Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

A Migration To Remember
June 02, 2018
By Steve Grinley

     The songbird migration is winding down. A few warblers are still trickling through on their way north. The flycatchers, which always seem to “bring up the rear,” are dominating birders’ attention these past days. We are settling down with some of the breeding birds that will capture the scene until the “autumn” shorebird migration begins in mid-July.

     It is hard to believe that May is already over. Our friend Doug Chickering has already been reminiscing about this May’s birds:

     “There wasn’t anything like a major fallout of birds this May. There was a persistent east wind and the days were cool and often cloudy. Yet contrary to what a reasonable experienced birder might expect, the birding was good, all month…

     “There were times when the birding was more than good but redolent of the memories; sometimes charged and inaccurate, of migrations past. I suspect that some of the interludes of this migration were not unique, but because they seemed so it is a good sign that they were spectacular. I don’t know which of these will remain prominent in my memories but right now several images stand out. All Warblers.

     “That cool and somewhat overcast morning up at the point in the oak hill Cemetery. The trees were as filled with birds as I had seen in years, in decades. The bird song was so dense that it was difficult to distinguish the individual songs. Only the Tennessee Warblers song stood out loud and clear. The trees seemed to be alive with the activity of foraging Warblers. So many that the four of us had to give up trying to point out particular birds that we managed to get into our view. There were the expected Warblers and the treasured surprises such as Bay-breasted, Tennessee, and Cape May. And more than one of each.

     “The Prothonotary Warbler in the decaying tree at the Crosswalk at hellcat, on Plum Island, staying low and foraging a few feet away, at waist level. He seemed impervious to the chorus of camera clicks that he invoked every time he came into view. To me the back seemed a little darker than I expected, but this only served to accentuate the shining blaze of yellow in the head and breast. And he just stayed there, completely oblivious to the awestruck audience.

     “In a similar fashion there was the Tennessee Warbler in the S Curves. He also stayed low and close to the side of the road and drew in birders for most of the morning as the word passed up and down the Island and the expectant birds kept streaming in. I had never seen a Tennessee warbler at knee level or so close. I never realized that their backs were a nice soft green.

     “There was a Chestnut-sided Warbler that lazily foraged in a low bush near the North Pool overlook and was briefly spooked by an Accipiter that glided by, flew across the road and then took up a perch in a sparse tree just below eye-level and stayed there, absolutely still. Perhaps he was reacting to the hawk but whatever was responsible, he just perched there in the sun giving the small gathering a treat of a view.

     “And then there were the Blackburnians and Bay-breasteds [Warblers]. What more can be said about the bright sparkling beauty of a Blackburnian, or the subtler, but no less beautiful Bay-breasted. This season what was remarkable was how many there were. They were found day after day and where ever there was a cluster of birds feeding in the Oaks or Pines, there usually was a Blackburnian and Bay-breasted tucked in there somewhere.

     “In general, the numbers were impressive. More Palm Warblers this year than I ever remember. The same with Least Flycatcher. I had four Prairie Warblers in the flitting and darting through the low brush on top of the middens on Plum. With one of them occasionally singing. And now the Warbler migrations are beginning to fade away. The trees at hellcat are slowly growing in. The understory is cutting of the view and we look for stirrings behind a tangle and in the leaf litter. It has been good birding. And there are still some [migration] days left.”

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