, Newburyport, MA

April 6, 2013

Birds are also awaiting spring's warmth

Words on Birds
Steve Grinley

---- — As the weather finally turns a bit milder this weekend, some of the early spring migrants are trickling into our area. A few egrets and ibis are showing up in area marshes. Ospreys are arriving and, hopefully, pairs will return to the osprey poles on Plum Island and in Salisbury.

Wilson’s snipe are showing up in the fields along Scotland Road in Newbury. Flocks of robins are finally carpeting our lawns. Hummingbirds are still a couple of weeks away, or more, with a few being spotted as far north as Maryland and Pennsylvania. And it won’t be long before the first early warblers appear in our woodlands.

Most migrants arrive on southwest winds, often thought of as the warm wind direction. But I remembered that not all of us are longing for those warmer spring days. I dug out an old column from six years ago that Doug Chickering of Groveland wrote.

It was a similar early spring as we are having this year, with cold and snow persisting through March. Doug presented this alternative point of view concerning the weather, just after a March snow storm:

“Wouldn’t you know it. Just when the end of winter seemed right on the horizon; just when the daylight was seeping into what used to be night, and just as the blanket of snow in the backyard is retreating into the shadows at the edge of the woods, the bad weather returns. Snow is again predicted for tonight. Is it going to be one to three inches? Or two to four? Or perhaps more? This is not known. What is known is that it is a little discouraging. When can we put away that snow shovel?

Yet in the face of an oncoming March storm, I can’t help but think it might be worse. It might be a March blizzard. Or even worse it might be a March heat wave. Believe it or not the only thing that would depress my enthusiasm more than snow, would be temperatures in the high 80s or 90s.

And if a New England birder were to reflect upon this, it might not seem so preposterous. Early spring will pull the foliage out early. I have seen that before, and its effects are a great deal more annoying than pushing snow off the car.

In all actuality I am hoping for bad weather or, to be more accurate, I am hoping that April will be dreary, wet and cold. In Massachusetts that is what April should be. It keeps buds in the trees and the underbrush from bursting forth too early. When I am trying to pinpoint the location of a tantalizing call from a tree, I don’t want to be faced by an opaque wall of greenery. I can remember a day at Mount Auburn Cemetery approaching a cluster of birders surrounding a large, fully leafed maple tree.

They informed me that there was a Tennessee warbler somewhere therein, and they were trying to get a look. I then heard the unmistakable trill, and I too tried to peer into the dense cloak of green. I could see immediately that it was hopeless; that if I were lucky I might catch a glimpse of belly or undertail, or if I were extraordinarily lucky I might see it fly out and over the horizon.

Last year on Plum Island, I had a Tennessee warbler three feet above my head in a bush just outside the rest rooms at Hellcat on Plum Island, and the year before I saw one at eye level just off the boardwalk, also at Hellcat. In both cases the foliage had been retarded by a properly dismal spring. Plum Island always seems to be a week or so behind Mount Auburn in the progress of foliation. This can be useful.

It is one of the reasons I have always been a little ambivalent about fighting traffic to get into Mount Auburn. It is true that there will be rarities unavailable anywhere else and their general bird list will be impressive. But it is also true that many of the birds I will be straining my neck to see at the crown of a nearly fully leafed out tree, I will be seeing a few days later on Plum Island, just above eye level among the new buds of a tree nearer to winter.

Therefore, when this storm is gone, I will be hoping for a slow arrival of spring, a spring that will reach its full bloom just as the warblers are coming in off the ocean.”

I’m not sure I agree with Doug. I think that I would gladly trade some foliage for a warmer April!


Steve Grinley is the owner of Bird Watcher’s Supply and Gift in Newburyport.