Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Winter Birds Keep Birders Warm
February 08, 2014
By Steve Grinley

     I received an E-mail this week from a Salisbury customer who spends his winters in Key Largo. He said that he had migrating flocks of red-winged blackbirds in Florida already. He claimed that they were 10 days early and was hoping that we would have an early spring up here. So far, it doesn’t look that way. The redwings normally start arriving here in mid to late February. We almost always get more snow after they arrive!

     We are certainly still in the middle of our winter here. The birds are spending a lot of time at the feeders and they are going through a lot of seed and suet. Snow and ice cover much of the natural seed sources and, this far into the season, those sources are already greatly depleted. So be sure to keep those feeders filled right into the spring migration, as many returning birds will be seeking fuel after their long journey north.

     Meanwhile, we can continue to enjoy our winter with some of the fine winter birds that migrated down from up north to see us. Well, not really to see us, but to enjoy what foods are available in the wild. The winter loons and ducks offshore are plentiful and the bald eagle and snowy owl shows continue along our rivers and coast.

     Last weekend’s Cape Ann Winter Birding Weekend was great fun for all who participated. The bus trips around Cape Ann on Saturday gave participants a chance to see such spectacular ducks as harlequins, common eiders, long-tailed ducks, goldeneye and buffleheads. A few groups saw purple sandpipers and dunlin along the rocky shore. A few even saw snowy owls sitting on the rocks at water’s edge.

     Those who preferred indoor viewing were entertained by Mark and Marcia Wilson’s “Eyes on Owls” program. This gave everyone a close-up view of screech owls, barn owls, great horned owls and an eagle owl! I had never seen an eagle owl before, so that was very cool.

     We attended the Sunday boat trip out of Gloucester, which left the harbor under nearly perfect conditions for a February pelagic. The temperature was in the thirties and wind was almost calm, as were the seas. We saw an amazing number of dovekies (20 or more) and a half dozen or more common murres – the most I have ever seen on the east coast. Northern gannets were flying close to the boat and kittiwakes followed the boat more than once. We spotted one snowy owl on the rocks along Eastern Point and the long-tailed ducks in the harbor were stunning. Margo took some great photos on the boat trip, some of which may be viewed online at our Flickr site:http://www.flickr.com/photos/webirdtoo

     This weekend, you still have an opportunity to participate in the Merrimack River Eagle Festival. You can get close up and personal with owls, eagles and other raptors at the indoor programs that are happening at the Newburyport City Hall, the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center and at the Parker River National Wildlife refuge Headquarters.

     The van tours are full, but you can obtain a map at any of the Festival venues and journey on your own to any of the Eagle Sites along the Merrimack River where volunteer birders will have eagles in their scopes for closer viewing. These include Cashman Park and behind the Mercen Building in Newburyport and at Lowell’s Boat House in Amesbury. 

     You can also venture down Plum Island or the Salisbury Beach State Reservation and still find many snowy owls. Phil Brown of Essex took some amazing photos of the snowys and has one sequence of shots of an owl at Salisbury swallowing a mouse. Those photos can be seen at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nebirdsplus/.

     With so many great birds in the area this winter, we should be able to get through a few more weeks of winter with no problem!

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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