Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Warmer Weather Brings More Migrants to the Area
April 30, 2011
By Steve Grinley

     The last week of April was more like May. The warm, southwest winds brought with them the first big waves of migrant birds on Tuesday and Wednesday. I received numerous calls about hummingbirds and orioles showing up in the area as residents scrambled to put up their nectar feeders for the hummers and orioles and to put out oranges and grape jelly for the orioles. The bulk of these birds will arrive in May, but the first ones have made a showing.

     On Tuesday, Doug Chickering of Groveland visited Plum Island and tells us about his experience there:

     “There were parts of the weather report that gave me hope that this could be a good day for migrants. When I arrived at Plum Island shortly after dawn it seemed to be an unremarkable gray April day. Bleak, dark, touched with a moist chill; one of those days that seems to postpone the arrival of spring. I anticipated a day that would prove to have only a smattering of a few hearty birds moving up through the cold towards their breeding ground. This initial assessment couldn’t have been farther off the mark as it ended up as a migrant day that would have been good for the middle of May.

     “The early morning was draped in fog and I saw few birds. At the gate house there were a couple of Myrtles and a very hard to identify, drab female Pine Warbler. As I made way down to Hellcat nurturing the vague hope that I could find the White-eyed vireo, the daylight crept in and the fog dissipated. On the way I encountered the White-faced Ibis at the south end of pans in what apparently would be his final day on earth.

     “At 7 am I was the only person at Hellcat. There is something about the solitude of the early morning that I cherish. There was a growing movement in the trees over my head; and a rustling in underbrush. The ubiquitous Myrtles were joined by a number of Ruby-crowned Kinglets and occasional Solitary Vireos. Half way down to the old blind I had my first Black-throated green Warbler and Golden-crowned Kinglets became mixed with the Ruby-crowns. Among a growing chorus of singing White-throated sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and Myrtle Warblers there came the single unmistakable song of a Northern Waterthrush.

     “From that moment the sounds and sights of the day proliferated. Black-and-white Warblers showed up as I entered Ralph Goodno Woods and I was greeted by another singing waterthrush, joined by a singing Winter Wren and back in the forest and Ovenbird joined. I was searching intently for the Winter Wren when I became aware of another song, from out on the road. A few bewildered seconds passed before the realization struck – White-eyed Vireo! Out at the crosswalk, up in a tree there is was. White-eyed vireo, singing away.

     “The rest of the day was more of the same. Lois was able to join me for the subsequent discoveries. The birds just kept coming: Scarlet Tanager, Blackburnian Warbler, more Pine warblers, two Great Crested Flycatchers and Yellow Warbler. A glorious gray day to remember.

     “Upon reflection, however, even among the flurry of year birds, and the leading edge of warblers possibly the best moments of the day occurred at Hellcat; before the excitement, on my way back from the old blind. I was down in one of the low wet areas and just stopped to watch a few Kinglets and a Chickadee. I stood still and let my binoculars hang at my neck, and simply absorbed a quiet, sublime interlude. Both the Kinglets were working the brush beside me, and moving right up next to my feet. They darted from branch to branch, seemingly oblivious to my presence; little perfect jewels in the stark wet underbrush; pausing only briefly to glance and then moving on. Overhead, I looked up to see a Solitary vireo moving slowly just above eye level, pausing and methodically surveying and then snatching at a morsel I could not see. One of the ruby-crowned flashed red at me and in a hanging minute they moved on.

     “It was one of those transient moments that are worth pausing to experience. They can’t compare with finding a new bird; there is nothing transcendent about the beauty and they soon disappear from our consciousness, but in their own subtle way they are those moments that make birding glorious. A few seconds with a Ruby-crowned Kinglet right next to you. We take pictures, we keep meticulous records; we cherish memories, but all in vain. These little indescribable interlude are fleeting; and they continueth not. But it’s what I live for.”

On Wednesday, more drama took place on the island. A group of students from Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont were watching and video recorded a white-faced ibis at the Salt Pannes area. This western ibis first appeared on the island at the end of last week, and was viewed by numerous birders. When one of these ibis shows up in this area, it is usually mixed in a flock of our more common glossy ibis. But this bird arrived, and stayed, isolated, feeding in the marshes not far from the road.

As the video was running a peregrine falcon came down on the ibis and forced it underwater, eventually drowning the unsuspecting visitor. The video was clear enough to see that the peregrine was banded and it is a large female that was fledged in Lawrence last summer. The falcon proceeded to drag the ibis up on the bank and began his breakfast feast. The shock of witnessing this event reverberated through the students and their reaction was also captured on the video.

     If you would like to view this amazing (but somewhat gruesome) video, it is on You Tube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eyqijh2sMao. Be sure to have your sound up, as the reaction of the students is priceless

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