NEWBURYPORT — Ever get that nagging feeling you’re being eaten alive? If you’ve been at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge or Salisbury Beach the last few days, you probably have been. That’s because one of the sure signs of summer, greenhead flies, have made their return, albeit a little early.
Officials at both destinations have reported seeing the flies as recently as last Wednesday with even greater numbers seen over the weekend. Greenheads, which earn their name from their fluorescent green heads, are a large and aggressive deerfly that can be found near their spawning grounds in the salt marshes. They deliver a painful bite.
CJ Cronin, lifeguard supervisor on Salisbury Beach, believes warmer weather last winter and spring is the main reason the pesky pests have returned earlier this season.
Bill Gette, Joppa Flats sanctuary director for Mass Audubon, said the flies are typically around for a month before disappearing for the rest of the summer. The height of greenhead season is expected to begin in the next week or so.
“We’re hoping that means it will be done a little earlier,” Gette said.
For Gette, the early appearance of greenheads has made leading birding tours at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge challenging, as patrons would have to divert much of their attention shooing away the annoying insects rather than focusing on the vast array of birds found in the refuge.
“It’s quite uncomfortable when you’re birding,” Gette said.
Greenheads typically come out in larger numbers during the hottest parts of the day, so those interested in birding are encouraged to head out early, before 10:30 a.m.
Thankfully, the flies make tasty treats for many of the birds found in the refuge, including tree swallows, purple martins and king birds.
“They feast on them,” Gette said.