Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

First Blackbirds Signal Start of Spring Migration
February 19, 2011
By Steve Grinley

Last Saturday’s Merrimack River Eagle Festival was a huge success, thanks to the dozen or so eagles that obligingly put on a show from Newburyport Harbor to the Spring Lane pumping station. Every viewing venue had eagles in view throughout the day. Visitors were delighted to see eagles in all their developmental plumages with, of course, the adult birds, sporting their white heads and tails, earning the most “oohs” and “aahs.”

In addition to the eagles, many viewers had the added pleasure of watching a pair of peregrine falcons hunt along the river. Many folks saw a pair of peregrines around the Whittier bridge, often scattering the flock of pigeons that resides there. One of my tours saw one of the falcons perched on the old Towle Building from Cashman Park. It, too, forced the local pigeon population to seek shelter elsewhere.

     The river continues to have plenty of ice, and eagles can still be seen feeding on fish, ducks or other carcass on the ice in front of the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center. As we get more of the warmer days tucked between the seasonably cold spells, the ice on the rivers will slowly disappear and, eventually, so will some of the eagles. They will head back to their lakes and rivers further north, while a few resident eagles will, hopefully, remain to nest in our area once again.

     These occasional warmer days are brief hints of what is to come. We can see a few of the male goldfinches already showing a little brighter yellow coloring in the face and chest. Turkey vultures are already migrating into Massachusetts. A few scattered reports of grackles and red-winged blackbirds will soon turn into flocks of blackbirds in the next few weeks. People will say it is too early, but the blackbirds always start arriving during February, even as a few snow storms often follow them.

     Doug Chickering of Groveland shares his first grackle sighting with us:

     “The Plum Island River is frozen as is most of Plum Island Sound. The Merrimac River is filling up with the winter ducks and although not frozen, there is a steady stream of ice flows coming down river; occasionally occupied by a majestic Bald Eagle. Our feeders are mobbed with birds and the snow so deep we are plagued by persistent squirrels that can easily leap above the baffle and scatter the birds from our feeders. We have even resorted to an old and half forgotten squirrel-proof feeder to keep them at bay. The heavy weather has constricted our movement and our birding but we have pretty much seen everything that’s out there. We have yet to catch up with the king Eider but that is not unusual and there is still plenty of time. And it is an odd winter for what it lacks; no Snowy Owl — anywhere.

     “This afternoon, at the approach of twilight, fourteen deer wandered into our yard. Their coats were heavy and dark, and they clustered together and loafed in the yard as the day grew dark. They didn’t seem to be distressed, but like me, the seemed to be sick of this winter. The history of winter in New England is that it can endure through March and the weather reports don’t hold out any bright hopes, but this morning Lois Cooper and I were delighted by the first signs that this winter will end. We had a pair of Common Grackles perched in the cold sunlight in our neighbor’s yard. Storms may yet come and the temperature might not rise much above freezing for a while but the redoubtable Grackles are back. Can the Red-wings and Killdeer be far behind? And, well, I can dream of a Warbler at least.”

     We can all dream of warblers and other warm weather birds as the ice and snow continue to melt, and the early spring migration begins.

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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