Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Nervous Shorebirds and “House Broken” Swallows on Plum Island
August 24, 2013
By Steve Grinley

     Orioles have finally found the grape jelly feeder that I have hung outside the back window of our new location. I am not sure that the visitors are the same ones that we had last year in our old location but, since we didn’t move far, maybe they are. At least one of them looks like a hatch year bird, so it was new for him anyway. Many customers are still being visited by their orioles, while others have said that theirs have left. Orioles are neotropical migrants, flying to Central and South America each winter, so they often leave early. Still, we get migrants from further north passing through to visit our jelly feeder throughout September.

     There is no shortage of hummingbirds or goldfinch these last few weeks. Parents are showing their offspring where to fuel up. Hummers especially are feeding constantly, building up their body fat for their long journey south. As local one leave, more migrating hummers will stop to refuel right through September and, sometimes, into October.

     The grackles have been relentless at feeders too, much to the frustration of many homeowners that choose to refill their feeders daily. The grackles, too, will be heading south in the next months.

     Out in the field, I did see a lone nighthawk flying over Salisbury Square last evening. The swallows and shorebirds continue to feed on Plum Island. Doug Chickering of Groveland visits the island regularly, and files the following report:

     “Lois Cooper and I spent a very comfortable and pretty productive morning on Plum Island. We were at the new [Bill Forward] blind for the majority of our time, overlooking the crowd of shore birds thereof. In general they were a nervous bunch, as they would feed and loaf and then suddenly burst up into tight flocks; then sweep over the pool and up into the sky in a most amazing fashion.

     “They usually rose in three and sometimes four separate flocks. Sometimes the flocks rose up to a height of maybe twenty feet, and sometimes they seemed to head off over the salt marshes; but mostly they stayed over the pool only a few feet above the surface. The ones that headed over the salt marshes returned and it appeared that none of them actually left the area. Often these flocks crossed paths in their desperate flight and did so without incident, no two birds colliding.

     “Although Lois and I looked, not once did we see anything that would cause them to take these evasive tactics. Always they settled down and continued their business, unaffected by the moment of panic that had overcome them. It seemed to us to be little more than a waste of energy. But they know what they are doing and they knew that a moments inattention could be fatal.

     “The spread of shorebirds was dominated by Semipalmated, both Plover and Sandpiper. There were also a lot of Black-bellied plovers, good numbers of Short-billed Dowitchers and probably a score of White-rumped sandpipers. There was a generous portion of both types of yellowlegs as well. Also among these usual players we found a few Least sandpipers, a Stilt Sandpiper and a Hudsonian Godwit.

     “We also stopped off at the Wardens. Over one of the garage doors an enterprising Barn Swallow pair had built a sturdy nest upon a precarious surface. Over the days I have been following the progress of four nestlings; watching them develop as they were fed by their parents.

     “Today it was evident they weren’t going to be confined to their nest much longer. They seemed to have most of the flight feathers; even though it is difficult to be certain as they were still inside the nest. When they jostled each other to be fed, they hung over the edge of the nest in a way that was daring and foolhardy.

     “Today it seemed as if they had developed to another stage, for they had been clearly potty-trained. As I observed each bird would, at one time, laboriously turn in the crowded nest until it had managed to maneuver its posterior over the edge of the nest, and then — plop– drop a load and then laboriously elbow its way back around so its head was facing out where it could be fed. The adults fed them at an accelerated pace; the birds were big and demanding, and I am sure that the adults were relieved that they no longer had to carry away fecal sacs.

     “You see something different every time you go out.”

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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