Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

A Spectacular day for Raptors
November 08, 2014
By Steve Grinley

     Paul Roberts is known as the “hawk man” in these parts. Founder and past President of the Eastern Mass Hawk Watch, he conducts classes and field trips on Raptors for Mass Audubon. Paul posted a fabulous day of raptors on Plum Island last week so I thought that I would share his report with you:

     “The day started with an accipiter perched fairly high at the Old Pines and being harassed by jays. Naked eye, thought Cooper’s. Long, tubular bird with a very long tail. Binocular view: incredibly heavily streaked throughout breast and belly. Like what you’d expect on a goshawk, but not a goshawk. It flew low. Fifteen minutes later I had it coursing east of the road and it was clearly a juvenile Sharp-shinned, with a relatively slight body but extremely long tail. Either very large male or unusual female.

     “I walked Boardwalk 5 to the beach. Spotted a huge, dark bird perched on the cap of a dune, watching the ocean. My heart started to race. Possibly our largest, rarest falcon. It was hundreds of yards away but was aware of me spotting it. I was reaching for my megazoom camera when It lifted off and flew west. Heavily streaked, very dark, very large, but saw the silhouette clearly and a nice contrasting malar bar. Huge, immature female Peregrine. One that seen less well could lead to reports of possible larger falcon.

     “There were two juvenile harriers hunting around the southern end of Hellcat, in the field and marsh. 

     “Pretty quiet down the road to Emerson Rocks, where I went out without my scope. Shortly spotted a large falcon flying just above the water to the south. It turned and started soaring out over the water for 5-10 minutes. Again, palpitations, but quickly established as a juvenile Peregrine. It then swept in and landed on the rocks, not flushing a bird or chasing my year’s largest flock of Sanderlings on Plum Island ( a sad story in itself). Big, lighter brown, heavily streaked, and blonde. Juvenile tundra Peregrine. She sat on the rocks for roughly 45 minutes. Never intimated an interest in the local eider, Black Scoter, White-winged Scoter, or Sanderlings. Longest looks I’ve ever had of tundrius in Massachusetts. 

     “It took off and began soaring far out over open water, but fading high as it drifted towards Crane’s Beach. That was when a large dark falcon flew down the beach low in front of me. Huge, dark, heavily streaked, but clearly an anatum that had swallowed a beach ball. Its crop was grossly extended, as though it had just eaten an entire eider. Impressive, and much darker than the tundra bird. This had to be the bird I had seen earlier in the dunes. She sailed south and then west over Sandy Point, likely looking for someone to perch in peace and quiet and digest this recent meal. The sight of this bird might have been what flushed the tundra bird.

     “While at Emerson I had eight Turkey Vultures lift off from Sandy Point, the most I have seen on the island since April. Of course, we are in peak vulture migration time. I’ve not seen any vultures on a number of my trips to the island this summer and early fall. These birds were working their way up the island. 

     “Slowly driving up the island I saw a long-tailed buteo actively hovering over the road. First roughleg maybe? No, a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk actively and continuously hovering, not just kiting. This bird slowly worked its way up the island road. North of the Old Pines it drew out the heavily streaked Sharp-shinned Hawk, who soared over the hovering Redtail, occasionally harassing it. The Redtail continued hovering and soaring north, where it picked up a juvenile Northern Harrier escort, who also soared above it as the Redtail hunted. The Redtail dropped to the ground twice south of the Town Marker field, failing to catch its prey both times. I could easily see many thinking that this was a Roughleg if viewed from some distance.

     “As I headed off island, in the S-curves the Barred Owl flew hood-height across the road just in front of me. We were both lucky I wasn’t cleaning blood and feathers off my grill. It disappeared into the thin woods just north of the Warden’s on the west side of the road. I got out and explored, but it had apparently circled back into the deeper woods on the east of the road.

     “A spectacular day for great views of raptors. There were also flocks of Golden-crowned Kinglets in the Old Pines, along with several Red-breasted Nuthatches, Purple Finches, Black-capped Chickadees and Downy Woodpeckers.”

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