. Even house sparrows, starlings and pigeons (a.k.a. rock doves) deserve notice once again.
Birders still seek the more unusual and uncommon species. In Essex County, a rare eared grebe has spent much time this winter off Marblehead and many birders spent the first days of the year seeing such birds for their new year list. A canvasback was among the ring-necked ducks, scaup, and mergansers on Kenoza Lake in Haverhill at the end of December, but it was not seen by most birders who looked for it in the new year.
Winter specialties are particularly sought out early in January. Snowy owls, rough-legged hawks, snow buntings, northern shrikes, and razorbills have all been seen on Plum Island these first days of the year. Barrows goldeneyes were spotted among the common goldeneyes on the Merrimack River in West Newbury, Lapland longspurs were seen with a large flock of horned larks at the Spencer Pierce Little Farm, and snow geese have been found among the hundreds of Canada geese in Ipswich.
In addition to the three “regular” species woodpeckers in our yard, Margo spotted a yellow-bellied sapsucker drilling in one of our maples in the front yard. It was working on the sunny side of tree and we could see the glistening sap running down. True to its name, this woodpecker was sipping the sugar-rich liquid from the holes. We have seen them before in the yard, but we haven’t been able to coax them to our suet. It was nice new year bird.
Still, the “ordinary” downy woodpeckers, tree sparrows, juncos, and mourning doves are all special these first days. Doug Chickering of Newbury posted about one of his visits to Plum Island in this new year:
“It seems as if it has been drizzly and foggy forever. After all it has been yearlong. Even in bad weather there are birds to find and see, it would turn out to be a surprisingly productive morning on the Parker River Refuge. I had four Razorbills at Emerson Rocks a Hermit Thrush and Red-bellied Woodpecker at Hellcat and a bright stunning Snowy Owl perched near Parking lot One. Nothing noteworthy but all very nice.
“What was noteworthy was a show put on by a very common bird, or birds, Starling. The proverbial “Winged Rat” has been crowding onto Plum Island this winter. No doubt feasting on the bumper wild fruit crop this year. As I approached the entry to the new blind, I noticed the trees in front of me were sprouting Starlings and I stopped to watched as they flew into the bushes on the left side of the road.
“Almost immediately a few of them flew back across the road into a long muddy shallow puddle, about six inches wide, at the edge of the road. Once in there they began their furious wing beats. They were soon joined by more and more and soon the whole ten yards of shallow puddle was filled with active Starlings.
“They set up a furious flutter that almost seemed choreographed as at sent up a water curtain down the ten-yard length of the puddle to such a degree that it became difficult to see the birds themselves. After a while they would individually fly out but then cross the road and after a few moments run back across the road to join the fray. It lasted several minutes and when it was over, I had the creepy feeling that I had just accidentally observed some secret Starling cleansing ritual.”
Yes, common birds, but all birds earn the same “check” for the 2022 list. Still, we scrutinize every large raptor we see in the hope that the Steller’s Sea Eagle might find its way back to Massachusetts.
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