Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Keeping an Appointment with the S Curves
May 27, 2017
By Steve Grinley

     Ten days ago, the weather turned and the warblers came pouring in. Last weekend brought good numbers of warblers to Plum Island and to other migrant pockets along the North Shore from Nahant to Marblehead Neck to Eastern Point in Gloucester. Margo and I visited Marblehead Neck on Sunday and the warbler show was incredible. No mega-rarities were found, but easily the most bay-breasted warblers than we have seen in one day anywhere! Fifteen to twenty was a conservative estimate, with multiple bay-breasts in one tree. 

     Also present were more than a half dozen Canada warblers, a bird that isn’t always easy to find in other years. In addition, several blackburnian warblers always make for a good day, as do the multiples of the more regular magnolia, black-throated green, black-throated blue, yellow, yellow-rumped, black & white, Nashville, Tennessee, blackpoll, American redstart and parula warblers. It seemed like days of old when the warblers kept you looking in all directions for much of the time. 

     Doug Chickering of Groveland encountered magic moments of his own on Plum Island as he shares his experience in the recent wave of warblers:

     “It was late morning when I arrived at Plum Island on this mid-May day. I had only about two and a half hours to bird and had to make the best use of my constricted time. My first instinct was to go to the Wardens, park and then walk up the S Curves. On the way in I encountered Bob Buxton who was stopped by the side of road in the S Curves and announced he just had a Blackburnian. This validated my original plan so I drove up the Wardens, parked and started to walk up the S Curves. 

     “It was hot. It was late. It was quiet. Even though the migrations were at their zenith I didn’t really expect much and I wasn’t getting much. There were a few calls of redstart and yellow; local boys staking out territory and just before I reached that first large Oak I caught a small bird climbing up the trunk of a tree at the roads edge. Red-breasted Nuthatch. I hadn’t see one in a while so I stopped and watched him working his way up the tree, probing the peeling bark as he went. 

     “Then from the corner of my eye I caught motion in the tree behind him and after a few seconds got on a Warbler. A Blackburnian – a nice male hopping around and through a small oak and then working its way out of sight. I walked to the first large oak, assuming that I had seen the Blackburnian Bob Buxton had referred to, and slipped into the shade of the tree and paused and waited. 

     “Almost immediately I saw some movement around and above me. Not a lot of birds, but small active ones nonetheless. The warblers I had been hoping for. Nothing rare or special, but ones that either nested around here or were on their normal trajectory north. There was some singing by a Parula and a Black-throated Green but not much. I got on the Parula and the BT green along with a couple of Nashville’s; more than a couple of Redstarts, a Chestnut-sided, two Magnolia’s a Yellow, and a little surprise in my first Red-eyed Vireo of the year. 

     “Things seemed to calm down a bit when I noticed movement high on the left side of the oak and there it was. Another Blackburnian. I was pretty sure that this was not the same bird I had seen earlier for it seemed deeper in color, crisper in its marking and as I watched it made its way slowly towards me.

     “Standing in the shade with a light breeze drifting in from the salt marshes, breaking the grip of the heat of the day, and a stunner of a Blackburnian Warbler making his methodical way down towards me. I just sank into the perfect moment. Just me alone at the edge of the road and that gleaming cooperative Blackburnian warbler hanging out, seemingly together. It kept coming closer, dipping in and out of the shade and flashing in the sun. Quiet, industrious, ignoring my presence, it jumped at branches, hung upside down and pulled luckless insects off the birch leaves; occasionally so close I had to put my binoculars down. I have experienced something very much like this before and presumably, hopefully, will experience it again. But that didn’t dilute the thrill of the moment that was still breathtaking and unique. And only one other person stopped to share this special moment and at a point that the Blackburnian had retreated.

     “There are so many facets to birding; the filling of a list, the hunt for a new bird, the passing on news of a sighting you just had and they probably won’t. There is competition real and subtle, and there is sharing, and there is the happy camaraderie of birding with friends and strangers. Then there is this. 

     “When you are quiet and receptive and alone, and a piece of perfect beauty comes down so close that you can almost touch it, you become more than just an observer, your spirit is refreshed, and an instant passes that will not be completely recaptured. Unique and special. I just stood there as that Blackburnian went about his business, probably unaware of my presence certainly oblivious to the happiness he had visited upon me. The moment hung forever and was over way too soon.”

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