Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Familiar and Rare Birds Arrive With Spring
April 20, 2013

by Steve Grinley

     One of the first hummingbirds of the season in Essex County appeared at a Kent Street feeder in Newburyport last weekend. So if you haven’t put up your hummingbird feeder yet, you may want to give it some consideration. Hummers will be trickling in throughout the remainder of April, while the majority will appear in May. Giving these long-distance migrants a place to refuel this early in the season will help them along in their journey north, or encourage them to stay in your neighborhood.

     With hummingbirds arriving, orioles can’t be far behind. Within the next couple of weeks, you should put out your oriole feeders of nectar, oranges and grape jelly. These neotropical migrants are coming all the way from South America, so a high energy sugar fix will help entice these beautiful birds to your yard.

     Spring migration is bringing many birds into the area. Phoebes, hermit thrushes, warblers and kinglets are flitting through the trees and shrubs in the area. Herons, egrets, and some yellowlegs are arriving. It is an exciting time for birders, as one never knows what unusual birds might also show up. One such bird is a white-faced ibis, a western species that has been among the local glossy ibis the past few years. Doug Chickering shares his recent pursuit of this less common ibis that reappeared this past week:

     “Lois and I received word this afternoon while birding the grove at Salisbury. There was a White-faced Ibis feeding among two dozen or so Glossy’s at Pikuls Pans on Route 1A at the Rowley/ Newbury line. Yipe! It’s a little over 5 1/2 miles from the grove at Salisbury to Pikul’s pans as the crow flies; around twice that far by car. Not a long trip, but when one is traveling this route in pursuit of a reported White-faced Ibis, the trip seems a lot longer than what the map shows.

     “All birders have to make such a trip from time to time. You are close enough that you can’t just dismiss any possibility of seeing the bird that day, but far enough away that to find the bird still there is— well problematic. Especially with birds like Glossy Ibis and occasional friend. They seem to be moving around all the time.

     “White-faced Ibis is unusual enough that we never questioned whether or not we would attempt to see it. Making this type of trip is one of rising anxiety and takes a combination of quiet patient optimism, mixed with a leavening dose of resigned fatalism. Both Lois and I have arrived minutes too late more than once (“Ooh it just flew!! I think it will return.”) but we had to chance the disappointment.

     “When we pulled up to the fence; edging off the road as much as possible I could see immediately there were many Ibis feeding in the pans. Our luck had held – so far. As I pulled my scope from the car, the ibis seemed to react to my actions. They all lifted their heads and the closest ones began to step away. I put up the scope as fast as I could and for a few seconds the Ibis seemed to settle down.

     “The lighting was awful making a somewhat difficult identification even more difficult. They were restless and I had to discipline myself to pick through them methodically, from left to right. Get on a bird, wait until it lifts its head, make the id and then move on.

     “Glossy, Glossy, Glossy. I felt a ripple of anxiety as two of them took flight and swept back to the left and behind a stand of phrags. If the White-faced was one of those I was done for. Was the event dissolving away?

     “Knowing I had to keep my head I went back to viewing the ones in front of me, trying to hold back my impatience. Glossy, Then I came upon two side by side and they wouldn’t pull up their heads. One part of me urged me to leave them and go on, the other part said no; you have to do this methodically. Then two more took wing and flew in back of the phrags, I kept my attention on the two uncooperative ones anxious that I was making a bad choice. Then suddenly they simultaneously brought their heads up. Paydirt! The one on the right was the White-faced.

     “I quickly adjusted the scope so Lois could view it. It was a hard id, but even in the poor light I could see the red of the eye and face patch: aided by the contrast of the black face of the bird beside him. Lois had a little trouble getting a good view, and as she watched the birds began, one-by-one to hop and then fly farther out and finally out of sight behind the phrags. Rick Heil arrived as they did but where he set up, about thirty yards north of me, he could still see the majority of the flock and soon picked out the vagrant.

     “A few minutes slipped away and after we were joined by Sherrill Pierce, the birds once again took flight; this time rising up as a group. Well that is that; I thought, there they go. But much to my surprise instead of flying off to parts unknown as rarities usually do, the whole group drifted back over the pans and dropped back into the pans, right in front of us.

     “Still touched with a little anxiety I returned to the flock and I tried to relocate the White-faced. I started with the closest birds; and – pop – it was the second bird I saw. Filling the scope. This seemed rather uncharacteristic, especially for such a nervous and unsettled bird like a Glossy Ibis. It seemed to indicate they like the feed in the pans; which is a good omen for those who will want to see this bird tomorrow or the next day.”

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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