Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

More Notes on Early September Birds
September 17, 2011
By Steve Grinley

     Last week I talked about the rare birds that were being discovered over the Labor Day weekend, more than a week after hurricane Irene had departed. Doug Chickering of Groveland also wrote about the birds, rare and not so rare, that he and Lois saw that weekend and I thought that I would share his story with you:

     “On Sunday Lois Cooper and I found an American Avocet at the Salisbury Boat ramp and it wasn’t the best bird of the day. Today I found a Philadelphia Vireo at Hellcat and was a little disappointed. Ain’t that peculiar? Of course the bird of the day Sunday was the White Ibis that Lois and I viewed in the salt marshes across from Bob Lobster’s restaurant on the Plum island Turnpike. Avocet always draws a crowd and the one at Salisbury one was a spectacular bird; all nicely marked and very cooperative. However the Ibis was a Massachusetts life bird.

     “When I first spotted the Vireo, my immediate thought was that it was a Philadelphia Vireo, but what with all the commotion over the possibility of a Yellow-green Vireo I passed a few moments in intense scrutiny. My first instinct was to get a clear look at the legs and the bird cooperated. It was not more than five feet away and was foraging slowly in the brush in front of me, pretty much out in the open and at eye level. I got my good look at the legs and saw no band; so I reasoned it was not the Yellow-green Vireo. I had made what I thought was a reasonable assumption. The Vireo had been reported at the banding station. It had been taken out of a net, measured and photographed; so I assumed it had also been banded. The Vireo I was looking at had no band.

     “Upon further observation I knew that even with a band it would have been a bold call. The bird was very yellow and was clearly not a Red-eyed or Warbling, but the bill was too small and too dark for yellow-green. Or at least for what I understand is the bill of a Yellow-green. I have never actually seen one. Not a major score yet the Philadelphia was my first in two years and I was really content.

     “I had spent the morning with a few other birders on Sandy Point as the fog slowly burned off and a large number of shorebirds, gulls and terns were spread out before us. There were a lot of Black-bellied plovers, a lot of semipalmated Plovers and sandpipers; an unusually large number of White-rumps [sandpipers] and the largest number of Sanderlings I have ever seen. The birds mostly dozed. This allowed me to carefully and methodically make a vain search for a Western Sandpiper. To add variety there were seventeen Red Knots, a Ruddy Turnstone and a Hudsonian Godwit .

     “Occasionally the shorebirds would burst from their torpor and swirl around in tight, frantic flocks in response to a threat that escaped my notice; except once when a falcon of some sort powered through. Once they did this right over our heads, which was a truly spectacular moment. They flew around us, and above us, and at first we thought, right at us; but never touched us. These tight choreographed flights of birds are one of the wonders of animated life; and to be in the midst of it only accentuates that magic. We could hear the thunder of the wings and I thought I could feel the wind from their flight.

     “I was chatting with Dave Bornstein…who admitted to being relatively new at this birding stuff. He expressed to me that there was something special; an inexpressible serenity to being out on the sand spit; the endless sky above us; the murmur of the ocean and chatter and screech of birds all around us. Something that words or pictures could never capture: one of those quiet, deep experiences that one cherishes in the moment and attempts, usually unsuccessfully, to relive in the limits of memory.

     “Later in the morning, when I stopped at Stage Island, I had great looks at a single Baird’s sandpiper busily foraging among a sprinkling of more common sandpipers and plover. The day started out chilly, damp and foggy and ended in glorious sunshine and great birds. These are the golden days.”

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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