Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Rare Birds Still Being Found in Storm’s Aftermath
September 10, 2011

By Steve Grinley

     I mentioned in last week’s column that hurricane Irene had pushed a number of southern birds into New England. More discoveries are still being made of birds whose arrival were probably storm related. Last Sunday was a case in point.

Margo and I were just about to head south to Westport to try to find any storm “remnants”, in the form of rare birds, down there. Westport was hit pretty hard by Irene, and we thought that it may be worth checking. However, we saw a post on the Massbird listserve that an immature white ibis was found at Stage Island Pool on Plum Island. Since neither of us had seen a white ibis in Massachusetts before (plenty in Florida), we decided to change our plans and head north from Cambridge. 

We knew we were more than an hour away, and we had no idea if the bird would still be there when we arrived. We finally got to Newburyport, and as we sped down the Plum Island Turnpike past the airport, Margo noticed that there was a brown bird in with a few egrets in the recently mowed marsh field off to the right. She was thinking it might be a glossy ibis, but I jumped out immediately hoping for better. I set up the scope and, sure enough, it was the immature white ibis!

     I called our friend Phil, remembering that he said that he was going to be on Plum Island that morning. He answered and said that he was at Stage Island Pool, the white ibis had left, and that he and a couple of dozen birders were there hoping that it would return. I told him the good news of our find, and he said he would pass it along and to expect a dozen or so cars to arrive to our location shortly.

     Arrive they did. Cars were parked along the road and at Bob Lobster as scopes lined the side of the road to view this rarity. It was certainly a first Massachusetts white ibis for most, and a life bird for some. Many took photographs and others made more calls to others to spread the word.

But the day’s excitement didn’t end there. While we were still watching the ibis, after many cars had left and a few late-comers arrived, I received a phone call that Doug Chickering had found an American Avocet at the boat ramp at the Salisbury Beach State Reservation. We packed up our scopes and headed straight there. 

When we arrived, scopes were already set up on the bird. It was feeding vigorously in the creek on the other side of the creek. It was a beautiful bird, one of the few in breeding plumage, transitioning into basic plumage, that I have seen in Massachusetts. Its pinkish orange head, neck and chest were stunning, complementing the black and white contrast of its wings and body. It flew close to our side of the creek and many were able to get nice photographs of this shorebird – one of my favorite. It is an uncommon visitor here, but we don’t see one every year and it had been a couple of years since the last one.

     After spending time with the avocet, we decided to head back to Plum Island to see what else we could find. We hadn’t gotten out of Salisbury when we received another phone call that there was a Caspian tern now at the same area of the boat ramp where the avocet was. We stopped at Striper’s to pick up another birding friend, Jeremiah, and we all headed back to the reservation.

     Pulling back into the boat ramp area, several birders were there with their scopes trained on the tern. The appearance of the Caspian tern may not have been storm related, as we do hope to see one or more each year. Yet, it is uncommon enough that it is always a treat. While we were there looking at the tern and the avocet, Jeremiah spotted a lesser black-backed gull, an uncommon gull, in with the group of gulls that had congregated on the edge of the creek. It was just gravy on this fine birding day.

     The rarity excitement spilled over into Monday when Bill Gette from Mass Audubon Joppa Flats stopped us along the road on the Parker River Refuge to tell us that they had just banded a yellow-green vireo at the banding station! This tropical bird is sometimes reported in southern Texas and, more rarely, in south Florida. This is the first record of yellow-green vireo on the East Coast north of Georgia! Bill said that this bird was still molting primary feathers, so it may have been here for a while. Birders have been checking, so far unsuccessfully, the wooded areas along the refuge road, in the hope that his rarity is still around.

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