Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Warmer Winds Bring Spring Birds
March 27, 2021
By Steve Grinley
The southwest winds this past week has brought with them more of the early spring migrants. Great blue herons are arriving at their old nest sights and beginning their repairs on last year’s nests. Piping plovers are arriving on Crane Beach and Plum Island, and a few have made their way to the New Hampshire coast already.
An osprey or two have been seen on Plum Island and kestrels have been spotted in a couple of locations. The first yellowlegs of the season were feeding in the salt pannes near Cross Farm Hill on Plum Island. More tree swallows have been spotted as well.
Robins, cardinals, and Carolina wrens are in full song, staking out their territories or attempting to attract a new mate. A few phoebes have arrived as more flying insects become available.
Bluebirds are inspecting last year’s nest sites or investigating others, so now is a good time to be sure nest boxes are cleaned out or new ones erected. Soon, the swallows will be scouting the houses and the chickadees, nuthatches, titmice and woodpeckers will be searching for nest sites as well. We inspected our screech owl boxes for eggs, but found none thus far.
The red-winged blackbirds are singing from their marshland stakeouts and a few have found their way to our feeders. Mixed flocks of blackbirds, red-wings, grackles, cowbirds and starlings, can be see migrating overhead, stopping in treetops, and heading to roosts each evening.
One day this past week, Margo and I drove the length of Plum Island and were delighted to see the sides of the road littered with song sparrows along with a few lingering juncos and tree sparrows mixed in. Other birders witnessed the same, and Doug Chickering of Newburyport described his experience on that day:
“The snow is melting away, the days are growing warmer and longer, and we birders look for the avian signs of spring. That first careening cry of a Killdeer, the first red-winged Blackbird, and so many others. If we let the other seasons drift in and then out, we look for spring.
“There is a distinctive sign of spring that seems to be largely forgotten and so when it occurs it awakes us from our winter torpor and makes us realize that the migrations are starting in a serious way. When I drive down the road at Plumb Island, as I did today’ I encountered this event in a major way.
“They first appear as little dark forms in the grass at the edge of the road and then you notice they are moving. Song Sparrows. For me there are few things that designate the coming of spring more than watching the little Song Sparrows flying up off the edge of the road; in numbers that are impressive. Then hearing them calling all down the length of the refuge.
“I started a serious counting as soon as I passed the gatehouse and eventually came up with 146 Song Sparrows, with a few Tree Sparrows and junco’s still mixed in. Even though there is a chance that some were double countered it is more significant that this was still a serious undercount. The birds were more numerous at the north end of the island, but I attribute this to my sightings and I believe that the Song Sparrows were, more or less evenly distributed.
“Suddenly there are birds on the island. Not just the Ducks and Gulls at the beach, of the Owls that draw hordes of photographers, but small birds, and lots of them. I am looking forward to this migration with a growing excitement and joy. But right now I find my spirits lifted considerably just by picking through all those sparrows and seeing return.
“Oddly enough the Song Sparrows were not the most numerous bird species on the refuge. Today I also quickly counted some 660 or so Common Eider.”
Yes, the wintering ducks still linger offshore, along with a few loons. Most are heading back to their nesting grounds further north. It seemed like a long winter, but spring is finally happening!