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.
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.