Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Warm Winds Spur Colorful Migration
May 18, 2013

By Steve Grinley

     What a difference a day makes. As I mentioned last week, my Thursday (May 9) walk to the Oak Hill Cemetery was very quiet. There was very little bird song everywhere we walked. No warblers, no vireos, no thrushes, and even the usually loud summer resident great-crested flycatcher that usually arrives mid May hadn’t shown up yet. We heard the squeal of a wood duck on the pond below, and a couple of tufted titmice and crows, but little else to show for our efforts.

     As a result, we decided to extend our trip to Rowley to look for the Wilson’s phalarope that had been reported from the pans along Route 1A near Pikul’s Farm. We struck out there as well, seeing only yellowlegs and willets. We were serenaded by a warbling vireo, but it was relatively quiet there as well. As we continued on to Plum Island, we did encounter a few warblers – yellow, common yellowthroats, northern parula – but no evidence of much migration going on.

     But, as I had predicted, the next morning was a difference story. My Friday morning “Focus on Warblers” walk for Mass Audubon Joppa Flats finally had plenty of birds on which to focus. A front that came through from the south brought in a fallout of birds. We headed for Plum Island, and as we drove down the refuge road, there was song everywhere!

     We made a couple of stops near the first few parking lots, but the birds were moving so quickly through the shrubs that it was hard to get binoculars on them. We could see many birds lifting off and heading for the mainland. If we heard song and stopped to view the birds, the “wave” of warblers will have moved through before we got out of the van! The gravel trucks (for the reconstruction of the lower gravel road) barreling up and down the road didn’t help either, so I decided to head for the Hellcat Trail where we could walk out of harm’s way and concentrate on the birds.

     Hellcat was almost magical that morning. Warblers were everywhere! Numerous yellow, black & white, yellow-rumped, northern parula, black-throated green, black-throated blue, magnolia, and Nashville warblers filled the trees and shrubs. Blue-headed vireos were everywhere as well. Everyone had excellent views at these colorful mites of the bird world.

     I think the bird that stole the show was the blackburnian warbler, with its fiery orange throat gleaming off its black and white patterned body. Honorable mentions have to go to the two scarlet tanagers we encountered. One was an orange shade of red, but the other lived up to its brilliant scarlet name-both stunning birds to behold! The orioles and rose-breasted grosbeaks also drew many “ooh’s” and “aah’s”.

     It was one of those awe-struck mornings that we didn’t really want to end. But our time was up and we had to pull ourselves away from the spectacle around us.

     This same front brought hummingbirds and orioles to backyard feeders last weekend. Many customers reported seeing “their” birds return on Mother’s Day weekend. These birds continue to move in with each weather front where southwest winds aid their journey north. So if “your” birds haven’t shown up yet, don’t despair – there is still a lot of May, and migration to go.

     I even stopped at the Oak Hill Cemetery a couple of days ago before work and found the oak trees around the water tower filled with warblers. The majority were yellow-rumped warblers, but there were several other species mixed in. Even the resident great-crested flycatcher had arrived, filling the air with his loud “wheep” call. Isn’t spring migration great!

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