Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Woodpeckers and Egrets Highlight Birding This Week
July 21, 2012
By Steve Grinley

     This past Monday, Jim Berry of Ipswich posted a report of a red-headed woodpecker, which he confirmed, at the New England Biolabs property in Ipswich. Red-headed woodpeckers are a southern bird, common in the southeastern United States, but uncommon in Massachusetts. Jim also saw an immature yellow-crowned night heron at Biolabs, and a pair of cattle egrets in with some cows along Route 1A just north of the entrance. The woodpecker was an adult bird, and I hadn’t seen one this year, so I decided to head over there after work.

     As I approached the entrance to the property, I did see a herd of cows in some tall grass off to the left, but Route 1A was busy and I decided not to pull over to look for the egrets, but proceeded to the pond and marsh area near the Biolabs building. When I arrived, Phil Brown and others were already there. The bird wasn’t showing itself when I first got there, but soon it flew to the top snag of a tree across the small pond, flashing large white patches on jet black wings as it flew. Its all red head shone in the evening sunlight.

     We walked around the pond to the marsh side to try to get closer looks at the bird. From the other side, we also saw downy and hairy woodpeckers, a red-bellied woodpecker and a flicker. The red-headed woodpecker wasn’t vocalizing, and it seemed to “disappear” for periods of time. It seemed to always prefer the dead snags that protruded above the pond and marsh, and it would eventually return to one after a brief absence. More than once we watched it “flycatching”, leaving its perch to fly out and capture a bug, only to return to the same, or a nearby perch.

     Other birders arrived, and some walked the rest of the property, also finding a pair of pileated woodpeckers as well. That made it a six woodpecker day for them! But the striking red-headed woodpecker was the star of the show. As one birder commented, it isn’t often that we see an adult bird of this species in Massachusetts. Usually we see the young birds that still have a brown head, so this was special indeed.

     There were other interesting birds around the property including several bluebirds, phoebes, willow flycatcher, common yellowthroats, goldfinch, white-breasted nuthatches and many robins with young. The pond held a mother wood duck with several juveniles, and hundreds of tree swallows and a few barn swallows were all over the marsh. A couple of great egrets flew over and at least three black-crowned herons were hanging around the pond and the marsh.

     Speaking of herons and egrets, the other highlights in the area seem to be the large egret roosts. Plum Island is hosting more than 125 great egrets and more than 250 snowy egrets. These birds roost in the marsh and some are roosting in the North Pool. Rick Heil counted 67 glossy ibis coming into roost at the North Pool on the Refuge.

     There is also a large egret roost again this year off Scotland Road in Newbury. Not as visible and accessible as the roost that was along Route 1 in Salisbury a few years back, this large egret roost is in the southwest corner of the pond on the south side of the road across from the Colby Farm Stand. It is not very visible from the road, but Rick counted an impressive 89 great egrets and 8 great blue herons at this roost. Binoculars or a scope would help in viewing these birds.

     Also a reminder to keep your bird baths clean and fresh for the birds during this continued hot weather. We have a bit of a break from humidity this weekend, but we didn’t get much rain in our area, so birds are visiting the bird baths more than ever. We have had robins and catbirds soaking themselves in our bird bath at the store. Add motion to your bird bath with a dripper, mister, waterfall rock or a Water Wiggler to keep the water from going stagnant and to deter mosquitoes. Moving water also attracts more birds.

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