Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Plum Island Birds Please Foreign Visitors
August 28, 2010
By Steve Grinley

     The storm this past week brought much needed rain to the area. I was able to get out birding on Plum Island for a few hours before work on Tuesday morning, which turned out to be the driest morning of the four-day storm. Along with me were two interns from the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center: Egbert Frederick from Guyana and Jorge Estrella from Belize. We didn’t find any rarities driven in from the storm, but despite the windy conditions, we were to find several life birds for the gentlemen from Central America.

     Our first stop was the boat ramp, just after the entrance gate to the Refuge. A few tree swallows were flying around, as were a couple of least sandpipers. We saw a couple of saltmarsh sparrows fly up and then quickly disappear again in the grasses.

     As we approached the boat ramp, there were a couple of sparrows feeding on the ground under some overhanging grasses. One was a song sparrow, with a long tail, striped breast and center spot on the breast. The other had a much shorter tail, was only finely streaked, and had some yellow in the lores, above the eye. It was a young saltmarsh sparrow (previously known as saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow) and it was cooperative enough to give us great looks through the scope. It was a life bird for Egbert and Jorge.

     There were some mud flats still exposed at the edge of the river, but the tide was rising fast. A lone Eastern willet was across the way, another life bird for the boys, and nearby greater yellowlegs gave them excellent comparisons. Also along the river were semipalmated sandpipers, semipalmated plovers, more least sandpipers, and a small flock of snowy egrets. An immature black-crowned night heron disappeared into the marsh north of us.

     We then headed across parking lot 1 to look at the ocean, hoping for some seabirds. The seas were rough from the storm, and we found nothing among the swells. Not even a gannet was braving the strong winds. We were thrilled to see two immature peregrine falcons down the beach. They were flying about, perching on driftwood, and seemed to be enjoying themselves on the stretch of empty beach. Their only company were some gulls, and a few sanderlings that followed the water splashing on the shore.

     As we continued down the island, we stopped occasionally for Egbert to get pictures of the many swallows that were all along the road. Eastern kingbirds were also feeding in the nearby trees and shrubs and a couple of them posed for pictures. A few cedar waxwings, familiar birds to both Jorge and Egbert in their respective countries, were also perched along the road.

     We decided to go to the Bill Forward Blind to get out of the wind. We hoped that the rising tide would bring more shorebirds to the Bill Forward Pool. There we immediately found a number of shorebirds along the exposed mudflats. We saw a few black-bellied plovers, at least one sporting his alternate, or breeding, plumage with jet black belly offset by striking white sides. Most of the black-bellies were in their gray basic, or winter, plumage. The flats were covered with semipalmated plovers, semipalmated and least sandpipers, and a few greater and lesser yellowlegs. One lone stilt sandpipers had its head constantly submerged, hiding its long, decurved bill as it fed out in the pool. Many white-rumped sandpipers were feeding in the closer puddles.

     A few common terns were flying around as were some adult and immature least terns. A few immature least terns were sitting on the mud, still waiting to be fed by a parent. I did spot a Forster’s tern briefly as it was flying beyond the dike, but I wasn’t on it long enough to get Jorge and Egbert to see the bird.

     We all were able to view the two young ospreys that were still on the platform nest, probably still waiting to be fed by the adults. We then headed back up island, stopping only for a willow flycatcher that made an appearance along the road. It was a productive, rain-free morning with a few life birds for our visitors.

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! 
Like us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/birdwatcherssupply