Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Fall Shorebird Migration Has Begun
August 03, 2019
By Steve Grinley

     The orioles have pretty much abandoned oranges and jelly feeders and turned to insects, for those that linger, and others have headed south toward their South American destination. There are still a few catbirds partaking of jelly, as well as house finches and, of course, house sparrows. Many folks leave their jelly out for the reward of entertaining a few orioles migrating through from further north.

     The resident young birds are entertaining us at the seed feeders. Young titmice, nuthatches, chickadees, and now goldfinches are doing their typical ‘fluttering of wings” to beg for food at the feeder while their parents continue to feed them while hoping that they learn to feed themselves. It is always fun to watch the young woodpeckers find their way around the suet feeders.

     Out in the field, the fall migration has actually begun, mostly with the shorebirds. The numbers of shorebirds on the flats in the harbors and in the pans of the marshes have increased significantly in the past two weeks. The first arrivals have been semipalmated sandpipers, with a number of least sandpipers and semipalmated plovers mixed in. Also arriving have been a small numbers of greater and lesser sandpipers, and short-billed dowitchers.

     There have been a few reports of stilt and pectoral sandpipers on Plum Island. We saw a single ruddy turnstone in Bill Forward Pool on Plum Island a week ago and a single solitary sandpiper (redundant, I know) at the Tendercrop Farm in Rowley, the wet area in the horse corral this past week. There have been recent sightings of whimbrel and Hudsonian godwits in the area as well.

     Our good friend, Doug Chickering of Newburyport scouted Newburyport Harbor for shorebirds earlier this week with the following results:

     “This afternoon when I saw that the tide was falling and the afternoon light perfect, I got my binoculars and scope and walked across the street to the little extension of Hale Park right on the waters edge. This spot gives me a perfect panoramic view of the mudflats. I wanted to see if perhaps there might an interesting Gull out there and how the shorebird migration was coming along.

     “I found two alternate plumage Bonaparte’s Gulls. I was glad to find them but couldn’t help but note that this was a far cry from what i would find a decade or two in the past. There would have been small flocks of Boney’s [Bonaparte’s Gulls] and the observer would eagerly pick through them in search of a Black-headed or Little Gull with some chance of success.

     “If the search through the gulls was somewhat of a disappointment the shorebirds were not. I hesitate to report that they seem to this observer to be doing quite well. I did my best to count them. I have an extensive view of the entire mud flat area and I counted them as slowly and carefully as I could; ignoring the ones that flew through the field of view as I counted.

     “My count was something over 3100. Between the ones I counted running around the bar and the ones that flew through my field of vision I estimate that there were well over 4000 birds, and more like 5000, and perhaps as many as 6000 on that mudflat. Although it is generally not fashionable to be optimistic, I do note that this is just one mud flat and sandbar in and around Plum Island and Newburyport. And it is still early in the migration. Of the birds I observed a good 95% were peep sandpipers with only a few Semipalmated Plovers mixed in, and I didn’t observe a single Dowitcher or Yellowlegs or other species of Sandpiper.

     “And although I expect my optimism to be challenged by people who are better informed of the true situation than I, it certainly made me feel good.”

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