Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Falling Leaves Expose Nests and Other Objects
November 27, 2010
by Steve Grinley

     A couple of weeks ago, Doug Chickering of Groveland made some interesting observations on Plum Island so I thought that I would share them with you:

     “A few days ago, as Lois and I drove down the road on Plum Island we began to notice that the denuding of trees by the onset of fall had revealed the remnant of birds nests; relics of the grand pageant of rebirth that had taken place a few short months ago. Some nests were already in a state of advanced decay, others seemed fresh and sturdy and ready for new tenants. Some were so close to the road that I was amazed that I hadn’t noticed them until now.

     “Today, as I searched for birds, I decided to count them as I took my usual route down the island. I kept my bird counter in my pockets, and as I searched the roads and paths, every time I saw a former nest I would tick it off on the clicker. I took particular care not to count the web worm nests, or any other anomalous collection of leaves in the crotch of a tree and made sure that all I recorded were nests. At the end of the day I had discovered and tallied 48 nests.

     “Considering that I had gone the whole 6 plus mile length of the refuge 48 nests might seem unimpressive but on reflection it is really quite amazing. I had walked the road in several places, and the trails at Hellcat and the Old Pines, but in reality probably only about 10% of the entire island was available to me. Not only that I was finding the nests of only the passerines who nested in the trees at the edge of the paths and roads, and occasionally in the shrubbery.

     “What I couldn’t see were breeding places of those birds that nested in the grass or the dunes, or on the ground or in the myriad of places just beyond the tangles and trees that I could see. I can’t believe that the edge of the road or a pathway were preferred nesting sites and tend to believe that what I had found represented only a small fraction of the nesting sites on the island. In the light of this, 48 nests is really quite a testament to the panorama of renewal that had taken place here a few short weeks ago.

     “I also has some great birds today – an Orange-crowned Warbler at the edge of the road in the S Curves, a Bittern in the marshes by the Wardens, my first Rough-legged hawk of the season and a very close Northern Shrike in the field by the New Blind. The Shrike and the Rough-legged hawk and the frantic crowd of Snow Bunting I saw at parking Lot #1 are the heralds of an approaching winter. The winter will arrive before we know it. Its storms will blow away the nests I counted today and when the winter is finally gone the whole cycle will start again.”

     I commend Doug for undertaking the task of actually counting the nests exposed by the missing vegetation on the island. I am always aware of those nests as I am always looking for birds in the shrubs and trees. Sometimes the old nests will be deformed and take on the “appearance” of a bird and cause me to stop along the way. There are also clumps of leaves, old caterpillar webs, and, sometimes, stuff I just affectionately call “crud” hanging in the branches.

     As I drive down the island looking for birds, I stop numerous times, thinking what I see is a bird sitting on a branch and it turns out to be an old nest or “crud.” It is OK to fooled by some such shapes, but it gets frustrating, and somewhat embarrassing, to stop for the same “crud” almost every time I drive by. I know I’m not the only birder with this problem. But I know I will really have a problem if I ever decide to drive down the island and actually count them all. I’m sure it would be substantially more than Doug’s total for nests alone. I’d rather count birds thank you.

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