Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Owls Highlight Afternoon Birding Trip
February 23, 2019
By Steve Grinley
Twenty people joined me on my “Eagles & Owls” walk last Sunday afternoon.
As we left the traffic circle and headed down Parker Street, two ravens flew past our car heading for the Tendercrop Farm property. Unfortunately none of the other cars following us saw them.
Our first stop was a screech owl in downtown Newburyport. This cute red morph owl cooperated by sitting out in a large hole. We had excellent views through our binoculars and through our scopes from across the street without disturbing the sleeping bird.
While we were watching the owl, a large raptor circled high in the sky overhead, unfortunately in direct line with the sun. Its long, flat wingspan showed it to be an eagle, the “fingers” of its outer primaries clearly visible with the sunlight streaming through them. Though “bald eagle” was the call, something looked different about this bird, and it wasn’t until much later that I learned that Tom Wetmore had seed a golden eagle over the same area, at about the same time, but with good views with the sun behind him. I was hoping that one of the participants might have photographed the eagle, but no pictures have surfaced.
We then headed to Cashman Park where we saw numerous common goldeneye, bufflehead and a couple of long-tailed ducks in the swift moving Merrimack River. No eagles at this site, but we did see two peregrine falcons perched on the swing bridge portion of the railroad bridge next to the Route 1 bridge. Hopefully these two falcons will nest this coming season in the box put up for them under the Route 1 bridge.
We continued on to the Salisbury Beach State Reservation where we spotted a snowy owl perched on a tuft of grass out on the marsh. We pulled over and decided to pull out the spotting scopes. Everyone enjoyed good, though distant, scope views of the owl.
We then drove through the campground to the boat ramp where we found photographers and birders lined along the edge of the parking lot there, all staring into the dunes. We learned that there was a short-eared owl there and that it had walked into the tall grasses and out of sight. We waited a while to see if it would come back out but, after a short wait, we decided to move along. We were thankful that no one ventured into the dunes to flush the owl.
We stopped back in the campground where we could walk out to the river and see the seals laying on the exposed rocks in the middle of the river. Around the rocks were a large flock of common eiders along with several gadwall, black scoters, more common goldeneye and red-breasted mergansers.
As we made our way back to the cars, a flock of snow buntings was discovered on one of the picnic tables. A passer-by with a dog flushed them, and we watched them fly around, flashing the white in their wings and looking like a small snow flurry. They all settled back atop another picnic table instead of on the ground where we normally see them. It seemed funny to see more than thirty snow buntings crowded onto a picnic table, but it gave us a chance to see these northern birds well through the scopes.
We then headed to Plum Island. We saw another snowy owl at a long distance out in the marsh from the Maintenance Area. We were able to see a northern harrier flying fairly close in, as well as a Cooper’s hawk and a red-tailed hawk on the island.
Those that stayed with the trip until the end were rewarded with the “bird of the day” (as voted by the folks in my car). As we approached Parking Lot 1 on our way off the refuge, there were a number of cars parked by the side of the road and people with cameras were lining the side of the road.. I thought they might have found the immature red-tailed hawk that normally hangs out in that area for photographs.
Instead, there was a very white snowy owl perched atop a tree on a mound not far off the road. People were able to get great photos from the road of this magnificent owl before the bird decided to take flight and head further out across the river and into the marsh. Such close views of this beautiful snowy owl was a great finale to a fine afternoon of birding!
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