Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Spring-like Days Make for Great Birding
March 29, 2014
By Steve Grinley

     The redwings and grackles are arriving in full force anticipating better weather ahead. The weather almost feels like it is turning to spring, but we have been fooled before. Take, for instance, another day in early March when temperatures crept up to around fifty as Doug Chickering of Groveland describes a great day in the field:

     “Lois Cooper and I had some of our best birding of 2014 on one of the most pleasant days of the year. Hovering around fifty and fairly clear skies we took the opportunity to make the best of the day and we hit our usual haunts and came up some surprising and satisfying bird sightings. 

     “The best bird of the day and the biggest surprise came when we were heading north from Hellcat on Plum Island and out in one of the copse of trees in the Town Marker field I spotted a large raptor perched on a branch on the right side of a bare deciduous tree. Immediately it was evident that this was a Buteo. In the Town marker field my first thought was probably Rough-legged hawk or maybe even a Red-tailed Hawk. When I acquired it I immediately saw that it was neither. The tail was striped sharp black and white and there was thick red barring on the side and on the upper breast. A Red-shouldered Hawk!! 

     “For me a Red-shouldered hawk is not a common occurrence anywhere, and on Plum island a rarity. I think this might be only the second or third Red-shouldered I have ever seen on the island. I was able to inform Rick Heil who I met only a few minutes after and then eventually got to inform Tom Wetmore and Mary Margaret Halsey. The bird had flown off the tree shortly after I got it in my scope and flew over into the pines on the dune side of the road so I don’t know if any of them saw it. 

     “The rest of the day was nearly as rewarding. When I told Rick Heil about the hawk he said he would look for it and then promptly pointed out a Northern Shrike on one of the tree tops in the Marker field. There was also a beautiful male Harrier working the field, and a Rough-legged hawk perched in a bush on the far side of dike; just barely discernible even with a scope. Also in the Marker field I heard, then had a fleeting brief look Killdeer flying which was a year bird for both Lois and I. Later in the day we had good looks at another killdeer at the boat ramp in Salisbury. 

     “At Salisbury we found our first Brant of the year – small flock on the point of land off the boat ramp, where we find them every year. We also saw a flying Iceland Gull and a flying Peregrine Falcon. On the road leading into the reservation was the usual Snowy Owl. It seems as if at least one and up to three Snowy owls have an apparent fondness for the salt marshes right off the road before you get to the gate house. As usual there was a crowd of a thoroughly enchanted audience, clustered off the road, most of them right at the edge of the creek that separated them from the Owl. 

     “Today’s owl was a beautiful pure white female and the multitude of camera’s, ranging from cell phone to huge lenses were hard at work. To me it seemed to be reminiscent of a well designed zoo with natural barriers in a carefully designed and groomed environment. But of course this isn’t Disneyland and some day the Owl — a free agent — will decide it is time, take wing and fly away. 

     “So it was an exciting day; and it was a transitional day. You couldn’t call it the end of winter. This is March and there is a Nor’easter with predicted snow on the immediate horizon. Also, it wasn’t the beginning of spring. Perhaps the transitional day could qualify as the beginning of the end of winter.”

     I mentioned before that Doug has a book that should be in full release next month. It is a remarkable collection of his essays, many of which I have shared with you through this column. I have a preview copy and I have to say that it should be on every local birder’s – even every casual birder’s, shelf. I will keep you updated once it is formally released.

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