Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Early Migrants Brighten Drab April Weather
April 27, 2019
By Steve Grinley

     Despite the continued storms and the above average rain that we have endured throughout April, we have managed sufficient southerly winds from time to time to bring us some of the early spring migrants. A few warblers, a few shorebirds, more herons and egrets and more swallows have arrived. Towhees are finally calling everywhere and the first hummingbirds and orioles are finding their way into our area.

     Easter Sunday was one of those days that started out with some left over drizzle. Despite the gloomy start, Margo and I had a good day birding, starting with a blue-gray gnatcatcher in our backyard in the morning. After some morning appointments, the day had brightened a bit so we headed for Plum Island.

     “Afternoon highlights were a great horned owl calling several times from across the road at the Maintenance Area and we had a small “fallout” of warblers at the Hellcat parking lot. There were at least fifteen pine warblers, (which were in all plumages from bright yellow males to drab gray individuals,) as well as palm and yellow-rumped warblers, all in high breeding plumage. Also in the mix were a number of ruby-crowned kinglets.

     Off island, we headed for Scotland Road to look for swallows and found good numbers of tree swallows feeding over the fields. A half dozen barn swallows and a few rough-winged swallows were also in the flock. Feeding in the grasses were twelve glossy ibis, one of which was a probable white-faced ibis hybrid.

     Doug Chickering was also out birding on Easter, and he shared the following account and thoughts:

     “I got to the island in mid-morning and although the day was anything but bright and happy, the birding was well above average. It didn’t qualify for the fall out status that was evident in other parts of the Commonwealth, it was certainly a good day nestled in somewhat unpleasant conditions. Overcast and damp, it was one of those days where there seems to be a persistent chill and a penetrating dampness. Not quite rainy, not even drizzly and only the briefest of showers.

     “If you weren’t a birder filled with hope and anticipation it would be a rather gloomy Easter Sunday. However even in this gray day there were unmistakable and wide spread signs that spring and the migration were here. There were small clouds of flying insects, some biting and others simply annoying, their presence was surely welcome to the birds. Also, the honeysuckle was just bursting forth, as was the forsythia, and best of all there were enough birds to keep one hopeful and occupied.

     “Many kinglets; Ruby-crowned kinglets, that is. And some of them were favoring some flashes of the crown. Bright red against the gray; small bolts of pure red against the monochromatic browns and grays and greens.

     “The Towhee’s were singing and even occasionally responding to pishing. There were Pine warblers and Palm Warblers around for I could hear their calls and songs, and there also seemed to quite a few vocal field Sparrows. I had a nicely marked Savannah Sparrow and a few Junco’s evidently heading north. Of course, there were also a multitude of yellow-rumps, singing and appearing abruptly in the trees.

     “But, for me the most welcome sighting was a bird that I consider a particularly welcome harbinger of spring. The Solitary Vireo. I look forward to its arrival every spring. To me it is iconic to the season. My memory quite often, settles on those unavoidable cloudy, damp days of early spring.

     “I am not sure why I fixate on this early migrant. I think it has something to do with its availability. It is a small bird that doesn’t challenge the observer by flicking from tree to tree in frantic hops that usually places it behind a branch. It likes to hop up at something close enough to eye-level and pause; looking around so that its subtle but clean, spring beauty can be enjoyed at leisure, before it jumps to another, nearby branch.

     “It also gives me the opportunity to indulge my stubborn streak by referring to it by its old name. Off the top of my head I can remember at least three bird species that have changed their name during my lifetime only to change it back to the original. I can remember the Baltimore Oriole to the northern Oriole and back to the Baltimore Oriole, as well as Green Heron to Green-baked Heron and back to Green Heron; and Common Gallinule to Common Moorhen and back to Common Gallinule. I suppose there were legitimate reasons for these changes. As for me I can hardly wait until the Blue-headed Vireo has its identity returned and once again becomes a Solitary Vireo.”

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