Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Spring Migration Warms UP
May 05, 2018
By Steve Grinley

     After being away for ten days, and seeing that the temperature in Boston was the same as Key West on the day of our return, we were optimistic that the May migration has finally found its way to Massachusetts. Once home, we found the apple, cherry and azealea blossoms are bursting everywhere and we saw reports of hummingbirds and orioles. Doug Chickering of Groveland describes one morning of migrants on Plum Island this week:

     “We were fed up with winter in March, when the snow storms came, and we were all wondering what had become of Spring during the cloudy chilled windy days of April. Most of the migrants had been pretty much on time and there even seemed to be plenty of them. The Pine Warblers were present in all the places I have had Pine Warblers and the Palm Warblers were wide spread and numerous. The Louisiana Waterthrush came in was easily found and there was even a nice rarity in the Blue grosbeak. Two of them. I saw them both.

     “I had done some sitting with the Hawk Watchers on Plum Island and even though we had pretty good numbers of Kestrels and Merlin’s, it seemed to be always cloudy and cold. I was active and had found most of the birds I had been looking for but all along I wanted May and spring. May 1st was a bit of a disappointment, but May 2nd hit the jackpot.

     “It was a long wait for birders and birds alike but today, May 2nd, the wait was over and we were presented with a near perfect day on Plum island. Not quite a legendary fall-out but an exceptionally good day nonetheless. When I arrive a little before 6 am I immediately noticed Steve Babbit and Dan Prima had pulled their cars to the side of the road at the middens; an encouraging sign.

     “Sure enough, the two middens were jumping with birds. There were numbers of White-throated Sparrows, a few Chipping Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and a couple of Flickers. But the area was dominated by the Warblers, mostly Yellow-rumps and Palms; there were at least 30 Palm Warblers.

     “The activity drew in the birders and eventually people were picking out more Warblers, like Black-throated Blue and Yellow Warbler and the highlight of this stop, four Prairie Warblers, some singing. The Prairies were extraordinarily striking as they perched in the morning sun.

     “After about forty minutes I found myself haunted by the old dilemma of great birding days. Shall I stay here for as long as I am seeing birds? Even if they are the same species over and over again? And thereby risk missing new birds down the road? Or should I break camp and move on and risk the possibility that this spot is the only hot spot worthy of attention.

     “I moved on and pulled up at the Pans. Off and on I was seeing birds at the roadside and at the Pans found that things were still very active. Here we added Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and the first of many Solitary Vireos.

     “The group of excited and joy filled birders picked through the birds that seemed to be everywhere in the low bushes across from the pans when we were suddenly treated to an unusual and impressive event. The birds fed and then as if some one of them gave a signal they fled the brush, took to the air and headed north. There were a few birds left, but there was at least 100 and probably 200 birds that took off. And that was it.

     “There were more birds at Hellcat and Old Pines, but not at the concentration we found before 7 am. Eventually I would see nine Black-and-whites, many White-throated Sparrows, more Solitary Vireos, three Northern Waterthrushes a Redstart and a Rusty Blackbird at Hellcat. We also heard a Sora twice doing his Sora call from the North Pool.

     “I spent the afternoon with the Hawk Watch at Parking lot one, and for them it was a near record breaking day with well over three hundred migrating hawks and falcons. We had made that happy turn. We can hope and maybe even expect that the brutal, uncompromising winter is gone and that the warmth and birds of spring have arrived. It has been a long wait.”

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