Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Birders Thrilled With Plum Island Migration
June 01, 2019
By Steve Grinley

     The last tens days produced a warbler migration show on Plum Island that was among the best in recent years. It produced some memorable moments for those of us who experienced any part of it. Doug Chickering of Newburyport describes it best in his account of the phenomenon:

     “It’s been a nice ride. Ten or so days that have earned a prominent place in our memories. A tumultuous, glorious set of memories that friends and acquaintances shall be passing around during future evenings and winter gatherings. By the end of this Memorial Day the birding has leveled off from legendary down to good. Leaving us who have experienced the power of those days, dazzled and exhausted, and those who didn’t experience it stung be regret. There have times like this before, and I suspect there will be more in the future.

     “During the days before when the birds didn’t come, we found ourselves anxious and irritated. The weather of the early spring was uniformly, cold, gray and spitting rain as if the winter would never end. Then suddenly they were here. Here in numbers and with their coats of many colors. Awarding our less than patient wait with a sudden burst of pure beauty.

     “In my case it was a time of personal stress, so for me the abrupt arrival was almost overwhelming to the senses as unexpected fall crashed into my gloomy mood and swept it all away. The memories crowded into the days to such a degree that my psyche had trouble processing them and added to my weariness.

     “I don’t think that there had ever been a stretch of days where I was so happy and so tired simultaneously. And now as I sit and sift through my impressions there are some that stand out. They weren’t necessarily the most stunning birds or the most unusual birds or the most birds. In fact, I don’t think I can actually know why the stand out; only that they do.

     “Perhaps the sharpest and most emotional memory came in one of the early days. Perhaps the Saturday after the rainy Friday I cannot be sure. Bonnie and Bob Buxton had told me of a very cooperative Cape May Warbler in the S Curves on Plum Island. It was early enough in the migration that Cape May was still a bird to chase. In later days on Plum they were almost literally everywhere.

     “There was only one other person; a lady fiddling with a big Camera there, when I arrived. I inquired and she pointed to a low bush on the west side of the road. I walked towards the bush, saw a flicker of movement and there it was, in a small opening in the sparse foliage. I gave a short gasp and a little unbelieving laugh when my binoculars focused in. There was the essence of perfection.

     “The cap was darker than usual and the crest of yellow below the cap a rich glowing golden yellow with the red eye patch deep red, almost florescent as it reflected the light. The stripes on the back a deep black and the back itself sort of a grayish green. The lower body and breast were that same brilliant yellow with the tiger stripes sharp and distinct. The white wing coverts stood out in contrast even though I thought them a little smaller than I had remembered. It was, in truth beyond description and as I watched it, I felt an emotional surge and a deep gratitude that fortune had placed such an unambiguously beautiful creature before me. And it didn’t fly away, but instead hopped languidly around in the bush. I was so moved and taken that I thought I should weep. And this is how it began.

     “I never experienced such an overwhelming moment again but there were several times I was close to it. I spent a lot of my time at Hellcat, a lot of tine at the Old Pines, and a lot of time at the S Curves, and all my time, practically, on Plum island. It was so overwhelming I didn’t even have any curiosity as to what was happening elsewhere. The visions and activity never seemed to let up.

     “Thankfully I was not alone. All my friends and many acquaintances were there to share in this sight. As we stood looking up at foliage or down in bushes, in clusters of supremely happy people a general good mood settled over everyone. You could hear the ripples of joy and wonder drift over the people as everyone realized they were in the presence of a rare and special interlude in our lives. We watched in ecstatic wonder as the visions unfolded before us.

     “Yet another Cape May in a tree; among bright yellow blossoms, picking tiny gnats out of mid-air, its striped breast, glowing in the sun. A Bay-breasted hopping from branch to branch, in and out of shadows that changed the bay color from nearly black head and sides to its special brand of red in its progress in and out of sunlight. There was the day when it seemed as if the most numerous birds on the island was Wilson’s Warbler. Baltimore and Orchard Oriole in the same flowering tree; occasionally head to head. A Canada Warbler that skulked in the shade. I had to take others word for it that it was indeed a Canada until it turned and faced me, and the yellow throat shone like a spotlight from out of the shadows. And so much more.

     “So many birds such a series of spectacular vignette, small and sweeping that I have neither time enough nor skill enough to do them justice. For the people that were there I rejoice in the magic we shared. For those who weren’t well…I’m afraid you missed it.”

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