Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Fascinating Shows For Visiting Birders
March 15, 2014
By Steve Grinley

     This week, a large flock of red-winged blackbirds, common grackles and starlings have been gathering in the late afternoon and evening in the trees across from the store. Staging next to a wetland, their evening chorus heralds the spring that they, and we, are longing for. Of course, spring is still to come, but they voice the hope that keeps us optimistic through the late winter periods of cold, ice, and snow.

     Since spring, and its expected bird migrants, is delayed, the winter birds are still the attraction in our area. Snowy owls continue to dominate the news and reports. The owls still back up traffic on the Parker River Refuge and Salisbury Beach State Reservation, as well as along public roads. Recently, one snowy owl perched close to the road by the Wilkinson Bridge to Plum Island caused cars to park on both sides of the road. With nowhere to pull over, other cars stopped in the middle of the road, causing police intervention.

     Still, overall, the snowy owl invasion has to be a positive one for us. Due to the sheer numbers of birds here, so many more people have experienced the sight of these magnificent birds for the first time. We don’t yet know the impact on the children or grandchildren who have been shown their first amazing owl and the impression that owl will leave on the child. It has to give them a sense of wonder and, hopefully, appreciation for the birds and nature around them. Hopefully that appreciation will last a lifetime.

     The owls continue to draw visitors from outside the area. Even for those that already appreciate nature, this owl event is momentous. Walt Webb of Westwood, MA visited the area with friends this past weekend and filed the following report:

     “On Sat., Mar. 8, we arrived at the Seawall, Newburyport Harbor, just in time to share in sightings of a coyote standing out in the shallows to our far left. It was stalking ducks. After spotting its human audience, the animal bypassed the ducks and moved toward the shore, disappearing somewhere over the rocks.

     “At the refuge on Plum Island, visitors mentioned seeing a Snowy Owl in the field west of the Turnpike Bridge. So we left the refuge and spotted the line of cars parked just west of the bridge. We got nice scope views and photos of the owl. 

     “Back to the refuge. Among the 15 bird species there, we observed four Wild Turkeys (from the Lot 2 boardwalk), a 2nd Snowy perched atop one of two distant white poles to the south (from the Hellcat Dike), and two Northern Harriers (also from the dike). And we can’t forget the mink at The Warden’s. It poked its head and neck up briefly from an icy crevice.)

     “The best was yet to come! Driving back north on the Refuge Road, we saw cars stopped opposite the North or Marker Field. Perched on a short thin pole amid the phrags was a Short-eared Owl. After a while the owl began to hunt, circling low over the marshland. I was able to follow it through our scope as it flew, the late afternoon sunlight shining through its outstretched wings. Finally it dropped down, disappeared for a few seconds, and then rose up with some sort of rodent in its mouth. 

     “Suddenly a Harrier attacked the owl, forcing it to drop its prey. The hawk landed, carried its stolen prey a short distance in the field, and proceeded to feed on it–all in front of the onlookers at the side of the road and at the North Pool Overlook. At the same time someone near us pointed to our 3rd Snowy Owl of the day atop a pine west of the overlook…

     “Our last stop was at Salisbury Beach State Reservation, where Snowies are seen regularly. We weren’t disappointed! We found another line of cars along the road to the parking lots. Our 4th Snowy was standing on the remains of a small wooden structure. The backlit phrags formed a beautiful backdrop for this pure white male owl. Quite a day!”

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