Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Weather Warm Up Should Bring Migrating Birds
May 07, 2016
By Steve Grinley

     This past week of cold, wet and dreary weather put an abrupt hold on the spring bird migration in eastern Massachusetts. A few hummingbirds and Baltimore orioles have found their wayside stops at a few area feeders, but, for the most part, folks are still waiting for “their” hummingbirds and orioles to show up in their yards. Many are still waiting on their catbirds, rose-breasted grosbeaks, and indigo buntings.

     The big “omega block” that the weather people have been talking about has blocked any flow of southwest winds to bring our May migrants up into our area. Instead, here on the coast, we have a strong flow off the ocean and even north and northeast winds to push back any attempt for birds to move up here. Birds that tried to make their way here were diverted up the Hudson River in New York, or up through the Berkshires and the Connecticut River in western Massachusetts. Several species of terns have even shown up on lakes and reservoirs in western Mass!

     We have had a few sparks of hope around here. Several species of warblers have shown up in some locations like Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge and on Plum Island, but only one or two birds of each species. A decent flock of 30-40 yellow-rumped warblers were at the Hellcat parking lot on the Parker River Wildlife Refuge earlier in the week. With them were a several palm warblers, a couple of yellow warblers and a single common yellowthroat. Sam Mroz found two northern waterthrush along the Dunes Trail at Hellcat. 

     I suspect that there is a backup of birds along the mid-Atlantic states just waiting for a change in weather and the opportunity to move north. The weather is supposed to improve throughout this weekend and southwest winds will finally start bringing in warmer weather and colorful birds on Mother’s Day and during week ahead. We will welcome both.

     Despite the cold and damp conditions this past week, birders still were out searching, trying to uncover any migrant that they could find. Doug Chickering of Groveland was one such birder who was able to discover some color amid the dull and dreary backdrop:

     “I probably should not have been surprised. I probably should have recognized the song the moment I heard it. It is a song I am familiar with but when Spring comes, when May opens, everything is new and it is easy to be fooled. At least for me to be fooled. 

     “Lois Cooper and I were poking around the crosswalk at Hellcat on Plum Island this morning; mainly because Tom Wetmore had informed me when we met at Parking Lot #1 that he had a couple of Solitary Vireo’s at Ralph Goodno Woods earlier in the morning. Not only was that a year bird for both of us, it is also one of my favorite birds this time of year. This slow, methodical Vireo seems to be a carrier of spring. It arrives when the leaves are still buds; it doesn’t sing much and although it’s plumage is subtle I find it a special herald of the coming glory of migration. 

     “I caught the motion in the tree after the small bird had flown over the road and got on it immediately. One of the best elements of these early days is that there is no pesky thick foliage to get in the way. The bird sat upon a bare branch, back to me and by its demeanor I deduced that this was the Solitary Vireo I was looking for. It turned its head to confirm my first impression and just as it hopped to another branch, just as I was about to direct Lois to its position I heard the song. I am embarrassed to admit that at first I thought it to be the Vireo. That is until I heard the song another time; then I was puzzled. 

     “The call wasn’t coming from the Vireo. It called again and there was a hoarseness to the sound that made me sure I knew that song; at least I should know it. Rose-breasted Grosbeak?? It had been so long since I had been immersed in the chorus of the spring migration. It was maddening and a little frustrating. Then I saw another bird leap up to a branch above my head and even without lifting my binoculars I knew what the song was; what the bird was. I had struck pay dirt. Scarlet Tanager!

     “I got Lois on it forthwith and we both just relaxed into the pleasure of seeing one of the most beautiful sights in the world – Scarlet tanager close by. I was a little chagrined to be fooled by the song but not enough to detract from the pure pleasure of watching it perched and singing above me. The day was cloudy but even in compromised light there is nothing quite like a Scarlet Tanager. 

     “Bob Murphy came along and we got him on it. He also remarked at how striking the bird was. One of those surprises that make the season. I have often said and still believe that if I don’t see a Scarlet Tanager and a Blackburnian Warbler at least once in the spring; my life has been significantly diminished. It is a consistent and unwavering personal goal; to see both. Well, I am half way there.”

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