Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

An Island of Mist and Birds
May 21, 2011

By Steve Grinley

     The cold, damp and rainy raw weather of this past week has felt more like March than May. Still, it is the peak of the bird migration, at least by the calendar. The migrants have continued to trickle in with many warblers, vireos, and other songbirds arriving and hanging out to refuel. Rare, southern yellow-throated, prothonatary, and Kentucky warblers have landed in the state, overshooting their usual breeding grounds. I heard a singing hooded warbler in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Newburyport on Thursday.

     The weather should turn this weekend, and warmer southwest winds should bring in more migrants that have been staging further south before making the trek to unpredictable New England. Still, this past week has been a good one for birds and birders, despite the weather. Doug Chickering of Groveland describes his experience this past Wednesday on Plum Island:

     “It was a moderately miserable day on Plum island today (May 18). A light but persistent northeast breeze pulled a shroud of light fog off the ocean and deposited it across the entire length of the island. It didn’t fit the profile of a good birding day except for the fact that there were birds; good ones at that.

     “It rained on Bob Buxton and me; catching us half way down the marsh trail at hellcat. Not enough to soak us to the skin but enough to make us soggy. We had dried out fairly well when we met Mary Margaret and her friend Jeff from Maine. Jeff is a relatively new birder so he was happy with whatever we found. I was looking for one of the Northern Waterthrushes that seemed to be calling from every wet spot on the marsh trail. I hadn’t actually seen one this year. Mary Margaret and Bob had loftier ambitions. They were looking for the Golden-winged Warbler that had been reported from Hellcat two days ago. It was an oddly good birding day. The birds weren’t in the profusion of the weekend but the ones we found were usually close and most of them at knee level.

     “At one point we were walking along that part of the trail that comes nearest to the road and we heard a strange call from our right. It was reminiscent of a Parula, or maybe a Black-throated Blue, but definitely not right for either. It was a long almost monotonous buzz. We stopped and looked to find the sound. Simultaneously, three of us spotted movement in a small white flowering tree close to the boardwalk. I had gotten on a Chickadee, Mary called out a Chestnut-sided and then Bob spoke the magic words.

     “”I’ve got the Golden-wing.” And sure enough, within seconds the four of us were watching a classic, jaw-dropping, beautiful male Golden-winged Warbler. I hadn’t seen one since 2005 and couldn’t remember seeing one so close, for so long. We hit the cell phones to alert Tom Wetmore and whom ever else we could think of, then turned back to simply watch in awe. It foraged in the tree for about five or six minutes; just long enough for Tom and various others to arrive and almost, but not quite, get it. After it flew, we waited in vain for it to return. Later that morning, Bob Buxton would locate it again along the road, right opposite the trail, and Peter Vale found it briefly, also along the road. I eventually reached my original goal when I scored three Northern Waterthrushes, two of them practically at my feet.

     “Later on I met Brian Harris who had been to Sandy Point. He had gone down looking for a possible errant Phalarope. He didn’t find a Phalarope but did discover a Little Gull, a Black Tern and two Arctic Terns. That was enough for me; especially as I had already seen the Golden-winged. Without further delay I headed down to Sandy Point and lugged my scope out to the fog enshrouded beach. At the far end a large cluster of gulls and terns emerged like apparitions through the mist, perched on the beach. They made a lot of noise and they occasionally rose up in flight, but settled down. There were 25 Common Terns,52 Least Terns, 308 Bonaparte’s Gulls, a juvenile Little Gull and one Arctic Tern roosting among the Commons. I never caught up with the Black Tern that Brian had seen, but got a bonus in two Roseate Terns.

     “The day was chilly, damp and wreathed in fog and mist – by any standard, a grim and uncomfortable spring day. It was also a day that contained an Arctic tern, a Little Gull and a Golden-winged Warbler – the perfect definition of a great spring day!”

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