NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

July 6, 2013

Green heron nest highlights July 4th birding

Words on Birds
Steve Grinley

---- — On this holiday weekend, I thought that I would share with you again a July 4th birding adventure that happened six years ago to friend and fellow birder, Doug Chickering of Groveland, as only Doug can tell it:

“As is our custom, Lois Cooper and I went out on our Independence Day sweep. This birding day is a tradition we have observed since we have been together, and something I have been doing since before that. We adhere to the Marquis of Queensbury rules (i.e., we have to actually see a bird to count it) and therefore the numbers are not as impressive as others we have seen for this time of year posted on this forum. By the end of the day, we had seen 73 species. Not a record for us, but quite respectable. Even though the dust on the Plum Island road south of Hellcat was inconvenient and the beach weasels a little annoying, the day had some real good birds and one absolutely extraordinary event.

“We had a black-billed cuckoo cross the road at Plum Island just north of the S curves and perch at the edge for a real good look. We heard and saw the alder flycatcher across from Cross Farm Hill and saw an absolutely incandescent male Baltimore oriole visiting a nest in a cherry tree at the edge of the road just north of Cross Farm Hill. We had nice long looks at a beautifully marked adult least bittern prowling the edge of the North Pool along the dike side and were surprised to find a female orchard oriole at Hellcat near the parking lot. In Groveland, we found a pair of common ravens tearing apart some former creature on the old weedy parking area at Strawberry Fields.

“However, the event of the day took place off island, in Newbury. Earlier in the year we had seen two green herons at Ice House Pond that drew my interest because I had been told by someone whose opinion I trust that green heron had nested there last year. It is in my Atlas Block so I have visited here more than once this year. I have carefully searched the trees at the edge of the water looking for a nest, and did so again today. All to no avail. We had actually come over to see if we could find a black-crowned night heron, for we had seen a juvenile here recently.

“We were about to leave when Lois called my attention to a green heron that she caught sight of as it

flew over the pond and into the trees. We picked it up perched in the trees and followed it as it moved up and over to a ragged half dead birch tree and as it jumped up to a cluster of twigs. I had already given this tangle of dead branches a close look — so I thought — and had moved past them. Now as we looked again we saw that there was something alive in the detritus; that it was, in reality, a green heron nest.

“We watched in delighted fascination as the adult perched above the nest and the dead twigs came alive with moving, reaching bodies. I got the scope on them and saw that there were four chicks, still quite young, still mostly gray ragged down. They had long yellow bills and bright-eyed but clueless expressions. They reached up to be fed with a clumsy eagerness, still unaccustomed to their own body, and each received a share. They moved in the nest and against each other with a comic flapping and pushing and occasionally appeared to be ready to tumble out. The adult seemed almost unconcerned and soon moved off and flew away. With their parent gone the birds immediately and prudently settled down and again disappeared into their background.

“Lois and I had never seen green heron chicks before. By far the singular memorable event I have witnessed in an Atlas Block that has been otherwise rather uneventful.”

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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.