Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Warmer Days Bring More Migrating Birds
April 24, 2010
By Steve Grinley

     Temperatures nudged 70 degrees midweek, and more songbird migrants have been moving through our area. These warmer days have birders “chomping at the bit” to get outside and discover what new birds are arriving. Though this was vacation week for some, others of us had to work all week.

     I did have a chance to walk down Pikes Bridge Road in West Newbury on one warm evening after work. And I did encounter a few migrants. A phoebe made its presence known by chipping in the trees above the trail. A few handsome white-throated sparrows were scratching in the leaves. A pair of green-winged teal flew out of the reeds in the marsh. A group of birds moving through the trees included a few resident chickadees, but also ruby-crowned kinglets, a yellow-rumped warbler in stunning spring plumage, and several yellow palm warblers, flicking their tails as they moved from branch to branch.

     Near dusk, when the bugs started to come out, so did the tree swallows! Where there were no swallows earlier, tens of swallows suddenly appeared and then, more than a hundred. They swarmed the sky over the marsh, feeding feverishly – perhaps fueling up for continuing their journey north later that night.

     Doug Chickering of Groveland was able to get out to Plum Island on one of these warm days and shares that experience with us:

     “It was the beginning of spring. The first day of migration. Of course technically that’s nonsense. Migration has been actually going on for months and we’ve welcomed every minute of it – from the first Red-wings of February to the first Yellowlegs striding through the grasses at the edge of a rising tide. We have seen the early Warblers and there have been a scattering of rarities. But today, at least for Lois and I, this was the first real day of migration. When our winter discussions wander towards the coming of spring, when we yearn for flowering trees filled with Warblers, today is the type of day eagerly anticipated.

     “We found no rarities to light up the hot lines; nor any year birds likely to vanish in a couple of days. All that we saw was expected; everything was as scheduled and we were enraptured. Can there be anything finer than an April day on Plum Island with the hint of a chilled sea breeze moderating an ambient temperature pushing toward 70? A day when the foliage is light and clean, the mosquitoes are absent, and all down the island, here and there, are clusters of Warblers and others in the trees and along the side of the road. Palm Warblers in good numbers, Yellow-rumps everywhere; Kinglets and singing Towhees. Hermit Thrushes darting across the path and suddenly stopping to regard you with wide-eyed curiosity. It was all there today on Plum Island

     “We had great looks at a Pine warbler in the Old Pines, and found one of my favorite spring birds; Solitary [Blue-headed] Vireo, in Hellcat. I hope and trust it is the first of many Solitary Vireo’s. For reasons I cannot express or even fully understand, I love Solitary Vireo.

     “I pulled over near the parking lot for the New Blind when I was confronted by a bit of a quandary. I pulled up because I could clearly hear the song of a Field Sparrow, right nearby. Field Sparrow would be a year bird for us. I wasn’t surprised because Field Sparrows habitually nest in this area, but because it was a year bird I wanted more than just it’s song.

     “It sang again. The sound of the dropping of a steel ball on a marble counter top. I spied a bird perched at the top of a nearby cedar. Damn. It was a Mockingbird! Could this Field Sparrow song be counterfeit? The Mockingbird started with his own repartee; going through a bunch of calls; Cardinal, Phoebe and etc. It stopped. I heard the Field Sparrow again and was relieved when I found it wasn’t coming from the Mockingbird. I saw movement in the direction of the call, and acquired the bird in my binoculars. Damn, another Mockingbird.

     “The Field Sparrow called again, and this time I was sure it wasn’t a Mocker. My experience with Mockers is that they don’t mimic a single call and then shut up, but always accompany their mimicry with a mixture of other calls and their own melodies. The Field Sparrow song was alone. Still I didn’t feel that I could claim Field Sparrow with these Mockers around. Finally, I solved the dilemma in the only way it could be solved. I found the Field Sparrow in a nearby tree and Lois and I watched him sing.

     “I know for certain that there will be days in the near future what will push this one from my memory. But we cherish this day. So much of the glory of birding is transitory; beyond capture. No photograph, no words of poets, no description or film, nor even the sharpest of memories can duplicate the moments that arrive and are gone. I cannot but think that it is an essential ingredient of the birding experience…”

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