Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Greenheads “Pushing” Birders Inland
July 02, 2021
By Steve Grinley
Now that the greenhead flies have reclaimed Plum Island and area marshes for the month, it may be time to revisit some of those inland areas to look for some breeding bird species. It is amazing what local treasures we have in both habitats and birds, once we take a closer look.
There are numerous Essex County Greenbelt properties throughout our area that are open to the public and easily accessible. One such property is the Indian Hill Conservation Area off Indian Hill Street in West Newbury. The area now includes trails to Cherry Hill Reservoir, the Atherton Field and Trail Connector to the popular birding area Pike Bridge Road, the South Street Woodlots and the Ordway Reservation off Turkey Hill Road. Doug Chickering explored the Indian Hill Farm portion of this property more than ten years ago and shared what he discovered:
“On this cool dry summers day, I decided to break from my usual habit of heading for Plum Island and instead went birding at the Indian Hill Farm Greenbelt property. It was something I had been meaning to do for a while. I was particularly interested in exploring the cleared field at the top of the hill.
“It turned out to be a peculiarly memorable morning. It wasn’t for the large number of birds that I saw, I only listed seventeen, nor for any surprising rarity. All the birds there, with the possible exception of the singing Chestnut-sided Warbler, were what I generally expected to find. I had some hopes for the field at the top, even though I had never been there before; expecting perhaps to find Bobolinks, or maybe Savannah Sparrow in a grassy field. There were none of these. There wasn’t even a grassy field, but a weedy clearing a little larger than a football field. It was magnificently overgrown primarily with milk weed , vetch, Timothy grass, and fleabane that was as high as a bird watchers eye. It appears as if there will be quite a bit of loosestrife later on in the year as well.
“The trail up to the field is steep and eroded and passes through a high deciduous forest that blocks out the sunlight so effectively that there is little understory. In the woods, I had an aggressive Pewee chasing his neighbors around and singing, along with a Catbird carrying food and a close look at a Wood Thrush, also carrying food.
“Yet the pinnacle of the trip was one of those glorious, unexpected moments that displays the grandeur and pure beauty of nature in a few memorable seconds. There was a conveniently mowed path down the left side of the field, and as I walked into the path, stepping out from the forest, I heard an Indigo Bunting singing. It was a perfect edge for a Bunting. High locust and oak trees that framed the back edge of the field, the sun pouring down from a pristine endless blue sky. The bunting was calling from these trees. “Fire, fire, where, where, here, here!”
“I followed the repeated call until I spotted the male Indigo Bunting as he hopped in and out of the shadows of one of the branches of the nearest Locust. He popped up into the sun and I brought my binoculars to bear in order to luxuriate in the glorious sight of an Indigo Bunting shinning in the sun. He was perched on the top edge of the branch, and directly behind him was an opening to the dark shadows of the forest, and the deeply grooved trunk of the tree.
“In the gloom there was just a splash of sunlight like a theater spot, breaking the dark of the shadows and illuminating a dead branch. I was aware of movement in the darkness and suddenly a Scarlet Tanager appeared in the spot of sunlight; to give me a moment that I shall never forget. The Indigo Bunting; cobalt bright and breathtaking in the foreground and behind him, the bright glow of the Scarlet Tanager; all in one binocular view; ready to take your breath away. This was symphony of color unavailable to brush or camera or to description. A brief moment in a cool brilliant summer morning that burned into the memory, and then was gone in a second.
“Birding isn’t all lists or rare discoveries.”