Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Autumn Migration is a Great Time to Go Birding
September 25, 2010
By Steve Grinley

     Fall migration is in full swing with many songbirds and shorebirds on the move at Plum Island. I would like to share with you a couple of reports from the island this week. Doug Chickering of Groveland had an especially good morning on Plum Island this past Monday:

     “This morning it was clearly the fall end of September and not the summer end. It was cold. Not cold enough for gloves or enough to see your breath, but definitely this weather front had shed all vestiges of summer. I got to Plum Island just at sunrise and although I turned off the cars lights, everything was deep in shadows. I calculated that the sun would be just hitting the flat marshes at the Wardens so I headed there in hopes of getting a look at the reported Clay-colored Sparrow.

     “As I turned into the parking area, still in the shadows, a small tannish bird flew in front of me and landed on the rail fence along the edge of the parking area. The Clay-colored Sparrow. I had great looks, checking out all of the field marks, before it took flight and swept into the brush back towards the road. Now there was a good start.

     “The sun had risen high enough to illuminate the trees on the north end of the empty Parking Lot at Hellcat when I arrived, and immediately it was evident that there was a lot of activity here. Chickadees were flying back and forth, vocalizing, and there were Robins and Catbirds, and Towhees calling and flying. Shortly after I got out of the car, I spotted a small passerine up in the tree right in front of me, with look of a warbler. It popped up and into my binocular view and the first thing I realized was that it was a Warbler and had a bold eye ring. A Nashville? No, it had a brown hood with a light throat; not a blue head with a yellow chin. Now I am usually very cautious and I spent the next few minutes getting fleeting but good looks at this bird and always trying to convince myself as to what it was not. But everything; from the long underttail coverts, to the reddish gray light legs, to its size and shape and of course the eye ring, told me that I was looking at a Connecticut Warbler. Even though this bird was not at the eye level or below that; where I’m used to seeing it, and even though I had not seen more than a half dozen Connecticuts in my life, I had to conclude. I was getting killer looks at a Connecticut Warbler; foraging in the sun.

     “This was clearly the highlight of the day, and perhaps of the season, but it wasn’t the only great moment. There was, of course, the Clay-colored at the Wardens, a Lincoln’s Sparrow at the side of the road at Hellcat, the Western Sandpiper seen from the new blind, and four Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. I had the first Golden-crowned Kinglet of the season, a Golden Plover flyover, the first Junco’s of the season, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Parula, Blackpoll, a Creeper in the Old Pines a couple of Field Sparrows by the side of the road. And the music goes on and on.”

     A couple of mornings later, the Wednesday Morning Birding group out of Mass Audubon Joppa Flats also saw some great birds, as reported by leader Dr. David Larson:

     “We had a great time on Wednesday Morning Birding this week! We headed out to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and stopped at the Salt Panne area for a quick tutorial on ducks (Northern Pintail, American Widgeon, American Black Duck) and an even more brief tutorial on Greater Yellowlegs. During our drive down the refuge road, we were flushing Dark-eyed Juncos left and right. But we forged on, undeterred, since our goal was reaching Sandy Point State Reservation. We did make a brief stop at Stage Island for more ducks (adding Green-winged Teal and Gadwall).

     “At Sandy Point, we trudged out across the sandy vastness, humming the theme music to “Lawrence of Arabia,” to get into position at the southern end of the island. Carefully focusing our scopes, we were able to resolve the ten Black Skimmers way, way, way across the water on Steep Hill Beach in Ipswich. Despite being flushed repeatedly by beach walkers and mentally encouraged by all 22 of us, the skimmers did not make a pass by Sandy Point. We spent the rest of our time at the reservation checking out the various shorebirds (good numbers of Black-bellied and Semipalmated plovers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Sanderlings, and a few Dunlin) and gulls. Just before we were due to leave we were called over by Paul Roberts who had a possible Red-necked Stint. We arrived just as the bird in question departed – only one of us getting a glimpse. I guess we will have to leave that bird for another Wednesday.

     “If you are free next Wednesday, we would love to see you. Wednesday Morning Birding happens from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every Wednesday (except July) throughout the year. You can get reports and find out about upcoming WMB programs by joining our WMB email list (just send a note to bgette@massaudubon.org or call us at 978-462-9998).

     Yes, both Doug and Dave reported juncos already, so start looking for them at your feeders. No, it doesn’t mean an early winter as these birds usually start moving through our area in September along with many of the other sparrows. Fall migration is a fun time to be birding so, if you can, do take advantage of the fine weather we have be having, and join one of the Wednesday Morning Birding walks out of Joppa Flats. They are great fun!

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