Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Bird Migration Slows as May Ends
May 31, 2014
by Steve Grinley

     The orioles have found our jelly feeder outside the window at the store again this year, and they are now competing with the catbirds as usual. The goldfinches are visiting the thistle though an occasional house sparrow or, yes, even a grackle will visit and try to dominate that feeder. We also had a visit in the back lot by a killdeer. I wondered if he was scouting the rocky terrain for a future nest sight. I also heard the “fitz-bew” of a willow flycatcher when I went out to refill the jelly feeder this morning.

     The migration has slowed and will continue to wind down through early June. Some late warblers and vireos are still moving through as are the flycatchers. Since the latter feast on flying insects, their delayed arrival ensures more available food supply. 

     Late May is also the time when nighthawks, which also eat insects on the wing, move through our area in the evenings. They make their presence known with a loud “peent” call as they fly overhead. They are not hawks at all, but are related to the whip-poor-will. They have an erratic flight and white bars across their wings. Look, and listen for them in the evening sky over the next few days.

     It was only a week or two ago when the warblers were highlighting the migration. A few will stay to nest, but the majority have moved on to the north country to nest. We are left with more fond memories of their brief visit, and no one expresses the joy and excitement of watching them at Plum Island more than Doug Chickering of Groveland.:

     “I picked up the first Bay-breasted Warbler near the oak just north of the Tick Farm in the S Curves at Plum Island. He was low and unobtrusive and would be the first of many this day (Tuesday, May 20). The group of birder friends had been gathering since very early in the morning. We had gathered unbidden but animated by the knowledge that these were days and this was the place. It was around seven when I first spotted the Bay-breasted and everyone got on it quickly. We were at that point of the migration where we could gorge ourselves on Warblers. We had been waiting for this brief time slot all through the brutal winter and now we were being rewarded. 

     “I saw sixteen Warbler species today and heard another two. We had a couple of Canada’s; I had a Nashville and a Blackpoll. There were Black-throated Greens, Black-throated Blues, Magnolia’s, Parula’s, Yellows, Yellowthroats and Redstarts until you had your fill. There were also a few Wilson’s Warblers, and Chestnut-sided and even a few laggard Yellow-rumps to fill out the ranks. And to top it off Tom Wetmore found a Ruff, young and just starting to come into his plumage, at the pan area between Cross Farm Hill and Stage Island. Everyone there knew that we were in the golden hours of birding; our binoculars flicking from one magnificent sight to another; our hearts filled with joy and grateful to be alive and to be birders. 

     “More than once I got on a Bay-breasted Warbler, working his way through the newly blossoming oaks; I had at least five Bay-breasted’s today. Most years I am delighted to get one; and perfectly satisfied to have it in my sight long enough to see the necessary field marks. Today, time and again I got to watch one; to follow its progress, to examine it and to experience the exquisite beauty of this bird. I had observed its unique quality before, but it seemed like a long time ago; and now I got to revisit its special beauty. 

     “It is, in reality, quite a subtle bird. Unlike the more spectacular Blackburnian, the colors on the Bay-breasted a more subtle, muted. It is a dark bird with a gray lower body and two wing bars, with a deep, dark, reddish hue to its flanks and the head often appears jet back. But as one watches it moving in and out of the shadows the subtle beauty becomes more flashy and obvious. The reddish hue at the flanks is deep chestnut, or bay and the black head occasionally transforms in the sun; a magic, almost unbelievable change. When the sun hits the crown there is a sudden deep reddish glow that often seems to burst into a halo over the top of the head. It is truly indescribable and must be seen to be appreciated. Today these transforming moments happened time and again.” 

     “Reflections on a Golden-winged Warbler” is Doug’s newly released book, a collection of Doug’s essays, some of which I have shared with you through my column. His book is available locally, right now, only through our store. If you enjoy Doug’s prose and his eloquent descriptions of birds and birding in our area, you will enjoy attending a free reception, reading, and book signing by Doug that will be held at our store next Sunday, June 8 at 3pm. So many of you have commented on how much you enjoy Doug’s fine writing, so please plan to stop by and meet Doug in person.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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4 years of service to the birding community! 
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