Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Anything Can Happen in November
November 10, 2023
By Steve Grinley
     The colder weather is settling into New England.  Birds are starting to return to our feeders and we find ourselves filling our feeders a little more often these days.  Our first juncos and white-throated sparrows have arrived, so we are putting out extra white millet for them and for the other sparrows that may be arriving. A few chipping sparrows are lingering in the area, but they will soon be replaced by wintering tree sparrows. We also like to look for fox sparrows and unusual migrating sparrows that might show up.
     The finch feeders are being emptied a little quicker these days with more goldfinches and house finches coming to the feeder.  It should be a good year for pine siskins to come south in numbers, so we have started looking for them.  The resident titmice, nuthatches, chickadees, cardinals, and blue jays visit more frequently now, enjoying our sunflower, safflower and peanuts.
     More visits from our woodpeckers are depleting our suet feeders in recent weeks.  A number of downy woodpeckers, a pair of the larger hairy woodpeckers, and a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers visit regularly.  We still hear a flicker around, and yellow-bellied sapsuckers move through the yard but don’t visit the feeders, at least not yet.
     If you haven’t refreshed your feeders yet, now is the time to do it before the real cold sets and rain turns to snow. If you haven’t cleaned them lately, do it now to protect birds from bacterial diseases.  Put out fresh seed for the returning local birds and for the wintering birds that we are hoping will visit and stay for a time.
     November is also the month when “anything” can happen.  Look for a dickcissel, yellow-headed blackbird, an early redpoll or crossbill, or a late wandering warbler (which sometimes go to suet or sunflower hearts.) A rare Townsend’s warbler was seen on the Vineyard and pine and orange-crowned warblers are sometimes seen locally on suet in late fall or early winter.
     Out in the field, there have been a few surprise birds lately. A yellow-headed black has been seen on Cape Cod.  Margo and I saw a late blue-headed vireo and black-throated green warbler feeding low in the shrubs at parking lot 2 on Plum Island. A northern shrike was reported a few days earlier in the dunes there.  
     An ash-throated flycatcher and a clay-colored sparrow were seen a couple of days this week at Halibut Point State Park in Rockport.  These two birds have become more regular fall visitors that seem to show up somewhere in Essex County and elsewhere in Massachusetts every year now. A summer tanager, a southern species rare in Massachusetts, also stayed a couple of days on Eastern Point in Gloucester and was seen by many people.

     The real surprise of the season, and maybe the year, was the bird that showed up at Salisbury Beach State Reservation last Sunday. A morning text from a fellow birder alerted us that there was a barn owl there, and we headed there immediately to try to see it. We had some trepidation over what we would find when we got there, as we recalled the incidents a couple of years back when a pair of long-eared owls were harassed by over zealous photographers approaching too close. It was so bad, that the environmental police intervened and roped off the area to keep everyone at a distance. 

© Margo Goetschkes

     Although barn owls are found on most every continent, we are at the northern edge of its range in eastern North America. They do nest on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, and few nest on the mainland. Historically they have nested under the Route 1 Bridge near the Traffic Circle before it was torn down and rebuilt to make way for the train. There were other nesting reports in West Newbury decades ago, but none recently. (Check your barns!)

     When we arrived at Salisbury, we saw a large contingency of photographers and birders along one of the boardwalks over the dunes, all focused on an area in the middle of the dunes. Luckily, this owl was roosting in a group of tall pines far enough away from the parking lot and boardwalks where it could be viewed without disturbance, (except for the occasional loud noise of excitement.)

     We were so pleased with how everyone was behaving. Word got out and more photographers and birders arrived over the next few hours. The owl was mostly obscured in the tall pines, but it could be seen through openings in the pine boughs from specific angles. It hopped from branch to branch a couple of times, in and out of obscurity, but the high-powered scopes and cameras were able to get some good views. It crouched down, closed its eyes, and rested for much of the time, even undisturbed by five crows that tried to harass it out of its roost.

     The cooperation among all the viewers was heartening to experience. Everyone who came to see it had good views of this rare owl without disturbing it.

     Now if we could just get this federally protected barn owl to nest in the Pink House!

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

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