Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Lots To See at the Eagle Festival
February 10, 2018
By Steve Grinley

     Next Saturday, February 17, is the Merrimack River Eagle Festival in Newburyport. If you attend the Festival, chances are good that you will see eagles and all kinds of raptors. 

     You can attend a one-hour morning or afternoon presentation at the Newburyport City Hall where Mary-Beth Kaeser of Horizon Wings will present two educational programs featuring raptors great and small. It is first come, first served and recommended for adults and children age 6 and over. You can also pre-register to have photos taken with a raptor for a small donation. 

     If you have younger children or cannot attend the City Hall presentations, you may visit the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center, where you can have close looks at live hawks from the Mass Audubon Drumlin Farm Sanctuary. At the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters across the street, you will get to meet a few owls, also from Drumlin Farm. Both locations will have family projects, arts and crafts and more!

     These indoor programs are great fun, however the best show is usually outdoors where the bald eagles, along with other area raptors, ducks, and geese are sure to put on an amazing display. I will be co-leading one of several van tours that will take you to venues along the Merrimack River in search of eagles. If you like taking pictures, there is also an afternoon tour this year especially for photographers. Van tours require pre-registration at Mass Audubon Joppa Flats. If you wish to visit these venues on your own, maps are available at the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center or at the Parker River Wildlife Refuge Headquarters. 

     During your visit to the venues along the river, you might encounter harriers hunting the marsh, or an occasional Cooper’s or sharp-shinned hawk. You might also see one of the new resident peregrine falcons that now regularly hunt the river and are likely to nest in the area this year.

     Also on the river, you may watch common goldeneye and bufflehead courting, and handsome long-tailed ducks, common and red-breasted mergansers feeding in the river. Great cormorants can also be seen fishing in the river and sometimes a wintering great blue heron or kingfisher might be found. Even a harbor seal or two have made appearances in the past. 

     You can also spend part of the day on your own at Plum Island where you might find a snowy owl in the dunes or marsh along the refuge road. Several snowy owls have been spotted on the refuge this season along with red-tailed and rough-legged hawks. There have also been bald eagles seen from the North Pool Overlook, and perched on Grape Island south of Lot 5. If birders are present with scopes, they will likely share their optics and the experience of viewing these birds up close. 

     Most of the tours and the indoor and outdoor experiences during the Festival are FREE! For additional information, please contact the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center at 978-462-9998 or the Parker River Wildlife Refuge at 978-465-5753.

     If you are unable to attend the Eagle Festival on Saturday and would still like a chance to see eagles and owls with a group, you are welcome to join me for a free “Eagles and Owls Walk” next Sunday, February 18. We will meet at Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift at the Traffic Circle at 1pm and we will carpool to look for bald eagles along the river and then head to Plum Island to try to see eagles, hawks and snowy and short-eared owls. The trip should last about 3 hours. Everyone is welcome, but dress warmly, and bring binoculars, scope, or field guide if you have one. 

     I hope to see you next weekend!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 23 years of service to the birding community!
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