Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Late Nesters Highlight July Birding
July 24, 2010
By Steve Grinley

     Last week, I casually suggested that “not much was happening in the bird world” right now and that you might want to stay in the A/C and read a good book. Most of the breeding birds were just about finished nesting and the shorebird migration is only beginning. I have purposefully avoided Plum Island the past weeks as I don’t like dealing with the greenheads.

     On Sunday, however, we found that there was still quite a bit happening as Margo and I set out to try to confirm late nesting goldfinches in our Atlas Breeding Blocks. We first met up with Phil Brown and we checked again on the eaglet in the nest in Salisbury. The bird was laying low, hardly visible in the giant nest from our angle, until a parent bird flew in and dropped a small morsel of food at the edge of the nest. The eagle quickly scoffed that down. It was probably just a snack and I’m sure it must have had a better breakfast before we got there.

     While we were watching the eagles, we were being scolded by some catbirds and a couple of Carolina wrens. They quieted down for a while and I took a look around. Within about 20 feet of where we set up our scopes and camera was a small nest, just below eye level in a shrub. Peering out was a cute little catbird, only about a week old. It was slate gray and already had the darker gray cap. We took a couple of pictures and moved away to let the parents tend to it.

     Also nearby, I observed a male indigo bunting carrying food, but we had already confirmed nesting indigo buntings there. We also saw a female goldfinch gathering nesting material, which confirms nesting for that block. The female goldfinch builds the nest, and they do start late in the season so that there is a more plentiful natural seed supply by the time the young fledge.

     We then went over to the Salisbury Industrial Park to check on the great blue heron nest. One of the young herons had already left the nest the day before. On that Sunday, there was only one bird remaining in the nest, while the other two young birds were flying around with the parents. It was comical to watch a young bird trying to land on a branch – one time choosing a branch that clearly wouldn’t support its weigh – and the gyrations that followed to gain its composure.

     We watched a flicker feeding three young flickers in the hole of a tree – the youngsters were very cute. A kingbird was sitting atop a nest in a short stump less than three feet off the water. We have found lots of kingbird nests this year. A family of purple martins were flying around and perching on the dead snags. Though it looked like the adults were trying to teach their offspring to catch their own food on the wing, most of the time the youngsters would stay on the snags and the parents would deliver food to them. Does that sound like your kids? Hundreds of tree swallows perched along the telephone wires, with a few barn, bank and rough-winged swallows in the mix. They are just starting to “stage” to head south later in the season.

     We then headed off to the Newburyport Industrial Park to check up on a family of kestrels. There were two adults and two young kestrels hunting the area around a parking lot. Unlike the purple martins, the young birds seemed quite adept at catching their own food. A little later in the day, Phil returned to that area and found four young birds with the adults. Looks like a successful brood this year!

     Margo and I scouted other areas of the industrial park and came across a family group of turkeys including 3 females and nine young chicks. In another area of the park, we heard a killdeer scolding “kill-deer, kill-deer.” After watching it for a bit, we saw that it had two very small chicks with it. They were hardly visible in the short grass. We gave her plenty of space.

     We watched goldfinches in another area, hoping to see some evidence of nesting. As I watched the goldfinches moving about the tall grasses and low shrubs, I noticed movement on one of the lower branches of one of the bushes. There were three baby flycatchers huddled together on a branch – very cute! An adult bird came by and fed one of them. It flew to another branch, made a “whip” call and flew off. These were willow flycatchers, which we had confirmed nesting in the Industrial Park last year.

     I then followed a male goldfinch to another shrub. He landed just below a good size nest and then flew out again. The large nest seemed much too big for a goldfinch, but we thought we could see something sitting in it. There were cedar waxwings flying around nearby, but we had seen plenty of their nests and it was different from those. This nest was made up of fine woven grasses, such that a goldfinch would use. The nest just seemed too large.

     I set up the spotting scope and, sure enough, we saw a female goldfinch sitting in the nest. Its bright yellow face and chest, and its pinkish bill showed just above one edge of the nest. A short while later, it flew out to a nearby branch and we could see that it was clearly a female goldfinch. That confirmed nesting for that block. The nest was large, but maybe she was planning on having more than the usual clutch of five eggs!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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4 years of service to the birding community! 
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