Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Shorebirds and Beach Traffic Challenge Birders
September 11, 2010
By Steve Grinley
The shorebird migration is past peak, but there are still plenty of shorebirds in Newburyport Harbor and on Plum Island. Some less common ones, such as buff-breasted, Baird’s and western sandpipers, and golden plovers, are particular “target birds” that birders search out. Margo and I spent much of the Labor Day weekend scanning the mud flats in the harbor and fighting the beach crowd on Plum Island.
Our efforts in the harbor were rewarded with finding a golden plover among the many black-bellied plovers that were present there during low tide. We looked through hundreds of the small Bonaparte’s gulls that feed in the harbor in search of a reported little gull. We were unsuccessful at finding the little gull, but a few Forster’s terns were a nice consolation prize.
Birding the Bill Forward Pool and, especially, the Stage Island Pool on the Parker River Refuge were much more challenging. First, the Refuge law enforcement was not enforcing the time-limited spaces at Lots 6 and 7 that are supposed to be reserved for wildlife observation at the Tower and on Stage Island. Beach-goers fill up all the spaces and stay for the day.
Second, when we were able to park and look at the pools, the shorebirds were constantly disturbed by marauding peregrine falcons and merlins. We would be scanning a flock of sandpipers, counting or deciphering each to identify a rarer bird, when a falcon would come streaming by and put up all the birds. Often the birds would just settle back down, albeit nervously, but we would have to start scanning the “new mix” of birds. Of course we would rather face this birding challenge, rather than playing “musical parking spaces” in the lots.
The pools did not disappoint. We found some more uncommon birds among the usual. Doug Chickering of Groveland was with us on Monday in the Bill Forward Blind and eloquently describes the success that we had:
“Can there be anything finer? Lois Cooper and I spent much of the morning at the new blind at Plum Island. We were there to look at shore birds. The day was as close to perfect as can be hoped for and the birds did not disappoint.
“A cool dry west wind added to the comfort of the shaded blind, and we were in the company of fellow birders and friends. To wit, Bob Murphy, Eric Labato, Margo Goetschkes, Steve Grinley and one other chap, whose name I didn’t catch. There was a good number of shorebirds right out in front; a few feeding, most resting.
“Of course there was a strafing run by one of the local Peregrine Falcons which put everyone up and shuffled the deck thoroughly before most of the shorebirds returned to their feeding and loafing. Unfortunately the falcon drove away the only Golden Plover present and giving us something to complain about. Yet complaining seemed out of tune for this day, so we just settled in to pick over the birds and see what we could discover
“What we discovered among the Black-bellied Plovers, the Semipalmated Plovers, the few Sanderlings and Dowitchers, were all five of the North American peep sandpipers. I had a day last year, when I saw all five peep sandpipers, but that was over the length of the island. This is the first time in near memory that I had seen all five in the same pool.
“Countless Semipalmated Sandpipers, and a large number of White-rumps, were the bulk of the peeps, but we also managed to cull out two Least Sandpipers, a Baird’s Sandpiper and two Westerns; one of which was hopping around on a gamey foot. The first Western that was spotted, the one with two good legs, stayed firmly rooted right in front of us; mostly tucked, but regularly pulling its head out to preen, giving all a great look at the distinctive bill.
“It was a great way to end the Labor Day weekend. With the hordes of beach-weasels roaring up and down the island, sending choking clouds of dust in the air, there was something almost serene to standing in the quiet shade of the pine grove, looking out at the dozing languid spread of shorebirds, enjoying it all with friends and just glad to be alive.”
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