Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Success in Rainy Birdathon
May 24, 2008 
Steve Grinley

     It wouldn’t be Birdathon without a little rain. Or a lot of rain. Or so it seems. This year was no exception. Rain was predicted for the evening of the start of Bird-a-thon and was to continue into the next morning. So our team packed the rain gear and prepared accordingly.

     Birdathon is the twenty-four hour marathon of birding, as teams of birders try to see as many species of birds as possible to raise money for their local Mass Audubon Sanctuary. It started Friday night at 6pm and continued through 6pmSaturday. OK, We stopped at about 8:30pm Friday to tally our first few hours and partake of ice cream, and actually retired for some hours of sleep before continuing in early on Saturday morning.

     With rain expected, our team birded Plum Island Friday evening and we found common terns and purple martins, long-tailed ducks and brant at the north end of the Island. We headed down the refuge found a perched peregrine falcon and expected greater yellowlegs and willets. He rain started as we approached the North Pool. We heard sora and American Bittern calling and then we stood in the rain to hear least bitterns calling from the reeds. As the evening grew darker, we heard woodcocks “peenting” and still doing their aerial display. On the way off the island, we heard the whip-poor-wills call from the woods.

     The next morning, we awoke to pouring rain. Our team met at its usual assignment, Crooked Pond in Boxford. Some pressure was off as other teams found Louisianna waterthrush and barred owl the night before in other locations. These are two specialty birds that are expected, or at least hoped for, at Crooked Pond. We donned our raincoats and rain pants and headed down the trail. The dark conditions and rain made identification of a thrush difficult. Approaching the first pond, we startled a pair of wood duck. The first barred owl box was quiet, no residents evident. The first stream produced a winter wren, while a brown creeper sang nearby. Red-bellied woodpeckers were visiting their nest hole, and red-eyed vireos sang in leafed out trees. The trail was wet, but not as flooded as in years past. We made our way to the back area where we heard another winter wren and a yellow-throated vireo. A black-throated green warbler and ovenbird sang as the rain tapered off. Scarlet tanagers were singing from atop the trees.

     We crossed the beaver dam and headed up to Bald Hill with the hope of finding a goshawk. We didn’t find a goshawk there, but we did encounter a pocket of warblers that included Nashville, magnolia, black-throated green, parula, pine, and American redstarts. In the mix was an indigo bunting and a wood pewee.

     As we headed out past the pond again, a great blue heron flew in and perched in a tree. We heard a blackburnian warbler singing high in the pine trees. Then a bird flew overhead that turned out to be a goshawk.

     We then headed to Bradley Palmer Sate Park to a blue-gray gnatcatcher’s nest that was previously found. The birds were present, as were singing warbling vireos and a chestnut-sided warbler. Turkey vultures soared overhead.

     We made other stops along the way, but eventually headed to Newburyport Harbor where we caught the falling tide as Bird-a-thon time wound down. We found yellowlegs, black-bellied plovers, dunlin and short-billed dowitchers on Joppa Flats. We watched Bonaparte’s gulls when Linda brought our attention to a smaller gull with dark patterns on its wings. It turned out to be a little gull – an excellent find, and appropriate last bird for our Birdathon tally.

     When we gathered at the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center after 6pm, we found that the Joppa teams found a total of 188 species. This was the second highest species total for Joppa Bird-a-thon. You can still support Bird-a-thon by sending your gift to the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Center to help support their conservation and education efforts.

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