Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Birders look for Terns, Shorebirds and Passerines
August 13, 2011
By Steve Grinley

     The first migrant passerines (songbirds) are already on the move, such as Yellow and Black-and-white Warblers, Eastern Kingbirds, and all of our species of swallows. Also, “post-breeding dispersal” of birds moving short distances after their breeding activities for the year are complete can bring new birds to new places at almost anytime. By month’s end, passerine migration will be going in full force.

     Meanwhile, August is a good month for rarities from the south. Especially after prolonged periods of southerly winds, be on the lookout for birds such as rare terns, wading birds, and others.

     But, August is for shorebirds! And, it is the mudflats, sandbars, and marshes where the real action is this month. While the first southbound shorebirds were returning by late June, numbers and diversity built steadily during July, and for many species, their peak is actually occurring now. Newburyport Harbor at half tide, and the Salt Pannes and fresh water ponds on the Parker River NWR on Plum Island at high tide are great places to look for shorebirds.

     Doug Chickering of Groveland visited Plum Island earlier last week in search of terns, wading birds and shorebirds. He even discovered a few passerines wandering or migrating through:

     “I started out on Plum Island this morning just at dawn on a day that would seem more characteristic of the first week of September than the first week of August. There was a soft cooling breeze from off the ocean and occasional clouds to mitigate the enervating effects of the summer sun. My first stop was at sandy point where I hoped to beat the dropping tide. It is positively serene to walk out onto that beach shortly after dawn when the biting insects and beach-weasels are absent, and the only sounds are the quiet swish of the ocean and the numerous birds just starting their day. The beach was strewn with clusters of Swallows. Mostly Tree’s but I found three Bank Swallows resting on the sand and a couple of airborne Barn Swallows.

     “I walked along the beach ignored by the feeding Sanderlings, Semipalmated Sandpipers and Piping Plovers. Even the Least Terns seemed at ease with my presence even though there were still a few flightless young nearby. The terns, both Least and Common, alternated between loafing on the beach or feeding their young, and swirling in raucous circles over the water, and diving down on some luckless fish. I searched through their number trying to winnow a rarity from their ranks. And although I could not find something really special I did come across my first Whimbrel of the year.

     “The whole day had a taste of fall to it. >From the clear dry air to the array of birds. There were few Short-billed Dowitchers and many Tree Swallows. The Greater Yellowlegs numbers were up and the Lesser’s [yellowlegs] down. I didn’t even see a Purple Martin, nor a green head. I think they are both probably still around but they weren’t where I was .

     “It was at Hellcat that it seemed most like fall. The sea breeze even prevailed along the boardwalk and like a good fall day no mosquito’s or deer flies to torment you. But the quality that was redolent of autumn was the was activity in the trees and underbrush. Plenty of Robins and Catbirds of course, but also warblers. On previous trips through I would get maybe one yellow and one Yellowthroat. Today although I only saw one Yellowthroat I could hear more about, and I saw five Yellow Warblers. All summer I would hear an occasional Redstart but hardly ever saw one. Today I had nice looks at two. And the day’s second biggest surprise was the juvenile Chestnut-sided Warbler. Also, like bushwacking in the fall, there were those sudden tugs of movement among the foliage; a move to another branch a trace of some small bird, nestled just out of sight; and then nothing. I wonder what that could have been. Curiosity heightened, hopes dashed.

     “The biggest surprise was when I heard a grunting croaking commotion in some trees just beyond my view on the road side of the walkway out to the old blind at Hellcat. I could hear heavy movement in the trees and had a nice piece of luck when I looked through a hole in the dense foliage near me and saw a dark blob in a poplar tree. Focusing in I was surprised and delighted to see a Yellow-crowned Night Heron. I could only see the head and the upper body but there was no mistaking it’s ID. There was some more croaking some more heave and ho in the tree and the Heron vanished from the small window. A terrific highlight for beautiful day.”

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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