Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Deadline Looms for Comment on Refuge’s Destruction Plan
October 27, 2023
By Steve Grinley
     Wednesday evening’s Parker River Refuge Habitat Management Plan Zoom meeting had those who created the Refuge rolling in their graves. More than a hundred participants listened to a scripted presentation and asked (typed) a myriad of questions, many of which never got answered. Other questions were summarized, grouped with others and answered via with a script.  No room, nor means, for discussion. One participant commented afterward: “The desire to scream is overwhelming.” The meeting left many of us frustrated.
     Public comment for their plan ends October 28, this Saturday.  I encourage you to comment if you can by emailing the refuge at parkerriver@fws.gov
     Tom Wetmore, Mr. Plum Island when it comes to birds, wrote a detailed assessment of the Refuge’s Plan based on his 40 years of observing the birds on Plum Island.  His comments are too long to share with you here, but I have put his words on my website and they can be read here: https://birdwatcherssupplyandgifts.com/. I encourage you to read them.
     Rick Heil is one of the foremost birders in the state and he has birded Plum Island intensively in the last fifty years, meticulously documenting birds and their populations over that time.  I share with you his words here:
     “It is an absolutely insane idea to be destroying these critically important impoundments for the chimera of adding habitat for one species, the Saltmarsh Sparrow. I have fifty years of experience of intensively studying the birds of Plum Island, and have seen many changes over the years, so I can add an historical perspective to the issue.  
     “The Forward Pool, and to a slightly lesser extent, Stage Island Pool, are one of THE premier staging and high tide roost sites for more than a dozen species of shorebirds. Many tens of THOUSANDS use these areas, probably 50,000 shorebirds each year, perhaps more. It is probably the MOST important site north of Cape Cod in the entire Northeast. 
     “Forward Pool (and the salt pans when not flooded) is one of basically two sites (along with the Monomoy Point ponds) in all of Massachusetts where Long-billed Dowitchers and Stilt Sandpipers still occur in numbers. 
     “2. THIS [photo of thousands of shorebirds in Bill Forward Pool] is what they want to destroy, flooding it every high tide so that there will be no places for shorebirds to roost and no flats to forage upon?
     “3. The North Pool has extensive cattails and Phragmites Reed beds the provides during migration nightly roosts of up to an estimated quarter MILLION swallows, mostly Tree, but also thousands of Barn, and lesser numbers of Bank, Cliff, and Purple Martins. This amazing spectacle, this annual phenomena will be GONE with the destruction of the North Pool. 
     “4. Also, there are nightly roosts of Northern Harriers each winter in the Reed beds at the North Pool. I’ve counted as many as 21 harriers dropping in to roost here. GONE if this impoundment is destroyed 
     “5. There are still several pair of Least Bitterns breeding annually at the North Pool and Stage. There are also Virginia Rails and healthy populations of Marsh Wrens. These impoundments are Gadwall and Mallard factories with more than a dozen pair with young observed each year. American Black Ducks and Green-winged Teal also breed here with regularity is small numbers. 
     “6. The illusory idea that removing a portion of the dikes at these three impoundments will create some beautiful and diverse salt marsh and dozens of pairs of Saltmarsh Sparrows will magically show up and start breeding there is completely unfounded. Far more likely these these impoundments will fill up with even more Phragmites and attract zero sparrows. 
     “7. First of all, there are hundreds of acres of EXISTING salt marsh on the refuge that currently have few to No Saltmarsh Sparrows utilizing them. The overwhelming majority of the Great Marsh Saltmarsh Sparrows population is centered in the area north of the wardens (sub-HQ) to Pine Island to Newburyport Harbor. There are also healthy populations in many more inland salt marsh along the Parker and Rowley Rivers and there numerous creeks. There are comparatively very few sparrows utilizing the south Plum Island marshes despite their expansiveness. 
     “8. There are VERY few Saltmarsh Sparrows breeding in the EXISTING EXTENSIVE marshes abutting the North Pool, the Forward Pool, and Stage Island Pool. There is absolutely no reason to assume or expect that ANY sparrows will move into the relatively, comparatively small acreage of these impoundments just because they are flooded with sea water. 
     “9. Opening up the North Pool to the flow of tidal seawater will guarantee the the freshwater swamps of the Hellcat Maritime Forest will be inundated with seawater when storms coincide with astronomical tides. This will kill off ALL inundated vegetation and destroy and deforest half of the Hellcat Freshwater Swamp. 
     “10. All of this destruction, of a MAJOR shorebird site, of the largest swallow roost in the Northeast, of a harrier roost (who have also bred there), of breeding fresh marsh waterfowl and bitterns, of the inundation of Hellcat Swamp with seawater, destroying the forest, all for the sake of one single species, which is highly unlikely to move into these sites, is LUNACY! I would bet anything that not a single pair of Saltmarsh Sparrows move into these areas. I urge everyone who cares about the refuge and its birds to fight this.”
     Please send your comments to parkerriver@fws.gov today

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

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