Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Spring Weather Heats Up the Birding
April 19, 2008
Steve Grinley

     I was privileged to lead Wednesday Morning Birding this past week for the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center. The fine weather brought out the birders, 22 of them, and the birds as well. The Wednesday Morning programs have not been blessed with good weather until this week and, as one participant commented, “this was the first week in a long time that we could ride with our windows down!”

     Soon after we started out, we were greeted to the clear whistle song of an Eastern meadowlark at the Plum Island Airport. After watching one singing from atop a tree, we watch as it flew across the road and it was joined by a second bird. Everyone hoped that these would be a mating pair that might nest in the area again this year. As we watched the meadowlarks, a keen eye spotted a kestrel perched in a distant tree.

     As we continued on to Plum Island, we were greeted by a great blue heron feeding in a close salt pan and the call of greater yellowlegs. A stop at Lot 1 on the Parker River Wildlife Refuge produced tree swallows investigating the purple martin houses. From the platform overlooking the beach, we had great views of long-tailed ducks, some in stunning alternate plumage and a common loon. Rafts of scoters were too distant to ID.

     Songs of spring continued with a towhee and several purple finches singing as we drove down the Refuge. More tree swallows were swarming the houses at the Salt Pannes. Gadwall and green-winged teal were swimming in the Pannes, and a peregrine falcon was perched on distant staddles. Killdeer and yellowlegs walked along the shallow pans near the road.

     As we arrived at the Maintenance Area, we were greeted by a brown creeper spiraling up a small shrub near the parking lot. We saw two more brown creepers and a golden-crowned kinglet when we walked out to the isolated pines. Red-breasted mergansers were seen in the river through the heat waves when we peered through the scopes.

     As we continued down the island, we spotted a pair of glossy ibis feeding in the muddy area at the edge of the North Field. Their iridescent colors shone in the morning sun as they probed the mud with their decurved bills.

     At the Hellcat Dike, four snow geese joined the Canada geese on the dike while a double-crested cormorant swam and dove for fish in the North Pool. A Savannah sparrow perched in the lone tree near the tower, showing off its yellow lores. After seeing one osprey on the distant platform, another osprey that was fishing the pools flew directly overhead for all to see its bold brown and white wing pattern . At one point the osprey hovered, ready to plunge for a fish. Later we saw it carrying a fish back toward the platform – a successful fishing trip, indeed.

     We concluded the walk with views of the great-horned owl on the nest, a life bird for some. As we drove north to leave the refuge, a hermit thrush and phoebes were seen along the road on the way out. Wonderful birds on beautiful spring morning!

     If you haven’t tried Wednesday morning birding, it happens every Wednesday morning 9:30 am to 12:30 pm. Pre-registration is not required. Just meet at the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center before 9:30. Also in May, I will be leading Friday Morning “Focus on Warblers” Walks 7:00 am to 10:00 am each Friday in May. Again, pre-registration is not necessary. Open to beginners and birders of all skill levels, these programs are a great way to enjoy birds on a Spring morning!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 2
4 years of service to the birding community! 
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