Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Migration Show Continues into September
September 06, 2014
By Steve Grinley

     Last week I wrote about the nighthawk migration that happens this time of year. Doug Chickering of Groveland shares with us the yearly vigil that he keeps for this phenomenon:

     “It first appeared just above the high nut tree and followed a straight and steady course due east. Although I had to pick it out from a cluster of Tree Swallows, it was an easy find. Common Nighthawk over Lois Coopers back yard; fairly low; quick, sharp and elegant. I had been stationing myself dutifully; some would characterize it as obsessively, on the deck since right after my birthday; since August 15th, searching the southern sky for the yearly passing of the Nighthawks. 

     “For over a decade they have not failed us; yet this is the longest we’ve waited for its appearance. August 31st is a good week after the former latest appearance. There were times in the last week; as I sat and waited that I had the sinking fear that this year the chain would be broken; I began to feel as if I were waiting for the Great Pumpkin. Now the Nighthawk has passed over our yard; a benediction; a reward for our patience. 

     “Even though I have adhered to this tradition of sitting out on the deck to see the special event, I always find that just the act itself has produced supplementary rewards. There is of course the usual crowd at the feeders. There are year around customers: Goldfinch, Chickadee, Titmouse, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Cardinal; the rough gang of House Sparrows et.al. There are the more season regulars like Catbird, Chipping Sparrow, Hummingbird and Grackle. I usually can list over twenty species a night after the nesting is over and the young are out and about. And as in other years there are less common birds that seem to show up off and on. 

     “For the last week I have had a Great Crested Flycatcher, foraging among the trees, and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. One evening I watched three Gnatcatchers popping around the Mountain Ash; obviously familiar with one another and probably all related. Like every summer on the deck I got some great looks of an ever-mysterious Empidonax Flycatcher with a bold eye ring. Not at Traill’s but still an Empi and I dare not call it for it did not call. 

     “I had a Redstart earlier in the summer that came for about three straight days as well as a Red-eyed Vireo and just two nights ago a Nashville Warbler working his secretive way through the dense foliage of the Crab Apple tree. For the last week or so we have been entertained by more than fifty Tree Swallows flying high and low and with the occasional Barn Swallow and Chimney swift mixed in. Probably a fringe element of the great Tree Swallow staging ten miles away on Plum Island. 

     “So it has been occasionally exciting and always entertaining; and now the Nighthawk has appeared and all is right with the world. Of course tomorrow I will be back for more.”

     I also mentioned the continuing shorebird, swallow and egret show on Plum Island, and last weekend didn’t disappoint. Baird’s, western, stilt, and buff-breasted sandpipers, along with American golden plovers and whimbrels were all present among the throngs of least and semipalmated sandpipers and black-bellied and semipalmated plovers. Long-billed dowitchers were reported among the many short-billed dowitchers.

     A visit to the Hellcat Dike on Labor Day evening proved amazing as the swallows were thick along the tops of the marsh grasses, almost looking like they were “grown” there like puffs of wheat. When they arose in unison, they swirled around in thick clouds, like a swarm of bees. Their chatter filled the air.

     While all this was happening, egrets were streaming by in small groups of five or ten or twenty or more. Many gathered in the Bill Forward Pool, jockeying for position and their own square foot of space. An occasional “quawk” was heard overhead as a few night herons were making their way out to hunt in the marsh. 

     A perfect evening it would have been except that the weekend’s breezes had given way to muggy, humid, and still air. The no-see-ums were out in force and, with no wind to keep them away, made it almost unbearable. Still, the show is worth seeing – for in a week or two it will be gone for another year.

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