Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Windy Days Make Birding a Challenge
March 27, 2010
By Steve Grinley

     Seven of the die-hard “regulars” braved 20-30 mph winds to join me for Wednesday Morning Birding out of the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Center this week. Though the temperature loomed in the 40’s, it seemed much colder with the sustained winds out of the cold northwest. As a result, there were few passerines to be seen – most were hunkered down somewhere out of the wind. We found that “birding by van” was the civil way to bird that morning.

     We headed to Plum Island and we did venture out to the beach at Lot 1, as the dunes provided shelter from the winds. There we found herring, black-backed and ring-billed gulls feeding along the shore. Floating among the high ocean swells was a flock of about fifteen red-necked grebes, most of them with their heads tucked under their wing roosting out of the constant wind. Also on the water were a few horned grebes, common loon, white-winged and black scoters, and a common eider. A couple of long-tailed ducks flew by, and one landed on the water and could be viewed through the scopes.

     We continued to the Salt Pannes where we found gadwall, pintail, mallard, black ducks. Absent were the tree swallows that I had seen there last weekend. A persistent harrier hunted low over the marsh, fighting the wind as he searching for his morning meal.

     From the North Pool Overlook we saw a large number of green-winged teal. They were put up by a passing harrier, but settled back down on the lee side of the dike.

     We tried to scope Bill Forward Pool from the side of the dike behind Hellcat, but our only rewards were a pair of bufflehead and a peregrine falcon huddled against the side of the dike further down. We actually had better views of the peregrine from the van as we drove past the South Field.

     We saw Doug Chickering and Lois Cooper along the way and they told us about three male northern shovelers between Cross Farm Hill and Stage Island. We stopped there and had distant views of these colorful ducks from the van. I would have liked to have stepped out and put a scope on them, but the wind was unrelenting. As it turned out, we had even better views of them on our way back up the island. Three northern shovelers had morphed into five, four males and a female, and they were then feeding in the marsh grass just north of Cross Farm Hill. They were walking around about a hundred feet out, giving us wonderful binocular views of the male’s cinnamon sides surrounded by white, red bill and feet, and iridescent green head. What a beautiful duck, and the highlight of the trip for everyone!

     What we missed earlier that morning was a woodcock that had crossed the road in front of Doug and Lois. Doug described their encounter with this bird:

     “Before we got the Shovelers as we were slowly driving south down the Plum Island road , I saw something round and brown in the road half way between the southern edge of the Town Marker Field and the crosswalk at Hellcat. I was about to dismiss it as some storm detritus when it moved. Instantly, even before acquiring it in my binoculars I knew we had struck pay dirt.

     “”Woodcock in the road.” I said to Lois. It was our first satisfactory look this year. I had one burst from cover and dart away in the classical Woodcock fashion, at the Salisbury grove earlier this month, and Lois and I had listened to one at the edge of some fields on Ash Street a few nights before. We heard the whole routine. Several peents, the flutter of wings above our head and then the chirping descent back to earth. We heard it go through its courtship ritual more than once but it was too dark to see anything; not even the trace of a shadow as it flew over head. We knew it was there but it was still a little disappointing.

     “This time the Woodcock was out in the middle of the road, rocking back and forth and occasionally taking a step. His slow progress seemed in stark contrast with his usual hidden and skittish nature. Lois and I have seen this before, several times. It never grows old. What with his rhythmic swaying I half expect to see a pair of ear phones over his head. He had made his way three quarters of the way across the road when some big pick-up truck, driven by one of those impatient clueless types, rumbled by totally oblivious of the Woodcock; who, in fairness, seemed totally oblivious to the truck…

     “With the truck gone the woodcock paused a second and then, as if suddenly realizing where he was, scurried to his destination and vanished. A great moment. Strange little bird that Woodcock.”

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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