Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
This Week’s Storm has Birds on the Move
December 22, 2023
By Steve Grinley
The first snowy owl of the season arrived in Massachusetts this past week. Unfortunately, it must have flown right past us and landed on Gooseberry Neck in Westport. The lemming population, its food supply in the arctic, must be good this year as few snowy owls have ventured south into the United States so far.
Wintering short-eared owls, however, have arrived on Plum Island and elsewhere in eastern Massachusetts. They have been seen hunting along the impoundments along Bill Forward Pool and North Pool on the refuge, and hunting the marshes west of the Maintenance Area and off of Lot 1. Short-eared owls have also been seen across the river from the parking lot at the end of Stackyard Road in Rowley.
Screech owls have taken up winter residence in many of the “traditional” holes along the roads of Newburyport, Newbury, and West Newbury. Several residents have reported the owls roosting in boxes put up specifically for them. Good numbers of screech owls have already been counted on the area Christmas Bird Counts. Our screech owl has been seen in our boxes in Essex.
Saw-whet owls seem to be more numerous this year as indicated by the Christmas Counts that have occurred already. Our friend Phil has had one calling during the night at his house less than a mile from ours. Great horned owls have started their mating hoots already and barred owls have also been heard in many localities.
The southeast winds that preceded this past week’s storm brought on another good flight of dovekies off the coast of Cape Ann. Rick Heil alerted us to the flight on the day before the storm. We headed over to Andrew’s Point in the early afternoon and joined Rick as the flight was winding down.
We saw more than fifty dovekies in the hour we were there, when in most years we might be lucky to find a few. Rick had counted 1270 in the seven post-dawn hours that he was there! Still, that pales the 7250 that he had last December in that last big dovekie flight that I wrote about back then.
The day of this week’s storm was described as “lackluster” by those who did a sea-watch. However, two puffins were seen off Andrews Point in Rockport during the storm. The day after, Marj Watson discovered a dovekie right off Jodrey State Pier in Gloucester and a western grebe was discovered off Winthrop Beach. A brown booby landed on a fishing boat off the coast on Wednesday!
A number of rare birds that were around during the previous week survived the storm. Ash-throated flycatchers continued at Halibut Point in Rockport and at Bicentennial Park in Hampton. The Virginia’s warbler at Hampton has also been seen after the storm. A western tanager continues at Lewis Wharf in downtown Boston and a Say’s phoebe is still being seen at the Windsor Dam Park Headquarters at Quabbin Reservoir.
Less rare but more local, a lark sparrow was discovered at the Salisbury Beach State Reservation this week and a Baltimore oriole has been visiting a feeder in Rowley.
I wish you all a joyous holiday season with family and, of course, birds!