Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Local Birding Areas Can Be Rewarding
July 10, 2010
By Steve Grinley

     One of the residual benefits of taking part in the Breeding Bird Atlas program is that it has helped me discover local places to bird where I have never ventured before. It also has taken me deeper into areas that only got a cursory look in the past. It is amazing what local treasures there are in both habitats and birds, once we take a closer look.

     Though Plum Island tends to be the “hot spot” for local birders, those nasty little greenhead flies are enough to discourage even the most die-hard birders from visiting the refuge during these few weeks. Though the greenheads are just emerging, Doug Chickering found an alternative to Plum Island by exploring a new public property in West Newbury:

     “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 Trustees 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 flea bane that was as high as a bird watchers eye. It appears as if there will be quite a bit of loose strife 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.”

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