Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Spring bird migration continues to trickle
April 7, 2007
Steve Grinley

     I think that the only person excited with our weather this past week was our friend, Doug. This weather will do nothing to encourage early foliage, so sighting birds in trees and shrubs will continue to be easy for some weeks ahead. But the birds have to arrive to be seen and, so far, only a few have trickled in. Last weekend, I was searching for a reported palm warbler in the Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary. I was amazed at the blanket of purple crocus that I encountered at the edge of the sanctuary. However, the bird life was almost nonexistent. I encountered a few chickadees and golden-crowned kinglets, but no warblers – not yet. A few pine warblers have been seen, including one visiting a suet feeder in Ipswich. A couple of yellow-rumped warblers have been reported, but most of the warblers are waiting for May. Field sparrows have arrived on Plum Island, and a few chipping sparrows have visited feeders in Essex and other communities. These two sparrows are summer residents, but my wintering tree sparrows are still at the store feeders. More Eastern phoebes have arrived. I saw three of them on a stroll down Pike’s Bridge Road in West Newbury this past week. A few more were on Plum Island.

     One customer told me that her phoebe was back, investigating the same nests it had used in years past. Each year, the phoebe will build another muddy nest on top of the previous one on a ledge of the garage. She was afraid that there wouldn’t be much more room for another nest. Some bluebirds have already started to build nests in nesting boxes. Soon, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and woodpeckers will be searching out nest cavities and man-made houses and start their nesting cycles as well.

     Tree swallows are just beginning to arrive, but purple martins are a few weeks away. House wrens won’t arrive until May, but resident Carolina wrens will begin nesting soon. A screech owl has taken up residence in a flicker box in Reading. Whether it will stay and nest is uncertain. Soon, large flights of kestrels will be streaming over the dunes of Plum Island on their way north. A pair of kestrels have been seen copulating in the Newburyport Industrial Park, presumably the same resident couple that nested last year. Hopefully more kestrels will stay and nest, and more nesting box sites may encourage that. The competition from starlings is fierce, but we continue to hope that kestrels will prevail in our area.

     A pair of ospreys has reclaimed the nesting platform behind the Pines Trail on the Parker River Wildlife Refuge. One osprey was seen scouting out one of the platforms along Ferry Road in Salisbury. With the number of man-made platforms in the area, and more being added, it is hopeful that we can encourage a good-sized osprey population throughout the Great Marsh.

     More good news from farther up the Merrimack River: A pair of bald eagles are attempting to nest once again. These are, presumably, the same couple that nested successfully two years ago, only to fail last year due to cold and heavy spring rains. They are back in their “successful” nest and the incubation stage has already begun. Exciting!

     The numbers of Wilson’s snipe in the Common Pasture fields off Scotland Road in Newbury have climbed into the hundreds. Tens of killdeer are also feeding in the grasses there. The snipe will continue to travel north, but some of the killdeer will nest in gravel areas, including on flat roof tops, in the area. The evening “peenting” of woodcock can be heard in area fields and, as the weather warms, they will begin their aerial courting displays. A few greater yellowlegs and a black-bellied plover have been the only migrating shorebirds to make an appearance thus far.

     A single snowy egret and a few great egrets have been seen of Joppa flats and on Plum Island. Black-crowned night herons have appeared in Gloucester. More long-legged waders should be arriving in the weeks ahead. Great horned owls are already sitting on nests and, in some cases, young have hatched. We watched an owl sitting high on her nest in Ipswich, looking around as if a threat were near. Through our long scope views, there were no threats, and she settled back down. One great horned owl is nesting among a colony of great blue herons in West Boxford, which have recently arrived, and the herons will soon begin nesting as well. Red-tailed hawks have also begun claiming their nest sites.

     As the weather does warm up, and it is bound to soon, more birds will arrive and inhabit the woods, fields and marshes. Though the foliage may start filling in, so will the birds. I look forward to May, and I won’t mind straining to see the colors of a scarlet tanager or an indigo bunting among the green leaves of an oak or maple.

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