Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Wintering Birds Are Arriving
November 19, 2011

By Steve Grinley

    The changing weather has made for some interesting birding this Fall. The southwest winds that bring us warmer than normal temperatures also bring us some unusual birds. Then when cold fronts come through from the north, they bring down some of our winter birds, which we normally expect in November.

One bird that has drawn a lot of attention from all over New England is a barnacle goose that was first discovered on Rogers Street in West Newbury by Phil Brown of Essex. The goose was hanging out with a large flock of Canada geese in a field across from the Artichoke Dairy. It has since been seen with them in the nearby Artichoke Reservoir, feeding in the corn field at the Spencer Pierce Little Farm on Little’s Lane in Newbury, in Newburyport Harbor just off the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education center, as well as back in the original field on Rogers Street.

The barnacle is a handsome goose, smaller than a Canada goose, with a black chest and neck and striking black and white feathering on its wings and back. Instead of the white chin-strap of the Canada goose, it has a white face that stands out in the crowd. This bird traveled down the coast, probably from Greenland, to arrive here. How long it will stay, we don’t know.

     The goose gathering on Roger’s Street was joined by six snow geese in the past few days. We expect snow geese to migrate through here in the late fall, so they are right on schedule. More should follow.

     In our explorations around other areas in West Newbury, we have found the expected ruddy ducks, ring-necked ducks, common mergansers, and American coot in the Cherry Hill Reservoir. Steve Haydock reported an ash-throated flycatcher near the reservoir and in a swampy area just north of there, near Greenbelt’s Thurlow Field, a pair of bluebirds were checking out roosting holes in the dead trees. There were more bluebirds in the Ash Street Swamp and a pair were lining their bird house on Turkey Hill Road, presumably as insulation for the cold nights ahead. Other bluebirds were checking out the bird houses on the Bradstreet Farm/Rowley Community Garden property in Rowley.

     There is a lot of bittersweet around this year, so bluebirds are expected to stay around a while. We also found large flocks of robins enjoying the berries in many locations, including at the end of Crane Neck Street in West Newbury, where they were joined by a few cedar waxwings. As Margo and I walked along there, it felt like it was starting to rain, though there was hardly a cloud in the sky. We looked up and saw a large flock of goldfinches eating the seeds in the aspen trees above us. Except for the falling seeds and shells, we never would have known they were there!

     With all the natural seed and fruit that is around, activity at the bird feeders has been somewhat slow. For all the customers who have asked where there goldfinch are, we found many of them out in the fields and in the trees, taking advantage of the natural food supply while they can. We also ran into flocks of juncos and tree sparrow, more wintering birds that will eventually find our feeders. Just before one of those cold fronts arrives, activity does pick up at the feeders. A feeding frenzy of birds is a better predictor of the forthcoming weather than most of our local meteorologists.

The cold fronts have brought down some other wintering birds as well. Small flocks of pine siskins have been reported, so watch for them at your thistle feeders. Northern shrikes, a predator of small birds, have been spotted at the Ash Street Swamp and on Plum Island. After an almost total absence last winter, the first snowy owl of the season on Plum Island was spotted this past Tuesday by Tom Wetmore. It was seen sitting on Emerson Rocks at low tide as Tom watched from the Lot 7 platform.

I went to Lot 7 on Wednesday morning before work, but didn’t see the snowy owl on the rocks, nor in the surrounding dunes. I did scope across the sound to Crane’s Beach in Ipswich, as snowy owls are sometimes seen in the dunes there. It is a long look, but I did spot something white atop a snag in the dunes. As I cranked up the zoom to 60 power, the bird lifted its wings and I could see that is was, indeed, a very white male snowy owl and not a white plastic bag! Later that morning, Jim Berry of Ipswich called me to say that he had just arrived at Crane’s Beach and watched a very white male snowy owl being chased across the sound back to Sandy Point by some Bonaparte’s gulls. Hopefully, this one may stick around for a while!

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