Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Migrating Birds Are Lingering Longer
December 02, 2017
By Steve Grinley
We are told that there is no such thing as global warming. Yet this fall has been the second warmest on record. Birds adjust to the changing temperatures and, thus, many migrate south to warmer temperatures to escape our cold winters. There have been predictable patterns of bird migration over time, but this year many more summer residents have chosen to linger longer than usual.
Sandhill cranes, a relative newcomer to New England nesters, were still lingering in Maine a couple of weeks ago and eight were seen migrating south past Kingston New Hampshire just last week. Strings of blackbirds and double-crested cormorants can still be seen streaming south this late in the season. Flocks of Canada geese are still feeding in the fields of Ipswich and Middleton, choosing to delay their flight south.
There are still great egrets in the marshes of Cape Cod and the South Coast. Shorebirds are lingering even in the Newburyport area with hundreds of dunlin and scattered numbers of black-bellied plovers still being seen. A few greater yellowlegs remain and even two white-rumped sandpipers are still hanging out on Plum Island into December. Large flocks of meadowlarks are still on the outer Cape Cod and a rare western meadowlark was discovered on Plum Island last week. Even a few tree swallows continue to be spotted in southern Massachusetts!
Most surprising are the discoveries of warblers and vireos that are still with us. These birds should be in Central and South America by now! At Odionne State Park in Rye recently, two Cape May warblers, a Tennessee, orange-crowned, pine, blackpoll, and rare yellow-throated warbler was seen along with two yellow-breasted chats. A yellow-throated vireo was also seen there.
Warblers found on Cape Ann this past week included three orange-crowned, blue-winged, palm, pine, Tennessee and northern parula. A white-eyed vireo and seventeen catbirds were also found! Sounds more like a list from September or early October!
These late migrants are presenting additional excitement for area birders. Fellow birder and local author Doug Chickering discovered an unexpected late migrant at his home in Grovelnad this past week:
“It just came out of nowhere. Like many of these moments do. [It was] 3:45 pm and the setting sun hovering over the horizon. I was in the living room loafing, waiting to consult with Lois as to what she wanted for dinner when something caught my eye; high in the sky. A big bird soaring.
“I have occasionally seen a Red-tailing roaming high around the house and the neighborhood off and on, like everyone else in eastern Massachusetts. But this bird immediately struck me as different. It was too large and had longer wings. The shape of the wings and the flight shape also ruled out Turkey Vulture, but it was something that size.
“Eagle, I thought as I casually walked over to the nearby table and picked up my binoculars. We have Eagles around here. It had to be a juvenile, for even without my binoculars I could see it didn’t have a white head or white tail. Although I did see it had some while on the tail. It glided closer, pitching and tossing in the winds and I easily got on it.
“And then I don’t really know what came to mind first. The field marks were clear but unfamiliar and my mind slowly accepted that I was on a state lifer. The under tail was white with a wide black terminal band, the wings had definite white patches at the outer ends and the head was a light brown. The bird banked once or twice and there were smaller white patches on the wing tips on the top sides as well. The rest of the bird was black.
“As amazed as I was I had to admit I was watching a Golden Eagle soaring in the skies about my house in Groveland. I have seen Golden Eagle in the west, but never east of the Mississippi. But there was no doubt about this one.
“A birder is always birding. And this is the occasional reward.”
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