Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Spring Still Struggles to Arrive
April 14, 2018
By Steve Grinley

     As April began, local birder, author and friend, Doug Chickering had some insight on the arrival of Spring:

     “This year the arrival of spring seems to be somewhat of a struggle. Perhaps it seems that way because winter reached it fierce peak in March and I think that caught us all by surprise. As the month wore away, winter was able to maintain its grip. Nights below zero, days dominated by northern breezes from off the North Atlantic, a couple of startling, cruel Nor’easters, and the signs of spring conspicuously absent.

     “A couple of days before Easter and there are no buds in the trees, no color in the brush. I can remember star Magnolia’s blooming in late march more than once in the past and a few green buds popping up in the forsythia. Even the cries of a few Killdeer didn’t break the dreary spell.

     “However today when I went down to Plum Island there were the signs of spring, welcome and undeniable. By the side of the road there were the mixed clusters of Song Sparrows and Junco’s. There were still a few American Tree Sparrows, another residue of winter, but the Songs Sparrows greatly outnumbered them.

     “I even had a reliable report, from Dave Adrien of a Piping Plover and Great Egret. There was also a strikingly beautiful Great Blue Heron at the Pans. Deep down I feel a little surge of joy when I know that it can’t be long before I spot a Phoebe on a bare twig, pumping its tail, a Great Egret impervious to the chill, working through the shallows of the marshes, and a Tree Swallow on a tilting nesting box.

     “Sparrows scratching in the grass at the side of the road up and down the island is a sign of spring. A true sign that even a wayward snow squall can’t extinguish. This year, more than usual, I need the arrival of warm days, budding trees and the prospect of Warblers in all their old and familiar places.”

     We can all share in Doug’s yearning for warmer days and birds of spring. Spring continues to have its ups and downs, as it usually does in New England, and yet the birds continue to trickle their way here. Great and snowy egrets are adding splashes of white to the greening great marsh. Flocks of glossy ibis are joining them in the marshes. The returning great blue herons are sporting their sharp spring colors as they tidy up their winter-worn nests in area swamps.

     Small flocks of Wilson’s snipe can be seen regularly now in muddy fields, but I have yet to see or hear my first spring pipits. Numerous killdeer are here and the yellowlegs and plovers are beginning to arrive. Meadowlarks are being seen in open fields.

     We have a pair of phoebes investigating the stream behind the house, checking out culverts and even the underside of our deck for a possible nesting site. Pine and palm warbler are finally being reported along with chipping sparrows. The cardinals, chickadees and brown creepers are all singing their spring songs.

     You’ll also be pleased to know that the hummingbirds have made their way into New Jersey already. So if we can get some southwest winds in the next couple of weeks, we may see the first of them arrive in Massachusetts and Essex County. If we can get enough warmth to blossom the fruit trees, the hummers will come, along with the orioles, in search of sweet nectar.

     So Spring is coming. It is trying our patience this year, but when it finally takes hold, it will make May that much sweeter!

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