Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Breeding Bird Atlas Provides Rewarding Moments
June 13, 2009
By Steve Grinley

     Shortly after writing last week’s column, I went to Maudslay State Park to check on the red-tailed hawk nest. When I got there, I didn’t see any activity near the nest. I set up my scope, but I still couldn’t see anything in the nest that was at least fifty feet up in a Norway Spruce.. Donna Sudak, the Park Interpreter came by and she also looked through the scope and saw nothing. She said there had been activity there just a day or two before, so I figured that the young must have fledged.

     Margo and I spent most of last weekend Atlasing, and I did more during the week when I could find time before or after work. Working on the Breeding Bird Atlas has its rewarding moments as we discover nesting birds, find some birds we don’t expect to find, and explore areas we hadn’t ventured to before.

     One of the places we surveyed again last weekend was Maudslay where we discovered that, in fact, there still was a red-tailed hawk baby in the nest, and a rather large one at that. The adult bird was sitting on a branch just above the nest and it was being scolded every once in a while by a male Baltimore oriole. The young red tail is still light in color, but quite big, which we could see as it stood up and turned around in the nest. It later hunkered down, almost invisible in the large nest that surrounded it. So it was there a few days before, but it was undetectable as it sits low and well concealed deep in the nest.

     As we walked around the Park, we found a Baltimore oriole’s nest with baby birds chirping inside. Tree swallows were nesting in boxes lining the open fields. Throughout the woods we heard singing wood thrush, ovenbirds, scarlet tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, wood pewees, and pine warblers, evidence of probable nesters. On another evening, I saw a song sparrow carrying food to its nest in a shrub in the garden area. A robin flushed from its nest as I walked under an arbor in the Formal Gardens.

     Margo and I also spent a lot of time exploring the Martin Burns and Downfall Wildlife Management Areas, exploring trails we hadn’t taken before, walking the railroad bed through there, and even bushwhacking in the woods to areas that looked promising on a map. Approaching Martin Burns from the west side, we were able to get closer to the heronry where we found four occupied nests with adult great blue herons on them. Our biggest surprise was a family of wood duck, a female and seven ducklings swimming not far from our vantage point.

     As we explored further, a fat raccoon inched its way up a tree and peered around the trunk to be sure that we continued on. We encountered a pair of hairy woodpeckers, pine warblers singing, and a singing American redstart. We caught up with another song that turned out to be a chestnut-sided warbler, a first for us in that block. It was in suitable nesting habitat at the edge of a field and it will warrant another visit to see if we can confirm that it is nesting.

     Martin Burns has many pairs of indigo buntings on territory. We only encountered one pair of prairie warblers, two pairs of blue-winged warblers and a few towhees and field sparrows. These numbers should improve with the extensive cutting work that has been done there to help restore some of the habitat that has been overgrown in recent years. Hopefully brown thrashers will return to this area in the coming years.

     Another surprise came when we heard a barred owl calling from the woods in the midmorning. I had seen a great horned owl on a previous evening in another section of the Area, which I would have expected. But the habitat seemed too dry for the barred owl. Equally surprising was a yellow-throated vireo singing on either side of the road on another visit. This was the first time I encountered this species there and, again, the habitat didn’t seem quite right.

     Virginia rails calling along the wet areas along the railroad bed were a good find. Swamp sparrows carrying food confirmed that they were nesting there. Great crested flycatcher, blue-gray gnatcatchers and veerys all showed evidence of possibly nesting there.

     We bushwhacked in from the east end of the Downfall Area last weekend, hoping to discover something new in the maze of wetlands interspersed on the east side. We were rewarded with finding another single heron nest, this one with four good size young. We also discovered the nesting cavity of a hairy woodpecker. The young woodpecker, appearing nearly ready to fledge, was peering out of the hole sporting the red cap on the front of its head, instead of on the back of the head of the adult male, who, by the way, was calling in disapproval.

     Another Atlasing venture worth noting was on the Ordway Reservation on Turkey Hill Road. We were unaware that the property was so extensive – fifty-five acres, with a great walking path through the woods. Our find here was a male hummingbird that was obviously on territory. It would return to the same perch, a dead snag atop an old apple tree. At one point, another male hummer came by and the resident bird chased him off. The bird was still defending his territory a couple of days later so the chore will be to find further evidence of nesting. Perhaps we’ll be rewarded with some baby hummers!

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