Remember the dovekie that the Salisbury Beach resident found in his stairwell last week after Sandy? This week’s nor’easter drove more than 3,470 of those dovekies past Andrew’s Point in Rockport on Wednesday! Birders consider themselves lucky to find one or two of these birds from shore, but this count by Rick Heil of Peabody is the largest flight seen off Massachusetts since the 1950s and ‘60s.
That same Wednesday morning, Bill Gette and Dave Larson led their Wednesday Morning Birding group around Salisbury and Plum Island and saw many interesting birds. Bill Gette filed the following report:
“Prior to our program today, David Larson and I were wondering if anyone would be silly enough to show up for our Wednesday Morning Birding program. The winds were very strong; it was very overcast; and it looked as if it could rain at any moment. Well, silly we have in very good supply — we had 12 hardy birders who know that bad weather days often — very often — provide good birding. Today was one of those very good days.
“As I promised, we headed immediately to Salisbury Beach State Reservation. As we drove in the entrance road, we were greeted by 40 snow buntings. They were feeding along the edge of the road where we all had wonderful views. As we drove farther south along the park road, we saw a flock of birds fly into some pines. We got out of our vans and walked back to the trees. There, we found a group of white-winged crossbills feeding among the cones. The birds were very approachable, and we got within 5 or 6 feet of them. When several of the crossbills took off, they flew within a foot or so of our group.
“We drove into one of the large parking areas on the east side of the park road and spotted more snow buntings. As we watched the buntings, a merlin streaked past chasing a crossbill. Unlike last Wednesday when we watched the Cooper’s hawk catch the European starling, the crossbill got away.
“Driving through the campground, we spotted a merlin (probably the same one), several red-breasted nuthatches and a golden-crowned kinglet that was feeding on the ground. We also found several more white-winged crossbills. At the boat launching ramp, we found three Bonaparte’s gulls hunting for fish in the tidal creek. At the mouth of the Merrimack River, we watched the waves crash onto the jetty — very impressive. We spotted a common loon and a white-winged scoter.
“From Salisbury Beach State Reservation, we returned to the Joppa Flats Education Center for a brief rest stop and coffee and then headed for the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. Along the Plum Island Turnpike, some of our participants saw three black-bellied plovers and a killdeer. At the Salt Pannes Wildlife Observation Area, we had a good variety of ducks. Since the wind was so strong, many of the ducks were feeding along the near edge of the pannes where we could get great views.
The ducks we saw included: a drake Eurasian wigeon, gadwall (14), American wigeon (30), green-winged teel (six), American black duck and mallard. Also in the salt pannes were at least 10 greater yellowlegs.
“At the Bill Forward Observation Blind, we found a pair of hooded mergansers and 50 northern pintails. As we were watching the ducks, we heard and then saw several more white-winged crossbills, two pine siskins and a common redpoll. In summary, we had a great field trip.”
The next morning after the storm, Tom Wetmore of Newburyport also had a great experience on Plum Island which he described as a “carpet of crossbills”:
“My noteworthy moment came when I walked into the new blind pines to see if there was anything strange in Forward Pool. I was surprised to find that the pine-needle covered floor of the pines was a veritable carpet of birds. The birds were primarily white-winged crossbills, but there were also a number of nuthatches, chickadees, white-throated sparrows and at least one common redpoll with them. The birds did not seem under stress. They were all feeding, seemingly quite contentedly, on the ground, as the wind was howling through the pines just a feet above them.”
In addition to the increased activity at the backyard feeders, including reports of evening grosbeaks, pine siskins and redpolls, it will be interesting to see what other birds the storm left behind. If you would like to venture afield with the Mass Audubon Group, they have bird walks every Wednesday and Saturday morning. You can contact the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Center at 978-462-9998 for more information.
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.