NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

July 27, 2013

Local nesting continues as migration begins

Words on Birds
Steve Grinley

---- — After the monsoon rains on Tuesday, I saw a female oriole on the jelly feeder that we have hanging in the back window at the store. This is the first oriole that I have seen here this season. The catbirds found the feeder some time ago and have visited off and on. The goldfinches are feeding regularly from the thistle feeder hanging in the other window, along with a couple of house finches. The goldfinches are nesting now, so I expect to see some youngsters in the weeks ahead.

I received a call from a Salisbury resident who was a bit confused by the woodpecker that was coming to her suet feeder. She has regular visits from downy and hairy woodpeckers, and even flickers and pileated. This one looked like a downy woodpecker — it was the size of a downy, perhaps a tad larger. But she was confused because this bird had red on the top of the head, not on the nape or back of the head as the male downy typically has. She considered sapsucker, but that wasn’t quite right. I explained to her that young downy woodpeckers do have red on the top of their head instead of on the nape. They might also appear a little larger as they may still have some down feathers underneath their feathering, “puffing” them up a bit.

Many birds are still nesting, some on their second or, even, third brood. Wrens and bluebirds are still busy raising families and we still see young chickadees and titmice fluttering their wings, begging for food. I received a photo of a cedar waxwing fledgling, found on the ground under a shrub. The parents were likely nearby and still feeding it. I also have received photos of hawks at feeders. Most comical are the young sharp-shinned hawks who insist on perching right on top of the feeder poles. Do they really think that the birds won’t notice?

The hot and humid weather that we had during the past few weeks really takes its toll on the birds. Be sure to keep your bird baths topped off with fresh water. Adding a dripper, water wiggler, or waterfall rock helps keep the water fresh and aerated. The motion of the water helps to attract more birds and it also helps deter mosquitoes, which thrive on stagnant water.

Even with all the local nesting still going on, the fall shorebird migration has begun. Flocks of semipalmated and least sandpiper, greater and lesser yellowlegs and short-billed dowitchers are already starting to congregate in Newburyport Harbor during low tide and in the fresh water ponds and salt pans on Plum Island during high tide. A small number of semipalmated and black-bellied plovers, white-rumped and stilt sandpipers have also started to trickle in.

I was on Plum Island last Sunday evening watching sharp-tailed and seaside sparrows in the marsh across from the Lot 2 parking lot. Greenheads were pretty much gone, and only a few mosquitoes fought the onshore wind enough to buzz around my head. The tide was coming in and I could see small flocks of shorebirds flying along the river, coming from the harbor and heading south for the Salt Pannes, Bill Forward or Stage Island Pool. As the evening progressed, small flocks of snowy egrets were also flying south along the river. They were mostly in groups of six to eight. The largest group was 12, followed closely by another group of five. Easily 50 to 60 snowy egrets passed in about an hour’s time. Only occasionally I would see a lone great egret flying by.

It was shortly before eight o’clock when I heard a familiar call overhead. As familiar as it was, it didn’t quite ring a bell, and it took me a minute to find what was calling. High overhead were two large shorebirds with long, decurved bills. Whimbrel! The first ones of the year for me. It all made for a pleasant evening, topped only by a beautiful Plum Island sunset.

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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.