Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Interesting Birds Keep January Exciting
January 19, 2013

By Steve Grinley

     There is a lot happening in the bird world during mid-January around the North Shore area. I saw a bald eagle fishing off Deer Island as I was crossing the over the Chain Bridge on my way to work this morning. There are a number of eagles around now, and a few more may arrive before the Eagle Festival takes place in a few weeks. The eagles can’t wait to be gawked at by thousands of appreciative spectators!

     There has been a flock of pine grosbeaks feeding on crab apples in one of the industrial parks of Route 125 in Wilmington. Last Sunday, Margo and I stopped by there and found just four feeding in one of the trees. There have been up to thirty birds reported there. It is well a look at any ornamental crabapple trees in our own industrial park in Newburyport, or elsewhere, for these vagrants from the north.

     There has been a Cape May warbler visiting a feeder in Andover for the past couple of weeks, feeding on suet and mealworms. We didn’t stop there on Sunday, but we did go by a home in Merrimac where a blue grosbeak has been visiting a sunflower feeder for more than a week. The homeowners were not at home, so we watched the feeders from the road for a short while without seeing the bird. The grosbeak is, however, still partaking of the resident’s hospitality as of this writing.

     We then proceeded to Salisbury Beach State Reservation where saw a falcon perched atop the osprey platform on the way in. The fog has started to role in a bit, making the bird look as large as a peregrine. However, once we got a better angle on it, we could see the heavily striped breast and the facial pattern. It was a merlin, a smaller falcon, but a menace to the songbirds in the reservation.

     We entered the campground area and found a few people staring at some trees along the right side of the road. As we pulled up and got out of the car, we could hear the high-pitched “yank-yank-yank” of the red-breasted nuthatches. We also heard the twittering sound of crossbills and soon we had great looks at white-winged and red crossbills. They were often hard to spot, feeding among the pine cones and dense needles on the trees, but occasionally they would tee up and pose so that Margo could take some photos.

     Driving out to the boat ramp, we found a razorbill and the continuing black guillemot just off the ramp, less than fifty feet away. Common and red-throated loons were in the river along with common eider, red-breasted mergansers, common goldeneye and long-tailed ducks. The heads of harbor seals were also bobbing in the water.

     We then headed over to Plum Island which was almost completely socked in with fog by the time we arrived. Still, we decided to try for the Western grebe on the ocean off Lot 1. The tide was high and, if we were lucky enough that birds would be in close to shore, we might have a chance of seeing it. As we arrived at the platform, we saw that visibility was no more than fifty to seventy yards out. We could see white winged scoters, and some horned and red-necked grebes in fairly close.

     Then we spotted it. I could make out the western grebe just at the edge of the fog bank. In fact, as I watched it, the fog would engulf it temporarily and then back off enough to make it visible again. Margo and I were both able to get our scopes on it. We had been joined by Mike Nolan shortly after we arrived and he struggled to see the bird through our scopes. It didn’t help that the grebe decided to tuck his head under his wing, but its size and white front still made it distinguishable. Mike got his scope on the area where the bird was and we had to leave him when we got a call about a sighting of a dovekie off the hellcat dike.

     As I said, it was high tide, in fact it was a flood tide of about ten feet. As we drove down the refuge road, there was not a lot of grass to be seen. The tide had brought the water up to the edge of the road in some spots. We did stop to see a snow goose among some Canada geese near Parking Lot 2. As we hiked out the dike at Hellcat, people were positioned at the south end of the public area with scopes fixed on the marsh side. Sure enough, they were watching the dovekie, a robin-sized black and white bird usually seen out on the ocean, swimming around and diving in the water that was up to the edge of the dike.

     The dovekie was originally just ten yards away when Eric Lebato first found it. It was a little further out by the time we got there, but we still had great views of it. It must have come into the Plum Island Sound with the tide. We hoped it would find its way back to the ocean as the tide receded, but there were a few great black-backed gulls lingering in the area that may have had an afternoon snack on their minds!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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4 years of service to the birding community! 
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