Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Area Birders Enjoying Songbird Migrants
May 24, 2014
By Steve Grinley
It has been what I would call a good spring migration thus far, certainly better than the past couple of years. The usual onshore winds that we get in the spring have not been too strong this year, thus allowing more songbirds to migrate along the coast rather than being forced more inland. Migrant traps along the ocean have been especially good this year, including the Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary and the Parker River Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island.
On the refuge, the stretch of habitat along the road between Parking Lot 3 and the Maintenance Area has been the most productive. This area is known to birders as the “S” Curves, aptly named for the winding road bordered by mostly low vegetation on both sides. A number of tall oaks border the road at two spots along this stretch, making those areas particularly active.
The numbers and variety of warblers in the S Curves has been impressive this year, along with the vireos, tanagers, orioles, towhees and cuckoos. Early morning is always best, before the beach traffic hits, and on some days it is so good that it makes it hard to get any further down the island, especially if you have limited time to spend. Just this past week, there were multiple scarlet tanagers and fifteen species or more of warblers including six of the highly sought bay-breasted warbler in one tree! Some mornings are dominated by northern parulas, other days it might be magnolia warblers or redstarts.
Every morning has had its own highlights.
The Oak Hill Cemetery has also been good for warblers and other birds this season. Ten to fifteen warbler species have been seen regularly on many mornings. The resident great-crested flycatcher is back, along with scarlet tanagers, and now two pairs of indigo buntings staking out territories around the cemetery perimeter. There has even been a resident screech owl calling during the day!
Pike’s Bridge Road in West Newbury has also been delightful. The blue-gray gnatcatchers are already on nests at both the Turkey Hill Road end as well as at the Garden Street end. The black-billed cuckoos have returned and we watched a female Baltimore oriole weaving her basket-like nest near the bridge. Wood thrushes have been singing from the hillside and multiple rose-breasted grosbeaks have been setting up territories all along the path. Warbling vireos and blue-winged warblers are back as well.
But you don’t have to travel to enjoy the birds that are arriving or migrating through. Many of my customers are enjoying Baltimore orioles at their orange and grape jelly feeders. Others are thrilled with the hummingbirds that are frequenting the flowers and the nectar feeders in their yards. Families of bluebirds have already hatched in the nesting boxes in the yards of other customers.
If you want to attract more of the warblers, tanagers and other birds that don’t usually visit feeders or nest in nesting boxes, plantings and water are a great way to lure these birds to your yard. Many birds enjoy the insects off of plants, and most all birds need water – to drink and to bathe. A simple bird bath will often draw more birds. Add some motion to the water with a dripper or a recirculating pump to attract even more birds.
Bob and Bonnie Buxton of Merrimac have built their own water feature in their backyard and landscaped for the birds. The result has been a phenomenal list of bird species visiting their yard every year. Here is a report of some of their recent visitors:
“This afternoon from 3-5pm we enjoyed seeing a nice variety of warblers visiting our little man-made stream and surrounding vegetation, including Northern Parula, American Redstart, Magnolia, Yellow, Black-and-white, Chestnut-sided, Wilson’s, and Tennessee. Other birds in the yard were a stunning male Scarlet Tanager, Northern Flicker, and Red-eyed Vireo. A Blackpoll Warbler was heard but not seen. We could hear a Black-billed Cuckoo calling twice from an adjacent yard but we did not see it.
“Several Baltimore Orioles and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks visit our feeders regularly but today one immature male Rose-breasted Grosbeak really stood out by singing his lovely song very loudly all afternoon, while the Orioles bickered and chased one another all over the yard. The male Ruby-throated Hummingbird was really showing off his flying talents by performing his ‘U-shaped’ courtship flight as well as a ‘horizontal back and forth zip’ for the female. We hope she was impressed… We certainly were! It is so much fun to watch the courtship, whether it be an acrobatic zipping hummingbird or a male Northern Cardinal delicately offering a seed to his lady.”
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