Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Local Birders Enjoy Search for Winter Birds
January 24, 2015
By Steve Grinley

     Seventeen participants joined me for free afternoon field trip to Newburyport and Plum Island last Saturday. Highlights on Plum Island were 3 Snowy Owls (1 across from Lot 2, 2 on the Hellcat Dike, one of which flew from the north dike to the south dike to eveyone’s delight), 3 Rough-legged Hawks, 4 Northern Harriers, 12 Horned Larks on the Hellcat dike, and a Snow Bunting feeding alongside of a song sparrow at the Warden’s. 

     At the boat ramp on Water Street, we watched a Belted Kingfisher fly across Newburyport Harbor from Salisbury and head toward Joppa Flats. We also found a single snow goose in the harbor among the hundreds of Canada Geese. 

     At Cashman Park, we had nice views of bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted and Common Mergansers, and a Common Loon. A pair of Red-tailed Hawks perched together on a pine tree across the river. Our next free walk is scheduled for Saturday, February 21, so mark your calendars!

     There have been many great birds in our area in recent weeks. Up to eight Bald Eagles have been seen from Deer Island near the Chain Bridge. A Barred Owl is being found frequently on Plum Island along with a flock of up to 200 Redpolls. A wayward Prairie Falcon was found and photographed on January 1st. A dark Gyrfalcon had been reported from southern Maine and from Hampton, New Hampshire, so local birders are watching for it along Salisbury and plum island.

     One such person searching for the Gyrfalcon is raptor enthusiast Paul Roberts of Medford. He detailed his search for the bird this past Wednesday:

     “Wanting to see the dark morph Gyr from Wells, Maine again, in light of the report of such a Gyr near Hampton Beach State Park yesterday afternoon and the incipient astronomically high tide (10.8 ft), I spent 6 hours today searching for the bird. Mainly sunny, temps in high 20s, little or no wind after 9 a.m. 

     “I spent the first 2.5 hours on Plum at low tide, walking boardwalks and trails and seeing almost nothing except 2 Snowy Owls, 20 Redpolls, and assorted sparrows.

     “Drove to Salisbury and had a third Snowy and 3 Bald Eagles perched across the marsh. 2 adults and 1 immature. The immature bird was in a plumage unlike any I have ever seen in person, print or pixels. Four Maine birders had spotted it and were trying to identify a large, apparently all-white-bodied bird with what looked like a brown strapless bra. The bird was facing the sun, so the bright sunlight may have blown out dirty brown streaks, but that was one of the most unusual looking eagles I’ve ever seen. If anyone has photographed a bird with white head and tail and torso, except for a brown strapless bra, please contact me offline. Thanks in advance.

     “Drove to Hampton Beach State Park and around Hampton, visiting all the spots where the white-morph Gyr of December 2013 was seen. Had 2 Redtails. Very little activity in the marsh as it approached high tide. The young …Wells Gyr apparently has acquired a taste for gulls. Checked out multiple gull roosts in the areas to no avail.

     “Drove back to Plum Island for last half hour of rising tide and first hour of turning tide. Had 2 light morph roughlegs distant and 2 Redtails close, and 60-80 Common Redpolls. Otherwise, very quiet. South marsh, south of the Old Pines, was almost devoid of ducks and geese. This is an area that often hosts thousands of Black Ducks. The sound west of the Wardens was similarly devoid of waterfowl. Saw very few Black Ducks anywhere on a 10.8 ft tide exposing everything in the marsh. My experience has been that many of the Gyrs I have seen in the Plum Island area over 4 decades have been feeding on Black Ducks. No evidence of that today, and little prey obvious to attract a passing dark falcon. (The Prairie Falcon of several weeks ago apparently hung around the island for only a few hours, perhaps due to little prey being evident.)

     “Did not even see a single, solitary Northern Harrier anywhere in 6 hours, although I heard from others that they had seen a grand total of 2. 

     “Fortunately, I had good, relatively close views of the Wells Gyr perched and in flight in good light with a scope, but once is not enough. It will be intriguing to see if the Gyr is spotted again in the Hampton Beach/ Great Marsh area over the next several days, especially with the forthcoming “SuperBowl of Birding” scheduled for Saturday. My expectations are low. According to several friends, in SuperBowl scoring Chipping Sparrow and Gyrfalcon are each worth 5 points. If that is true ….

     “Every Gyrfalcon IS a life bird. Can’t say that for Chipping Sparrows…..

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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