Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Eagles and Owls Highlight Birding Trips
January 12, 2008
Steve Grinley

     Next Sunday, January 20, I am leading a free bird walk to look for bald eagles along the Merrimack River and owls at Plum Island or Salisbury. There have been an increase in the number of eagles along the river in the past couple of weeks including eight together near the pumping station off Spring Street and several eagles have been seen floating down the river on ice floats! This is the official Count Week for eagles, as conducted by the state, so this is considered prime time to see eagles in Massachusetts.

     There are now at least three snowy owls on Plum Island. There have been two adults and an immature seen on the refuge. There have been sporadic sightings of short-eared owls at dusk, both on the Parker River Refuge across from Lot 2 and also the Salisbury Beach State Reservation. So there are eagles and owls around and it will be fun to try to find some next week.

     I thought that I would reprint a few excerpts from a trip report that I published back in January of 2004. It will give you a sense of what one of these trips might be like if you haven’t been on one:

     “Last Saturday, I talked about the bald eagles, snowy owls and short-eared owls returning to the area for the winter. On Sunday, I led a birding field trip that was billed as “Eagles & Owls” with the plan to try to find these birds for people to see.

     “More than twenty people showed up for the walk…Seven cars headed out for Cashman Park where we scoped the river for fifteen minutes, and only saw gulls and a few mallard ducks. Then one person exclaimed, “I think I have an eagle.” She had her scope trained up river so, looking in that direction, I immediately saw a large bird soaring which, through my binoculars, I could see was a bald eagle. I tried to get everyone to see it, when I heard, “No, my eagle is perched.” I looked through the scope and sure enough there was an adult eagle perched on Carr Island.

     “Since not everyone could get good looks, we headed up to Ferry Landing Marine where I thought we would get closer views. However when we first arrived, there were no eagles in sight. I then did capture an immature eagle perched further up river on Eagle Island. As I was trying to show that one to everyone, another eagle sighting was called out. This time, two bald eagles were flying down river toward us, but on the other side of the river…The two eagles were flying at each other, back and forth-sometimes with talons first. There seemed to be a territory dispute going on and eventually the adult bird drove off the other and then perched atop a tree on Carr Island as if to reclaim its territory. Everyone had excellent views of the bird as its white head shone in the morning sunlight.

     “Satisfied with the eagle show, we then headed for Plum Island. As we crossed the Wilkinson Bridge onto the island, I noticed something perched on a large piece of driftwood on the marsh. We pulled around into the dirt lot after the bridge and set up scopes. The bird on the driftwood was a red-tailed hawk, but then I saw a large white bird coming at us from out of the sun to the south. “Snowy owl!” I shouted and soon everyone could get on the bird as it came closer. It continued its approach, with strong, silent wing beats. Everyone watched in awe as this large, very white owl went right overhead, seemingly peered down on us, and disappeared over the bridge. That was one of the best views I’ve ever had of a snowy owl in flight!…

     “Our final stop was at the Warden’s Area where we could see only water all the way over to Nelson’s Island in Rowley. Through the scope, I was able to find a second snowy owl perched atop a refuge sign two-thirds of the way out. Not quite the same view that we had of the first owl, but a nice way to end our very successful “eagles and owls” tour.”

     Last week, we had a beautifully white, snowy owl fly directly over our car at Salisbury, making me remember the experience of that trip back in 2004. Perhaps next week’s trip will provide more great views of these wonderful creatures! The walk meets at the store at 1 pm and I hope that you can join us.

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! 
Like us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/birdwatcherssupply