Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

New Year Presents New Birding Challenges
January 17, 2009
By Steve Grinley

     The start of a new year brings new adventures to birders. Doug Chickering and Lois Cooper of Groveland started the new year with some great birds, as Doug shares with us:

     “Today, January 2nd, we managed to break our winter torpor and headed out looking for birds. Ah the new year! Every bird is new, every sighting a triumph, as even the mundane reaches near pretty good day by any winter standard.

     ”Winter has settled in seriously here in the northeast corner of Essex County. The wind blown snow keeps the roadways uncertain and challenging. Everything but the Merrimac River (that and the mysterious Briscoe Pond — but more on that later.) is frozen solid and even our mighty river is heavy with ice flows that gather and choke the estuaries and inlets. The Plum Island River is frozen. Even Plum Island Sound is frozen, giving stark testimony to the deep arctic conditions of the last couple of days. There were plenty of ducks in the Merrimac, swimming and diving seemingly unaffected by the flowing ice. We had lots of Red-breasted Mergansers, quite a few Oldsquaw and Common Goldeneye, and there was a moderately sized flock of Common Eider off the Salisbury Jetty at the mouth of the river.

     ”There were plenty of White-winged Scoter and Common Loons in the ocean off Salisbury beach. We searched the Salisbury Grove for Owls and could find none. I noted for future reference that the grove is alive with Chickadee’s, I would say as many as ten. If they stay they will be able to indicate the presence of any future Owl. We had a male Harrier working the Salisbury Marshes for our first Harrier of the year and discovered three Lapland Longspurs accompanying a small nervous flock of Snow Buntings also at Salisbury.

     “It can be somewhat exasperating to see a flock of Snow Buntings flying in company with at least a couple of small dark, non Snow Buntings when they have one of their cases of the jitters. They never fly far away and occasionally tantalizingly look as if they are going to settle down, only to flutter back into the air. We finally got them down in the medium strip grass on the road leading in from the entrance gate and had really nice looks at some sharply dressed Longspurs. We also found another Longspur foraging in the parking lot at Salisbury with some Horned Larks. This bird we didn’t get such a good look at, and this bird looked a little different to me but…. I’m sure it was a Longspur.”

     ”Another Highlight for the day was the juvenile Northern Shrike perched in a tree in the Town marker Field. Perched right at the highest point; an avian topmast hand. And all the time we watched he kept vocalizing. I think it’s the first time I’ve heard a Shrike calling.

     “On the way home we stopped to check tiny Briscoe Pond; which we had checked as a matter of course as part of our territory during last Sunday’s CBC. It’s a strange little place. It almost never seems to freeze over and is usually teeming with ducks; usually just Mallards, but also commonly with one or two others like black Ducks or Pintail. On the CBC, like today, among the crowd of Mallards we had a drake Wood Duck. The pond is right at the edge of the road, separated from the road by a chest high chain link fence and seeing as how one could easily throw a stone to the over the pond we had great looks of a drake Woodie in full figure. A nice final touch to our first day out.”

     Since those first days of January, storms continue to hit, and the temperature has plummeted to below freezing and it is expected to stay frigid for most of the week. The birds have been voracious at the feeders, evidenced by bird seed flying off the store shelves. After mentioning the influx of pine siskins at thistle feeders in last week’s column, we did have two siskins appear at our store feeders amid the dozens of goldfinch. Many more siskins were reported by area residents throughout the past week.

     On the fifth of January, Phil Brown of Essex discovered a female yellow-headed blackbird visiting a feeder on Dock Lane in Salisbury. The following day, he found the bird again in a tree on Mudnock Road, but the bird has since been seen frequently at the original Dock Lane site. Since that first day, birders have flocked to Dock Lane to see this rare visitor from the West.

     Snowy and short-eared owls continue to be seen in Salisbury and on Plum Island. The Merrimack River continues to freeze, and more bald eagles are congregating along the ice and fish the open waters. I received a call from a Water Street resident who reported three eagles near his house at Joppa Park – an adult and two immatures. Eagles have been spotted from Cashman Park, the Chain Bridge, and from Point Shore in Amesbury.

     The temperatures are expected to moderate a bit tomorrow, Sunday, and you are welcome to join me on our ”Eagles and Owls” free bird walk that leaves from my store at 1pm. We will look for eagles along the Merrimack and search for owls at Salisbury or Plum Island. No pre-registration is necessary and families are welcome. Dress warmly and bring binoculars and a field guide if you have them. For more information, or in case of inclement weather, call the store at 978-462-0775. 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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