Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Warblers Continue to Amaze Birders
May 21, 2021
By Steve Grinley
It was this time last week when my column touted that warblers were stealing the show here in May. That morning, as I sat down for my morning coffee, I read a New Hampshire Birds post from Steve Mirick announcing a “HUGE morning migration on the coast.” I opened the doors and windows and immediately heard an ovenbird calling “teacher, teacher, teacher in the woods out back.” I stepped outside and could then hear a chorus of warbler song in our yard.
Margo and I counted ten species of warblers in our yard within an hour, mostly by song as the majority of birds were buried in the thick maples instead of showing themselves in the oaks. We did manage to catch glimpses of black& white, magnolia, black-throated blue, black-throated green, northern parula and yellow-rumped. There were multiples of most species.
This “fallout,” as it is often termed, always means a great day of birding ahead. Not for me, however, as I had to head to work. But Doug Chickering of Newburyport captured the event as only Doug can do:
“I am sure that I really don’t have to explain this spectacular day to most massbirders. It seems as if we had a major fall out of migrants up and down the New England Coast. I spent the entire day on Plum Island. It was the right place to be. But then again, today, every place was the right place to be. I put this day right up there with some of my finest May birding experiences. I don’t keep those kinds of records so I cannot rate it accurately except it was in the top ten days, and probably in the top five. The famous Sassafras Trees day at Plum island a couple of years ago pales in comparison.
“I suppose I could waste the readers time by listing the birds I saw. Massbird will see plenty of that. All will be impressive, all an indication of the spectacular show that we birders witnessed today. But instead, I will attempt to impart how profoundly astounding the day was as it unwound from chilly morning to hot afternoon. As I reflect back on the day images and impressions come crowding in with the same confusion and profusion that was the hallmark of the day.
“There was the sight on warblers and others flying in from the ocean in the early morning. Some dropping into the sunlit trees on the western side of the S Curves and some continuing on out over the marshes heading inland. My first Warbler of the day, a Blue-winged at the side of the road, just above eye level, just sitting in a bush as quiet as a Vireo and apparently exhausted. There were the large number of Parulas seemingly everywhere. It is no exaggeration to claim that Northern Parula was the most numerous bird on the island this day.
“Then there was the Cape May. I missed the one briefly seen in the S Curves, causing a flurry of activity among the birders, turned almost giddy from the profusion of birds before and around them. But on my walk to Hellcat, I caught sight of some movement in the leafed-out bush in front of me. A few sudden pulls of movement and then into view, a Cape May Warbler, the thin precise streaks at throat and sides set like precious jewels in the bright yellow of the breast and the flashing red patch on the auriculars all startling my senses. Then to add to my wonder it began singing. The bird was in the shade but still seemed to glow from some unseen embers within.
“A male Scarlet Tanager in the tree above me in the bright sunlight. Nothing more need to be said here.
“Along with Parulas everywhere there were Black-and whites everywhere, Back-throated Blues everywhere. The sheer volume of birds was staggering and overwhelming. I have never seen so many magnificent birds in one place – I have never been to the tropics – and I have never seen so many joy-filled stunned birders in one place.
“Last year I had good looks at a Veery only once. This year – I lost count. The quiet, plain cinnamon colored thrush would appear among the leaf litter and with that wide-eyed gaze stare out at me with that peculiar innocent bold gaze. By noon I was drained, and the birds kept coming. A day of glorious, spectacular birding that ended with Oystercatchers on Emerson Rocks, Woodcocks peenting and Whip-poor-wills singing the haunting refrain in the twilight. It was special and it was exhausting.”