NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

May 18, 2013

A magical morning at Hellcat Trail

Words on birds
Steve Grinley

---- — What a difference a day makes. As I mentioned last week, my May 9 walk to the Oak Hill Cemetery was very quiet. There were very little bird songs anywhere we went. No warblers, no vireos, no thrushes, and even the usually loud summer resident great-crested flycatcher that usually arrives mid May hadn’t shown up yet. We heard the squeal of a wood duck on the pond below, and a couple of tufted titmice and crows, but little else to show for our efforts.

As a result, we decided to extend our trip to Rowley to look for the Wilsons’ phalarope that had been reported from the pans along Route 1A near Pikul’s Farm. We struck out there as well, seeing only yellowlegs and willets. We were serenaded by a warbling vireo, but it was relatively quiet. As we continued on to Plum Island, we did encounter a few warblers -- yellow, common yellowthroats, northern parula -- but no evidence of much migration. But, as I had predicted, the next morning was a different story. My Friday morning “Focus on Warblers” walk for Mass Audubon Joppa Flats finally had plenty of birds. A front that came through from the south brought in a fallout of birds. We headed for Plum Island, and as we drove down the refuge road, there was song everywhere!

We made a couple of stops near the first few parking lots, but the birds were moving so quickly through the shrubs that it was hard to get binoculars on them. We could see many birds lifting off and heading for the mainland. If we heard song and stopped to view the birds, the wave of warblers would have moved through before we got out of the van. The gravel trucks (for the reconstruction of the lower road) barreling up and down the road didn’t help either, so I decided to head for the Hellcat Trail where we could walk out of harm’s way and concentrate on the birds.

Hellcat was almost magical that morning. Warblers were everywhere! Numerous yellow, black & white, yellow-rumped, northern parula, black-throated green, black-throated blue, magnolia, and Nashville warblers filled the trees and shrubs. Blue-headed vireos were all over, as well. Everyone had excellent views at these colorful mites of the bird world. I think the bird that stole the show was the blackburnian warbler, with its fiery orange throat gleaming off its black and white patterned body. Honorable mentions have to go to the two scarlet tanagers we encountered. One was an orange shade of red, but the other lived up to its brilliant scarlet name-both stunning birds to behold! The orioles and rose-breasted grosbeaks also drew many “oohs- and-aahhs.” It was one of those awestruck mornings that we didn’t really want to end. But our time was up and we had to pull ourselves away from the spectacle around us. This same front brought hummingbirds and orioles to backyard feeders last weekend.

Many customers reported seeing “their” birds return on Mother’s Day weekend. These birds continue to move in with each weather front where southwest winds aid their journey north. So if “your” birds haven’t shown up yet, don’t despair, there is still a lot of May, and migration to go. I stopped at the Oak Hill Cemetery a couple of days ago before work and found the oak trees around the water tower filled with warblers. The majority were yellow-rumped warblers, but there were several other species mixed in. Even the resident great-crested flycatcher had arrived, filling the air with his loud “wheep” call. Isn’t spring migration great!