Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Shorebirds and Swallows Create Local Spectacle
August 15, 2015
by Steve Grinley

     As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the shorebird migration has begun and the numbers of shorebirds in our area will peak in the weeks ahead. Also taking place is the annual staging of tree swallows on Plum Island which began a couple of weeks ago and described by Doug Chickering of Groveland:

     “It has begun. As Lois Cooper and I drove slowly down Plum Island yesterday morning we could see the clear signs that the great extravaganza has started. Slowly, unobtrusively, almost surreptitiously, in many ways it is a little difficult to discern but clearly it has started. Everywhere we went there were Tree Swallows in the air. The ideal summer day of clear skies and warm, dry winds had sent aloft the pioneers of the great show to come. They glided and swooped and fluttered, almost casually snatching flying insects from the air. The numbers weren’t particularly impressive and there were only a modest roosting of loafing swallows at the Wardens but it was a precursor of what was to come. A prelude; an overture of that great visual symphony that is one of nature’s most breathtaking spectacles. I even stopped and checked the status of the bayberries on two occasions. That is the food source that draws the Tree Swallows to this vast convention. They aren’t quite ripe yet, but it will be only a matter of days, and more importantly, the crop this year is good. The Tree Swallows are gathering and soon they will be swarming the bayberry bushes to lay on the fat in preparation of their great trip south, away from the approach of winter.

     “Before we went to the Island Lois and I stopped at the “Clam Shack” (It is no longer a Clam Shack but a private residence) on Water Street in Newburyport to take a look at the sweep of the Joppa mud flats. The tide was out and we were hoping that the Hudsonian Godwit was in. There was no godwit but we did witness another start of another spectacular event. The mud flats were teeming with shorebirds. Or to be more accurate they were almost teeming with shorebirds. The Joppa mud flats were shinning in the glare of morning sun and there were peeps and others, approaching the thousands all across the tidal bars. This too will build to a crescendo in the coming days, and this too is an event not to miss. Because it is a situation best viewed with a scope it us somewhat less spectacular than the Tree Swallow staging but remarkable nonetheless.

     “There is so much bad news about the bird numbers; so much depressing statistics of their demise that I can find it all so wearing. By nature I am an optimist, and even though I recognize the validity of the findings and the warnings I cannot live with this constant dark vision; it is just too destructive. But that is just me. I do not doubt the alarms even as I do doubt some of the apocalyptic predictions. There has to be hope, there has to be some changes that are good; there has to be a renewal of joy and hope. To see these two grand displays of the breath taking majesty of the natural world does just that. At least for me.

     “If you have a non-birding friend or neighbor who has wondered about your passion for birds. If you have a visiting relative or even members of your family who have not seen this it is time to plan a trip to Plum Island. Many of the birding events that capture our heart; that animate our love of birds are sort of “acquired tastes.” They require some knowledge and experience and are somewhat beyond the outside world to truly appreciate. The staging of the Tree Swallows is not one of those events. It is something striking and awe inspiring to all. It is August and within a few days, and for the next month or so the Tree Swallows will be staging and it is time to mark this upon your calendar. You will amaze those who have never seen it before and actually amaze yourself. The green-heads are heading out and the Tree Swallows are arriving; a delightful progress for summer. This is not virtual reality, it is real reality and it never gets old.”

     The shorebird and swallow numbers have increased remarkably since Doug wrote this a couple of weeks ago. The shorebirds are gathering on the flats in the harbor at low tide, and at high tide they move to Sandy Point and to Bill Forward Pool and Stage Island Pool on the Parker River NWR on Plum Island. 

     The swallows are now swarming the bayberry bushes on the island and can be see in small clouds all down Plum Island. Drivers must be careful to drive slowly as these birds often lite on the road. As Doug said, it is a spectacular sight, even if you have seen it before.

     If you need binoculars or a scope to enjoy these events even more, a reminder that our free Optics Fair is happening today, Saturday, August 15th, 10 am to 3 pm at Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift. Representatives from the optics manufacturers will be on hand to demonstrate products and answer any questions. They are offering great discounts and rebates on most optics, and these specials will continue through Tax Free Holiday Weekend. It is a great time to compare and buy optics and we hope that you will stop by!

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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