Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Eagle Festival is Always a Good Show
February 11, 2017
By Steve Grinley

     If you have never made it to the Merrimack River Eagle Festival in Newburyport in the past ten years, you have another opportunity to do so next Saturday, February 18. 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 pre-register to have photos taken with an eagle for a small donation. 

     If you have younger children or can’t attend the City Hall presentations, you may visit the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center, where you can have close looks at hawks. At the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters, you will get to meet a few owls, including an eagle owl! Both locations will have family projects, arts and crafts and more!

     These indoor programs are great, however the best show is usually outdoors where, once again, the bald eagles along with other area raptors, ducks, and geese are sure to put on an amazing display. I will co-lead three of the nine van tours that will take you to venues along the Merrimack River in search of eagles. If you wish to visit these venues on your own, a map is available at Mass Audubon Joppa Flats or at the Parker River Wildlife Refuge Headquarters. If you like taking pictures, there is also a new afternoon tour this year especially for photographers.

     On our van tours in years past, a pair of peregrine falcons was seen hanging around the Whittier Bridge, sometimes perched atop the arches above the bridge. Our van just missed them harassing a passing adult eagle, as if they were defending their territory. One of the volunteer spotters stationed at one of the nearby sites described it as “two fighter jets attacking a passing bomber.” 

     We saw some drama at another location where we watched a red-tailed hawk do a steep dive on a passing bald eagle. The red-tail was circling high above when it saw the eagle enter its territory. The hawk folded its wings and plummeting toward the eagle, pulling up just before striking the bird that was two to three times its size!

     During our visits along the river, we usually encounter harriers hunting the marsh and an occasional Cooper’s or sharp-shinned hawk. We have watched common goldeneye and bufflehead courting, and handsome common and red-breasted mergansers feeding in the river. Great cormorants are also 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. 

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

     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. At least one snowy owl has been spotted on the refuge in recent days along with red-tailed and rough-legged hawks. There has been a pair of adult bald eagles seen on the North Dike from the North Pool Overlook in recent weeks as well.

     If you are unable to attend the Eagle Festival on Saturday and still would like a chance to see eagles and owls, you are welcome to join me on a free “Eagles and Owls Walk” next Sunday, February 19. We will meet at Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift at the Traffic Circle at 1 pm and we will carpool to look for eagles along the river and then head to Plum Island to try to see eagles, hawks and maybe a snowy owl. The trip should last about 3 -4 hours. Everyone is welcome, but dress warmly, and bring binoculars, scopes, or field guides if you have them. Hope to see you next weekend!

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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