Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Birds Abound After the Blizzard
February 04, 2022
By Steve Grinley
In the days following last weekend’s blizzard, more birds sought out available bird feeders for food. Our goldfinch numbers more than doubled! We had as many as eighteen juncos at one time joining the white-throated, song and tree sparrows feeding on the tray feeders and on the snow-covered ground underneath. The mourning doves kept nudging them aside. Our usual three to five blue jays increased to a dozen coming to the deck railing for peanuts.
We noticed a few more house finches, while our usual nuthatches and titmice continued to visit. Our dear Carolina wrens were continually devouring our live mealworms. Our usual array of downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers kept the suet logs constantly occupied. Our first purple finch of the season appeared this week. We even had a single starling and a lone American robin visiting from time to time.
Out in the field, the snow and ice was both help and a hindrance. It brought the ground feeding snow buntings, horned larks and Lapland longspurs to the few bare spots created by blowing snow. Song, white-throated and tree sparrows feed along the edges of the refuge road on Plum Island where the plow had cleared snow away. If you go slow enough along the road, you’ll get great looks at these birds.
The snow and ice certainly makes it hard to spot a snowy owl out in the marsh. You might get lucky to see it perched on the staddles, a protruding log, or on one of the osprey platforms.
Ice is clogging the Merrimack River and the Harbor. It concentrates the ducks and geese but moves them further away during the lower tides. It also concentrates the eagles to where there is open water. Margo and I stopped at Cashman Park in Newburyport earlier in the week and counted five bald eagles, mostly in flight and most across the river toward Ram Island.
A handsome light morph rough-legged hawk hunted the marsh across the river, as did a harrier. We spotted a distant turkey vulture circling over Salisbury and it eventually drifted north. Canada geese lined the edges of the river while common goldeneye, bufflehead and red-breasted mergansers continually dove for food in the swift current. We did see four green-winged teal among the black ducks in a calm inlet on the far side with the aid of our scopes.
The golden eagle was reported and photographed just before the storm upriver along Pleasant Valley Road in Amesbury. Our friend Linda re-found it as it soared with bald eagles near Eagle Island, viewing it from Old Merrill Street on the Amesbury side. Others have been lucky to see it from Deer Island off the Chain Bridge this past week.
Our friend Doug Chickering of Newbury ventured to Plum Island after the storm and shared this report:
“Today was my first time on the island, post storm, and it couldn’t have been a better day for mid-winter. The last day of January, after a blizzard, and it was three degrees when I left my home. You can’t get much more winter than that. Yet as soon as I drove onto the island things suddenly livened up.
“Right at parking Lot 1 I had Snow Buntings, a Savannah Sparrow and Song Sparrows. As I drove down the road, I kept finding small groups of Sparrows in the places where the plow scraped up the edge of the road. Where the grit and food were. Also, as the sun rose, and the day warmed up the Sparrows came for the melt water. Halfway to the wardens I stopped to count a flock of 42 Horned Larks also feeding along the road.
“At one point, I encountered Mary Margaret and we birded the Hellcat area together. The highlight of our search were the two Sapsuckers. One already gaining red at the crown and throat. The other no red at all. It was watching this Sapsucker that we noticed that it was at its holes and actually licking sap. In fact, once we became aware of it, we could see lines of sap, glistening in the bright sun.
“The bird spent a great deal of time in that tree and even pecked another hole. I always thought that the sap in a tree didn’t run in the winter. I also wondered how many other birds, or small mammals were getting sustenance here. Anything to help one through those cold winter nights.
“In the Hellcat parking lot, I followed a Robin high into one of the close trees. What with the report of Varied Thrush I am more inclined to look at Robins more closely. It wasn’t the bird, but the tree itself that caught my attention. All along the crown of the tree, just starting to come out, buds. I thought this was winter. Dare I think fondly of the warblers? Probably too early.”