Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Spring Weather Attracts Wednesday Morning Birders
April 25, 2015
By Steve Grinley

     Now that the spring weather is here, more birds are arriving everyday and people are anxious to get out and enjoy them. One way to do that is by joining Bill Gette and Dave Weaver on their weekly birding adventures every Wednesday morning out of Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center. Dave describes this past Wednesday’s field trip:

     “Oh, what a beautiful day it was, this 45th anniversary of Earth Day. … We saw some “good” birds, some sure signs of spring, and experienced that always good-to-get-out feeling that comes with being on Plum Island and the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge – what a treat! Oh, yeah, we had some wind – don’t we always? – but it was out of the southerly quadrant, and the skies were partly cloudy and temperatures ranging from the mid 50s to the low 60s. Out of the wind, it was quite warm.

     “As we approached the refuge gate, several MOURNING DOVES were perched on the wires along with a few COMMON GRACKLES. There wasn’t any activity noted around the Purple Martin nesting gourds. Surely our largest swallow will soon be making an appearance. The salt pannes were once again devoid of ducks – not even an American Black Duck was seen. And, as the morning unfolded, there were not a lot of birds in general. A number of TREE SWALLOWS could be seen flying around the remaining nesting boxes in the marsh. In the smaller pannes south of the main panne, we did see a gathering of nine SNOWY EGRETS. These fully-plumed white beauties just arrived in the last several days from points south. Recall, of the two egrets, Great and Snowy, the Snowy is the smaller of the two. It has a black bill, black legs, and yellow feet (“oh, them golden slippers . . . .”). The Great Egret has a yellow bill, black legs, and black feet. …

     “We stopped briefly at the North Pool Overlook, but aside from a pair of MALLARDS in The Wardens wetlands, an AMERICAN CROW, and the song of a SONG SPARROW, there was nada in the way of birds. From the overlook, we made haste down to Sandy Point at the southern tip of Plum Island. Along the way, PURPLE FINCHES were heard singing – one just north of Goodno Woods and the other across the road from Stage Island Pool, where there was also a RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET flitting about the shrubs at eye level. In Stage Island Pool, three BUFFLEHEADS, two drakes and a hen, were in courting mode.

     “[Our] first visit of the season to Sandy Point State Reservation proper showed us what our winter storms had wrought with an amazing amount of trash and driftwood of all types and sizes pushed high on the beach and into the dunes. We had to pick our way carefully onto the beach. There, we were rewarded with wonderful looks at three PIPING PLOVERS on the wet sand of an incoming tide. For some of our party, the plover sighting was a first. There were the appropriate “Ahhhs” and “Oh, cute!” 

     “As far as we know, the plovers are not on their nests yet, but surely will be soon. In exploring the rest of the beach, no other shorebirds were found. We did spot six COMMON EIDERS winging their way over Ipswich Bay heading toward the ocean, and there was a kettle five TURKEY VULTURES riding the thermals above Castle Hill across the bay. While leaving the beach, three more Piping Plovers could be seen in the direction of Bar Head, and about 20 BRANT were riding the incoming waves. From the beach at Bar Head, looking toward Emerson Rocks, we had one more Piping Plover and at the water’s edge our first-of-the-year BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER still in its basic plumage – not a bit of black belly to be seen. Some of us also saw a WHITE-WINGED SCOTER, several BLACK SCOTERS, a lone LONG-TAILED DUCK, and two COMMON LOONS.

     “Our next stop was at the Hellcat Wildlife Observation Area where the bird of the morning awaited our admiring stares through bins and scopes. But first – when we arrived in the Hellcat parking lot, a pair of PURPLE FINCHES was seen atop a birch tree, the male in full song. Great looks through the scope! On a very full Bill Forward Pool, there were two MUTE SWANS and a number of CANADA GEESE (still no ducks). The heavy rains of early Tuesday morning had done a number on the water levels of all the refuge impoundments. The levels of both Bill Forward and Stage Island Pools will have to be drawn down to accommodate the incoming shorebirds to expose mudflats and provide fuel for their continued migration north. “Now, that bird of the morning! After scanning the marsh to the west of Hellcat, eagle-eyed Bill grabbed his scope and urged everyone to follow him quickly up the North Pool dike. He put his scope on our second AMERICAN BITTERN in 2 weeks! This one was about 50 yards away just to the north and west of the “Do Not Enter” fence on the dike. My goodness, everyone wondered, how did he ever see that master of marsh camouflage?? This bird put on quite a show for us – sneaking through the grass at water’s edge, occasionally pointing its bill skyward, waiting patiently, and taking a fish as we watched. 

     “After at least a 20-minute bittern show, while making our way off the North Pool dike, a dozen GLOSSY IBISES gave us a flyby over North Pool heading north and a GREAT EGRET flew above us into Bill Forward Pool. At least two SAVANNAH SPARROWS were seen on the Hellcat dike. En route back to Joppa Flats, Bill in the lead van saw a MERLIN fly roadside and north. And, the nine Snowy Egrets were still in the small pannes where we had seen them earlier (photos above). During the course of the morning, at least a couple of EASTERN TOWHEES were heard. 

     “So, when all said and done, although not the birdiest morning, there were several “good” birds and everyone seemed pleased with the experience. It was really a nice morning to be out and about! Come join us for Wednesday Morning Birding next week – it’s sure to be birdier as spring migration builds. Hope to see you there.”

     Joppa also has Saturday morning bird walks every week, and Dave Williams is leading Friday morning walks in May. Contact them at 978-462-9998. It is a great way to get out and enjoy birding!

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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