Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Sharing a Meal on Plum Island

October 13, 2018

By Steve Grinley

     With the crisp Autumn weather finally upon us, the first juncos of the season have arrived as have many of our other late migrating sparrows, warblers, and vireos. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are also coming through our area during these weeks. Our good friend Doug Chickering of Groveland shares with us some special moments he experienced with some of these species on Plum Island this past week:

     “I was taking my usual Plum Island walk. This time it was from Parking lot#1 to the Wardens and back. I am convinced that the birding is the most productive when doing it on foot. Especially in places like the S Curves. Today as I was walking north in the S Curves and remarking to myself that the birds were few and far between. One or two Song Sparrows lurking in the grass; with accompanying Junco’s leaping up into the brush. 

     “Then my attention was suddenly kindled when there was a small, nearly imperceptible, tug in the back side of a bush not three feet in front of me, by the side of the road. I stood still, not even grabbing my binoculars. I knew that any movement on my part risked spooking it. I stood gazing intently to the tugs and jumps in the foliage and within a minute my patience was rewarded. 

     “A Ruby-crowned Kinglet, apparently unaware of my presence, leapt out to a completely bare twig. The little guy was completely engrossed in tearing apart what appeared to be some dried-up seed pod. He pecked and stabbed at the husk, each time tearing some sort of morsel from it. All the field marks in full display, the colors clear and subtle, he worked diligently. 

     “I have had similar experiences with both brands of Kinglet. So, close you think you could reach out and touch one. In their determined foraging they make their way to you, then near you, and then past you. All business and oblivious. I have seen it before. A transcendent few minutes. It never gets old.

     “Yesterday a few of my birding friends put me on to a strange pleasant little tableau. On the Hellcat Trail where there is a small, slowly vanishing clearing, I was directed to a pattern of holes on a large birch tree. Easy to spot on the side of the tree about nine or ten feet off the ground. The holes of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. 

     “It was a tight formation, rather than a line of holes. And many of the holes, weren’t holes but small squares. Not only were the holes new they were being used. As we would witness almost immediately after we spotted the holes. 

     “A juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker flew to its handiwork and ignoring the impressed audience he began take up the sap and do a little auxiliary pecking. I had been told of this tree and Sapsucker the day before and apparently there was a Black-throated Blue Warbler that also came to the holes to feed when the Sapsucker was away. The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker kept to its perch, slowly, almost sleepily feeding and occasionally moving around the tree. Then he left. 

     “I looked around, and sure enough there was a stunning male Black-throated Blue Warbler warily hopping from branch, occasionally pausing for a quick look around. If he saw the admiring ensemble he showed no sign of it. He moved by fits and starts up to the Sapsucker holes on the birch before imbibing at the holes. 

     “So, we watched as Sapsucker and Black-throated Blue alternated coming to the tree and taking advantage of the running sap. Even though I didn’t think that the sap ran in the fall. The natural world; simultaneously, fascinating, strikingly beautiful, and mysterious. Later, in the afternoon we had occasion to pass by the tree again and not only was the play continuing but the male Black-throated Blue was joined by a female Black-throated Blue.

     “During the last few days, in the company of various friends, I had great looks of Pectoral sandpipers; once a flock of ten, an American Bittern and a Barred Owl on Plum Island. Not a spectacular fall so far but spiced up by these and other lyrical, gorgeous moments. It’ll do.”

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 23 years of service to the birding community!
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