Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Birding Events to Enjoy This Month
August 19, 2017
By Steve Grinley

     Last week I wrote about our visit to Plum Island and some of the birds that we encountered. Doug Chickering of Groveland shares with us some of the Plum Island birding events he looks forward to every year at this time:
     “Lois and I started the morning on Plum Island at parking lot 1 where I set up my scope to get Lois on the newly made Purple Martins sticking their heads out of the openings of the gourds where they were born. This is where they would wait for food, struggle with any siblings trying to do the same, and encounter the new world for the first time.

     “Lois and I have been checking the gourds at parking lot#1 ever since the Martins arrived in April. Mostly just to see and hear them busily going about their day, but now in early August we start looking for the fresh new fuzzy heads and yellow gapes of the fledglings. It happens every year and it never gets old.

     “As we watched the young birds getting fed we couldn’t help but notice the increase of Tree Swallows flying fairly high above the Martin Gourds. And when we started down the island we stopped before we got to Parking lot#2 when we saw Tree Swallows that were gathered into a dense mob around and in some low trees that were heavy with fruit. Apparently, the staging of the Tree Swallows had begun.

     “The staging of the Tree Swallows is a particularly spectacular avian show that will probably last until Labor Day. Sometimes the number of Tree Swallows seen can be breathtaking as they cluster in frantic groups to gorge themselves on the Bayberries, fill the air, and occasionally blanket the road in uncountable numbers. A show so spectacular that even non-birders are left in gaping awe when they encounter it. To us who know it is coming it is an event not to be missed. It happens every year.

     “Just south of the pans I pulled the car over at the sight of a cluster of slender white forms in the salt marshes. Another of those special scenes at Plum Island. The Egrets were off nest and were out in the marshes in large numbers to feed. They like to cluster around tidal pools where the relentless and unfeeling tide has stranded large schools of minnows and other small fish in the shallows where they could be picked off by Egrets and Herons at their leisure.

     “Quite often the salt marshes are so extensive and the food so distributed that the egrets are little more than a scattering of white spots out over the green expanse. Occasionally one pool is particularly crowded with fish and the waders gather in large numbers and offer an impressive picture of pure white birds in the dense green background. To varying degrees, it is something that happens every year.

     “Every year. There are events, small and large, prosaic and spectacular that mark the progress of the year. They will never be reported on e-bird or cause a ripple of excitement on any rare bird alert. I suspect there are some birders who pass them over as done-that, seen-that and not worthy of special attention. 

     “There is always the excitement of finding something new and something rare but these are the expected predictable bird events that guide us through the year. Even though I appreciate the rare find as much as the next birder I am also thrilled by the more mundane experiences in the field. Baby Purple Martins, Tree Swallows at the bayberries, Egrets gathering in a pool. These are just a few of things that I love, and that I never tired of. I am blessed.”

     If you enjoy Doug’s writing, pick up a copy of his book “Reflections on a Golden-winged Warbler” at your favorite birding or book store. It is a collection of many of his memorable short essays on birds and birding in the Newburyport area.

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