Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Arriving Birds Reinforce Spring’s Start
April 4, 2009
By Steve Grinley

     Spring is here, despite the unpredictable weather. I think the ever-changing weather is part of spring. So are the changing birds. We still have a few winter birds hanging on while some of the early spring migrants arrive. Last weekend, Margo and I did some birding around the area and found evidence of both.

     Friday evening, we birded for a few hours before sunset in the Newburyport/West Newbury area. Our first stop was at the new Jodrey/Soucy Platform on Scotland Road in Newbury where we found our first Wilson’s snipe of the spring. We had five of them probing in the mud, while eighteen killdeer ran along the grasses.

     We then went to the area behind the Sewerage Treatment Plant to view Newburyport Harbor. The highlight was a EURASIAN WIGEON that Margo found on the Salisbury side of the river among 11 American wigeon. This bird has become an annual visitor there. There was also a great egret across on the Salisbury marsh, another spring first for us, Also new this year was a double-crested cormorant swimming in the same waters as a great cormorant that will soon head north. A female Barrow’s goldeneye with a bright orange bill was among all the lingering common goldeneye in the harbor. Brant were swimming in front of us and with our scopes we could see more brant on the Salisbury side, as well as some along the north end of Plum Island.

     We decided to head to West Newbury. I counted fourteen ring-necked ducks an four gadwall in the Artichoke Reservoir from the Rogers Street bridge. At the Cherry Hill Reservoir there were 104 common mergansers, 1 ruddy duck, 20 bufflehead and a hooded merganser. At the Ash Street Swamp there were two more hooded mergansers along with a northern flicker and a singing bluebird. A merlin was perched in the distance but then flew north over the road.

     The next day, we decided to do some surveying in my blocks for the Breeding Bird Atlas. We were hoping to find evidence of some early nesters including red-tailed hawks, great horned owls, and pine siskins. We headed to Maudslay State Park, but along our way we heard a lot of song along Hoyt’s Lane . We stopped and got out of the car and heard the buzzing of siskins above us. Male siskins were singing at the tops of trees and then they would fly in circles and pursue the female. We were watching courting pairs, including their “butterfly” flight of fanned wings and tails . We are hoping we can confirm needing by seeing nest material gathered or, eventually the feeding of young.

     Once in the park, we headed for an area where a customer told me that she saw a pair of pileated woodpeckers. I suspect that they nest somewhere in or around Maudslay and although we never found pileateds that day, it is a bit early for them to be nesting. I’ll continue to try throughout the Spring.

     While walking in the woods, we did hear a commotion from a “murder” of crows. We decided to check it out. We had chased some screaming jays earlier and found nothing but jays. This time we did find that the crows were harassing a great horned owl. The owl was deep in the woods off the path but it was aware of our presence. As we watched it with our binoculars, it flew further into the woods. We chose not to follow it, as it could be leading us away from the nest were seeking. We did chek all possible nests in the area, but found no other owl evidence.

     As we emerged from the woods and into the fields, the grass was covered with robins – more than a couple of hundred of them. A pair of red-tailed hawks flew across the field and perched together in a tree where they stayed as long as we were there. Around the pond behind the headquarters building we found hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers, a fox sparrow, hermit thrush and a flicker fanning his tail to attract a mate. We heard a phoebe calling across the street from the park, but we were unable to find it.

     It was late afternoon before we reached Plum Island where we had close up views of a Wilson’s snipe at the North Pool Overlook. We also found 2 very white snowy owls which haven’t made their journey north yet. They were contrasted by our first osprey of the spring, perched on the pole next to the nest platform behind the Pines trail. We also saw another great egret that had just arrived.

     We ended the day at Salisbury Beach State Reservation where we watched a merlin hunting the campground. We also ran into our friend Phil who was installing a couple of kestrel boxes. We gave him a hand, and we all hoped that the kestrels that will be arriving the next few weeks will take to the new accommodations.

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