Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

New Birding Year Off to Good Start
January 16, 2016
By Steve Grinley

     The New Year brings with it a chance for a new beginning. For us birders who keep a yearly list, we get to start again at zero and build our year list again. Like a beginning birder, every bird is new on the first day of the New Year! Even the pigeons (aka rock pigeon), starlings and house sparrows that are usually ignored all year become of special importance, if only for that first glance in the New Year!

     For Margo and me, the chirping of house sparrows announced themselves as our first bird of the year as we left the house in Cambridge on January first. We decided to head to nearby Denehy Park as there had been an Ash-throated Flycatcher, a rare southwestern bird, hanging out there for more than a week. One of the strategies for starting off a new year is to try to find the more rare or less common birds that are holdovers from the previous year. One never knows if they will show up again in the year ahead!

     As we searched for the flycatcher at its “usual” spot in the park, we checked off a lot of common birds as firsts for the year: chickadee, common crow, northern cardinal, tufted titmouse, blue jay, song sparrow, downy woodpecker, etc. A flicker was a nice bird to see in January. After an hour of not finding the flycatcher, we ran into Bob Stymeist who said he had seen it on the opposite side of the park a few days prior, so he proceeded to head over there to check. It wasn’t long before we got a call from Bob telling us that the Ash-throated Flycatcher was, indeed, on the opposite side. We rushed over there and Margo got a great photo of our first “write-in” bird (a bird not on the Mass Checklist) of the year: https://www.flickr.com/photos/24246528@N05/24091571752/in/dateposted-public.

     We then followed Bob to the Malden and Mystic Rivers where we saw common, red-breasted and hooded mergansers, common goldeneye, bufflehead and three less common redheads. A wintering belted kingfisher was fishing the river, and we watched as a peregrine falcon chased a red-tailed hawk out of its territory!

     Margo and I then headed for Ipswich where, after much effort, we found a continuing White-fronted Goose (our second “write-in” bird) among the Canada Geese in the pond at the Ipswich Power & Light. Along Town Farm Road was a continuing Red-headed Woodpecker, an immature bird that had been showing more red feathers in the face over the weeks that it has been there. Red-winged Blackbirds flew overhead. In the fields along Argilla Road and Route 133 was a single Snow Goose in with hundreds of Canada Geese. Along Heartbreak Road, we ‘pished’ up a Swamp Sparrow and we saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker there.

     We then headed to Plum Island, adding Wild Turkeys to our New Year list as they crossed right in front of us along Rolfe’s Lane in Newbury. On Plum Island we added Razorbills along with lots of ducks, loons, and grebes. There was a handsome male Canvasback at Stage Island Pool. Two Black-bellied Plovers, unusual to see in January, were associating with a flock of Dunlin on Plum Island Beach. A lone Snowy Owl in the dunes was barely visible from the road south of Lot 5, and only seen by us standing on the guardrail next to the car.

     We ended January first with a respectable sixty-two species. Since the first day of the year was on a Friday, we still had a weekend ahead of us to try to add to our total. We decided to head to Cape Cod and try to see one or more write-ins that were reported down there. We started off heading to Falmouth to try to see a Mountain Bluebird at the Crane Wildlife Management Area. However, we were detoured on our way there.

     We received a call about a Hammond’s Flycatcher in Fairhaven. Hammond’s is a western flycatcher, which neither of us has seen in Massachusetts. Since it would be a state bird for us, and we had seen the mountain bluebird a week prior, and we hadn’t crossed the canal yet, we opted to re-route to Fairhaven. We were lucky that we did, as it was an easy “drive-up” bird. As we drove onto Egypt Lane in Fairhaven, we saw other birders who happened to be looking at the bird. The bird was actively feeding, staying mostly in the low bare shrubs and trees and going down to the ground occasionally. Margo’s photo shows the determined personality of this cute little bird:https://www.flickr.com/photos/24246528@N05/23572864483/in/dateposted-public. It was our third “write-in” of the year.

     When we were there, we were told that there was a pair of Barrow’s goldeneyes ten minutes away at Fort Phoenix, so we went there next and saw the handsome pair of ducks. There was a nice flock of brant feeding nearby as well.

     We finally headed to Falmouth and arrived mid-afternoon. The wind had picked up but we were able to find the Mountain Bluebird atop a cedar tree for our fourth “write-in” bird in two days. On our way back, we stopped at the Sandwich Marina and Cape Cod Canal where we found Northern Gannets, Sanderlings and a Thick-billed Murre.

     On Sunday, we traveled west and saw our fifth “write-in” bird of the year, a Varied Thrush, visiting backyard feeders in Rutland. A Pileated Woodpecker flying around the neighborhood was an added bonus, along with our first Eastern Bluebirds, Carolina Wren, and Tree Sparrows of the year. A Raven at nearby Tulley Lake was also our first for the year. 

     We ended the weekend with a surprising 82 species, five of which were write-ins to the checklist. A great start to the New Year!

     If you would like to get your year off to a good start, you might consider joining me for a FREE Bird Walk today – Saturday, February 16. It is our annual Eagles and Owls walk where we will try to find Bald Eagles along the rivers. We will also look for Snowy and Short-eared Owls on Plum Island or Salisbury. We will be meeting at the Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift at the Route 1 Traffic Circle at 1pm to carpool. No pre-registration, just show up. We will spend about 3 hours, so dress warm and bring binoculars and a scope if you have them. Beginners and families are welcome. 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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