Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Snowy Owls and Local Author Putting on Appearances
December 14, 2013
By Steve Grinley

     The snowy owl show continues on Plum Island. People have been seeing at least three or four, and as many as twenty, owls along the length of the refuge on any given day. They are often perched up on a nesting box, hunting blind, signpost, or a tuft of grass in the marsh. On windy days, they may be hunkered down in the dunes on the ocean side of the road. Those can often be viewed from any of the boardwalks that go out to the beach from the parking lots.

     Last weekend, we saw fifteen on Saturday, including seven in view at one time out on the marsh across from Lot 3. Our friend, Brian Cassie, stopped nearly every car going by to encourage them to stop and look through our scopes at these magnificent birds. We saw a few birds in flight that day, which is always a treat. One was out on a log in the middle of the marsh south of the Pines Trail. It got up and started flying south toward Cross Farm Hill. I thought it was heading for the osprey platform there when it suddenly banked and decided to do a little duck hunting. All the ducks below panicked, flapping their wings, splashing in the water, and a few took flight. The owl veered away, as if to just tease the ducks.

     The following day, Margo and I counted eight snowy owls in our afternoon visit to the refuge. The day ended with one just across the river at the boat ramp across from Lot 1. As we were watching the snowy, I spotted a short-eared owl hunting the marsh beyond. It had a brief encounter with a harrier, but the harrier decided quickly to move on. We watched the owls in our scopes and many people stopped to look. We were happy to share our scopes to give others some “life looks” at these raptors. The snowy owl was a life bird for several people who stopped to look. It is always fun to show a beginner a new bird.

     Speaking of beginners, I had mentioned last week about a great new book called “Look Up –Bird –Watching in Your Own Backyard” by Annette LeBlanc Cate. I don’t usually do book reviews, but once in a while a book comes along captures the essence of what birding is all about. Look Up is just such a book. Annette’s cartoon-like drawings and keen sense of humor is truly fun reading, yet it covers all the basics on birds and beginning bird watching better than any other book that I have seen in years. 

     Growing up, it was Joseph Hickey’s little book, A Guide to Bird Watching, now long out-of-print, which got me started in the right direction with all the basics that I needed to know. It was such an important resource for me in my early years, that I later often lent it to “budding” birders as a proper introduction to birding. Annette’s book doesn’t go into as much depth as Hickey’s did, but covers everything about what you need and don’t need (i.e. You need eyes and ears, you don’t need uncomfortable shoes or noisy clothing.) It describes the basic do’s and don’t s of birding, where to go to see birds, and how to look at a bird to identify it. 

     Annette emphasizes the skill of listening, the power of observation, using field guides, and bird habitats. She even touches on migration (“To you it’s a vacation”, she quips.) She also provides a crash course on bird classification! She ends with a few pointers on drawing birds and some tips for going forward as a bird watcher. 

     The book is written for ages 8 to 13, but will thoroughly entertain and inform anyone from ages 5 to 105. It is a fun book about birds and birding that should be on everyone’s Christmas list. “Annette is scheduled to do a book signing as part of the school holiday vacation week series of “Free Fly-by’s” at the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center in Newburyport. Annette will sign books and do some sketching on Monday, December 30 from 1:30 -3:00 pm. I hope to see you there!”

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! 
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