Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Raptors Highlight Breeding Bird Survey
July 31, 2010
By Steve Grinley

     Margo and I continued wrapping up our Breeding Bird Atlas work for this year. We again met Phil Brown to check again on the Salisbury bald eagle nest. When we arrived, the young bird was perched on the edge of the nest and he, or she, pretty much didn’t move the entire time that we were there. It turned its head from side to side to look around, but he reminded us of one of those plastic owls that have a moving head to supposedly scare away other birds. (I say supposedly because they never work!)

     At one point the parent flew in with a small catfish and perched on a branch on the opposite side of the nest. It looked like it was using the fish to try to coax the youngster out of the nest and onto the branch. But the young eaglet had its back to its parent and like a child; it seemed to totally ignore its parent. It seemed to have no interest in the fish, or the parent, at all. Finally the parent gave up, dropped the fish to the ground and took off. It was probably thinking “Wait until you get hungry again. Then you’ll wish you ate your breakfast.”

     While we were watching the eagles, we were entertained by a pair of scarlet tanagers and a pair of indigo buntings that were bringing food to its young somewhere nearby. The scolding Carolina wrens of last week were replaced by scolding house wrens. The young catbird that was in the nest last week had left, but was likely not far away as we could hear the adult catbirds sometimes scolded our presence.

     We went by the Salisbury Industrial Park and found that all of the herons had left the nest. There was one great blue heron feeding near the base of the tree, but we couldn’t be sure if it was an adult or young bird. The kingbird that was sitting on the nest last week was now bringing food to some open mouths in the nest. A female kingfisher was still fishing the swamp. One surprise was finding a female hooded merganser sitting on a log. It later went into the water and swam around, eventually out of sight.

     We then went over to the Newburyport Industrial Park to help Phil put up a new kestrel box. When we got there, the grass was being mowed and we enjoyed watching the two parents and four young kestrels hunting grasshoppers and dragonflies in the recently mowed grass. They perched on the light poles, waiting to spot their prey in the grass. They would then swoop down to the grass, sometimes hopping about a bit after missing once or twice, as they perfected their hunting techniques.

     Then the adult male brought in a chipmunk that it had caught and the raucous began! The four youngsters all flew in and fought the parent for the food. They wrestled all over the ground. At one point, all you could see were their beautifully colored wings and tails, fanning here, spreading there, and then disappearing into the ball of moving feathers. This went on for quite awhile, every bird wanting a piece of this meal!

     One of the females finally won. She huddled over her prey with wings spread to protect it, and she sat there, defensively, for a very long time. Then she flew up to a tree, picked at the prey a bit, and then flew off to enjoy it in peace. You can check out some of the kestrel shots that Margo took at http://www.flickr.com/photos/24246528@N05. Phil Brown also got some great pictures and video. You can view those on his website: http://www.nebirdsplus.com/July_2010.htm

     We spent the remained of the day in Our Amesbury/Salisbury block trying to find a nesting mockingbird, among other birds. There was no evidence of one at the Salisbury Industrial Park where we had one singing a couple of weeks ago. We stopped at the Bartlett Cemetery where we saw one previously, but, at the time, it was preoccupied with harassing a red-tailed hawk, obviously trying to chase him out of its territory. But no mockingbird this week.

     We decided to call it a day and headed home. As we turned the corner near Burger King in Amesbury, Margo spotted a mocking bird sitting on the fence behind the restaurant. We pulled in and watched. There were three mockingbirds along the fence, and I noticed that one was a young bird, nearly full size, but clearly a fledgling from a recent brood. But the other two adults seemed to ignore it and, rather, seemed to be going to the ground, presumably for food, and each took turns heading into a nearby bush. After watching for some time, we walked over and checked the thick foliage and could not see a nest. We backed off and decided that we had enough evidence to confirm mockingbirds nesting there, with a plan to return at a later date.    

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 2
4 years of service to the birding community! 
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