Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Swallows Dazzle Visitors on Plum Island
August 27, 2011
By Steve Grinley

     First, just a note on the pending hurricane, Irene, which is threatening to hit our area. Please try to keep your feeders up as long as you can before the storm hits. This will give the birds a chance to “fuel up,” and help them to survive the onslaught of torrential rains and high winds. They will then seek shelter in dense evergreens, cavities of trees, bird houses, under structures – wherever they can find protection for the duration of the storm.

     Before the storm hits, however, especially if high winds are predicted, please take down your bird feeders! We see a spike in sales of feeders after a damaging storm and, as much as we like to sell feeders, we would prefer that you put your feeders out of harms way. They can act like missiles flying through the air in hurricane force winds and can cause other damage to your property. Once the storm has past, you can then put the feeders back out with fresh seed, and give the birds a source of food in the aftermath.

     If very high winds are predicted, you might also consider taking down your poles that hold the feeders. Extremely high winds can bend even the strongest poles. Take care of your bird baths as well. If you have ceramic baths with removable tops, or a bath with a plastic insert, you might consider taking in the ceramic top or plastic insert, or even the whole bird bath, for the duration of the storm. Best to be safe.

     You may have read the story in this week’s Daily News about the swallows on the Parker River Wildlife Refuge, and the threat of drivers killing these birds in their rush to get down Plum Island. The swallow numbers are peaking about now and I would highly recommend a visit, at a slow pace, down the refuge to see this phenomenon – it is a sight to behold. Doug Chickering of Groveland eloquently describes his visit to the island this past week:

     “I was on Plum Island today and witnessed a sight that occurs every summer. I realize that the gathering of rarities is pretty much the central theme of birding and I readily admit to being as excited about a life bird as the next person. But there are other things, in many ways as grand and moving, as any lifer. To my mind the great staging of the Tree Swallows on Plum Island is one of those. No two years are alike; and some years produce more spectacular stagings than others. But every year is an event not to be missed. Starting at Parking Lot#1 and on down to stage island pool there were Tree Swallows. I don’t feel qualified to make an adequate guess as to their numbers but it has to be over five figures and it’s certainly possible that another zero could be added.

     “At some locations there were only a few flying over the tree tops, at some there were many and in places swarms. There are few sights in birding as stirring as driving down the road and suddenly seeing the thick underbrush come alive with the frantic fluttering of wings, and a sweep of birds rush out at eye level in a frantic whirlwind spreading up and out; high and low; a confused storm of wings that is dazzling and tinged with an almost unreal dreamlike quality. They move in and out of the bayberry bushes; settling in to gorge themselves, then flushing out in a swarm to move down a little bit and settle back into their movable feast. They were amazingly thick just south of parking lot#1, down by the wardens, at the Grape Island marshes and down by Stage Island. At Stage [Island Pool,] many rested in a wide carpet upon the recently exposed island in the middle of the pool.

     “Every year it is the same, and every year it is different. There have been years when I have been concerned at their penchant of taking their ease by spreading out on the road in defiance of the impatient drivers who want to get to the beach. Today this was not the case; in fact I only saw one Tree Swallow on the road in the midst of fellow fliers who seemed to be considering similar action. One of the things I find most amazing is the way they cluster together in tight, some times intersecting flocks and never seem to collide. Their control and alacrity in the air is truly one of the wonders of nature.

     “The staging is at its height now and I know that this takes place at other locations on the coast. Even if you have seen it before I recommend you see it again. I, for one, never get tired of it.”

     Let us hope that these birds can find ways to survive the effects of Irene.

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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