Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Weather Brings Common Birds to Feeders and Rare Birds to Area
November 05, 2011
By Steve Grinley

     Last weekend’s storm was most unexpected, and a hardship on many. It was also hard on the birds as many returned to feeders as a source of food. The past month or so has been relatively quiet at area feeders but the sudden snow cover of available natural seed sources brought many birds back in to the feeders.

     Our downy woodpecker has returned to our store feeders after a long absence. He is now enjoying our peanut feeder and our suet log. A tufted titmouse showed up early in the week, common to many backyards, but a rare visitor to our feeders. Chickadees are back to frequent visits each day and our goldfinch population swelled to five or six birds (up from or two).

     A Newburyport resident called with a report of a Baltimore oriole coming to his sunflower feeder. The bird returned for at least a second day, reportedly working hard to try to open the black-oil sunflower seeds. Most orioles left by early October, but a few sometimes linger if they find enough food. I often hear of one or two orioles that try to make it through the winter, feeding on available fruit and surviving on sunflower hearts and suet.

     After the storm passed, the winds turned southwest again, bringing moderating temperatures and more-autumn-like weather to us. The southwest winds are responsible for bringing more unusual bird migrants to our area. Another ash-throated flycatcher appeared at the Salisbury Beach State Reservation, (two were on Plum island earlier in October), and it has lingered there through at least Thursday.

     I took some time during the seasonable weather this past week to visit Pike’s Bridge Road in West Newbury. It was sheltered from the southwest wind and as I entered from the Turkey Hill Road side, a downy woodpecker called from the woods and a tufted titmouse scolded my entry. As I approached the Artichoke area and the bridge, I flushed a pair of wood duck, then another male, and then another pair – five in all. The nearby mallards didn’t seem to mind my presence.

     On the other side of the bridge, a flock of about two dozen robins were feasting on honeysuckle berries. Among them were six eastern bluebirds, the males with their mesmerizing azure blue color. Four juvenile cedar waxwings were also enjoying the berry feast. I caught a glimpse of the white rump of a flicker as it flew off. Meanwhile, a red-tailed hawk was calling as it circled over the nearby field.

     Further down the path, I could spot a gadwall and eight green-winged teal out in the water. Three coot paddled through the water. White-throated sparrows were scratching in the leaves in search of food. A hairy woodpecker called from the area near the next bridge and a pair of downy woodpeckers were examining the nearby trees. A few yellow-rumped warblers responded to my pishing noises. They were also enjoying the plentiful berries in the area.

     On my way back along Scotland Road in Newbury, I caught a bird out of the corner of my eye, perched atop a snag above the Colby Farm Stand. It registered as an Eastern kingbird and my next thought was “very unlikely!” I turned the car around, parked across the street and took out my scope. It sure looked like an eastern kingbird, but the last kingbirds left back in September! Any large similar-looking flycatcher this late in the season are more likely either fork-tailed flycatchers or the even more rare gray flycatcher.

     This bird’s back was dark, not lighter gray like a gray kingbird. Its breast was dusky, not white like either of those rare birds. The tail was square, not forked as in the fork-tailed flycatcher. I could almost make out the worn white tips of the feathers on its square tail. By process of elimination, it had to be an Eastern kingbird. Yet, it was a rare sighting of an otherwise common bird, that shouldn’t be here this time of year. I pulled out my camera and took photos through my scope to document this sighting. As it turns out, there are few records of eastern kingbirds on the East coast, let alone New England, at this late date. No telling what this crazy weather will bring in next!

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