Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Early Spring Migrants Are Arriving
April 08, 2017
By Steve Grinley

     The cold, wet spring that we have had so far seems to have slowed the migration. Yet birds seem to be trickling in. Last weekend, Margo and I made a trip to the Sudbury Valley with stops along Pelham Island Road in Wayland and ending at Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Concord. This is one of my favorite birding areas in early spring – partly because, as a teenage, I was able to bike it from my home in Newton. Also, it tends to be about a week ahead of Newburyport in foliage and bird migration so early April always seem to have “new” birds.

     We started at Pelham Island Road. A blue-winged teal had been reported there, but not while we were present. We did see a dozen wood ducks, one gadwall, and small flock of ring-necked ducks. Our first tree swallows of the season were flying back and forth over the water, snatching insects off the surface. An eastern phoebe appeared on the sticks in front of us, another season first. 

     As we scanned for other birds, we had distant views of a kettle of nine turkey vultures circling their way northward. We noticed a red-tailed hawk perched on a bare snag in the middle of the marshy area. A photographer with a long lens took advantage of the sunlight on the raptor and was shooting away. As he did, the light-colored red-tail flew to a tree just off the side of the road right in front of the photographer. This juvenile hawk sported a pale plumage and light tail, barred in brown when he turned around. The bird seemed interested in something below, close to the edge of the water. He seemed totally unconcerned of the photographer who was now getting some great close-ups.

     We continued down the road to Heard Pond where there were many more tree swallows, but most were across the pond in poor light. Usually we see our first rough-winged swallow here, but not this day. It is along this road that we also find our first gnatcatcher of the season, but it seemed a bit too early for one.

     We were told that Hager Pond was only fifteen minutes from there, so we headed there, hoping for a Eurasian wigeon that had been reported in a flock of American wigeon. We found the pond and stopped a couple of places to try to view as much of the pond s possible. We did see ring-necked ducks, hooded mergansers, mallards, but no wigeon of any type. As Margo scanned with the scope, she suddenly exclaimed, “there it is!” Sure enough, she found the Eurasian wigeon by itself, with its distinct rusty head shimmering in the sunlight. It must have appeared from behind one of the small island on the far side of the pond.

     Next we drove to Nine Acre corner in Sudbury. The water levels were high and some of the fields flooded. Tens, if not hundreds of robins were feeding in the drier fields. Among them were small flocks of blackbirds that included out first cowbirds of the year. We also spotted a pair of killdeer in the fields and my first meadowlark of the year.

     After an ice cream break, we headed to Great Meadows in Concord. Surprisingly, we saw few wood duck there, but more hooded mergansers. One pair of mergansers tried to fly up to one of the wood duck boxes, perhaps to check it out or to claim it as their own. Several great blue herons from a nearby rookery were flying around and feeding in the water. 

     Margo also spotted a distant pied-billed grebe among the reeds on the far shore – our first for the year. Suddenly, our first osprey of the season appeared overhead, circled the observation platform and made a couple of unsuccessful diving attempts for fish right in front of us. It was a nice topping of an afternoon with several new spring arrivals.

     This past week there have been local reports of great and snowy egrets and a Glossy ibis appeared in Rowley, Wilson’s snipe, green-winged teal and northern shovelers are being seen along Scotland Road in Newbury. There are lots of fox sparrows around and savannah sparrows are arriving on Plum Island. With warmer weather promised for the coming days, get out and see what new migrants you can find!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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4 years of service to the birding community! 
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