Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Southerly Winds Bring Migrating Birds This Week
May 09, 2015
By Steve Grinley

     This past week’s southerly winds opened the flood gates for migrating birds. I drove through the Oak Hill Cemetery on my way to work Monday, just to see if there was any activity and knowing full well that even if there was, I didn’t have time to stop and enjoy it. Sure enough, there were birds singing all over. I grabbed my binoculars and got out of my car, knowing that I might be late for work.

     The oaks and hemlocks were full of warblers. Yellow-rumped, black and white, black-throated blue, black-throated green, and palm warblers and beautiful northern parulas were all feeding on the insects that were emerging as the morning air warmed. The high sound of the blue-gray gnatcatchers could be heard from several nearby trees and ruby-crowned kinglets flitted in the rhododendron. An ovenbird sang “teacher, teacher, teacher” from the leak covered slope that went down to the pond.

     It was happening. I was pleased that spring was finally in our midst. I was also frustrated that I couldn’t stay to discover what other gems had arrived that morning. So off to work I went. When I arrived at the work, I could hear our resident yellow warbler singing “sweet, sweet, sweet” from across Route 1. Our chimney swifts were twittering overhead. Yes, spring has come to the Traffic Circle as well.

     With the throngs of migration upon us, and southerly winds continuing, I had no choice but to spend the next day on Plum Island. I was not disappointed. I was greeted just beyond the gate by singing yellow warblers, a common yellowthroat, and an eastern kingbird was fly catching from a perch on a tall shrub. Catbirds kept crisscrossing in front of my car as I crept down the road while willets called loudly from the marsh. 

     White-throated sparrows were everywhere along the road, as were a surprising number of swamp sparrows. Savannah sparrows were in the mix as was a field sparrow, several chipping sparrows and the ever present song sparrows. I also came across a few white-crowned sparrows later in the day.

     Towhees sang their “drink your tea” song all along the road. Brown thrashers were perched up high, singing their repeating song. A harrier cruised over the marsh and a single kestrel and a sharp-shinned hawk flew overhead.

     But the warblers were the highlight. All along the road from Lot1 to Lot 3, the bayberry and beach plums contained small pockets of warblers moving through. Lots of yellows and yellowthroats, black and whites, parulas, palms, chestnut-sided and, of course, yellow-rumps flitted through the binoculars. Blue-headed vireos and ruby-crowned kinglets joined the warbler flocks.

     I saw a white-crowned sparrow at the Maintenance Area and a female orchard oriole was in the pine trees there. A lone wild turkey strutted in the nearby field. A silent common loon floated in the river.

     As I approached the Hellcat Swamp area, I could hear the loud song of the northern waterthrush coming from the edge of a wet area. I would see and hear several more in my walk along the boardwalk. Additional warblers in Hellcat included a stunning male black-throated blue warbler, a male redstart and a blue-winged warbler. The blue-winged warbler hybridizes with the golden-winged warbler and this blue-wing was a cross with a golden-wing, as it had a golden patch on its wing instead of the usual pure “blue” wing. 

     Also along the boardwalk, I saw my first veery of the year. There were also two male Baltimore orioles and a pair of orchard orioles in the same tree! In the marsh at the end of the boardwalk, marsh wrens sang their bubbly song as I, and a lone great blue heron, listened.

     At the Pines Trail, a magnolia warbler greeted me in the parking area and an ovenbird walked across the path in front of me. At the Sandy Point lot near Emerson Rocks, there were three piping plovers on the beach, black scoter, brant and common eiders were feeding near the rocks, and gannets, long-tailed ducks and red-throated loons were migrating by.

     On my way off island, I encountered a house wren and a prairie warbler across from the Salt Pannes and a merlin flew by. A pair of purple martins was perched about 100 yards outside the gate, while none were seen at the gourds on the refuge.

     It was an amazing day when birds just seem to come to me. Without trying, I tallied 106 species. Migration was, indeed, happening. But I was content to just listen to a catbird along the Hellcat boardwalk ramble on about nothing, as they so often do, and to take in all that was spring.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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4 years of service to the birding community! 
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