Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Spring Brings Birds into Transition 
March 29, 2008
Steve Grinley

     This is a transitional time. The bitter cold days of winter are, hopefully, behind us, as each storm that goes through is now mostly rain. Once in a while we get teased with a warmer day when temperatures “soar” into the fifties. Pussy willows are budding and crocus are showing in warmer corners of yards, yet clumps of snow can still be found in the shaded woods. Hints of spring are around us, but reminders of winter linger as well.

     Late March to early April is an “in between time” in the bird world as well. Many wintering species are still lingering in the area, while some early spring migrants are just showing up. The eiders, scoters, long-tailed ducks and wintering loons are still feeding along the coast. The Wednesday morning birding group out of the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Center found two Iceland gulls still in Newburyport Harbor along with long-tailed ducks, common goldeneye, red-breasted mergansers and bufflehead. These wintering birds were contrasted by the 3 great blue herons that were migrating overhead, arriving from the south.

     In addition to more herons arriving, there were two common egrets seen in the marsh behind the New Pines Trail on the Parker River Refuge this week. We saw three Eastern meadowlarks in the field next to the Pines and meadowlarks have been heard singing from the North Pool Overlook as well. A few piping plovers have already been spotted near Sandy Point at the southern end of Plum Island. Only a few ospreys have been reported in this area thus far, though I did see more than a dozen in the Westport area this past Sunday – some of them already taking possession of their nests. The West Newbury bald eagles are already sitting on eggs.

     Woodcock have been doing their spring display at dusk on Plum Island and in surrounding communities. We had a dozen or more woodcock calling and displaying in the Newburyport Industrial Park a couple of weeks ago. The closely-related Wilson’s snipe are just starting to arrive. A dozen birds were counted on Wednesday, but soon, hundreds of snipe will collect and feed in the muddy fields off Scotland Road in Newbury, especially in the newly acquired Greenbelt property. Most of these snipe will continue further north. Killdeer are calling from the dry fields along Scotland Road and many of them will stay and nest in the area. We are still awaiting the arrival of blue-winged teal in the Scotland Road wet areas. Now, green-winged teal, pintail, mallards and a few wigeon are the only ducks present so far.

     I took a walk down Pike’s Bridge Road in West Newbury the other evening, hoping that there might be a blue-winged teal there. The road was quite muddy, but passable without special boots. I was surprised to see the water completely open at that end since the majority of the Artichoke Reservoir from Turkey Hill Road is still frozen. As I approached the bridge, I flushed a small flock of ring-necked ducks. I counted about eighteen. Then four wood duck took flight, squealing as they went overhead. The wood ducks are early spring migrants and will nest in the area. The ring-necks are moving through and will head further north in the weeks ahead. Alas, no blue-winged teal yet.

     I did see a great blue heron fly up from the end of the marsh, and then it passed overhead. From the bridge, I heard the whinny of a Wilson’s snipe, but I was unable to see it. Mixed flocks of red-winged blackbirds, cowbirds and grackles also passed overhead, heading for their evening roost. Those of you that have feeders may have started to experience these “harbingers of spring” as these blackbirds descend on your yard and clean out your feeders in no time. A few of the redwings were trying to establish territories in the marsh, but most of these birds will continue their flights to other areas to breed.

     I have seen more bluebirds these past couple of weeks and, despite the cold and threat of snow, customers from West Newbury, Salisbury, Newbury and Rowley have reported bluebirds back at their nest boxes. And though high temperatures are supposed to only be in the low forties this weekend, it is warming to know that the arrival of the first hummingbirds can now be counted in weeks, rather than in months.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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