Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Warblers Highlight Plum Island Visit
May 19, 2018
By Steve Grinley

     The spring migration continues strong, waking up to eight or ten warblers singing off my back deck this morning. There are already reports of many warblers on Plum Island so, with a day off, I may head in that direction. I am looking forward to catching more waves of warblers, and seeing the array of colorful plumages that they bring with them. My good friend Doug Chickering describes his experience on Plum Island a few days ago:

     “Today was rainy, dreary and cold. Yesterday was sunny and windy. The day before yesterday was hot and muggy and sunny. The day before that was – I don’t remember. But what I do remember about these days, with blazing clarity; was that they were all days filled with birds. 

     “There were birds in the trees, scratching furiously in the leaf litter and popping in and out of the bushes at the side of the road. Days so exciting and rewarding that I didn’t dare go any other place but Plum Island. It was probably equally excellent at other places, perhaps all through Massachusetts, but to me it was pointless to leave the island. There were no real slamming fallouts, but it was all good bordering on legendary. And one thing that did strike me was what consistently stunning looks I had at so many birds.

     “In general, I look for birds in order to watch them. I want to do more than just identify them. I want to actually scrutinize them if possible. Most, if not all of my friends are satisfied, to a certain extent, to just hear their song or call. For them it is adequate to list if they can simply identify them and that you can do through their call.

     “Now I cherish my list and keep it up to date as much as the next person, but for me the visual experience is of primary importance that I won’t list a bird until I actually see it. Sometimes that sighting is no more than a glimpse, but by being unsatisfied unless I see it makes me work harder and spend more time trying to get a killer look. This results, I think, in somewhat stunting my learning the calls and that it makes my day list significantly shorter than those of my peers. But I also think it results in my getting better looks. I don’t mean diminish the efforts or the passion of other birders for I believe we should follow our passion each in their own way.

     “Therefore, the last three or four days (it is hard to keep track of days and hours at the height of the spring migration) have been especially rewarding and significant for me. Not only for the number and variety of species I have encountered, but by the jaw dropping memorable prolonged looks I have already had. After a sad and tough winter, I have surely had some glorious and special moments among the birds this spring.

     “Today… I found my self standing between showers, among a group if hushed and appreciative birders, watching a Prothonotary Warbler, bouncing and hopping around a large decaying tree right be the cross-walk at Hellcat. He would flick around in back and then magically reappear nearby. T he day was cloudy and the lighting subdued but the bird affording long, close looks and as it was in occluded light, it seemed somewhat different from what my memory had collected of other sightings of its subtle yet brilliant beauty. The brightest yellow was at the throat; it was like a burst of brilliance and as the yellow radiated out is gave me the impression of other colors subtly intruding into the pattern. The breast and throat were a yellow that was enhanced by just the slightest hint of red, and the blue wings seemed muted with a slight graying. The nape and back took on the aspect of green velvet.

     “Yesterday, in the bright sunshine I found a Chestnut-sided Warbler by the roadside across for the North Pool Overlook, also on Plum. While a group of us watched it feed, and were getting good looks, a Sharp-shinned Hawk glided by, flushed the warbler and it darted across the road to take a perch in a tree just above head level, still out in the bright sun. And there it simply perched motionless; perhaps a little apprehensive with the Hawks passing. I had never seen a Chestnut-sided warbler, better marked or brighter than this one. All of the markings were crisp and pure. White belly without a blemish; the chestnut sides that special dark red and the yellow on the crown seemed to shine in the sunlight.

     “That day we also had great looks at a Lincoln’s Sparrow even as it insisted on skulking and hiding. It was close and had few good hiding places. On more than two occasions I had similar breathless looks at a Prairie Warbler, again out in the sun and occasionally singing.

     “There were more of these and my hope and expectations are that there’s more to come. It is hard to imagine that the days ahead are going to be an improvement on what is occurring now, but let’s just hope that it stays the quality is roughly equal.”

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