Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Nesting Season Blossoms on Plum Island
June 30, 2018
By Steve Grinley

     Tom Wetmore, Mr. Plum Island when it comes to birds, has been keeping tabs on some of the nesting birds on the island as he reported earlier this week:

     “The Seaside Sparrow out from the guard rail south of lot three continues to perch in the open and sing for longs periods of time. Today is the fourth day in a row he has been found in that spot. There was another singing further north, this one on the back side of the main pan, straight over from the duck identification kiosk.

     “Dave Adrien and I had a Least Bittern, Black-billed Cuckoo and Yellow-billed Cuckoo, all calling at the same time, heard from the North Pool Overlook. It took us a few moments to figure out what was going on, with the Least Bittern calling as I stepped out of my car, further into the lot, and the cuckoos calling at the same time as Dave got out of his car, closer to the road. When two birders, at the same moment, say “Least Bittern” and “cuckoo”, it is usually safe to assume that one of them is making a mistake. Not in this case. I was listening one direction, Dave 180 degrees the other way.

     “We soon got it straightened out — three species with somewhat similar calls all calling at the same time. We walked north from the overlook — the black-billed flew out of the trees beside the road over to the stand of trees closer to the sound; the yellow-billed stayed around and Dave got pictures. Later Dave found a second Least Bittern in North Pool from the central dike.”

     Another local birder, Doug Chickering, is also finding nesting birds on the island with, perhaps, a different perspective:

     “The migrations ended a few weeks ago. Like many birders I did what I could to prolong what was a good migration. Chasing after Mourning Warblers and rumors of rarities. But it is gone. Plum Island has quieted down; the foliage has filled in and the biting insects are gathering to test our dedication.

     “The early nesting phase has given the island an eerie empty feel to it, even though we know the birds are present. On nest, they keep a low profile. Sit on eggs, feed sporadically and surreptitiously even though the songs and challenges of the males continues to a certain extent.

     “Yesterday I got my first hints that a new phase is entering and today it came to full fruition. Yesterday as I sat on Lois’ bench at the Pans I could just barely hear some very high pitched squeaks and pishes from the heavy foliage at the edge of the road behind me. It was different from the usual soft sounds of birds communicating and I was sure that it was nestling calling out to be fed. Today I heard the sound again and as I walked the road I came aware of more of these whispered pleas from out of the thick greenery. The eggs have hatched, the nestlings are making their demands and soon they will be moving about.

     “At Hellcat I searched for the Orchard Oriole’s nest. I had seen it yesterday and it appeared to be unoccupied. Then today as I found it I was acutely aware of a louder, more incessant scolding noise; similar to an Oriole fussing, but a little different too. It took me only a few minutes to find the nest in the branch of a pine tree, and sure enough there was a very young Orchard Oriole just barely out of the nest clinging to a branch; the source of that scolding noise.

     “As I watched a male Orchard Oriole flew in, paused as the youngster fluttered its wings and opened its beak. When the fledgling opened up there was a flash of bright red from inside. A sign saying place morsel here. The father fed it quickly and then flew away as the youngster continued to beg.

     “At this point I took a seat on the heavy wood railing at the edge of the road and sat down to watch. There was something glorious to the scene. At least in my mind. Too often we have been subjected to an array of depressing news of the plight of our birds. How their numbers are dropping, their habitat being lost, how their futures are grim. Here before me was the bright opposite. A beautiful, industrious Orchard Oriole replenishing its kind with determination and, thankfully, success.

     “While I watched I could hear a very similar scolding sound from a tree further back. I watched for quite a while, timing the interval between visits and just enjoying the whole rejuvenating scene. The bird was fed every five to nine minutes and exclusively by the male. I did see the female around and close to the nest a few times but it never came in to feed the young. What with the sound of scolding in another tree I concluded, perhaps erroneously, that the female was busy feeding another offspring.

     “The year has entered its new phase, and I am not the only birder reporting seeing young. Even among the reports, valid reports, of gloom and doom, I need this view of renewal. It is uplifting to the spirit.”

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