Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Early Spring Migrants Are Arriving
April 21, 2018
By Steve Grinley

     Despite the up and down weather, with some days still feeling like winter, some of the early spring migrants have been trickling in. Hummingbirds have now been spotted in eastern Massachusetts and one has even made it to southern Maine! If we get some of the predicted warmer weather next week, more may be coming in. I haven’t seen oriole reports as of this writing, but they too will start showing up once the weather warms and some of the trees start to blossom.

     With the hope of finding some early migrants Margo and I did some local birding last weekend. Reports of returning Louisiana waterthrush had us starting the day at Crooked Pond, formally known as Bald Hill Reservation in Boxford. It has traditionally been a good location for finding early migrants. As we approached the first pond, Margo spotted an eastern phoebe, wagging it tail as it perched. In a few weeks, this member of the flycatcher family will find plenty of mosquitoes and flying insects to eat. But we wondered what it was finding on this very chilly morning. We saw a second phoebe, so it at least had found a mate!

     From across the pond came the rattle call of a kingfisher. We saw the bird land in a tree and could see that it was a male by the single blue bar across its chest. It was later joined by the more colorful female, which has a rust bar across its belly below her blue breast bar. Both sport their ragged blue “hairdo”, and thick, sharp bills for catching fish.

     As we approached the first culvert that sends water cascading down a creek from the pond, we heard the song of the Louisiana waterthrush. We walked into the woods a bit next to the creek, trying to get an angle to see further down to try to locate the bird. But we could not. We had to be satisfied with hearing its very distinct song.

     We continued along the main trail and heard the song of the pine warbler. It moved through the trees above the water and we were not able to get a visual on it. We did see the pair of “whining” wood ducks that flew though the trees toward the main pond. We also saw brown creepers circling their way up the trees as they sang their uplifting spring song.

     We didn’t find a winter wren that usually nests among the fallen trees that traverse the water beside the trail. Due to the high water level and the number of trees that were down everywhere in the forest, venturing beyond the dam at the main pond was not possible. So we turned around and headed out to search other locations near Newburyport.

     We decided to head to Pike’s Bridge Road in West Newbury, another reliable spot for early migrants. A short way in from the Garden Street entrance, Margo spotted our first palm warbler of the year. A handsome swamp sparrow in its bright spring plumage was scratching in the leaves near the stream. A little further down the path, we saw a couple more palm warblers, then a two more, Several more were on the opposite side of the path and soon we were surrounded by palm warblers! Had spring finally arrived?

     Among the warblers was our first ruby-crowned kinglet of the year. Also with them were five golden-crowned kinglets and three yellow-rumped warblers in their bright spring plumage. Other highlights along the path were a pair of ospreys, six ring-necked ducks and a pair of wood ducks.

     We ended the day at the Salisbury Beach State Reservation where we found some other early migrants along the road to the boat ramp, I stopped the car for a flock of birds that were feeding on the edge of the road. We could see that it was made up of mostly juncos. However, the longer we looked the more we saw. Among the juncos was a couple of song sparrows, a chipping sparrow, a swamp sparrow, two white-throated sparrows and a tree sparrow. Margo spotted a hermit thrush coming out from the edge, sporting its spotted breast and rusty tail. We also spotted our first field sparrow of the year and another phoebe.

     Then we noticed more birds on the other side of the road. More juncos, song sparrows and a second hermit thrush were on that side. I saw a fox sparrow for a brief few seconds, but it disappeared before Margo could get on it. Other highlights on the Reservation included brant, eiders, scoters and a common loon in the river, and a harrier that was hunting the marsh as we left. We saw a number of new migrants this day, and more are on their way!

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