Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Early Fallout Previews Spring Bird Migration
April 13, 2019
By Steve Grinley
The spring migration has ticked up a notch during the past week or two. Intermittent days with southerly winds have given some species a chance to move northward. The number of tree swallows making their way into our area is increasing and a few barn and rough-winged swallows are starting to be seen with them.
Phoebes rushed into Essex County this past week, and they seemed to be everywhere. Margo and I saw ten or more around the pond at Daniel Boone Park in Ipswich. We counted more than thirty of them around Cape Ann, fifteen alone just around Niles Pond at Eastern Point.
Pine warblers have been seen and/or heard in pine woods all over the county and a few have even visited suet feeders. Palm warbler, another early migrant, has also pushed its way northward in our area. We saw nine at the Putnamville Reservoir in Danvers and seventeen were counted at Crystal Lake in Wilmington.
Anytime southerly winds run into an approaching weather front from the north or west over us, a potential fallout of migrating birds might result. Such was the case on Tuesday this past week when Tom Wetmore was greeted by a fallout of song sparrows and juncos on Plum Island. Hundreds of birds lined the road, feeding in the grasses along the edge, slowing Tom’s progress down the island. Small groups of hermit thrushes, yellow-bellied sapsuckers and northern flickers also invaded the island on their way north. We had sapsuckers and flickers in our yard as well this past week.
Doug Chickering shares his visit to Plum Island this past week when he experienced some of the “fallout.”
“It appeared to be a day that hardly seemed a precursor of the coming spring migration. Gloomy with low thick clouds, occasional fog and drizzle. The light, cold wind off the North Atlantic that eventually chilled to the skin. A stubborn relic of the winter. Tom Graham had called me to inform me he was going after the reported Shrike on Plum. I think I unsuccessfully chased a report of a Shrike last January. Since then nothing. Just as Tom directed there was that familiar form at the highest branch.
“On my way up to the Shrike I couldn’t help but notice all the Sparrows and junco’s leaping up from the road. It was early enough and the weather miserable enough so that I had the road to myself. Gliding slowly south and trying to get a count. They seemed to be all along the road. Not continually, but in groups. Of course, I was torn by conflicting emotions. The roadside in front of me was alive with avian life, and I also didn’t want to miss the Shrike.
“After getting the Shrike I decided to walk the Pines. Rick Heil on his way out told me he had six Sapsuckers along the trail. I just wanted one. As soon as I got to the Pines, I knew that I too had a chance to see six Sapsuckers. They were singing or talking, or whatever, frequently and in scattered locations. It was difficult to focus in on the song because the birds kept moving around. At least their songs kept moving around. I must confess that it took me an embarrassingly long time to actually see one. But once I got on one, I got on several. I counted five. All males and with sharp, new plumage.
“I hadn’t experienced a fallout in many years. The last one was in April as well, late April, when the migration had advanced a bit. We had the early Warblers all over the place and a few that had arrived ahead of time. Also, in that Fallout we had a pair of singing Least Flycatchers.
“Today was exciting and encouraging and a surprise. At least to me. I know that with a modicum of luck we will have days that will push todays treasures in the dimmer corners of the memory. Eight Hermit Thrushes [were] along the road between Hellcat and the Tick Farm. Still today had its moments. To walk slowly along the road with the Sparrows and Junco’s in little feeding congregations among the low yellow grass, is one of the sublime and energizing experiences.”
This early spring fallout may be just a precursor of what is ahead. Other early migrants are trickling in, including night herons, solitary and spotted sandpipers, marsh wrens, ruby-crowned kinglets, chipping and field sparrows, Eastern towhees, and a number of hawks. The warm days this weekend should help bring more migrants into Essex County. If southerly winds continue, it may soon be time to see the first orioles and hummingbirds. So ready those feeders and clean those binoculars, for the best of spring migration is still to come!
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