Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

The Colors of Migration are Here
May 20, 2017
By Steve Grinley

     This past week started with cold (40 degrees), wet weather with strong northeast winds prevailing, all due to a strong low-pressure area that sat over New England for more than a week. As a result, few migrating birds made it into our area on schedule. A few orioles showed us the first week of May, but only the heartiest of hummingbirds dared venture this far north. A few of the early warblers had made it here before the miserable weather took over, but there was little movement once the cold, wet weather was entrenched. Most migrants were “stuck” further south.

     Then midweek, the low moved offshore and the winds turned from northeast to southwest, temperatures rose into the seventies and beyond, and the floodgates opened! Scarlet tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, indigo buntings, and warblers galore came streaming in. So did the reports of hummingbirds as they finally started showing up at their customer’s feeders. This is the phenomenon that local birders live for – the few weeks of May when the trees and shrubs come alive with those wondrous winged migrants, every color of the rainbow!

     On my way into work on Wednesday, I swung into the Oak Hill Cemetery in Newburyport for a quick “fix” of what was likely happening all along the North Shore. As I drove past the gates, I immediately heard warblers singing. Yellow-rump, pine, and black-throated green warblers, plus a least flycatcher and a rose-breasted-grosbeak were in full song. I parked the car and walked a bit, but the flock of birds was moving away. I drove to the Moseley plot and heard magnolia, black and white, and parula warblers along with a blue-headed vireo singing in the trees above. I searched the trees, but most of the song was coming from the foliage-thick maples. I could see no movement in the sparsely leafed oaks. 

     More song came from the back fence area where I could hear scarlet tanagers, another rose-breasted grosbeak, and an indigo bunting. But I could see none of them. The dense foliage also hid the Tennessee, blackpoll, parulas and blackburnian warblers that all were announcing their presence. It was frustrating knowing that I didn’t have the time to try to locate any of them. 

     Just as I was ready to leave, Bill and Barbara Drummond drove in and asked if there were birds in the cemetery. They said they had just come from Plum Island where the birding was very good, especially the Pines Trail where they found many warblers and five species of thrushes. I told them about all the birds I was hearing around the cemetery, but that I had to go to work and I had to leave finding the birds to them. I glanced at the time and I had ten minutes to get to work!

     Bill and Barbara’s report about Plum Island didn’t help my angst to play hooky. It also didn’t help that on the way out of the cemetery I heard ovenbird, yellow warblers and warbling vireo. I knew I was leaving a great day of migration, but off to work I went.

     That evening, our young friend, Sam, send us an email. He had taken the day off from school for his 15th birthday and his mother took him to Plum Island to bird. He summarized his day:

     “I had a wonderful day on Plum Island today. We were on the island at 5:45 AM, and there were migrants (especially warblers!) everywhere! I got great looks at Blackpoll, Canada, and Blackburnian Warblers and saw 19 species of warblers total! In the afternoon, as we were leaving, I ran into MaryMargaret, and she told me about a Clay-Colored Sparrow that had been seen at the Wardens. She took me to see it, and she found it for me in some low bushes at the back of the Maintenance area. It was so cool to see a life bird on my birthday. I saw 101 species total today!”

     Sam’s and other reports of the day testified that birds were finally arriving in good numbers. We can expect the migration to peak in the next week or so and wane down by early June. Our summer resident orioles, hummingbirds, and rose-breasted grosbeaks are finally arriving, so if you haven’t put up your feeders yet, you should do so soon. A couple of customers already told me that hummingbirds showed up before they could get their feeders out!

     And I hope you take the time to spend time in your yard, or further afield at your favorite park, sanctuary, wildlife refuge, or, yes, even cemetery, and behold the colors of the migration that is going on around us!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 2
4 years of service to the birding community! 
Like us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/birdwatcherssupply