Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
New Birds Arriving with Spring Weather
April 05, 2014
By Steve Grinley
The moderating temperatures are signaling what the calendar has already told us. Spring seems to be finally winning out over the end of a long, cold winter. Though the days are still starting off quite chilly, the cardinals are singing loudly in the early mornings. Song sparrows are joining the chorus, with a large influx of sparrows just this week.
Along with the song sparrows, fox sparrows are appearing all over Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. There were 8 on Plum Island on Thursday, and many people are reporting them scratching the ground under their feeders. Fox sparrows, as their name suggests, are the color of a red fox. They are a large sparrow, heavily streaked underneath, and they are one of my favorites. They use both feet to scratch the ground, putting their body in full motion as they move back and forth. Fun to watch.
The raspy call of the phoebe announcing their arrival – “fee-bee” is being heard more often as spring progresses. Their call should not to be confused with the whistled “fee-bee”, the spring song of the chickadee, which is also filling those warming mornings.
Osprey have started to arrive this past week with a few being seen on Plum Island and in Salisbury. A dozen piping plovers were counted on the beach at Plum Island along the wrack line just south of parking Lot 7. They were viewed from Sandy Point State reservation.
Tree swallows are arriving in small numbers on Plum Island and on area ponds and reservoirs. Soon they will be competing with the bluebirds, some of which have already started nest building, and the dreaded house sparrow for nesting cavities and boxes. Now is a good time to check your bird houses and be sure they are clean after the long winter. You may also think about adding another one or two more nesting boxes to accommodate the new arrivals and to reduce competition.
Woodcock have been here for a few weeks, but the Wilson’s snipe have just arrived in the past week or so. We had four snipe along the farm road next to the Jodrey-Soucy Observation Platform on Scotland Road in Newbury last Sunday. The fields were too flooded for the snipe that day, after the rain storm that we had. The waters have receded a bit since then and the snipe numbers are increasing. Soon they will number in the tens and hundreds, probing in the muddy fields for food to fuel them for their continued journey north.
The Common Pasture fields still have much water in them and the ducks are taking advantage of it. Among the many mallards and black ducks that are feeding there have been migrating pintail, American wigeon, and green-winged teal. The first blue-winged teal of the season should be arriving there any day. Of course, Canada geese have been feeding in the drier fields, joined occasionally by a single snow goose.
Reports of some unusual geese in the western part of the state had us traveling to the Amherst/Hadley area last weekend. Pink-footed, white-fronted, cackling and snow geese had been seen among the hundreds, if not thousands of Canada geese that were staging there, feeding in the fields along the Connecticut River flyway. As we drove into the area, we could see hundreds of geese in the air at any one time, moving from field to field, sampling the menu in a field for a while, only to take to the air again to try another.
When we arrived at the spot where the rare geese were seen last, there were more than a dozen cars and twenty or more people scanning the fields on either side of the road. We saw many birders whom we knew and they were quick to point out the pink footed goose, the rarest goose there, among the hundred or so Canada geese on the right side of the road. Not long after, the white-fronted goose, which had been mingling with the larger number of Canada geese on the left side of the road, was also pointed out to us. Too easy.
Not so easy was trying to find one or more cackling geese that had been seen the previous day. They look like miniature Canada geese, from which they were only recently split as a separate species. Not much larger than a mallard, they are remarkably small with a short, blunt bill. We looked for a couple of hours, checking the many fields in the area and looking at thousands of Canada geese, but it was not to be.
Nor did we see a snow goose, but we have seen the one that has been had been hanging out in the Newburyport area the past a couple of months. This “wild goose chase” was still fun just the same.
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