, Newburyport, MA

Local News

January 12, 2013

Feeding frenzies draw interesting birds and interested birders


“They gather in furious activity. They circle and flutter, then dive into the water’s surface in a dense pack. Sometimes they float in the water and sometimes they rise up against into tight chaotic flocks, only to dive back into the unseen (by us) fish shoal. The gulls immediately draw in more interested parties; ducks and razorbills and grebes come in to crowd the water.

“This morning, these feeding frenzies were short in duration and very fluid as the ravenous birds would form and then break up and move to another location in a very unpredictable manner. Sometimes an observer is torn between just watching the spectacle and trying to pick through the turmoil in hopes of finding something new, unexpected; perhaps hot-line worthy. Tom and I saw a Bonaparte’s gull and at least two kittiwakes show up. When the frenzy moved to the horizon, we saw that several gannets joined in the fun.

“To me, just the large number of razorbills, arriving in long, fast lines, skimming in from the far ocean and either diving directly into the melee or skidding over the water before coming to a stop and diving, was a highlight of the event. When I took the time to scan the area and count the razorbills, I counted 67, which was a dramatic undercount. I am not sure why, but I find seeing a razorbill to be gratifying and to see many razorbills to be a big treat.

“Every time I set up my spotting scope in the cold early morning upon that sand-strewn platform — just as the sun is coming up out of the sea — I nurture the hope that somewhere in the depths, large fish are driving small fish and that soon the gulls and their associates will notice this drama unfolding and will come to feed. It is always an unforgettable and notable sight. Just another great moment in birding.”


Steve Grinley is the owner of Bird Watcher’s Supply and Gift at the Route 1 traffic circle in Newburyport and the Nature Shop at Joppa Flats.

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