Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Transition to Spring is Slowly Coming
March 24, 2018
By Steve Grinley
Spring has arrived. At least according to the calendar! The string of Nor’easters that we have had this month certainly makes it feel more like the middle of winter. But the snows are melting faster, crocus and snowdrops are trying to emerge, and in the bird world some spring migrants are arriving despite the weather!
Of course the blackbirds started arriving a month ago, but flocks of grackles, redwings, cowbirds and starlings continue to pour into the area. Many are invading and draining area feeders. Others can be seen congregating in late afternoon as they stage prior to roosting for the night in nearby marshes.
A few early snipe were seen in the Wet Meadows property on Scotland Road in Newbury along with a few killdeer. The numbers of fresh water ducks at this site is impressive. Green-winged teal, American wigeon and one Eurasian wigeon, mallards, black ducks, gadwall, pintail and a pair of shovelers are enjoying the flooded fields. It won’t be long before the first blue-winged teal arrive!
We counted eighteen turkey vultures coming in to roost near our house in Essex. Bluebirds are visiting suet feeders and bird baths all over the area and a few folks have seen bluebirds checking out nesting boxes already. Now would be a good time to put out mealworms or crumbled suet in a tray to try to encourage these beautiful birds to your yard.
A great egret was seen in the marshes near Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester this past week and another was in Marblehead. Returning great blue herons have been reported from many areas and they will soon be tidying up their nests in the rookeries.
The first ospreys have made it to Massachusetts with these “fish hawks” showing up in Westport and on Cape Cod. Piping plovers have been reported from Connecticut, so it won’t be long before both of these species will be seen on Plum Island. It is hard to believe that the beach closure is only a week away.
Usually there are reports of phoebes and tree swallows arriving back in mid-March but the weather may have delayed these birds. Their diet of flying insects would not likely be satisfied in these temperatures. We need the winds to turn around and bring up some warmer temperatures from the south. A few days of southwest winds would help bring these birds to us, along with the first pine and palm warblers, hermit thrushes and more robins and bluebirds. More shorebirds, such as yellowlegs, willets and black-bellied plovers, will follow the piping plovers north.
Meanwhile, many of the wintering birds continue to linger. There are still plenty of loons out in the salt water. We counted more than thirty common loons in Plum Island Sound from Corporation Beach recently. Wintering eiders, scoters and long-tailed ducks are still present in large numbers. Snowy owls are still present on Plum Island and Salisbury Beach State reservation.
We will get to enjoy the juncos, tree sparrows and white-throated sparrows at the feeders for a few more weeks before they head north. But we will enjoy even more watching the male goldfinches as they continue to turn back to their stunning bright yellow breeding plumage. If you look close, they have started turning already, renewing our hope that spring is arriving after all.
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