NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

February 23, 2013

Feeder birds leave fond memories

Words on Birds
Steve Grinley

---- — I have spent the past couple of months preparing for, and executing, the move of our main store. We didn’t move far, we’re still at the Route 1 traffic circle and just two buildings south of our previous location, but it was a lot of work, and long hours.

As a result, I haven’t had much chance to go out birding. Previously, whenever I missed getting out into the field, I could at least see the birds coming to the feeders outside of our old location. Though the new store gives us much needed inside space, it lacks the visibility to any of the feeders that I enjoyed for 18 years in our original store.

There is space behind the new building to put feeders, and I am sure that my “regular” feeder visitors would find them. However, there would be no way to watch the feeders from inside the store and, after all, that is the point. There are two high windows at the back of the store, off of our storage area. I could, conceivably hang a couple of bird feeders in front of those, but it would not be in the main store area for easy viewing.

In the meantime, I have been stopping at the old store and filling the feeders that I left there temporarily, to help the birds through the inclement weather that is still upon us. I will miss seeing those birds, as there was some comfort in glancing out the window to see “my” goldfinches on the thistle, “my” downy woodpecker and nuthatch on the suet, and those wintering tree sparrows that brightened the darkest winter day.

I am not missing the Cooper’s hawk that was a regular visitor, even making an appearance on the day that we moved! As I saw the bird fly off that day (I didn’t see if it was carrying anything with it), I couldn’t help but wonder if he was now feeling like he had free reign over the feeders now that I wasn’t going to be there to watch over them!

As I think back over the 18 years that we were there, I also can recall all those special unexpected visitors that graced us with their presence. We had occasional visits from such birds as redpolls and pine siskins in the winter, but only one evening grosbeak ever stopped to partake of our sunflower. During warmer months, we had an occasional visit from indigo buntings, but we never saw a rose-breasted grosbeak at our feeders.

Downy and hairy woodpeckers were regulars, and we would have flickers in the trees out back, but never a red-bellied woodpecker which so many of my customers now have. We have had dickcissels five or six times over the years, and a clay-colored sparrow at least four times.

The more common fox sparrow only made an appearance three times in all those years. White-throated and white-crowned sparrows came through during migration, but we seldom saw a junco under our feeders! In the earlier years, ring-necked pheasants were regular visitors, at least until the railroad came back to Newburyport, separating us from Common Pasture and the Crane and Martin Burns Wildlife Management areas.

Turkeys only made an appearance once and that was fairly recently. I can also remember the day, it was my first day back from a vacation, when I heard a bobwhite calling from behind the store. At first I thought it was someone playing a trick on me, whistling like a bobwhite, until I went back there to take a look. I have seen many raptors flying over the store, mainly when I was carrying seed out for a customer. Red-tailed, broad-winged, and one rough-legged hawk, along with ospreys, turkey vultures and an occasional bald eagle.

Then there was the night I was called to the store at 3 a.m. by the fire department due to smoke in the chimney. As I was standing in the parking lot, talking with one of the firefighters, we both watched a mid-sized owl fly over the building. It was very pale underneath, very ghost-like in appearance. I was 90 percent sure that it was a barn owl.

I will always have affection for the tree swallows that brought nesting material to one of my display houses in front of the store. I mounted the house in the corner of the lot and the pair nested that year. Then there was the drama of watching a northern shrike take a house finch from one of my tray feeders and wrestle it to the ground as the other birds scolded the shrike’s actions. And the day of a David Sibley book signing when the Cooper’s hawk followed one of my female employees into the storage trailer. Actually it followed her head of hair to be more exact, and it realized the hair was attached to much larger prey in time to fly out without incident.

Our rarest feeder visitor came on a day that I glanced out the back window as I was turning on the lights to open the store. I saw the usual mourning doves under the feeders, but I did a double-take on one dove that was different. It was a bit larger, more plump, and had a blue ring around a red eye. It squared off tail and white-edged wing told me that it was a white-winged dove. It stayed only one day, but many birders came by to view this bird of the south and southwest.

Yes, thinking back on all these fond memories, I will miss those feeders and those birds. But we are busy enjoying our new space ... it’s funny how putting up a couple of feeders outside those windows just became a priority.