Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Fall Migrants Moving Through Our Area
October 11, 2008
Steve Grinley

     There has been a flurry of activity during the past week or so, with numerous passerines showing up on Plum Island and at other locales. Even backyard feeder activity has picked up. A couple of weather fronts coming through with northwest winds have helped push migrants our way.

     It seemed to have all begun with the appearance of a Say’s phoebe on Plum Island. I received a call a week ago Thursday from John Nelson of Ipswich that there was one at the Lot 7 boardwalk on the Parker River Wildlife Refuge, so I rushed down after work. There isn’t much daylight left in the evenings, so I was worried that the bird wouldn’t be there, and that it would get dark too quickly to look for it.

     The Say’s phoebe is a western species, similar to our Eastern phoebe, but it has a lighter gray-brown back, rusty underparts and a black tail. John was on the boardwalk with his scope when I arrived, and he said that he had just seen the bird a few minutes before. As we were talking and scanning with our binoculars, I saw the bird fly up to the platform at the end of the boardwalk. Its russet underbelly shone if the evening sunlight, and John was able to get a couple of “phone” pictures through his scope.

     This was only the second time in last few years that I have seen this bird on Plum Island. It was there again on Friday (probably roosted under the boardwalk, we suspected), but it didn’t stay for the numerous weekend birders who searched the road, beach, and dunes between Lot 6 and Sandy Point on Saturday. However some birders did catch a glimpse or two of a yellow-breasted chat, an uncommon, large warbler, lurking in the shrubs in the same area.

     Last weekend began an invasion of yellow-bellied sapsuckers and red-bellied woodpeckers in our area. I counted five sapsuckers on Plum Island and a red-bellied woodpecker on Sunday, and there were as many as five red-bellied woodpeckers seen there during the week. Sapsucker do move through here in migration, but the numbers seem higher this year. Red-bellied woodpeckers nest around here, but they are seldom seen on Plum Island, and more of these birds seem to be moving through the area during the past week.

     Kinglets have also invaded the area with flocks of golden-crowned kinglets and good numbers of ruby-crowned kinglets moving through. Yellow-rumped warblers, or “butter-butts” as they are affectionately called, are everywhere, feeding on the ripened bayberries and other fruits. Other warblers are finally moving through, though not in great numbers. Magnolia, parula, black & white, Wilson’s, black-throated blue, black-throated green, and an elusive Connecticut warbler were on the Island this past week. I saw a handsome male hooded warbler feeding at the edge of the grass at the rotary before the gatehouse at the Salisbury Beach State Reservation. Red-eyed and blue-headed vireos, and brown creepers are also migrating through.

     The hawk migration is in full swing. I’ve seen several hawks including Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks, circling high overhead at the store. A Rowley resident stopped in this past week to tell me about two adult bald eagles that flew low over his house on Cross Street. He said it was amazing to watch them no more than seventy-five feet overhead, tussling in midair, and then continuing on a more direct flight south. Merlins and peregrine falcons are on the move and an early rough-legged hawk was seen several times this week on Plum Island.

     The first juncos of the season have been showing up, along with small numbers of white-throated sparrows and a few white-crowned sparrows. They should be stopping at feeders on their way through, so look for them feeding on millet and other seeds on the ground or on platform feeders. There is news that pine siskins may be pushing southward so look for those small, striped birds joining the goldfinches at your thistle feeder. Perhaps they are the harbingers of the winter that is approaching. We can wait, and enjoy the fine autumn weather and migrant birds in the meantime.

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! 
Like us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/birdwatcherssupply