Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Waterfowl Attracting Birders to Newbury
March 24, 2023
By Steve Grinley
What are people looking at along Scotland Road in Newbury? A frequent question these days as commuters see anywhere from one to twenty birders lined up near the west end of Common Pastures near the Greenbelt’s Wet Meadows property. Many have spotting scopes fixed on the fields.
Some curious people stop and ask the participants. The short answer is “ducks.” The fields are often flooded this time of year and attract scores of waterfowl. The shallow pools and wet grasses provide good feeding habitat for the dabbling ducks like mallards and black ducks. The big attraction is the less common ducks among the usual flocks.
Some of the closer pools provide excellent views of the stunning male pintails and their mates. Multiple pairs can be seen here. This year there are forty or more green-winged teal. The males are handsome with green and rust colored heads. They have a diagnostic white vertical shoulder stripe, easily seen from a distance. Among all these teal is a rare Eurasian or common teal from Europe that has a white horizontal stripe.
Also less common are the first blue-winged teal of the season. Only one to three individuals have been present so far this past week. The handsome male has a white crescent in front of the bill. There have also been a few American wigeon present as keen birders look for the more rare Eurasian wigeon. Sometime colorful wood duck or northern shovelers may be found.
The muddy, grassy areas of these fields traditionally attract Wilson’s snipe. These long-billed, stripe-headed shorebirds are just arriving to the area and more than a hundred may be hidden in the fields in the weeks ahead. The Wet Meadows also attracts other shorebirds such as yellowlegs, pectoral and least sandpipers, and black-bellied plovers. Often time the shorebirds and even the ducks are hard to see among the many tufts of grass throughout the fields.
In the drier areas of the fields are the killdeer and American robins. Their numbers are building as more appear during spring migration. American pipits are also seen in the shorter grasses, bobbing their tails as they walk along feeding.
A special treat in these fields is sandhill cranes stopping on their way north. These fields have been a stopover for cranes migrating north to New Hampshire and Maine in past years. Here in Massachusetts, some cranes do nest in Plymouth County and others in western part of the state. We have yet to see them nest here in Essex County.
As the weather warms, swallows may be seen feeding over Wet Meadows. Great blue herons and great egrets will feed in the pools as spring progresses. Red-tailed hawks and turkey vultures nest nearby and can frequently be seen hunting the fields. Harriers and kestrels use to nest here, and can usually be seen during migration. Other songbirds present include bluebirds, red-winged blackbirds, brown-headed cowbirds, mockingbirds, catbirds, chickadees, titmice and downy woodpeckers.
The best viewing is from behind the gate entrance to the last field, or from the Wet Meadows viewing platform just before that. The platform is dedicated to H. Lawrence Jodrey and Gerald Soucy, two birders who frequented the Common Pastures area and were ardent supporters of conservation efforts here and the Essex County Greenbelt. When you visit, bring binoculars, as many of these birds are close enough to see with them. A scope helps, but if there are other birders there, as there often are, most are happy to share their scopes and share the amazing birds that are found here.