Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Early Spring Yields Many First Arrivals
April 17, 2010
By Steve Grinley
The time to put out hummingbird feeders is now! The first hummingbirds of the season have already been reported from Newburyport and southern New Hampshire. With so many trees and shrubs in bloom ahead of schedule, more hummers will be heading this way. The first orioles of the season can’t be far behind.
Seeing the first birds of the season has its own special thrill. Many birders keep a year list and strive to find a new “year bird” for their list. They often note them as “FOY”, first-of-year, on their reports. For someone like me, “life birds,” or birds that I see for the first time, don’t come too often here in Massachusetts, so I do keep a year list and try to record when I see a species for the first time each year.
The early spring migration is really moving along because I added more than a dozen new species to my year list just last weekend. Margo and I headed to Mount Auburn Cemetery (where I first started birding almost half a century ago) and I saw several first-of-year birds. Ruby-crowned kinglets were singing everywhere and they were the first ones I had seen this year. Also new were palm warblers – cute yellow warblers with a rusty cap and a characteristic “wagging” of their tail. We also found my first chipping sparrows of the year, giving their monotone trilling song.
We then went to Littleton, to a swamp that has a heron rookery. There we found a red-headed woodpecker that has been seen there the past few years. Also new for us was a great horned owl sitting, presumably on eggs, in one of the heron nests. In years past, there had be more than a dozen nests there, all occupied by herons. This year, there were only six nests, the others having been destroyed by the earlier storms. Three herons were sitting on three of the nests and another heron was bringing sticks to rebuild a fourth. The remaining nest was occupied by a pair of ospreys. There were also a pair of bluebirds in the area, and tree swallows were checking out nesting holes in the dead stumps in the swamp. We also saw a tufted titmouse carrying nesting material.
We ended Saturday at Millenium Park in West Roxbury where we watched hundreds of blackbirds come in to roost. There we found our first rusty blackbirds of the year.
We headed for Revere Beach on Sunday morning, looking for manx shearwaters that had been reported there. We saw three of them sitting on the water and, only occasionally, flying about. We also saw horned grebes in beautiful breeding plumage, instead of the drab black and white that we see all winter. Two piping plovers, our first for the year, were looking to set up home near the fenced enclosures on the beach.
We then proceeded to Nahant where we saw our first Bonaparte’s gulls of the season. There was a large flock -115 of them – feeding at the water’s edge. At the Nahant Thicket Mass Audubon Sanctuary, we saw a male towhee and 2 singing Carolina wrens, but no year “firsts.” We did find our first ring-necked pheasant of the year squawking and beating its wings in the underbrush as the Marine Science Center at the end of Nahant.
We drove past Flax Pond in Lynn on our way out and saw our first Coot of the year. As we headed toward Concord and Sudbury, along route 128 in Waltham, we saw two ravens fly overhead. These were probably the same ravens that nested in Prospect Hill Park in Waltham last year.
At nine-acre corner in Concord, we saw ten glossy ibis that had been previously reported. They were our first ibis of the year. In the flooded fields there, there were also six Wilson’s snipe, a few killdeer, and one pectoral sandpiper. The latter was another first-of-year for us.
We ended the day in Wayland and birded along the flooded Pelham Island Road. This was the area that made the news where residents had to be shuttled by boat to get on and off the island. I stopped the car when I heard a familiar squeaky sound – a gnatcatcher, I thought. Sure enough, a blue-gray gnatcatcher was singing along the road. It was yet another year bird, though I expect to see the gnatcatchers that usually nest along Pike’s Bridge Road in West Newbury any day now.
The whole area around Sudbury and Wayland was still quite flooded, and several roads remained closed. As we sat at the traffic lights in Wayland center, we noticed that water had flooded the backyard of the house next to us. At the back end of the driveway, however, a pair of wood ducks floated by! Not a year bird for us, but that is one special yard bird!
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