Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
A Late Flight Of Migrants This Week
May 30, 2020
By Steve Grinley
The migration has slowed the last couple of weeks in our area due to a blocking weather pattern south of us. Strong northeast winds over eastern Massachusetts discouraged many small songbirds from venturing our way. The “Birdcast” radar, which detects birds in flight at night, looked like the radar around eastern Massachusetts was broken, showing almost no movement over us. Many species heading north migrated “around us” us through New York and far western Massachusetts into Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. We had a few migrants for sure, but not nearly the numbers we would expect during this peak migration time.
We certainly saw some warblers the past couple of weeks with a number of striking blackburnian and bay-breasted warblers in our travels. We even had a singing male blackburnian warbler in our yard one morning. A very nice yard bird indeed! But only small numbers of other warblers, vireos and other songbirds were seen in our area during this period.
Birders were anticipating the weather change this week, when winds finally turned to southwesterly on Tuesday evening, bringing a nice wave of migrants through Essex County. We woke up Wednesday morning with more bird song in the back yard. The weather warmed into the seventies, and eventually the eighties that day.
We could have our coffee and tea on the deck that morning. As we were enjoying the orioles at the jelly feeders, a female hummingbird visited our hummingbird feeder. We had seen only male hummers prior to that.
Margo then commented on what she thought was an odd-sounding phoebe down by the creek. I listened more intently and heard “pizz-zah” an Arcadian flycatcher! We both listened carefully and, sure enough, it was the emphatic call of an Arcadian flycatcher! It was a first for our yard, and a hard bird to find in migration in Essex County. We use to travel out to Quabbin Reservoir to see one in Massachusetts.
We heard a second Arcadian flycatcher a little further up the creek. Amazing! The closer bird kept calling and we texted our friend Phil who lived up the road. He arrived within ten or fifteen minutes and smiled as he also heard the bird calling.
Just as Phil was leaving, a “kuk-kuk-kuk” call came from the maple in front of the house. It was a black-billed cuckoo! It flew out of the dense tree and over the house to other trees where it disappeared. Another great yard bird!
Later that day, the birds continued. After stopping at work for a delivery, we ventured over to Oak Hill Cemetery in Newburyport. It was fairly quiet as we drove in, but we stopped and walked in the direction of a black-throated green warbler song and some loud red-eyed vireos. One vireo sounded much slower and more like a Philadelphia vireo, but we could not see it among the dense maples.
We walked toward the “overlook” and I spotted a bird moving about the oaks with a yellow wash underneath. It wasn’t quite warbler-like, but we finally saw its eye-line, dark cap and determined it to be a Philadelphia vireo – a rare spring migrant through our area. We heard it give a quieter, slower song than the red-eyed vireos that dominated the cemetery chorus that day.
As we walked into the overlook area, we heard and saw a wood pewee moving about the trees in front of us. Then a short time later, a thrush flew up in front of us. Its gray/olive back, spotted chest and lack of an eye-ring helped us conclude that it was a gray-cheeked thrush, a bird that had eluded us all of last year! We soon discovered that it had a friend – a second gray-cheeked thrush moving about the tombstones, trees, and grass with first thrush. We also enjoyed looks at a Swainson’s thrush on our way back to our car.
The day sparked a big push of late migrants through our area, which we hoped would continue into the weekend. It was nice to have the warmer weather with us at last, and the birds that we missed all season long.