Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Wintering Birds are Filtering into Our Area
November 13, 2010
By Steve Grinley

Some New Hampshire folks are now referring to the pine siskin “invasion,” as their thistle feeders become dominated by these northern visitors at the expense of the goldfinch. Pine siskins actually nest in Massachusetts in small numbers, even in Essex County in some years, but they often visit in larger numbers in winters where their food supply dwindles up north. Many local residents are now reporting pine siskins at their feeders, so do look for these finely striped finches feeding on your thistle. Redpolls, which also eat thistle, are forecasted to head south into our area this winter. None have been reported here thus far, but they are also worth looking for.

Small numbers of evening grosbeaks are still being reported here and there. They, of course prefer the sunflower, especially in tray feeders, and are beautiful birds that would brighten any backyard on a gray day.

     We have had our first tree sparrow at the store feeders this week. We usually have a nice flock of them every winter. They have a rusty cap and a clear breast with a dark spot in the middle. Their twittering song is a delight to hear during the winter months. With our tree sparrow was a junco. Though juncos are one of the more common winter birds at feeders in Massachusetts, we never see many at our feeders.

     Time to look for the unusual birds at the feeders as well. Though Baltimore orioles uncommonly will winter over, and visit suet or sunflower hearts, there was a probable Bullock’s oriole reported from a feeder in Haverhill this past week. The Bullock’s oriole is the western counterpart to the Baltimore, and was once “lumped” with it for a while under the name northern oriole. Now a separate species again, either one could show up in your backyard.

     A boreal chickadee was found in Squantum, south of Boston, this past week. Boreal chickadees will join our regular black-capped chickadees at sunflower feeders, and at suet. They are like our regular chickadees, but boreal chickadees are brown on the back and sides and have a chocolate brown cap. Their bib is still black, however. Though I’ve seen many boreal chickadees in the mountains of New Hampshire, where they usually reside, my first one was back in the 1960’s when it was coming to a feeder on Argilla Road in Ipswich. So it is worth looking closely at your chickadees!

     We were birding last weekend in Salisbury and we came across a flock of house sparrows coming to a feeder off Beach Road. We stopped to look, even though we get lots of house sparrows at the store feeders, because you never know when something unusual will be with them. Sure enough, I spotted a dickcissel with yellow on its breast. It was just different enough to stand out. Pictures of the dickcissel, and a late scarlet tanager that we found the same day, can be seen by clicking here. I have had a dickcissel in with the house sparrows at the store feeders four times in the past fifteen years.

While we were looking at the dickcissel, we got a call about a saw-whet owl at the campground on the Salisbury Beach State Reservation. I had found one there the previous week, but now there was another one which we went over to see. It reminded me of the little saw-whet owl that my daughter, Melissa, rediscovered in the same area many years ago. That cute little owl helped give her a little more understanding of why I am so passionate about birds.

There have been flocks of snow buntings at Salisbury and on Plum island, but there have been no reports of snowy owls in the area as of this writing. A few short-eared owls have been seen flying around the Reservation in Salisbury and around Plum Island. I did find an adult bald eagle sitting on a rock on the Salisbury side of the harbor from the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center on Wednesday. So the wintering birds are making their way into our area.

     If you would like to spend a morning searching for some of these birds, I will be leading a FREE bird walk on this Sunday morning, November 14. We will meet at the Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift at 9:00 am where we will carpool to search for birds in the area. The walk will last about three hours and preregistration is not necessary – just show up. Please dress warmly and bring binoculars, field guide, and a spotting scope if you have them. Families and beginners are welcome. Hope to see you then!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 2
4 years of service to the birding community! 
Like us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/birdwatcherssupply