Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Participants Enjoy Finding Birds on Wednesday Morning Birding
September 19, 2009
By Steve Grinley

     I had the pleasure of leading the Wednesday Morning Birding program for the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center this week. The morning was cool and cloudy with a strong northwest wind blowing between 20 and 25 miles per hour. Despite these less-than perfect conditions, we had a great turnout of about twenty-five birders. Among the participants were Vladimir Rodrigez and Elmar Requena, two interns from Belize who were in their fourth week of a month-long training program at Joppa Flats. I enjoyed taking Vladimir and Elmar on two prior birding excursions during their visit, to try to help them find a total of 141 species of birds during their visit here (a target one better than the last interns to visit). They told me before the trip on Wednesday that they had, in fact, exceeded their goal and they were now at 149 and they needed one more species to make an even 150.

     We headed down the Parker River NWR on Plum Island in 2 vans and three cars. We saw great egrets and a great blue heron in the marshes along the way. Our first formal stop was at the Salt Pannes. There was a large flock of Canada geese in the southern part of the pannes and good numbers of ducks in the more northern water. We spent much time sorting out the species of ducks that were before us.

     The most noticeable ducks were the American widgeon. Their russet sides and light foreheads were easily seen through our spotting scopes. We compared these to the dark black ducks and the nearby lighter, male and female mallards. There were two noticeably smaller duck which were a pair of green-winged teal. It was a nice comparison of these duck species.

     Further off in the marsh, we could see a flock of forty to fifty egrets flying and dropping into the marsh. These birds had probably spent the night roosting in the marsh to be isolated from potential predators. Lines of double-crested cormorants were flying south over the marsh while individual cormorants were swimming in the pannes. One immature cormorant perched on the edge of the pannes for all to get good scope views. Great and snowy egrets were feeding at the edges of the water making for easy comparison. A towhee teased us with its call from the other side of the road, but it failed to make an appearance.

     We continued on to the North Pool Overlook, where a large flock of gadwall were on the water. A couple of semipalmated sandpipers were barely visible on the mudflats, as was a semipalmated plover. We watched a merlin streak by, almost too fast to upset the ducks and shorebirds. A harrier rode the wind over the marsh and two great blue herons were walking in the grass on either side of the dike.

     The highlight was the brown thrasher along the edge of the field, which everyone admired through the scope. Its rust back and long tail, and its boldly striped breast were clearly seen. Its “checking” call helped indicate that there was, in fact, a second thrasher there with it. They were seen competing for bayberries in the bushes with a catbird.

     We proceeded to the Lot 4 Hellcat Nature Observation Area. As we walked up to the dike behind the lot, the clouds had thickened, the wind continued strong, and sprinkles of rain added to the raw feeling in the air. Still, we set scopes up pointed toward the Bill Forward Pool and found an Hudsonian godwit, with its long, up-curved bill, probing in the mud for food. He was feeding among seventy-five black-bellied plovers. There were three or more red knots in among the shorebirds and a few dunlin. Large numbers of semipalmated sandpipers were feeding in the mud, but we were able to get good scope views of a semipalmated sandpiper and a white-rumped sandpiper side-by-side in the water. The larger size of the white-rump, and its long wing projection beyond the tail – giving it a long, sleeker look – was easily seen by everyone through the scopes.

     Another merlin sped over the Pool, putting up all the shorebirds. It continued south, unsuccessful at grabbing lunch, and the shorebirds settled back down. Several greater yellowlegs were seen settling in the pool closer to us for better views. Meanwhile, a flock of cedar waxwings wheeled overhead on the dike. A lone tree swallow was seen over the North Pool, and many participants caught sight of a Baltimore oriole on our way off the dike.

     It was a successful morning with good views by all the participants of many of the birds we encountered. Still, after the trip, I realized that I couldn’t find our friends from Belize a new species to reach their magic number of 150. It wasn’t until later that evening, when the interns were making a presentation, that I found out that the first ducks we had seen, American Wigeon, were number 150 for them!

     The Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center hosts Wednesday Morning Birding every week at 9:30am. If you wish to have fun and see some new birds, just show up and participate. No pre-registration required. For more information, call the Center at 978-462-9998.

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