Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Whales and Bird Watching Fills Void
October 03, 2020
By Steve Grinley

     It is around this time each year when many folks ask the question “where are my birds?” The number one complaint is not squirrels, grackles or chipmunks, it is that their birds have disappeared from their backyards and feeders. This occurs almost every year at about this time. Early autumn is the time of year when the natural supply of seeds and nuts is most abundant. Despite the popular belief that birds only eat from your feeders and are dependent upon them, the birds are actually just using your feeders to supplement what they can find in the wild.

     Birds, and squirrels, are very opportunistic. When the supply of natural seeds and nuts is plentiful, they take advantage of that – just as we select vegetables from our garden or the local farm stand. “Just picked” always tastes better than store-bought. Even the squirrels are ignoring our feeders and are dropping the acorns and hickory nuts to the ground and eating or collecting them. The birds know that your feeders are there and they will likely return when their natural food supply starts to dwindle again.

     This following is written by Margo’s brother, Bob Goetschkes, a novice birder who helps out at Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift a few days a week:

     “Sometimes, when the birding activity at our feeders and favorite spots has gone down, we have to get creative if we want to keep the binocular skills fresh. Today, September 27th, Margo and I climbed aboard the Seven Seas Whale Watch out of Gloucester for the 11:00 A.M. trip out to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Captain Jay noticed we were birders, and said he’d help sight birds.

     “The temperature was a cool 70 degrees with humidity reaching 80% and winds about 8 mph out of the NE across the Gulf of Maine. On our way to the breakwater, we spotted over 60 Great Black-backed Gulls and about as many Herring Gulls. We had our eyes peeled for the Glaucous Gull that had been seen in the area, but were unlucky.

     “As we left harbor, beyond Dog Bar and Eastern Point Lighthouse, we counted about 20 Common Eider and at least 50 Double-crested Cormorants. At about the same time, a small pod of Harbor Porpoises scurried away from the boat, the first marine life we had seen. There were Laughing Gulls and a few Bonaparte’s Gulls floating in the water and taking flight, but the further away we got from the harbor, the fewer birds we noticed.

     “There was a bank of fog out in the distance, not something that deters whale watchers, but isn’t a bird watchers favorite nautical report. Fortunately, the fog was wispy enough to keep the skies clear in patches, and along with our first Humpback Whale sighting at about 11:30, we also took in about 5 Gannets, 3 Shearwaters, 2 Common Terns, and 5 Fulmars, which were an unexpected treat.

     “As we sailed over the Bank and the Ledge, these seabirds increased in number with the increase in marine mammal sightings. By 12:30, we had seen an Ocean Sunfish paddling its fin above water, and the whales provided lots of fluke and spy hopping action. In between the 5 to 6 minute dives of mom and her calf, we noticed the Terns wherever the whales surfaced. These higher latitudes are the feeding grounds for marine mammals, and the birds we saw were part of that ecosystem, too.

     “The boat turned and headed out of the light fog bank towards shore again. It was about 2:00 PM when we saw a large pod of Atlantic White Sided Dolphins swimming with our wake.

     There were lots of juveniles in the middle with the adults forming a protective, moving ring around them.

     “The number of birds diminished and then increased again as we headed into the harbor, the Gulls as busy as ever. Captain Jay and the crew got us back to shore and piped Liberty for us all to disembark. Margo and I made our way over to the State Pier to have one more look for the Glaucous Gull, but were again unlucky.

     “There was a bit of icing on the cake on the drive home, however. Conomo Point is on the way from Gloucester to Essex. The tide was still going out so we drove to check out Clamshell Beach and saw upwards of 1000 Double Crested Cormorants resting in the low pools of Essex Bay. Like the Bank and the Ledge, this area too is a relatively healthy ecosystem for being able to support that many birds.”

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950

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