Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

New Year Begins Birding Challenge
January 14, 2017
By Steve Grinley

     As the new year starts, it is truly a renewal for us birders who keep a year list. On January first, common birds like house sparrows, starlings and pigeons are noticed again, if only for a moment, to check them off for the new year. It gives us fresh eyes and a renewed interest in observing even the most common birds.

     Margo and I planned to start the year birding with our young friend Sam. Before we headed north to Georgetown to pick him up, we decided to start at the Victory Garden area of the Fenway in Boston to see the white-winged doves that had been visiting a feeder in one of the gardens. It was one of our last rare birds for 2016 and it should be a quick addition to our 2017 list if they were still around.

     As we left the house in Cambridge, house sparrow predictably became our first bird of the year. Along the way we added starlings, herring gulls and rock dove (a.k.a. pigeon) to our year list.

     When we arrived at the Fenway just after sunrise, we were surprised that there were no other birders there to look for the rare doves. There were many house sparrows and morning doves feeding at the feeder inside the gated garden. Margo first spotted a white-winged dove feeding among the other doves. We finally found the second white-winged dove feeding nearby. 

     We tallied song and white-throated sparrows, chickadees, titmice, white-breasted nuthatch cardinals and robins in the immediate area. Also at the feeders were a couple of red-winged blackbirds and a grackle, nice birds to see in January. The local red-tailed hawk also made an appearance overhead. 

     With about twenty birds logged, we headed north to pick up Sam. As we were loading up the car at his apartment complex, we heard the “caw” of crows and then a “croak” of a raven! The raven flew out from the nearby woods, closely chased by a few crows. A nice start for Sam, and first of the year raven for all of us!

     We decided to head to Salisbury first to try to find the elusive red crossbills that had been hanging out there. Along the way, we stopped briefly for the local Newburyport screech owl that was obligingly sunning itself in its tree hole. When we arrived at the entrance to the Salisbury campground we immediately saw parked cars and a small crowd with binoculars and camera lenses pointed up at the pine trees – definitely a good sign. There in the pines were the red crossbill, the males with their brick-red color and dark wings and along with the yellow mustard colored females. Great looks at these elusive birds!

     Several of our birding friends were there, and as we socialized, tree sparrows and a downy woodpecker appeared for our list. We then drove around the reservation, spotting a flock of horned larks, and adding ring-billed and great black-backed gulls to our tally. A harrier hunted the marsh, and we added a few waterbirds to our year list including black ducks and mallards, common loon, red-breasted merganser, long tailed duck. common goldeneye, common eider, and white-winged scoter.

     We next headed to Plum Island where our highlights were two hooded mergansers in the Salt Pannes, and our first razorbills, gannets and dunlin of the year off Lot 7. From there we headed to Ipswich where there was a report of the rare Ross’ goose. Along the way, we stopped at Todd Farm in Rowley to look for three white-fronted geese that were reported there. We missed them on the first pass, but we turned around to recheck and Sam’s sharp eyes spotted the three geese hunkered down in a gully.

     Sam’s sharp eyes also picked out a distant bald eagle soaring high in Ipswich while we were checking a tree for another screech owl. We eventually pinned down the Ross’ goose among hundreds of Canada geese in the fields off Route 133, a life bird for Sam! We finished up the day visiting several other spots in Ipswich and adding a wintering great blue heron and a common merganser to our January first list. We ended the day with nearly fifty birds to start off 2017.

     If you would like to enjoy an afternoon of birding to start, or to add to, your new years list, please join me for a free bird walk this afternoon, Saturday the 14th, to try to find eagles, owls and other wintering birds along the Merrimack River. We will meet at Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift at the Route 1 Traffic Circle in Newburyport at 1pm. to carpool and we will spend about three hours searching areas in Newburyport, Salisbury and/or Plum Island for birds. Dress warm and bring binoculars if you have them. Beginners are welcome and no preregistration necessary – just show up! Hope to see you then.

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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