Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Eagles Highlight Birding Trips
January 26, 2008
Steve Grinley

     Last Sunday’s “Eagles & Owls” bird walk turned out to be quite successful. Twenty-five hearty souls turned out on that cold, blustery day. Many were first time birders, including several children. They were rewarded for venturing out into the cold.

     Out first stop was the Pumping Station on Spring Street where an immature bald eagle was perched when we arrived. After great looks in the spotting scopes, the raptor took flight and we watched it circle over the river. As we watched it, an adult bald eagle came flying into view and eventually took perch in the same spot that the younger bird had vacated. Again, breathtaking views were had by all!

     After watching the mergansers and goldeneyes, the great cormorants on the bridge, and a Cooper’s hawk across the river, we headed for Plum Island. We found a snowy owl far out on the marsh from the Maintenance Area. It flew and landed in some grass, making it hard to see. It flew again, but this time to the top of a shrub for much better views.

     We didn’t find a saw-whet owl that was seen in the New Pines earlier in the day. We also didn’t catch up with any short-eared owls, though they have now been making regular appearances between Lots 1 and 2 on the refuge over the past few days. We did find a flock of horned larks on the way out. It was a great afternoon, with good looks at some special birds by all who participated.

     Birding, however, is not just about the “special” birds. Many of the common birds enrich the experience. I would like to share with you a recent trip report by “Mr. Plum Island,” Tom Wetmore of Newburyport. Tom visits the Island nearly every day in search of birds and records his, and others, sightings on his Plum Island Pages web site. He shares with us his experience with a bald eagle, as well as with other common birds:

     “During my trip to the island today I spent the first half of my time watching feeding frenzies of gulls at a distance of at least two miles off lot one. I can see why it might seem strange to others what we birders choose to do with our time. As years have gone by gulls have slowly changed from those birds in the background that I used to ignore, to fascinating creatures that I am more and more interested in. I have gotten to especially love the kittiwakes and I watch for them whenever I can. Among with the hundreds of gulls once again were Razorbills always in attendance.

     “I spent the other half of my time wandering around the Pines Trail and the road north of Lot Five looking for a Northern Saw-whet Owl. At one time I heard a Blue Jay call, and at another a single Red-breasted Nuthatch nerc’ed, both leading to hopes that some other bird would complete the search for me. But not to be. Other than those two quick sounds, and some distant robins, the Pines Trail was as silent as winter. 

     “From the Pines platform, however, I was able to watch an immature Bald Eagle, lazily wander down the sound, attracting Great Black-backed Gulls and Northern Harriers and repelling Canada Geese and American Black Ducks as it proceeded regally on its way. When a Bald Eagle flies it is always a major event; excitement precedes and follows them wherever they go. The Great Black-backed Gulls appeared diminutive next to the large eagle. Watching two gulls warily pestering the eagle reminded me of a similar scene I had witnessed a couple months ago, when I saw Bald Eagle, also being harassed by a Great Black-backed Gull, roll slightly to one side and simply pluck the gull out of the air with a talon and then proceed along with a limp and lifeless gull hanging below.

     “I also found noteworthy a large flock of at least 250 American Robins circling up into the sky from somewhere in the scrubby habitat around lot two.

     “On every recent visit I have stopped at North Field to try to find the Northern Mockingbird that is making one of the tree islands its home for the winter. I am usually not disappointed, and I was not today. Last year I called that bird the Lord of the Berries, and I had recently been calling it the Lord of the Little Tree Island, but today I found myself calling it Nifty. I couldn’t figure out where that name had come from until I noticed how I’ve been recording the bird in my notebook. I’ve been listing it as: “NMck 1 nfti”, which, in my telegraphic bird notation, means “one Northern Mockingbird at North Field tree island.” Aha! Of course, the bird’s name is obviously Nifty.”

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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