Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Raptors and Ducks Highlight Bird Walk
February 21, 2009
by Steve Grinley

     Two dozen people showed up for my “Eagles and Owls” walk last Sunday afternoon. Margo and I had a chance to scout the area in the morning, so we knew about a snowy owl that was posing for photographers at the Salisbury Beach State Reservation. As a result, I took a poll before the trip ventured out, asking for how many was a bald eagle a life bird and how many needed a snowy owl. It seems everyone had seen a bald eagle before, which was not surprising considering the Eagle Festival was the previous day. Many said that the snowy owl would be a new bird for them, so we headed for Salisbury first.

     When we arrived at the Salisbury Reservation, the photographers still had the snowy owl in their sights. The bird was in the marsh about fifty yards off the road just before the Boat Ramp Parking Lot. Unfortunately, the photographers were also in the marsh. We stood in the parking lot and along the road and had full scope views of the beautifully white male snowy owl. The “ooohs” and “aaahs” from first time viewers peering through the scopes is always a pleasant sound.

     We spent almost half an hour admiring the bird, which was just sitting, preening occasionally, next to a log in the marsh. We decided to move on to check for crossbills in the campground. Again, photographers made the search easier as a few of them had surrounded some trees which, we presumed, contained crossbills. However, the first bird we zeroed in on was a merlin perched atop one of the pines. This small falcon was looking around- perhaps for the same thing that we were. It seemed unflustered by all the optics pointed in its direction.

     We then heard the chattering of white-winged crossbills is a nearby pine. Unfortunately, the afternoon sunlight was against us and, for many, only silhouette views were had. But the crossed bills could be seen as the birds fed at eye level and some of us did see the pinkish-red coloration of the male. After a short while, the crossbills took off across the campground and a few moments later, the merlin headed off in the same direction.

     We then headed for Cashman Park in Newburyport in search of eagles. From the boat ramp we had great looks at stunning long-tailed ducks, bufflehead, courting common goldeneyes, and distant views of common mergansers. A number of crows were gathering, and flying back and forth across the river, and we were delighted to hear a fish crow among them.

     We did see two immature bald eagles. One was quite a distance upriver, flying over Carr Island. Another was across the river from us, but still quite a distance away. We were hoping for better looks, so we headed to the Chain Bridge. However we found no eagles there. We were rewarded with close looks at male and female common mergansers swimming close to the bridge. The ice that jammed the river around the bridges a week ago was mostly gone, allowing the eagles to expand their range upriver to feed.

     Next we went to the Newburyport Boat Basin where we saw more ducks riding the river currents and a great blue heron feeding on the far bank. Just as we were about to leave, one of the remaining participants spotted an eagle flying upriver. We watched this second-year bird fly by us, giving everyone great looks. Soon a second immature bald eagle was spotted across the river. We were able to return to our meeting place having had excellent views of both eagles and owls. You can see some photos of our trip, taken by Phil Brown of Essex, at: http://www.nebirdsplus.org/Eagles_Owls.htm

     On our way home, Margo and I decided to head home by way of Scotland Road in Newbury. We stopped at the Jodrey-Soucy Platform where we found a flock of red-winged blackbirds. First they were singing in the trees, where there was a grackle among them, and then they flew down to the fields and perched on exposed grasses and cattails sticking above the snow and ice.

     The following day, there was a grackle at the store feeders, and redwings continued to move into the area all week. Redwings always seem to arrive in mid-February – too soon to be harbingers of Spring, as snow usually follows. Yet there were 700,00 more redwings counted in Connecticut this past week, most of them ready to move northward to, hopefully, force Spring upon us!

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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