Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Once a Birder – Always Birding
August 05, 2017
By Steve Grinley

     One of the pleasures of retirement is that you can spend more time observing the birds in your own back yard, as well as to venture into the field to find more birds in your birding area. Since I have had limited time to get out there birding in the past month, I have relied on retired birder Doug Chickering of Groveland to share his observations with us:

     “One of the realities of being a birder is that you soon become accustomed to the fact that part of your mind is always birding. How many of us have been awaken in the midst of deep sleep by the quiet low trill of a Screech Owl, or have found ourselves among non-birders during a social situation, suddenly stopping a comment in mid-sentence when your unconscious birder self spots some movement in a tree at the edge of the party. The depth of our passion means that over the years we gather a large reservoir of knowledge which manifests itself in surprising and unexpected ways. We bird sometimes when we don’t even know we are birding.

     “This afternoon (July 30) I was sitting in our living room watching the Red Sox blow another lead when I slowly became aware of a sound intruding into my consciousness. It was a high pitched, almost inaudible scream coming from outside, and above. It took a few seconds for my mind to process the noise and to realize it was the high-pitched call of a Broad-winged Hawk. I picked up my binoculars and walked out on the deck. 

     “The bird called again and again and finally appeared from behind the high oak in the yard and briefly banked into an arc and disappeared. It was a hawk, it was a buteo but the lighting was not great and I was still basing my identification by that call. Then I heard a second call, far off to my right and immediately after that a third call, directly overhead. 

     “I stepped farther out onto the deck and sure enough there was a hawk directly overhead and close. I put up my binoculars and became reasonably certain that this was a broad-winged. However, it was a juvenile so the tail banding was faint as was the black at the wing tips. Oddly in this bird there appeared to be a translucence that one would associate with a Red-shouldered Hawk. But to me the wings were not the shape of a Red-shouldered. Then, this bird was joined by another, only higher up and when I got on this bird it accommodated by calling. Some of the field marks on both hawks were unclear but the call was clear, unmistakable and diagnostic.

     “I shouldn’t have been surprised by this bird, for I have had them here above the yard, circling the woods and houses around us now for four days; and as they have last year, and the year before. Broad-winged Hawk. Not a bad yard bird.

     “In a similar exciting moment of recognition this morning Lois and I were poking around some of our local patches, intending to avoid the Sunday crowds at Plum Island. We drove down to the end of Crane Neck Road. Finding nothing at the two gates we turned around and drove slowly back. 

     “Just before we hit the school bus turn-around a big black bird flew across the road and into the trees on the left. My first instinct was Crow. It was black and big but immediately I knew something was wrong, for this big black bird flew to the trunk of a large tree on the roadside. Crows don’t land on trunks. And sure enough after a short search I found the Pileated Woodpecker. It was a male and soon he was joined by a female. We had never seen a Pileated in this area before. It is clear to me that Pileated Woodpecker is getting easier and easier to find, at least in our immediate area. My unscientific opinion is that their population is increasing.

     If you enjoy Doug’s accounts of his birding experiences, I encourage you to read more in his book “Reflections on a Golden-winged Warbler”, available at local book and birding stores in our area.

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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